From the face value of it, and for some unsuspecting people, the call by some Liberians and international partners for the establishment of war crimes and economic tribunals in the country appear a fair deal for a country seeking genuine reconciliation, unity and progress. Probed further, the calls turn out, particularly for the current Government headed by President George Manneh Weah, to be camouflaged in what Attorney Abraham Teah Mitchell, a longtime progressive and politician, says is hypocrisy and shenanigans on the part of “born again activists and opposition elements” who are in reality laying out a snare to entrap the young administration and sabotage President Weah’s tenure. In an opinion piece syndicated, the former Commissioner of Immigration posits that answers to Liberia’s social, economic and political challenges don’t lie in absence of tribunals to try criminal wrongdoers but in creating the enabling environment to Liberians to live a better standard of life. See below Mr. Mitchell’s article.
FIXING THE NATIONAL ECONOMY AND JOB CREATION – THE IMPERATIVE: NOT WAR CRIMES COURT
ATTY. Abraham Teah Teh-bah Barlou Mitchell*
The New TRC Scapegoat
Since the 2017 General and Presidential Elections and the inauguration of President George Manneh Weah and the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) administration, the sexiest hullaballoo by critics of the CDC administration has been about the campaign for implementation of recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia. Ironically, the leading proponents of this unprecedentedly trumpeted agenda are certain politicians who either were taciturn in the past about these issues or had earlier rejected the TRC recommendations. They are today holding President Weah obligatory for implementing the TRC recommendations, tying the TRC report around the neck of the President as if he was the one responsible for crimes committed or the deliberate delays in implementing findings and recommendations of the TRC report.
It is totally erroneous on the part of some Liberians at home and abroad to make the impression that President George Manneh Weah as an official, and his administration in general, bear the sole responsibility for prosecution of individuals identified in the TRC reports for the commission of war crimes in the Liberian Civil War (December 24, 1989-August 18, 2003). It is totally disingenuous and folly that his administration has been portrayed by the opposition as the one responsible for failure to implement the TRC Report, and hence, a precondition for support by the international community. Certain quarters within international community have also been sinisterly double standing in this campaign.
What is more interesting here, and which many people seem to forget, is that the current so-called “leading opposition” in Liberia that have grabbed the TRC Report as an opposition agenda, include the very Unity Party of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, who not only led the first post-conflict constitutional government that governed Liberia for twelve (12) successive years (2006-2018), but also did all within their powers to delay, obstruct, frustrate and sabotage the TRC report. The vexing question is this: Who should, or should have been held mandatorily responsible for implementing the TRC findings and recommendations – Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Manneh Weah?
The TRC hypocrisy
Folks must stop the hypocrisy and wrongful blame shifting. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the principal architect of the Liberian Civil War, and one of those accused by the TRC Report for war crimes, was coincidentally the sitting first post-war constitutional president of Liberia when the TRC Report was promulgated. Those in opposition today were part of the ruling elite at the time. There and then, not a single one of them, nor hardly did any of the membership of the human rights community of Liberia, robustly raise any issue about implementation of the TRC report as a bench mark for determining the rule of Law and good governance in Liberia, during the reign of Madam Sirleaf, as they are doing today. The Chair and other erstwhile officials of the TRC were ill-treated, deprived of their benefits, and others forced into exile under the Sirleaf administration, and not a single rights group(s) raised any serious qualms with President Sirleaf at the time.
As a matter of fact, when Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf should have been brought to book and urged to abdicate power based on her role in the Liberian Civil War vis-à-vis the TRC recommendations, she was rather hypocritically hailed as the “first female president of Africa”, conferred upon and celebrated with all sorts of international accolades. The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 and ludicrously averred: “For her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. The Norwegian award message further stated that: “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society”. The timing of that award was crucial, as 2011 was the year of re-election bid of President Sirleaf. Coming to the end of her tenure and as part of the scheme to evade justice, in 2017, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was again awarded with the prestigious Moore Ibrahim Price, becoming Africa’s first ever female President to be awarded with such an award for “achievement in African leadership”. The award was valued US$ 5M. In essence, the war criminal was rewarded, not punished, not criticized and badmouthed and, not threatened with sanction.
War and Economic Crimes Court – a Conspiracy
President George Manneh Weah has now become the scapegoat, and therefore all those involved in power struggle in Liberia have ganged-up against the Weah administration, using the TRC report as the opposition agenda. This is broad daylight treachery at the highest! The insistence by the human rights community, in and out of Liberia, and all other political actors, local and international, that the Weah administration is the one under obligation to establish war and economic crimes courts in Liberia as precondition for support is grossly in bad faith and smells with conspiracy.
