Friday, August 8, 2008

Henry Bioma Fahnbulleh Explores the Liberian Crises

…Says “I Owe No Apology for History”

By Bill K. Jarkloh

It was on Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at the Centennial Pavilion in the Monrovia when the National Security Advisor, Henry Boima Fahnbulleh told commissioners of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) he owes no apology for his role in Liberia’s conflict past. Dr. Fahnbulleh said he too is a victim and the repression that befell Liberia could not let him unnoticed and participate in the drive of the progressives to fight for social justice and economic equity in the country.

Dr. Fahnbulleh’s exposé which glued listeners to the radio on that day was highly revealing of the Liberian situation, considering his militancy from the time of MOJA, the Movement of Justice in Africa to the time he organized his Peoples Democratic Front (PDC) which was never given the chance to land in Liberia because of what he called the intervention of the Americans and the superpower’s favor of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

Dr. Fahnbulleh was addressing the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Institutions and Thematic Hearing held under the theme: “Understanding the Conflict Through its Principal Events and Actors.” The ongoing hearings would address the root causes of the conflict, including its military and political dimensions. The hearings are focused on events between 1979 and 2003 and the national and external actors that helped to shape those events.

The TRC was agreed upon in the August 2003 peace agreement and created by the TRC Act of 2005. The TRC was established to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation,” and at the same time make it possible to hold perpetrators accountable for gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 2003.

In his testimony before ongoing TRC Thematic and Institutional Inquiry Hearings at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion on Ashmun Street, Dr. Fahnbulleh who served as the first Minister of Education in the PRC junta testified Wednesday at the Fahnbulleh said the role he played in the history of the country was well taught of and therefore has no apology to render. “Anything the military did while we were engaged with the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) we take responsibilities. As young militants we owe no apologies,” Dr. Fahnbulleh said.

“I will not bow down to history. I am a proud participant in history. To sit here and condemn what I took part in, I would not,” Dr. Fahnbulleh indicated with a punctuated round of cheers by hundreds of people that crowded the Pavilion to witness his appearance before the TRC. Fahnbulleh said the sacrifices of he and others made it possible for Liberians to enjoy the kind of democracy practice now in the country. Fahnbulleh: “For you to now elect your own representatives and senators was predicated upon our struggles.” He described the True Whig Party (TWP) regime as an “oligarchy” that suppressed the rights of the majority and contended that the 1980 military coup was justifiable.

“We owe no one apologies for our role in fighting this oligarchy. Why should we apologize for what we proudly did? They imprisoned our fathers; we went to jail at the tender age of 18. They jailed my sister at a tender age too. They killed scores of unarmed demonstrators who were simply protesting and exercising their rights. Why can’t they apologize for those excesses? I owe no one, absolutely no one an apology,” he continued.

How Fahnbulleh Get Involved with Crises

Speaking of how he joined the activism, Fahnbulleh said that at age 14, he suffered humiliation and at age 18, he was sent to prison along with his father and at age 29, he was again imprisoned which caused his impregnated wife to faint on two separate occasions but he is a proud man that she stood by him and shared his passion.

“The activisms of the 80s were necessary to address the problems associated with the 70s and the activisms of the 90s were necessary for the injustices of the 80s. If that is radicalism, so be it,” Fahnbulleh stated.

“When treated as a human, you will behave as a human but when you are treated as an animal, you behave indifferently. I think we made the right choice eventhough we made mistakes, serious mistakes of moral cowardice and recklessness being full of passion,” Fahnbulleh stressed.

“ Can you imagine just to name a few of the injustices and humiliation at the time, my younger brother was taken from school at the B. W. Harris only to join others during a parade to condemn his own father, my father, while I was then in Freetown.”

“We are all part and parcel of what happened in Liberia, some way, some how. You will need foreign experts from Ghana or somewhere to rewrite Liberia’s history if everything is to be documented because no Liberian was neutral,” he said.

