Tuesday 21st November 2017,

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War-affected Liberian returnees fight new war at home-discrimination

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By James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Contributing writer

Excelsior, Minnesota-After escaping a 14-year-long brutal African war and sought refuge in foreign lands such as the US, Canada and Europe, exiled-Liberians now returning home to help revamp their war-ravaged country face a new type of war, and that is discrimination.

Liberians and foreign investors discuss Liberia's future. Photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Liberians and foreign investors discuss Liberia’s future. Photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Deep anger, suspicion and resentment run through the hearts of many of the locals against their fellow Liberians now returning home, having fled a cannibalistic war which caused the death of an estimated 300,000 people and ruined the entire country. They described exiled Liberians as “coward” and even questioned their patriotism for the country. There are also cases where some returnees have been verbally attacked and treated with utter disdain. Phrase and words like “imported Liberian,” “runaway,” and “outsider” meaning alien, have been adopted to describe Liberian-returnees.

Much of the suspicion and resentment spurred out of fear among locals who feel incoming Liberians, most of whom appeared both socially and academically equipped, were poised to take over the “best jobs” and have them [locals] subordinated. But locals who stayed and rode out the “storm” are not easily giving in. To them, they cannot be “left to the bottom” for they were the ones who shed their sweats and blood when the country was in shambles.

This new form of prejudice among Liberians at home first came to light after journalist Jay Nagbe Sloh brought it up during an online chat in 2010 after his visit to the war-ravage nation. Mr. Sloh, a former critic of Pres. Sirleaf’s government, further disclosed that exiled Liberians already resettled were also engaged in similar biases toward fellow returnees fearing they might take away their jobs.

Since the end of the last rebel war in 2003 during which former Pres. Charles Taylor was forced to cede power in exchange for asylum in Nigeria, job scarcity has remained a serious challenge to the government plagued by massive corruption in all sectors. This problem is even compounded by the returned of tens of thousands of Liberians, among them, lawyers, politicians, medical doctors and journalists driven out of the country by a brutal African war.

While on press assignment in Liberia a year ago, this writer observed that exiled Liberians who have returned home to help re-build their shattered nation were often being treated with distrust to the effect that locals have branded them “outsiders.”

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

After graduating with a Master’s Degree in International Relations and Human Rights advocacy from George Washington University, Washington D.C two years ago, Jartu Passaway (not her real name), excitedly joined the mass exodus headed home in response to plea by Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf urging exiled Liberians to go help and rebuild Liberia.

In Monrovia, Jartu was lucky to land a “blue-collar” job with a private firm which offered nearly the equivalent to her monthly U.S. pay. But soon Jartu was faced with the dilemma of quitting the job due to scornful behaviors by her co-workers, some being her subordinates.

In yet another incident, current deputy police inspector of Liberia National Police (LNP) Col. AB Kromah, a former New Jersey resident with a Masters in Criminal Justice had a rather “rude awakening” encounter from his Assistant, Public Safety Chief Meekie Gray. Gray according to a December 2012 edition of Front Page Africa defiantly refused to honor any instruction from immediate boss, Col. Kromah, saying, “I’m not answerable to Col. Kromah.” Gray was suspended for time indefinite by the LNP administration.

As far as this “silent war” goes, all Liberians who lived outside the country during the war era are grouped as one, and treated alike in that it is difficult to differentiate between citizens forced to flee the war and those who resided outside of Liberia prior to the December 1989 invasion. Some believe that the discrimination practices are mainly directed at people who were absent from the country during the LURD rebel forces’ final assaults on the capital in 2003.

“It is this feeling of betrayal and desertion that run through their minds whenever they come face to face with Liberians who stayed out of the country during the war,” says Mr. Hamilton Cassell, a senior student of Sociology at the University of Liberia. “To the locals, it is unfair that they stayed and “rode the storm” only for Diaspora Liberians to rush back and take over the “fat jobs,” observed Cassell.

Liberians are friendly and generous people; many view this new conduct as a sharp contrast to cultural norms that have persisted here for centuries. Until the civil war, Liberians, mainly rural dwellers showed hospitality toward “strangers” who traveled through their towns and village and often provided them free lodging, food and even security protection irrespective of the visitor’s race. Such gestures are vividly recorded in a book entitled: “God’s Impatience in Liberia.” published 1968 by John Conrald Wold, an American Lutheran evangelist.

Evangelist Wold who lived with his wife in Wozi, a dense forested town near Zorzor, Lofa County as they both studied the Lorma people and their language, also admits he spied on Lorma “secret” rituals punished by death if caught. He further expressed absolute surprised at the level of “love” and “appreciation” indigenous Liberians showed toward Americans and other foreigners at a time his country, America “segregated Blacks” in America.