We don’t need to establish special war and economic crimes courts in Liberia or elsewhere to punish people accused for having committed war and economic crimes during the Liberian Civil War. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is sitting in The Hague provides adequate venue and jurisdictional scope to address war crime-issues in Liberia. Koudou Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast was taken there; so was Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president and rebel leader of Democratic Republic of Congo. Similarly, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese dictator, just dethroned, was also indicted by that very ICC. If the local and international human rights champions of human rights are serious about social justice in Liberia, all they need to do is indict all those of interest and drag them to the ICC. In other words, the Weah administration does not have to establish war crimes court in Liberia before the ICC can act on alleged crimes committed during the Liberian civil war.
On the other hand, Liberia’s current judicial system does have jurisdictions to deal with any and all aspects of economic crimes. The requisite integrity institutions—GAC, LACC, IAA, FIU, etc.—exist, funded and are in operation for that purpose. The point that must be stressed here is that we cannot afford machinations as a cover and pretext to pursue social justice in Liberia. The centerpiece of the conspiracy is to use President Weah as the police man to arrest Prince Johnson, and have him turned over to a war crimes court – that begins the push factor for renewed conflict in Liberia. Remember, Prince Johnson was used to capture President Doe; the aftermath of this tragedy has become the source of the incurable conflicts between Nimbians and Grandidians in Liberia as well as in the diaspora. The old colonial strategy of divide, conquer and rule must not be further allowed in post-conflict Liberia – putting ethnic Liberians against each other to create space for the political resuscitation of the pre-1980 immigrant political class in their desperate bid to recapture state power.
Ambassador George Manneh Weah and the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) have served as the greatest obstacle to the political resurgence of these elements in post conflict Liberia, in 2005, 2011, and eventually in 2017; that is why these elements, remnants of the old order, are on the mission to destroy President Weah, at any and all cost, including the June 7 “Save the State” COP political uprising that ended in a fiasco. And let it be emphasized here: The recent election of Mr. Dillon of the COP and the so-called “leading opposition” as senator over the CDC in the Montserrado bi-election was a tragedy!
Theirs was a PYRRHIC VICTORY – a victory in which the victor suffers collateral damages such that the victor’s victory is tantamount to defeat. In other words, someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has also taken a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress. Dillon and the COP are on a short-term vacation in that senate seat; in 2020, that seat shall revert status quo ante!
Liberia’s post-war priority as the imperative
What is Liberia’s number one priority as the imperative? Honestly, it is not war crimes court establishment and the pursuit of war criminals. Rather, it is the fixing of the wrecked and criminalized economy bequeathed to Liberians by the Unity Party and the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration after 12 successive years of fooling around with power for nothing. Our priority as a post war-war country is about a critical review and overhaul of the Liberian economy structurally and systemically, with the view to addressing all of the fundamental flaws that characterize our national economy, for the purpose of building a new economic architecture resistive of inflations, artificial growth void of social development, budget-shortfalls (due primarily to unpredictable and uncontrollable sources of revenue intakes), and the lack of adequate input-substitution means of production, for economic self-sustainability. Donor patronage support cannot grow and sustain our national economy for socio-cultural and technological development. In fact, the actual fight for social justice is about economic justice.
Economic justice means for Liberians to be part of the determination of the prices of our natural resources and other commodities (coffee, coco, timbers, rubber and iron ore); to become owners of shares as Liberians in businesses of trans-national and multi-national corporations operating in our country; to be enabled to trade equally internationally; to encourage economic reforms intended to end foreign domination through artificial cartels, syndicates and monopolies. When this is done there would be little or no need for conflicts and the commission of crimes against humanity.
The establishment of war crimes court in Liberia, which targets just a few would-be culprits, does not change nor cure the social, economic and political hurts both the victims and this country have suffered since independence. Rwanda and South African model of post-conflict investigations and reconciliation are outstanding in their noncriminal or retributive justice formats. That Rwanda and South Africa thrive today economically and socially after their respective unique postwar situations is more instructive to behold.
The Liberian Civil War has made us poorer than we ever were. We are poor not because perpetrators of the war are not imprisoned for life or hanged on the pole but fundamentally because of the ways in which our national economy is arranged. The social and economic disparities which in the first place caused the war still loom. That should be our focus and preoccupation as a people and nation. And it means we must deliberately invent a new economic architecture that is job-creation driven, contrary to the current old model that is primarily extractive-oriented and less sensitive to job creation. We must also redistribute wealth so that Liberians can become owners of the means of production through the owning of shares as corporate entrepreneurs in all businesses in our country. By so doing we must put an end to the structural ineptitude of relinquishing our economy into the exclusive hands of trans-national and multi-national corporations, whose sole objectives in Liberia are to acquire and repatriate profit and wealth out of Liberia, all to the neglect of national development.
