Immediate Action Needed to Save Liberia

BY: Tarnue Johnson

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 2, 2003

Liberia is burning and the international community must now ratchet up its pressure on the men of violence, as well as its efforts to signal an unequivocal and practical commitment to quell the fire of hell that has engulfed this country. The violence is quickly engulfing other population centers in the country and there is now a desperate need to stop the needless equivocation and diplomatic squabbles and take immediate action to save lives. Given the gravity of the humanitarian situation that has developed in recent days, the call for Immediate Action to impose a general truce could not be overemphasized. Half measures will never suffice in this situation, as they have never done for almost two decades. Evil must never be allowed to prevail once again on Liberian soil. Those who are now obsessed by the trappings of firepower must realize at this stage that the situation in Liberia is very complex and is therefore in need of a pacific solution that can only come about through agreement for the common good. War can never be a solution to the Liberian question; it will only lead to the proliferation of more wars. The dynamics of conflict in Liberia presuppose that war can never be a continuation of politics. But rather a zero-sum process that has posed a formable challenge to the integrity of the Liberian social formation as we know it.

Citizens of Liberia now congregated in Monrovia and in other parts of the country are being maimed and consumed comptemteously by merchants of death who will stop at nothing in their blemish and psychopathic quest for absolute power. There must be action to stop this madness before long so as to arrest an impending apocalypse from unfolding in our very eyes. ECOWAS, the United Nations, the European Union, the Pentagon in the Bush administration and other principal stakeholders in the West African region must stop the needless bickering and artificial excuses and put together a rescue plan that would impose a general truce to provide a breathing space to a tormented people. The times for prevarications have past. History will not forgive nor posterity in Liberia ever forget this unconscionable act of betrayal of a people in need of help so that they may for once have a unique opportunity to herald a new era of responsible and democratic self governance.

It is time for reasonable, freedom-loving and fair-minded people, those who hold dear the commonsensical values of decency, civility and respect for the sanctity of human lives, especially among Liberians everywhere; those who believe that a fully functioning, civilized and virtuous society could only be constructed based on the rule of law, reasoned and consensual discourse, unconditional adherence to the timeless cannons of natural justice, to rise up and put an end to this vicious circle, which has been undoubtedly a breeding mechanism for an abundant supply of misery, untold indignities and infinite deaths. There must be a relentless and non-violent campaign on all fronts spearheaded by Liberians and friends of Liberia to bring to the light of day all suspected war criminals from 1989 up to present. This campaign of the civic minded and conscientious should also be geared at thwarting the infinite capacity of the men of violence to inflict egregious pain, suffering and death on the innocent on an unspeakable scale. Given the balance of military forces operating in theatre, one would hope that the likelihood for any rebel faction to emergence as winners and thus seek to consolidate power out of the current skirmishes in Monrovia is virtually nonexistent. I hope the opposite scenario remains a mere hypothetical assumption. But in any case if that happens, there would be a persistent international campaign to undo it. I would envisage that such a campaign to break this vicious circle of tyranny would be underpinned by an unheard of determination to prevail within the Liberian polity. For this struggle would also be deemed as an inextricable function of historical necessity per excellence, as it primarily embodies the timeless struggle between good and evil in society. It could be posited that this natural tension between good and evil flows from an inexorable dialectic of historical change and progress, which cannot be ignored under all given historical circumstances. Thus, this struggle for freedom and national identity would therefore be played out to the very end with an eventual triumphant victory of good over evil, because such an outcome would be absolutely critical if Liberia is to survive as a modern sovereign with the right and obligations to provide liberty, justice and conditions for the pursuit of happiness to all its citizens.

The pursuit of fairness, equity, human kindness and other forms of fraternal solidarity in terms of caring for strangers and one’s compatriots especially when they are in need, are consistent and thus form the core of the teachings of the three most predominant and ethical traditions in the Liberian society. Thus, the triple heritages of Liberian society are those of Christianity, Islam and the various paradigms, cosmologies and canons, which constitute the African heritage. For more than 150 years these great traditions and value systems have crystallized in one form or the other to inform cultural norms and social practices in what is known today as Liberia. They have helped to keep a community of people afloat with all its intrinsic imperfections. But today there is an imminent danger and a threat of complete decimation and collapse that would have lasting fundamental impact in terms of the very continuation of a greater Liberian patrimony. This is why there is a dire need for immediate and unequivocal action--both to bring a glimmer of hope to a desperate people and to begin installing the foundations for pacific, just and lasting solutions to a complex problem.

