One week after the publication of its impressive final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) is at the center of a political storm which only seems to intensify. Its findings and recommendations have surprised many – both inside and outside Liberia.
Reactions included ‘Mockery to Justice’, ‘TRC Retracts Controversial report’, ‘An Incomplete Report’, ‘Liberian Opinion divided on Truth and Reconciliation findings’, ‘Liberians React to Truth Commission Report‘, ‘War Crimes Group Wants Ellen To Resign’, ‘Civil War Panel Seeks to Ban President from Politics‘, among many other news reports.
Notably the suggested public sanction affecting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, including her name in a list of over 50 ‘political leaders and financiers of different warring factions’ who should be barred from holding public offices for a period of thirty (30) years, shocked many people. They also could not understand why some well-known perpetrators were left out for prosecution or recommended to be pardoned – such as Joshua Milton Blayir (‘General Butt-Naked’) who admitted to ritual killings and cannibalism, and being responsible for 20,000 victims. Same for Thomas Boye Bioaju Boye, former Chief of Staff of MODEL, one of the warring factions, and 34 other perpetrators of various crimes during the civil war (see pp 268/269 of the report).
In February of this year President Sirleaf had testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, admitting giving Charles Taylor a financial support of USD 10,000 when he was preparing to oust sitting President Samuel Doe, in the late 1980s, but she denied any military role. Her testimony was not revealing anything which had not been publicly known before. During her presidential campaign she had said the same. Before the TRC she apologized for ‘her foolishness’ and said she withdrew her support when realizing Taylor’s ruthlessness, greed and ambitions. Numerous news agencies and newspapers published her testimony and apologies, e.g. the BBC, AllAfrica, Radio Netherlands, the Washington Post. However, the TRC justified inclusion of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s name in the list of persons recommended for public sanctions ‘because she had not shown remorse’ for her acts.
The foregoing leads me – for the moment – to two observations. First, the TRC Commission has done an impressive work and has produced a very interesting report, outlining the root causes of the civil war, naming and shaming many of those responsible for the atrocities committed during the 14-year civil war. Its historical analysis clearly shows how divided the Liberian society is, not only the A.L.- Congo /tribal divide but also the competition between the approximately 16 different tribes in the country. In accordance with this reality, one gets the impression that the outcomes of some of the deliberations of the commission result from negotiations. Reportedly, one of the committee members, Pearl Brown Bull (‘Historical review’), refused to sign off on the final report.
The report’s recommendations will surely feed the debate in and outside Liberia for the coming months, if not years. Besides, it may be a (minor) legal technicality but does the TRC mandate include the recommendation for public sanctions? At first sight I have not found any reference to it in Chapter 3 (‘Mandate’, notably p.28).
Secondly, Liberia may be again heading for political trouble and instability. Warlords like Prince Johnson – known for his capture, torture and killing of President Samuel Doe and now an elected Senator (!) – have been threatening to resist arrest. Others will try to manipulate more discreet. It is very unlikely that former warlords like e.g. the Mandingo warlord Alhadji Kromah (leader of ULIMO-K), now a Professor at the University of Liberia, will accept that they have to face justice. Protracted discussions will take place in the National Legislature, the only institution in the country which has the right to decide whether or not the TRC recommendations will be enacted into law. Some former warlords occupy seats like e.g. Nimba County Senators Prince Johnson and Adolphus Dolo, formerly known as ‘General Peanut Butter’, loyal to Charles Taylor, but also Blamo Nelson (Senator for Grand Kru Country and former Director of Cabinet under Charles Taylor) and Jewel Taylor-Howard (Senator for Bong County and former wife of Charles Taylor) to name but a few. It is interesting to note that in parliament the opposition has a majority and may force President Sirleaf to resign, leaving the floor to Vice President Joseph Boakai who hails from Foya District, Lofa County.
Liberia’s future again looks dim. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and so-called IDPs (‘Internally Displaced Persons’) have returned to their country or village in recent years: productive workers, housewives, mothers, students, children, old people wanting to spend their last years in ‘This land of liberty’. Foreign investors (ArcelorMittal, Firestone, and the Malaysian logging firm Sime Darby) and local businessmen are increasingly showing interest in the economic potential of Africa’s oldest republic, a country well endowed with natural resources. Last year Liberia had a record economic growth figure of over 10 per cent. Still, a lot needs to be done, and a growing number of the 15,000 or more Liberians in the USA – most of them well educated men and women – is considering to return home. One of them once told me: ‘We need foreign investors to develop the country and the UN to keep the peace.’
I am afraid that he is going to be right for the next couple of years.