Genuine reconciliation is impossible amid pervasive hunger, poverty and inequality. A hungry man is an angry man. One can never talk reconciliation to a hungry man. The establishment of war and economic crimes court in Liberia, on the one hand, and the reform of the Liberian economy to put food on the table of our people, on the other, are not necessarily inextricably linked. The two are separate and distinct phenomena. It is erroneous to juxtapose one upon the other, as the two are not necessarily complementary. We are no longer stupid in Liberia, and nobody should play politics with Liberia.
For those Liberian political elites and opportunists looking for political prominence and fame in the international community, we like to tell them that Politics is about proper timing, and that the establishment of war and economic crimes court in Liberia should not be used for the purpose of driving conflicts. When UNMIL was in Liberia with a contingent of more than 15,000 troops and when the entire international community was hugely helping the country and was ready to help Liberia on other matters including putting into place the War and Economic Crimes Tribunals, we should have raised the issue at that time. Now, in face of fragility and joblessness and hunger, where are we going with war and economic crimes court?
We believe some politicians are pushing the war and economic tribunal agenda in bad faith. They intend for entrapment of the George Weah administration. And we are wise to get bemused by the shenanigans.
War crimes court and the regional implications
The issue of establishment of a war and economic crimes court in Liberia is more political than legal. It has sub-regional, regional and international implications, with far-reaching security consideration as well. We must consult the Mano-River Basin Countries, ECOWAS, the AU, as well as the international community sufficiently, with the view of arriving at a unanimous position on the matter.
It was ECOWAS that paid the price for peace in Liberia, complemented by the United Nations. The resolution of the Liberian Civil War was not an exclusive Liberian initiative. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2003 that brought peace to Liberia was formulated in Accra, not in Monrovia, and was supported by all of ECOWAS and the entire international community, including the UN Security Council. War and economic crimes court is therefore not a regime issue; it is and must be a regional and international project. And if the people of Liberia are so determined to establish a special war and economic crimes court, let it be decided by a plebecite, so that the entire nation would be held accountable for its decision and action, not a regime that was not elected on the mandate to pursue accused war criminals. We should stop looking for scape goats.
The new crusaders for war crimes prosecution in Liberia
Liberian chiefs and traditional leaders assembled
It should be emphasized that those in the self-acclaimed “leading opposition”, including the Unity Party, Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress, the Council of Patriots, etc. do not have any moral credentials to champion the cause of TRC in Liberia. The leaders of these institutions are not only all vestiges of decadence in Liberia, but each and every one of them was an associate and/or an agent of war lords in Liberia, including Mr. Charles Taylor. Moreover, some of our chiefs, traditional leaders and CSOs, as well as elements of the Council of Churches, who are today’s misguided champions of war crimes court establishment in Liberia have been direct and indirect beneficiaries of the fruits of war and economic crimes in Liberia through their connections and interconnections with warlords, principally Dakpannah Charles Taylor. The Chiefs in a statement after the “Economic Dialogue”, like the dialogue itself, presented a statement to President Weah, calling for establishment of war and economic crimes court in Liberia. Some of these same chiefs fuelled within the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) of the military government in the 1980s. In Africa, chiefs are independent and wise; ours should therefore take cue and not allow themselves to be manipulated as tools for conflicts by political manipulators. They should have the last saying in the interest of the nation.
It is time to move forward. Liberia, we must define our own agenda, based on our priorities, and not tote the agenda of outsiders. It is clear, like all other Africans, we Liberians are on our own. Today, in the face of the rise of xenophobia globally, all borders are being jealously secured and protected nationalistically. Rest assured, if we disrupt this peace because of power struggle and reignite conflicts in Liberia, the borders of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea would be closed unto us – we all shall no alternative but to drink the Atlantic Ocean.
Remember, Charles Taylor was not capable as an individual to have broken federal jails in the United States, and be allowed to make war in Liberia through Libya along with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Today, both Taylor and Madam Sirleaf have become spent forces as agents of foreign powers. A hint to the wise is sufficient.
Africa is on the move – Liberia is coming!
*The author: Atty. Abraham Teah Teh-bah Barlou Mitchell, BA LLB (University of Liberia); paternal and maternal grandson, respectively, David Allen Mitchell (Mississippi St. Sinoe), and Joseph Bonner/Gbea Saywon , Paramount Chief, Non-monpo Chiefdom, Sinoe County; student activist, former President, Sinoe University Student Association (SUSA-1979), University of Liberia; former Vice President, University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU-1980); SSR/Public Sector expert; former Commissioner of Immigration, Liberia (2003- 6); a founding member, New DEAL Movement, Liberia’s only revolutionary social democratic party; founding Secretary- General, National Democratic Coalition (NDC-Liberia – its founding political leader and first standard bearer, Professor Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson, also a prominent leader of the Movement for Justice in Africa- MOJA, Liberia).Mitchell is a practicing lawyer, associating with the Central Law Offices, Inc., Zayzay Community, Paynesville, Liberia