By Jones Nhinson Williams
The death of Sheikh Kafumba Konneh shocked, if not all, I would say most Liberians, especially those who aspire for a better, just and peaceful Liberia. In a broader sense, Sheikh Konneh connected with every day Liberian, directly and indirectly. He had no constituency other than Liberia and all Liberians. He showed us that we can all have our strong held beliefs, traditions, customs and even tribes, but still be decent human brings; peaceful citizens of Liberia and above all, statesmen and women. Of course, he was frequently misunderstood and the reason is obvious: he had no agenda or something to hide. He was an honest, courageous, dedicated, humble spiritual and moral Liberian leader. His patriotism for Liberia and affection for all Liberians, at one point in time, made him to be disliked by some from his own tribe and religion. Only few men and women in human history have treaded this path, and in his own small way, Sheikh Konneh will be said to have a small place amongst those people.
Sheikh Kafumba Konneh’s cordial relationship with the dominant Christian clerical leadership of Liberia from the 1980s to the time of his death defied the global prejudice and misconception that Christians and Muslims cannot have unity, mutual respect, or live together in peace and happiness. He was not only a good friend to Liberia’s Christian leaders like the late Catholic archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis, Lutheran bishop Roland Diggs, Pentecostal bishop Nah Dixon, Baptist clergymen Levee Moulton, Walter Richards and Canon Burgess Carr of the Episcopal Church of Liberia, he was also a close confidante to these men. They planned strategies and held very top level meetings together regarding Liberia’s security, safety and future. The Christian leadership trusted the Sheikh and he trusted them. Every time they met, they met as the moral conscience of Liberia under the umbrella of the Inter-Faith Council of Liberia. More importantly, they met as Liberians, as friends, and as Liberian moral elders with common sense.
When I was editor of the Messenger Magazine at St. Paul’s Catholic Seminary, I decided to do an article on the Inter-Faith Religious Council of Liberia, and to do that, I decided to interview my then boss, Archbishop Michael K. Francis, just to find out what the Inter-Faith Council of Liberia was really about and how they interacted. My interest was in Sheikh Kafumba Konneh and how he fit in. The late Archbishop told me that whenever they met, it was not about religion or personalities; rather, it was about Liberia and the Liberian people. When something was wrong or someone did a terrible thing as we saw during the factional fighting, greed for power and theft of national wealth in the 1990s, Sheikh Konneh pointed that out, it did not matter whether it was done by a Liberian Christian or Liberian Muslim. This objectiveness defined the life of the great Liberian (Sheikh Konneh) we lost this week.
There is a lesson we as Liberians can all learn from the life of Sheikh Kafumba Konneh: his life urges us to put Liberia first and our socio-cultural attachments second. Yes, we are Christians and Muslims and even Buddhists or Traditional African Religion adherents, for the Sheikh, those attachments were personal beliefs that require and should limited to personal commitment. Being a Liberian was not a personal belief, it is a collective affirmation and aspiration. Sheikh Konneh lived up to what it means to be a Liberian.
Sheikh Konneh’s convictions and his courage were intertwined – this is one vital reason to celebrate his life and for understanding the pain and sadness with which his death has been received. One way to honor this great Liberian who strived for decades to foster mutual respect, understanding and cooperation among the various faith groups of Liberia is for all Liberians to desist from using religion in our political discourse and thinking, in our politics and socio-economic interactions, and above all, in our government. For the Sheikh, religion was personal to him and being a Liberian was a collective pride and aspiration. May the Almighty Allah bless the soul of Sheikh Kafumba Konneh and may his family left behind experience lasting peace, reconciliation and prosperity in a New Liberia that their loved one, a true Liberian hero and patriot, worked so hard for. Liberia will rise again! Long live Liberia!
Williams is a Catholic educated contemporary philosopher, acclaimed Liberian visionary, President & CEO of the New Liberia Foundation, and head of the U.S.-based Jewish Family Services International Refugee Program.