The Overarching Lesson From Ghana

(Speech by Morris M. Dukuly)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 1, 2004

Editor’s Note: This speech was made by Honorable Morris M. Dukuly, former Minister of Posts & Telecommunications, R.L., (1987 - 1990) and former Speaker of the Transitional Legislative Assembly of the Liberia of the Liberian National Transitional Government of the Republic of Liberia, R.L. (1994 - 1997) during the celebration and honoring program marking the Third Anniversary of the Minnesota Mandingo Association (MMA). The ceremony was held on March 27, 2004 at the Harvest Preparatory School, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Below is the full text of his address:


President, officers, dear sisters and brothers of the Mandingo Association of Minnesota, Friends of the Association present here tonight, Fellow citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen:



I am delighted by your invitation to be here tonight to participate in these ceremonies marking the third anniversary of the Minnesota Mandingo Association and the honoring of some of its members. I would also like to thank you for the warm welcome which you have accorded my family and me tonight.  My family and I are deeply grateful and appreciative.


Mr. President, members of your Executive Committee and the entire membership of the Minnesota Mandingo Association: I would like to thank you for your thoughtful consideration and for the honor which is so eloquently exemplified by the conferral of this award. I should like to hasten to say that, as I receive this award, I do so on behalf of our many brothers and sisters across the landscape of this country and others back in Africa, especially in West Africa, who labor in small but important ways to advance our common humanity and improve the lot of all of our people. They are the ones who truly deserve this honor, and it is to them that you have awarded it and for whom I receive it. Therefore, tonight, on their behalf, on behalf of my family, and in my own name, I want to say thank you for this gesture of recognition and distinction.


Tonight, as I receive this award, I would like to challenge all of us to pause to reflect on our individual lives, on the lives that our people are leading in West Africa, and on our beloved country, Liberia.


This month marks six months of leadership of the interim national government of Liberia in Monrovia.  When the peace agreement was signed in mid-2003 in Ghana, much hope was raised. The overarching lesson from Ghana was, it seems to me, two-fold. Lesson 1: nearly 15 years of war had left the Liberian people weary and anxious for any peace and at any price. The peace agreement in Ghana, with all its imperfections and perfections, therefore presented to them and to all of us, a real opportunity to return our country to normalcy and stability and security. In a word, never before in the nearly 15 years of warfare in Liberia, have our people and our country been more ready and willing to give peace a chance, to make the sacrifices and compromises that enhance the potential and prospect for peace.


The second lesson from Ghana was that durable and genuine peace will come to Liberia only when Liberians decide that they hunger and thirst for peace - and want peace. The civil society organizations, political parties, armed groups, and the inter-faith community demonstrated in Ghana that it was time to make peace in Liberia once again. And the international community, led by the United States and its hard working Ambassador in Liberia, European Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deserve our grateful thanks and appreciation for staying the course and literally goading and leading Liberians to make peace.


Yet, six months after Ghana, the enthusiasm, the opportunity, the promise, and the hope that pervaded the entire Liberian nation seem to be ebbing. Although it is my understanding that much work has and is continuing to be done by the United Nations, disarmament is far from truly beginning. Furthermore, if you listen to credible news emanating from Liberia, as I do, you will not help but feel a palpable sense of de ja vu all over again. For the same group of people who helped Charles Taylor regime to strangulate the Liberian economy through unwarranted and illegal special monopolies, exploit and pauperize our people, and indelibly ruin, if not deplete our forest resources today remain firmly in the driver’s seat of the interim government.


In fact, things are getting so bad, my dear brothers and sisters, that the United States Ambassador near Monrovia recently reportedly warned the interim government of Liberia that unless it curbed corruption, dismissed persons caught committing corrupt acts, and became more transparent in its financial dealings, funds pledged at the recent donor conference held in New York may not be forthcoming any time soon. When we add to this reports that the government had recently asked a local Lebanese businessman to serve as national procurement officer to purchase an unspecified number of new vehicles for the government at the staggering price tag of $3,000,000.00 (Three Million United States Dollars) to ply streets with innumerable potholes, a citizenry needing dire improvements in health and education services, then it can, my friends, indeed be said that something is amiss with our country.


