First, I want to thank my colleagues of the Steering
Committee of the All Liberian National conference
for a great job, thus far, especially those who reside
in Europe. In the planning of this program, our colleagues
in France, Britain, Holland, Germany and other parts
of Europe attended teleconferences at late hours and
sometimes at early morning hours when they should
have been in bed. They denied themselves of sufficient
sleeping time to perform a patriotic task of planning
with us, on this side of the Atlantic, for this historic
conference on the search for lasting peace in Liberia.
It is a rare display of love of country that Liberian
history, certainly should not ignore. We must applaud
them for this great demonstration of love of country.
I am also deeply grateful to my colleagues for selecting
me to be one of the presenters at this historic assembly
of the sons and daughters of Liberia dispersed by
the lack of peace in their homeland. However, it is
a gratitude that I express with caution because of
the topic that I have been asked to make a presentation
on today. Certainly, the topic ‘PEACE’
is the overriding purpose of this gathering. I express
gratitude with caution because some in this audience
probably came with the expectation that like a fetish
priest, I will state concrete things that should be
done or avoided for peace in Liberia. Others in this
audience perhaps, came expecting that like a doctor,
I will diagnose the problem and provide the cure.
Yet, there are those who expect me to be a good salesman,
ready to advertise my products as being the best on
Let me clearly say that to their disappointment, I
have come with no diagnosis, no solution, no prescription
and not to promote the best choice for peace in Liberia.
My disposition is informed by the fact that the PEACE
we all seek in our country is one that we have never
had as a nation, from the founding of Liberia to the
present. It is not the mere absence of sounds of guns,
or the taking away of weapons of war, or the pacification
of warlords and fighters, or the consolation of politicians
and other contestants for political power. This is not
the kind of peace for which any one Liberian can pretend
to have a strategy or plan. It can only be realized
through genuine collective efforts, consistently and
I can take the risk of saying, in terms of description,
that the search for peace that has gathered us here
today and that will continue to bring us together
to consult among ourselves until we find is lasting
peace. In my view, lasting peace cannot be for any
limited objective, like the ones I just enumerated.
It will be ambitious and unrealistic for me to tell
this audience that I have the recipe for lasting peace.
My purpose here therefore, is to introduce the subject
matter of PEACE in a way that will make our consultation
here interesting and result-driven. Consequently,
I have chosen to introduce the subject of peace under
the broad topic: Finding Lasting Peace in Liberia:
a Patriotic Duty of Every Liberian.
If there is one issue that should unite all and every
Liberian, it is the search for lasting peace. In our
daily personal reflections, in our interactions with
other Liberians, whether informally or formally, and
in everything undertaking, individually and collectively,
the achievement of lasting peace in Liberia must be
first. The attainment of lasting peace in Liberia
must be an integral part of everything we say, write
or do. Even our writings on the various internet services,
including listserves, chat rooms and websites must
be geared towards the attainment of peace.
We must individually commit ourselves after this conference
onwards, to promote lasting peace in Liberia, as a
demonstration of our ‘Love of Liberia’.
Here, I am deliberately emphasizing individual, not
collective commitment. Each Liberian must say what
she or he can do to achieve lasting peace in Liberia.
Under the shadow of collective commitment there are
usually too much shifting of blames and excuses. Therefore,
it is my argument that whilst the search for peace
is a national agenda, the attainment of peace will
come through personal commitment of each and every
Liberian. As a symbolic gesture of our individual
commitment to peace, I call upon you my brothers and
sisters to stand up and say out loud, “I commit
my life to peace for Liberia, from this day on”.
Thank you; you may be seated.
Reasons for Lack of Peace
Although I have said that today, I am not
going to give a diagnosis of the factors that have
undermined peace in Liberia; I will point to some
historical highlights that have frequently been the
subject of discussions amongst Liberians in the past.
It has been argued that the lack of peace in Liberia
can be traced to the founding of Liberia as a state.
