The limits of Impunity

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By Lekpele M. Nyamalon

We certainly don’t look forward to a society with zero corruption, zero crime or zero attempts by people trying to defraud the state. We look forward to a day when Impunity would belong to the dustbin of History.

Monrovia- Since the founding of the Liberian nation in the 1800s, the small West African Nation has been mired by the shackles of poverty, systemic corruption, institutionalized oppression and callous disregard for the rule of law. Sadly, however, amidst these anomalies, a daring culture of impunity has continued to reign.

The 1970s witnessed a growing wave of socio-political activism from some of the nation’s young minds in their quest to attain social justice, balance of political representation with the presence of everyone from the political divide, ethno-linguist spheres and geographical stretches.

That struggle, in many ways, unearthed the cracks that were hidden in the walls of the Liberian nation, one that had been hidden for ages.

Simply put, the farther the ‘activists’ were from the pie, the loudest their voices and the closer, the shallower — thus shortchanging the people who genuinely needed economic, social and political emancipation. During the course of the struggle for rights, many vices were committed along the way. By 1989, the Liberian nation became embroiled in a full scale civil unrest as a boilover effect of the many years of agitation over unsolved long standing issues.  The civil war accounts for the death of more than 250,000 lives, hundreds of villages and towns destroyed, hundreds of children recruited as child soldiers, tens of thousands of kids left stranded to deal with the scars inflicted upon them by the civil war.

Worse case, the participants of the civil war have refused to take responsibility for their roles in the conflict. As if returning from a party, everyone is denying the extent of his/her involvement, thus leaving the party ground untendered. Who does the cleaning?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia records the killing of civilians in cold blood, the desecration of places of worship, schools and hospitals, all areas set aside as ‘sacred’ according to the Geneva conventions. For examples, soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia stormed the edifice of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on 14th Street Sinkor in the early morning hours of July 29, 1990 and murdered hundreds of men, women and children in cold blood, using automatic machine guns, machetes, knives and other deadly weapons. Today, survivors are yet to receive justice or to face their attackers in court. Soldiers, acting on orders of the AFL also stormed the 13th Street compound of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, demanding to see the Bishop Ronald Diggs (sainted memory) who had left the country for peace talks in Banjul, the Gambia in 1990. In their way, they also killed innocent civilians, including the Liberian daughter of a white American Lutheran missionary assigned at the Lutheran Church, who was a childhood classmate of my mother.

The TRC report also documents that soldiers of the AFL stormed the compound of the JJ Roberts United Methodist School on 12th street Sinkor, attempting to force themselves into the compound where hundreds of internally displaced persons were seeking refuge.

In 1994, at the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing in Suakoko, Bong County, commandos loyal to the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the NPFL, stormed the compound of the Hospital, killing healthcare workers, clergy men, Academics and other innocent civilians. The group, named ‘the bandits’, was a splintered group of the NPFL and committed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of the civil war. I was an 11 year old boy and a survivor of that massacre.

We certainly don’t look forward to a society with zero corruption, zero crime or zero attempts by people trying to defraud the state. We look forward to a day when Impunity would belong to the dustbin of History.

During the course of 1979-2003, the TRC also reports and recommends actions for those accused of economic crimes. Economic crimes hinders the growth of a nation and deprives the citizens of basic amenities, like affordable healthcare, sound infrastructure, good education, and investment in other ventures for collective economic growth.

Liberia cannot go forward when the winners from its ugly past, the perpetrators of war, violence, crime, wanton looting become the kingmakers and state crafters for the new Liberia. This is a farce. The Johnson-Sirleaf Administration missed a huge opportunity to put Liberia back on track after 14 years of carnage. It ignored the basic rudiments of rebuilding a nation after a long period of civil unrest by ignoring crucial recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The real growth of the Liberian nation is not in the building of physical infrastructures but when its people are reconciled through deliberate efforts of justice and the rule of law. All other physical infrastructures stand on the quicksands of the limbs of an emotionally fragile people, who are easily mobilized to hate, spread venom and chaos.

Those who bear the greatest responsibility of carnage of the Liberian Civil war are the happy lucky ones running to the bank with beams, whilst the rest of the people are left stranded, awaiting the next round of abuse, plunder and misrule. History has proven that when the people decide to stand up for themselves, the results are often unorthodox. Patience might be wearing out. Impunity should have its limits.

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].

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