Today is September 9, 2019. It was on this date, 29 years ago, that President Samuel Kanyon Doe was captured at the Freeport of Monrovia and later died at the hands of his captors in what would prove to be tumultuous but watershed moments in Liberian history. Time, it is said, has wings; it flies. This common saying is true now as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.
Except for a few people maybe, mainly relatives, friends and close associates, of the late Liberian President, Samuel K. Doe, not many Liberians, especially the youth, can recall that it was on this date, September 9, 1990, that President Doe was seized at the Freeport of Monrovia by self-styled Field Marshall Prince Johnson, then leader of the breakaway faction of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) known as the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia(INPFL) and taken to his Caldwell base.
History recalls that the besieged President Doe had earlier signed a cooperation pact with Prince Johnson to ward off attacking forces of the Charles Taylor-led NPFL who had by July 30,1990 virtually encircled the city of Monrovia and was attacking on all fronts. The late President had gone to the Freeport, according to some accounts, to inquire from the Force Commander of the West African Peacekeeping force (ECOMOG) why he had not come to pay his respects.
Shortly after his arrival at the Freeport in Monrovia with a host of close associates in tow, President Doe was pounced upon, seized and taken to Prince Johnson’s Caldwell base where he was tortured in the full glare of television cameras and later fatally succumbed to his wounds. Now, twenty-nine (29) years later today, only a handful of people perhaps, mainly those in Monrovia at the time, would recall this date and the momentous events of that day.
President Doe was indeed a powerful ruler, backed by a 7,000-strong army with a strong composition of his ethnic kinsmen and was officered mainly by them following several purges that deprived the army of its core leadership structure, a defect which would have telling effects on its performance on the battlefield. Moreover, the army had been newly outfitted and stocked with an array of weapons, including heavy artillery, Katyusha multiple rocket launchers which had been purchased from Romania.
With such an array of weapons, it was widely perceived that Doe was invincible and perhaps he did believe he was indeed invincible. That belief or perception was, however, shattered when a trussed-up Doe was captured on video, wounded and, with tears in his eyes, pleading with his nemesis, Prince Johnson, for mercy which was never forthcoming. Doe later died and was buried but his remains were later exhumed by Prince Johnson and reinterred later at an undisclosed location.
The 14-year period of bloodletting which followed President Doe’s death was driven in part by longings for revenge but for the most part driven by lust for power and the spoils which come along with it. The very heavy costs (250,000 deaths) imposed on the civilian population by those opting for regime change through a violent approach should serve to remind the country’s political class of the inherent dangers involved in flirting with violence as a tool of political control.
But more to that, this date, September 9, should serve to remind all Liberians of the urgent need to combat impunity through accountability. Why? It is because the possibility that such a scenario could repeat itself is not far-fetched, given rising social discontent, especially in view of the spate of mindless political violence perpetrated by CDC supporters, to which this nation has borne witness in recent times and which has gone virtually with impunity.
Accountability, therefore, is not only right and just but is befitting and potentially beneficial to social stability and harmony. This was the issue highlighted by Prince Johnson in a very bizarre way in 1990 before a trussed-up and tearful President Doe begging for mercy and relief when Prince Johnson asked, “What happened to the people’s money?”
But of course, answers to that question were never-forth coming but strangely, years later, it would find resonance in what was dubbed the “Bring Back Our Money” public manifestation in 2018, which followed in the wake of revelations that 16 billion Liberian dollar banknotes had gone missing from the Central Bank.
Today, the country appears dangerously perched at the brink of conflict, induced by the lack of accountability that is reinforced by a culture of impunity in the government of President George M. Weah. And public officials are conducting themselves in ways that suggest they are completely oblivious to the lessons which should have been learnt from the watershed moments of that fateful day of September 9, 1990.
And 29 years later it appears as though the nation is retracing its steps as economic conditions continue to worsen in the face of profligacy and ostentatious display of grandeur by a new breed of “nouveaux riches” who pride and see themselves as the “noblesse obliges” of our times as seen by their effusive displays of false generosity.
President Weah’s pronouncements reiterating his commitment to exercising strong political will in dealing with the recommendations emanating from the Economic Dialogue is commendable, though meaningless in the absence of concrete action to deal with corruption. In this regard, the current initiative undertaken to retrieve stolen assets is commendable and should be encouraged.
The world is waiting, the world is watching and for the Liberian people, da it deh; we na here to make Justice and Accountability lazy. We moh na try it sef! No More September 9 yah!