Liberia: Dr. Moniba – A Statesman of Peace & Diplomacy
Living by farming, palm cutting and setting animal traps, Harry Fumba Moniba had humble beginnings. Born on October 22, 1937, he grew up in a poor family with limited means, much like millions of Liberians today. During his younger years growing up in Lofa, he had one pair of black pants that he would wash in the creek, and wait until it dried to wear for the walk back to his village.
By Paul Kanneh, Contributing Writer
This was one of the earlier stories of a man who went on to achieve the country’s highest mark on a USAID administered examination and obtained several academic degrees. He was later known as Dr. Harry Moniba, having earned his undergraduate degree from Cuttington University of Liberia, and two others from the United States, (i) a Master’s from New York University, and (ii) a Doctorate in International Relations and African Studies from Michigan State University. Soon after fulfilling his studies, Dr. Moniba became an Assistant Minister and continued his public service path as Liberia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and finally, as the Vice President of our Republic of Liberia (1984-1990).
A strong advocate for peace and diplomacy, he was known for his ability to intellectually disarm adversity and conflict. Captured by rebel forces in 1985, the attempted coup d’etat placed Dr. Moniba at gunpoint to announce his and the government’s resignation at the ELBC studio. Instead, he gave a speech that was heard by the entire nation, where he stated, “this country is too small a nation to fight”, while imploring Liberians to never resort to violence to settle their differences and disputes.
During the full outbreak of the civil war, his stance for non-violence continued after the death of President Doe. When asked to continue to fight for state power, Dr. Moniba publicly responded, “if one single Liberian has to die for me to become President, then I do not want to be.” In a time of great uncertainty, he repeated this powerful message at international conferences and subsequently on international radio. This was further evidenced when Dr. Moniba accepted the results of an interim president during the peace talks which were held in Banjul, Gambia in November 1990. Despite being next in line to assume the position of president and having thousands of soldiers pledged loyalty to defend his constitutional right, he again stated to the military leadership, “if one of your men have to die for me to sit in the mansion, it is not worth it”.
Ahead of the 2005 Presidential election, he was considered the preferred candidate by many influential figures in the international community and at home. Unfortunately, during one of his visits to the United States, he was met with a tragic car accident that caused his untimely death at the age of 67. The United States flag was flown at half-mast over the US Capitol, making him the only Liberian to have received such an honor in recent history. Dr. Moniba was afforded two funerals, one in the United States, attended by numerous US Government officials, and another in Liberia, which was one of the largest state funerals in Liberian history.
In one of his final published writings, Dr. Moniba stated, “there is a dire need for every Liberian to have a new vision of a Liberia based on social justice, respect for human rights and rule of law… what happened to us during the civil war should be a lesson for everyone to learn from in our arduous task for national reconstruction, democracy and reconciliation”.
In memory of a true statesman of peace and diplomacy, he is remembered for his intellectual capacity, strong stance against corruption and violence, deep loyalty and love for his people and country. On this day of the 22nd of October (in what would have been his 83rd birthday), the people of Liberia honor Dr. Harry F. Moniba for his service and contributions.