CI, Center Host Presentation on Liberia

November 26, 2008

Two activists from Liberia spoke at Brandeis this week about the country’s recent troubled past and prospects for its future.

Sponsored by Coexistence International and the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, the event featured Aaron Weah, national program assistant  in the Liberia office of the New York-based  International Center for Transitional Justice. He recently coauthored the book Impunity Under Attack: Evolution and Imperatives of the Liberian TRC. In addition, Musue Haddad, a current student in the dual master's degree program in Sustainable International Development and Coexistence and Conflict, spoke about her experience in the country as a journalist during the Charles Taylor regime. She has lived in exile from her home country since 2000 because of her documentation of human-rights abuses. Students, faculty, and staff from Brandeis and other local universities attended the presentations.

Weah, who emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not his organization, focused on Liberia after the 2005 presidential election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who became the first woman head of state of an African nation. He noted that the election was an outgrowth of a peace accord forged in Accra in 2003. While Sirleaf campaigned on bringing more jobs and security to the nation, Weah noted that unemployment is still rampant, an estimated 80 percent, which itself poses a significant security risk to the country.

“Unemployment at that staggering rate is a time bomb for a country undergoing a post-conflict process,” he said.

A challenge for the country, he added, will be to integrate people into society who have committed atrocities in the past, a concern critical to building sustainable coexistence in a country emerging from 20 years of civil war and unrest.

Haddad detailed some of those atrocities in her presentation, including photos of massacre sites and political murders. In addition to the violence under the Taylor regime, government officials lived lavish lifestyles while ordinary citizens could barely survive, she said. She also questioned whether the election of Charles Taylor in 1997 could be considered a fair and democratic process.

How the country reconciles the injustices of its past will influence its future, said Haddad.

“What happens in the issue of transitional justice will have a lot to say about how Liberia moves forward,” she said.