Wednesday, October 21

Kimmie Weeks and The New Liberia
Over the weekend I stumbled upon Kimmie Weeks, labelled Liberia's young hero by CNN. Honestly speaking, I had never heard of him - thought undoubtedly that says more about me than about him. He is famous, not only in Liberia, and in other African countries, but also the world over.

I am not going to repeat here his credentials; internet offers so many possibilities to trace his achievements. But I must say, when I saw the movie about him on CNN last week, I was greatly impressed. When I saw him, I immediately recognized his features.

When I taught at the University of Liberia – in the early seventies - among my students was one Weeks, a bright young man, very outspoken, very sympathetic. He was part of the progressive forces opposing the Tolbert Administration and True Whig Party hegemony. At one time he also was editor of the Revelation, one of those anarchistic hand-outs closely associated with the famous journalist Albert Porte. Anarchistic in the sense that they did not obey to the rules of the class society where their cradle once stood. Sincerely progressive, with the ideals and ambitions of real reformers (I do not say: revolutionaries), and gifted with a more than average intelligence, they represented the hope every society needs to advance ‘to higher heights’, to paraphrase former president William Tolbert.

I watched the CNN movie on Kimmie Weeks and hardly could believe my eyes. What a personality! What an incredible story! Born in 1981, he was a child during the civil war. During the early years of the war, his mother and Kimmie fled, landed in a refugee camp where malnutrition, infections and diseases decimated the population. When sick, the young Kimmie was given up and tossed on a pile of dead bodies. Thanks to his mother (who is she???) who refused to accept Kimmie’s apparent fate, he was rescued. According to his official web site, he then pledged a solemn oath: to fight for a better future for Liberia’s youth, later extended to other African countries.

In 1998, former Liberian President Charles Taylor made several attempts to assassinate him after Kimmie investigated his government’s involvement in the training of children as soldiers, subsequently releasing a groundbreaking report. Eventually he was forced into exile.

I will not repeat here what has been published elsewhere. But my interest was aroused. Who is Kimmie – apart from his own personality? I decided to dig into my memory and to consult some friends.

The following story emerged. Interesting - as will be clear from what follows.

Kimmie’s father was one of the famous Weeks brothers. Rocheforte L. Weeks was his father, born on August 15, 1923 in Crozierville, one of Liberia’s famous historic settler towns. By the way, the notorious oppositional Albert Porte, at one time editor of the already mentioned Revelation, also originated from Crozierville.

Rocheforte Weeks was the first Liberian president of the University of Liberia. After its creation in 1951, two Americans were at the helm of the nation’s highest institution of academic learning. For various reasons, President Tubman decided in 1959 to install a Liberian as head of the institution. The flamboyant Rocheforte Weeks served as President of the University of Liberia from 1959 till 1972. President William Tolbert appointed him as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1972, replacing Rudolph Grimes (who had demonstrated a lack of loyalty as perceived by Tolbert in the preceding year, after the death of President Tubman).

The Weeks family is or was one of the largest Americo-Liberian families. During the Tubman Administration (1944-1971) the three Weeks brothers were famous: the charismatic Rocheforte Weeks, his elder brother James Milton Weeks, who was at one time Minister of Finance, and brother Anthony, former Director of the Budget under Tubman.

The three Weeks brothers were accompanied by three Sherman brothers who in the same period were among the most powerful of the Americo-Liberian families. Charles Dunbar Sherman undoubtedly was the most powerful of them. Politician, academician, businessman, key person in religious and other organizations, he also served as Secretary of the Treasury in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Liberia’s ‘Growth without Development’ model was at its zenith – thanks to the abundant foreign investments in the country’s natural resources.

And then we also had the three Tolbert brothers. William Tolbert, who had patiently served under Tubman as his Vice-President for nearly twenty years, rose to the highest public position. Brother Frank served for many years as the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate whereas brother Stephen, rather a businessman than a politician, was nominated Minister of Finance by his brother-President. The uncrupulous and tough Stephen Tolbert also was the owner of one of the largest and most successful commercial enterprises in the country’s history, the Mesurado Group of Companies.