The crux of this argument is that the formation of
Liberia by agents of the American Colonization Society
and resettled blacks from the United States was done
to the exclusion of indigenous politicians, namely
the kings and chiefs of the various ethnic groups
along the coast and in the interior. The other side
of this argument is that many of the chiefs and local
leaders were not willing to cooperate with the new
comers, and often conspired with predatory European
businessmen against the consolidation of the Liberian
state. There are all kinds of arguments on this issue
of the seed of conflict being planted with the formation
of the Liberian state.
The other set of arguments has to do with establishing
a legal framework for the governance of the Liberian
state, and the commitment of the state to respect for
the rule of law and human rights. It has been argued
that laws were made to benefit a certain group of Liberians
and to harm others. For example, the Constitution of
1847 made the sale of land by natives void ab initio
(null and void from the beginning, as though it did
not happen). Yet the Declaration of Independence referred
to the natives as the “lords of the land”.
Is it possible that the logic of the exclusion was to
prevent European businessmen from buying lands from
the natives and thereby avoid a reduction of the amount
of land available to the government? One can only guess,
not being privy to the debates that influenced that
provision of the Constitution.
Nevertheless, what this situation created is that most
families from the settlements established by the ACS
have legal titles to their lands, while most families
in the rest of Liberia have no legal titles to lands
which they consider their own by reason of first settlement.
This last category of lands was the only one that was
subject of several concession agreements throughout
Liberia. Did the deprivation of people from their ancestral
lands contribute to the lack of peace that we are experiencing
today? Even as we meet today, steps are being taken
to evict thousands of our Bassa brothers and sisters
and their children, based on a Concession Agreement
made in 1959, i.e. under the strength of the 1847 Constitution.
This conference must give a good amount of time to this
Another aspect is the issue of Rule of Law. Throughout
Liberian history various dominant political forces
have in one form or another, shown lack of respect
for the rule of law in their effort to protect or
control political power. Many times arbitrariness
of the politically strong has prevailed over respect
for the rule of law. The arbitrary removal of President
E. J. Roye, the failure to properly conduct elections
by the administration of President Charles D.B King,
the promotion of forced labor by his government, the
commission of murder and other crimes against political
opponents by Presidents William V. S. Tubman, Samuel
K. Doe and Charles Taylor.
It has been observed that the lack of respect for human
rights by governments after governments since the founding
of Liberia is at the core of the lack of peace in Liberia.
Even as we assemble here from various parts of the world
to consult among ourselves on strategies for lasting
peace in our land, the government that was put in place
to oversee the transition from war to peace continues
the legacy of government’s abuse of human rights.
The irony is that, although some US policymakers supported
the establishment of Liberia as a solution to a domestic
problem, most of the founding settlers of Liberia were
motivated by the love of freedom and respect for human
rights. The country’s name: Liberia, the Declaration
of Independence of Liberia, our national motto and anthem
memorialize this motivation for freedom and respect
for human rights. Respect for human rights is the founding
dream of Liberia. Yet in practice, respect for human
rights was not the foundation on which the state was
built. Is it therefore wrong to say that this dichotomy
between our national dream and our state-building method
contributed to our conflict?
The military regime and the Liberian civil war bear
great responsibilities for the state failure and lack
of peace in Liberia, but historically speaking they
are consequences of state-building on a very weak foundation.
A state built on such a weak foundation is expected
not to be strong and prosperous in any respect. As I
have said on a number of occasions, a nation that departs
from its founding dream cannot prosper. Its progress
will be seriously hindered by this departure. Against
this background, there cannot be durable peace in Liberia,
if the commitment of respect for human rights is not
accorded the highest national consideration by the government
and people of Liberia.
We are now where we are as a nation because we chose
to build a weak state. What we have experienced over
the years are results of the building of a weak state.
The strength of a state cannot just depend on a strong
military force and high economic growth. Respect for
the rule of law and human rights are key elements
of the strength of a state, without which state failure
is eminent, no matter how long it takes. In Liberia,
because of the lack of respect for the rule of law
and human rights, our court system, and the legislature
have been weakened by corruption and manipulation.
