Freedom From A Distance

By Alvin J. Teage

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 23, 2002

Liberia's present uproar illustrates the dangers that result when the masses blindly abdicate the management of their beloved country to criminals. While the past five years have brought us state-sponsored murders, violent human rights abuses, mass poverty, more refugee camps, and international disrepute, it is also clear that Liberia may soon find herself in another full-scale civil war. Therefore, one cannot sit still as our country continues down this dark path, thereby affecting our children's future and that of future Liberian generations. So as the Light of our life is being blocked by official deceit, lawlessness, and greed, I am compelled to light a few lanterns in hope that we can avoid the sharp trap that lies ahead.

Because you are already familiar with the current Liberian situation, I see no forceful reason to describe it in detail. A relatively brief touch will suffice.

On Christmas Eve of 1989, as our mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons, daughters, and friends were eager to spend the holidays with each other, Charles M. Taylor launched his rebel invasion into Liberia from the neighboring Ivory Coast. As members of his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL-NPP) ripped our pregnant women's bellies so they could see which one of them had correctly guessed the unborn babies' genders, and with the deaths of innocent Liberians in the hundreds of thousands, Taylor said on record that he changed his military targets after the Americans advised him that too many civilians were being killed by his NPFL-NPP. I had thought (and still do) that a fellow Liberian, without being lectured by non-Liberians, would know the evil of abusing and murdering his own people. In any event, Taylor and his cronies fooled some Liberians into believing the Taylor dream, which is no more than a nightmare. Since his seizure of the Executive Mansion, Taylor has become a law unto himself. Reports of arbitrary arrests, forcible rapes, tortures, summary executions, and other unlawful acts have all been attributed to him.

Incredibly, some Liberian "opposition" politicians have recently announced high expectations for the 2003 presidential election under Taylor's rulership. How these Liberians can know of Taylor's ongoing record of intimidating, torturing, and murdering fellow Liberians with impunity, and then expect him to hold free and fair presidential election, which would undoubtedly result in his defeat, is beyond me. In fact, no honest Liberian opposition politician can say that Taylor will willingly allow him or her to conduct unfettered political campaign in Liberia. This man deliberately imposes a state of emergency and a ban on major political activities without just cause, and then "lifts" them with less than a year before the "2003 elections". Rather than set a new precedent by putting the People first and refusing to play Taylor's games, the opportunist politicians are appeasing him as if he is doing Liberia a favor by announcing that, if Liberian opposition politicians behave themselves, he may let them participate in his 2003-Kangaroo election. Thus, we are very disturbed by the speed with which the opportunist Liberians are attempting to give fabricated legitimacy to Taylor which, if unchecked, would undoubtedly punch a hole in the Opposition's call for the deployment of an "International Stabilization Force" that will provide national security for the holding of free and fair elections.

I believe that there can be no useful negotiation between democracy and tyranny. Our people are living in a state of fear under Taylor's rulership, and commonsense reveals that he intends to keep it that way. Taylor must not be allowed a second attempt to kill Liberia!

As stressful as uncertainty is in other areas of life, it is even more stressful now that Taylor has sent Liberia's "Fundamental Rights" to the Bermuda Triangle. So I understand why some Liberians have turned the other cheek in hope that Taylor would someday gain his sanity and return Liberia to her people. In fact, we were taught as youngsters to turn the other cheek whenever a fellow Liberian harms us, and I support this lesson within reason. But how can one turn the other cheek when our women, children, and elders are dying because of Taylor's war for profit? How can one turn the other cheek when our baby girls are being forced to sell their bodies? How can one turn the other cheek when our brothers are being illegally detained and tortured? How can one turn the other cheek when half of our population is displaced? How can one turn the other cheek when Liberia's educational dream is being denied? How can one turn the other cheek when Taylor is politically out-of-touch with reality? Isn't there an end to diplomacy?

Taylor's deadliest habit is that he behaves like a natural disaster over Liberia: every Liberian is a potential victim. So in treating Taylor like a statesman, Liberians are, in effect, flirting with a self-made disaster. But I don't want to be read here as suggesting that Taylor should be replaced with an armed group. Instead, I prefer to be read within the language of our Constitution: "All power is inherent in the people. [And] All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require." (See Liberian Constitution, Article 1).

