Paul Yeenie Harry ~ (February 21 2006)
"...Many incredibly horrible things happened to many people – some are dead and some are still alive – in different ways and places. And the stories MUST be told by the living. We want to know what happened, how it happened, where it happened, when it happened, why it happened, who did it, who gave the order, who masterminded it, etc., etc. And, if possible, the stories must be written and distributed. Generations unborn must also know what happened when they were not around. Let them learn about the individuals whose names have been written in the “Book of the Men of Evil.” ....”
"Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I say: Hearken to me; I also will show my opinion." Job 32:9,10
“We are talking about reconciliation and forgiveness. We don’t have time for what happened in the past. We must all think about how to move ahead in the new Liberia.”
“I am not against reconciliation and forgiveness. I am against sweeping the wrong of the past under the carpet. Moving ahead does not mean we should wink at the painful occurrences of the past.”
“If you want to go back to what happened in the past, then you are not ready to forgive, and reconcile with, people. This is not good for our country.”
This is how the dialogue went between the two Liberians (names withheld), as each tried to express his understanding of the expression, “reconciliation and forgiveness.”
As I got closer to find a way to be part of the discussion, one of them recognized me and remarked, “You are Paul, not so? We hope you are not coming here because you want to get topics to write about.”
“Why do you say that, my brother?” I enquired.
“Because I know that you like writing articles and commentaries.” He fought back.
“But, if I may ask, is that a crime?” I jokingly threw in.
“No,” he smiled and continued, “but we don’t want you to write about what we are discussion here. We are just joking – nothing serious.” He warned me.
When he said this, I laughed, gave him a Liberian handshake, and left, without making any commitment that I would not write anything about their discussion. He can only laugh, get angry, or hiss his teeth, as he reads this article.
The point to stress here is that whether they consider their discussion serious or not, it brings to focus the two schools of thought prevailing on the subject of reconciliation and forgiveness. One school of thought says, “Reconcile and forgive without talking about the things that necessitate reconciliation and forgiveness.” The second school of thought, on the other hand, says, “Open and sincere talks about the events or deeds or expressions that have destroyed the peaceful co-existence in the Liberian society, that have created bitter feelings and hatred and heartbreak, and that have created distrust among people, should precede reconciliation and forgiveness.”
I believe that it is possible to obtain reconciliation and forgiveness through any of the two schools of thought; however, in my opinion, and based on experience, a more realistic and genuine reconciliation and forgiveness can be obtained only through the second school of thought, not the first. Having said this, let me point out at this juncture that the purpose of this article is not to present the merits and the demerits of the second school of thought. This will be the focus of another article.
What I intend to do in this article, however, is to pose a series of onion-layered questions to the proponents of the first school of thought. While it is true that some of those propounding the first school of thought do so with a good motive, others do it based on some spurious motive, willfully ignoring the latent and perspicuous danger of such a method. These are the people who will do everything in their power to see Liberians settle down with blanket amnesty, blanket reconciliation and a continuation of the culture of impunity.
Why shouldn’t the stories of the ugly past be told? Why? Why should we forbid the narration? Why kill the stories? Oh, should we bury the stories just as thousands of our kinsmen were killed and buried in mass graves? No way! Too many people were killed for no good reasons. Our mothers and sisters and wives were raped. Pregnant women were disemboweled as the resolution of a can-you-tell-what’s-the-sex-of-the-baby-in-that-woman’s-stomach dispute among a group of fighters. Villages and towns were set on fire at will. Churches and mosques were set ablaze by marauding “freedom fighters.” Sacred traditional places were desecrated. Hundreds of villagers were forced in attics and suffocated with burning pepper from below. Some had their family members killed right before their eyes and told to look, but should not cry. Different groups of Liberians and non-Liberians were massacred in various places and ways.
Many incredibly horrible things happened to many people – some are dead and some are still alive – in different ways and places. And the stories MUST be told by the living. We want to know what happened, how it happened, where it happened, when it happened, why it happened, who did it, who gave the order, who masterminded it, etc., etc. And, if possible, the stories must be written and distributed. Generations unborn must also know what happened when they were not around. Let them learn about the individuals whose names have been written in the “Book of the Men of Evil.”
A Review of Massacres (1990 – 2003)
- Between January and February 1990, series of massacres were carried out in Nimba County. Should the stories be buried, just as those brutally killed were buried, perhaps without trace? So, we should never get to know the truth surrounding all this? No way!
- On 30 May 1990, armed men entered the compound of the United Nations on the Old Road and killed scores of unarmed civilians. Many people believe that AFL soldiers carried out this massacre, others don’t. Why shouldn’t we hear the true story?
- In July 1990, scores of our kinsmen of the Mandingo ethnic group were massacred in Bakedu, Lofa County. It is said that the fighters of Charles Taylor’s rebel group killed these kinsmen. Should the story not be told, my people? So, we should never get to know what really happened, how it happened, why it happened, etc.?
- On 29 July 1990, armed men entered the compound of the St. Peter Lutheran Church on 14th Street and massacred more than 600 of our compatriots. It is generally believed that some members of the AFL and the SATU carried out that massacre. Most people have a general picture of what happened, but not detailed information. Is it wrong for us to listen to the full story?
- On 6 June 1993, armed men entered Carter Camp in Harbel and massacred more than 600 women, children and defenseless people. The Amos Waco Committee, set up to investigate the massacre, blamed members of the AFL. However, many people believe Charles Taylor’s rebels carried out the massacre. Should we just forget about the story? So, we should never get to know the whole truth?
- In December of 1994, about 48 (some say 60) civilians, mainly women and children, were massacred on the Duport Road, a massacre also referred to as the Cowfield Massacre. Wait a minute! So, we should never hear the true story?
