Liberia: A Thoughtful Recollection of the Fearful Month of April in Liberian History

Women led pressure groups for peace across Liberia (file photo)
analysis

The aim of this article is to analyze the historical roots and causes which led to the still ongoing political disunity in Liberia. Starting with the declaration of independence in 1847 until the 1980 bloody coup and the evolution of 1989 rebels' incursion, a brief historical review provides information on how the political interests of and power struggles among the elites have influenced or shaped ethnic and religious cleavages in the country. These power struggles among the colonial-elites, and by extension the native-progressives or educators and other cleavages are assumed to be root causes that generated conflicts in the country until today. This instructive article further analyzed among other the international peacekeeping attempts, mediation efforts, and the interference of regional neighbors in Liberia's internal politics, to determine lessons learned from previous failures, and suggest several workable avenues for the sustainability of peace.

It concludes with remedies that must be observed for stability and peaceful coexistence and suggest amicably resolutions how the dynamics of planned "June 7" protest can be properly resolved.

The cold war is over; new international order is in placed while the world is interconnected in all aspects. In recent decades, the vast majority of armed engagements in the world occurred within states basically reflective of internal matters, rather than between states. Apart from perpetrating great human suffering in the immediate areas of conflict, civil wars have major impacts on stability and prosperity throughout the region where they have occurred.

Liberia is a tiny state but politically large and complex with a fascinating but a sober political history; politics is wildly practices in the country. Regrettably, the month of April in Liberia portraits images fear, destruction, looting and deaths. Generally, the month of "April" in the recent history of Liberia signals all the wrong feelings among Liberia, since the month is mostly associated with conflict in Liberia. Think about the Rwandan conflict which claimed about a million lives, started in the month of April; labeled the third worse genocide in human history. Liberians since 17 years have said: "Goodbye to war! Goodbye, carnage! Goodbye guns, Goodbye Violence and Goodbye fighting".

But the biggest opportunity to enhance domestic confidence lies in how public officials maintain the right tone in all aspects of publicity, how they discipline their words and deed when addressing national issues; they should be aware that criticism and self-criticism will do the nation no good, instead they should find the balance and communicate effectively since clarity is very essential in communication. There have been inconsistent regarding information dissemination on the local and international fronts. Positive publicity should be attractive and appealing; truth and accuracy are the lifeblood of information dissemination. Therefore public officials closely investigating the missing money should strengthen their ability to effectively communicate with international audience, and have a stronger voice and properly coordinate information reaching the domestic audience.

Throughout the short history of the Liberia, feelings of exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization spilled over from one identity group to another, accelerating the wish for persistent regime change, while national identity has yet to be developed. The population of Liberia continues to witness power struggles among political elites and bureaucrats which helped them lose their belief in the state structure and weakened national identity. As a result, people derive their identity along ethnic or tribal lines and religious faith communities, as concerns, national identity has not been issued for most of the rural population.

There are reasons, for the planned "June 7" protest to be cut off by engaging the organizers of the protest reflecting on the fashion that "April 14, 1979' and "April 12, 1980" coup in the country. The month of April is not promising for Liberia, therefore, all the tensions building up in the country must be amicable resolved and handled peacefully. Considering our ugly past to the present where Liberians and foreign residents can sleep in peace without the echoes of guns and other deadly weapons, or without the country being divided between factional lines, the nation especially state actors must sustain the peace.

As a recollection of the recent political struggles and reflection of events which have torn the nation apart, it is time that we seek peaceful means to resolve our disagreements; calm down the bullets from our mouths-since unusable words are most destructive, let try to discipline our words especially on issues that concerns national interest and wellbeing of the population.

The History of April Month in Liberia

The assassination of ex-president of Liberia and then Chairman of the Organization of African Unity, now African Union William R.Tolbert William R. Tolbert also took placed in the month of April. Let us also be reminded of the "April 14, 1979" Rice Riot was characterized with violence, mayhem, anarchy, death and destruction in Monrovia and its environs; the riot or protest came about as a result of the backdrop of a proposed increase in the price of a 100lb bag of rice.

The demonstration drew a massive crowd for the first time in many decades, that Liberians had seized the opportunity to stayed national protest against the government-Tolbert regime. According to several researchers, the miss information was that rice-the nation's staple food could be imported and sell for US$9.00 per 100lb bag. Such political rhetoric and sugar coated statement persuaded many Liberians to buy the sentiments of these "progressive" political leaders. Frantic efforts should also be made at the national levels by policy makers, politicians, state actors, religious and traditional leaders, scholars, to ensure national peace and security in the country, and find the root causes of conflicts and finding solutions to issues that affect the nation's growth and well-being.