So far, the new conflict can be found in almost every institution in Liberian society-from low-ranking employees-to senior government officials, including members of the House of Parliament. Although there is no indication of racially motivated factors, the practice somehow (with exception in fewer cases), pervasively threads along same-sex gender lines whereby the woman’s aggressive behavior is mainly directed at her female counterparts.

The local daily Front Page Africa print and online publication recently published disparaging comments attributed to a Senator from Maryland County, Liberia, named Dahn Morias who accused exiled Liberians for being what he referred to as “selfish” and “unpatriotic.” Dahn Morias is currently Senate Chairman on Foreign Affairs and his outburst came as he reacted to a Liberian-US Dual Citizenship bill proposal awaiting the senate’s approval.

“It was better giving citizenship to a wealthy European seeking naturalization here [in Liberia] than to a Liberian who had previously denounced his country for glory elsewhere and now wants to be a child of two cities,” the senator declared which further showed the gravity of this “new war” between locals and their exiled brethren many of whom escaped the war.

A cross section of Liberians interviewed, attributed the problem squarely to academic and social factors, not ruling out envy. A Liberian with outside exposure and education, some said, had considerable “leverage” over his Liberian counterpart who lacks such experience which tends to make the exiled Liberian a subject of such “unwarranted prejudice.”

Notwithstanding, it was gathered that not every “foreign degree” counts or, is honored nowadays by prospective employers during job recruitment exercises. Most local employers including United Nations agencies and foreign NGOs are said to give less credence to “degrees” earned by Liberians exiled in African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria unlike the past.

“Even Liberians from other parts of the African continent like Ghana and Nigeria who returned with degrees are being discriminated against. People here [in Liberia] are afraid that others will take their work…Liberians are narrow-minded,” said student sociologist Hamilton Cassell, a senior at the University of Liberia.

According to Cassell, local employers especially UN and other NGOs, often showed preferences for applicants with “degrees” earned in the U.S. and Europe, something he attributes to the solid educational systems in those places.

A cross section of Liberians interviewed, attributed the problem squarely to academic and social factors, not ruling out envy. A Liberian with outside exposure and education, some said, had considerable “leverage” over his Liberian counterpart who lacks such experience which tends to make the exiled Liberian a subject of such “unwarranted prejudice.”  

He blamed this unfortunate development on what he termed, “academic tragedy” whereby students are made to paid “money to their teachers and professors” in exchange for good grades. Student Cassell who spoke to this writer few weeks ago from Liberia acknowledged such negative practices if go uncheck could potentially undermine the good educational system the country had in place prior to the war. Meantime, he added, a government academic commission had been set up to revive this ugly trend.

In his contribution, Dr. Lawrence Zumo, a Liberian from indigenous background who lives with his family in Baltimore, Maryland, expressed utter dismay at such discriminative practices locals have adopted toward returnees and exiled Liberians.

“This is a complete tragedy…they are mixing apples and oranges among those who fled the country during the crisis and I guess they ought to look at the entire situation in a sober way before throwing everyone in the same basket,” Dr. Zumo, a highly respected neurologist said of the locals.

Dr. Zumo, a well-known social commentator explained that despite having been away from Liberia for a long time, he and his wife still devote time to install traditional Liberian culture in their kids born abroad by teaching them Liberian Languages and wondered why would certain Liberians discriminate against their exiled brethren, calling them “selfish” and “unpatriotic?”

He said, instead locals getting angry and resenting Diaspora Liberian-returnees, they [locals] should work toward examining and diagnosing the

Traditional Liberian Dancers. Photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Traditional Liberian Dancers. Photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

real problems that created the conditions in which they find themselves. The Hungarian-American trained neurologist further disclosed what he called, an “effective psychological warfare” put in place by the “power that be” to keep certain groups of people down in the country and urged all patriotic Liberians to open their eyes to the realities around them.

He narrated that those who invited the crisis (an apparent reference to Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf and her associates) were now back in full in Liberia, running a government that was denying local Liberians, their dreams to a better livelihood. In such campaign, Dr. Zumo explained, “they [government] suppress people by holding back certain opportunities, for example, deny them [locals] job opportunities and instead, offer the people hand-out or crumbs to eat” in which case, he continued, “the suppressors become beholden to the suppressed.”

In this case, he added, those who are being denied the rights to equal employments and other opportunities “do not only view their suppressors as good friends, but see them as Gods to the effect that they would even fight and defend their oppressors…this is the mechanism at play in Liberia.” Dr. Zumo described the medical terminology for such behavior as “Stockholm syndrome,” which he said is created by “Pavlov conditioning.”

About the author: James Kokulo Fasuekoi is a journalist and author of two books on Liberia. A former stringer for The Associated Press, Fasuekoi covered the civil wars in both Sierra Leone and Liberia for a decade before fleeing his native Liberia in 1999. He presently lives in Excelsior, MN, and can be reached at boiyeadu1@hotmail.com

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