“The basis of our crisis is that we got involved in a situation developing very fast without the right political leadership to comprehend what was happening in the country. As such the society exploded. Our duty as young revolutionaries was to understand the explosion, if you like to, call it opportunism. In history as in politics, especially the violent politics of Liberia, it is that those who make that history must survive enough to write about that history,” Fahnbulleh said.

Fahnbulleh explored a lot of issues surrounding the evolution of the Liberian crisis and his participation. Fahnbulleh alluded to class system, marginalization and repression to be key to the violent history of Liberia, and added that he too was a victim. He said his grandfather Netti Sieh Brownell, a prominent native Liberian, and his father H. Biomah Fahnbulleh Sr., Liberia’s one time ambassador to Kenya, were all victim to the making of the Liberian history, saying that he started conceiving his activism when he was as young as 14-18 years of age when his dad was being mistreated and humiliated in a manner that did not commensurate his status as Ambassador of a country during the Tubman regime.

According to him, he started his activism in Liberia with the Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA) which he joined when he “thought then that MOJA was not an element of choruses with a choirmaster”. He accused the True Whig Party – the party that rule Liberia for more than 100 year of using repressive tactics to spread abject poverty and social injustices amongst the people, saying that such situation has built up the consciousness of the people who needed just change, but transformation [which has to do with change in minds and attitude].

On the Rice Riot of 1979, Dr. Fahnbulleh disclosed that he was teaching at the University of Liberia when the rice uprising was planned by the Progressive Alliance of Liberia, the political activism group led by the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews, saying that when he was asked as to whether he would join the rice march by the people, he said he told the students that he would participate in the march for rice as long as it was in the interest of the people.

Dr. Fahnbulleh, National Advisor on Security Affairs in the present Liberian administration, however said the government sent armed soldiers in the streets, who shot at the people with guns, a situation which resulted to he riot. “The people were annoyed. They came in the streets in their thousands,” adding that it was at the as the result of the riot of April 14, 1979 that that members of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) along with him as the only member of the Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA).

Accordingly, the rice rioters were in jail when the 17 enlisted men of the armed forces of Liberia overthrow the William Tolbert government; but Dr. Fahnbulleh said the overthrow of the True Whig Party could have been done by anyone because the people were already tired with successive regimes or the elite settlers group. There are conjectures and speculations that agents the United States of America participated in the overthrow of President William Richard Tolbert.

Doubting American’s participation in 1980 Coup

But Dr. Fahnbulleh disagrees. The National Security Advisor says he is not convinced that the Americans shot and killed President Tolbert on the morning of April 12, 1980, arguing against claims by President’s wife that she saw white hands during the overthrow of her husband, late President William R. Tolbert. The political scientist and activists argued that bit might have been ghost that the former first lady saw.

“In such situations especially of horror, sometimes one could see anyone dressed in white which could be similar description provided if one would Ask 50 persons how a ghost looks; but I am not still convinced if it were the Americans,” Dr. Fahnbulleh added. In his difference with previous witnesses and the perception that the Americans, “white people”, were affiliated in the Liberian politics especially the coup of 1980, the Liberian political actor and activist told the jammed packed audience of the TRC’s hearing at the Centennial Pavilion that “the Americans do not carry out their operations in the form of using one of their agents to assassinate a president. It could have been white people from another country.”

According to him, “Many people have said the American were involved. There is no conclusive evidence on that. Let me give my own analysis … Isn’t this possible there were Lebanese in the assassination of Tolbert? Why do I say this? I remember that the first consignment of AK-47 rifles the PRC got came from the PLO of Yasser Arafat.” He said he always amused by the claims of white hands seen by Mrs. Tolbert.

National Security Advisor, Dr. Henry Boimah Fahnbulleh Jr., Wednesday suggested that those who aided in the over throw of president William R. Tolbert could have been Lebanese and not the Americans as has been widely rumored.

“Many people have said that the Americans were involved. There is no conclusive evidence on that. Let me give my own analysis…. Isn’t this possible that there were Lebanese involved in the assassination of Tolbert? Why do I say this? I remembered the first consignment of AK-47 riffles the PRC got came from the PLO of Yasser Arafat,” Dr. Fahnbulleh said.

