A Nation Divided! -Kromah’s Death Produces Polarized Eulogies

The death of Professor Alhaji G.V. Kromah on Tuesday did not only shock the nation, but has left Liberians more divided and wracked in their emotions about the life that statesman Kromah lived, how he impacted the lives of others, and the weight of his actions during the twilight era of his sojourn on earth. At home and aboard, Liberians are now more polarized in proffering befitting tributes to a man whose wartime actions some now say were propelled by the dictates of uncontrollable events; while others have come out to say that Prof. Kromah, as leader of one of Liberia’s fiercest former warring factions, was “wicked”, even if he was once a revered statesman, academic, journalist, and politician. Taking cue from two of Professor Kromah’s professional and childhood colleagues who knew him in his earlier life and waning years, The Analyst provides keen insight into why Dr. Henry Boima Fahnbulleh and others believe Professor Kromah was a “Reluctant Revolutionary”; while Mr. Samuel Jackson says the ever smiling and buoyant boy he knew in high school was not the man that was buried yesterday, but a transmogrified persona of a “terrifying” man “obsessed with state power” before his death.

To understand the deep-seated emotions that followed the death of Professor Alhaji G.V. Kromah is to appreciate the background of the man who was thrust into the vortex of Liberia’s civil war and the context of the Liberian civil conflict itself. From serving as special assistant to the Vice-President and later Assistant Information Minister during the regime of President William Tolbert, later serving as Director General of the Liberia Broadcasting System in 1982, and later in 1984 as Minister of Information in 1984 under President Samuel Doe, Alhaji Kromah’s life was restricted within the ambit of his professional occupation – journalism. When the Charles Taylor rebellion broke out in December 1989, Kromah fled Liberia a few months later, fearing for his life as his Mandingo tribesmen were being summarily targeted by the NPFL rebels. In exile, Alhaji Kromah co-founded the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), a resistance armed group that forced Charles Taylor to a negotiating table.

But by 1994, ULIMO had split into two factions, with Kromah leading one faction known as ULIMO-K, while Roosevelt Johnson became leader of ULIMO-J. The ULIMO split led to massive destruction of lives and properties.

Aaron Weah, a Liberian PhD Researcher based in the United Kingdom, observed yesterday in his eulogy of Professor Kromah that ULIMO and ULIMO-K accounted for 17,643 violations cataloged under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Final Report findings.

“According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Final Report, ULIMO and ULIMO-K account for 11,564 (7.1%) and 6079 (4.5%) respectively of the total violations committed. Taken together, the two warring factions committed 17,643 violations (11.6%) and Alhaji G. V. Kromah, the leader of both warring factions, bore the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed. He died without facing justice. And to his memory, the report and its findings are sealed!” an incensed Weah stated on his social media page Wednesday.

Fahnbulleh’s Reluctant Revolutionary

But Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, also one of the architects of the Liberian civil conflict, who is also a renowned academic, frowns on such characterization of the man that he (Fahnbulleh) considers “a reluctant revolutionary”.

In his social media summation of Professor Kromah’s contributions to the Liberian peace process, Dr. Fahnbulleh describes Professor Kromah as his brother and friend–scholar, lawyer, communicator, journalist, public servant, passionate defender of his people, a man of peace pushed into combat by historical circumstances, who would only fight when the massacre of his people ruptured the embankment of gentility and quietude in his gentle soul.

“Alhaji–friend, brother, companion and fearless comandante, I think back forty two years ago in my office at the Ministry of Education. You had come to see me to inquire if we the progressives were in charge of the process that began with the military coup. I told you that we were not in charge as we knew nothing of the occurrences and were only helping out. You squinted your eyes not out of fear but from alarming consternation that revolutionaries were not in control of a revolutionary situation. Your words came out sharply:  ‘This is dangerous Boima, very dangerous.’ You were right Alhaji as we were to find out later,” Dr. Fahnbulleh posited about his chanced encounter with Professor Kromah following the April 12, 1980 coup d’etat that toppled President William R. Tolbert from power.