Hence, from the distant observer, which all us currently are, the conclusion can be objectively made that our national priorities are either misplaced or are being designed to serve the per culinary interests of the nighttime paymasters of our leaders and politicians. My brothers and sisters, to say that this is unfortunate would be an understatement.


I was personally encouraged when shortly after assuming office; I read that Mr. Gyude Bryant had abolished the rice and petroleum monopolies.  In fact, I went around telling people literally in Tubmanesque language that "Gyude was the man we want!", in spite of my earlier disappointment that my preferred candidate had lost to him.  Then, of course, I learned later that those who collaborated with the Taylor regime to milk the Liberian economy had again successfully earned their places at "Gyude’s table"- and   have become the new procurement agents in Liberia.


But while I am distressed by the news of business as usual in Liberia, I am even more troubled by developments in the most critical area of the Liberian peace process: Disarming of the combatants. Disarming of combatants is the single most important element in the process of restoring peace and security and stability to Liberia because its comprehensibility and success, or half-heartedness or inadequacy and failure, will determine whether we have long-term peace and security and stability, or whether we have a peace that is ephemeral or short-lived.


Consequently, I believe that there is no aspect of the Liberian peace process that should demand and command our attention, our energies, our resources, and our collective resolve more than the comprehensive and total disarming of the young men and women, many of whom were forced by a range of necessities to take up arms against their country and people.


There is another thing I would like to say about disarmament in Liberia. It is not and should not be viewed as a single event symbolized by the physical taking away of guns. The single act of taking away guns from a totally militarized country such as Liberia is not genuine disarmament, as some are wont to believe.  The physical taking away of guns is and should only be the beginning of the process of starting the combatants on the slow, tortuous road to recovery, to re-integration, and to resuming normal, wholesome, and responsible life and citizenship once again.


Genuine disarmament requires a period of de-toxication of mindsets prone to view violence, especially the use of guns, as a solution to all problems, especially those arising from personal needs.


Genuine disarmament places premium on counseling not just of the combatants who are burdened by various mental health, spiritual, and issues, but of the general population which has been traumatized and scarred by the violence of 15 years of warfare.


Genuine disarmament involves creating training opportunities for the acquisition of vocational/technical skills for gainful employment and productive citizenship.


Genuine disarmament requires disempowering combatants so that they no longer see the use of arms as a necessary tool for survival - and teaches empowerment skills that make them condemn violence and embrace new lives as skilled carpenters, builders, small business operators, roofers, and automotive mechanics, among others. Such skills thus enable the former combatants to regain their self-dignity and humanity, lead meaningful lives, and raise families.


Genuine disarmament requires that a micro-loan program be launched so that combatants who complete their skills training and desire starting their own business can and may have access to ready cash provided on loan with a definite payment period - and monitored and supervised by the granting agencies working under the aegis of the United Nations or an international non-governmental organization to ensure transparency, accountability, and continued liquidity and profitability of the small business enterprises.


Genuine disarmament also involves a system of restitution whereby the former combatants, while earning livelihood as wage earners and small business people, can be deployed as frontline workers in the task of reconstructing the physical infrastructure of Liberia.


Genuine disarmament also requires an educational component, because I believe in my heart that a population with a higher literacy rate than that of our country could not and cannot be long manipulated or held hostage by power and wealth seekers who either present themselves as politicians working in the interest of the ordinary people or "purveyors" of democracy.


Ladies and Gentlemen: Unless disarmament, as currently being pursued in Liberia, involves all of these elements - and more, we will be exactly where we were in February 1997. In short, disarmament, as conducted in Liberia in the past, did not work, and in fact may have laid the foundation for the recent war. There should, in my view, be no attempt to use its model, which was based largely on the provision of small material incentives to the combatants without clear, long-term considerations for their social-emotional and physical well-being, in the current circumstances.


