Written by: Bernard G. Goah
Portland Oregon USA
I wrote this article to share my understanding of one of the factors that led to the current polarization between the people of Grand Gedeh and Nimba Counties, address what Johnnie Gayechueay said in regards to my statements about the Samuel Doe K. Administration, and to discuss the way forward.
This article is not intended to insight people, but to make people think and to make people remember the past. The key to our future is truth, no matter how painful that can be. It is not about what tribe we are from, but about the fact that we are all from Liberia. I can only share what I remember, what I have been told, and what has been documented. I cannot of course speak to what I have not seen or heard. I gladly invite other people to share what they remember and what they have been told. If we work collaboratively on colleting the stories of our past we can perhaps have a more accurate shared history.
I am saddened that people do not want to talk about the past. Often their reservations come not from the pain the past brings up, but because they are unable to hear the truth. We should not be ashamed or scared of the truth. The Bible states, in John 8:31-32, “the truth will make you free.” We should embrace our past both the bad and the good. We are all human and therefore we have flaws. This is not a secret, so why are we trying to be so secretive about the past? Through admitting transgressions we heal the pain these actions caused. Some might suggest we cannot admit the transgressions of those who are no longer able to speak for themselves.
I disagree. I hold a perception and am viewed in a particular way by others based on what my tribal men have done. I do not want to be judged based on their actions. I do not want to judge others based on their tribal affiliations. My tribal history is important to my identity but it will not dictate to me who I respect, hold malice toward, or any other feeling. This can be a challenge, but one I feel is imperative to peace in Liberia. I know some are hurt that I am speaking out about President Samuel K Doe, because I am Krahn. This should not be the case. I can and have spoke to many wonderful things President Samuel K. Doe did during his administration as well. However, I am not just Krahn, I am Liberian. I, like so many, have suffered under a countless string of corrupt administrations.
The most important thing to me is to write what I know, to the best of my ability, and have seen as my vision permitted me to see as a boy during the scariest days of President Samuel K Doe's administration.
Others may argue in defense of the late President Doe that his administration was not corrupt and that there were no human rights abuses. What they may not know or perhaps may have forgotten is that there are several accounts of human rights abuses, witch hunts, and abuses of power during Samuel K. Doe's administration.
I was a young boy living in Zleh Town when the Nov. 12 1985 incident took place. That is why, I am confident to write what I know and what I saw on that day as far as I can record. One may ask why I recount these things when the war is over and the killing of these people has long since passed. One would even wonder why it is that this story is now being told. Why not ever since? My answers to these two questions are as follows:
It is now that I feel comfortable to write publicly about these things. It is now that I am able to speak out for those who were killed. Since the killing of the Manos and Gios in Zleh Town, there has never been a stable government in Liberia until now. Therefore, there was no audience ready to listen to what happened. It is now that I am ready to say these things because those who committed these acts have refused to acknowledge their wrong doing. Instead, they continue to justify the killing of their fellow human beings.
General Thomas Qwewonkpa staged a military coup against the Samuel K. Doe regime on November 12th 1985. Many would have thought that the Mano and Gio living in Zleh Town would have rejoiced, but they did not. They were very calm, silent, and kept to themselves. Perhaps this was because they were afraid of a back lack from their Krahn neighbors. Later in that same day Doe announced over the radio, that he was still in charge of the country, instilling fear within the Manos and Gios.
Perhaps because the Mano and Gio living in Zleh Town were so civilized during the coup, the people of Zleh Town helped them. Many Manos and Gios living in Zleh Town took refuge in the homes of Krahn people who gladly helped as they were neighbors and friends. The people of Zleh Town hid the Manos and Gios because they knew that soldiers from Tuzon would storm the town and kill them. In the late afternoon of November 12th, a group of soldiers from Tuzon stormed Zleh Town demanding the people to produce all of the Gio and Mano people that were living there or else the entire town would be classified as Thomas Qwewonkpa's supporters.
What I will recount next is something that was burned into my memory that day. Over 250 Mano and Gios were stripped naked, put in a straight line, and bound with rope, all while guns were being held to their backs. They were paraded through the principle streets of Zleh Town. Mr. George Gunno, was among those who were paraded in the streets of Zleh Town. They were taken to the center of town and were flogged severely with hard army belts. It was here too, that Leadopea Weayee, the Borkey Junior High School prefect, was arrested right in front of Peter Carr, the School Headmaster. He was tied up, flogged, and thrown into the tractor wagon along with dozens of other Manos and Gios.