Continued Fahnbulleh: “The years passed and there were historical accidents, tragedies and catastrophic developments, all intertwined with the follies of men! In the year 1991 I went to find you in Conakry as I wanted to inquire about rumors of preparation for combat. You advised that we eat first as my journey by road from Freetown would have been long and no doubt exhausting. Four of us sat at the table–your father, Brother Lansana (your older brother), you Comandante and I. After meals, the old man and Brother Lansana left us. I was blunt and asked why would you fight now–if the rumors were true–as the ECOMOG forces were already on the ground? You stared at me and the words came out as if rehearsed a hundred times, maybe a thousand times: ‘Liberia is a vast land mass and the Forces may not get around to cover it very soon. If we don’t fight, it is certain that we will die with thousands of our people, but if we resist, it is possible that we will survive together with our mothers, fathers and children.” I noticed the quivering in your voice, the moisture in your eyes, and the fixed gaze on me as if to ask: “Do you understand why we are forced to fight, to struggle and gave ourselves the choice to fight and defend the sacred shrines of our forebears or to die like cowards, trembling before the murderous hordes and watching our women and children waiting their turn to die?’ I understood and told you so. We parted, hoping that this would not be our last meeting.

“In latter years, we would fight interesting battles with our pens on the same side–relentless, uncompromising and merciless–against those pettifoggers who tried to distort our roles in the tragic history of our Republic. We met on numerous occasions after 2005 and I accepted the roles reversal: you, younger and lecturing as a man of letters and ideas; and I listening, asking the questions on law, the ethics of journalism, the historical evolution of your people from second-class citizens to subjects of their own destiny because of your guidance and teaching. I have always admired this evolution–men and women who had to change their names and religion to be accepted into a rigid class society to conscious citizens who transformed themselves into lawyers, doctors, public servants, ambassadors, engineers, etc., while keeping their names and upholding their religious beliefs! You were at the forefront of this transformation and history gave you no choice but to wade through blood, tears and great sacrifices!!

“How do we encapsulate your life–from man of letters and ideas to a combatant disciplined by the trenches of war and struggle? How do we tell the world that you brought your people from the backwoods of marginalization and obsequious complexes to the forefront of history as makers and movers? We will tell them that you did it, not by trembling at the condemnation of those who arrogantly feel that they have a monopoly of truth, but by being true to yourself and your long suffering people! It is said somewhere that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter!, This is the squaring of the historical equation.

“You came, you saw, and contributed your quota immensely. We can see where  your people now stand: on the threshold of a new history in our Republic. You were a reluctant revolutionary–a man of ideas, courage and the will to transform man and society. History with its logic plotted your destiny and you fulfilled it. Farewell forever Comandante! I say together with all our people: May Allah be kind to him, forgive him his human indiscretions and grant him Jennatul Firdous. Amen Y Allah,” Dr, Fahnbulleh emotionally closed his eulogy to the man he considered his “friend and brother”.

Muhammad Bility Defends Kinsman

Defending his kinsman, Muhammad Bility, another Liberian, also took to social media in a ferocious defense of someone who he termed as a “martyr”.

“Alhaji G.V Kromah is unapologetically our hero! Accept it or leave it. He brought us back to Liberia after being forced to exile. He died in his martyrdom. We will celebrate his life,” Bility fumed.

“Over the last 24 hours I have read thousands of social media posts for and against our HERO Professor Alhaji G.V Kromah. Everyone has their way of looking at issues depending on the lens they are using. For those who see Alhaji GV Kromah as a hero, I say to you BRAVO. You are realists in the context of social justice. For those who see Alhaji as a war criminal, I say to you empathize with Alhaji’s “situation at the time”. We will be coming up with several reasons for our position to call Alhaji GV Kromah our Hero. This is one of many to come. To begin with, no one in their objective mind would refer to GV Kromah as a rebel if we are to look at the denotative meaning of rebel. The word Rebel is defined as a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader. Key word is established government. The question here is does Alhaji and his ULIMO fit into this definition? NO!” Mr. Bility reasoned, noting that ULIMO did not rise against any established government, and that the NPFL was a rebel movement and it was NPFL that ULIMO resisted.

“Secondly, was the formation of ULIMO to resist Charles Taylor’s NPFL a social justice necessity? YES! The NPFL started its rebellion by killing innocent civilians, specifically the Mandingo and Krahn ethnic groups. This is where the so-called war crime begins. This situation of killing the Mandingo and Krahn necessitated the formation of a resistance movement ULIMO (not a rebel group) to force NPFL to comply with the rules of military engagement. The war against NPFL to protect and defend the people was justified!! If there were war crimes committed, those issues need to be investigated and adjudicated in competent court of jurisdiction,” Bility continued.

