The Liberian Embassy Independence Day Statement
Delivered By Aaron Kollie
July 31, 2001
Editor's Note: The Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta (LAMA) celebrated Liberia's 154th Independence Anniversary on Saturday, July 28. The activities of the day included a Town Hall Panel Discussion with the theme: "Settling Our Liberian Palaver: In Search of a New Vision." Serving as panelists at the Town Hall discussion were: Dr. Sakui W. G. Malakpa, a Liberian educator, of the University of Toledo; Mr. D. Conmany Wesseh, Executive Director, Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE); Mr. Aaron B. Kollie, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Liberian Embbasy in Washington, DC; Dr. Marcus Dahn of the Movement of Democratic Change in Liberia; and Mr. Mathu Gibson of Liberia Contemporees United Patriotic & Strong. Below is the full text of the statement delivered by Aaron Kollie - representative of the Liberian government at the Town Hall Discussion:
I bring greetings from the Ambassador and staff of the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, DC. Ambassador Bull has asked me to convey his regrets for his inability to attend this session due to urgent national commitment, following the official observance of our 154h Independence Anniversary two days ago. He is travelling to Monrovia this weekend.
We commend the President, officers and members of the Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta (LAMA), for organizing this panel, aimed at discussing the common good of Liberia. The theme of your meeting : "settling our Liberian palaver: in search of a new vision is a laudable initiative, which suits our tine. The fact that you have organized such a forum, is indeed a clear attestation that our country, like most countries, has problems,... problems that require the collective will and full participation of all of us. But let me hasten to disclose that Liberia is not in a state of emergency, nor is our country in a total state of war. While we acknowledge that we do have problems, they are not insurmountable. Against this background, the question that arises is what are we fussing about? This question will lead me to the main focus of my presentation, dealing with the "harmful effects of sanctions on a thriving democracy."
You will agree that Liberians have been fussing for too long
about the need for political equality, social justice, economic
growth and development, as well as respect for human rights. But
these are issues that will continue to belabor successive government.
The last 20 years witnessed our active drive to achieve all of
these lofty principles and objectives. In an effort to address
some of these problems, Liberians in 1997, decided to go to the
polls to settle all of these questions through democratic elections.
Accordingly, the Liberian people spoke and put into place a constitutionally
elected government in an arrangement where 13 political parties
participated in the electioneering process. In the end, one party,
the National Patriotic Party, emerged victorious. Since its inception,
the NPP Government has been endeavoring to implement policies
and programs to address these concerns. But are we saying now,
since the process, coming out of war with all its attendant variables,
we should abort the democratic process and resort to force of
arms? This forum, in my judgement, is saying no. The fact that
you've called us here, you are sending out a clear message that
dialogue is the way forward. This is the very reason why we are
here., We are not here to provide justification for the rightness
or wrongness of events occurring in our country. But together
we can find a common ground, realizing that there is a national
calling to defend our country's cause.
This meeting, searching for a new vision, is all the more timely, as it is said that a nation which lacks vision, perishes. But with all the visionaries, where are we today? Two years ago, we hosted a national conference in Monrovia and carved out vision 2024, - a beautiful blueprint for addressing our country's problems, So I say it is not just the question of adopting a new vision for Liberia. But a collective commitment on the part of all Liberians, not just the national government, to contribute towards the process of implementing the vision that we have set for our country. What does it take? It takes tremendous sacrifices and will power to do so, as in some instances, it would demand denying ourselves the personal comfort and luxury of our time. I guess this is not too big a sacrifice for Liberians to make in the interest of preserving the future of their country. It is time that we avoid the syndrome of saying it is the people's thing. This is no people's thing; it is our thing, because in the final analysis, as a famous Liberian writer puts it, "when things chakala, it chakalas for all, as we are all in the same boat.
Those of us in government are not shy, neither are we ashamed of the call to national service. We have had elections since three and a half years ago, fully cognizant of the fact that the expectations would have been high. The commitment of the international community, that sanctioned that democracy, in terms of pledges of support, has not been forthcoming. There are those who will jump to the conclusion and say what do you expect? But let me hasten to say that a democracy deserted, is a recipe for chaos and disaster. This is why it becomes all the more important that Liberia's thriving democracy is supported, irrespective of the personality of the leadership.