The first and foremost demand one would make of the international community consists in imposing a general truce to stop the current bloodletting. This truce could be followed by a sustained and phased process of disarmament to secure the peace. However, one realizes that this can only happen with international peacekeepers on the ground. There should be no compromise with rebel factions in securing the peace. They will have to cooperate with the international community to achieve peace because that is the only socially responsible pattern of behavior expected of sound adults. These individuals are war criminals that should now be brought to book for their numerous crimes against humanity.

The magnitude of the impending calamity in Liberia indicates that there must now be an international resolve as already hinted by Koffi Annan [the United Nations Secretary General] never to encourage the culture of impunity in Africa. This culture has led to untold human suffering and incalculable material costs in Liberia and in other parts of Africa. The rebel factions and their representatives, counsels and advisors in Accra and elsewhere should be arrested immediately. By their actions they have excluded themselves from playing any constructive role in building a civil architecture for a new society. The United Nations Secretary General has buttressed this position in his outrage about current developments in Liberia when he stated that:
“By their reckless and criminal behavior, they [the LURD] are disqualifying themselves from any leadership role in the future of their country”

The leaders of all warring factions should now be reined in immediately by the appropriate international legal authorities operating through the auspices of the United Nations. Other functionaries of these rebel groups and masterminds of Taylor’s atrocities over the years should also be reined in for prosecution immediately or at an opportune time. The human spirit to overcome adversity and beat the odds to ensure the perpetuity of human civilization in Liberia, on this planet, should not be dampened. Liberia will survive as she has always done for almost 200 years. This country, which is a founding member of the United Nations, has seen two World Wars and has survived the human stresses and pains of the Fernando crisis and is still standing as an integral body politic. No amount of wanton killings or avaricious terror and fascist barbarism can ever change that. The setting up of a war crimes tribunal to set in motion the arrest and prosecution of war criminals must follow in short order. The culture of impunity must be discouraged once and for all! All Liberians must learn to express themselves; their anxieties, pains, perspectives and uncertainties about the future through legitimate means. For throughout history, mankind has learned that violence can never be a first option, nor an optimum means of expressing one’s emotions, or indeed, a viable instrument to make one’s points regarding the very nature of causality and about the most complex issues of societal development.

No amount of prevarications, false pretenses and the issuing of hollow threats by the big powers especially by the United States will suffice. There must be threats of mandatory and proportionate legal sanctions against known supporters of LURD, MODEL and Taylor’s forces and the will to carry them through. There must be intense international pressure to seek concessions from warring factions by disarming immediately without preconditions. For once everyone must realize that the blood of Liberians are equal to the blood of everyone else within the international system. Let us not waste our time and valuable effort in thinking that the warring factions or their proxies or job seekers-cum politicians and civil society leaders can bring peace to our dying nation. Some of these unreconstructed “politicians” and factional leaders, who have committed hideous crimes in the past, should not even be participating in peace negotiations. It is an affront to the memories of those whom they have killed to have them there, as if they have any solutions short of the barrel of the gun.

They have demonstrably failed to bring peace to the Liberian people for the past 14 years and more. It is now time for proactive international involvement with overarching powers and for a reasonable timeframe to restore the peace and enable democratic participation in social change. Consequently, any agreement, which doesn’t preclude a future role in society for the war criminals is a recipe for disaster, it will not stick. The memories of April 1996 and on other occasions when these heartless men have committed their pernicious crimes are still with us. Hence, there is no need to further negotiate with these suspected war criminals. What such an action would lead to would be to knowingly legitimize an already discredited, illegitimate and a confused bunch of power seekers, tribal warriors and adventurists who seek to hack us back to a prehistoric age of human existence.

Such an act would be yet another betrayal of the trust of the Liberian people, who despite their numerous disappointments in the past, still take solace in a negotiated settlement as a legitimate means of ending this craziness. Enough is enough! There will be no military junta in Liberia! 2003 is not the 1990s or the 1980s, or indeed does it anywhere resembles the beginnings of the formation of this troubled nation. Liberians are tired of rewarding those who commit serious crimes against them. People are for once prepared to resist terror and seek to dislodge the roots of military despotism on Liberian soil.

The sooner these fascist elements of the 21st century and their ekes can come to gripes with these essential truths and the basic taxonomic distinctions regarding the underlying social and political dynamics of these various historical epochs --the better! Because this time no amount of terror will dent one’s commitment to eradicate the roots of mindless and fascist terror in the Liberian society. It must be realized by those who desire to destroyed what is left of Liberia, that one’s claims to that country, which one must, indeed, fight for at all costs, is both profoundly historical and hereditary. One must never allow the most callous forms of violence and needless terror to erase these inexorable claims, because the timing and the place of one’s birth has never been of one’s choosing. NEVER! May God help our people in this hour of great need!

About the author: Tarnue Johnson has a doctorate degree in adult education. He currently works as an educational specialist for Jobs for Youth Inc. of Chicago, Illinois, United States.