We Showed Up For Aloysius Toe And Others, Why Didn't You?

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 17, 2003

When Nvasekie N. Konneh and his National Civil Rights Movement (NCRM) teamed up recently with Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe, Jr., and his organization, Freedom and International Justice (FIJ), to plan a mass rally in "shock and awe" about the continued incarceration of Aloysius Toe, undisputedly one of Liberia’s most prominent human rights defenders, Sheikh Sackor and others, by the very brutal Taylor regime, there was no doubt in my mind whatsoever that their intention was genuine, clear and honest.

As two ‘budding’ young Liberian men, who have apparently taken up the Herculean challenge of bringing world-wide attention as well as creating public awareness about the ongoing abuses that are being perpetrated daily on the seemingly helpless Liberian people, most notably, members of the ethnic Mandingo group, the Manos, Krahns and Gios, their joint efforts should be commended despite the rather POOR turnout at the recent event in Washington, DC.

But as the current President of ULAA (Union of Liberian Association in the Americas), Mohammed Kromah, was quick to point out, "Don’t be bothered by the numbers. All [we] have to do is to be determined", as he spoke to the small, but undoubtedly "determined" group of Liberians who had made it their sacred duty to show their solidarity with Aloysius and the many others that are continually being held illegally by the very repressive and morally bankrupt Taylor government. I can assure you that I was there for no other reason!

I was there with the others not only to seek JUSTICE for Aloysius Toe, Sheikh Sackor, Bangalee Sheriff, and others, but every Liberian and people of other nationalities that presently find themselves in one of the President’s many dungeons (torture chambers) in his desperate quest to cling on to power. Why? Because it is morally correct!

For those of us that have been privileged to hear men, like, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe and Hassan Bility, speak in person, their personal stories are compelling, especially looking at their faces close-up. In their eyes, one can see the pain, the hurt, the disappointment, etc., but yet, the strong determination to do something about it by stepping forward whenever they’re called upon by the various Liberian communities here in the United States.

As I set out to join Nvasekie (who I met in person for the first time at the rally), Alvin Teage (the same situation as Nvasekie), Charles (who I got to know through our work with the Perspective) and the other "conscientious" Liberians that were scattered across the neatly mowed lawn on the West End of the US Capitol Building (a rather intimidating structure) at the event, I had envisioned seeing hundreds of Liberians showing up there, if not for anything else, at least, to add their voices to ours in calling on the US government, or for that matter, the international community, to bring pressure to bear on the despotic Taylor government to immediately release Aloysius Toe and the others as well as improve the overall human rights condition in the war-torn country. Yet, it was not meant to be as Liberians again showed their "indifference" towards a cause that definitely affects us all - the cause of human rights. Personally, not even the heavy rain, which poured vexingly that day, could have stopped me from attending.

It could also be said that the poor turn out at the DC demonstration, which took place on May 8, indicates further that Liberians generally aren’t serious about anything, maybe only their personal well being. And that’s sorry! Worse still, they’re surely not prepared, given their collective attitude, to deal with the crucial issues confronting us today as a people - issues of naked tribalism, ethnicity, national identity, destiny of our now "comatose" nation, etc., not to mention human rights, even at this very critical time in our history. Even though many of us say we do, but our actions [inaction] say it all!

Since the rally, and specifically, because it was so poorly attended compared to the previous one that was held by the NCRM right in front of the Liberian Embassy on 16th Street, seat of the failed National Patriotic (un-Patriotic) Party (NPP) government in Washington, DC, in honor of the then jailed Liberian journalist, Hassan Bility, I’ve been very curious to find out why, in fact, Liberians did not attend en masse to support, what I believe in my heart, was a very ‘special’ cause. Doesn’t the deplorable human rights situation in their country concern them? Or, is it because the event was organized by the NCRM? FIJ? Was it because it was for Aloysius? Sheikh Sackor, etc.? What then could have prevented Liberians from showing up as we did on that fateful day?

