Too often questions are asked why Liberia appears to be lagging behind development wise as compared to other African countries. Those who ask do so out of concern that with so many natural resources, just what is it that we are doing as a people that is leaving us so far behind. In most instances the quick knee-jerk response is “Liberians are lazy” and they take everything for granted to the point where some naively believe that only God is the answer and that the horrors of the past can never be repeated.
In 1980, Liberians had a rude awakening when a military coup d’état unseated the government of President Tolbert and ended over a hundred years of True Whig Party dominance. Scores of former officials were arrested and incarcerated under subhuman conditions at the Post Stockade military prison. As things unfolded, 17 former officials were arrested, tried by a kangaroo court that found them guilty of rampant corruption, abuse of the rights of the people and sentenced them to death by firing squad.
The sentence was carried out publicly, with the approval of a roaring crowd. What was generally believed to be the beginning of a new day soon fizzled out and, not long after, the Liberian people, realizing that impunity was not dead even after the public executions, soon dubbed the military junta’s Peoples Redemption Council(PRC) as People Repeating Corruption. In addition to corruption, complaints also arose about the then growing wave of arbitrariness attended by systematic abuse of human rights that went with impunity.
The wave of abuses heightened after the abortive Quiwonkpa invasion and subsequently a 14-year civil war, attended by horrific abuses of human rights. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement to probe past abuses, completed its work and submitted its report containing a host of recommendations for implementation.
Like the Brownell Commission Report, commissioned by President Tolbert in the wake of the 1979 “Rice Riots”, the TRC report was shelved by President Sirleaf who in fact was a member of the Brownell Commission. But unlike the Brownell Commission Report, which died on the shelves, the TRC Report has made a resurgence never seen since it was completed nine years ago. Increasing calls from the public for implementation of the TRC recommendations have extended to include not only war crimes but economic crimes as well.
Strangely, some Liberians, relatively few, despite the crippling effect of corruption on the daily lives of their compatriots and despite the gross human rights abuse to which their compatriots were subjected, are now expressing opposition to the establishment of a war and economic crimes court and the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) final recommendations. The woeful failure of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration to fully implement the TRC final recommendations only served to further entrench the culture of fear and impunity.
According to information received by this newspaper, there is a sponsored group recently formed to advocate against the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia. President Sirleaf’s public relations consultant, Ms. K. Riva Levinson is, according to reports, now hired to lobby the US Congress to undermine support for the establishment of the court. Sources tell this newspaper that Levinson will be seeking to impress upon Congress that prosecution of perpetrators of war and economic crimes would make Liberia run the risk of relapsing into another violent conflict
And there are individuals, according to sources, who are well funded by ex-officials and are prepared to unleash an orgy of violence simply to prove the point. Such an argument is however undermined by the example of Sierra Leone, which experienced a long civil war, had a war crimes court, brought perpetrators to book including former Liberian President Charles Taylor and even paid reparations to victims of the conflict. Against this backdrop, the about-faced decision by Speaker Bhofal Chambers and others to now oppose the creation of a war and economic crimes court raises concern as to what is under their sleeves.
From all indications, it appears as though our new crop of officials desire a “free for all” so as to steal and plunder just as officials of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration did over the last 12 years. Such a mindset is fertilized by the culture of IMPUNITY that allows perpetrators of crime and evil to go free without accountability or justice. For example, the unexplained disappearance of a container load of L$9 billion worth of banknotes (US$60 million equivalent) while under the custody of Central Bank officials and the Liberia National Police, with no coherent explanations forthcoming, underscore the point.
This newspaper holds the firm view that as long as war and economic criminals are glorified and the masses denied justice, this country will continue on the path of retrogression. And until Liberians deal with the NIGHTMARE posed by the culture of Fear and IMPUNITY, this newspaper fears that Liberia may, more likely than not, experience a return to its bloody past.