LIberty Party Reconciliation Paper Section I Introduction
In 2002 Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, then Standard Bearer of Liberty Party, was honored to be the keynote speaker at our country’s Independence Day Celebration in New York City, New York, USA. During the occasion, he was asked to speak on the issue of national reconciliation in our country; He reminded his audience of the magnitude of the challenges the country faced. He said, in part:
“… our task today is by far greater and the challenges more daunting, than it was for the founding fathers. The challenge of twenty first century Liberia is neither to create a home for a certain group of people, nor to demarcate territorial boundaries, but to develop all groups of Liberians into a community of people, to build a nation we can all call home – a place where the rights of every individual are protected, and responsibilities of all are clearly defined.”
The fact that that dream has remained unfulfilled and illusive is common knowledge. For more than a century of this nation’s history, Liberians were divided into “Country” versus “Congo,” with the use of misnomers like “Americo-Liberians” versus “Natives” or “Indigenous.” The attempt to address this divisive politics through the Military Coup d’état of April 12, 1980, created other problems that eventually led to a full-blown civil war, which aggravated our divisions and exacerbated our lack of a common national purpose.
The country’s 14-year civil war turned neighbors into enemies, strained tribal relationships, destroyed the country’s meager infrastructure, and left us as a seriously wounded people. In addition to the nation’s historical divides, the war placed Liberians into new categories of victims and victimizers, cannon fodders and masterminds. This national tragedy robbed our nation of the little progress it had made. Today, the majority of our people are less healthy and a generation of Liberians has been deprived of the opportunity to obtain the education and marketable skills they need to make a decent living. For the first time in our history, parents are generally more educated than their children.The imprudent exercise of state power in our country has led to frequent and repeated abuse of the human rights of the governed by the governors. And intra-tribal rivalries have been exacerbated not only by the absence of a cohesive national policy, but also by the lack of political will and moral authority to build a unified nation, with liberty and justice for all.
So, Liberia today is a country whose citizens are hurting because of an array of issues, including the historical divide, our ethnic differences, the economic divide, the education gap, the lack of appropriate and adequate healthcare, extremely high unemployment, and corruption, among others. These are the issues that must be addressed in the shortest possible time in order to heal our nation.
The Liberian people are certainly grateful that the guns that sent thousands of their fellow Liberians to their early graves are silent. This silence, however, may deceive some into settling for a false sense of security. But when the country is tempted to accept a delusion, Liberians only need to remember the historical fact that before the beginning of the country’s tragedy, the nation appeared calm. In fact, most of the rest of the world often pointed to Liberia then as one of the most stable countries on the continent. Of course Liberians knew better. They knew all along that the country was a powder keg waiting to explode. They knew that many of them were angry because they were treated as second class citizens in their own country; they saw justice administered selectively; they watched their children being brutally beaten and abused by police and they saw the majority of them excluded from the affairs of their country and shackled in abject poverty.
Today, Liberians do not need to be told that not much has changed—that many Liberians are hurting and angry again. They are hurting and angry because of the atrocities they suffered during the civil war. They are hurting and angry because they see the very things that were used as justifications for the war—corruption, nepotism, miscarriage of justice, elitism, children being brutally beaten and abused by police, among others—happening now, on an even grander scale. They are angry because their country’s resources continue to benefit just a few. The country continues to be two distinct nations, constrained to co-exist as one—one Liberia of the rich and well-to-do, and the other Liberia of the poor, underprivileged, and marginalized.
So, Liberia’s challenge today is not just about ensuring peace and justice for all, but about laying the foundation for a nation state consisting of people with a sense of shared destiny. As we acknowledge the country’s ugly past, we must muster the strength to move forward and build a new Liberia that makes up for the losses, ensuring that Liberians live together, as the one people we truly are. To that end, this document attempts to answers some important questions concerning Liberia’s path forward: How can Liberians be supported in honoring their loved ones who lost their lives to our civil conflict as a way of bringing closure to the nation’s darkest chapter? How do Liberians deal with their difficult and painful past in a way that is holistic? How does the nation engender and maintain harmony among its citizens and at the same time foster sustainable, comprehensive community development and social equity? In short, how would a Liberty Party Government handle the issue of national reconciliation in order to achieve national unity and development? Of course, our national discourse is replete with laws, policies, and talks of unification, reconciliation, and national unity, but our history is yet to show the desired result.
The challenge of the current generation of leaders is to ensure that policies are more than slogans; the fruits of unification, reconciliation, and national unity must be manifested in the lives of average Liberians. Whether it was Arthur Barclay’s Interior Plan or Tubman’s Unification Policy; the many Peace Conferences or Reconciliation Meetings; or the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the issue remains, how can the lives of average Liberians be impacted so that they indeed feel a part of the larger body politic?
As far back as 1904, President Arthur Barclay advocated probing into the lives of indigenous peoples in order to improve their lot. He was protective of tribal land; clans were organized under chiefs, commissioned by the government, but consistent with indigenous customs. He stressed similarities between the western social institutions imported by freed slaves and that of indigenous people, and pointed out that no great barrier to unification existed.
In his first Inaugural Address, President Arthur Barclay said, “We made a great initial mistake in the beginning of our national career. We sought to obtain and did succeed in grasping an enormous mass of territory, but neglected to conciliate and attach the resident populations to our interest.” In his second Inaugural Address he said: “The Liberian nation is to be made up of Negros, civilized to some extent in the United States and repatriated, and of the aboriginal tribes… the problem is how to blend these into a national organism, an Organic Unity.”
In the 1930’s, President Edwin Barclay also made an attempt at unification of the people. This other President Barclay’s approach to unification was to initiate measures which, while preserving tribal organizations, would look towards developing in the various indigenous groups the realization that they were part of a greater organism called the nation of Liberia.
Then there was Tubman’s Unification Policy, which appeared to have taken its cue from President Arthur Barclay’s in that it was an effort not merely of incorporating the indigenous people into the state on the basis of equality of some sort, but the beginning of a contemporary effort at probing indigenous culture in the hope of understanding more clearly how to blend elements from the tribal culture and the dominant imported culture as it had evolved in Liberia In more recent years, all talks to end the Liberian conflicts, especially in the various peace accords since the outset of the war, acknowledged the issue of national reconciliation as a priority need for post-war Liberia and critical factor for sustainable peace and development. At the Accra Conference in 2003, for example, the issue of reconciliation again was not ignored, as evidenced by the parties’ agreement to the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). But like President Tubman’s Integration and Unification Policy, almost eight years since the Accra Peace Accord was signed, very little progress, if any, has been made to achieving genuine national reconciliation.
On the eve of Liberia’s second post-conflict national elections, we need to ask some questions about national reconciliation: Why have we made so little progress towards achieving this very crucial part of nation-building? Did we choose the wrong approach? How can the national reconciliation agenda be moved forward in a timely and holistic manner? It is answers to these questions that will fundamentally underpin/influence a Liberty Party Government’s national reconciliation policy.