This article is an opinion edition related to the Liberian society written by the operation team of the Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development, the organisation implementing the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index, the SCORE Index. However, opinions expressed in this article are that of the authors and do not represent the positions of SeeD and that of its partners, notably the UNDP, PBF or the PBO and the Government of Liberia. The opinions do not represent the views of WACSI. For more information about SCORE Liberia findings: https://www.scoreforpeace.org/en/liberia
In January 2018, AKO Essan Emile was recruited as the West Africa Specialist of the SCORE Index and posted to Liberia. This article is based on his experience.
In my effort to learn more about the Liberian society, especially about the violent parenthesis from 1989 to 2003, I have reviewed several documents but also watched documentaries and movies produced about Liberia. A particularly striking one is entitled “Liberia: An Uncivil War” a 52-minute documentary portraying the progress of former rebel group the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (the LURD), in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia and the chaos ensued following their occupation of a large portion of the city between July and August 2003. The documentary produced by James Brabazon and Jonathan Stack would have been like any other sensational documentaries made by adventurers attracted by wars, but a strikingly powerful scene made this documentary an outstanding one.
In fact, after four years of a dreadful war, the Economic Community of West African States backed by the United Nations sent the first peacekeeping troops to Liberia, the ECOWAS Mission in Liberia, the ECOMIL which was replaced in 2003 by the United Nations Mission in Liberia, the UNMIL.
According to the agreement amongst the warring factions, the arrival of the peacekeeping mission would mean the end to the fighting. In fact, whereas the LURD wanted Charles Taylor to resign forthwith, the former warlord, elected Head of State in 1997, said he would not resign unless the first peacekeeping troops had entered the country. On August 5th 2003, the first peacekeeping troops entered the country and fighting ceased. Combatants of the two factions, the LURD and those loyal to former President Charles Taylor who were occupying each, one side of the Old Bridge of Monrovia, on the Mesurado River met in what turned out to be a highly emotional moment. At the 43rd minute of the documentary, the most powerful message I have ever encountered as part of my experience as a peace-builder, was heard. In fact, two young Liberians from both factions just met on the bridge and placed their hands close to each other in a comparison mode and declared “Same skin, we’re brothers”. What a powerful mutual-acknowledgement and direct reconciliation message from people who may have shot each other a few minutes or hours prior?
This could have been a laughable message had it not been in a conflict which claimed the lives of more than 250.000 people. But it makes a lot of meaning while at the same time, raising an equal number of questions. Who are combatants? Who are the people fighting in civil wars? Why do they fight? Do they always have a good reason to fight each other? What can we learn from this message in order to contribute to solving other conflicts across the world?
This deeply emotional stance void of any hypocrisy can teach us, the community of peace researchers and conflict resolution specialists, a lot. It shows that, many combatants engaged in civil wars do not always know why they are fighting and even most importantly who they are aiming at when they trigger their rifles. Although they may have good reasons to fight and may have grudges against leaders or the big “them”, the direct enemy on the warfront is unknown and could be as a matter of fact, a “brother”.
Ignorance, manipulation, coercion, the search for strong sensations and the rewards of adrenaline fostered and driven by the greed of rebel leaders or other warring faction leaders are some of the main reasons why “brothers” fight in civil wars across the continent.
Could this message echo in other conflict contexts about the meaninglessness of most civil wars and conflicts?
It is my opinion that including former fighters who have repented in the search for solutions can be a strong factor of reconciliation in addition to other traditional methods in the quest of reconciling communities after a civil war or rife conflict. Therefore, preventive and conflict resolution methods such as collaboration, cooperation, communication and knowing-of-each-other could serve as strong drivers of the living-together and positive coexistence.