Sensationalization of headlines is not the Way to go
William G. Nyanue
Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas
December 11, 2002
On December 4, 2002, the New Democrat web site carried an article titled, "Liberia Claims Ethnic Krahns Are "'Mercenaries'" in I. Coast War." Even though the author ably pointed out the irrationality of such thought, we wish to confirm to your readers that there are no Krahns involved in the Ivorian crisis. No Krahn person has ever been involved in the diabolical scheme to destabilize the West African subregion, not to mention the Ivory Coast, which for more than twelve years has provided sanctuary to many Krahn people who sought refuge in that country. Today, many Krahn people still live as refugees in several Ivorian towns and villages, enjoying the hospitality of their kinsmen. These Krahn and other Liberian refugees share deep concerns with their Ivorian brothers and sisters over the current state of affairs in that country.
But we also wish to express our disappointment about the sensational nature of the title of the article in question. We do not believe that the government of Liberia's statement which was quoted in the article justifies such a title. The Ministry of Information of Liberia was quoted to have said:
Speaking to journalists over the weekend in Monrovia, the Liberian Information Minister described claims of people from Liberia to the Ivory Coast for war as erroneous, misleading but also calculated propaganda to besmear the good image of the Liberian government.
Minister Goodridge said there are remnants of defunct Liberian former warring factions including fugitive George Dweh and Roosevelt Johnson who have been recruiting fighters for LURD in Ivory Coast.
Roosevelt Johnson and his confidant George Dweh headed the disbanded ULIMO-J now metamorphosed into the terror group called LURD.
Roosevelt Johnson is residing in the Ivory Coast serving as a thrust to strengthen LURD terrorist activities against the Liberian government and the sub-region as well.
The government spokesman emphasized that these remnants in the Ivory Coast could be serving as mercenaries in the latest conflict and that the Liberian government does not sanction their belligerent activities.
If the above quotation was all that the minister said, then it seems to us that the government's allegation was levied at "remnants of defunct Liberian warring factions," including the NPFL. Therefore, a more appropriate title for the article should have been "Liberia Claims remnants of defunct Liberian Warring Factions are "'Mercenaries'" in Ivory Coast War."
We would not have given serious thought to this article had it not been for the fact that we believe it clearly illustrates a destructive mindset that many of us have developed and which is partly responsible for our unending nightmare. We have developed a mindset that does not allow us to see or speak of each other as individuals, or even simply as Liberians. We write, speak and act in a way that accentuates our ethnicities. That was why, I believe, it was not sufficient for the author of the article in question to speak of Mr. Roosevelt Johnson, whom the Minister of Information shamelessly alleged to be involved in the Ivory Coast crisis, simply as a former leader of defunct ULIMO-J, as the Minister of Information apparently did in this case. To the author, and many other Liberians, Mr. Johnson is first and foremost an "Ethnic Krahn."
One of the phrases that has been popularized by the Liberian civil war is "collective guilt." Many of us now speak patriotically about the evil of this practice which imputes guilt based on ethnicity. Thousands of innocent Liberians were slaughtered during the civil war simply because of their ethnicity, nothing more, nothing less.
And as we seek ways to restore peace to our country, many thoughtful Liberians are now saying, "Never again!" Never again must we as a nation allow the evil of "collective guilt." But sensational headlines such as the one in question, and many articles that appear daily on some Liberian-owned web sites, give one reason to think again. We cannot say "Never again" with any real hope of success when we continue to think, write and speak in such a way as to fuel the fire of "collective guilt." We continue to affirm that in Liberia a John Doe is never just a John Doe, but John Doe, a Krahn, Gio, or Americo-Liberian. Typically, victims of "collective guilt" are first demonized by the press and the politicians before being slaughtered by mindless goons.
We cannot accentuate our ethnicities, with the apparent negative overtone, and the many other things that tend to divide us as Liberians and then be surprised that we are a nation of suspicious people, with members of each group thinking its security and welfare rest only with its kind. Steve Covey reminds us in his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" that by picking up one end of a stick, we've also picked up the other end. We better then be sure that we like both ends of a stick before we pick up any of its ends.
The Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas, Inc is unwaveringly committed to help bring healing to our country and to build bridges. We want to be a part of a new generation of Liberians who are committed to helping to create a new mindset, a mindset that would enable us to see each other simply as Liberians, and that promotes individual responsibility. We have no reason to believe that the editors and staff of the New Democrat do not share this aspiration. But we don't believe that sensational headlines, such as the one contained in the December 4th article which seems to have been written by one of their staff, is the way to go.