The hostilities of 14 years warfare in the country, from 24th December 1989 to 18th August 2003, in which an insurgent groups killed thousands of persons, ruined the various sectors and destroyed billion dollars' worth properties across the country, have also witnessed 17 years of an uninterrupted peace across country guns have fallen silent since the Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities triggered by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 18 August 2003 in Akosombo, Accra Ghana.

The 17 years of an uninterrupted peace across the country which has witnessed three successive politically-driven democratic exercises of 2005, 2011 and 2017 General Elections which came about on the back of the assurances and commitment by Liberians to bury their differences and demonstrate the will-power in resolving all trials and tribulations in order to protect the years of fragile peace and co-existence in the interest of genuine peace and sustained stability.

Credit first to the ex-war factions and their belligerent groups; the late Gyude Bryant's transitional government that was able to piece together the fragmented puzzles that significantly oiled the political wheels thus resulting into the conduct of a peaceful democratic elections with the Ellen Jonson-Sirleaf's and George M. Weah's regimes being ushered in that thereafter continue to maintain the democratic space.

The late Bryant's administration, although was a difficult one due to its hybrid- composition, succeeded in bringing about a negotiated settlement of the conflict and successful disarmament and demobilization of ex-fighters; and ended the loss of innumerable lives, wanton destruction of our infrastructure, factors of production, properties and massive displacement of people which as an open secret also led to brain drain in the country. Then came the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's administration with all eyes focused on to keep the peace, this display has witnessed a 12 years of an uninterrupted peace again came as a direct result of the Sirleaf administration's initiatives undertaken and purposely supported by the people of Liberia and its development partners and key international actors.

Therefore, the Weah's administration has a national duty to play a leading role to hold discussion of the June 7 planned protest organizers, sugar coated situations and concerns, listen to the populace and peacefully engage all the state actors and independent institutions; speak with one voice instead of several speakers which give out contradictory messages. This entails instituting the right policy at the right time by the right people at the right place, while those at the helm of leadership on the continent must be proactive not reactive.

The UN War Crimes Court has now started a probe

The post-independence power struggles from the colonial elites to the native-progressive class is branded as the main factor that influenced the 1960 coup, which many scholars labeled as the driving cause for the 14-year bloodiest civil war. During the 14-year dark era of Liberia, numerous gross atrocious and human rights abuses were committed without direct prosecution of the alleged perpetrators due to disagreement on which course to move forward with. For others, reconciliation is the best formula while others are calling for justice. The dynamics of the current disagreement among Liberians is driving another potential conflict which is undermining the co-existence, institutional building and governance exercises.

As a matter of reflection, Article XIII of the peace agreement states that Truth and Reconciliation Commission, shall be established to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.

The deal further states that in the spirit of national reconciliation, the Commission shall deal with the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations and pinpoint cardinal issues that Commission shall, among other things, recommend measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations.

Liberia owes a duty under both international humanitarian and human rights laws to investigate and prosecute the heinous crimes, including torture, rape and extra-judicial killings of innocent civilians, committed in the country by the ex-warring parties in the course of 14 years of brutal conflict. In the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), our leaders need to display the confidence reposed in them by the people through their votes to bring to book all those responsible for the depopulation of the nation over the 14 years civil war to answer to the role they played in the long disturbing bloodbath.

Justice is indeed precious and beneficial, but where it is being delayed, obviously what is implied is then that the latter is also being denied; the issue of TRC's recommendations must be addressed once and for all.

The various ex- armed factions targeted civilians and were responsible for massacres and systematic human rights abuses, and none of which was fighting for any recognizable cause or ideology. Tens of thousands of innocent Liberians have been brutally murdered in cold blood by armed factions that fought to have state power by force. The war was also characterized by the extensive use of child soldiers, boys younger than fifteen years old who were easy prey for all the factions.

But can either of the two essential dynamics -reconciliation or justice ensure true unity and peaceful existence in the country? For other, war crimes court may contribute to justice, but this can be counterproductive for ensuring reconciliation between the alleged perpetrators of theses gross human rights violations. Moreover, the issues of political alienation and the persistent political struggles remained serious problems.