While a scientific or statistical poll could certainly be useful in providing some desired answers to these hard questions, I’m very much appreciative of those Liberians who have since gone into cyberspace (the Internet) to give their opinions (hopefully, frank) on the recent demonstration or rally that was held.

Posting on the popular Liberian chat room administered by africaonline.com, one of the most provocative by all means, one Tatu_Sio (probably his alias) wrote: "I attended yesterday’s demonstration in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Although, I got there at shortly after 3 p.m., I was deeply disappointed at the extremely low turnout…"

But what struck me the most about his posting were these observations: "The fact that the event was so poorly attended suggested to me that any pre-event outreach and marketing that may have been conducted was ineffective."

Tatu-Sio continued: "Still, two other issues - troubling possibilities (for the record low turn out) come to mind. (1) That there [is] a perception in many quarters that [the] event was essentially a ‘Mandingo Rally’", but went on to admit that "not only was this untrue but the perception exposes further the ugliness of", what he calls the "Vulgar tribalism that [has] been effectively manipulated by Charles Taylor and it suggests that Liberians have passively sat by and allowed this to happen."

"(2)", he said that "It seems [like] there may be too many ‘groups’ out there [that are] trying to do the same thing [?]"

Then there was one Kiki (another alias) who wrote: "Well put Sio. Human [rights] is an issue [that’s] close to Stevie [whoever he is] and I… He too lamented hearing about the rally only yesterday. Next time…"

And then came one Martin Toe who wrote: "Sio, thanks for having attended the demo in Washington [DC], but ineffective planning is hardly a variable for explaining the poor turn out. Those brothers, amidst scarce resources, had done enough planning before going to [DC]."

"The problem is, Liberians in America are too comfortable to think about the plight of folks [back] home. If the brothers had planned a grand ball, one would have seen them (Liberians) turn out in pomp and pageantry", Toe added.

As for one Spice (suspectedly another alias), he or she posted: "I was at the rally too, for about two hours, and I share your sentiments, Tatu_Sio. Human rights and the plight of the Liberian people are the heart and soul to my frustration over the current state of affairs in our [now dead] country. As my way of expressing my disillusionment for the VISIBLE INDIFFERENCE [my emphasis] [of] our brothers and sisters, I have offered my services to the NCRM whenever a program of this nature is [being] organized."

"I [do] hope [that] others [would] consider same", Spice ended.

And yet, one Eduardos (maybe another alias) asked: "Who planned [the] demonstration? How did they get the info (information) out? Was this an ‘invite only’ demonstration?"

He then concluded that "the organizers [had done] a pretty good job [of] keeping it a secret."

And then one Renford Engelbert Walsh, a regular contributor to the unending debate on Liberia, by virtue of his numerous articles that are often circulated by various Liberian news outlets, weighed in. His was the most opinionated based seemingly on his personal experiences with Nvasekie and his organization, the NCRM.

He wrote: "The idea of organizing a demonstration is good. It’s important to remind the world [about] the carnage that rages in Liberia." He noted that he personally doesn’t have a problem with, what he referred to as, "Nvasekie Konneh’s Mandingo ethnicity", but the group (NCRM) itself.

Apparently, he (Walsh) had earlier attempted to work with Nvasekie and other members of the group on issues relating to Liberia, but had come to the conclusion that the NCRM was mostly a tribal organization. Walsh then recalled his telephone conversation in May of 2000 with one Ansumana Jabateh during the formative years of the NCRM.

"At the time, I was primarily concerned about raising the issues of discrimination against minorities [in the Liberian society], including, Mandingos, descendants of naturalized Liberians, etc.", Walsh wrote, adding, "I saw these guys as potential allies. Accordingly, I submitted some suggestions to Jabateh [who] told me that he would pass them on and get back to me." "Whether he did or not, I can’t say", he mentioned.

