The Full Story Has Never Been Told

By Alvin J. Teage

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 18, 2003

A full account of the horrible acts that were committed by the various warlords during the Liberian civil-war from 1989-96 would be wondrously long. This piece, compelled by the train of unapologetic statements, shall instead have a narrow focus and shall leave the conducting (if warranted) of a full-criminal examination for the appropriate time and place. Its narrowness, however, should not be construed as to suggest that other Liberian warlords are not responsible for their harmful acts.

The self-style five star General Alhaji Kromah, leader of the ULIMO-K rebel movement, is seeing here defending his ULIMO movement at a mass gathering in Monrovia, the war-torn Liberian capital. Photo © by James Fasuekoi.
Former Warlord Alhaji Kromah
The argument has been repeatedly made by Mr. Alhaji Kromah and other senior members of the former ULIMO-K warring faction that their collective involvement in the past Liberian civil-war was solely for self-defense. Said another way, ULIMO-K's total actions were needed to defend against the imminent dangers that were forced upon them. For argument's sake, I will acknowledge Mr. Kromah's self-defense claim, but without embracing the suggested validity, as has been asserted by him and others.

Self-defense is an affirmative defense in that the burden of establishing it lies with the claimant--the person must show that he or she acted in self-defense. A person is privileged to use reasonable force (similar to the threatened force) to defend against a threatened harm on the part of another; the threatened harm must be imminent. So if Mr. Kromah is able to demonstrate, at the appropriate time and place, that he reasonably believed that he was facing imminent dangers from his victims, he maybe successful in his claim of self-defense.

However, one should not mistake retaliation for the valid claim of self-defense. (Some Liberians have reported that, at times, ULIMO-K took retaliatory actions against unarmed civilians). When the imminent harm is no longer threatened, the self-defense privilege ends. So if the original victim subsequently acts against the other person, he changes his role to an aggressor. And, as such, the original victim may become criminally and civilly liable.

For purposes of illustration, consider this: While Amadou is waiting for a taxicab, he and John, a bystander, get into an argument as to the best form of government. John is adamant in saying that it is tyranny. This vexes Amadou because he believes that it is democracy. Unable to control his temper, Amadou pushes John to the ground. While John remains down, Amadou turns his back and walks down the street; about 500 feet from John. John then picks himself up, and with a large piece of wood in his hand, chases after Amadou and beats his right leg, thereby causing bodily injuries. Is it self-defense? John would most likely be unsuccessful in a claim of self-defense because the imminent harm from Amadou had ended.

Whatever one may argue as to Mr. Alhaji Kromah's claim of self-defense, one cannot help but note the horrible civil-war acts that have been publicly linked to him. But Mr. Kromah, with the assistance of others, has been forceful in asserting that his actions were purely within the limit of self-defense. Platitudes are nice, of course. While it is not necessary, at this time, to list details of the reported retaliatory actions that were committed against unarmed civilians by ULIMO-K, the welcome truth is that, if Mr. Kromah's actions are fully examined, his self-defense claim is likely to fail. Can this issue, however, be handled differently?

History has taught us that the exercise of social ostracism may lead to a state of loneliness. So I do not suggest here that Mr. Kromah's civil-war actions are unforgivable; because, within reason, it is human to err. I am, however, appalled; in fact, I am angered by the train of unapologetic statements from him and others to catalogue their civil-war actions as purely within the limit of self-defense. These insulting statements need to stop because Mr. Kromah cannot honestly say that innocent civilians were not abused and killed by his ULIMO-K warring faction. I, therefore, urge Mr. Kromah: (1) to note the opinion from the public tribunal; (2) land his unapologetic flight; (3) and begin the process of mending fences with the Liberian people. A genuine, public apology might be a good starting point.

On another serious note, our nation is grounded on the principle that, in order to promote national unity, the Liberian society must "practice fraternal love, tolerance and understanding as a people..." Candor requires a national confession that this constitutional message has yet to be realized.

The argument that some brothers and sisters within the Liberian-Mandingo community cannot validly claim that it was designed biases, which led them to take up arms during the 1989-96 Liberian war, is a superficial way of addressing the real Liberian Factor. Even if we assume that the given reason is premised on a few observational facts, any observer of the deeply divisive practices within the Liberian society knows that, as a group, the Liberian-Mandingo community has suffered designed biases from other Liberians.

I am not here concerned with the petty everyday issues of human interactions, which may give rise to unacceptable feelings. While it would be nice to live without them, it is unrealistic to expect humans to live within such limit. But we should remember that acts too recent! History has shown us the results of ignoring the recipes of social and political hostilities. We must, however, not seize upon the bad acts of one or several persons within an ethnic group to send a blanket indictment to that community of Liberians. Their concerns as to designed biases need to be addressed.

Equally, when a Liberian from the Liberian-Mandingo community harms another, brothers and sisters within the Liberian-Mandingo community must not hide behind the doctrine of ethnicity (This applies to all of our ethnic groups). One must have the courage to denounce the harmful acts of another, irrespective of ethnic affiliation. In fact, we are one big, extended family. For every Liberian (excluding biotechnological workings) has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. And if one were to go as far back to biblical calculation, we share the same two common ancestors: Adam and Eve.

It is nice to note that Liberians worldwide are engaged in an earnest and profound debate as to how they may ultimately handle the horrible acts, which were committed by the various warlords. And this is a good sign for the type of government we are seeking. But as we seek freedom and democracy for the Liberian people, nothing would be more pernicious to our national interest than for us to see and treat unapologetic-Liberian warlords as representatives of a specific ethnic group. They are Liberian citizens and should be dealt with accordingly. But if the Liberian society fails to abandon its illusory thinking as to the placing of national priority and respectability, no government, whether of the left, center, or right can achieve and maintain freedom and democracy in Liberia.