The Making of April 6 War
The April 6, 1996 War left over a thousand dead and with many civilians such as women and children, wounded. Monrovia also suffered massive property damage due to the insistence of ex-warlords Charles Taylor and Alhaji Kromah to arrest and prosecute former ULIMO-J rebel leader, Roosevelt Johnson. Why? Simply because, both men exceedingly feared Johnson and his ethnic Krahn and Sarpo which dominated three of the country’s warring factions-LPC, ULIMO-J and AFL. Besides the deep-seated hatred for rival Johnson, both men saw all three factions as obstacles to their political ambitions or rise to power.
National politics as a whole for the most part is about “personal interests” no matter where it is practiced and by whom. It’s dirty! At times, it requires one going in bed with the devil if need be in order for that individual to achieve certain goals. Ex-ULIMO-K rebel leader, Kromah seemed no different. Though he had waged war against Taylor’s NPFL on the premise that NPFL indiscriminately killed members of his ethnic Mandingo, many of whom are Muslims, he still found solace in gambling the lives of other Liberians, in some instances, his own kinsmen.
A flamboyant character like Taylor, Kromah entered a “marriage of convenience” and soon formed an alliance with Taylor, the man he despised and together, transformed ULIMO-K and NPFL into “government forces” ostensibly to capture Gen. Johnson dead or alive. Gen. Johnson, until the civil war had been merely a school teacher and was rarely known in his own tribal community. However, his role as military leader in mainstream ULIMO catapulted him into an iconic figure and his image continued to soar when the faction split. Besides fighting to remove Johnson out of the limelight, the strategy behind the April 6, fracas was to weaken all three factions to eliminate any possible security threats from the Krahns-Sarpo end.
The Making of Bogus Charges
Generally in life, the enemy would seek to establish a cause first before launching an attack. This is also true spiritually and most Christians trained to do deliverance know this well. Satan, the accuser of the brethren knows this as well. That’s why it’s not proper to give anyone or Satan a cause (ground) for attack. For if you do, the likelihood is the enemy may conquer you unless God’s mercy and grace take place. But in Gen. Johnson’s scenario, he wasn’t at fault in the things the enemies accused him of and I honestly believe now that’s why God let him escaped.
But in order to arrest him, Taylor and Kromah first had to establish a “cause” or ground. So both came up with trump-up charges (causes) to have him arrested and prosecuted, even though one could clearly see the falsity in the allegations.
It therefore wasn’t surprised why the rest of the councilmen in the five-man collective presidency acted like Pontius Pilate and refused to join the scheme as it didn’t meet consensus.
The charges had to do with the mysterious death of one Dweh, a Krahn who served as bodyguard to Gen. Amah Youlu before his murder. Dweh’s body was found near Johnson’s compound but there wasn’t any proof Johnson himself had committed murder or ordered his fighters to killed Dweh as the Taylor-Kromah run “justice ministry” claimed and for which it was now using as “ground” to punish Gen. Roosevelt Johnson. At the time of Dweh’s murder, serious conflicts brewed between Johnson’s ULIMO-J Camp and those of Gen. Amah Youlu, plus a third party, Raleigh Seekie, who now had a warring camp of their own after ULIMO break up.
What compounded the conflict was when Raleigh Seekie’s group entered the picture. Seekie, said to be a Kru from Rivercess, had been mainstream ULIMO chairman and a trusted friend of Johnson. Gen. Youlu, a Krahn, was also Johnson’s “right-hand” man since the founding of ULIMO in Sierra Leone in 1991. Youlu had served as the military training officer for fighters who entered Liberia to stop NPFL’s aggression. Youlu also had large followers among Krahn and Sarpo just as Johnson. As the internal strife intensified there’s claim Youlu had one night prior to April 6, requested weapons from his “new allies” so he and his men could “move on Gen. Johnson.” But Krahn elders intervened and stopped it. That’s how dangerous things became.
Gen. Youlu was now siding with his old foes and poised to join them in attacking his own tribal people with little regard what the repercussions might be. This definitely takes us to our next key point, Isolation which the “enemy” uses before striking, having established a “ground.” Clearly, old foes had won him over, turning his heart against his own brethren. Johnson, besides his fighting men, only had a few prominent men like Bishop Roland Diggs and JPC former head, Cllr. Kofi Woods who morally supported him. It still puzzles this writer, and perhaps others, why Youlu resorted to such gamble, aware neither Taylor nor Kromah was a friend of Sarpo and Krahn. For both men’s rebel factions had separately attacked both tribes in begrudging manner in the past.