Walsh then went on to give his account of how he had come to the conclusion that the NCRM was mostly tribal based or leaning.

"What I do know is that sometime later (about two years later), this group [the NCRM] emerged. When I scanned the list of prominent personalities involved, it turned out to be largely Mandingo. That disappointed me because no group which calls itself "National" should be dominated heavily by a single tribe", Walsh further wrote.

He then continued: "I would never [have] consented to such a nomenclature if my idea of using it as a launching pad to fight for minority rights had prevailed. Why? Because, minorities can not call themselves ‘national’ and I would have been dishonest."

"So, the fact that this group has heavy Mandingo presence says a lot about its interests and frankly, they need to simply be honest by referring to themselves as a National Mandingo Liberian Rights Movement and stop deceiving others…", Walsh posted before addressing the issue of FAIRNESS, particularly, as regards the NCRM’s alleged primary focus on Taylor, while appearing to be soft on LURD and MODEL, for example.

But in order to really appreciate the hopefully frank opinions of these people from diverse Liberian backgrounds, you just may be doing yourself a big favor by going to the africaonline.com website’s Liberian chat room and read their postings and the proper contexts in which they were written. When searching, look for postings between May 7 and May 12. I can assure you that it’ll definitely be worth your time.

Given the above samples of opinions on the demonstration, I can say that it’s becoming clearer and clearer that groups like the NCRM, FIJ, ULAA, etc., have their work cut out for them. But most significantly, unless Liberians immediately begin to change the way that they think, behave towards one another, among other things, the likelihood that their country could survive its present turmoil and emerge as a unified state is nothing more than a dream - yes, a mere dream!

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, even when I was given the opportunity to say a few words at the recent rally, if Liberians can’t put aside their differences, be honest with each other, stop finding excuses for their inaction, come together on the single most important issue of our times - human rights in their now completely destroyed country - then obviously, they can’t agree on anything else. I mean, how could they? Let’s face it, no tribal, ethnic or other groups that make up present-day Liberia is going anywhere and so we may as well start getting along with each other if we are to survive as a nation and people. We would just have to find a way to resolve our differences, whatever they are, in a peaceful manner.

Absolutely, there should have been nothing (and I mean nothing in all sincerity) to have prevented Liberians from attending the demonstration, except they didn’t believe in the cause of human rights. And that’s quite possible too, given our general attitude and mentality! In fact, what ever happened to the people that attended the first march for Bility? You want to tell me that they have completely disappeared? Something is indeed wrong with us!

But like Tatu_Sio, who attended the rally despite learning about it very late, I too was determined to show up for Aloysius and the many others that are presently being incarcerated by the repressive NPP government, although I may disagree in principle with the composition or leanings of the particular group that’s sponsoring it. But once the group’s intent became crystal clear to me, that was all that mattered at that point.

Of course, there are some exceptions to my participation in a particular event, whether it’s for Aloysius or anyone else. For example, I just can’t see myself attending a function that’s sponsored by a group that’s known to be allied with LURD or MODEL. Why? Simply because, like many other Liberians, I don’t support violence in any form, especially if its end is to achieve state power by force. Also, (LURD and MODEL) too are as equally unfit to administer Liberia as the sitting tyrannical regime in Monrovia. Their mistreatment of the already traumatized Liberian population in areas under their control is no hidden secret. Besides the case of the five murdered Merci nurses, LURD particularly bear some responsibility for the carnage presently taking place in the country.

How then can they do better than the present lawless Taylor government? They can’t! More besides, we don’t even know who the real personalities behind these self-described "liberation" groups are, although one Sekou Damate Connneh has claimed LURD’s leadership as the Chairman. Can Liberians trust their already collapse country in the hands of people who are so shadowy that they refuse to even give their true identities? I doubt it!

Importantly, that’s why every well-meaning Liberian should condemn violence on all sides of this stinging conflict in the strongest possible terms at all times without loyalty to any one ethnic group, indigenous tribes, or the like.