“Third, for those referring to Alhaji as a war criminal, you have to have some basic understanding of the law of armed conflict – specifically, the doctrine of command responsibility with consideration of the concept of effective command and control. To show lack of effective command and control to commit war crimes, here are some facts: 1. Alhaji GV Kromah was always in Conakry which was far away from the battle front. 2. Alhaji was busy with peace talks to find ways to end the civil war – this is evidenced by his participation in crafting most if not all of the peace accords. 3. ULIMO had a UCMJ responsible for prosecuting violations and there is no evidence to show that he knew or had reasons to have known human rights violations that were happening on the ground. No report whatsoever to prove this. Are we denying that there was no war crime committed? NO! We are not. We believe that there were war crimes committed and they need to be investigated and taken through the court system. Until then, our Hero is not a war criminal. And we know he would not have been convicted as a war criminal considering the facts available to us. All Liberians deserve justice. Remember, even acquittal is justice. Don’t be fooled,” said Bility, noting that even the NPFL rebellion was justified.

“The facts are there when the Mano and Gios (those who themselves killed us) were being killed by Krahn soldiers. I was in Nimba. I know some of the facts. The only thing wrong was the killing of innocent civilians, which also needs to be taken to court. We need to contextualize the circumstance and be honest to ourselves,” Mr. Bility stated finally.

Sam Jackson Differs

While it is often socially inappropriate in most circles to speak ill of a person in the immediate aftermath of their death, other Liberians have taken the direct opposite route to this social construct. Mr. Samuel Jackson, a former Minister and confidant of President Charles Taylor, who also did a plethora of consultancy works with the past Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf regime, claims to have known Aljahi GV Kromah during their high school days, and that never in his wildest dreams  would he have believed for Kromah to morph into someone so totally different later in life.

Giving his own eulogy to his former St. Patrick’s High schoolmate, Mr. Jackson swore that “the Alhaji GV Kromah being buried today is not the intelligent, ambitious, pushy but sweet young boy I went to school at St. Patrick’s with. Sure we call him ‘Pozi” meaning he wanted to head every organization but that was a harmless self-assuredness in a big head high schoolboy. He also had a nice demeanor, bright smile and was witty. And damn intelligent. He was one class below me. His was a brilliant class. Dr. Anthony Kerkula. Thomas Gray. Boakai Sirlief. With a star athlete Anthony Gray known as Teacher Gray.”

Continuing, Mr. jackson said the Alhaji Kormah that was buried Wednesday was the one he saw at Ruth Perry’s house in late 1996 after the April 6 debacle when he (Kromah) walked in the compound in the Police Academy Area with a large entourage, a medicine stick in his hand ala Mobutu of Congo with all the demeanor of a tarrying warlord.

“I was scared of the guy despite his loving approach to me with the same infectious smile and white teeth from high school. He looked mean. But he wanted everyone to know we were St. Patrick’s boys. Alhaji by then was less garrulous. When he left the compound my stomach churned from the ice cream Ruth Perry shared with me brought by Ignatius Clay or Brownie Samukai. Guys trying to curry favor with Ruth the head of state. That was the power game in 1996 Liberia. Ahead of the 1997 election. I was in Monrovia awaiting Ellen to help run  her campaign.

“GV was obsessed with state power. He had killed Karpeh in Sierra Leone. It was rumored and confirmed by research in my book. He was planning to run for president. His brother Lasannah my buddy, less dangerous at the time was Minister of Finance and we lived in Marcars building on Broad Street owned by my best friend the late Edwin Sambola. Lasannah told me his brother was running for the presidency and wanted my support. They had started their political party ALCOP. I thought it was a Mandingo party. Although I have a Mandingo daughter I did not recognize the role of the new Mandingos. The carnage they suffered had changed them. My Mandingo friends were more aggressive, belligerent and were angling for raw power. These were not my friends from Kaykay Yard where I had impregnated my daughter’s mother in High School. They were ALCOP. And GV was their deity. It was terrifying but the war had changed us all. No more friendship. No more nicety. No more civility. My daughter’s mother approached me with suspicion. She had survived the brutal conflict as a Kpelle girl in Monrovia. But she was not ALCOP.

“I last saw GV at his house on Air Field Shortcut Road. He invited me to talk about my advocacy against Elenito. He was hustling. I could tell. He probably took money from the Elenito people saying I was his school mate and could influence me to stop my campaign against them. He was wrong. I wasn’t stopping. I didn’t even drink the water he offered me at his house. I couldn’t trust the new Alhaji. He could have easily poisoned me. So I thought.

“So GV be prepared to meet your maker. The choices you made will live with and after you. I said RIP yesterday. Today before the state funeral I must clear my mind,” the highly controversial but intelligent economist stated emphatically.

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