Monday, October 10, 2005

Changing Liberia’s Blood-Soaked Legacy

Liberia’s Independence
Liberia was established in July 1847 by so-called “Americo-Liberians” who ruled this piece of land as a personal family business for over 130 years (1847-1980). The Liberian Constitution, its flag, and a host of other national icons were modeled upon those of the United States of America. The Capital, Monrovia is named after James Monroe, America’s fifth president.

Liberia, a land supposed to be a place for the FREE, became a territory of racial discrimination, imposed by the fair-skin color former slaves from America and other captives rescued in international waters. Instead of the country becoming a beacon of peace, prosperity and freedom; it became a replica to the plantations and farms of the South of the United States of America, where slaves labored for white masters. But this time, the masters were as brown as their subjects. Firestone Rubber Plantation is the major case in point of forced labor. It was not until 1936 that forced labor was abolished. Racial discrimination was outlaw in 1958 by then President William V.S. Tubman.

During the First World War (1914-1918), Liberia became a key player to allies struggle against Germany, by declaring war on the later, thus giving the Allies a base in West Africa. The same happened in 1944 during Second World War (1939-1945).

An Indigenous Liberian Seizes Power
Come 1980, a semi-literate Master Sergeant, Samuel K. Doe was made Head of State after a bloody military coup that left his predecessor and 13 other high-ranking government officials slaughtered. The coup in itself was welcomed with chants of “free at last” from the masses, who had been forced into submission by past regimes. What tainted the operation was the public execution of the 13 officials. This was appalling, but the International Community paid a blind eye, hoping that Doe would change the course of his nation to development and prosperity. He squandered the opportunity.

Samuel Doe survived several tentative coups, though critics say his security apparatus staged some in order to get his opponents. Thomas Quiwonkpa and al staged the most renown failed military coup in 1985. At some point, the coup was thought to be successful. Quiwonkpa had seized the radio and supposedly the Executive Mansion, and people brazed the streets in jubilation. Hours went by. Somehow, somewhere, something went wrong. Suddenly, Doe announced on State Radio, “I am back in power.” Several people were razed by machine gun fire in the streets of Monrovia, especially those who had gone into the grounds of the Executive Mansion chanting (there is no report of this mass slaughter). The mastermind, Quiwonkpa was captured and decapitated by Doe’s security. What follows after is history that must be told.

In 1985, Samuel Doe staged an election believed to have been won by Jackson F. Doe (late). Charles Taylor later killed Jackson Doe. Samuel K. Doe was declared winner of those elections. Despite being given a second chance, the man grew even more fanatic and paranoid. He continued to hunt down is opponents both by day and night, plunging Liberia right back into anarchy. Daily livelihood, education, and healthcare were ignored under successive regimes. The economy fell at its lowest. Liberians struggled to feed themselves, living on less than $1 a day. The nation’s literacy rate stands at a mere 20%, while access to healthcare is almost non-existent. While the masses suffered, government officials with access to the nations coffers evacuated their immediate families to better lifestyle in America, Europe, and other affluent African countries. In short, they [politicians] selfishly pillaged the nation and invested abroad. This is a social mal that is widespread in Liberian society since (158 years ago) the declaration of independence.

The All Out Offensive
By the late 1980s, Samuel Doe had transformed Liberia into a clanship, naming several Krahns (Doe’s ethnicity) to high power positions in the army, Para-military apparatuses, and strategic government ministries. With memories of the 1980 executions, families of those men were looking for opportunities to wreck revenge on Doe and his gang. Prominent Liberians including Ellen Johnson formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in the United States to oust Doe’s regime. Ellen acknowledged contribution US$10,000 to the war. Charles Taylor, former minister in Doe’s government who fell out with the late president led the uprising against the government.

Launched in December 1989 through Nimba County, the Liberian Civil War took away more than 250,000 lives – children, women, and men. On average, every Liberian family lost a relative or love one. In my immediate family for example, I lost a nephew, Edwin at age 13 during the last assault on Monrovia in 2003. On the enlarged family level, I lost more than 5 persons (cousins and uncles). To add to this record, more than 100,000 young men and women were forced to actively carry out the civil war. As a result, they are traumatized; some physically handicapped; and others are mentally inapt to ever live a normal life again.