Also the issue of large impunity for war criminals has not yet been tackled with clear modalities-something which spark the recent separate demonstration by advocate of justice for war crimes court. Equally, the 2004 DDRR process has not produced many results so far beyond collecting small weapons and offering lucrative positions to ex-warring factions' leaders and heads of civil society organizations. In totality, the Accra Peace Accord is yet to be fully implemented almost 17 years now while the TRC recommendations for baring of certain individuals from holding political positions and the persecution of violators the processes nearly impossible.

Many of the opinions that, in short, the Liberian government still struggles to implement TRC recommendation due to external factors, financial resources, confidence of the people and a lack of commitment by certain individuals whose fears of being targeted. For others, the TRC recommendation is hindered by the continued fears of cycle of violence, the security vacuum, and the nation's current economic stagnation.

The Accra peace accord process has shown that agreements were made between the government and the top ex-leaders of the main disbanded armed groups but failed to reach out to the majority of the population. The concluded peace agreements do not include the grassroots and middle-range organizations, institutions and average Liberian, as political elites and politicians wriggled for powers-occupations of positions in government.

Political Instability in Liberia

As the historical review showed, the Country has experienced numerous military coups and political conflicts from the days of the commonwealth rule, independence and second republic to post-conflict period. The unstable political situation made sustainable state-building impossible and it has been certainly due to political interests among changing elites that the Liberian state has remained fragmented until today. Especially in the post-colonial period, the Liberian leaders struggled to successfully govern the large territory with open heart and arm .

Due to the strong external interference into domestic affairs by other global powers especially the United States of America, Liberian successive administrations continued to struggled to build viable institutions in the state. The continuing political power struggles among elites, including military coups and rebellions, have led to the fact that the government has lost the monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

Looking at its early post-colonial history, one can conclude that the Liberia's first steps as an independent state were determined by power struggles and kleptocracy colonial masters who came to power mainly through a compromised election. Nevertheless, America had always maintained its influence in Liberia due to its position as Liberia's important strategic partner in the world. America assisted in the successful state situations building.

Due to the repressive and authoritarian rule of law, past leaders had to face resistance from the country's grassroots population, and through the indirect involvement of external powers, several past leaders have been overthrown becoming victims of another coup. State-building in the Liberia has been a difficult proposition from the dawn of its history and is since then facing slow progress due to frequent changing of governments and leader.

Since then, Liberia's postcolonial history was characterized by several military coups, elitist power struggles, the international community have continuously interfered since independence and the emergence of cleavages, which have made it difficult for state-building and the creation of a national identity to progress.

The role of Religious Leaders in cementing unity

The trustworthy religious and traditional leaders have a national duty to play a leading role in finding a amicable remedy to the planned "June 7 protest" and cement unity and peaceful co-existence in the country. It has been observed that that these leaders both traditional and religious have personal interests, therefore they have been silenced; except for few like Rev. Dr. Kortu K. Browne, a champion of good governance.. This involves the role of religious leaders in promoting unity and love among populations and respect for one another is highly important. The weaknesses of past peace-building efforts with the potential of religious leaders helps to answer the question of how religious leaders could be further involved improving the current disunity between the administration and oppositions political in the country.

The role of Religious Leaders during the crisis have played an essential role in speaking against ills and gross human rights abuses with the late Catholic Arch Bishop Michael France and other leaders of the religion community raising their voices to protect civilians during the entire 14-year crisis. Not only that but also they provide shelter and a place to hide, but also engaged in offering 'food, water, and health services, and in one instance helping in the safe evacuation of communities at risk. 'In the process, some were targeted and victimized by the ex-fighters.

President Bush and Nigeria's role in Liberia

These situations have been reflected in the failure of numerous international peace building efforts. Not less than twelve peace agreements have been signed between conflicting former parties, but most of them were only partially implemented, which has made national reconciliation impossible, sparking new waves of fighting and emerging of other warring factions. Not leaving out all peace brokers, special credits go to the former President of America, George W. Bush who as I collect said he "I wouldn't take no for an answer, let Mr. Taylor leave now" and the former President of Ghana and ex-Chairman of ECOWAS, John AgyekumKufuor and the mediation of General AbdulsalamiAbubakar, former Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and It is also crucial to reflect on the significant contributions of former Force Commanders of ECOMOG.

It is crucial to reflect the significance contributions of our courageous, indigenous and non-violent mothers, and highlights their meaningful contributions, as such; this article depicts the heaviest price our mothers paid in the obtainment of tangible peace, which is the direct result of this new dispensation of a participatory democracy. This year's anniversary of peace desires the befitting merriments and jovialities. The late Mother Mary Brownell and several other courageous mothers and critical voices among the thousands of victimized women who refused to play to the threats of their male counterparts were undeterred by the havoc.

