By Bernard Gbayee Goah
Cognizant of the ambiguity in defining the word “RECONCILIATION”, it remains an outstanding but touching word that demands tremendous attention. Mishandling it could produce undesirable result(s) too difficult to handle. Common sense tells us that some kind of agreement between disputants or adversaries has to happen in order to denote a reconciliatory process. However, in the case of Liberia, I hold the opinion that reconciliation must go beyond this definition if conflict must be managed and possibly resolved.
In my opinion, reconciliation should be about restoring the “right relationship” between people who have been enemies. It must take into account pragmatic ways to deal with profound changes involving past injustices in order to achieve the desire of building peace, while nurturing democracy, and promoting human rights. The truth acknowledgment, reparations, retributive justice, apology, and forgiveness components of reconciliation must never be circumvented and/or interpreted in order to suit one’s own selfish desire.
Unfortunately, the Sirleaf led government sees nothing wrong with turning a blind eye on atrocities that occured in Liberia over the years while victims grieve in perpetual agony. Government’s inaction to promote true reconciliation as well as its lukewarm attitude towards the peace and justice process is so heartbreaking, and uncivilized, it troubles the human mind. The way reconciliation is interpreted by the “Powers That Be” defeats it’s entire purpose.
While reconciliation is seen as a way to foster peace and justice in order to ensure deterrence in other part of the world, it has become a code word for impunity in Liberia. Amnesia creeps in, and the burden of forgiveness is placed upon the shoulders of those who were victimized, while letting perpetrators escape justice.
Liberian war victims are constantly under pressure to make compromises and, in particular, to ‘forgive’ perpetrators without having first gained sufficient justice for their suffering. This kind of “we-are-all-one” mentality must stop. It only allows one party (the victim) to grieve painfully while the other (the Perpetrator) walk free! Someone has to be truly wrong. Otherwise, this only tells the victim the following:
“ We know you were victimized. You must give up your claims because no one really cares”,
“ Just forgive those who made you suffer and get a life”.
While there may not be a definite roadmap for reconciliation, we as a people must look deep within ourselves and come up with a suitable way to heal our wounds and divisions especially in the wake of an aftermath of 14 years of sustained violence. A balanced but sustainable reconciliation with a less costly justice component that reflects the true African tradition and culture is necessary and cannot be over emphasized at this time.
Accepting consequences and taking responsibilities of ones actions, as well as creating confidence, and understanding between former enemies is a difficult challenge especially after a prolong brutal war. But we know deep within ourselves these are the things that must be addressed in order to bring about lasting peace in Liberia.
Liberia’s Truth And Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was “agreed upon” by Liberians to be used as a generally accepted tool for the purpose of examining Liberia’s painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it. The TRC was given the power to recommend solutions and to some extent recommend prosecution. Liberians agreed that transcending all of this together is a way to create a form of deterrence so that the horrible past does not happen again.
At the heart of reconciliation is truth telling. The more we find out the truth about horrors of the past, the better we can ensure that they do not happen again. But in order to prevent them from happening, a form of justice must be instituted as well. Said justice as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation commission of Liberia must be considered, guided by our culture and tradition, and implemented fully. Otherwise, the Liberian people will continue have no sense of safety, no trust, and no confidence in the current government, future governments, and even their own future.
Having matured in more than a decade of advocacy for the rights of Liberian war victims, and for the establishment of a Liberian War Crimes Courts, I have come to the realization that Liberia must discover its own route to reconciliation, justice and peace. Any reconciliation that is imposed from outside will not be enough and will not produce the desire results of genuine and lasting peace.
Liberia may learn from the successes of countries that have used specific models as road maps to bring about reconciliation, justice and peace, as it has already done through the replication of the South African Truth and Reconciliation process; … Liberia cannot however use said road maps without including its own culture and diverse traditions.
In order to reconcile our differences as a people, we must come up with our own roadmap that suits our culture and tradition, and embed ours with those of other countries that work. Having used the South African TRC process as a roadmap, with minimum guidance, we must now use our own TRC commendations to derive a solution but with minimum external intervention to address the issues of reconciliation, peace and justice in Liberia.
The government of Liberia cannot continue to use RECONCILIATION as a conduit to house impunity and Amnesia in the country… placing a burden of forgiveness on the very people who were victimized, only to let perpetrators escape justice.
Bernard Gbayee Goah , a Liberian activist and advocate, he is President, Operation We Care for Liberia. He has written extensively on Liberia’s victims to seek justice in post Ebola/war reconstruction