An old African adage says, escaping from one’s own shadow is not only difficult but virtually impossible. This manifested itself recently on two separate occasions in the life of former President Ellen Johnson. The first occasion was the encounter with the South African journalist when she deliberately walked off the set of the South African online television (eNCA) interview after being pressed by the interviewer about her support for Charles Taylor’s bloody insurrection.
The second and perhaps more captivating was her interview with an Aljazeera journalist when she mounted a stentorious defense in support of her sons both of who have been linked to acts of impropriety while serving in government. One of them has since been criminally charged is awaiting court trial.
The public interest and debate generated by both lead stories, carried in the April 30, 2019 edition of the Daily Observer headlined, “Sirleaf Evades Questions about Her Link to Taylor” and that carried in the May 27, 2019 edition headlined, “TRC Went to Court, Left Court for Palaver Hut” has drawn the attention of this newspaper.
The emotional intensity of the exchanges during those interviews has mind bending implications centered around the key question of accountability an issue which President Sirleaf failed to address during her tenure. This probably explains why she, on both occasions, appeared to have gotten so extremely peeved that on the last occasion she let down her guard when the interview ended, declaring “Thank God it is over”, meaning to most people, she was happy that her ordeal was finally over.
But President Sirleaf should be prepared for more of such encounters especially from the international media over concerns that no one, absolutely no one during her 12-yr reign was ever held to account for the over 250,000 lives lost during the conflict.
She evaded questioning on her links to jailed war crimes convict, former President Charles Taylor in both interviews recently and in one instance, aborted the interview. When asked whether she had any regrets she angrily snapped, “No regrets”!.
But President Sirleaf would do well to recall that her comments on the BBC in June 1990 about leveling the Executive Mansion if Doe had refused to leave is documented history. All this suggests a link to Charles Taylor which, in the eyes of many, has not been clearly explained and perhaps this is what both journalists were trying to explore. Whatever the case, the issue of accountability will not go away especially in view of rising public concerns of growing insecurity and increased lawless behavior as seen in recent episodes of gang warfare in Monrovia.
Moreover, it is recorded history that in June 1990 when Taylor’s bloody footprints of his march on Monrovia were visible to the international community, she presented a statement to the United States Congress in support of Taylor’s bloody adventure and supporting the recruitment of child soldiers when she penned these words: “These people, many of them children, have joined this struggle for freedom, with little more than courage and hope for the future. It is within this context that the uprising represents an opportunity for creative transformation of the Liberian political landscape”.
However, it appeared, the creative opportunity spoken of was that of sanitization of the Liberian political landscape. The extra judicial killings of Moses Duopu, Jackson Fiah Doe, David Dwanyen, Gabriel Kpolleh, Sam Dokie, all political figures, suggest this could not have been far from the truth. The “creative opportunity for transformation” that she spoke about in glowing terms turned out to be a virtual mirage as over 250,000 persons lost their lives with thousands more wounded or maimed. That there are victims of the 14-yr civil conflict is clearly established and undisputed.
What is however contested is who should be held to account and what should be done for victims. According to President Sirleaf, no one should be held to account and victims should be left to their own devices. Not even an official apology on behalf of all previous governments as recommended was ever tendered, in view of the TRC indictment of all governments of Liberia from 1847-2003 for human rights violations.
Thus, President Sirleaf’s recent media gaffes, when confronted with questions of accountability, clearly suggests a need to revisit the TRC report. Why? Because it is the single most authoritative recorded account of the Liberian civil war which has received national and international endorsement, and which provides a framework for accountability.
That report, according to Uchenna Emelonye, Resident Representative of the UN High Commission on Human Rights, has served to fashion the Accountability framework for Liberia. “The position of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is that all actors, led by the government, must ensure accountability for past crimes”.
The UN official has further noted that the Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations in 2018, on the initial report of Liberia, expressed regrets that the Government of Liberia has taken very few steps to implement the TRC recommendations on accountability.
The Daily Observer however must point out that this criticism applies mainly to former President Sirleaf, during whose tenure the report was officially submitted to the National Legislature in 2009. From the inception of the TRC’s submission of its report in December 2009, the Sirleaf government rejected the report, bastardized its implementation and spun a narrative that posited the view that accountability for past crimes was akin to reopening old wounds.
And this is a narrative which she has maintained to date. Now, she appears to be standing alone in the face of an avalanche of calls from all quarters for justice and accountability.
“When God created man, he created his shadow” says an old African proverb. Accordingly, these issues shall continue to haunt President Sirleaf, as she cannot run away from her shadow.
As St. Paul in his message to the Galatians reminds us, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”.(Galatians 6:7)