Prior to arresting Johnson, factions occupying the BTC such as AFL, LPC and ULIMO-J were all disarmed by ECOMOG via radom cordoned and search exercises. These included the national military garrison of Camp Shefflin and areas within Camp Johnson Road largely occupied by ULIMO-J and LPC fighters. These searches took place frequently during post Gen. Charles Julue’s September 15, 1994, foiled coup, much of it carried out at the behest of councilmen (Taylor and Kromah) who had the “biggest” arsenals. This involuntary “disarmament” placed Krahns, Sarpo, plus a huge number of civilians residing with them at a high risk in the event of an attack. Some think ECOMOG may have been aware of what was coming but for some reason, took no safety precaution for the vulnerable people.
Similarities to Kolubah’s Case
As cited multiple times, one can see the similarities between the April 6, episode and the that of Rep. Yekeh Kolubah. Events have been unfolding in like manner lately and are all geared towards establishing “grounds” for any action the regime may take later. See for instance, in Kolubah’s scenario just as was the case with gen. Johnson, a man was found “helpless” near his residence, allegedly flogged and “tortured.” And just like in Johnson’s situation, the police and justice system rushed to indict Kolubah when there has been any established fact to show he participated in the alleged “beating” or ever gave order for anyone to do so. The good news thus is, victim “Freeman” didn’t die unlike Dweh and he may tell the court how it happened.
Also as cited supra, a prelude to the April 6, brutal war came in the form of a series of so-called cordoned and search exercises launched by soldiers of the West African Peacekeeping Force, ECOMOG, which arguably, unfairly targeted certain factions like the AFL, LPC and ULIMO-J and areas they occupied. In Rep. Kolubah situation, the world also recently watched a live streamed video of his residential compound being cordoned and searched by officers of the Liberia National Police, backed in some ways by the court and current regime. The illegal search warranted by no apparent reason was the first of its kind in the country’s history. However, the search was a sign of what may come thereafter.
Further, Monrovia has once again become partitioned into “camps” by groups that are more or less “warring factions” especially since Weah took office. Such posture has tuned the atmosphere in the city tense, causing people to live in total fear. It seems no different from the ensuing months before April 6, War struck. Rep. Kolubah on the other hand, (perhaps, the only Houses’ official to advocate for a War and Economic Crimes Court creation), has his camp with a huge following, many drawn to him based on empathy and the things he advocates for which appeal to their aspirations. They seem to love him more the fact that he fought for NPFL (having been drafted a child soldier) and yet, still able to press for punishment for war crimes perpetrators. Many of his fighting peers, for good reasons, can’t do so except Joshua Blahyi, known as “Gen. Butt Naked.”
Other camps are: the Urey’s camp, Henry Costa’s camp and the Cummings’ camp, all engaged in “battle” cries and assuming “warring factional” postures which partly can be attributed to the regime’s reckless rule and insensitivity to the plight of the masses. There’s also the “George Weah’s” warring camp, the biggest and by far the most aggressive and provocative and would refuse to spare a former “opponent” even in death as the world witnessed when CDC thugs disrupted the funeral of Hon. Adolph Lawrence-from the parade to the Capitol Building. Evidence to show CDC is a “warring faction?” Remember the “Ex-Generals?” Observers think Mr. Weah enlisted their “services” (nevermind some may have participated in genocides), not on a good note but for covert plans.
Besides, we don’t need to discuss how intimate is the relationship between the “Ex-Generals’” and the current Weah regime. It was very revealing, (with all the tell-tale signs) when the former rebel commanders held their debut news conference some time ago. The government of Mr. Weah (with the Justice Ministry as mediator) sponsored it and even transported them to and fro. Besides, the boldness with which each spoke regarding his capability, and threatened Rep. Kolubah with arrest and gave him “72 hours” to surrender or face their wrath, is enough to prove the level of influence and power they wield under the regime and over their war victims. The good thing is Liberia’s international partners including rights activists the CDC party once cried upon for help during Sirleaf’s regime, are watching and documenting these intriguing occurrences.