All these reflections emerged while watching Kimmie Weeks. His eloquent leadership, his gift of communication, no doubt he is the son of his father. A born orator, as this other great man, Barrack Obama. I was not surprised to read Kimmie’s political ambitions, and his ultimate goal: the country’s leadership.

In my opinion, Kimmie Weeks has the characteristics and potential of 'the new Liberian'. After watching the various movies available, on You Tube and elsewhere, and judging from his CV and background, I strongly have the impression that he has the potential to play a crucial role in the future of his country where – to paraphrase Martin Luther King – he and his children will not be judged on their background, but by the content of their character.

Liberia desperately needs people like Kimmie Weeks who have the potential to bridge the Past and the Present - as Liberia's present leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf aims to realize. They, together with other strong Liberians, must bridge the divide between the various segments of the Liberian population, without re-establishing the old order.

Whereas Ellen represents the older generation, Kimmie is an exponent of the new generation of Liberians. They both represent The New Liberia where labels such as 'Americo-Liberian' and 'Congo-people' have become anachronisms. One nation, one people, one destiny. 'By God's command'.


Tuesday, October 6

Twenty Years Charles Taylor: 1989 – 2009

Today I was reading the daily and weekly summaries of the Trial of Charles Taylor site, that excellent initiative and project of the Open Society Justice Initiative. Again I was fascinated by what is happening a few miles from where I live and work. In the Special Court for Sierra Leone, housed at the International Criminal Court in a suburb of The Hague, former President Charles Taylor is defending himself against eleven charges. If convicted he could spend the rest of his life in an English prison – since the UK government has agreed to accept him in case the SCSL judges would find him guilty.

Taylor is denying all charges – which shouldn’t surprise. Last week he said that he did not order Sierra Leonean rebel forces to attack Freetown in 1999. In fact, he is denying everything, his contacts with RUF leader Foday Sankoh after May 1992, the murdering of Samuel Bockarie and Daniel Tamba, and giving orders for the execution of Superman, a Liberian commander of the RUF, Sierra Leone’s rebel group, responsible for so many atrocities and notorious for its mutilation of children and adults by hacking off arms (‘short sleeves’ or ‘long sleeves’). One of the prosecution witnesses, Joseph Marzah, a former member of Taylor’s invasion force, in 1989, and fighting force, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) last year testified that Taylor had feasted on Superman’s heart. Charles Taylor called prosecution allegations that he was involved in ritual sacrifice and cannibalism ‘racist’.

Taylor has no choice but to deny everything. He denied that he ordered the NPFL and RUF rebels to subject civilians to sexual violence and forced labor, that he used child soldiers who were drugged. He also denied giving orders to kill and eat the members of the Krahn tribe, or to kill UN and West African peacekeepers. He further denied supplying arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone in return for diamonds mined by the rebels in Sierra Leone, or allowing the RUF to have any radio stations in Liberia.

Taylor calls everything ‘a blatant lie’, dismisses witness’s evidence as ‘concoction’, and is in the ICC / SLSC court room as self-assured, flamboyant and charming as ever.

I had to think of two BBC articles I read a couple of months ago. In a series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, former BBC editor and Ghanaian minister Elizabeth Ohene wrote about her encounters with Charles Taylor. Read her account here. It makes fascinating reading. It tells about the multiple faces and roles of Charles Taylor: a rebel and soldier, his presidency of Africa’s first Republic, and now defending himself in a high-profile criminal case, being the first former African President to stand trial.

In another article BBC's Mark Doyle looked back at Charles Taylor's life.

Whatever one may think of Charles Taylor being guilty or not – and personally I have few if any doubts - Charles Taylor, from his invasion in Nimba County in December 1989 to his trial in The Hague in 2009, has already entered Liberia’s history as one of the most fascinating personalities of Africa’s oldest republic.