- On 9 April 1995, more than 70 civilians were massacred in Yosi, a village near Buchanan. The victims were mainly women and children. Oh, so we should never get to know the truth of what really happened?
- In March of 1995, scores of our compatriots were massacred in Meekor Town in Grand Cape Mount County. Why shouldn’t we hear the true story?
- On September 28, 1996, scores of civilians were brutally massacred in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County, by unknown gunmen. Some of those who survived were taken to Monrovia for treatment, among them was an eight-month-old baby whose right foot had been cut off. Oh, wait a minute! So, the stories are not worth telling?
- According to reports, more than 100 civilians were killed in Zarway Town, Cape Mount County, on 23 May 2002. Shouldn’t we get to know what really happened?
- Information has it that in February of 2003, about fifteen civilians were killed in Jorjorma Town, along the Monrovia-Tubmanburg Highway. Why shouldn’t we hear the truth, my people?
- According to reports, more than 360 local people were massacred in three towns in River Gee, in April of 2003. Among those killed were babies, children, pregnant women and prominent figures from those towns. Many believed pro-Taylor militia fighters carried it out. Don’t we have the right to know what really went on? Oh, so, we should not investigate?
- In August of 2003, it was reported that a massacre was carried out in Bahn, Nimba County. Some reports say 100 people were killed, others say 1000 were killed. It is believed that the killing was done by rebels from the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model). Are the proponents of the just-forgive-and-reconcile argument telling us that we should never hear the true story?
- Different massacres and summary executions were carried out in different parts of Liberia, and in different ways. The list goes on and on. Massacres were carried out in Cheesemanburg, Sukroma, Yeala, Fassama, Nyekebozo, Gizeboiga, etc., etc. I believe we do not have full information on all, neither do we know about some. That’s why we MUST give the survivors, the witnesses, etc., the chance to tell their stories freely and openly. We must look for them and give them the opportunity to narrate the stories. This could be the beginning of a genuine reconciliation and forgiveness.
Once, I met a fellow Liberian at Brussels Airport, and, again, the same topic came up. My Liberian brother started his argument by saying, “let bygones be bygones.’
“What are bygones, my brother?” I enquired.
“Bygones are past events to be put aside.” He accurately responded.
“Right! Now, tell me: can you really consider a past event put aside when you don’t know what that past event is?” I asked.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean?” He cleverly balanced himself.
“OK, let’s divide it fifty-fifty.” I threw him.
“Divide what?” He asked.
“It doesn’t matter. Just agree to divide it fifty-fifty.” I insisted.
“No, I would first of all have to know what I have to divide fifty-fifty.” He stressed.
“Really?” I teased him.
“Of course. Would you do the opposite? That would be like buying ‘pig in a bag.’”
“But that’s similar to what you want for most Liberians to do. You want them to let bygones be bygones, but you don’t want them to know what the bygones are. Is this fair to them?”
He laughed at the end of my statement, not because it was illogical, but because he realized an intellectually inescapable trap had seized him.
For more information on some of the massacres, summary executions and brutal killings that were carried out in Liberia, as well as the identities of some of those who are responsible for these ugly acts, check http://www.nextliberia.com/major.html.
Most of us are aware that it is impossible for all of the stories to be heard, because of one reason or another. But this does not mean that those that are possible to be told should be forbidden. I know that Liberians are forgiving people, but they must be given the chance to know or hear what they have to forgive. Besides, as we all strive for forgiveness and reconciliation, those who did wrong to others in the past should be remorseful for their actions. They should sincerely confess and ask for forgiveness. If they take pride in their ugly deeds, openly boast about it, or arrogantly deny what is known to be true, those who have been wronged will find it hard, if not impossible, to forgive the wrong-doers. This is another point to consider.
Even Biblical reconciliation and forgiveness call for admission and confession of wrong. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here we see that confession precedes forgiveness. We see a similar picture about the prodigal son in Luke 15. The Bible tells us in verses 17-24 that when he (the prodigal son) realizes his wrongdoing, he repents, goes back to his father, apologizes and asks for forgiveness. His father forgives his past and accepts him back into the family. Again, we notice that confession or admission of the wrong precedes forgiveness and reconciliation.
Let the stories of the heinous acts committed in Liberia, against Liberians and non-Liberians, be told. Let them be told in central Liberia. Let the stories be told in northern Liberia. Let them be told in eastern Liberia. Let the narrations be heard in western Liberia. Not only that. Let the accounts be heard in the southern part. Let the Bassa, Dei, Krahn, Kpelle, Kru and Grebo people narrate their experiences. Let the Lorma, Kissi, Mandingo, and the Gbandi people tell their stories. Let’s give the Mano, Gio, Gola, and Vai people the opportunity to continue the narrations. Permit the accounts to be heard from Maryland to Grand Cape Mount, and from the mountains of Nimba and Lofa to the shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. Simply put, let the stories be told, for when we allow the stories to be told, when we permit them to be told sincerely and remorsefully, we open the door for true reconciliation and forgiveness. Not only that! When we let the stories be told candidly and sorrowfully, we can easily formulate strategies and policies to prevent their recurrence. LET THE STORIES BE TOLD.
To conclude this article, I will leave you with the words of Aldous Huxley, a British writer (1894-1963): "Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you."
Allow me to rest my pen for the next article.
Author's Note: Special apology to the readers of my articles, especially to all those who have been sending me e-mails, asking me about when I will publish Part Four of “An Interview with Mama Liberia.” I am very sorry for the delay. My schedule has been tight for the past three months. I promise that Part Four will surface in a few days!
About the author:
Paul Yeenie Harry is a Liberian; he lives in Poland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org