As you can see from the micro profile I have presented of my vision of what genuine disarmament should constitute, we are far from the road to having a genuine disarmament in Liberia. Therefore, the question that I have recently had to grapple with as I have reflected on this issue, and the challenge that all of us, as Liberians, face is this: So, what do we do? For me, the answer has been slow in coming, but it is a simple one. It is itself couched in another question: What do we want? Do we want peace or do we want elections? I, as a Liberian, opt for peace, because I believe that it is the answer to our long-term happiness and unity and prosperity. Elections are only an event. And if the environment is not created for people to exercise their right to vote without fear, coercion, intimidation - and in a democratic climate, then we could be back to where we were in July 1997. There was a rush to elections in July 1997 because of political, fatigue, and other factors in the ECOMOG contributing countries. While I cannot say and do not in fact know if such factors currently exist in the troops contributing countries in Liberia, I can say categorically that any attempt to rush Liberia to another round of elections may in fact not augur well for the long-term nurturing and promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights, security, peace, and stability in Liberia.


So, I wish to propose that the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), and all of our other benefactors, including the troops contributing countries, consider a two- or three-year extension of the life of the interim national government of Liberia so that rather than holding elections in 2005, elections are held in 2006 or 2007.


I make this proposal knowing full well that it will have a mixed reception. But that is precisely what the nature of our Liberian democracy should be: discussing issues that affect our nation and us so that in the final analysis a consensus may be achieved. 


Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen: In my mind, there are several compelling reasons for postponing the 2005 general elections in Liberia. Firstly, I am not convinced that genuine disarmament can be achieved in Liberia between now and October 14, 2005. This should not be construed as a comment on the excellent work that the United Nations and other members of the international community are doing Liberia. Rather, it represents my rational view of the complexity and challenges inherent in the creation of necessary conditions for democratic elections in Liberia by the scheduled date. I also fear that if genuine disarmament is not achieved, free and spirited political discourse and campaigns, all necessary ingredients for a genuine democratic election, will be impossible in Liberia.


Secondly, our legislative elections have always, except for the July 19, 1997, proportional representation elections, been conducted on the basis of a constituency representation. Constituencies, in the letter, intent, and spirit of our Constitution, can neither be created in refugee camps in Monrovia, nor can they be created in the counties when the majority of the population is either in Monrovia or in various refugee and displaced centers.


Thirdly, to conduct a genuine democratic elections, there must be a national census (a real counting of the citizens and residents, or a professional comprehensive census survey). I am not sure in my mind that the prevailing climate in Liberia can lead to a census that produces accurate and verifiable data for the 2005 elections in Liberia.


Fourthly, although I am aware that neither the United Nations, international non-governmental organizations, or the interim Liberian government cannot compel or force Liberians who are internally or externally displaced to return to their villages, towns, and cities, there is no illusion in my mind that if the appropriate physical, logistical, security, and other conditions were created in rural Liberia, the ordinary citizens would quickly and willingly return to their former places of residence.


You, ladies and gentlemen, dear brothers and sisters, and I know this to be the fact because we know the number of telephone phone calls we receive weekly from our needy relatives in Monrovia who complain daily about living conditions and their desire to return to their homes in the rural areas.


Now, I could go on and on outlining reasons why, in my view, the scheduled October 2005 elections should be rescheduled. But time is far spent.


Furthermore, it may surprise some of you who are gathered in this hall tonight and others who may have heard of my formative political plans, and who may now hear me propose that the legislative and presidential elections be rescheduled. I make this proposal because I am a realist. Moreover, I fervently believe that neither my personal political ambition, nor that of any other Liberian politician, should be more important than the collective common good or the future of our nation and people.


Yet my proposal for the extension of the life of the interim government is not without conditions. During the second phase of disarmament, perhaps in 2005, I further propose the holding of a month-long national conference in Liberia, organized and supervised by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), the EU (European Union) and the United States.  All Liberian stakeholders, including those who are in the Diaspora, should be invited to participate in the national conference. The national conference should have the following objectives, among others:


·        Governance - create a broad-based national unity government in which no one party will have any veto or the power to threaten the dissolution of the government. Governance issues may also include issues of decentralization of political authority, consideration for future   election of county and other local leaders, a new revenue sharing formula, a grouping or regionalization of counties, and setting up of a national merit, accountability, and transparency system.

·        Peace and national unity - create a 31-member committee of wise indigenous, political, civil society, inter-faith community, and other leaders to begin the process of reconciling the various feuding ethnic groups.