They stood their grounds and courageously echoed their voices by pressing the rebels' leaders to play to the rule of non-violence and seek solutions from the conference table and not bullets. These strong and fearless women's voices had a collective objective-the sensation of the long years of what is dubbed: the bloodiest war and the restoration of democracy, the process which bears witnessed to successive democratically demonstrated elections across the Republic also holds the truth reality of the silence of the guns of all types, shapes and manner including the bombs and terrifying smoking guns.

Unthinkable Display Of Bravery-Liberian Mothers

Out of an unthinkable display of bravery, our mothers extended their search for genuine peace to even unsafe military zones; in short, they ran the day-to-day affairs by also ensuring that the madness in the country be brought to an end; by that, they traded places, engaging influential and powerful global movers and shakers as well as world leaders as well as the wheelers and dealers who in some style and condition in pinning their serious attentions to the hell their country had been plunged into chaos.

During the 2003 peace talks held in the Ghanaian capital, Accra when belligerent groups displayed an improper behavior by delaying to sign the peace agreement to end the war, a group of indigenous Liberian women from diverse backgrounds took the bull by the horn, locked the doors to deny the participants from leaving the conference hall as a means of pressurizing ex-leaders of belligerent groups, political parties and civil society organizations to find a common ground and put end to imbroglio.

Our mothers' rights and respects were violated, harassed, beaten and stripped of their goods and values, they were subdued and maltreated, while other women who could not stand the agonies were obliged to give themselves to the fighters to survive. But there were several other critical voices among the thousands of victimized women who refused to play to the whims and threats of their male counterparts.

The departure of President Taylor on 11th August was particularly important in that it led to the necessary condition for the restoration of peace in Liberia. The entire ECOWAS community was thankful to Nigeria and its President for offering political asylum to the former President and deploying troops to help stabilize the country while on 4th August, the first troops belonging to the interposition force landed on the soil of Liberia, giving hope to the hopeless population that time, and the beginning of the era of silence of the guns became vivid coupled with the end of wanton killings and harassment of peaceful civilians.

The August 18 Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord which concluded with the departure of ex-president Charles Taylor from the political scene into exile and investiture of former president Moses Z. Blah in order to safeguard against the creation of a void that could attractively be exploited by violent interlopers either directly or indirectly and re-ignite chaos, followed by the inauguration of an Interim government under the command of a successful Monrovia-based businessman, Gyude Bryant.

At the heart of the male-imposed-looming predicament profoundly suffered by women, it became the very women, especially during the heyday of the bloody civil war in Liberia who braced the storm and took on the harsh, dangerous and terrifying terrains fending for their families as bullets were flying indiscriminately while their male-counterparts were stuck in complete seclusion in order to save their skins.

During the heat of the war when men were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being conscripted or tortured by rebel forces, it was the women who braved the storm to walk through the dreadful checkpoints to find food for their families. In the process, some women were unfortunately subjected to sexual abuse, beaten and tortured by combatants.

In the face of harsh visible intimidation and nastiness, the women without fears went across battle lines despite heavy fighting to spread peace messages. The painful experiences of women during the war were one of unanimity. Some narrated how they were subjected to eat human feces while others shared sorrowful memories of having forced sex with rebel fighters to spare their lives.

But this cruel treatment did not deter them from their non-violent advocacy for peace and an end to fratricidal civil feud in the country. Most war affected women were held hostage and used as 'combat-wives for warlords and fighters, while others 'were conscripted to head-load materials along forest tracks and cook and provide sexual services for the combatants. Moreover, they sacrificed their personal security and lives by openly undertaking lengthy periods of prayers and open-air fasting invoking the divine intervention of the 'Father of Creation' to end the war. And indeed, their efforts and sacrifices provided praiseworthy dividends. "Goodbye to war! Goodbye, carnage! Goodbye guns, Goodbye Violence and Goodbye fighting".

About the Author: Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray is an Assistant Professor at the University of Liberia Graduate Program Of International Studies. He is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials including a doctorate in International Relations and Foreign Policy Studies from Paris, France. He has authored two books, published Two Graduate Theses and a 600-page Doctoral Dissertation on the theme: "Geopolitics of African Oil and Energy: China and America New Strategic Interests in Africa". He has written extensively and published over 70 articles on of contemporary issues.

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