The Reconciliation Of Liberians Into A New Body Politic

Independence Day Address Delivered By Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 8, 2002

The following address was delivered on August 3, 2003 by Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine at the 155th Independence Day Celebration sponsored by the Liberian Community Association of New York.

Charles W. Brumskine
My fellow Liberians, after a hundred and fifty-five years of political independence, it is regrettable that we are moved today to talk about “The Reconciliation of Liberians into a New Body Politic.” Indeed, we need to be reconciled as a people. Because political violence has become institutionalized in our country, “reconciliation” is now the politically correct slogan of our time, but only in the guise of political rhetoric.

But true reconciliation entails a series of coordinated interventions by the government and by the people, at the national and local levels. Reconciliation will cover a period from the immediate to over the long-term. But our challenge as a people, is how best to pursue reconciliation. We must reconcile our ethnic divide, our separate legal systems, our parallel economic systems, and our political differences.

Genuine reconciliation will not be achieved by the coming together of politicians in a conference hall in an arrangement that accommodates their individual ambition, to the exclusion of the long-term interest of the people. Reconciliation will not occur by politicians patting each other on the back and promising to sin no more. Neither will it happen by exploiting the ignorance of those who have been deprived, nor will it take place by deceptively providing handouts to the disadvantaged. Reconciliation will evolve only by the admission of wrongs that have been committed, with full disclosure of the truth, supported by sound and well-balanced policies of a national leadership that has the moral and political integrity to implement such policies, and a commitment from each of us to move ahead.

We should seek to address, in a well thought out and comprehensive way, those issues that will foster true and genuine reconciliation among our people. We have to deal with these issues, not for the purpose of assigning collective guilt or blame, but in order to address injustices of the past and ensure that they are not repeated. We will find a way to resolve our differences because we honestly want to avoid the ills of the past, truly democratize our system of government, and ensure sustainable peace.

We will have to find a balance between punishment and indemnity, accountability and impunity. And I believe that a good way to start will be to borrow from the experiences of other countries such as Chile, Guatemala, South Africa, and of late, Sierra Leone. We should consider the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) for Liberia.

Like other TRC, our objective would be to promote national unity and reconciliation in a spirit of understanding, which transcends the conflicts and divisions of the past, with their lingering effects. We would seek to investigate and report on the causes, nature and extent of human rights violations that occurred in the country, help restore the human dignity of victims, and promote reconciliation. We should address the culture of impunity, break the cycle of violence, and provide a forum for both victims and violators of human rights to tell their story, in order to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.

These hearings would allow the victims an opportunity to tell their stories, providing for open and candid discussions in order to promote understanding among our various people, allowing our country and people to confront our past, as well as deal with the ills of today, making it difficult for the perpetrators to deny the suffering that have been inflicted upon their victims.

In addition to reconciliation that has been necessitated by the violence that has engulfed our country, we will have to conduct hearings that will address the issues of our ethnic divide. We must discuss the ills of Americo-Liberianism, our intra-tribal differences, and all other ills of ethnicity in our society.

Since the founding of our nation, Liberia has labored under a western-oriented “national” culture while the majority of our citizens have remained on the periphery. The imprudent exercise of state power in our country has led to the abuse of the human rights of the governed by the governors. And intra-tribal rivalry has been exacerbated by the absence of a cohesive national policy directed toward creating a unified nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

As we admit that wrongs have been practiced in our country, Liberians must be prepared to embrace a new breed of leaders that are committed to correcting those wrongs and adopting a policy of nunca mas, never again! Government should never again be the problem, but an essential part of the solution. Government cannot be an entitlement of a few, but the custodian of the sacred trust of all the people; positions in government will no longer be the right of any particular group of people, but the means by which any and every Liberian may render sacrificial services to his or her nation.

Indeed, as President Tubman said, there has to be “equality and fair dealing for everyone, from every part of the country, regardless of tribe, clan, section, creed and economic status.” But now, we have to move beyond the symbolic and ritualistic formalism that has characterized unification in our country. Our policy of national reconciliation must be brought alive with appropriate legislation, a commitment to treating everyone equally under the law, and the transparent and equitable distribution of public services.

