The Wounds of War and the Need for Reconciliation
September 7, 2001
Editor's Note: Over the Labor Day weekend, a new core team for the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas was inaugurated in Provindence, Rhode Island. Members of the new leadership team include: William G. Nyanue - President, P. David Gbortoe - Vice President, Jackson N. Wonde - General Secretary, Annie Zeon-Yonly - Treasurer, and Cecelia Towah - Chaplain.
Below is the full text of the inaugural address delivered by William G. Nyanue, the newly inaugurated president of the Association:
We owe much gratitude to our host, the New England Chapter, under the able leadership of my friend Samuel Wulu-Davies, for the planning of this beautiful program and the overwhelming hospitality we have enjoyed since our arrival on Friday. I say, "Thank you, members of the New England Chapter, for a job well done." We also owe a debt of gratitude to Messrs Seward Boons, Joseph Geebro, Randolph Freeman, Jailah Nyanue, Emmanuel Cooper, D. Abugarshall Kai, Edmund Bargblor, Pyne Wallo, and Arthur Quaye founders and former leaders of this great association, whose wisdom and hard work made this association possible. I say, "Thank you" for the sacrifices you made on our behalf.
Fellow Grand Gedeans, Ladies and Gentlemen. This is a time of celebration, a time to forget for a while about the mortgage payments, car notes, and collect calls from the Ivory Coast and Ghana, and just relax. In just a few minutes, we will be dancing to some good music to climax this festive occasion and, believe me, Mrs. Nyanue and I brought along our dancing shoes.
But my friends, this is also a time of reflection, a time to think a little more deeply about our country and circumstances. There is no doubt that we all are happy to be in this great country and grateful for the many opportunities provided us and our children, but the fact of the matter is, many of us are not here by choice. We were forced to flee our beloved Liberia to avoid certain death. Our country now lies in ruin and many of our fellow Grand Gedeans and other Liberians still have to deal daily with the shame and humiliation of being refugees on the African continent.
During the next few minutes, I will be sharing with you my thoughts about our county and people. I will also be sharing with you programs our administration plans to pursue during these next two years in response to the challenges we face.
The Wounds of War And The Need for Reconciliation
The dark cloud of insecurity and uncertainty that continues to hang over our country is an issue that is of uttermost concern to all Liberians. For us Grand Gedeans, that cloud has special significance, for the seven-year civil war that brought it about was meant to exterminate us. And as you know, many sons and daughters of Grand Gedeh perished in the war. But for the grace of God, you and I would have been among the dead. I ask you to please rise and observe a moment of silence in honor of our fallen brothers and sisters, as well as other Liberians.
Fellow Grand Gedeans, Ladies and Gentlemen. As you know, Grand Gedeh was to cease existence more than ten years ago. The NPFL was to kill us into extinction. And having been trapped for seven months on their side of the divided country during the war, I can tell you that they tried to achieve this end. In Grand Gedeh, the rebels went from village to village killing innocent women and children, and young NPFL fighters boasted of killing anything that "smelled Krahn."
I believe NPFL rebels developed this intense hatred towards our community because we were successfully demonized by their leadership and the politicians. We were accused of dominating the Doe government, even though only two of the president's twenty senior cabinet appointees in 1985 were Grand Gedeans. But the demonization was so successful that to many of our countrymen, the government and the Krahn tribe were one and the same thing.
We had thought that the end of the war and the elections of 1997 ended the NPFL madness against the people of Grand Gedeh, but we may be mistakened. In 1998, hundreds of innocent Krahn women and children were massacred in cold blood on Camp Johnson Road and other parts of Monrovia by NPFL rebels turned government security. As a result of that incident, several innocent Krahn men, including thirteen civilians and several military personnel, were imprisoned. Some others in the military were literally butchered.
Recently, Mr. Taylor saw reason to release Mr. Bai Gbala, Counselor David Gbala and Senator James Chelley, three of the thirteen civilians imprisoned after the Camp Johnson Road incident. We welcome this action as a positive step in the right direction. We want to thank the student leadership of the University of Liberia, the Inter Faith Mediation Council, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, and the many Liberian organizations in these United States, whose unrelenting calls for the release of political prisoners contributed to Mr. Taylor's decision.
Our administration will continue the call for the release of the remaining Grand Gedeans and other detainees. We will work with the larger Liberian community and engage the government to evolve a peaceful solution to the country's problems.