Don’t forget, there are also “Sherman supporters” who in May 2016, proved to Pres. Sirleaf they are a “force” to reckon with. The proof? They vowed, or resisted the arrest of Mr. Varney Sherman (the man who fed them), after the Police tried to apprehend him in a pending criminal case against him and former Speaker Alex J. Tyler. Lest we forget, Speaker Tyler too, has his cam or supporters and by all accounts, they are battle-ready to resist any attempt to arrest him despite his strong connection in the Global Witness saga.
Amid it all, the police authorities told Liberians a while ago how gang’s activities have taken over Monrovia. Their confession came after a gang master murdered a rival in Fiamah. Police disclosed gangs have divided Monrovia into three divisions with one group controlling the Paynesville Red Light section while Central Monrovia and Bushrod Island fall under two other groups.
It is known from the police’s explanation that its higher authorities have befriended the gang leaders and members of their respective groups and know where they actually reside. Squarely put, the police is in bed with the gangs but no one including diehards of the CDC see anything wrong here. This isn’t about lack of police “training” or “equipment” anymore as they have trumpeted before and after the wars. And it is not that they don’t have the will power to stop gangs’ rape and armed robberies that have taken over the country-the problems seem simply because they have chosen to give a blind-eye or be “abettors.” Yet Liberia expects investors plus its citizens living in exile to return and help with development.
The late no nonsense Police Director, Joseph Tate must be rolling in his grave at this news. For just merely the fear of him was enough to force one armed robber nicknamed “Black face James” to run to the Catholic JPC and confessed and request Cllr. Woods to quickly escort him to the police headquarters so he could turn himself in and avoid being shot on sight as Director Tate had ordered (The Inquire, Fri. Feb. 27, 1998).
Our investigation meanwhile shows Monrovia sits on a Time Bomb and it’s only a matter of time before it will explode! For there’s no doubt under the present condition that the CDC side will be the first to ignite the fire. And unlike our past wars which were mainly ethnic, cultural and religious oriented, an upheaval in Liberia at this point on a large scale may turn more into the “Poor vs. Rich” and could mainly be directed at those at the helm of power not excluding the Liberian Legislators whose actual works don’t commensurate with their individual pay.
King Solomon Asked for Wisdom
Shortly before the last presidential elections in Liberia, Mr. Weah and his then vice presidential candidate Mrs. Jewel Howard Taylor, did something special perhaps, no other Liberian politicians has ever done. They went to Israel and visited the Wailing Wall. That in itself was to indicate the both feared God, or at least they would individually let God’s Holy Spirit guide them as they run the nation’s affairs when in power. Many Liberians, including non CDC partisans like this writer, admired their move. Their only glaring mistake thus was they failed to collectively declare support for the Great nation of Israel which many thought was the key for the trip. Even following their win, the two have still not morally shown support for Israel which leaves one to think there was some type of hypocrisy involved.
First Kings 3:4-5, tells of King Solomon’s journey to Gibeon, “the most important high place” he offered sacrifices on the altar for God and pray to Him. It is there accordingly, “the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream” and said to him: “Ask for whatever you want me [God] to give you.” King Solomon’s reply to the Lord seemed far different from what many supposedly, would ask of God today if the same question were to be posed to them.
He asked God for wisdom so he could better lead Israel and his people especially at such a troubled period. “So give your servant [King Solomon] a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” [good and evil, according to some translations]. Notice Solomon didn’t ask for the heads of his enemies (known or perceived), nor did he ask for riches, as most people of today’s world, filled with hatred and the fight for ill-gotten wealth, would.
God replied in 1 Kings 3:10-12: “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.” God: “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.” And God being a Good God, did just as He had promised King Solomon, all because, Solomon “loved” God and “obeyed” Him.
With the type of frightening news Liberia is consumed in since Weah and Jewel took power, one may ask what their trip to Israel about? What especially did Weah gain spiritually? For nearly all who make it to the Promised Land (just as Muslims have their Mecca), do so for a reason. Or can we now conclude he Weah did not have a clue as to what he went there for and that his move was meant to impress fans and Christians that he really represents something when indeed he doesn’t?
People were so excited about Mr. Weah’s rise to power, the fact that he’s young and seems to fit in any crowd and it happened at a time many had gotten fed up with the corrupt rule of an older woman, Ms. Ellen Sirleaf. And we know that the CDC came to power mainly on the premise that the party would honestly work and bring relief to our majority poverty stricken population for which it adopted the slogan: “Pro Poor!”
