It's 6:45 am and I walk out of my hotel after a breakfast of buttered white toast, scrambled eggs with sliced hot dogs, and Nescafe with powdered milk. We have spent the night in one of the cities in Nimba after spending a week in a very rural area. We are driving back in an agency vehicle and the driver asks if we can take someone he knows along with us if she signs the liability waiver. I figure he knows the rules better than me, and say it's fine as long as the Country Director would be okay with it. A woman in her mid-20s climbs into the back of the car, explaining that she needs to get back to Monrovia in order to attend her classes that day.
Our driver was talking about his experiences during the war (no one says conflict here), he drove for everyone from the BBC during the active conflict to a number of organizations during the disarmament process. He mentions a tribunal that was convened by Charles Taylor during the war to try military crimes. The girl says that it was this tribunal that killed her father, it was when she was three years old. The driver asks who her father was, a general in the army, and the driver says he didn't know that was her father, but would she like to hear about what really happened to him?
According to him: her father was the commander of many troops, most of whom were relatively young and poorly trained. These troops massacred villagers in the interior (not in Nimba), and the international community found out about it. Her father stood trial for these crimes, although he was not involved and the troops actually disobeyed his orders by doing what they did. Despite the fact that Charles Taylor really liked her father, and her father was a great man, it was the pressure of the international community that pushed them to punish someone for the crimes. And so her father was sentenced to death.
Girl: When I graduate from university and get a job, I have always said that with my first paycheck will go to finding where my father is buried, and building him a gravestone.
Driver: I know where your father is buried, not today, but some other time I can take you there, if you want.
Girl: Yes! I have always wanted to see this place where they killed him.
Then later in the conversation (this was a five hour drive after all):
Girl: It makes me feel too bad to see these people I go to school with, they call their father and he can help them pay their school fees and other things. Since I was a young girl I have been selling cold water (in bags) to people to earn enough money to buy notebooks and a uniform. My mother cannot help me and my father was killed. It makes me feel too angry when I see the people who I know participated in that [massacre] or who helped kill my father and now they are there, they are having families and they are happy. My father wanted to help Liberia and he was only killed and I am alone.
Driver: You see, this is a problem here, people are still very angry about the war. Every day you can see someone who you know helped kill your father or your brother or you burned down your house. You see these people and they have big money and big cars and they are very powerful. It makes people angry.
Me: Do you think there will ever be any kind of reconciliation or justice process?
Driver: How can there be? Everyone is guilty. There would be no one left in government. The wife of Charles Taylor is a senator, Prince Johnson [leader of a 2nd faction during the war] is a senator in Nimba, even Ellen [Johnson Sirleaf, the president] is guilty. She has admitted that she gave money to support Charles Taylor during the fighting. She claims it was for humanitarian purposes, but there was a war going on, if you wanted to be a humanitarian, why wouldn't you give the money to an NGO?
Me: So many of the people in power and in government currently were involved in the war?
Driver: Oh yes! And there is no justice because it is the people in power who are the very guilty ones. If we started to prosecute all the people who committed crimes during the war, there would be no one left in government.
And then a large SUV (one of the marks of wealth in Liberia) drives past, the license plate read DD1.
Driver: There. You see? This is Prince Johnson coming.
Me: Wait, what?! That's Prince Johnson in that car?
Driver: Yes, yes. He is the one who killed Samuel Doe [who killed President William Tolbert to take power of the country]. Have you seen the photos?
Me: Hmm.... oh yes! He is the one who was wearing the hat and drinking the beer?!
Driver: Yes. Everyone watched Prince Johnson humiliate Samuel Doe, and even though he begged for his life Samuel Doe killed him anyway. Doe would not tell Johnson where all the money he had stolen was hidden outside of the country. Even today no one knows where that money is.
Me: Oh wow, so it is somewhere else and it was never found?
Driver: Yes. And to see these pictures and the video then, everyone in the world could see it because it was videotaped. [Google it!] But the Congos [Americo-Liberians] here, Doe was killing all of them, so it is them who helped finance Johnson to come kill him.
Ah and there is his car of security men. You see it is a ways behind him because if someone attacks him, then this car of men with guns, all paid by Prince Johnson himself, not by the government even though he is a Senator, they will come and kill that person. There must be ten men in that car, youth who fought for him during the war, and they will surely all have guns.
Me: So people here like Prince Johnson still?
Driver: Yes yes, they believe he defended Nimba, and you know most of the people who fought for him were from here, he is even senior in government. Did you see that license plate? He is on the national defense committee.
If people know a bit about the war here, they know about Charles Taylor, but Samuel Doe and Prince Johnson and two of the other very big participants in it. Here is the video, but be forewarned, it's someone torturing someone else, not exactly fun to watch, but amazing to think about the role of media in politics and persecution.
http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?next_url=/watch%3Fv%3DyaLSzjfyUiA (they will make you sign in because of the violent content)
And just remember that the man on the right drinking the beer is now a senior Senator.