Our economy has not been developed and managed in
ways that alleviate poverty. Governments, even before
the military coup and the civil war did not provide
basic social services for all throughout the country.
What the building of a weak Liberian state succeeded
in doing was to create mass discontent and a reserve
army of the discontented, ready to be mobilized for
the destruction of the Liberian state. The mobilization
of that army did not only destroy the Liberian state,
but transformed it into a bad neighbor in a neighborhood
of weak states. Consequently, the civil conflict in
Liberia extended to Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire
and affected many other countries within the West
African sub-region in various ways.
In dealing with the causes of the Liberian conflict,
some Liberians have laid blame at the doorsteps of
the pressure groups of the 1970s, including youth,
student and civic movements for political change.
Some have even identified specific individuals whom
they blame for the military coup and everything that
has happened to Liberia since then. Is it true? Well,
if it is, then it supports the argument that the Liberian
state has been a weak state. In a strong state there
are shock absorbers and the actions of a few people
may have a negative impact, but such impact cannot
be so huge as to lead to the collapse of the entire
state. In a nation where there is respect for the
rule of law and human rights, such state collapse
is not so easily possible.
Some Liberians have blamed the Liberian conflict on
mass illiteracy and poverty. It should be noted that
mass poverty and illiteracy are consequences of bad
governance. In states where respect for the rule of
law and human rights constitutes the foundation of
governance, citizens cause their governments to improve
their social and economic conditions.
The other argument that has been made is that the
conflict in Liberia was influenced by the memories
of past tribal conflicts amongst the various ethnic
groups. Is this true? If it is true, then why is it
that none of the conflicts among the various warring
factions started with the attack of one tribal town
or village by another tribe? Is it not true that the
civil war was largely a violent battle for political
power in which ethnic grievances were exploited? Those
who emphasize the ethnic nature of the conflict have
greatly contributed to the concept of collective guilt.
They often point at and refer to people of some Liberian
tribes as wicked. As I have said before no Liberian
tribe is inherently wicked. When people are placed
in a position where they are made to see their survival
tied to the survival of one strong man or woman, they
do things which they feel are necessary for the protection
of that one man or woman. However, members of various
ethnic groups who committed crimes must be identified
and made to account for these actions, instead of
indicting any Liberian ethnic group. Collective guilt
is not healthy for peace.
Of all the challenges to lasting peace, it appears
that acceptance of defeat or succumbing to the democratic
will of the Liberian people may become a major stumbling
block to lasting peace. History has shown that Liberian
politicians are ever ready to celebrate victory but
are totally unprepared to accept defeat. The E. J.
Roye crisis was intensified by the defeated candidates
of the Republican Party. The Fernando Po crisis was
brought to the attention of the League of Nations,
largely through the efforts of T. J. R. Faulkner,
only after his defeat, howbeit fraudulent, by the
incumbent President of Liberia, Charles D. B. King.
That election is recorded as the most rigged election
in world history. Following the 1985 elections, all
the four parties that participated in the election
claimed victory, although it was widely believed that
the winner was LAP. Following the 1997 elections,
some claimed victory, in spite of the wide margins
that existed between the NPP and the other parties.
Subsequently, various other claims were made. One
which is still being made is that ECOWAS arranged
Taylor’s victory as a way of ending the conflict
and that the actual numbers were not in favor of Taylor.
One opposition figure who later joined Taylor’s
government said the election was fair but not free.
Once the government was inaugurated, he began to look
for job by arguing that the government was not inclusive.
Interestingly, his argument for inclusion ended with
his inclusion and he became a better advocate for
Taylor than any of Taylor’s NPFL confidants.