We must begin to reawaken within ourselves that true spirit
of nationalism, putting Liberia first above any individual consideration.
We've seen administrations come and go, but the Republic of Liberia
has remained, and will continue to remain for posterity. What
are we fussing about? Liberia is here. It belongs to all of us.
Whether or not you are in support of the current Government in
Monrovia, one thing remains certain, this week, we have all joined
in observing the 154th founding anniversary of our country as
the oldest Republic in Africa. And by so doing, you've sent out
the positive message by meeting here today that we are a forward
looking people. This gathering is a reflection of the true spirit
of nationalism, in the traditional Liberian context whereby elders
and opinion leaders come together, when there are problems in
the village, and sit and find workable solutions. As you are aware,
this traditional method has historically avoided internecine conflicts
in our country. There is really no need to fuss. We should do
it the old Liberian way.
More than 20 years ago, Liberians who were privileged to receive western education from leading universities, returned home and created such an enlightenment that the evolving political trend was seen as being too slow and in need of a radical political transformation to allow for political pluralism. That tolerant Liberian President at the time was overthrown, perhaps because his independent state of mind that allow for openness in the spirit of non-alignment and positive neutrality. Unfortunately, some people conspired against him and sought his overthrow. It was the scenario of a mortal punishment of a servant failing to obey his master. The Liberian people danced at the time, only to realize later that it was a mistake.
Those same powerful hands supported the military regime against the ruling oligarchy. What we saw was the building of arsenals and military housing, to the neglect of the majority of the people, in an attempt to appease the military to leave office. This was done while deliberately paying blind eye to the democratic process, once their interests were being served at the time, given the cold war scenario. They again conspired against our interest, and supported a change because their servants had become too strong and independent minded for their comfort. The PRC-military turned civilian government was overthrown, leaving a trail of massive destruction of lives and property. In the process, we all were affected directly or indirectly. We all, in some way or another, have played a role in what has transpired, and cannot claim clean hands in all of this. Therefore what are we fussing about?
We can go one making many historical citations here, where educated Liberians have been in the forefront of destroying the foundation of the democratic process in our country. We've seen the tilting of our constitution to favor the elite. We've seen the setting aside of the election results of our people in the 1985 election by a 50-man commission to recount the ballot. We've seen some of our best legal minds formulating decrees to govern in a facade democracy. But we have since passed the stage when we were all fussing about creating a decent, stable and fair Liberian society. Tell me who are the new heroes and heroines who are coming to liberate us again? We need to come together as a people and reconcile our differences. We all have grievances here. But the way forward is to sit and talk.
This week, President Taylor announced a general amnesty to all Liberians, and has invited them-to return home, and join the nation building process. He has genuinely made this call, and all of us Liberians have an obligation to test the call. Sitting here and questioning the sincerity of the call is not helpful. By staying away, you would have lost a glorious opportunity and your right to become a voice in determining the course of events in Liberia. The political process must be tested as we move on to better the lives our people on whose behalf you are today advocating. Liberia is all that we have.
Unfortunately today, Liberia is being portrayed by the international community as the biggest troublemaker in West Africa. They say we are fomenting trouble in Sierra Leone. They say we are stealing Sierra Leonean diamonds and exchanging them for arms. They say we are supporting those who are maiming the arms and legs of Sierra Leonean children and old people. Liberia, our cherished republic, has been relegated and downgraded, even in the absence of substantiating the claims and allegations. Perhaps the new legal paradigm is guilt by association. Is that the new world order? If the big powers say you are wrong, even if you are right, you are suppose to be wrong. Might has become right. Even in crisis, Liberia has had a better standard of living than some of our neighbors,... and we've always been the producers of our own diamonds. During our own crisis, there were no such amputations of civilians. Why would Sierra Leoneans, fighting their own war, do such to their own people and then blame Liberia for such cruelty and act of barbarism? These things do not resemble Liberians. These unfounded charges have infuriated the international community to the extent that Liberia has now become the victim of a well-contrived international conspiracy as a result of the Sierra Leonean crisis. How sure are we, given the nature of the Sierra Leonean Government and some in its inner circle, many of them thief men, that they did not fore plan some of these amputations and try to blame Liberia? The stage may have been set for such, to win international sympathy to isolate Liberia. The game plan has worked so very well, provoking the imposition of sanctions against our country. In the case of other countries, they say smart sanctions or food for oil. Perhaps with the new scientific discovery and confirmation of a major product in Liberia now, which I am not authorize to disclose, the language could very well change. This world is now all about economics and interests. This is a contradiction of belief and philosophy of democracy by the powerful hands, making different rules for different people. President Taylor has never denied having a relationship with the RUF in the early years of its establishment. This relationship, in many instances, became helpful to the peace process.