1997, Charles Taylor won one of the best-staged and feared elections in the history of Africa. Taylor’s gangs intimidated war-weary Liberians, who massively voted Taylor’s National Patriotic Party to power, thus giving the ruling party control in both houses – the Legislature and Senate.

While Liberians hoped that Taylor would bring much needed development to this war-torn nation, he continued the witch-hunt against his opponents unabated. Taylor’s gangs mercilessly murder prominent Liberians, like Samuel Dokie and family. Some fled abroad; others kept silent.

By 2000, another planned rebel incursion, led by Taylor’s opponents, was well into Northern Lofa County. This time around, remnants of late Samuel Doe’s Krahn fighters and Madingoes vying to take Taylor down with the backing of Guinea and Sierra Leone, were on the loose shelling villages and killings youths suspected of being Taylor’s fighters. Liberia northern region became a no-man’s land as Guinean troops backed the LURD war machine to move into towns and villages along the border. The sight from Gueckedou, Macenta, and Lola (all Guinean Towns) was not pretty.

While Liberians languish in poverty and suffering, the International Community imposed sanctions on Taylor’s government in 2001. The Diamonds-for-arms embargo went a long way in weakening Taylor’s war machine. It also contributed to more hardship on ordinary Liberians.

As Taylor faced pressure from several fronts, he became even more diabolic. In February 2001, he ordered the execution of his one-time confident and manager of the Sierra Leone war, Sam Bockarie (aka Mosquito) and his family. Taylor’s succeeded in eliminating evidence (i.e. Mosquito) that would have been used against him in the United Nations High Court for war crimes in Sierra Leone.

Conakry’s Active Involvement
In early 2001, I watched as more reinforcements were sent from the border towns of Gueckedou, Macenta, and Lola in Guinea. Guinea continued in its efforts to get rid of Taylor at all cost, while vehemently supporting LURD forces. The Guinean army shelled Lofa and Nimba counties on the Liberian side on multiple occasions. At the same time, a power nation was administering logistic support and strategic training to the Guinea Army.

By March 2003- Rebels advanced to within 10km of Monrovia. Talks in Ghana aimed at ending rebellion are overshadowed by the indictment accusing President Taylor of war crimes over his alleged backing of rebels in Sierra Leone. In the month of July, battles intensified for control of Monrovia. Thousands of innocent civilians are killed – sometimes by Taylor’s rockets and other times by the advancing LURD forces. I lost a nephew (Edwin) at this crucial moment.

Taylor’s Escape
August 2003, Taylor and the International Community worked out a deal. Nigeria played a crucial role in sending troops to Liberia and granting asylum to Taylor and his entourage. Charles Taylor shamefully bowed down and turned the keys over to his deputy, Moses Blah for a transitional period of three months.

Since January 2004, an interim government headed by Gyude Bryant was installed and was given mandate to steer Liberia to free, fair, and transparent elections under the watchful eye of the International Community. During its mandate, the Interim Government has been marred by scandals of corruption and nepotism. This is just another reminder that Liberian politicians cannot be trusted with public office. They always put their desires before the common good of the people. At one point, the International Community threatened to take over Liberia.

On October 11, Your Vote is What it Takes
This succinct rundown of Liberian History is intended to give the reader a clear understanding of the dynamics of Liberian politics and how it will impact the October 11 elections. Liberians have been kept at bay for so long. This is the time to rise and shine!

The level of greed and anarchy I have witnessed over the years is directly linked to the mentality of “getting as much as I can.” Liberians must deny politicians such a luxury at this point in time. Liberia declared independence 158 years ago; yet, countries that declared independence less than 40 years ago are far better off than Liberia. Take a look at Senegal (1960), Ghana (1957), just to name a few. These countries are like great grand children to Liberia, yet, they have been able to achieved a considerable level of development that may take us about half a century. As The New York Times puts it, “Deals cut by decades of corrupt rulers have robbed the Liberian people of the profits from the nation's rich endowment of resources - timber, rubber and gems.”

October 11, it will take your vote to change the tide and the course of Liberian history; that your children, grand children and great grand children will remember and proudly say, “My father or mother was part of that generation of Liberians that changed the status-quo for the betterment of our nation – Liberia.” Go vote with your heart and soul, not based on affinity or who-you know.

For more information go to The Liberian Voice.

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