But my fellow Grand Gedeans, as I narrated our story this afternoon, the undeserved brutality and inhumane treatment we suffered at the hands of some of our countrymen and women, so also are some of our fellow Liberians narrating their stories of brutality and inhumane treatment that they suffered at the hands of some members of our community. It is an open secret that prior to the war a few members of the Grand Gedeh community behaved in a way that did not necessarily bring honor to our community. Their reckless behavior caused pain and suffering for many Liberians, including even some Krahn people. There are those who criticize us for not publicly denouncing these members of our community, and they may have a valid point.
The reality of the Liberian tragedy, therefore, is that all Liberians have been hurt, some more so than others. Together, we must now find means to help heal the wounds. We must appeal to the goodness within each of us to forgive, heal and reconcile. For us Grand Gedeans, we must begin with the healing of wounds that we inflicted on each other. It is only when we are healed and genuinely reconciled to each other that we can focus on the important task of helping to rebuild our county. Our administration is committed to being a catalyst in bringing about this healing and reconciliation, and we have already begun the process.
On July 21, we met in Philadelphia with the leaders of the local chapters of our association, and district and sectional organizations. Tomorrow, we will be meeting with the elders, former government officials and former leaders of the Grand Gedeh Association. At that meeting, we will be looking further at some of the issues that were raised during the Philadelphia meeting and discussing ways and means to bring our community together.
But we would also need to extend the process of reconciliation beyond our borders. We need to be reconciled to our River Gee and Nimba neighbors. For decades we lived in harmony, inter-marrying and often supporting each other's causes. Regrettably, the war and the years preceding it did serious damage to the relationship. It is in our interest and the interest of our country to restore the harmonious relationship that once existed. With your support, our administration will engage the leaders of these counties here in these United States to explore the possibility of bringing our respective communities togther.
Rebuilding Grand Gedeh County
The other issue that is dear to my heart and, I am sure, a concern to all Grand Gedeans is the condition of Grand Gedeh County. That the county has been destroyed by the civil war is indisputable. Some of you have been to the county, and many of us have seen video recordings and photographs of the destruction. Seeing the once vibrant City of Zwedru reduced to a literal jungle brought many of us to tears. Kannah Road, Niabo Quarters, and other outlying areas of the city are now hunting grounds for the few Grand Gedeans who have returned to the county.
The question we have been grappling with for the past ten years has been, what to do about the situation. Let me suggest to you tonight that we can do one of two things. We can continue with business as usual, undermining each other, being passive, arguing and fighting about petty issues and using our association as a spring board for personal gains. By making this choice, we would also be choosing to let our county continue to be in ruin. I submit to you that this is no choice we should make at this juncture.
Our second choice is to make every other issue subordinate to the reconstruction of the county. By this choice, we would be making a commitment to rise above our differences and petty jealousy in the supreme interest of our people. This is the choice that this administration has made, and we are urging you to join us. God being our helper, let us resolve to rebuild a Grand Gedeh that is better than the one that was destroyed.
To begin the reconstruction process, we are proposing the establishment of the Grand Gedeh Reconstruction Fund. We will be asking every Grand Gedean living in the Americas and Europe to make a monthly contribution of $10.00 to this fund during the next two years. If just 500 of us contribute to this fund drive, we would raise $60,000.00 per annum. This would be a significant amount with which to begin the reconstruction process.
The other question that we would also need to answer is, "Where do we begin with the reconstruction process?". With your support, our administration would like to begin with the health and education sectors. We believe that investing in these two sectors, as our first priority, would positively impact the revitalization of the other sectors. A strong health sector, for example, would enable our people to concentrate on revitalizing the agricultural sector instead of spending precious time returning frequently to the Ivory Coast to seek medical treatment for simple illnesses, as they do now. And of course we all know that quality education is the best guarantor of a prosperous Grand Gedeh.
In the health sector, we would like to use proceeds from the Reconstruction Fund to restore the Zwedru hospital. As a starter, we would like to send a consignment of drugs and other medical supplies to the hospital by early 2002. We will then work with the county authorities to determine what it would cost to fully restore the hospital.
In the education sector, we would like to use proceeds from the Fund to expand the program which was begun by the Illinois Chapter of providing educational supplies - textbooks and other school supplies - to schools in the county. We would also like to establish a scholarship program to assist young Grand Gedeans attend universities in Liberia and the neighboring countries where some of our people still reside as refugees.
