The Doctrine of Oppression

By Alvin J. Teage

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 7, 2003

Throughout their homes, schools, churches, mosques, and public gatherings, the people will tell their children about a past Monrovia regime. This regime had no respect for age. Like devils sent from hell, it traveled the land like locusts, killing and torturing anyone who opposed its rule. It brought wars that killed, raped, and maimed more than 500,000 West Africans, and it left more than a million people displaced. This was a time of great human suffering.

It deprived the people’s children of basic education, sexually and physically abused them, and forced them to die as combatants. While it ate, the people starved. While it enjoyed pipe-borne water, the people dug wells. While it laughed, the people cried. While its farms had electricity, the people lit candles and lanterns. While it banked billions in foreign lands, the people were tightly packed in displaced and refugee camps.

It created an atmosphere in which hunger was like a weapon of mass destruction, where curable diseases conquered thousands, and in which the children saw death in all its forms. With its group of self-styled politicians, its life was a failure. In a fervent quest for wealth, it was a government of the few. But the merry-go-round of oppression is a short ride.

When the children’s voices were conquered by the weakness of hunger and the women’s and elders’ sorrows could only be felt from within, the West decided to act. It saw and heard, with disbelief, that the regional “solution” had called for the indictment of the country’s President for "bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law” to be dropped; and for a political agreement that was certain to prolong the human suffering. The regional powers wanted to maintain the “brotherhood” of impunity. But Mr. Crane, the chief prosecutor for the Special Court, crushed the “brotherhood” plan.

The West, moved by the human suffering and aware that the indictment was for acts committed outside of Liberia, was tired of dealing with the Liberian cycle of violence. So it did what the “brotherhood” refused to do: it exercised moral authority and ended the regime’s dictatorship, the rebel rule, and created an atmosphere for the people to freely and fairly elect their leaders. And as a strong show of international justice, the chief accused was handed to the Special Court to answer for his alleged criminal acts.

Some of the regime’s players, unable to explain their human rights abuses to the people, cried out to the international media concerning fear of possible “retribution.” But toleration of dictatorship, out of fear of injury, does not give the oppressor the right to commit gross human rights violations. One cannot illegally end another’s life, traumatize an entire nation, and expect to live without accountability. People have long memories, and what goes around may come around. Some of the players, however, were left to answer to their Creator and history.

Moreover, a dictator enjoys power to the extent that obedience is rendered. So the people are not powerless. If the dictator, however, is toppled by a group of armed rebels who subsequently reward themselves with the seat of government, dictatorship is likely to be repeated. But standing up collectively for democratic freedoms can prevent the temptation of rewarding oneself with public office.

In a period when there is a growing desire for democratic freedoms, the people must no longer allow the laws of the warlords to become the laws of the land. The rights to enjoy Liberia’s blessings belong to all Liberians, not just the few.

Liberians must, therefore, elect meritorious individuals who are not compromised by corruption, human rights abuses, or both. Without this firm stance, too much is left to chance. But the risk is too high to leave our civil liberties and the national destiny to chance. The loss of 250,000 plus lives has to amount to something!

Just how much commitment one should give for democratic freedoms is hard to say. The answer is best left to the individual. But in order to reach a political system in which freedom is ethnic-blind and civil liberties are paramount, one must make a promise not to elect or support any human rights violator or corrupt person for public office. One must also denounce human rights abuses and corruption without regard to the violator. A Liberian that has respect for the rule of law and who is not compromised by corruption, human rights abuses, or both, is likely to respect civil liberties.

In the years that brought great distress and shame to the nation, the greed for minerals and forest drove the Monrovia regime and some its foes to create an atmosphere filled with threats, violence, and great human suffering. In this, evil ruled the people and brought out the worst in some. But the lesson about the perennial life of oppression was as sound for previous generations as it is for ours: evil walks until someone stops it.

The system, which was designed to preserve the rule of the few, is dead! With human hope, human strive, and human purpose, the Monrovia regime, the rebels, and the political class learned an important caveat about oppression: the people you rule may someday rule you.