Amara Konneh: Tribal Bigotry Could Backfire on Liberia

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Minneapolis, Minn. – Liberia’s former Minister of Finance and Economic Planning has warned that Liberians could pay a high price for tribal bigotry being exhibited ahead of the upcoming Presidential and legislative elections.

Addressing a Conference of the Federation of Liberian Mandingos in the United States of America at the weekend,  Amara Konneh, currently the Manager of Global Fragility, Conflict, Violence and Forced Migration Hub at The World Bank Group in Nairobi, Kenya said those pushing the tribal and ethnic line could face backlashes with serious consequences.

Mr. Konneh: Any community that chooses to foster division and hate. It will backfire, as we have already seen in our nation’s history. You and I have the courage to say to our politicians, there is a price we will not pay.

There is a point beyond which we will not allow them to advance their rhetoric. “

“If their language is not constructive, then it has no place in our public discourse. This is how we must defend our freedom to live in a peaceful and progressive society.” 

Upcoming Elections Will Set Tone

Ex-Minister Konneh said he has of late been on the sidelines of ongoing developments in Liberia choosing instead to remain discreet, prayerful and observant during this historic moment in our country’s democracy, and to support the first peaceful transition of power from one living President to another in Liberia since 1944. 

The former minister said, if managed well, the transition will further establish Liberia as a true democracy, solidify the fragile peace we have maintained over more than a decade, and set the tone for the next era when Liberians can begin to cultivate an unshakable society where all tribes, religions, men and women, young and old can peacefully live together. 

Therefore, he averred, it is very important that all Liberians regardless of their tribal identities, political backgrounds, religion or otherwise, listen to their better angels and embrace a peaceful transition of political power.

He said it is important for members of the Mandingo community to make meaningful contributions in helping to build an inclusive Liberia.

The former minister who said he was speaking in an unofficial capacity, described himself as a proud citizen of Liberia, a proud Mandingo committed to a smooth and constructive transition into the next chapter in our national story.

He urged Liberians to look beyond their own ethnic groupings, declaring that when the civil war broke out in 1989, it wasn’t the Congo fighting against the other tribes but rather various indigenous tribes fighting one another. “

Violent Breed Undermined Hopes

The former finance minister recalled that on April 12, 1980, seventeen native Liberians ended more than a decade of Americo-Liberian rule.

“Seventeen brothers who thought the fight for freedom justified the assassination of a long serving Congo President in 1980, also failed to see the big picture.

At that time Liberians of all ethnic groups were right to be angry because so many of us – Congo or Indigenous – were deprived of “the right to act, speak, or think as we wanted; and the right not to be subjected to a despotic government.”

But those who chose violence as a means to gain political freedom did not realize that by shooting down a head of state, they were undermining their own hope of gaining political and economic freedom.”

The former minister continued: “It was clear, at that time, that we were under a dictatorship characterized by political exclusion with a one-party state, and that our economy was characterized by high economic growth without tangible development.”

He urged Mandingoes, who are predominantly Muslims, to take the initiative of building strong interreligious trust within Liberian society at home and abroad.

“This will in no way be a simple endeavor; but we must do it. Liberia is, after all, a democracy; and as I said before, and as we know, this means ‘rule by the people’; and we are all Liberians.”

He lamented the fear some of the major candidates have against Muslims they see as an impediment to their quests.

“Sadly, the ongoing 2017 elections are no different from those of the past, when every major candidate sees able Muslims as serious impediments to their electability even when some of the most honest, most loyal and hardest working Liberians are Muslims.

They say Muslim voters in Liberia are too small a demographic to be worth including; not recognizing that the national reconciliation we so desperately need is worth more than any one party’s popularity. Most importantly, those who continue to hold to this bigotry do not recognize that they do so at the expense of national development.” 

He said Liberians could learn a thing or two from its next-door neighbors that are fostering religious inclusion for their peoples, to the significant benefit of their economies and societies.

“Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, etc. all have either a Christian or Muslim as President or vice President, and these are thriving economies that have made much of the progress that we aspire to. Muslims in those countries have not been a liability, but an asset.

Almost all 53 African countries celebrate Christmas and at least one Islamic holiday to foster unity among their peoples, while elected Liberian politicians choose to remain blind to the inherent benefits of doing this to unite the Liberian people.”

He said Mandingoes are no different from any other Liberian; because the beauty of Liberia is the diversity of our physical appearance. “Unlike peoples of other more homogenous African nations, we don’t all look the same.

You can hardly tell the difference between any Muslim and Christian on the streets of Liberia. More importantly, there is very little difference between us in our hearts. We wish for the same things for ourselves and our children.

Our Sons and daughters attend the same schools, dream the same big dreams, and face similar challenges. They grow up together, work together and have fun together. In a few months, our Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters will be voting together and thereby shaping the same future.”

Thus, he said, it is about time for Liberian Muslims to take our rightful place in the national conversation peacefully, knowing that when they stand together and protect Liberia from the threat of any form of division, build peaceful bridges to prosperity along with our fellow Christian citizens, pay taxes, and engage in community development, owing allegiance only to our constitution under the one banner – the flag – that covers all Liberians, they are protecting their own freedom.

Dismantling of Clans Key

In the same vein, Mr. Konneh called for the dismantling of artificial clan titles such as Gboni, Manika, Koniakah, Bussykah and urged Mandingoes to unite as one community in Liberia.  “FELMAUSA is a good place to start from.  Mandingoes are more disunited inside Liberia than ever before.”

Compared to next-door neighbors on the continent, Mr. Konneh said Liberia was becoming a model for human development, which is a major factor in determining the level and sustainability of economic development as a whole.” 

On the eve of this October Presidential and legislative elections, Mr. Konneh regretted that the ongoing electoral process is fraught with controversy, as the nation grapple with issues of dual citizenship and the constitutionality of our code of conduct, which obligates public servants to vacate their posts at least two years before running for elected office.

He characterized the recent decision by the Supreme Court on the Code of Conduct which has led to a motion filed by a group of senators to impeach three Supreme Court justices that has been endorsed by the House of Representatives, has put the nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis.

“Our elected politicians that are predominantly indigenous have again ignited a potential constitutional crisis.  We may all hold varied opinions about these critical issues, and we may observe the latest developments with interest, if not frustration.

But one thing is sure: come October 10, 2017, those of us who registered have a choice to make and a responsibility to bear regarding the future of our country.”

Minister continued: “To abstain from the vote because we are dissatisfied with the process would amount to us robbing ourselves of the right to be represented in government.

After all, democracy means “rule by the people;” and the tools that ‘we the people’ have to exert our rulership over our country are our ballots and our voices. These are never perfect tools, because the candidates we cast our ballots to elect will never be perfect people; and we ourselves will never make perfect decisions or have a perfect perspective on any given issue.”

He also cautioned that in the wake of changing trends, particularly by the Donald Trump-led government in the US, where a significant amount of the development assistance Liberia has enjoyed from the United States and its allies has been, or could soon be, sharply reduced, it is important of Liberians to prepare for the challenges ahead.

“Programs are already being cut in crucial sectors such as health and education; and this is just the beginning. We must also remain aware, as Liberians and especially as Mandingos, of the shift in the US government’s immigration policy as well as the recent remarks made by the President encouraging police misconduct.

The policies, statements and tweets that now define the national agenda of our closest ally in the developed world are a crude reminder that we as Liberians and as Mandingoes must redefine our concept of community, and hold our compatriots closer than we have before.” 

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