The process must involve the creation of a single body politic, doing away with our ethnic divide, reaching out to those that have been left behind, and ensuring that every Liberian is brought into the twenty first century.

There must be a complete integration of our dual legal systems that we have developed along parallel lines since President Barclay’s Interior Plan of 1904. Whether a Liberian lives under customary law or statutory law, everyone must be entitled to the same rights and privileges under our constitution. The Supreme Court of Liberia must be the final arbiter of all litigation, as provided for under our Constitution, and not the President of Liberia, as pertains to matters arising under customary law. Every Liberian woman must be an heir apparent of her husband, and none should be regarded as a chattel to be inherited by the heirs of the man who paid the dowry.

Economic opportunities must be created for rural dwellers to make the transition from the subsistence sector into the monetary economy, so that they too can be a part of our realization of the true Liberia. But in the meantime, a new social welfare system must be introduced so that older Liberians, who have not made the transition into the monetary economy, will be allowed some form of retirement pension during their twilight years.

Our education and health facilities and services must be evenly distributed over the country, serving major population centers, so that rural dwellers would not have to leave their homes for the urban sector in search of such basic public services.

We must institute major land reform policies, which will ensure, among other things, that Liberians living on public land within the interior of the country, whose affairs are still governed by customary law, will be issued fee simple deeds for the land on which they live. This is not only a right that they deserve, but it is necessary to give the majority of Liberians a stake in their country, make them more a part of the body politic, as well as empower them economically.

These Liberians should be encouraged, and even provided incentives, to own and develop land in areas other than their counties of origin, as we strive to develop into a nation of citizens, and not a collection of ethnic groups.

Since 1989, Liberia has bred a core of young men and women, who have been trained and indoctrinated to do nothing other than to steal, kill, and destroy. But they too have been victimized. For us to have a secured, stable, and peaceful Liberia, there must be a national policy designed to ensure that these combatants and ex-combatants cease to be fighters-for-hire.

These young men and women should be integrated in a well-structured national army. I hasten to add that they would not be recruited into combat units of the armed forces, but will be enlisted in the auxiliary battalions, such as the agriculture, engineering, and medical.

These new “soldiers” will not be allowed to handle or otherwise come in contact with weapons. The military, instead, will be used as a vehicle for rehabilitating these ex-combatants, through the discipline and regiment of the armed forces. They will be trained as technicians, and taught to become productive citizens.

If we are to survive the turmoil that has overtaken our nation, and bring into realization the dream of the true Liberia, we will have to find the strength to forgive each other, and the will to live together in peace. Our reconciliation and healing process should entail an alternative form of justice - restorative justice, as opposed to retributive justice. And we will have to commit ourselves to remove the tools of division that have been visited upon as a people, and that keep us undeveloped, uneducated, unhealthy, and unsafe.

The process of reconciliation can only take place within the frame work of law and order, and will have to commence upon the constitutional premise that all Liberians are equal, and that each and every one of us is endowed with the same natural, inherent, and inalienable rights, regardless of our ethnicity, religion, gender, or politics.

Hence, any attempt to foster reconciliation under the current environment in Liberia is bound to collapse, giving the absence of the rule of law and the lack of effective political leadership. The government has time and again demonstrated its inability to overcome the self-sustaining patterns of hostility and violence that characterize our country. There is an urgent need for reconciliation between the Taylor government and the people of Liberia, on the one hand, and the Taylor government and LURD, on the other hand, but such a process cannot be presided over by the government.

My fellow Liberians, our task today is by far greater, and the challenges more daunting, than it was for the founding fathers. The challenges of twenty first century Liberia is neither to create a home for a certain group of people, nor to demarcate territorial boundaries, but to develop all groups of Liberians into a community of people, to build a nation we can all call home - a place where the rights of every individual are protected, and responsibilities of all are clearly defined.

A new Liberia, by the Grace of God and our collective effort, we shall realize.

I thank you.

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