Dr. Fahnbulleh said Wednesday, “It is said that Mrs. Tolbert claimed she saw white hands. You know, I am always amused by people who claimed they see ghosts. Because you know, if you asked 50 people whether they have seen ghosts and 49 of them answered, saying I have seen ghosts. Asked them the color of cloth the ghost had on. They will say white.”

According to the National Security Advisor, “That lead to that is extreme fears. These people said they were white people, I have read a little bit about Americans involvement in such matters. The Americans would not used a Doe who they did not know and have not interacted with…The Americans do not operate in this way. They don’t operate in this way,” an apparent reference to the immaturity of Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe in 1980 when he toppled the Tolbert Government. Dr. Fahnbulleh insisted that the Americans will not go and assassinate a president using one of their agents as it has been said, adding “I stand to be corrected.”

“But let me assumed for a moment that Mrs. Tolbert did see white hands. Let assumed. By the time of the coup, Mr. Tolbert had put himself into some deadly and political maneuvering. Mr. Tolbert had endorsed the Polisario Front. He had moved closed to Algeria. Isn’t this possible that there were Lebanese involved in the assassination of Tolbert?

He explained that it is possible that Tolbert got himself caught in the very brutal and violent Middle East politics, which might have prompted the PLO to assist Doe and others in his assassination.

“I know one thing, these PRC guys never, never revealed how they killed Tolbert,” he said adding “And I think I know the answer is simple. They had no plans; they were only after the spoils of the moment. They had been part of the rice riot, they had seen guns and the regime had made a mistake of arresting people like George Boley, Chea Cheapoo …who were closed to these guys and I guessed when somebody crafted and released this information that Tolbert was o n his way to Zimbabwe…. and that instruction had been left behind to execute the PPP people, which I didn’t believe, somebody leaked that information. Unfortunately for Mr. Tolbert, he never went to the Bentol, he went to the Mansion.”

“The 1980 coup set the political opportunities that the Americans enjoy; indicating that it was after the coup that he along with Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh met the American Embassy Political officer at the Executive Mansion.

Dr. Fahnbulleh, 59, a political guru and writer of many books on activism who spoke on many issues that served as a catalyst to the Liberian aged-old problems, challenged any one political party or warring faction that would say that he (Boima) joined a factional group, “I had a passion to seeing my people free. I never entered Cape Mount County with troops as it was alleged.”

Fahnbulleh Taylor Relationship

Speaking on his relationship with exiled former President, Charles Taylor, ‘H.B’ as he is commonly called said that his last encounter with Taylor was in September of 1989 before he unleashed his ‘revolution’ supported by Libya on Liberia.

He said that he and Taylor talked via phone after he said that he broke prison in the United States and fled to Mexico and together they met in Ghana where he Fahnbulleh introduced Taylor to many people in authority because Taylor said that he wanted to come to Liberia but as a revolutionary.

Fahnbulleh said that Taylor was rearrested by the Ghanaian government after it was known that he escaped from prison and was taking men to Ghana to be trained to come to Liberia; but at that time he Fahnbulleh had left for Paris.

He said that later it was told that Blaise Campore came from Burkina Faso and negotiated with the Ghanaian government and that on the basis of African solidarity, Taylor was turned over to Blaise who took him to Libya and introduced him to President Khadaffi and other military officials.

“But surprisingly, a friend in Abidjan called me and informed me of a list that came from America with some 45 names including mine,” Dr. Fahnbulleh told the crowd that being informed that the list came from the Americans, he was not surprised because the Liberians in the Americas were from the oligarchy of the Tolbert regime and being a “country man” and against Taylor’s motive, his name was expected to be on such list.

Taylor had political greed

“Taylor had political greed therefore I could not work with him because I knew that from the names of those on the listing of Mr. Taylor, he was staging a revenge and not a revolution,” the former Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out.

“I do not believe in the better of two evils. I moved over to Sierra Leone where I remained until Taylor unleashed his plans on our country and people. I later moved over to the Ivory Coast and met with the Ivorian Defense Minister and told him of what was happening in my country and asked if whether his president was aware. All he told me was that his president had said that ‘if the palm oil has wasted, there is no need to step in it around the room.’ and I understood it anyway,” he said.

