By Nat Bayjay
Once referenced as a war-country, Liberia on August 18, 2019 observes and celebrates exactly 16 years since long-sought and hard-earned peace and stability returned to our dear country.
That followed almost 14 yours of civil conflict that destroyed almost every sector of the country, if not all. Worst of all, 300,000 lives were reportedly claimed in the process.
But today couldn’t have been possible, firstly with God Almighty, and to our country’s international partners, led by the Economic Community of West African West States (ECOWAS). Several peace accords were signed right from the beginning of the civil war in the early 1990’s until its end. Then came the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (simply referred to as the CPA in most cases) which became the country’s final peace agreement.
Signed on August 18, 2003, in Accra, Ghana, the CPA actualized the signing of a ceasefire agreement initiated on June 17, 2003. So, on this day, I pay homage to not only the signatories of that CPA that included the Liberian government, the warring groups at the time, and the parties of the day.
I also pay homage to us, the civilian population at the time which bore the biggest blunt of the ashes of the country’s darkest period in our history. And this will also mean honoring Liberia’s strong-willed civil society whose role in all of those several peace-talks will forever remain highly recognized and honored as well. Whether they were individuals representing inter-religious, human rights, pro-democracy, women’s rights, and legal organisations, who were included either as official and sometimes unofficial delegates, those groups’ advocacy for peace were the loudest voices, including women and child rights groups.
As a refugee at the time, on the Buduburam Refugee Camp outside Accra in Ghana, I at certain time refused to just rely on BBC’s Focus on Africa program to know the progress being made in our quest for peace. Since those discussions were happening at a hotel in Accra, I would regularly defy the odds of hunger and lack of money to go see what stakeholders were doing, especially as fighting still raged on back in Liberia where I had just only flown from few months until then.
Barely eight years old when the war hit the border of Nimba County, I remained in Liberia for all the phases of the war right from 1990. Of course, the temptations of fleeing the country occurred to me every time. But then I decided against such so that I would take advantage of the many, but small periods of ‘no-war, no peace’ time to return to school.
This was especially so because I was as one of several kids from Charles Taylor’s ‘Greater Liberia’ whose school time was being terribly wasted. And it worked for me to some extent, gradually going through high school and earning me an admission into university every time we had a chance or period of ‘no peace, no war;’ though we would go on to spend over 80 years to obtain one undergrad degree.
But at least, I thought that was better remaining in Liberia under such conditions than a refugee camp where huge uncertainty hang over not just schooling but survival.
In short, I spent and somehow survived all the wars, including the onset of the 1990 war and all its proceeding ones (the 1992 Octopus, the 1996 Monrovia-April 6 fracas, and September 1998 Monrovia skirmish). But when the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel-incursion against Taylor’s administration entered Monrovia in 2003, I had to revisit my decision of not leaving Liberia for “just another African country.”
This reversal of my decision was even heightened after several near-death situations during the ‘World Wars I and II’ portions of the joint LURD-MODEL (Movement of Democracy in Liberia) rebellion. And when it was very apparent to me that a ‘World War III’ was very much imminent, I had to take advantage of a Nigerian refugee airplane and head to Nigeria.
That Kabo Air experience was my many first-times: my first time ever to be leaving the shores of Liberia, my first time ever to get on airplane and my first time ever to go to a destination where I knew no one and was very uncertain about how survival would mean for me. And the same goes to most, if not all, fellow compatriots on that Nigerian donated airplane. As a matter of fact, it was Kabo Air’s third and eventually last trip to airlift ‘stranded Nigerians’ out of Liberia as provided by the Obasanjo-led Government.
But some desperate Liberians including myself took advantage to flee a country that seemed very much on the brink of total collapse. Few months in Nigeria, and my quest to return home was heightened. Nigeria, my geographical sense told me, was a bit far from Liberia.
So Ghana was a better choice so that upon the return of peace, I would be among the first batch of returnees and voluntarily of my own efforts too. And that’s how the journey in Ghana afforded me that opportunity to see firsthand at that Accra hotel how representatives of warlords and other stakeholders were finding a lasting solution to our country’s more than 13 years of civil war.
And yes, I applaud myself too for being an ‘unofficial delegate’ at the CPA meeting where I committed myself to go most often to get firsthand out dates than relying on the BBC Focus on Africa aired at 15hrs and 17hrs GMT respectively.
And guess what? When peace finally returned in that 2003, I wasn’t among the first batch to return to Liberia. Though I would later return late 2005 and on time to partake in our country’s first democratic elections after the war, what mattered was that Liberia, a country I have come to love and adore, finally had peace. And that peace we have been enjoying for the past 16 years!!!!!!!
About the author: Nat Bayjay is a Liberian double award-winning journalist whose journalistic prowess came to the fore when he worked for the online (and later print) news outlet FrontPageAfrica where he rose to becoming an editor and its News Bureau Chief between 2009 and 2012. He is currently the Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Liberian Embassy in Abuja, the Federal Republic of Nigeria.