The Real Question is Impunity

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By Lekpele M. Nyamalon

Monrovia- This year December 24 is the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Liberian civil war. Initially begun by the ‘National Patriotic Front of Liberia’ NPFL, the war was an attempt to ‘liberate’ Liberia from the brutal dictatorship of President Samuel Doe- a low ranking soldier who led a coup d’état against the government of President William R. Tolbert Jr on April 12, 1820. Ten years after, Doe was facing the barrel of the gun he had aimed at Tolbert through the onslaught of the coup. The NPFL-led by a former official of the Doe regime, a declared fugitive Charles Taylor- was returning with his gang of ‘freedom fighters’ to ‘liberate’ Liberia.  From Buutuo to Monrovia, the NPFL committed some of the worst forms of atrocities in its wake. A splinter group, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) led by Prince Johnson, captured, tortured and publicly executed President Samuel Doe on cameras, cutting off his ears on the orders of ‘Field Marshall’ Prince Johnson. Prince Johnson is the current senior senator of Nimba County.

I was born on the heels of a nation reaching near collapse about three years into the military rule of Master Sergeant Samuel Doe and two years shy of the Military coup of 1985. Six years on, the brewing carnage became inevitable with a rebel invasion in Nimba County in 1989.

My childhood memories are stuck with horrifying images of child soldiers, dead bodies, burnt buildings, walking from point to point in Monrovia’s derelict streets, and the smell of pandemonium hovering over Africa’s oldest Republic. I woke up many mornings immediately after the first cease fire of the latter part of 1990, with nightmares, and emotional wreckage that overwhelmed my youthful capacity to decipher.

I lived through the furnace of the Liberian Civil War-from the 1990 hostilities that brought Monrovia to its knees to the July 29 massacre at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church –my home Church in Monrovia; to the 1992 Plane raid and bombings in Firestone, known as ‘Greater Liberia’; to the 1994 massacre at the Phebe Hospital and School of nursing in Suakoko Bong County.  I lived to see a nation rip itself apart from my tiny years as a 6-year-old in Monrovia to its current state of uncertainty with warlords and bandits posing as statesmen with a schizophrenic political clout.

One of the greatest casualties of the civil war was the impact it had on innocent children, born out of the womb and stepping into deep uncertainties, some born to starvation and most importantly, born in a country where their innocence got stolen forever.  The stench of the civil war still haunts the memories of the young children born during and after the civil war. My book, ‘Scary Dreams’ an anthology of the Liberian Civil War is a daring attempt to retell the memories witnessed during the civil war with a highlight on the plight of children.

Sixteen years since the end of the civil war in 2003, the nation is still caught at the cross-roads of national reconciliation, genuine healing and, unfortunately, has not fully come to closure. Calls for the establishment of a War Crimes Court have been greeted with mixed reactions: fears, political reprisal, political correctness, etc. But the real question is Impunity. Whatever we decide today as a nation, whatever is decided by the high and mighty, whatever the ‘people’s representatives’ decide would leave a blueprint for posterity.  The real question is Impunity. Should the planners and executioners of the Liberian civil war walk free? Should those who disemboweled pregnant women rise and become statesmen walk free? Should those who fed the future generations with coke and drugs walk scot free and metamorphose as ‘philanthropists’ giving out handouts for their votes? Should those who committed some of the meanest forms of atrocities in the name of defending their clan be given the green light?

These are calls to appeal to our inner most critic-our conscience.  The call for retributive justice shouldn’t be grounded in settling political scores, shielding tribal compatriots, but a genuine call to justice, to write a blue print for posterity.

The call for justice should appeal to our collective humanity. We cannot build a successful future grounded in impunity. We cannot move ahead if we choose to ignore the lowest points in our history and expect to build a new Liberia.

Imagine 50 years from today our history would tell our children that we went to war over socio-economic inequalities, political suppression, official corruption, bad governance, etc.; the war witnessed some of Africa’s most brutal atrocities, rape, pillage of natural resources, forceful recruitment of child soldiers, etc. The end of the war brought the perpetrators of the violence to reign over those held hostage during the days of the insurgency. Imagine the scene of arms toting bandits barking at their scary civilian population into submission. Imagine a second scene of arms toting bandits in suits deciding the fate of 4.5 million people and posterity. Imagine after all the catastrophe that held this nation comatose for 14 years, are regarded as nothing and everyone walks? Our Central Message to posterity is that after all one day we can pick up arms and kill each other like savages and when the dust settles, it’s hush, hush, no one talks about it again. Everything becomes normal. How insane!

The real question is impunity and that should appeal to our collective conscience and humanity. This should be beyond the reach of politics, ethnicity or religion.  Atrocities committed in the name of defending oneself or a group of people are atrocities. It’s honorable to own up to one’s role in history and face them.

Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Liberian Poet and Writer, a Mandela Washington Fellow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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