Rejoinder To “Does Liberia Need Another National Conference”


By B.J. Samukai


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 11, 2005

A nation coming out of a major civil crisis finds an appropriate mechanism to understand the historical path of its contemporary history as a legacy of understanding contending issues that brought about the conflict. The evolution of an Agreement centers around exchange of ideas, though heated and divergent, but with an acceptable theme for galvanizing the inherent and physical endowment of a Nation State. It evolves around a common desire to delink selfishness for the common good of all. The acceptable compromise therefore results in a fuller understanding and an agreement. The interpretation of such agreement is left to Legal scholars, but its implementation falls within the terms of reference provided. From East Timor, to Mozambique to South Africa, to Uganda, to Nicaragua, to El Salvador, to Bosnia, to Albania, National Conferences have served its people well, and these countries are on the path of Democracy, despite the hurdles, but not a return to civil war.

Morlu’s article “Does Liberia Need another National Conference” (the January 5, 2005), may be seen in the following perspective: The issue of a National Conference (and its objectives) on the one hand, thus Postponing the Elections as one school of thought; and the other school of thought is the issue of a National Conference (as a historical legacy of our contemporary history) without postponing Elections 2005. He cited a segment from an article that I wrote, “It is time to Rethink” (the Nov. 3, 2004) quote: “If election 2005 is to provide a political leadership for stability in our country, then the alternative to a National Conference before elections 2005 is chaos after elections…The demand for a National Conference before election 2005 is reality one that we must accept….”. He then questioned the anticipation of chaos in an environment where there is no mandate from the population, and elected leaders take on a posture of knowing it all.

Broadly, on the issue of a National Conference, the article under review may be appropriately characterized as a comparative presentation of statements rejecting calls for a national conference, against those who support the idea of a national dialogue. The basis for rejection as presented in his article felt short of analytical presentation. It undertook a diatribe on the organizers instead of the rationale of the conference; It questioned the inclusiveness of the language chosen as a theme for the conference, instead of the objective to be achieved; instead of delineating the issue of a National Conference from that of postponing the elections, his article chose to link the issue of national dialogue with a conclusion “to divide up the pie anew, with only the head of government being replaced with another inept and corrupt group of people…” He argued that some prominent Liberians had earlier rejected calls for a national conference as being “unnecessary and complete distraction” thus implying that the idea is shallow and should go away. He concluded the strength of his facts by concluding that: “It is about government jobs, pure and simple…”

The complexity of the Liberian situation is not beltway simplicity neither is it a brown bag lunch. Whatever shortcomings or failures experienced by the Interim Government under Dr. Sawyer (in which I served without reservation) should not be confused with the fate of our nation-state. The passage of intellectual time should not be confused with the foresight of a legacy for future generations to fully understand the intricacies of Liberia’s contemporary history, and the disservice rendered to those who were killed uselessly for whatever political, ethnic or reasons otherwise.

Other facts presented in rejecting the calls for a national dialogue were that: “Undoubtedly almost all of the people who took part in the conference worked in the Interim Government of National Unity. They got fat government jobs. What did the Liberian people got? Nothing! They were left holding an empty bag…” Indeed, there are elements of truth to this assertion. However, the Banjul Conference of 1990 shall be judged on the basis of whether there were other tangible options readily available that Liberians could have successfully pursued with regional and international support, that they chose not to follow at the time. One would ask whether the argument presented above is a credible argument against holding a national conference as part of the process of documenting our recent national nightmare? This in fact should be a resounding basis for us to seek to engage ourselves in understanding how we got to that point in our nation’s history. We must seek to fully understand our past as a basis to move forward. That is part of the reasons why it is without doubt a more reasonable course of action for a national dialogue, including this intellectual exchange as a legacy of our nation’s history.

His article went on to link the recent call for a national conference with that of Charles Taylor 1998 “Vision 2024 Conference”. It would have been of credit if he had distinguished between the objectives of the recent calls for a national conference to that of the derivative of the Taylor’s Conference of 1998. It is now an established fact, and even Morlu agrees in his article (about the “failed leadership of Charles Taylor”) that Mr. Taylor’s Conference was a showman case, with an objective of personal political advancement. It was organized by Taylor, staffed by Taylor; Moderated by Taylor, financed by Taylor’s Government and arrived at Taylor’s Conclusion, ignoring the contribution of credible professionals who were invited. Therefore, the analogy presented in his article lacks substance as a yardstick against calls for a national dialogue.

