Monrovia, Liberia- The Liberian 14-year civil conflict officially ended with the inauguration of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005, beginning what historians call the ‘Third Republic’. With more than 250,000 lives lost during one of the deadliest civil wars in Africa, Liberians both home and in the diaspora felt relieved from living in fear for the first time. The Unity Party-led government of Madam Sirleaf led Liberia for 12-years, and the peace enjoyed during those years were mostly attributed to the presence of large civilian and military personnel of the United Nations in Liberia. However, a year after President George Weah took power, Liberia and Liberians all around the world have dredged themselves into a puddle of divisiveness, mostly in the name of politics. The rhetoric being spewed by all sides seem to be taking dangerous trends, thereby bringing similar symptoms and variables that led to the famous 1989 rebel uprising, and many other wars that followed. But what are the causes of the sudden high tempo in divisiveness and dangerous political rhetoric? The Liberian Billboard Publisher and CEO writes an analysis below…
The Pre-Civil War Years:
The years leading to the start of the Liberian Civil War on December 24, 1989 begun with political disagreements and tension-packed events.
Firstly, the more than a century rule by the Americo-Liberians elites was something that was agitating indigenous Liberians. To make matter worse, the autocratic and dictatorial leadership style of the late President William V. S. Tubman stimulated an already retaliatory mindset which was being generated in various tribes around the country. Then came President Tolbert after the death of President Tubman.
Under Tubman, indigenous politics, though unsuccessful, was introduced by Didho Twe. D. Twe stood up to Tubman style of governance and for the first time cemented an identity for indigenous Liberians in the political spectrum of Liberia. Then came the ‘Progressives’ in the 70s’ that took Liberian politics to a whole new level. Led by Gabriel Bacchus Matthew and a host of other young and energetic Liberians at the time, the Progressives brought a new message to Liberian politics: the involvement of all Liberians.
The first real and clear message of the progressives was the famous rice riot of April 14, 1979. Although it was chaotic, the 79’ rice riot for the first time changed the trajectory of Liberia politics; the indigenous could now stand up to the ruling elites. The bloody coup of April 12, 1980 followed, thereby creating the birth of the second republic.
The ascendency of a ‘countryman’ to the Liberian Presidency in Samuel K. Doe was seen as a hopeful path for many indigenous. Little did they know that Doe would have had his own paths and intents. Doe led the Nimba raid after the failed coup of General Thomas Quiwonkpa in 1985. This was if not the beginning, of the compound-complex point of divisiveness between indigenous Liberians,
By the time the election of 1985 took place, a divided Liberia was clearly visible and jumped to another level during the aftermath. President Doe banned certain political institutions and jailed their standard bearers, while stamping down harshly on political opponents. Liberia now had bitter Americo-Liberians on one hand, angry indigenous Liberians on another hand, and the ruling Krahn Liberians on the other side. The country was heading for trouble, and this trouble became reality on December 24, 1989 in Logatuo, Nimba County.
The Peaceful and Safe Years and the Sirleaf Regime:
By the time the Akosombo peace accord came into full effect, Liberians already felt relief from fear with the presence of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the country. The transitional government of Gyude Bryant paved the way for the first free, fair and democratic elections in the country after many decades. A new President, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected along with a full legislature. A Judiciary comprising the Supreme Court and other courts was formulated. The birth of the third republic had arrived.
It is fact that the Sirleaf 12-year rule was largely safe and peaceful; apart from the events of November 7, 2011 in which a protest by then opposition CDC turned violent.
Although one weak attribute of former President Sirleaf is her unwillingness to forgive, however, her administration effectively tried to run an inclusive government; she appointed notable opposition personalities to positions in her government. Current Ministers of the CDC-led government and closed confidants of President Weah, Nathaniel McGill and Samuel Tweah were employed under the Sirleaf government. Even President George Weah served as peace ambassador during the Sirleaf regime.
The truth is, President Sirleaf did not really put a stamp on reconciliation, however, she made some genuine strides in that direction. Politics during the Sirleaf regime had agitation on issues more than personal attributions. In addition, despite the diverse political views, Liberia social structure was still intact. For example, political commentator Henry Costa who criticized the Sirleaf’s regime at every turn was seen on many occasions hanging out with officials of government at social and entertainment spaces. However, when it came to the issues, Costa and many of his social buddies disagreed on fundamental political issues.
Even the author of this piece, though I supported Madam Sirleaf during the elections of 2005 and 2011, disagreed with many of my former class and schoolmates who were officials in her government during her second term. However, our disagreements didn’t spill into our personal and professional relationships.
Meanwhile, it is important to point out that semblance of partisan leadership or partisan politics in leadership started during the Sirleaf regime, especially in the area of manpower development, something which the then opposition CDC greatly criticized.
Scholarships and foreign study opportunities were mostly awarded to partisans of the Unity Party and didn’t cut across merits and competitive processes. The ‘Who Know You’ syndrome during these scholarships and foreign study processes was a major variable in the defeat of the former ruling party, thereby initiating a partisan approach to national benefits, something the CDC-led government has taken to another level.
