16 November 2006

Liberia: Quiwonkpa's Widow Haunts Ellen, Others

Some 21 years ago, the then exiled former commanding general of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Gen. Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, "took the ultimate gamble" to topple the military junta of Pres. Samuel Kanyon Doe.

Under circumstances that eyewitnesses tell in contradicting accounts up to today, he failed and his mutilated body was dragged on the streets of Monrovia.

Hailed the 'Strong Man' of the 1980 coup d'etat that ended more than hundred years of Congo hegemony, many considered Quiwonkpa a 'legend' and a 'patriot' who stood between the people of Liberia and tyranny.

Little did these people know that the water that they saw ran deeper than met the eyes.

Now, the widow of Gen. Quiwonkpa is contending that their 'legend' was simply an agent of an even bigger group of 'legends of change'. She sees victim out of what many see as victor and feels abandoned and neglected by this group of legends.

The Analyst Staff Writer brings you the contentions she raised in an interview recently, in the US where she lives, with an online magazine.

For the second time in less than two years Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa's widow, Tarloh, has taken to the waves of the Internet to remind Liberians that it is their President and her former colleagues that rendered her widow in 1985.

President Jhnson-Sirleaf won a narrow presidential victory last year over political neophyte, George Weah, on what many say is her own political merit built in past struggle for political change.

But Mrs. Quiwonkpa insisted there was a military underside to that much-heralded struggle for political and regime change, suggesting that the President may have ridden on the martyrdom of her late husband.

Mrs. Quiwonkpa has yet to establish convincing links between her husband's death and President Sirleaf's victory at the October 2006 polls, but that has not reduced her passion for some level of recognition by the President and her former colleagues, some of whom are currently at the helm of government.

Because of the sacrifice she believes Gen. Quiwonkpa made in bringing political change to Liberia, she insisted, the Quiwonkpa family comprising the widow and four children one of whom was a baby when Thomas was allegedly masterminded to invade Liberia in 1985, deserves special attention and care.

Whether the attention and care being sought is on the government of Liberia, since those she claimed sent her husband to his early grave are all currently in government, or on private basis is not clear.

What is clear though is that Mrs. Quinwonkpa believes in her story that the "legendary general of the PRC from Nimba County" was pushed against his "friend" President Samuel Kanyon Doe from Grand Gedeh County and that she is bitter about the scheme even after 21 years.

Having achieved their goals, she claimed, the President and her surviving associates including Harry Greaves, Harry Yuan, Thomas Woewiyu, and Eric Scott, amongst others, have failed to acknowledge the grief caused her.

Greaves and Yuan currently head the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) and the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), in that order, in the Sirleaf Administration. Woewiyu who entered a courtship with Taylor is out of government currently while the whereabouts of Scott remains unknown.

Analysts say whether their presence in the current administration is coincidental, or confirms their former comradeship with the President requires separate probe.

They however conjecture that how ever these men got in government, their presence may be fueling Mrs. Quiwonkpa's bitterness and contention that they are benefiting from her husband's martyrdom.

"I try to find ways in my heart to forgive these people but at the same token you ask yourself, isn't it the moral responsibility of these people to reach out," Mrs. Quiwonkpa asked rhetorically in a recent interview with an online magazine.

Those who sent Quiwonkpa to take on the Samuel Doe's military junta that had just rigged a presidential election in October 1985, Tarloh contended, knew he was a family man and should have identified with that family even though he failed.

"I'm not asking for money. But someone you knew, who was your comrade passed away, is that how you just turn your back on them, on the loved ones he left behind?" she wondered. She said since the coup failed not a single time has any of those "involved reflected to say let me help Thomas' children".

There are unconfirmed rumors that President Johnson-Sirleaf is sponsoring Jleteh Quiwonkpa, one of the sons of the general in college. The rumors though did not say where and at what cost.

But when confirmed, that is, isn't that a tacit recognition of Quiwonkpa's role in the pressure for regime change from abroad? Tarloh doesn't seem to think that is sufficient as she continues to dwell in the past, the unraveling of which she believes will justify and bring veneration to her husband's soul.

"Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf presidential ambition is once again an indication of how far Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and Mr. Yuan would go to achieve their political objectives. Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf desperately wants to become the President of Liberia; therefore, she does not care how she achieves her goal.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and Mr. Yuan should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting the youngest son of General Thomas Quiwonkpa in their desire to achieve political power in Liberia.