He argued further that, including the Reverend Jessie Jackson Rainbow Coalition Conference of national unity, “none of these conferences produced anything tangible for ordinary Liberians…” Tangible accomplishments of National Conferences are embodied in the National Spirit of its people, after an exhaustive exchange of ideas through broader participation and the objectives set out. The objectives may be broadened, narrowed, or may even be dynamic with the evolution of more facts and exchange of ideas. Tangible results from conferences could evolve from those given the mandate to lead, and are operating in a democratic, transparent and accountable environment. Failures of the past are not basis for rejecting calls for a national dialogue. Infact, these failures should be compelling reasons for supporting the argument for a national conference to correct the mistakes of the past and chart a better course for the future.

The three warring factions in Accra finally decided the creation of the Gyude Bryant interim regime. The choice made by non-combatants through majority vote, to head the interim government is part of the legacy of the formation of the leadership under the CPA. This is no excuse to link the calls for a national dialogue with a change of the Bryant regime. Failures of the Bryant Regime should in fact be incontrovertible reasons why never again should Liberians allow only a handful of individuals (especially warlords) to determine the leadership of our dear country without a national consensus.

It is very unfortunate that Mr. Morlu made the following assertion: “We don’t need a national conference to achieve peace. Maybe stability, but peace?” From the questions posed after this assertion, it became absolutely evident that he is frustrated with the performance of the Bryant regime: Lack of basic services, poverty, corruption, rich getting richer, poor getting poorer, disparity in living standards, run-away inflation, increasing costs of living, among other dismal performances. He continued his disillusionment by concluding that: “Government can use force to bring about stability but not peace…Peace is only possible when people know that they have a stake in the outcome….” By suggesting that force is the option of choice for stability, then, the rationale for rejecting calls for a National Conference is an intellectual disaster. By using semantics to distinguish stability and peace, he threw tantrums in his argument against calls for a national conference.

Peace is a dividend of putting in place the right leadership to lead our nation. Peace is a dividend of credibility, accountability and integrity. Peace is a dividend of transparency. Peace embodies the national spirit through tolerance and dialogue. Peace is a fuller understanding of the unblemished revelation of the facts of our contemporary history. Having a stake in the outcome of a process is preceded by participation in that process in the first place. Reconciliation is a process of contrition, acceptance, deliverance and forgiveness (Teachings from Bolahun Mission Monastery). These are mutually inclusive and it serve the common good. A National Conference does not hinder reconciliation. Infact, it serves the common good through openness, tolerance and participation. The formation of a “real War Crimes Tribunal”, advocated in his article (“I don’t mean truth and reconciliation either….”) is a clear recognition of the essence of the common good.

Furthermore, his argument against the national conference took 180 degrees turn when he asked “whether any of the conference planners would stand up and say that they are for catching, prosecuting and seizing the assets of all those people who have stolen the Liberian people’s money....”? This assertion is a tacit admission that there are details that may need to be worked out by organizers of, and participants in a national conference. Accountability, transparency, and the rule of law are buzzwords for sustaining emerging democracies. Liberia is coming out of a war to transition towards democracy. The mandate for reforms must come from the Liberian people. Every Liberian has the right to express his/her opinion on the approach to adopt.

It goes without saying that the legacy of civil conflicts or even genocide and return to normalcy have demonstrated that a mandate (“never again….”) has to evolve from the people to hold those elected accountable during the process of transition after elections. It is even more compelling for this mandate to be provided by the people, as measure of the degree of fuller understanding of the critical issues of their contemporary history, and the needed program of actions including reforms that may be incorporated in platforms of political parties.

The last attempt at internal institutional reforms was by the ruling TWP in 1980. President Tolbert recognized the compelling calls for reforms, and agreed to initiate same within the ruling TWP. There were indications of reluctance from some core members of the leadership of the TWP to relinquish their vantage positions. The distinction of Party Congress (prior to civil conflict) vis-à-vis a National Conference (after civil conflict) is well noted. The President indicated his determination to go ahead with these internal reforms, thus bringing in a new breed of younger Liberians. However, empirical judgment on the outcome of this process by President Tolbert is difficult to pass because of the intervening events of April 12, 1980. But the fundamental question is how are we to undertake institutional reforms in the absence of fully discussing and understanding the critical issues of our contemporary history?

There have been numerous calls for reforms, with varying degrees of methodology from persons such as Hon. Bai Gbala, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, Mr. Weh-Dorliae, Dr. Sawyer, Dr. Elwood Dunn, Mr. Byron Tarr, Cllr. Tuan Wreh, Dr. Antoinnette Brown-Sherman, Dr. Zangbar Liberty, Dr. Seyon, Dr. Edward Beyan Kesselly, Cllr. Tambakai Jangaba, Dr. Augustine Caine, among others. These calls and presentations made over four decades ago have not been galvanized through a national setting that would serve as an obligatory mandate to leaders elected to serve in public office. The reverse of depending on individuals seeking elected offices or those elected to lead, to have the fullest understanding and solution to our national tragedy is an abomination to the ultimate sacrifice of our forbearers and the victims of our civil conflict.

