By D. WA HNE JR.
Like Presidents George Manneh Weah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President Elect Joseph Nyumah Boakai has, with a spirit of intensity, promised his administration’s commitment to reconciling Liberians in a robust manner.
Truth must be told that the pledges of modern Liberia’s Presidents have grown in age and have become as old as the Liberia of early 1900s, but to date, we have not achieved those pledges. We are now in the 21st century and it is dawning on us that our existence depends on it and we must achieve it at all cost if this nation has to survive and developed. However, the pledges are becoming an illusion and seem very boring to the ears.
The pledges of reconciliation are becoming aggressive questions and we must ask them: Are the pledges just political promises by our leaders to make us feel any good, while their political actions drive us farther apart? Is this reconciliation business tied to just post election feud amongst political parties? Or, is it looking into the hard core issues of Liberia’s divisionism? Have the approaches of our various governments been genuine or have they been a sheer shy-away from the real issues? The fact that each government makes this pledge to reconcile Liberians is indicative that indeed divisions of magnitudes actually do exist.
However, there is no way that President Elect Boakai can achieve genuine reconciliation only by looking into current post elections political divides without researching the history of our country from its inception to identify root causes that perpetuate themselves to this date. There is no way that we can achieve reconciliation without discussing the Americo-Liberian and Native Liberian dichotomies which sprawl in every aspects of our existence.
To those who would say there exists no more of these divisions, let me be quick to say that Liberia’s political rivalries as recent as from 2018 to 2023 have exposed the heavy presence of these divisions by statements such as “we will take our country back” by key elements of the Americo-Liberian philosophy and the method of celebration of the bi-millennium by the planners which re-echoed who actually owned Liberia indeed justified the political pronouncements of “we will take our country back”. The bi-millennium celebration was indeed a missed opportunity to reconciled the two groups even when it was proposed by the Liberia Institute of Public Administration and rejected by the planners.
As evident as these divisions are, we engage ourselves in self-deception by announcing that no one should refer to the other by these descriptions. Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs Eugene Fargon was dismissed for using these descriptions. The American Embassy also frowned on the use of these descriptions. What practical steps have we taken to make this real? Pronouncements don’t just make reconciliation happen. Actions do.
When President Arthur Barclay took office in 1904, he recognized that there were historic wrongs committed which engendered the hate and bitterness that institutionalized division and violence in Liberia. He recognized that Natives were held responsible for selling their own children to the cruelty of white slave masters. He recognized that the returned settlers established a nation and failed to assimilate or amalgamate the natives as citizens.
In an effort to correct these wrongs, President Barclay took the initial steps by first extending citizenship to the natives and established the policy of indirect rule which granted limited participation of natives in the affairs of the state. However his reconciliation was not as comprehensive, methodological, thorough, and broad-based as the process he launched to reconciled the mulatto Liberian settlers and the dark skin Liberian settlers. The mulattos and the dark skin settlers reconciliation was a dialogue and more of a round table strategy.
The native strategy was more of a political step for economic reasons rather than acceptance and brotherhood. In 1944 Tubman took office and took it to another level of political and social participation and cooperation through his National Unity and Integration Policy without a practical strategy to put the differences and bitterness to rest once and for all and create oneness in mind and spirit. All other presidents politically sloganized and jargonized reconciliation. Building social cohesiveness had since become a challenge and this challenge led to the political struggle of the 1970s and the 1980 coup, followed by 14 years of civil wars.
During peace negotiations, the issues were centered on bad governance, lack of transparency, electoral fraud, violation of fundamental rights, economic mismanagement, disarmament, demobilization, and reconciliation between perpetrators of the war and war victims through truth telling. The major driver of Liberia’s social, political and economic divides which borders on our historic wrongs were out of the picture. How will President Elect Joseph Nyumah Boakai approach this major pandemic?
In 2022 the Liberia Institute of Public Administration assembled experts from the Kofi Annan School of Conflict Resolution of the University of Liberia represented by Professor Demby Sayndee, Cuttington University represented by its President then, Professor Dr. Herman Brown, Internal Affairs Ministry represented by the late Peace Ambassador William Tolbert III, former Chief Justice Gloria Scott, Mr. Nathaniel Walker from ECOWAS Office Liberia, Rev. Bartholomew Colly of the INHRC, Civil Society of Liberia represented by its then President Mrs. Frances Greaves and other great and knowledgeable personalities like Dr. Jallah Barbu, now Dean of the UL Law School who chair the occasion. The theme under discussion was, “Peace, Unity, and Reconciliation: Removing Impediments”.
The panel presentations and discussions principally linked the challenge of disunity in Liberia to historic wrongs and the absence of political will and key strategies to right those wrongs as the reasons for the absolute failure of reconciliation programs in Liberia.
Would the Joseph Boakai’s reconciliation approach make any difference from both President Sirleaf and President Weah? Would it go beyond the regular political rhetorics and slogans? Would it once again be the old Surface Reconciliation to impress Liberians and the world by just offering job tokens to losers of the elections, while the root cause remain unattended to?
President Sirleaf thought her approach from the point of truth telling and prosecuting President Gyude Bryant for corruption would do the magic. It turned out to be an impression of a supposedly serious-minded government. Unfortunately, she was the first to weaken the process by engaging in more corruption and rushing to the Supreme Court to stay actions to ban her from politics for 13 years for complicity in the war and bearing the greatest responsibility. Today the nation is complaining of rewarding warlords with high profile political powers.
President Weah began his reconciliation by the thought of protecting his Administration from insinuations of witch hunting his predecessor and members of her government by forfeiting his right to audit them and downsizing to make way for his partisans. He also placed a ban on calling any one Americo-Liberian and native Liberian as a means of building unity.
President Elect Joseph Boakai wishes to achieve reconciliation and unity by auditing the Weah’s government and prosecuting those found culpable and seizure of their properties. One wonders whether his method will not send a deeper wedge in an already dangerously divided nation. Perhaps the incoming administration need to think through actions to be taken and policies to be put in place to ensure that they are comprehensive enough to bind the wounds of Liberia and provide healing and genuine reconciliation.
As a patriotic Liberian who desires reconciliation, I recommend a National Reconciliation Council to research, study, strategize and submit realistic and achievable approach methods of reconciliation to the government.