Citizens Bureau for Development and Productivity’s 172nd Independence Day Message
By: John Kamma
As Liberia turns one year older, it is important that the people of Liberia soberly reflect on our developmental progress by earnestly analyzing our past and present. In the past, people from other African countries near and far saw Liberia as an independent nation on the path of prosperity and development - especially under President William VS Tubman. At the time, they referred to Liberia as the “small America.” Africans of all walks of life came to Liberia for many reasons, including those who yearned for independence from colonial domination as well as those who wished to enter our educational system or apply for employment opportunities that offered better wages. Despite their differing intentions and reasons, all those who came here did so with the single goal of making their life better. As such, Liberia was opened to receive brothers and sisters from West Africa and beyond. At the same time, Liberia supported other African nations in their quest for independence, becoming a beacon of hope that inspired others to believe in the possibility that one day they too would be able to wave and fly their flags as an independent republic on an African continent free from colonial domination.
Despite Liberia’s historical status among African countries as the oldest independent African republic, Liberians do not demonstrate a sense of nationalism, most likely due to Liberia’s more recent history.
The 1979 Rice Riot was organized by the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) - which was headed by the late politician, Gabriel Baccus Matthews - against the backdrop of a proposed increase in the price of a 100lb bag of rice from $22 USD to$26 USD. The riot resulted in the deaths of several Liberians. A year later, 17 noncommissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) staged a bloody coup that led to the overthrow of the grand old True Whig Party (TWP) and the killing of President William R. Tolbert Jr. and other elements of his regime.
In the years following the 1980 coup, Liberia plunged into protracted back to back civil conflicts from 1989 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2003. Liberians witnessed many forms of war crimes, including the killing of civilians and prisoners, torture, rape, child soldiers, and pillaging. President Samuel K. Doe was executed with parts of his body cut off. What a low to fall to as a nation from President Tubman’s era when Liberia was considered on the path of prosperity.
A chance for national redemption came when the West Africa peacekeeping force (ECOMIL) led by Nigeria and seven other regional countries entered Liberia. Months after the entry of ECOMIL, control of the peace operation was transferred to the United Nations. Great Britain and France called upon the United States to lead international efforts and support to end the Liberian civil war because Liberia was established as an independent nation by freed American slaves. As such, the US stepped in to bring sanity to the suffering people of Liberia by providing critical support to the 3,600 ECOMIL peacekeeping troops, without which international intervention forces never would have been deployed to Liberia.
With international assistance, a new way forward was chartered through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Act, whose responsibilities included “promote[ing] national peace, security, unity, and reconciliation by investigating gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, sexual violations, and economic crimes that occurred between January 1979 and October 2003.
Given the bloodiness of Liberia’s recent past, our path to prosperity and development need to consider the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report’s recommendations for war crimes and Justice as the blueprint for lasting peace. Ignoring the recommendations of the report would keep us at a fragile peace, where we would remain vulnerable to future recurrences of civil war. Failure to fully implement the TRC’s recommendations would also devalue the efforts of our West African brothers and sisters and undermine the much needed social and economic development. International communities have sacrificed for our country and people, and it is through the intervention of UNMIL that we are able to enjoy this fragile peace that remains under siege by the impunity of those who committed crimes during the civil war.
Why shouldn’t the TRC’s recommendations be implemented when we allocated resources to do the work we deemed necessary in recognizing what went wrong? Are we respecting the numerous peacekeepers who lost their lives in order to bring peace to our land? Shouldn’t we see the TRC’s recommendations as a priority in ending the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity?
As we ponder these questions, let us continue on previous efforts made towards generating genuine and lasting peace and respecting human rights in Liberia by learning from our past mistakes, so that justice, human rights, and peaceful coexistence become a way of life for all Liberians. Embracing a full implementation of the TRC’s recommendations would put an end to impunity and would guide us on a sincere and new journey towards lasting and genuine peace, which would lay the bedrock for a prosperous Liberian state for generations to come.
As a Member of the Committee of Nations, our leaders are urged to take actions which promote public well-being and happiness as well as respect for rights by advancing the rule of law and a culture of justice, human rights, peace, and unity. Does shielding perpetrators of war crimes advance these values? To achieve the above values we must promote the public good over the protection of individuals from facing judgment for alleged illegal acts committed during the civil wars. We must set a clear precedence that war crimes are not tolerated by the peace-loving people of Liberia.
As we celebrate Liberia’s 172nd year of independence, the Citizens Bureau states that a truly independent nation must demonstrate and promote justice, peace, and love for its citizens - irrespective of background, gender, age, or station in life - in order to ensure their safety and happiness. As people of one nation and one destiny, sustaining hard earned peace requires the collective effort and good will of all Liberians within the country and abroad.
Most of our people battle hardship daily due to the high level of unemployment and the difficult economic terrain throughout the country, as the price of goods and services has escalated and exchange rates have skyrocketed as never before. We want to call on Liberians at home and abroad to recognize this reality, help make things better, and share with one another doing these challenging times. When you look around, there is someone out there whom you could assist; do not hesitate to help, as you will be contributing toward the happiness of a fellow citizen. By continuously showing kindness and love to one another, we will be contributing to the well-being and happiness of others.
In 2018, the nation heard President George Weah promise to infuse $25,000,000 USD into the Liberian economy. In our last Independence Day message, the Citizens Bureau stated that the President’s gesture was an appreciated step in the short run. In addition to this gesture, we urged that the triggers responsible for the high cost of living are identified and addressed as soon as possible to ease the undue economic burden on Liberians.
The recent General Auditing Commission (GAC) report on the cash infusion, which was commissioned by the President following both the Kroll and Presidential Team reports, pointed to discrepancies in the disbursement of the money, yet failed to name who was responsible. According to Justice Minister Musa Dean in a communication to the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC), an independent organization established in 2008 by an act of legislature to investigate, prosecute and prevent acts of corruption of public officials in Liberia that, accountability for the excess funds is not in question, but Section 2.2.4 of the GAC’s report says that 15 entities listed by the CBL as having received money have denied receiving such. When it has been satisfactorily proven that those entities named in the GAC’s report did not receive that money, the thwarted public good intended by the president will be publicly known.
In response to such, we advance the following recommendations for consideration:
- TRC recommendations and UNMIL and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) advice should be implemented in order to promote good governance and should be coupled with continued dialogues on avoiding a repeat of the civil wars in Liberia.
- Do not delay the public announcement of the LACC investigation outcomes as was ordered by the Justice Ministry in order to avoid rumor mongering amongst citizens who want to know the facts about the discrepancies in the disbursement of the money as well as in order to increase confidence in the democratic governance of the Republic of Liberia.
- Government should encourage investors transporting raw materials from the country to consider building processing plants or factories that transform raw materials into consumable products for ordinary end users so as to encourage mass employment opportunities of Liberians into the private sector, boom the economy to promote the multiplier effect.
- Government fight against corruption should be based upon audit reports as a pre-requisite for prosecuting corruption so as to add value to the fight against corruption and to avoid the fight against corruption to be seen as cosmetic or a witch haunt.