Sometime during the course of our long-running civil war I had trekked from my haven on A.B. Tolbert Road to Duport Road in Paynesville to find food along with my next-door neighbor Trokon Langford. We left behind his brother, Henrique, who had just graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Agriculture from the University of Liberia, his little brother, Dyomondeh, and my ailing mother, Sybil in the house.
We returned from Duport Road empty handed after spending hours in line because there were just too many people standing in line at the Food distribution point. There was simply just not enough food to feed everyone.
Hours later, we returned home in shock to find Trokon’s brother, Henrique laying in a pool of blood, shot by rebels of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front who controlled the area at the time. His crime?
His father, Henrique Langford Sr., was head of the Criminal Investigation Division at the Liberia National Police.
This is just one of many tragedies we all experienced in a senseless war that came to rid us of Samuel Kanyon Doe and led us down a spiral period of endless killings, chaos, rapes and violence. A year before, a progressives-inspired rice riot led to deaths, chaos and confusion, putting one of Africa’s peaceful countries in a state of uncertainty.
There are just too many stories to list here and I leave that to my upcoming memoir, JOURNALIST ON TRIAL due out later this year to tell the real story about what motivates me to what I do and why it has created so many enemies simply because of my decision to dedicate my life to speaking truth to power as part of my contribution to helping Liberia and prevent us from returning to that ugly chapter of our country’s history.
I was fortunate as were many of you to escape the carnage along with my mother. My uncle Kenneth Best who had started the Daily Observer in The Gambia and to whom I owe much of my life’s work and achievements rescued us from the bondage of war but as I would soon find out, would mark the beginning of even more but rather less tumultuous experience.
My run-ins with the dictator Yahya Jammeh would force me and my uncle Kenneth as well as scores of other journalists and family out of what was once one of Africa’s finest countries.
As a reporter for both the BBC and the Observer I had exposed a lot of stories that spoke truth to the dictator in power. But when he arrested my uncle and had him deported back to Liberia, I knew that we had outlived our welcome in The Gambia.
I fled a few days later to London and later the US where I honed my craft, worked for several newspapers in the US before deciding that it was time to return to my homeland and make meaningful contributions and hopefully work toward ensuring that we never return to that ugly past that left us nothing but bad and tragic memories of those who left us all behind.
I hope my mini trip down memory lane will help you understand why we have committed ourselves to speaking truth to power and exposing the ills in our society - No matter where the chips fall – or who is at the helm of power.
It has not been easy. We’ve so far survived arson attempts on our offices, imprisonments and well-documented run-ins with the justice system simply for trying to expose corrupt and evil officials who ride to power on the backs of the poor with lofty ideas and promises but soon fall prey to the trappings of power that led to the demise of many leaders and rulers before them.
I have no idea what President Weah would do about what is unfolding so early in his government; I can only wish him the best and assure him that we will continue to do our part to help change and transform Liberia.
Too many Liberians died so that others would live; Four Catholic nuns lost their lives for nothing – as did some of our West African brothers and sisters. Others died for simply belonging to the wrong tribe or ethnic group. Have we not learned anything?
Many of you have short memories and are quick to forget that our first major story in the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government came days before her inauguration.
The government had given US$150,000 to one of her distant relatives to go on a shopping spree for items for the inauguration in the United States of America. Someone alerted us and the rest is history.
Today, many of you who trumpeted our work then are now calling us names when we are simply continuing to do our work, without skipping a beat.
A few days ago, a source at the National Port Authority alerted us to what was unfolding at the Gateway to Liberia, involving its controversial Acting Managing Director Celia Cuffy-Brown.
Sources informed us that Mrs. Cuffy Brown, in addition to hiring relatives and friends and doling out ill-advised pay raises without the knowledge of the board, had stepped up a notch by hiring three members of President George Weah’s family, his brothers Moses, Prince and Wollo.
Ms. Cuffy Brown also went a step further by promoting her sister, Rebecca Teta Cuffy to Claims Manager in the Claims Department even though she is said to lack the experience required for the job.