President Taylor has made an unprecedented offer in a letter
to the UN Secretary General, waving all rights of privacy to investigate
and make public, if any evidence can be found anywhere in the
world that he has benefited from any diamond sales. Moreover,
he has affirmed that any such evidence would result in his immediate
resignation from the presidency. But as we gather here today,
there is an unfolding dramatic development. Can you imagine the
United States objecting to regulations at the conference on the
control of small arms, used to prosecute crises, particularly
in the horn of Africa? Who are the beneficiaries of civil conflicts?
It is obviously the big powers who are the manufacturers of arms,
seeking markets, and in most instances seeing Africa as the appropriate
ground whereby they can exploit the natural resources. It is not
out of altruism, but self interest on the part of these big powers.
This is why arms producers will not rest at anything short of
prosecuting wars in Africa. Some of the big powers are not producers
of rough diamonds, amazingly stand today as the major exporters
of diamonds in the world. The temptation is obvious to find a
scapegoat for the anger, which the suffering of the innocent civilians
in sierra Leone have engendered worldwide. It would however be
grossly unfair to put Liberia in this role as the convenient scapegoat
to assuage and purge the conscience of the powerful. Some of the
root causes of the continuous strife and instability in the West
African sub region are, but not limited to the propensity of Liberia's
neighbors, over the past 20 years, to permit their territory to
be used by dissident groups to launch attacks against Liberia;
the suspicion and distrust among leaders of the Mano River Union
countries; the attempts by nationals of some of the countries
to redress inequities in their society by military rather than
political means; and the designs of external powers to retain
exclusive control over the resources of some of these countries.
Liberia desires a new concept of security that stresses measures
to enhance political trust and expand economic cooperation in
the sub region.
Let me make it clear here that the Government of Liberia acknowledges that there is room for improvement in its continuing efforts to build democratic institutions in the country, foster genuine reconciliation and respect for the rule of law. This is no time for bigotry or arrogance. It has reached out to other political parties by establishing a government of inclusion. Scarce resources are being utilized to organize bi-elections to ensure a more broadly based representative government. The business of the Liberian people has to be taken care of. President Taylor has even gone to the extent of inviting all Liberians; abroad that may have grievances and concerns to come and dialogue about the future of the country. But he has made it clear that there should be no pre-conditions to the talks. If you say the President and the government should resign, then of course there is nothing to talk about. Let the choice of leadership be left to the people of Liberia. Anything short of this, will only sink our nation into further destruction. The welfare of the people of Liberia is a pressing and urgent concern of the Government. The imposition of sanctions on Liberia by the United Nations is a devastating blow to the country. There are those who say the sanctions are selective, intended only to prevent government officials and other close associates from travelling abroad. But the fact remains, if you tied the hands of those who have the constitutional obligation to negotiate and enter into agreements and treaties on behalf of the country, obviously the country will be paralyzed, and majority of the people are the ones who will suffer in the end. Let's draw an analogy: It's like denying the head of the home access to earn bread and butter for his children, and you maintain that the denial is not intended for the children. What an irony!
Howbeit, let us now begin to imbue in ourselves a strong spirit of nationalism, and begin to think Liberia first. Let us leave from here with a commitment to take concrete and positive actions in engaging the Government and people of Liberia to bring about the needed changes in a constructive way to the mutual benefit of the country and its people.
I wish you well.
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