Welcome Back, Jonathan! Your Return Gives President Weah an Opportunity to Kick-start the National Reconciliation Process

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The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Associated Press (AP) Correspondent Jonathan Paye Layleh, who fled the country nearly a month ago, following an outburst against him by President George Manneh Weah, returned to the country last Sunday.

Paye Layleh became shocked at President Weah’s response when, during a press stake out with United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed, Jonathan asked the Liberian leader whether he would establish a war crimes tribunal. President Weah, to everyone’s surprise, in the presence of his guest, Deputy SG Mohammed, told Jonathan that he had been “against” him (Weah).

“You were one person who was against me when I was advocating for peace and human rights in the country,” the President told Paye-Layleh. Such a bold, direct accusatory remark against a journalist in the presence of a top UN official was, in Jonathan’s perception, beyond threatening. He immediately wrote to the President seeking clarification, but got no response. Shortly thereafter, Jonathan left the country and later surfaced in New York City.

The President’s remark against Jonathan took the entire Liberian and the international media, too, by complete surprise. In Liberia, no journalist could afford to take this lightly. As we used to say in the 1980s, during the regime of military dictator Samuel K. Doe, when the entire Liberian media lay under siege, “If they come for you in the evening, they’re coming for me in the morning.”

We all learned during that period that under such a dangerously repressive regime, no one could take anything for granted. Jonathan clearly wasn’t taking lightly this totally unexpected encounter with Liberia’s most powerful person, the President of the republic. So Jonathan immediately fled the country.

But the Daily Observer newspaper, where as a typesetter, he learned the craft of journalism, immediately published an Editorial urging Jonathan to return home, contending that he had “nothing to fear but fear itself,” quoting American President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

President Weah, meanwhile, invited the Liberian media to a conversation at the Executive Mansion. It was a free and frank exchange, when many journalists, including President Charles Coffey of the Press Union of Liberia and the nation’s oldest practicing journalist, Observer Publisher Kenneth Y. Best, told President Weah in no uncertain terms that he should welcome Jonathan back home to reassure the Liberian media that they are NOT under siege.

The President responded forthrightly by stating that he had nothing against Jonathan Paye Layleh or the Liberian media. “The BBC Correspondent asked me a critical question and I gave him a critical answer,” President Weah noted, then proceeded to recall his personal relations with several Liberian journalists, including Paye Layleh. Weah said he had shared with many of them his hospitality in Liberia and Ghana, some of whom he had even given lots of money.

And though the President maintained that he had evidence that Jonathan had been undermining his (Weah’s) efforts, he encouraged the BBC Correspondent to return home without fear. We strongly believe that Jonathan’s return gives the President an opportunity to kick-start Liberia’s reconciliation process. First, he should invite Jonathan for a conversation to make peace and reassure him and the two organizations with whom he is associated — BBC and AP — that all is well.

We think it is important to begin with the media because it is we who have the responsibility to publicize and promote any reconciliatory initiatives the President makes. Heaven knows that this deeply divided nation needs to be reconciled.

The past administration downplayed reconciliation first by ignoring the Report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and by failing to organize a single “town hall” meeting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised. As the public noticed on page 11 of the Daily Observer last Tuesday, the families of the 13 top officials executed by Samuel Doe’s People’s Redemption Council (PRC) are still hurting, longing for some kind of national gesture to console and reconcile them.

There are also the relatives of the brutally murdered ELBC/TV broadcaster Charles Gbenyon and eminent Liberian artist R. Vanjah Richards, the over 600 persons hacked to death in the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on 14th Street, Monrovia on July 29, 1990 by President Samuel Doe and his henchmen; the truckloads of holy innocent children from Nimba County and elsewhere who, en route to the Children’s Village in Congo Town, Monrovia disappeared in 1990, some say buried alive on the beach in Schiefflin on orders of Samuel Doe; the massacres on Du Port Road, Paynesville and in Firestone and the murder of the five Roman Catholic nuns in Gardinersville, all on orders of Charles Taylor; the murder of pop singer Tecumsay Roberts, banker Phillip Bowen, Forester Melvin Thornes, Samuel Doe and his fellow PRC members eliminated at the Free Port of Monrovia and elsewhere and so many others on the orders of General Prince Y. Johnson; the elimination of Jackson Fiah Doe, Samuel Dokie and his family and thousands of others on orders of Charles G. Taylor and his henchmen.