Sounds familiar? For the past twelve years all of us, the media, the general public, civil society and the international community all preached against acts of nepotism condoned by Mr. Weah’s predecessor, Madam Sirleaf. But today, when it is creeping up again, everyone wants to stay quiet under the guise that it is too soon to criticize the new government.
Had we exercised these same rules, Madam Sirleaf would have maintained the old wines in new bottles she was planning to unleash on Liberia until a source who is no longer with us, gave us the list of those she was planning on including in her government.
Today, Mr. Paul Mulbah, regarded as one of the brutal forces of the Taylor era is ailing, forgotten and neglected. He was one of those on that list and is paying the price because we spoke truth to power and Sirleaf retooled her plans for Liberia.
In similar vain, we are glad that our earlier report about former combatants being recruited for President Weah’s security details has gained traction and efforts are being made to improve the vetting process and hopefully curb the return of many who kill, maimed and slaughter our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
Social media has made every Tom, Dick and Harry journalists these days. So, they dissect and rightly so, every line as if they are more qualified than we are. When a particular story touches someone they love, they rain insults and adopt fake profiles in a bid to get under our skin. When a particular story touches someone they hate, they sing our praises. But we are not deterred and will continue doing what we are doing.
We put bylines to our stories because we can defend them to our death. Liberia is not a joke and no one in their right mind should think that it is.
We are simply holding our leaders to their own words.
In January 2006, we took Madam Sirleaf to her words when she said in her inaugural speech: “Fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption.
Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced. Today, I renew this pledge. Corruption, under my Administration, will be the major public enemy.
We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing or yet another attempt by another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice.”
We took her by her words when she said: “I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that everyone serving in my Administration leads by example. The first testament of how my Administration will tackle public service corruption will be that everyone appointed to high positions of public trust, such as in the Cabinet and heads of public corporations, will be required to declare their assets. I will be the first to comply, and I will call upon the Honorable Speaker and President Pro-Temps to say that they comply.”
In the same vein, we are taking President Weah’s words to the core.
In his own words, President Weah told Liberia and the international community: “I further believe that the overwhelming mandate I received from the Liberian people is a mandate to end corruption in public service. I promise to deliver on this mandate.
As officials of Government, It is time to put the interest of our people above our own selfish interests. It is time to be honest with our people. Though corruption is a habit amongst our people, we must end it.
We must pay civil servants a living wage, so that corruption is not an excuse for taking what is not theirs. Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people – the law will take its course. I say today that you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Mr. Weah trumpeted a pro-poor agenda following his inauguration as he assured Liberians that transforming the lives of all would be the singular mission and focus of his presidency.
"I can truly say that the best way to celebrate all Liberians is to improve their lives through the instruments of pro-poor public governance. I declare publicly today that transforming the lives of all Liberians is a singular mission and focus of my presidency," he asserted.
So, there you have it. In a nutshell, this is who we are and what we do. Many of us are alive today to tell the stories of those who are no longer with us, to advocate for better laws, better governance structure and better way of living, so that we do not have to return to our ugly past. We do not want a seat in government but simply to see things improve and get better.
I lost a sister to a simple pneumonia when the President at the time was buying a yacht for his leisure. Today, thousands of our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers continue to die from simple illnesses that could be easily cured.
If we all stand by and do nothing, we dishonor the memories of those we lost in that senseless war. Good friends like Archie Greene, Arnold Martin, Edward Swaray who had no ties to the war but simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I have no idea what President Weah would do about what is unfolding so early in his government I can only wish him the best and assure him that we will continue to do our part to help change and transform Liberia. And to those making frantic calls to my relatives and friends to kill stories or let things remain the same, stop wasting your time. It's not working.
Too many Liberians died so that others would live; Four Catholic nuns lost their lives for nothing – as did some of our West African brothers and sisters. Others died for simply belonging to the wrong tribe or ethnic group.
Have we not learned anything?
I certainly do not want to go back to that chapter that caused me to lose so many friends, family and loved ones. I hope and pray that no one who bears the name Liberia, feels the same.
Have a Blessed Sunday!