Another exception would be the overwhelming evidence that the group sponsoring such a rally is patently tribalistic. For example, if it ever came to light that the particular group is trying to shield and defend certain of its members that maybe widely suspected of committing atrocities against other Liberians during the ugly civil war period just as Taylor. The test here would be to prove that the group is not defending or shielding someone who is known to have been responsible for certain crimes based solely on ethnic or tribal reasons, especially so, if it calls itself a civil rights ‘movement’. So far, I’ve not seen this in the NCRM, even though, I must admit that I do not know much about the organization at this time.

Now, whether or not either of these relatively young Liberians, Nvasekie and Charles, have any hidden agenda or sinister motives other than what they have expressed in public, I truthfully don’t know. For all I care, they seem to be very serious and determined to fill the ‘leadership’ void that has been created as the direct result of our nation’s abrupt demise.

Most of all, they, like many young Liberians, seem to be determined to chart a new course for our now ‘pariah’ nation. They are demanding that their voices be heard in all matters concerning Liberia, because after all, the nation’s future belongs to them as well as those coming after. Admittedly, our generation has already failed them after spewing empty revolutionary slogans and rhetoric during the ’70’s and ‘80’s. We did not deliver when the time came, thereby, relegating our once proud country to the least amongst nations of the world.

Notwithstanding, the golden opportunity to fix all that has been broken in Liberia is theirs (Nvasekie’s and Charles’) to take or squander forever! That’s why I wouldn’t mind giving them the benefit of any doubt regarding their intentions, because I could easily hold their feet to the fire. Besides, all young Liberians, like the lone young man that carried the Liberian flag on Capitol Hill on that day, share this responsibility.

Again, while we may not necessarily agree with the makeup of the NCRM or FIJ, the least each of us could have done for those that are wrongly being imprisoned by the despotic Taylor government was to show up in defense of human rights, or may I say, the lack of it in today’s Liberia.

But frankly, my suspicion is that those Liberians that chose not to attend the demonstration would not have gone anyway no matter how well planned the event had been. Perhaps, they haven’t yet grasped the magnitude of the predicament that our once peaceful country is now in. Hopefully, they’ll wake up soon and realize that what’s currently happening to Aloysius Toe, Sheikh Sackor, et. al., could also happen to them. For sure, you can never tell where you’ll end up tomorrow. While you may not yet see yourself as one of Taylor’s possible victims today, you just may be the victim of another tyrant that may succeed him. What would you say then if people were to become "indifferent" to your plight? Just some food for thought!

We should always remind ourselves that Liberia is very far from what we’d like it to hopefully be - a place where the basic rights of citizens are respected; a place where people won’t be thrown into jails [like Taylor’s dungeons] just for trying to organize a march [as in the case of Aloysius]; a place where ‘democracy’ means the tolerance of diverse views without being afraid to openly express oneself; and best of all, a place where people would be judged by the "content of their character" as opposed to their tribal, ethnic or social affiliation, amongst others. That is the Liberia I dream about, I don’t know about you!

One of the positive experiences [and there are many] that I got from this rally was that I was able to share this dream with other Liberians in person. I cherish the memories of spending a few minutes with Cllr. Gongloe, who introduced me to a lady that was sitting next to him as someone who had taught sociology for many years at LU (aka University of Liberia). Our discussion centered on the appalling situation in our homeland (Liberia) and, of course, the obvious poor attendance at the Capitol. We (Tiawan and I) also reminisce about our student days at LU in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s, but it was not my first time running into him since he left Liberia, following his near death experience in the hands of Taylor’s ill-trained security thugs.