·        War crimes tribunal/truth commission - creates a commission and develops a national consensus on its mandate and scope. It is imperative that some form of consequence be meted out to those who took our country to war and held it hostage for nearly 15 years.

·        Cooperation with International War Crimes Court - the conference should mandate the new interim government to work with the Sierra Leonean court to begin the arrest and prosecution of those it has indicted and who currently reside either in Liberia or in other countries. If this is not done, the fog of time may either dull our collective memory, or begin to engender sympathy for those who have committed unpardonable crimes against our nation and people. A war legacy of impunity may embolden and lead other power-driven men and women to believe that the way to solving future political differences in Liberia is to cause war in the country.


Ladies and Gentlemen: the issues I have discussed here tonight are neither final in my own mind, nor should they be seen so by others. In fact, I believe that many Liberians will disagree with the basic thrust of my argument, and that is in fact what I would like to see happen. Nevertheless, my contention here is that there should be no rush to elections. Those who feel that they will not be elected presidents of Liberia if we did not hold elections next year should perhaps begin to find new vocations, because fulfilling their power ambitions is not and should not be more important than the preservation of our common country and the creation of a more durable peace and security and stability for us all.


Now, Mr. President, my dear sisters and brothers, I want to make a brief comment about this organization and about us. This is a good organization, and I want to ask all of us to stand up and give a rousing applause to its founding fathers for their vision and dedication and sacrifice.


Every time I have had the opportunity to talk to a group like your own, I have made it a point of encouraging you, our younger brothers and sisters, to go to school, to prepare yourself for future leadership. And I want to do that here tonight. I want to urge each and every one of you to try, in spite of the difficulties of living in the United States, to improve yourself either vocationally or educationally, because only those who prepare themselves and can offer something to Liberia will inherit its future. In other words, prepare for the competition, so when you compete tomorrow, you will compete on the basis of your qualifications and not on the basis of your ethnicity or tribal lineage. The competition and the nation will then respect you not because you are Mandingo, but because you are qualified, and have talents and skills to offer for the betterment of our country and people.


Recently, a friend, with whom I had been discussing my future political plan, asked me: "What will you do to your Mandingo people?"  I responded to my friend’s question in these ways: that Mandingo people were quite capable of taking care of themselves. Then, I paused briefly, and told my friend, "You know one of the lessons I have learned in my political life is that I do not need to take care of my people. If I take good care of other people, they in turn will take good care of my people, and their collective strength and protection will be far greater than anything that I alone could ever do for Mandingos everywhere in Liberia. I informed my friend that there were quite a few instructive examples in our lifetime of Liberian leaders who worked their darnest to "protect their people", but succeeded only in leaving them exposed and vulnerable to the collective wrath of the nation.


I would like to conclude these remarks by narrating something interesting that happened this past week that reinforced my conviction of what I am saying about being Mandingo and the relationship I see between us, as Mandingos, and the 15 other ethnic groups of Liberia. There was a list of presidential candidates on one of the Liberian websites. The names, counties, and tribes were all there. There was one unmistakable fact about my name: the authors correctly had my name and my tribe, Mandingo, but they did not know what county I hailed from. Someone argued that I was Mandingo, but that I came from cape Mount. Someone else wrote and disputed the claim that I came from Cape Mount, but did not dispute my ethnicity. 


What is the lesson that I have drawn from this: my ethnicity is an established and known fact of my life. I do not need to waive a flag or thumb my chest because everyone knows that I am Mandingo. The greatest challenge I have set for myself - and the object of my life’s work will henceforth be to vigorously pursue endeavors that lead to enhanced unity and peace of all ethnic groups in Liberia, including the Mandingo.


Tonight, brothers, sisters, and friends: I want to leave you with this message: Our Mandingo people will have to co-exist with all other ethnic groups in Liberia, or we will not exist alone in Liberia. Similarly, all ethnic groups have to learn to co-exist, or no one ethnic group will exist in Liberia alone. Liberia is our common country. Living together in peace, harmony, security, stability, and prosperity are an imperative. This is our challenge in this millennium.


Finally, tonight, you have honored my family and me, and in honoring us, you have also honored yourselves. I am humbled - and remain in your eternal debt.


Thank you very much.