By James M. Fromayan
The eve of Christmas 1989 was when Mr. Charles G. Taylor National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched its military rebellion against President Samuel K. Doe’s regime. By early 1990, the NPFL rebel forces had seized large territories from the Armed Forces of Liberia. Between March and April 1990, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) of Field Marshall Prince Y. Johnson officially declared a break with the NPFL.
With the collapse of the Doe regime, and the NPFL inability to win the conflict militarily, civilians became the direct victims of the three armed factions which were responsible for various massacres in the country. Concerned about the appalling security situation in Liberia characterized by the wanton destruction of innocent lives including public and private properties, the Authorities of the Heads of State and Governments of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) under the leadership of Nigeria decided to intervene in the senseless bloodbath unleashed on unarmed civilians by the armed factions.
ECOWAS’ intervention in the Liberian crisis was done through its monitoring group known as (ECOMOG). ECOMOG, which was the first sub-regional Peacekeeping and Enforcement Force consisted of troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and The Gambia. Uganda and Senegal later joined ECOMOG for a period of time. ECOMOG was headed by a Commander known as the Force Commander.
An essential component of the ECOWAS lofty Peace Plan for Liberia was to find a political solution which could supersede all else. Against that backdrop, ECOWAS convened a meeting of Liberians of diverse political and religious backgrounds from Liberia, the United States, Africa and Europe at the Kairaba Hotel, Banjul, The Gambia in August 1990. The Kairaba Hotel was the home of the IGNU mentioned below. The crux of The Gambia meeting was to facilitate an Interim Governance System through an election among the representative groups of Liberians that were present in Banjul. The election was held and Dr. Amos C. Sawyer emerged as President and Rev. Ronald Diggs (of the Luthern Church of Liberia) as Vice President of a government called the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU).
By this time I was in the United States with my political asylum request granted and also a recipient of an American Refugee Passport. Upon the election of Dr. Amos C. Sawyer ( a colleague of mine) as interim President of Liberia, I decided to take a two-week break from work in order to travel to The Gambia and then return to the United States later. I departed Maryland, the United States for Banjul, The Gambia on Sunday, September 9, 1990. It was the same day that President Samuel K. Doe was captured by Field Marshall Prince Y. Johnson forces at the headquarters of ECOMOG at the Freeport of Monrovia.
Since October 1987 when I left Ghana for post graduate school in The Netherlands and then to the United States where I sought political asylum, this was my first time flying back to Africa. At the John F. Kennedy Airport, I coincidentally ran into the late Taylor E. Major, a distinguished Liberian statesman who was also headed to The Gambia as guest of IGNU. Both of us boarded Sabena Air bound for Banjul, via Brussels. After transiting few hours at Brussels airport, we got a Sabena connecting flight to The Gambia. We arrived in Banjul at the early morning hours of September 10, 1990.
I later realized that Dr. Amos Sawyer had sent for Mr. Taylor Major so that he (Major) could prevail on Mr. Charles Taylor to stop the bloodletting and embrace a political solution to the crisis. Mr. Major soon came to the realization that Mr. Charles Taylor’s intractability and con artistry had no end. Mr. Major’s good intention like others before him proved to be an exercise in futility as Mr. Taylor had no plan for a peaceful solution to the Liberian crisis.
Barley three days in The Gambia, the ECOMOG High Command requested IGNU to send an advance team to Monrovia to coordinate activities with the Force. At that moment, Dr. Levi Zangai, a brave and courageous gentleman told Dr. Sawyer that he was willing to be part of the advance IGNU team bound for Monrovia. I volunteered to join Dr. Zangai to Monrovia ignoring my return to the United States. Dr. Zangai and I flew from The Gambia around mid September 1990 to Freetown, Sierra Leone where IGNU had an office space at Cape Sierra Hotel. We were accommodated at the same hotel.