He said that he was approached by the Nigerians that Taylor wanted him to join him but he refused. He was even confronted by another person, who he said would appear very soon before the TRC that Taylor wanted him to help his troops with some men but again he refused knowing that Taylor was not an activist.

“Blaise sent 700 commandoes and Guinea also sent troops to help Taylor. Some so-called political leaders who were in Sierra Leone with some preachers signed a document saying that they should give their support to Taylor and after six months he would turn over power and that there would be election not even knowing that some of them were already listed for Taylor’s execution plans.”

“How can someone lead a revolution wherein none of his own kind was eliminated? It was only the children of the people that were killed including Jackson E. Doe, and others. That was a conspiracy and our intention was to stop them,” Fahnbulleh explained.
Fahnbulleh fast-forwarded several potions of his testimony at certain points thereby not being too definite of concluding the history he revealed but said that it was the True Whig Party that introduced the armed violence in Liberia and that it should be blamed for addressing political issues with violence.

He said that the party refused to listen to the younger ones who had the vision to unite the people whom they deprived of success.

He considered his advocacy along with many others who he considered as militants as a tactical gamble because no Liberian is victorious in the process adding that it was neither the country boys nor the indigenous people that received the praise.

In conclusion, the well informed witness recommended to the commission that it should insert a clause in whatever law there may be that those to occupy public offices with authority go to see a team of psychiatrists.
“They may have good platforms, but if you miscalculate and place madmen in offices of public trusts, they will damage the country or plunge it into chaos as was done in the past.

Let us be mindful for sooner or later, I may not accept political position for I have passed that stage, but if you the young ones allow madmen to preside over your destiny, you are doomed,” Dr. Fahnbulleh stated.

Apparently felling dissatisfied with the trend of Dr. Fahnbulleh’s exposure of the TWP oligarchy and its associated ills that landed Liberia into the devastating conflicted, a member of the Commission, Counselor Pearl Brown-Bull who was the Women Wing Chairperson of the then ruling True Whig Party, engaged the witness. The TRC Commissioner took the central stage against National Security Advisor with hysterical exchanges.

With Witness Fahnbulleh referring to Mrs. Bull as “Madam”, the TRC Commissioner resorted, saying: “I don’t like people calling me Madam.” After this, Fahnbulleh then said, “I call you partisan”, referring to her membership in True Whig Party. The Commissioner replied, saying she was indeed a member of the TWP, and that her interest in politics began as a student at the University of Liberia. The witness then shot back about being “part and parcel of a party that distributed poverty and disease”, adding, “You cannot write history...when one is partisan.

The two made several entertaining exchanges, but Commissioner Bull went on, to question Fahnbulleh unsuccessfully on his pre-war political role. The witness was unequivocal, declaring that he had grown to battle against the “oligarchy”, reference to the Americo-Liberian elites who ruled the country until 1980. Dr. Fahnbulleh said the history of Liberia will have to be written by non-Liberians, since none was neutral and non-partisan to undertake the task. At one point, the chair of the TRC, Commissioner Jerome Verdier warned the audience against cheering, although he was unsuccessful.

- 30 –

Dr. Fahnbulleh defends progressive actions
Says TWP should be blamed for it all
(Culled from the website)

By Edwood Dennis

A member of the near-defunct Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) and one of the frontrunners for social transformation and democratic pluralism advocacy in Liberia since the early 1970s, Dr. Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. has ruled out any show of commiseration for his role in Liberia’s troubled, noting that he has no apology to make to the people of Liberia.

• Dr. H.B. Fahnbulleh, Jr.
Addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Thematic Public Hearings yesterday at the Centennial Pavilion in Monrovia, the former University of Liberia political science professor said he along with the late G. Baccus Mathews, Dr. Amos Sawyer and other Liberian youthful politicians at the time stood for a cause that intended to help change the political landscape during the hundred plus years rule of the “oligarchy administration” of the True Whig Party (TWP).

