Once again the invisible hands of death have slapped away one of Liberia’s astute, illustrious, exceptional legal practitioners and distinguished magistrates after a period of brief illness. A trained and skilled magistrate with a great deal of serviceable deportment to duty, loyalty to country and wisdom of the law has departed this life. His voice and prolific legal opinions to administer justice irrespective of the party litigants involved in the case have ceased to exist.
For over 200 years, Liberia has been the epicenter of some of humanities worst moments in history. War, poverty, slavery, disease, and environmental destruction dominate the public perception of the country, which served as the cradle and citadel of Africa's liberation and emancipation.
Like many countries the world over, Liberia tasted the bitter swill of civil conflict, which ravaged every sector of the country, depleted the human resource capacity, and brought untold and inhumane suffering. The People ran helter-skelter in search for safe havens. The sounds of missile, rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and other artilleries seem unceasing.
Warring factions conscripted children to become weapons of mass destruction. Women were used as sex slaves and protective shields. Men tortured as vehicles to transport arms. As dissident forces, warring factions and government troops battled for territories, they destroyed basic infrastructural facilities under the pretext of fighting for liberation and emancipation. While the Warlords tussle over political power during the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement; the very people they claimed to be redeeming endured heinous atrocities.
With support from friendly nations and the international communities together with the Liberian people themselves, peace was restored. The young people who were participants carried to cantonment sites for two weeks to undergo the Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration program (DDRR). Beneficiaries of the DDRR program enjoyed free education from secondary school to technical and vocational education to institution of higher learning.
Conversely, victims of the 14 years intermittent civil conflict were left to fend for themselves. The perpetrators walk the corridor of liberty and prosperity while thousands of victims are without reparation. Hence, many of those who were victimized still struggled on a daily basis for food, shelter, and clothing. This situation has created a deep wound of divisiveness and mistrust.
However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations lay a firm foundation for genuine reconciliation not just through the usual festivals and extravaganzas and palaver hut programs involving empty talk and sycophancy, but provide for restorative justice to restore human and civil dignity. Sadly, the "Sleeping Dogs Lie" phenomenon has overshadowed the TRC report.
The Independent National Human Rights Commission statutorily responsible for the implementation of the TRC recommendations seems strangulated and conflicted with political influences and threats. Due to the fact that most people implicated in the TRC report are at the helm of governance process of the country. Consequently, the TRC report is being shelved and dusty for far too long without realistic and holistic implementation strategies.
Howbeit, as Liberians strive to put their pieces together, remove the wreckages of civil conflict, rebuild infrastructures, and heal the wounds; the Embassy of Sweden initiated an unprecedented and innovative brainstorming conversation to discuss peace building in Liberia.
Former Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Lena Nordström, pioneered the Breakfast Meeting to ensure that diverse voices of young people come alive on the need to take initiatives, synergize and build relationship in the pursuit of sustainable peace. This vision of the former Swedish diplomat provided a unique platform and reawakened the desire for making peace a way of life. The Embassy of Sweden Young Leaders Breakfast Meeting enables young Liberians to work towards creating a peaceful society, where inclusivity, respect for the rule of law and dignity are upheld.
With the realization that brainstorming on peace building requires the voices of everyone, especially the most vulnerable, underserved and underprivileged youth in the rural areas; the Swedish Embassy modeled Breakfast Meeting was replicated across the country through voluntary initiatives. This provided opportunity for rural youth to assemble and freely discuss on peace building issues. For many rural youths, peace is not just the absence of war or silence of war machinery; it is the lack of quality and affordable education, compounded with poor healthcare facilities, deplorable road conditions, and lack of basic social facilities.
During every Breakfast Meeting, young leaders listened, learned and led the discussion on possible ways to preserve and sustain Liberia's fragile peace through their own imagination, creativity, culture and national pride. This resulted in the development of the Liberian Youth Peace Building National Conference.
The conference comes at the appropriate time when Liberia is preparing for elections. It takes place in the midst of the United Nations Mission in Liberia drawdown. It occurs at a time when over 60 percent of Liberia's population is below the age of 30. And it happens at a time when young people desperately need to be engaged, educated and empowered to understand how to build peace in every aspect of their lives because young people play a pivotal role in shaping major social, economic, and political advancements.
For this reason, the Liberian Youth Peace Building National Conference is very crucial. Simply because young people are in the majority and they have the energy, enthusiasm, and power to rewrite Liberia's history from fragility to stability. Young Liberians from every nook and cranny of the country can unanimously agree to give peace a chance and avoid being used as the tool for violence and crime. They can choose good over evil and stay away from mob justice and destruction of public facilities in the name of venting out anger. The youth of Liberia can do away with unwholesome practices that have the proclivity to revert the country to instability.
This conference designed and organized by young Liberians through the guidance of the Embassy of Sweden demonstrates the truism that young people in Liberia have become leaders of powerful and effective social movement to building peace. All the more so, the conference connects with Swedish peace pedagogy experts, builds ever-lasting relationships, provides opportunities to share memorable stories of peace and strengthens peace building initiatives from the grassroots level among young people.
With support from the Government and people of Sweden as well as the United Nations Mission in Liberia, a little over 200 young leaders from across the country have been selected through a very competitive process to participate in this promising, rewarding and fascinating conference. Although many young Liberians would not have the opportunity to directly participate in the conference, however, participants are strongly encouraged through seed funding to design and organize various grassroots peace building initiatives.
Liberian Youth Peace Building National Conference goes beyond the usual eloquent speeches, cultural performances, and picturesque scenery. It is a multi-generational, inter-disciplinary "THINK+DO TANK" and crowd-sourcing solutions for building peace in Liberia. It is expected to shift public consciousness in educating and empowering young Liberians to take action to preserving Liberia's fragility to never-ending stability.
The conference incorporates many youth leaders from across Liberia, Africa, and Sweden including a host of dignitaries and influential people. There are many components of the conference including speeches, music, art and culture, and the five thought-provoking and solutions-driven Work Labs. The Work Lab comprises of Economic Prosperity & Entrepreneurship; Diversity, Tolerance & Reconciliation; Arts, Sports & Culture; Elections & Electoral Processes; and Integrity & Anti-Corruption. Each participant is going to have the chance to choose the work lab to attend.
Even though building a peaceful society would not happen in a very short span of time with one conference and the help of any single country, institution or individual, however, this conference is going to reinvigorate and rejuvenate the desire for young Liberian to build peace. It is a step in the right direction that is going to unshackle the minds of young Liberians to believe in themselves and take positive actions that would engender changes in their communities.
This conference nurtures young Liberians not to wait for government and international partners in building peaceful coexistence, but to take the torch toward a more stable and consolidated peace. Together Liberians must dust themselves off of petty politics and recrimination that have held this country backward for far too long and make peace a way of life.
In as much as friendly nations like Sweden is helping to sustain Liberia's fragile peace, young Liberian must seize this opportunity to maintaining unending peace. Liberians must begin to look inward and not outward. We must learn to respect constituted authority, uphold the rule of law, exhibit mutual respect for each other and coexist irrespective of our dialect spoken, religious expressed, and the sound of our last name. Now is the time to remake Liberia and there must be no turning back.
Liberians must wake up, shake up and stand up for peace, because it is only through peace that we can move forward as a country. Together with God's command, we can transition our country from fragility to stability.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not represent YES, Embassy of Sweden or the organizer of the Liberian Youth Peace Building National Conference .