Ben Tee Browne ~ (May 3 2006)
"...I think we ought to stop kidding ourselves, the “by-gone” we are referring to may not totally be achieved if we continue to reward these war zealots with positions in government in the name of peace to serve the same people they committed all the barbaric acts against in the name of liberation. I think they all must face justice like their king, Charles Taylor...”
When Charles Gankay Taylor, the most notorious rebel leader in Africa, departed from Liberia three years ago, many well-meaning Liberians and some people in the international community continuously pushed for Taylor to be brought to justice for his roles in the notorious and barbaric war in Sierra Leone. Now he is sitting in a jail cell in Sierra Leone where he belongs. While I think bringing rebel king, Charles Taylor to justice is very important to peace in the West African sub-region, if other rebel leaders in the Liberian war are not equally brought to justice, their presence will continue to hang over Liberian like a big dark cloud during the rainy season, the peace we so desired and have sacrificed for over the years may continue to be viewed as fragile. Prince Yormie Johnson (now senator from Nimba County), Alhaji G. V. Kromah, Thomas Yaya Nimely, Demante Konneh, Aldophus Dolo, Benjamin Yenten, and many others must be equally brought to justice to finally close the last chapter in the 14 years senseless war in Liberia. They all are as dangerous and notorious as Charles Taylor.
In mid-1990, like many Liberians who feared for their safety in the areas controlled by the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) during the war, I was forced to leave from the only home I have known all my life in sinkor to go to Bushrod Island with the hope of going to my brother in Gardnerville. Little did I know that Gardnerville was considered a different country that was controlled by Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and Bushrod Island was another country too that was controlled by Prince Y. Johnson’s Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), a brake-away rebel group from Taylor; I was forced to stayed on Bushrod Island without food, money, family, and friend or loved-one like many other Liberians.
After spending my first night on the water filled-living-room floor of Ms. Joanna Koffa in Logan town, I was told that Prince Johnson distributes rice to new comers at his Duala, cotton tree sub-office on a daily basis. Some of the displaced people who had spent the night at Ms Koffa’s house and I decided to check the food distribution out. After we waited for about 45 minutes at the distribution site, a convoy of looted jeeps carrying boys and girls dressed in jeans and T-shirts on top speed came rolling down at the crowd, nearly knocking some of the by-standers in their path. Before the jeeps could completely stop, a well-built man dressed in a complete American styled military uniform jumped out of the second jeep in the convoy. In his left hand was a guitar, he walked to the crowd and started to sing a popular gospel song, “What a friend we have in Jesus?”
The more then three hundred hungry displaced people had no choice but to join him into singing. Before long, a malnourished boy, about eight years old found his way right next to Johnson. With his swollen feet, stomach and wide eyes that seem to be begging for food, he stood at the feet of Johnson like a squirrel at the feet of an elephant. In no time Johnson recognized his presence and screamed at him to leave but like any child his age, he was gone out of the crowd for a few minutes and was back.
Johnson, with his left hand holding his guitar pulled out his silver pistol and shot the boy in the head. Before the boy’s malnourished body could fall to the ground, some of Johnson’s trigger-happy fools (bodyguards) emptied the magazines of their automatic guns on his innocent body. Many of us ran a little distance from the spot. Some of the women in the crowd were seen covering their faces and screaming. Some who remember their faith made a quick sign of the cross.
“Bury him and come for rice!” Johnson screamed at the group of men standing nearby. About 20 men dragged the boy’s scattered body and pushed it under a disable truck nearby. They tried to cover the body with anything, including papers and grass. They later received a 100 pounds bag of “gold dust” rice. The rest of us stayed around more then two hours after Johnson left for his Caldwell headquarter without distributing rice or providing any explanation for taking that innocent armless life away. Later during my stay on Bushrod Island, I was unfortunate to witness four additional killing of civilian whose only crime was being present at a particular place in pursuit of food; all by prince Johnson. I believed that there are many horrible stories out there from areas formally controlled by all the rebel leaders named above; so why should we push for only Taylor to face justice when someone like Prince Y. Johnson and Aldophus Dolo are serving as senators and some of the other names mentioned above are walking freely on the streets of Monrovia and other parts of the world?
Many well-meaning people continue to rightly argue that Taylor is facing justice for crimes he allegedly masterminded against the innocent people of Sierra Leone. What’s about his crime against the Liberian people, what’s about senator (what a joke) Johnson and Dolo crime against the innocent women, men, and children in Liberia? What’s about Kromah, Nimely, Yenten, Konneh, and many others who masterminded crimes against the peace loving people of the land of liberty, rubbing them of their future?
How prepare are we in Liberia in bringing senators Johnson and Dolo to justice? How prepare and willing is Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government in facilitating the process to bring Alhaji Kromah, Demante Konneh, Thomas Nimely, Benjamin Yenten, and many other to justice now that the elections are over? In Liberia (Africa), where government officials are considered to be above the law, Liberians must take a radical stand as we did by being the first to elect female president in Africa. We must bring those two senators and all other rebel leaders in the Liberian war to justice now. This is why I agreed with former Liberian Justice Minister, Philip Banks, former Chief Prosecutor, David Crane, and many others that there must be a court set up in Liberia to prosecute Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson, Aldophus Dolo, and other war lords.
Over the time many people have argued that in other for Liberia to move forward as a nation, we must let “by-gone, be by-gone.” I think we ought to stop kidding ourselves, the “by-gone” we are referring to may not totally be achieved if we continue to reward these war zealots with positions in government in the name of peace to serve the same people they committed all the barbaric acts against in the name of liberation. I think they all must face justice like their king, Charles Taylor.
Now is the time for all well-meaning Liberians to vociferate to the government of Liberia and the international community to help us bring all these war lords and their cronies to justice to answer to question for their crimes against the innocent and peace loving people of Liberia. This will help set an example for the generation after us.
The young boy who died at the hands of Prince Johnson, like the ten of thousands of other young people who died at the hands of men playing God during the war for no justifiable reasons could have grown up to become Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Engineers, Bankers, Preachers or President of Liberia. We must not allow their killers and the killers of the more then three hundred thousand Liberians to go unpunished. If Liberia is to move forward to relative peace, we must NOT continue to delay justice in the name of peace.
Let us remember that the ultimate question for any well-meaning Liberian to ask at this time in our history is not how we can extricate ourselves heroically from the affair, but how the generation after us shall continue to live in peace. Let us also remember that as Liberians, our lives will not be determined by what happened to us, but by how we react to what happen.
About the author:
Ben Browne is a Liberian freelance writer, currently living in Minnesota.