It is again unfortunate that his argument for rejecting calls for a national conference is based on “use our time by forcing each of these candidates to give us a platform of how they plan to govern….” It would be a disillusionment to think that individuals seeking elected office will not sell you exactly what they think you want to hear: Good governance, accountability, anti-corruption, rule of law, transparency, and the whole nine yards. The number of political parties and individuals aspiring to the highest elected office has now evolved as the right of individuals and association to decide as they so choose within the framework and guidelines set by the National Elections Commission. The realities of 85 percent illiteracy and a nation traumatized from a prolong tragic civil conflict are eclipsed by the lack of direction from those aspiring to lead.

Where is the documented legacy of understanding how we got to where a traumatized population came to say: “You kill my ma, you kill my pa, I will vote for you….”; earlier, the cries were, “Native woman born soldier”…fast forward, “chucky must go…Ghanky must go…We don’t want Ghanky….” Our failure to fully understand and learn from the unfolding dynamics of our contemporary history shall be a broken record to the detriment of the larger population without the benefit of higher education and learning experience.

By shifting the burden of internal reforms to the next government, Mr. Morlu assumes that: “The next government will have the legitimacy to make “all” of these institutional changes. (He added) You can ensure that by financially supporting and voting for the candidate that you think will implement the changes you want to see made in Liberia….”. This assumption has insignificant precedent (if any) in our contemporary history and thus there is no need to present a counter argument.

As you dissect the article, what seems a puzzle about his argument against the idea of a national conference appears, especially where he recognizes that “ULAA is the legitimate organization for many Liberians in America…Why not allow ULAA to host it (National Conference)….” This assertion is to divulge a solution to internal squabble among organizers of the National Conference. Infact, this is where his intellectual strength and argument were most useful in suggesting a platform from which to launch the idea of a national conference. The ideas conceived for hosting a national conference is not ridiculed, but the mechanism for hosting. Infact, he attempted to distract readers when he suggested whether the organizers would be “willing for (him), a young professional Liberian, to host the conference…I beg you not (he answered). I wouldn’t even do it because it is a waste of time….” This is pure intellectual fantasy.

Finally, his article suggested to Chairman Bryant not to “provide any credence to the group”, accusing the organizers (“Dr. Sawyer and his Banjul Friends”) of being after every government posts in Liberia, that “This whole National Conference is a job fair in the making….” This aspect of Mr. Morlu’s article presents an inherent conclusion of which Mr. Bryant is the beneficiary. Elections 2005 evolved out of a dialogue among Liberians, including diabolical warlords, in Accra (the history of which is self evident). The composition of the CPA Government is clear. Its performance is documented.

Calls for a National Conference are ideas whose conception should not be confused with dislike of individuals. If Sawyer is the problem, then tell him to give way. If Dr. Tarpeh is the problem, let him also give way. Individual faults should not eclipse the common good of our Nation-State. It is clear that Elections 2005 is set as the arbitrator under the CPA to determine the Political leadership of our country. Its evolution reflects the changing dynamics of regional politics in recognizing that democracy good governance and all of its attributes must be held accountable by those entrusted to lead. Sustaining the process requires leadership mandated by those being led. This mandate may evolve through dialogue, town-hall meetings, petitions, Legislative representation, conferences, political party congress, and caucuses, among others. It is not limited to elections. The story does not end with elections, but begins with electoral victory mandated by the people.

The evidence of Democracy in North America evolved over 200 hundred years, including a civil war, and several constitutional amendments. It is still evolving with its shortcomings, but its impact serves as precedent for protecting the inalienable rights of its people and humanity. The evolution of the largest democracy in the world, in India, reflects the common good of its people, an idea conceived by its founding father, Ghandi. The ultimate sacrifice made in the service of the common good is judged by the legacy of the nation’s history. Madiba Mandela of South Africa is a living legend of the impact of ideas conceived and nurtured by the historical dynamics of society.

In Liberia, if efforts in the past have been riddled with shortcomings, failures and disappointments by any political clique, then it is about time that a new generation emerges with better ideas to take the mantle of leadership and make a difference. If individuals entrusted with political power had failed in the past, a new generation should emerge to demand changes and challenge existing political postulates.

The hopes, aspirations and desires of the land of our forefathers for “a wholesome functioning society” should not be marginalized by intellectual disagreement. Calls for a National Conference are not the only panacea for a better future. They represent methodological options commensurate with the dynamics of the Liberian situation. Similarly, Elections 2005 in Liberia is a by-product of the Accra Conference (participants notwithstanding) that produced the CPA and its interim arrangement.

It took a Conference to produce the CPA Government and the Terms of Reference for which they are being held accountable. Mandate from a National Conference may be the differential in distinguishing which political party and its candidates will win the sacred trust of voters come Elections 2005.