Their primary objective is to undermine our attempt to hold Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and others accountable for their roles in the death of my husband," she said in the same interview.

The reference to "exploiting the youngest son of Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa" relates, according observers, to Jleteh Thomas' reported pledge of support, on behalf of the Quiwonkpa family, to Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf's bid for president in the October 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Even though Madam Sirleaf won that election without anyone raising the question of electoral coercion, which would have been a violation of the fair campaign clause of the Elections Laws of Liberia, Mrs. Quiwonkpa contends the story she has to tell is worth the while of the Liberian people even in their desperation to forget the past and forge ahead.

Her husband's death, it seems, is complicated by the continued neglect and the conspiracy she is claiming. "In 1985, Mr. Harry Yuan and Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf convinced Gen. Quiwonkpa to sign onto the invasion of Liberia despite the fact that he was not part of the original planning process, which ended his life leaving his four children fatherless. Jleteh and Yormie never saw their father.

This is the second attempt by Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and Mr. Yuan to use the Quiwonkpa family to achieve their political goal. The planning of the invasion of Liberia occurred in the United States in 1985 when Jleteh was a baby in Liberia," she blathered.

In that case, many say, the best thing she can do is to take her grievances to the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Conciliation (TRC) that is established to resolve all bitterness and promote the peaceful reunification of all Liberians.

But does she trust the TRC; will she accede to it? Not Tarloh who seems to stoop under the weight of so much grief and paranoia.

She wants to have it her own way, away from the rest of Liberia's more than 3.0 million aggrieved people who are waiting on line to appear before the TRC to tell their stories and seek redress, beginning January next year.

Tarloh told the online magazine that there is a Father Hayden who could be approach to confirm her tale about Quiwonkpa being lured by Mrs. Sirleaf and others into going against the Doe government, but that the TRC will not be the proper forum.

"At what channel do I file my grievances. I don't trust those people who they have on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I don't know how partial they are. I want to go through a neutral board to make my own complaints," she told the online magazine.

She accused the President and her former colleagues of ignoring her complaints in order to cover up their past but vowed not to rest until the full story was told to the world and the Liberian people. "I don't understand why they're still trying to keep things under cover. Even to this day, they have not said a word to me or contacted me," she said.

Even though this is the umpteenth time Mrs. Quiwonkpa has laid claims of conspiracy to murder at the feet of President Sirleaf and her colleagues for political change, it is only Harry Yuan that came close to acknowledging Quiwonkpa's role in the struggle to unseat Doe.

In a commentary on The Perspective last year, Harry Yuan accused certain forces of conniving with Quiwonkpa's widow into making a case against him.

"I do no justice to the memory of my late brother and friend, Gen. Quiwonkpa, Tarloh's honor, and the unimaginable pain she has endured for the loss of her dear husband by engaging in claims and counter-claims about abandoning Mrs. Quiwonkpa. I'm earnestly praying for Tarloh to return home sometime soon so that I can have the opportunity, at last, to wipe her tears," Yuan wrote.

He continued, "Mrs. Quiwonkpa lost a husband; Nimba County lost a beloved son; Liberia lost a legend and a patriot, and I lost a brother and friend whom I loved and cherished. If, after twenty years, I have not come to terms with the loss of Gen. Quiwonkpa, no one should expect Tarloh, his wife, to stop crying and no one should exploit her pain for personal gain."

It is not clear how anyone would want to exploit her pain, but observers say if she is to come home and there is reason to wipe her tears, than an invitation may have to be extended by those who she sees only in rage.

That, they say, will ease Tarloh's quest for morale appeal to the whole issue of the November 12 foiled attempt to overthrow Doe and Quiwonkpa's death in the process.

"I'm not looking for revenge. I want people to know that because revenge is not going to do anything for me or anybody else. It is just the morality of the event that took place because we all learn from history. And then you move into the future and you learn what it was all about.

We build upon history, so my thing is and the reason why I would like to have some kind of a dialogue and some kind of awareness about this whole thing so people can know that the stance I'm taking now is not because I want to retaliate against anyone; that's not my objective. The thing is that we all must believe in morality," she said.

It is not known when morality has been key to political questions in Africa or anywhere else on the globe, but if Tarloh succeeds in her quest, many say, Liberia would be setting new political standards for the world to follow.

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