Eulogizing Impunity! Lessons from the arrest of Doe, Kamara & others
By Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.
It is “cold comfort” to the many Liberians living in poverty and/or the relatives of those who were killed as a result of the inaction or actions of these individuals and the impunity with which their conduct was carried out. But in celebrating this day, we honor the memories of these hundreds and thousands of Liberians. The names of these women, men, and children might never get mentioned in Liberian history books. Nonetheless, their relatives who are alive will testify to fact that their deaths were not in vain. That is, if the government ensures that those arrested for economic crimes against the Liberian people face the full weight of the law. Our history books will carry the names of these cold and callous individuals who disregarded the plight of their country women and men in bold letters.
We know fully well that all Liberians who believe in justice have to be continually vigilant against some of the unbearable conditions that have made our country the source of joke and scorn. To think clearly about our prospects is to see the future in the form of a split television screen. On one side, we must be hopeful, wishing that we are achieving the future that we desire. On the other side, we must be cynical, acknowledging that many more predators are still free and deserve the same fates as their compatriots.
I am reminded of scenes of devastation and images of scores of Liberians, who have in years past, and now still live in squalor while these predators live in affluence. I can imagine the number of young men and women in whose eyes we cannot find a spark of hope because these former government officials abandoned them by stealing from the public coiffeurs - resources that could have been spent to improve schools, enhance the quality of health care, build libraries, create jobs, pay overdue public servant wages, ensure national security, build maternity centers for newborns, etc.
The jobless, frail, and elderly people whose lives are negatively impacted by these alleged criminals can now find solace, somehow, that they will pay the price for their crimes. People who at least had minimal savings before the war and have absolutely nothing now can resolve that these alleged criminals will pay handsomely for their crimes. The faces of the supposed criminals cross ethnic and other parochial boundaries, used by some, to suggest that this is a witch-hunt. Critics of the Sirleaf administration on this score need to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves about the heap of self-hatred and hurt that young people feel because they lack opportunities stolen from them as a result of the criminal acts allegedly for which these individuals were arrested. If they are interested in justice, they need to let these matters work their way through the judicial system.
The indifference, which the Sirleaf government showed in the last months following its inauguration, seems to be coming to an end, hopefully. I wonder what Albert Porte, Wuo Tappiah, and many others who died in the cause of justice would make of this day? Are we freed from the past at last? Has a new day dawned? Are we eulogizing impunity?
I see in these arrests the genius of accountability and equal citizenship under rule of law. Status, title, ethnic affiliation, religion, rank, and other parochial identities do not matter within a “pure democracy.” Of course, we have allowed the “powerful and privileged” to exploit us and foment prejudice and intolerance in order to further their personal ends, the moment is possibly at the closing stages. We have not achieved an era of post-impunity politics, but in these gestures, we see real guts – that under the Sirleaf administration, at least for now, there is a cost to pay for corruption.
But as much as I insist that this is an indicator of a bright future marked by change in the status quo, I believe what has happened is not good enough to suggest that transformative change has taken place. Expressed differently, this is not to say that impunity has vanished. None of us can completely wipe out impunity, but we can minimize it by creating a culture of accountability. If we make more people internalize the need to consciously act in accordance with the basic norms of decency, professionalism, and embed systems of checks and balance within our institutions, the cumulative impact of accountability and competence will help reverse the detrimental trends.
The Sirleaf administration has to be aware that the optimism, which its actions evoked, is tentative. It can fade away real fast without a sustaining effort. The promise of full prosecution is what would assure trust between the citizens and the government. For now, let us pride ourselves in the change and wish our president the best in tracking down the rest of the alleged criminals.
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