And then my most memorable experience of all on that day - meeting Hassan Bility in person finally. Boy, what a meeting! After spotting Bility talking to someone else, I practically crept on him and proceeded to introduce myself. Not too long into our conversation, we had already discovered that we had at least one good friend in common, whose name I’ll not mention here for obvious reasons. I must admit, though, I really admire the guy for his courage as I came away with a very good impression of him, although it was the first time we had ever met. I mean, he’s a humble man as far as I could tell.

No doubt, Tiawan and Hassan both represent the best in the human spirit and the courage to stand up in defense of other people’s rights, even at the risks of their own lives in the process. Fortunately, they have survived and made it through with our collective support. Now, we’re able to hear their personal stories in person. Isn’t that something! That’s why we cannot forget those that are still left behind - Aloysius, Sheikh Sackor, and the others. Hopefully, we’ll hear their stories in person too one of these days by God’s help.

My other fond memories are - meeting Nvasekie and Alvin Teage in person also for the very first time. The same situation with Asumana Jabateh-Randolph, President of LIMANY (the Liberian Mandingo Association of New York), who I immediately confronted in a joking manner about him not carrying my articles on his association’s website - something that we simply laughed about. Certainly, these are personal experiences that one takes to the grave, because it happens once in a lifetime. Even though it was my first time meeting most of the folks at the rally, but our cordial exchanges made it appear as if we had known each other forever. I’m quite sure that many of you would have had the same or similar experiences. That’s why it’s good to get out there sometime, especially when events like the rally take place in the name of human rights for all Liberians.

Lest I forget, I’d just like to note for the record that none of our so-called opposition leaders showed up at the demonstration [again], to the best of my knowledge. But their conspicuous absence from events like that say more about their characters and interests than anything else. I know some people would say that, well, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf gave a statement condemning atrocities being committed by the NPP regime or Cllr. Charles Brumskine said so-so and so at a press conference, or T. Q. Harris issued a press release expressing his sympathy, or Dr. George Kieh said this and that...etc. But I must hastily tell you that these pronouncements are hardly enough when it comes to fully addressing the highly deplorable human rights situation in the war-wrecked country. Their actions should match their words and it’s about time that they did just that! The issue of human rights in our now despised country is one that no Liberian politician worth his or her salt can shy away from.

If those that are aspiring to the Liberian Presidency say that they are serious about redeeming their now devastated nation and uplifting the spirit of their severely traumatized people, then they must first show keen interest in the welfare of our compatriots that are lingering endlessly in the President’s dungeons. And their interests must show in deed not usually empty words.

Therefore, attending the rally in person or sending a representative at the very least surely would have taken away nothing from them. But it seems that they just aren’t interested or even up to the task of taking on the repressive NPP government, LURD, MODEL, or whoever, on just this one burning issue - human rights in Liberia. Meanwhile, you can rest assure that they’ll definitely show up gladly in their best attires in Burkina Faso, Accra, Lome or wherever, pretending to be serving our interests. And that’s no sign of LEADERSHIP! Moreover, that’s why there are usually no concrete results coming out of all these conferences as the nation continues to burn and deteriorate.

Finally, I’d like to end this piece with another observation from Tatu_Sio (whoever that person is). He posted: "Seeing and listening to Hassan Bility and Tiawan Gongloe describe their personal experiences and thoughts on Liberia was [quite] moving", and emphasized that, "clearly, there is still a great deal of work to be done" in terms of "collectively building alliances to support future efforts."

Indeed, this is particularly true, most especially, in a life and death situation like Aloysius’ and the others where we have common interests. In this regard, I’d like to hear from as many Liberians as possible, stating "honestly" why they didn’t attend the rally. Because tomorrow, the one bothersome question that each of us could be asked is: Were you there? I know, I was!

Related articles:

Our Indifference - The Case Of Aloysius Toe, Et.Al
Thrusting Leadership On Tiawan Saye Gongloe, Et Al
No Excuses- Let Tiawan Saye Gongloe Go!
The Case Of Hassan Bility - Hello Ambassador Blaney!
Seeking Justice For Hassan Bility And The Others