Dr. Fahnbulleh, frankly told TRC commissioners that there was no way that he would express regret, or apologizes for providing useful education that enlightened the minds of his countrymen.

At the time of his intervention, he said, many Liberians were facing extreme economic hardship, political repression, and injustice under the undemocratic system of the TWP.

He said the situation in the country was such that Liberians were locked in a lasting position of poverty and diseases, forced to live in ghettos and slum communities such as West Point, New Kru Town, Clara Town, Slipway and others unpleasant areas in the city.

He said that the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) of which he was an executive was engaged with poor Liberian children at the classroom levels, providing them the interpretation of the constitutional rights and responsibility to make an informed decision in approaching the realities of the days under the TWP government.

Hailing the late G. Baccus Matthews as a political tactician, Dr. Fahnbulleh said the Matthews-led Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) which attracted several to the struggle for change in Liberia took a decision and made an “awakening call” at MOJA 6th Anniversary at the Sports Commission in Monrovia in 1979 that PAL was planning to engage the William R. Tolbert government through a peaceful demonstration to present their disagreement on the proposed increment in the price of a bag of rice.

Making clarification, Dr. Fahnbulleh said though the increase of the price of a bag of rice by the TWP government was first analyzed and condemned by Dr. Patrick Sayon, Baccus Matthews and members of PAL took advantage of the opportunity on grounds that they could use that period to provide a political cautions to ordinary Liberians who were the direct victims of the new prices.

He indicated further that MOJA officials were in close contact with their brothers in PAL, having understood the agenda of the peaceful demonstration planned for the April 14, 1979 when the army opened fire on the armless civilians who have gathered to present a protest note to the TWP government in line with the Liberian constitution.

According to DR. Fahnbulleh, by the police forces of the TWP government shooting and killing hundreds of ordinary Liberians who understood the path of constitutional engagement with the government of day was the beginning of violence which was introduced by the TWP administration.

Speaking further, the Liberian political activist said by the TWP police introducing armed violence in the Liberian society in 1979 has sent a signal to the already politically and cautiously charged Liberians who needed a redress to their problem, hardship, suffering, exploitation and political marginalization that anyone or a group of individuals could have taken advantage of the situation to have a change of the political atmosphere as was demonstrated at the TWP Buchanan conference when a group of young partisans of TWP demanded for a change and equal opportunity of party responsibility in the TWP.

He said the use of arm to resolve problem introduced by the TWP government on April 14, 1979 during rice protest rang bells on the minds of every Liberian therefore it was not surprised the TWP arm staged a coup to overthrow the Tolbert Oligarchy.

Dr. Fahnbulleh said though he was not aware of the coup it was the result of the arrogance of the TWP government which meted out hardship to the people of Liberia in more than 100 plus years.

He asserted that he and the few Liberians that were asked by the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) military government, the coup makers, to serve had no idea and no contact with the coup makers but were called upon to provide political conscience to the ordinary people before the coup in 1980.

Commenting on the killing of the 13 government officials of TWP, Fahnbulleh, a Security Advisor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that he and other civilians serving in the PRC regime at the time were not aware of any meeting or a decision to kill the 13 men but clearly stated the once the killing took place and they as politicians and civilians in that government did not resign though it was difficult to do said they indirectly endorsed the killings.

At the same time, Dr. Fahnbulleh in order to correct the mistakes of the past that engendered the violent conflict, every Liberian must be given the chance to have a say in the decision making of the state.

By this, he went on, government must be decentralized and that each county should have its own assembly as a way of engendering a “populist and pluralistic government. “This is the time to open up the system, where young Liberians are encouraged into going to school to contribute to the new political dispensation,” he said.

He told commissioners of the TRC and the packed hall that Liberians endured eternal and external hardships at the hands of TWP oligarchy

Dr. Fahnbulleh who addressed the TRC commissioners before a jammed packed hall for over five hours noted that men and women were killed globally in revolutions and that he could neither apologize for that nor agree to the fact the MOJA and PAL were the champions of violence in the Liberian society.

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