In Freetown, we met messrs. John H. T Stewart and Nathaniel Beh. They were part of a large community of Liberian refugees in Freetown. Stewart and Beh agreed to form part of the advance team that was set for Monrovia. By then, Cllr. Tiawon S. Gongloe who just returned to Sierra Leone from a study tour at Columbia University also signed on for the Monrovia mission.
The team, led by Dr. Levi Zangai with me as secretary departed Government Wharf, Freetown on board a Nigerian warship the SS Ambe late September 23, 1990 and docked at the Freeport of Monrovia September 24, 1990 around 5pm. The ship had about 2000 Nigerian ECOMOG troops on board. The Freeport of Monrovia which was the Headquarters of ECOMOG and surrounding areas was filthy with the odor of decomposed bodies all around. Tears set in my eyes as we drove from the Freeport to Hotel Africa in Virginia where our team lodged. Hotel Africa was considered Field Marshall Prince Johnson territory. Our team’s arrival coincided with the arrival of Maj/Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro who became the second ECOMOG Force Commander. He was a fearless and decisive Force Commander who won the admiration of Liberians who appreciated ECOMOG.
Monrovia was a war zone with forces of the NPFL surrounding the city. There was a fragment of the AFL that was barricaded at the BTC and the Executive Mansion area. The INPFL was based in Caldwell at the Taylor Major compound. Hunger was wide-spread with malnutrition a common thing. Rice was referred to as gold. It could not be found anywhere in Monrovia. ECOMOG was very helpful in assisting a number of Liberians especially children in their controlled areas with their food rations.
It was difficult finding our bearing. The team split into groups of twos and addressed issues of education, health and sanitation, humanitarian assistance and general administrative work. One of the key tasks of the advance IGNU team was to prepare the Ducor Hotel to house the IGNU upon its return to Monrovia. Ducor, like Hotel Africa was a displaced center. It required a great deal of work to make it live able. The full IGNU led by President arrived in Monrovia in November 1990 in an ECOMOG helicopter from Freetown. Liberia was still in a deep state of war with conferences aimed at ending the conflict yielding no positive results.
One of the most important duties that my colleague Mr. John Stewart and I undertook was to help keep Monrovia clean. We wrote a series of project proposals to the World Food Program (WFP) soliciting food to be exchanged for work. The WFP accepted our proposals and provided hundreds of bags of floor that we used as Food For Work (FFW). I can still recall the clearing of dirty Soniwein with a front end loader. There were lots of human skulls and skeletons in the water. We experienced similar situations in Paynesville in our drive to keep Monrovia and its environs clean
Twenty-eight Years Ago Liberia was a place where no one wanted to be. Most of the people in the country, especially in Monrovia were trapped and had no means to leave. We instead knowingly entered the conflict zone. Apart from that, IGNU did not have a penny to pay us during those formative days. Twenty Eight Years Ago, Peace was still illusive in Liberia. Be that as it may, a lot has been done for the restoration of peace in Liberia. We can never forget the sacrifices that ECOWAS in particular made towards the restoration of peace in Liberia. We will also remain grateful to the UN, the USA, EU, AU and all development partners that contributed to the peace that we enjoy today.
While we pray without ceasing for peace to reign in Liberia, it is most appropriate for people who willfully perpetrated heinous crimes be made to account for their action(s) at a war crimes court. The fact that known mass killers are moving around not being remorseful makes the establishment of a war crime court a necessity. History is replete with punitive measures meted out against states and individuals responsible for genocide or other crimes against humanity. At the end of World War II, for example, German was partitioned with the West and the former Soviet Union having controlling influence in the two parts Germany. The Nuremberg Trial took place in which top Nazi leaders including Gestapo officers were rounded up and thrown into jail.
In the case of South Africa, given the complexity of their situation, they did what was best for their country. Rwanda on the other hand devised its own accountability measures that served that country’s interest well. The level of development in Rwanda is well known today around the world.
The reflection of my return to Liberia Twenty-eight Years Ago September 24, 1990 along with my colleagues was a way of helping our country at a time when such help was most needed. Working with ECOMOG was also an experience that I will always cherish.