The fact that Taylor won elections in Monrovia, just
less than one year after the end of the April 6, 1996
crisis, leaves me with no doubt that he won the elections
in other parts of the country. Let’s face the
facts, by 1997 Taylor had succeeded in intimidating
the entire nation and people for good reasons. They
felt that if he did not come to power he would start
another war. In fact, he openly made that threat many
times in different forms. For many years, Taylor had
had control over large portions of the mineral, timber,
rubber and other resources of Liberia; hence, he had
more money to spend on the population impoverished
by him than any other candidate. He was the only candidate
that had a media conglomerate of TV, radio and newspapers
to spread his propaganda and therefore his name was
well-known. His propaganda was spinning everything
to make him look good and make his opponents look
bad. Also, according to many observers, Taylor’s
party was the only party that was represented at every
polling station in the 1997 elections. The opposition,
in the presence of all these factors working in favor
of Taylor failed to unite and many of them came into
the game too late to obtain victory or make a significant
impact. We hope that for the forthcoming elections,
the National Elections Commission will do its best
to conduct the elections in the most transparent manner,
in order to deny losing candidates of all arguments
that could undermine peace, after the results are
The issue that has the potential of introducing a
greater conflict in our country is the idea of Liberia
being a Christian state. Many Christians have made
this statement and it has often served as a source
of great concern to many Liberians who are Moslems.
I want to state that there is no legal or statistical
basis for this statement. In both the Constitutions
of 1847 and 1986 there is no mention of Christianity
or the name of Jesus. The name of God is mentioned
in those documents, not Jesus or Mohamed. The same
observation can be made of our national anthem and
our motto. Religion was meant to be a private matter,
even by the founding fathers. They took this position
because at their arrival they met the Moslems already
in Liberia. By 1900, it is reported that of Liberia’s
population of two million at the time, about 300,000
were Moslems and 40,000 were Christians. The remaining
over 1.5 million were either members of African religions
or non-believers of any organized religion. The statistics
on religion has not significantly changed in a way
to declare Liberia a Christian or Moslem state. We
are better of not trying in any way to compete for
a religious state in Liberia.
In a state where over 300,000 people have been killed
for political power, can we have peace when we permit
an elected president to stay 6 years in power, a representative
6 years and a senator 9 years?
These are some of the issues that must be decided
before the ensuing elections. No sitting president
will spend any time on reducing his or her tenure.
If it happens we will be happy; but we know that it
is a difficult thing to do.
The way forward
As I said earlier, I have no prescription. The purpose
of this conference is for us to collectively find
the way forward to lasting peace. Let us examine how
we got where we are, but most important, let us work
on our own prescription for attaining lasting peace.
Others have done a lot for peace in Liberia, beginning
with the intervention of ECOWAS in August 1990 and
2003, followed by the intervention of the United Nations
through the International Contact Group on Liberia
in October 2003. They have done their part; we must
do ours. We must identify strategies for lasting peace
to which we can commit our lives. Ownership of the
peace process by the Liberian people is quite necessary
for lasting peace. For example, do we want to bring
to justice those who committed war crimes and crimes
against humanity in Liberia? Do we just want truth
and reconciliation? Do we prefer to let bygones be
bygones and move ahead? What do we do about those
who have transformed the transitional government into
a predatory institution, a Kleptocracy?
When Liberians honestly decide to provide a solution
to their problems, their choice will be respected
by the rest of the world. In this regard, it is important
to note that what later became known as the ECOWAS
Peace Plan, which called for a ceasefire, the formation
of an interim government not to be headed by a warlord,
and whose head is not eligible for election, was a
plan put together by Archbishop Michael Francis, Shiehk
Kafumba Konneh and other religious leaders under the
auspices of the Interfaith Mediation Committee of
Liberia. If their formula had received the required
support of the world in 1990, perhaps Liberia would
not have been where it is today. In one form or the
other, their wisdom remains an integral part of the
If we honestly decide at this conference to put Liberia
first, and freely and openly discuss the way forward
for lasting peace, we will succeed as our religious
leaders did in 1990. Let as find the courage to do
so. Let us leave this place with a firm commitment
to lasting peace in Liberia. We must work for the
day when Liberia will be synonymous with peace, freedom
and justice. On that day we will all together, joyously
sing, “Long live Liberia, happy land, a home
of glorious liberty by God’s command.”