The list goes on. President George Weah was elected, among other reasons, to reconcile Liberia, to end poverty in the country and to jumpstart national development. Reconciliation is first on the national agenda, and it should begin with Jonathan Paye Layleh.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Some of us worked for a national security network elsewhere, and witnessed democratic transition of power, while millions at home just saw one in 2018. Since the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in 1847 by brethren embraced with opened arms just twenty years earlier, governance has been oligarchical and heinously dictatorial. Hence, the military dictatorship of the 1980’s wasn’t a watershed moment in our nation’s woebegone journey.

    It means this false narrative doesn’t measure up in the face of facts. Providentially, we’re all now one people through multi-layered familial relationships, let’s urgently unite and build Mama Liberia.

    The fact remains though that Jonathan Paye-payleh is a coward who failed to report, even after 2005, the murders of the cream of his county, including Jackson F. Doe supposed winner of the first inclusive presidential election since Tubman ascended to the office. Dismayingly, the shocking farce was an orchestrated disinformation onslaught which frantically fanned fiction that alleged stolen presidential election provoked civil war in Liberia, a country with the Guiness Book’s record for most rigged.

    Not surprisingly, the present little anti-press murder-propaganda didn’t catch fire because the evidence happens to be non-existent. Some West Africans even wonder why the continual crisis between press and government when Liberia isn’t the only country in the sub-region with a vibrant media? Granted that defamation laws are lunatic, from listening to the recent CPJ interview with Rodney Sieh, and observation of few journalists over the years, it seems that 17th century French intellectuals’ touted Fourth Estate – to that of king, nobles/ church, and comfortable peasants – is the worldview of most.

    Tellingly, this perspective presupposes parity with the three branches – Executive, Legislature, Judiciary – of our government. Unless that mindset changes, there might not be any end soon to the adversarial relationship between government and a mass media which few journalists consider co-equal ruler of the state.

    The upshot, now is the time for a premier media outlet such as the “Daily Observer” to show some interest in running PUL. The profession must be profitable to attract talent; it must uphold ethics of the craft to be credible; it needs money to be independent of government influence and foreign entanglements; and, unquestionably, it has to coexist and cooperate with government. Weah craves such normalization; is the press ready? That’s the question!

    Some of us have been attacked as spokesmen, supporters, and sycophants of the government. In these attacks made directly and indirectly by few journalists and via surrogates and aliases, we see the trending hypocrisy; how could those adamant about freedom of the press attempt at silencing other voices. Well, there isn’t any difference between tyranny of a government and tyranny of the press: Both lead to instability as was evident in 1994 Rwanda.

    To end, I know “nothing”, but have lived for quite sometime, worked in few countries to weigh what I write – that’s why eager new friends follow me on Facebook. One thing apparent is that Liberia won’t survive the trouble some are seriously spreading again with the written word. Most likely, they might not be able to escape like in the last upheaval they goaded, expected, and, therefore, prepared for. Let’s courageously keep our egos in check, and build the country, folks.

    • How can you be calling for reconciliation while calling someone “… a coward”?
      I read your comment up to the point where you called him a coward. And then, I stopped.

  2. With all that was said about Ellen, not one person in our midst would say that she was intolerant of the press. Ellen was so heavily excoriated to the point that any journalist who would attempt to report a story concerning her with objectivity, that journalist would be branded as being on her pay list. I have tried to evoke both past and recent memories of a Liberian president who had withstood such an onslaught of abuses and I could not recall one profile that suits Ellen’s.

    Ellen knew that no parallel exists between democracy and the silencing of press freedom. A president must either choose to have one or the other.

    Experts on despotic regimes say that a common thread that flows among them is that the leaders would first wet their feet by incrementally stifling freedom of speech; and if such a behavior is not reined early it becomes amplified. At last, tyranny becomes the order of the day.

    To the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Mr. Kenneth Best, stalwart journalists, and other stakeholders who are stooping to maintain freedom of speech in Liberia, may I say that I am out of words and I do not know how to say thanks for your bravery and gallant actions.

  3. Well, a fish starts to get rotten from the head. Mr. Weah is very intolerant of people who are critical in dealing with him- and so are some of the people who he has in high positions in his government. If Ellen didn’t do anything good in Liberia, at least people were free to express their minds (even to the point of insulting the president) without fear of reprisal(s). But look at how the media is being attacked in Liberia now? SAD!

  4. No one is attacking the media. The media right to speak does not limit the right of others to debunk what is falsely written by the media. That’s the beauty of democracy. The agenda is set in the market place for the exchange of idea. The media show investigate and report news not propaganda aim at bringing down a government. The media is not a political party that would fabricate things politically to gain the massive commoners favor. Let’s properly examine what we say and write to avoid inciting liberians against the government.

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