We realize that the enormous sums of money required to help
rebuild Grand Gedeh cannot be raised by taxation alone, and we
are taking other steps to increase the capacity of the association
to raise funds. But I submit to you, my friends, that, considering
the magnitude of the problem, we would need to make a long-term
commitment in order to make a significant difference. We cannot
disengage after a year or two of assistance and expect a significant
change in the condition of the county.
In order to fulfill a long-term commitment, however, this association would need to be strong. We need, therefore, to make every effort to strengthen it, if we are serious about helping to rebuild the county. In practical terms, this would mean improving the management skills of our leaders, motivating our community to increase participation in the affairs of the association, and streamlining financial management. We have already taken a number of steps to facilitate the achievement of these goals.
First, we have established a committee on Education and Training. The committee has been mandated to conduct workshops and seminars for the leadership of the association, both at the national and chapter levels. It is our hope that these training meetings would afford us the opportunity to acquire new skills that would help us better manage the affairs of the association.
Secondly, we have constituted a committee to develop a data base of all Grand Gedeans in these United States and Europe, and to encourage them to become involved in the reconstruction efforts. I am also pleased to inform you that the Grand Gedeh Association now has a home on the Internet. About a week ago, we launched the Grand Gedeh Association website. Some of you have already visited the site. If you have not, I encourage you to do so. You can log on at www.grandgedeh.com. The website will help strengthen the efforts of the Membership Committee by affording us the opportunity to reach Grand Gedeans worldwide with the message of rebuilding Grand Gedeh County.
The development of the website was made possible by funds provided by our Pennsylvania and Illinois campaign teams, and the hard work of Mr. Leo Tarr, a young Grand Gedean from Illinois. I want to thank Mr. Gbarwho Flahn, chairman of our Pennsylvania team, Mr. Isaac Vowal, chairman of the Illinois team, and all those who worked along with them for the generous gifts. I also want to thank Mr. Tarr for the hard work.
The third step we have taken to strengthen the national association is the establishment of a committee to review the constitution. While the current constitution has served us for well over 25 years, it needs to be strengthened to enable the association cope with today's reality. The Constitution Review Committee has been requested to submit its draft report by October 15 2001. But to ensure that the review process benefits from the collective wisdom of our entire community, we will make the committee's report available to you, through your local chapters, for review and comments. A final report, incorporating your comments, would then be prepared and presented to the General Assembly at the 2002 national convention for adoption.
Fellow Grand Gedeans, Friends. There is a larger reason why we should help rebuild Grand Gedeh than the need to restore services and lend a helping hand. I believe what we do at this hour of our greatest need would speak volumes about us. The mark of a great people, I must remind you, is not that they do not fall, but that they do not remain down. A fall is only a strength and character builder. I believe the state of Grand Gedeh is the measuring rod that would be used to determine whether we are back on our feet, or wallowing in self pity. I say, let us take on this challenge with an unwavering commitment. God being our helper, we can and must rebuild Grand Gedeh County to the shame of our detractors, and we must begin NOW.
Fellow Grand Gedeans, Ladies and Gentlemen. It was predicted that we would have been consigned to the history books and future generations of Liberians were to say, "There was once a tribe called Krahn." Those who organized and prosecuted the civil war tried to fulfill this diabolical predication. But let us re-echo to the world tonight that they have failed miserably. We are alive and well and, God being our Helper, Grand Gedeh County will be rebuilt. But let me remind you that you and I are the hope of our people and the future of our county. There is much work to be done and we have wasted precious time. Let us leave this hall tonight with a renewed commitment to redouble our efforts. Let us put aside the bickering and petty jealousy and focus our efforts on the task at hand. If evil men can sacrifice to destroy, we can sacrifice to build and restore our pride.
Let us also be reminded that we are Liberians first and Grand Gedeans second. It is our patriotic duty to help bring peace and healing to our country. Let us also redouble our efforts to reach out and contribute our share to the rebuilding of our country. Let us join with other peace loving Liberians to build a new Liberia wherein ethnicity will have no place, the practice of collective guilt will be a thing of the distant past, and the government will be the servant of the people that it was meant to be. These are the essentials of the Liberian struggle for which many have died. Let us continue the fight until the struggle is won and a new Liberia is born.
Thank you, and may the Almighty God bless the Grand Gedeh Association and save our country.