However, the “Pro Poor” government is fast finishing its second year in office and yet the country has been consumed in total hardship more than any other period in Liberia’s history. Too many Liberians have been forced to turn to begging while others queued weekly at Catholic Centers around the capital for handout when there’s no war, while the land remains Green. The US Dollar now rates 1 to $200 LD; the rate never reached this level even during those brutal wars. Parents who once provided for their families before and after war, have lost pride because they cannot afford needed provisions including schooling for their children and families.
But what’s so sad in this state isn’t so much of the hardship the population endures now-what people fear most is Liberia could well be in the hands of leaders with reprobate minds, who have no empathy for people in that those with reprobate mindset never get to see “wrongs” nor do they even know when enough is enough! Doe’s case was a good example.
Rather than quickly pursue peace and reconciliation which are badly needed for the nation, members of the CDC parties are seeing often holding social gatherings and lavished parties at their Sinkor Headquarters, dancing and throwing out scornful hints while so many are helpless, homeless and sleeping hungry! Other times, CDCians, led by Mr. Weah, Toweah, McGill, and Mulbah Molue, have been seen warming themselves up with derisive streets “songs” like “And they [our enemies]say we can’t make it?” before the start of soccer games.
What a disgrace to Liberians and who or where are the enemies? So where is the wisdom, especially when you have “old men” like Toweah and McGill among them who should help and direct the youthful ones but prefer to join in and jubilate? And who says a government can only be run along party line one a party wins like the CDC is doing by only employing, appointing party loyalists to key positions in government instead inviting the opposition side to join and build the nation together? Note as wicked as Taylor or Ellen Sirleaf may have been, each, to some degree operated a government of inclusion.
Now, with respect to Rep. Kolubah’s indictment which also alleges he used “terroristic threats,” we wish to caution the regime regarding how it goes about the entire case. No one is saying that Rep. Kolubah is above the “law” and shouldn’t exonerate himself in the proceeding criminal case. Rather, what may cause problem for the regime is any attempt by the power that be to carry out “selective” justice in the case to quiet Mr. Kolubah. Because of the witch-hunt so many have and continue to suffer in the country, Liberians are anxious to see what comes out of the Kolubah Trial and it must be fair.
Gen. Prince Johnson of the defunct INPFL is known to have made outlandish statements and threatened citizens alike including journalists with bodily harm or death, during war time and later, under Sirleaf and now Weah. Fresh among many of Johnson’s threats, are those that involved his fellow Nimba Citizens in the persons of Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, Rep. Samuel Kogar and Younquoi. And their crime was only because all men advocated for a war crimes court, period! Per media reports, PYJ is on record saying, he knows where all three men live; that he and his men would hunt them if trouble comes. Yet, the justice arm of the regime sees no reason to arrest and prosecute him for making such “terroristic threats” and disturbing public peace.
No one in fact needs to speak of how serious Gen. Prince Johnson’s threats of killing another person or group of people should be taken. After all, Liberians are aware of Gen. Prince Johnson’s military capability per his rebel group’s capture of former Pres. Doe, evidence of which still abound on social media. This in itself ought to give rise to the need for any that is serious about maintaining “law and order” to arrest such person to face trial. For ignoring such ordinance violation by a well-known war fugitive only to declare war on a sitting representative whose only crime is because he speaks truth to power; or have someone like Mr. Oliver Dillon’s freedom of movement denied because his brother Abe Dillon is a strong critic to the regime, amounts to a personal indignation at play.
A civil war journalist like myself, Gregory H. Stemn, whom I interviewed for this article as regards how he view the current predicament involving Rep. Kolubah, didn’t sound hopeful. Mr. Stemn, just as I, covered the deadly April 6, 1996 War and very well understands the political nitty-gritty of the country. He expressed fear that Kolubah’s supporters may attack “CDCcians” if there’s cheating in the expected trial and something breaks up in the city. This exactly was my suspicion and wanted to hear from another.
At this crucial point we advise the court to the right thing: Apply fair judgement in the reference Kolubah Case and spare Monrovia of another chaos or bloodbath!
James Kokulo Fasuekoi is an award-winning journalist, a documentary writer and news photographer who, for a decade, covered civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone for the Associated Press. He became a Bush Foundation Scholar twice in 2017. He lives in Minnesota and is also head of the Midwest chapter of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas.
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