Partisan Politics vs National Leadership: The CDC Regime
If there is a major mistake to point out in the leadership of President George and the CDC-led government, it is their strong attachment to partisan politics, something which has caused some setbacks for the government while influencing the divisiveness the country is currently faced with.
Leading a nation means that the leader at the helm of leadership represents the whole country and not a particular political party. We can’t deny the fact that many CDCians were either ostracized or economically denied during the Unity Party era, but carrying out similar action circumvents reasons many of us supported the candidacy of President Weah in the first place.
I, like many other Liberians supported a Weah presidency because we saw him as a symbol of unification and reconciliation, not on qualification and most suitable candidate. Our belief was, with a reconciliatory approach, President Weah did not need high level of education or governance experience to lead, rather, he would have incorporated qualified, experienced and talented Liberians at positions to help him run the country. That in our minds, would have included members of the opposition. Evidently, we were wrong.
Immediately after President Weah’s inauguration, the political strategy and rhetoric employed by top partisans of the party sent a clear message of divisiveness: There were Liberian CDCians and there were the rest of Liberians.
This message was put into practicality after mandate was passed by party officials that appointments in government should based on being a member of the ruling party. Some from the opposition fell prey and to date, many qualified and resourceful Liberians that would have been assets to the government are lingering outside because of their refusal to join the ruling party. Economic technicians, fiscal policy and public policy experts, financial professionals and many other qualified and resourceful Liberians are not employed by the current government because of said mandate.
The President abiding by such mandate in itself sends an anti-reconciliatory message and only stimulate an ambience of divisiveness. Almost all statements by top government officials, even ones who occupy positions of neutrality are being political and divisive. At events and occasions that supposed to be of national nature, partisan politics usually takes over.
We wouldn’t ignore the fact that the opposition has a share in the divisive rhetoric currently being propounded, however, the role of a an opposition in politics is to point out loopholes in governance, and that include some harsh criticisms. The CDC did same for twelve years, but gets obsessed with every ounce of criticism, an action that favors the opposition because it is succeeding in causing distraction that makes the government ineffective in governing.
April 1996 Arrest of Roosevelt Johnson’s Arrest vs April 2019 Purported Arrest of Yekeh:
In April 1996, the then transitional government led by the Prof. Wilton Sankawolo issued an arrest warrant for the leader of the ULIMO-J warring faction General Roosevelt Johnson. An arrest that was widely influenced by another rebel leader Charles Taylor, Johnson refused to give in to the arrest, an action that prompted a full scale conflict known in Liberian circles as the April 6 war. This three months war led to several deaths and many property damage.
On Monday, several former rebel Generals of Liberia’s defunct warring faction issued a 72-hr ultimatum to another former rebel General and sitting Representative in the Liberian Legislature Yekeh Kolubah. Coupled with the former rebel Generals ultimatum, Rep. Kolubah who has been a staunch critic of the Weah-led government was invited by the Ministry of Justice to answer questions relating to comments he made on Sunday April 14, 2019 when he formally pledged his support to the opposition collaboration of UP, LP, ANC, and ALP.
Immediately after the Generals ultimatum and MOJ communication, several supporters and former warring allies of Hon. Kolubah gathered at his residence in his defense. In remarks to journalists, Hon. Yekeh Kolubah challenged the former rebel Generals and refused to give credence to the MOJ communication.
The 72-hrs ultimatum given by Generals are expected to expire today. What will be their next course of action is not clear. However, it has become clear that any action by the ex-rebel Generals would initiate a reoccurrence of April 6, 1996.
What’s The Remedy?
On Sunday, Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor while speaking at the 5th anniversary of the ‘Children Dialogue’ recommended a dialogue between heads of the June 7 protest and the Government of Liberia. In addition to the Vice President recommendation, it is prudent that President Weah through the Speaker of the House of Representatives find a peaceful path to settle differences that aggrieved lawmakers including Rep. Yekeh Kolubah have with the Executive branch.
The hostile political rhetoric being thrown from all sides will only inflame all the tensions that are already existing and without dialogue, it is clear that Liberia is on the brink on chaos.
Being the leader of the nation, it is imperative of President Weah to make the first approach to opposition leaders, protest organizers and aggrieved lawmakers to initiate a dialogue. Liberia currently suffers from a bad economic state and tension, chaos and continuous protests will only scare investors away.
In addition, the Liberian President need to do away with the partisan approach to governance and do an outreach to the brightest minds in the country despite their political affiliations or backgrounds. There are many Liberians who have a lot to offer to Liberia and don’t necessarily have to be members of the ruling CDC. Many of us who supported the candidacy of President Weah are still not CDCians up to this day.
Liberia needs genuine reconciliation, and this can only be achieved through the leadership who holds the reins of power. Whether the President will take such action, is something we all hold our breaths for.
Meanwhile, Liberia is at the highest peak of divisiveness since the end of the 14-year civil conflict. If nothing is done, early, we might just be headed for trouble.