I remember there was only one tractor, it continued to drive away full and return empty. It always went and came from the direction of Towah Town. A Peace Corps man, John Delay, was at the scene when all of these things took place. The Rev. Father of the Catholic Church OLA in Zleh Town was still in the town when these things took place. There are many witnesses who can attest to what happened on that day in Zleh Town. I was a boy, but I saw what happened.
For many hours after the soldiers left, people speculated about what happened, but I believe at least the adults knew the truth. The Gio and Manos were murdered that day. I can remember hearing talk about them being killed and that they were taken to the outskirts of Towah Town. It was months later, when some friends and I went to Pour Town that we stumbled upon the decaying bodies.
I would like to address Johnnie Gayechueay 's concerns about my earlier article praising Chris Bailey in which I mentioning Samuel K. Doe's administerial blunder. Johnnie Gayechueay argued that I did not balance my article as well as my comment. He mentioned in his article that I should have talked about what happened in Nimba and other places before and during Nov. 12, 1985. I did not, to my recollection, preface my article with something saying this was “the” history of what happened. It was simply one story of among perhaps hundreds. Again the only one I was present for, and therefore the only one I can recount from memory.
This is not and should not be an argument about whether Samuel K. Doe was a good person; this is between Samuel and his maker. What are up for argument are the facts, what really happened on November 12th, 1985 and what, if any role, did Doe have in it.
Johnnie Gayechueay argued that Samuel Doe could not have ordered the killing of the Manos and Gios in Zleh town while Doe was under siege in Monrovia on Nov. 12 1985. This statement is erroneous because the AFL had radios to communicate across the entire country. Gayechueay argues also, that Samuel Doe cannot be held responsible for the killings because he did not do them physically. Is Bin Laden not being hunted for 9/11? Is Taylor not being held in The Hague for his part in what occurred in Sierra Leone? Also, the question of responsibility only becomes an issue if we agree that Doe did in fact order the killings, of which some will say he had no part. Some had said the Zleh Town people killed the Gios and Manos, of which I and many others know is not true. While I was not in the room with Doe when he did or did not order the killings, who else would have or could ordered these killings?
Gaye said that perhaps I have something personal against Doe's family o the Krahn people, this is not the case. This article does not intend to carry the title “Bernard Goah vs. Samuel Doe soldiers” nor does it intend to carry the title “Bernard Goah vs. the Tuzon people”. It rather attempts to encourage my brothers and sisters from Grand Gedeh and Nimba counties to join me in the advocacy of becoming better people. To share what we know and what we saw, in an effort to bring healing to ourselves as well as to pave the way for genuine reconciliation. Without making what we know, what we have seen, as well as what we have heard public our hearts will continue to burn. If we choose to keep these things secret, they will continue to eat at us. Our failure to reveal these things puts us in continuous conflict with ourselves because we know that these things are true. Let us not craft justifiable reasons and twist reality, because nothing can change the fact that the events of November 12th and others like them happened.
As a child I always thought that when the Elders of the land said “Let bygones be bygones,” “Let's put it behind,” and “Let's forget it” meant all was well and that henceforth, no one was allowed to talk about it, and those who were victimized must live with burning feelings within their bellies and illegitimated truths.
My childhood thoughts could have been right if the Liberian people had said “Let us forget about the TRC” the war is now over, it is OK now. My childhood thoughts would have been right if everyone had said the war is over now, let us not talk about the cause of the war at all. My childhood thoughts would have been right if the internet was free from complaints of corruption in the current government in Monrovia. My childhood thoughts would have been right if the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas had said let us just forget about who ate money or not.
My childhood thoughts would have been right if leaders of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas did not choose to go to court for allegations of disenfranchising some members of its association. My childhood thoughts would have been right if all people were unable to think or talk. My childhood thoughts would have been right if I had not, to this day, witnessed the conflict within Liberia because of the horrible administrations we have been under. What happened to forgetting about the past?
The fact is we must talk about what happened, because the past brought us to today. We must not hate one another for what happened, and we should not judge one another for talking about it. It is our truth, the Liberian truth, all good and all bad.
Healing must come to our two counties and Liberia. We must develop ways in which people from Grand Gedeh and Nimba can come together, without fear of judgment or revenge. The most durable solutions to the problem Liberia faces today is for people to be free to talk about what took place in Liberia.
God bless Grand Gedeh and Nimba Counties, and Liberia.
I thank you,
Bernard Gbayee Goah