By Lekpele M. Nyamalon
Monrovia- Since the end of the Liberian Civil war, successive governments have ignored attempts to bring to closure the experiences of the conflict. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its final report made several recommendations including the banning of some actors from operating in the political landscape of post war Liberia. This was, perhaps, to clean up the space and give an opportunity to reflect as a people, thereby setting a precedent for the future.
Unfortunately, however, the Johnson-Sirleaf led Administration was reluctant in its implementation of the TRC recommendation, an action backed by some members of the Liberian Legislature. This sent a knife deep in the wounds of the thousands of victims of the Liberian Civil war- some of whom may never fully recover from the effects of conflict.
The line-up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission included former political actors, civic leaders, warlords and other persons of interest. The TRC was, amongst other things, intended to provide a space for participants of the Liberian conflict to state their roles in the conflict, perhaps apologetically for future recourse. Instead, it became a platform for bigotry and political grand standing.
The ordinary Liberian masses were shortchanged, but most importantly, Liberia lost a glorious opportunity to redeem itself through self-cleansing of its scary past. The Liberian Civil war is recorded to have left scores of families displaced, over some 250,000 lives lost, hundreds of children conscripted as child soldiers and sex slaves and Liberia became a corridor of some of the most vicious atrocities committed in a civil conflict. Most of the atrocities remain undocumented.
Today, documented murderers, economic criminals and gangsters have hijacked the political landscape- posing as ‘Statesmen’. This is unfortunate. To those young children recruited as infants to fight a war they didn’t understand, to those innocent souls left to die on the roadside while fleeing, to those families murdered in cold blood at massacres, to those young women summarily raped by gun tooting thugs, we have let them down.
I was born when Liberian was under military rule in 1983, at the tender age of six; the civil war began in 1989. I’m a child survival of conflict and a direct victim of the civil war. Today, sixteen years since the end of the civil war, Liberia is still grappling with its ghost of conflict, in a large part, because it has ignored the basic rudiments of recovery needed in a post conflict society. In a show of political naiveté, former warlords have been courted as key power-brokers and ‘kingmakers’, an ex-warlord got appointed to serve on the Supreme Court bench- which culminatively, showed that we had lost it, in our tracks.
Rwanda, for example, as a post conflict nation decided to shake off its shreds, after a brutalizing genocide which is recorded as one of the most barbaric acts in modern history. Rwanda decided to take all the right steps to self-redemption. The United Nations established The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to deal with human rights abuses after the genocide, while Rwanda prosecuted lower-level leaders and local people. This was a starting point for Rwanda to gain some level of sanity in her journey to redemption.
In Sierra Leone for example, The Special Court for Sierra Leone, was a judicial body set up by the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations to “prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law” committed in Sierra Leone after 30 November 1996 and during the Sierra Leone Civil War.
These events helped to clean up the political space, serve as deterrence for future violators and etched a legacy for posterity. The long-term effect of dealing with violations that occur during conflict has a far enriching effect on the overall survivability of the nation than short-term political expediency that harbors war criminals, murderers and economic bandits.
Sadly, in Liberia, post conflict Democracy has seen the re-emergence of murderers, criminals and gangsters hijacking the political space. This is scary.
The prosecution of those with the greatest responsibility of atrocities during the Liberian conflict would afford us a period of collective reflection, and, possibly save us from future woes.
In my book, ‘Scary Dreams’- an anthology of poems that tell a history of the Liberian Civil war, I’ve tried to reach out to school children and the youth to discuss the stories of the civil war as an opportunity to reflect, remember and heal. Our worst mistake as a nation would be a generation 10, 20, or 30 years ahead that has little or no understanding of the history of the civil war- told in an organized fashion through books, documentaries, etc. The prosecution of war criminals would leave an indelible print in that direction. May God bless the works of our hands and save the state, perhaps from us all.
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Author, Inspirational Speaker, OSIWA Poetry fellow and a Mandela Washington Fellow. He is the Author of the Book: ‘Scary Dreams’, An Anthology of the Liberian Civil War. He can be reached at [email protected]