While I support the authorization for a well-planned approach to return power to the people, I unequivocally state that representative democracy, as opposed to a self-imposed rulership, is the best way to achieve and maintain National Order. Liberia has traveled the path of self-imposed rulers and Taylor is but a prime example of how terrible it gets. Our national loyalty, therefore, should be with Liberia and not a specific Liberian. If one is a true liberator, our people are capable of taking notice in an atmosphere that is free from duress.

The past five years have brought a quantitative increase in Charles Taylor's destabilizing efforts so much that he is now a global threat. He invaded neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea, where thousands of civilians were murdered by his agents, and there are credible signs that he is behind the present rebellion in the Ivory Coast. Just what the international community may bring to bear on him and his coconspirators for their crimes against humanity is an open question, but it cannot be denied that Liberia is being deprived of her life in a manner contrary to the basic tenets of her Constitution and the rules of humanity. So the equation, once again, is simple: the present occupier of our Executive Mansion, absent of grace and the guiding principles of democracy, is devoid of the patriotism symbolic of our national character. But does this mean that our freedom is at a great distance?

That a five-year-old Liberian boy was at the September 16, 2002, protest outside the Liberian Embassy in Washington, D.C., holding a placard calling for the release of brother Hassan Bility and other illegally detained Liberians; I see our freedom coming closer. That Counselor Tiawan Gongloe stood on his healing leg from 6:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to protest with others for freedom; I see our freedom coming closer. That there were so many young Liberian adults at the September 16th protest; I see our freedom coming closer. That Liberians in Europe have decided to work with us for Liberia's betterment; I see our freedom coming closer. That Liberians in refugee camps are singing freedom's song; I see our freedom coming closer. That Liberians at home and abroad are now standing up to Taylor's evils; I see our freedom coming closer and closer. Isn't time we get it together?

All would agree that it is human to err, so we must not look so far in the Liberian blame-game and thus prevent ourselves from moving forward. It is time we get our acts together because fidelity to the commands of Liberia requires a balanced approach to adequately address our present political uproar. As a Liberian, you simply cannot sit still and expect a few Liberians to effectively shape Liberia's destiny; patriotism requires that you play your part. Equally, as political architects of life's decisions, United Liberian Opposition Politicians must: (1) acknowledge their past mistakes, (2) sincerely apologize to the People, (3) note that the People should be led and not ruled, (4) note the danger of keeping a criminal like Charles Taylor in the Executive Mansion, (5) note that sometimes one can catch more flies with vinegar than with honey, (6) and find creative means of leading the citizenry forward. But failure to do so in a timely manner could unfortunately lead to another full-scale Liberian civil war, where civilians are likely to be put in harm's way. This could happen because respected observers believe that there are Liberians who simply will not passively tolerate another round of Taylor's: arbitrary arrests, forcible rapes, tortures, summary executions, mass poverty, more refugee camps, and international disrepute. As a result, the collective Opposition would once again be subject to criticisms for political malpractice.

I end, as I began, with the message that we cannot ignore history and the reality that confronts us. Because after all the evils that Taylor has and is subjecting Liberia to, he still has an afterlife "love" for our people. He said on record few months ago that after Death calls him to the Great Beyond; his strategically positioned "five-million" NPFL terrorists shall fight until there is no stability ever in Liberia. This terrible dream Taylor has revealed for our beloved country, despite his fuzzy math of "five-million", has rekindled another fundamental question concerning the Liberian situation: How can some of our Liberian brothers and sisters, especially the internationally recognized ones, still appease the murderer and oppressor of their people! However, in the struggle against tyranny, a tyrant is not always defeated by an army. Rather, by the continuous exhaustion of his troubled mind and accessible mercenaries, which ultimately defeat him more than he would be defeated on the battlefront.

I admit that in the heat of telling others about the hundreds of thousands of West Africans murdered by Charles Taylor and his agents, something understandable yet sad, often happens to their names. That is, the list is so long that we respectively refer to them with numbers such as: (1) 200,000, (2) 300, (3) 100,000, and so on. We weep for the lives lost, and the ones being lost by his madness. But whether Taylor admits it or not, he knows that the Sierra Leone Special Court will not meet its mandate until he is made to answer for his role in crimes against humanity. So no matter how rocky the journey becomes, no matter how painful it gets, our freedom is coming closer because ours is an epic struggle to gain and maintain Freedom not only for ourselves but also for our children and future Liberian generations. Isn't it time we get it together?

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