Community Hosting Incomplete Massacre Memorial Monument Expresses Frustration
Paynesville City – Du Port Road Waterside community in Paynesville City is carrying a scar from Liberia’s brutal civil war that is indelible.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni – [email protected]
Corpses of the infamous Du Port Road massacre and hundreds more summarily executed during the war were buried in a mass grave in the community at the foot of a mangrove swamp, which flows into the Du River.
The community would have to put up with inquests from visitors and researchers for the next decades about the killings and mass burial of scores of Liberians during the first phase of the country’s brutal war, which ended in 1997.
Today, on this same mass gravesite, stands a partially completed memorial commemorating the fallen Liberians.
It is considered a symbol reminding the country about its ugly past and the consequence thereof.
In 2017, the Prince Haakon of Norway was the first high profile foreign guest to tour the site and pay homage to the hundreds who lost their lives cold bloodily.
And many more international guests would likely be visiting as well.
The initiative is part of the Liberian government’s response to over 207 recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The National Human Rights Commission, the agency overseeing the construction project, is working in collaboration with the United Nations through its peace-building fund to underwrite the cost put at US$56,000.
Mondaymar Ben Washington is the head of the women of the community. She grew up as a child in the community and lived throughout the brutal war years.
She was elated to see former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf unveiled the monument in March 2017.
Now, she’s no longer relishing its presence.
“We’re still looking up to the government to finish this monument,” she said, while recounting the horrible murder of her younger sister.”
“Her sister was amongst hundreds of people that were executed by rebels and buried on the site of the memorial.
“My little sister was also buried right under that thing,” she explains.
“I am feeling very bad, why this monument is not finished but I don’t know how to ask the government about it.”
Samuel Beonyu, 68, also witnessed the dedication on March 8, 2017, Decoration Day – a National Holiday to commemorate the dead.
He recalled the exact promises made to the community during the dedication program.
“They said they were going to fenced the place so that whenever anybody from the western countries or Africa come here to visit this place they will pay percentage to the community before they can see it,” Beonyu explains.
In his words, the government had promised to make the memorial a tourist attraction, with proceeds generated use to help maintain the facility and also empower the community.
Visitors with interest in understanding the veracities of the Liberia’s civil war would pay the community before touring the scene.
Beonyu is also disappointment that all the promises were either a gimmick or lip service.
“Up to now this thing has not been completed as you’re looking at it. We are expecting the government to finish this thing,” he said.
“We want the new government to come and have a look so they can do the completion.”
He says a fully completed memorial is the “least befitting honor” for those who lost their lives.
This would help ease the wounds of the community, he said.
Mondaymar agrees and wants the names of some of the victims engraved on the monument. And she has been waiting since last March to no avail.
“Let them put the names of people that died on the monument so that we can be remembering them,” she said.
However, it seems her wish is also not coming to fruition any time soon.
The Human Rights Commission claims it faces challenges in collecting names of victims that would be engraved.
“The place you see on the monument is to catalogue the names of the victims – those who were killed during the massacre and those who were buried there,” says Johnny White, communication officer of the commission.
“The process has been going on for some period now; we’ve gotten some names and you know it is a kind of thing that requires patience and time.”
But Mr. White is unsure about the exact time names will be inscribed on the monument and doesn’t even know when the commission will complete cataloguing names of war victims.
He argues that the commission wants to be meticulous with the process, although almost a year has passed since the monument was dedicated.
“Do you know how many persons were killed during the war, in this country?” White asks in defense of the delays.
“If you will want to put names of people of a particular area, you need patience and time.”
“It’s not going to be forever, but how substantial is it.”
It is over 14 years since the second phase of the war ended, and there has been little efforts made to collect accurate information about the killings despite recommendations by the TRC.
“Funding is a factor,” says White. “To go to the field to start collecting (data) is a whole project and it requires funding.”
“To do survey, interviews and everything… it’s a kind of time consuming process that is going to take a long time.”
Back in the community, 33 year-old Arthur Jackson, youth leader of the community, is still frustrated about his failed effort to keep the monument tidy.
Jackson is disappointed that his move to collect fees from visitors in order to manage the facility was thwarted by the police.
Reports had emerged months ago that the community turned the ‘sacred place’ into a market ground and revelers decimated the site, prompting the police to ban their activities.
“Because government was not paying us to manage the place we decided to collect LD$10 from people who come here so that we can be able to get soap and water every weekend and clean the place,” Jackson said.
He wants to continue keeping the place clean as a way of paying tribute and preserving the image of war victims.
He’s hoping that the full completion will ensure the proper vibrancy of the actual meaning of the monument – and the community will begin tour-guiding guests who come for site seeing.
The Human Rights Commission says a tripartite agreement involving the commission, the Paynesville City Corporation and the community was carved for the management of the memorial.
The agreement appears dormant and leaves the community very anxious as the monument dilapidates and erodes the significance of the memorial much to the anguish of the community.
“This monument suppose be a symbol of the innocent people that died here if it is finished, because most of our people from this community were killed and we want to be able to explain about it to other strangers who don’t know how it happened,” said Mondaymar.