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Addressing Historical Grievances to Pave the Way for Genuine Reconciliation in Liberia

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Speech Delivered by Julius T. Jaesen, II. at the Inauguration Ceremony of the Leadership Elect of the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum

Ladies and gentlemen, officials elect of the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum, distinguished platform guests, the outgoing leadership, members of the fourth estate, and the general public.

It is with immense pleasure and deep gratitude that I stand before you today on these twin historic occasions—the National Unification Day Celebration and the Inauguration of the Leadership Elect of the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum here in Red Hill Field Community, Lower Virginia, Brewerville City, Liberia.

As we gather here, we are reminded of the enduring legacy of Nelson Mandela, a towering struggle figure whose commitment to justice, equality, and reconciliation continues to inspire people around the world. In Liberia, a nation with a thriving democracy, the establishment of this forum represents a pathfinder of hope and progress. It symbolises a collective commitment to intellectual discourse, critical thinking, and the pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of society. Just as Mandela believed in the power of education to transform lives and uplift communities, so too do we recognise the transformative potential of intellectual engagement in shaping a brighter future for Liberia and its people.

As we embark on this journey together, I implore that we all be guided by the principles of integrity, empathy, and inclusivity—values that were at the core of Mandela’s leadership. Let us strive to cultivate a culture of dialogue and understanding, where diverse perspectives are respected and embraced. Let us harness the power of our collective intellect to address the pressing challenges facing our society, whether they be social, economic, or environmental.

Intellectual fora like the Nelson Mandela Forum anywhere the world over, serve as the crucibles where ideas are forged, cross-pollinated, refined, and tested, fostering critical thinking, discourse, and enlightenment. At the heart of any democracy lies the fundamental principle of informed citizenry.

Intellectual fora and intellectuals themselves act as the conduits through which knowledge is disseminated, empowering individuals to make informed decisions, participate meaningfully in governance, and hold their representatives accountable. By providing platforms for debate, discussion, and the exchange of ideas, these fora cultivate an environment where diverse perspectives are valued, and dissent is not only tolerated but embraced as essential to the democratic process.

Leadership of Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum
Leadership of Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum

Similarly, intellectual fora serve as incubators for innovation and progress. Through collaborative engagement and interdisciplinary dialogue, they spark the creative fires that drive scientific discovery, technological advancement, and cultural evolution. By nurturing a culture of curiosity and exploration, these fora inspire individuals to push the boundaries of knowledge and challenge the status quo, leading to breakthroughs that shape the course of human history.

The responsibility entrusted to the Leadership Elect of the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum is a weighty one, but it is also a profound privilege. I have every confidence that under their guidance, this forum will serve as a catalyse for positive change, a forum for innovation and collaboration, and a bastion of intellectual freedom and exchange.

Mr. Jaesen & the Chairman of the Leadership of Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum
Mr. Jaesen & the Chairman of the Leadership of Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum

As we look to the future, let us draw inspiration from the words of Nelson Mandela himself, who famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Let us commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the pursuit of knowledge, understanding that it is through education and enlightenment that we can truly honour Mandela’s legacy and build a more just and equitable society for all.

Congratulations to the Leadership Elect of the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum. May your tenure be marked by wisdom, compassion, and visionary leadership.

Having said that, permit me as we celebrate National Unification Day to seize your attention for a few minutes on the topic “Addressing Historical Grievances to Pave the Way for Genuine Reconciliation in Liberia.”

Today, as we gather to commemorate National Unification Day, we are reminded of the profound significance of unity in our nation’s journey towards progress and prosperity. It is a day to reflect upon our shared history, celebrate our diversity, and reaffirm our commitment to building a brighter future for all Liberians.

In the annals of our nation’s history, the concept of unity has always been paramount. From the founding of Liberia by free people of color to the struggles for independence to the challenges of nation-building, unity has been the cornerstone of our resilience and strength.

As we mark this special day, we pay homage to the visionaries who laid the unshakable foundation for a united Liberia. We honour the memory of leaders like Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first President of Liberia, whose unwavering commitment to unity paved the way for our nation’s independence in 1847.

In celebrating our diversity, we recognise the richness of our cultural heritage and the contributions of every Liberian, regardless of background or ancestry. Our strength lies in our ability to embrace our differences and harness them as sources of strength and resilience.

Yet, while we celebrate how far we have come, we must also acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead. The journey towards true national unity is not without obstacles, but it is a journey worth undertaking for the sake of future generations.

As we gather here today, we are confronted with a solemn duty—a duty to confront our past, address historical grievances, and pave the way for genuine reconciliation in Liberia. We stand at a critical juncture in our nation’s history, where the wounds of the past continue to fester, threatening to impede our progress toward a future of peace, prosperity, and unity. But how can we move forward when the shadows of our past loom large over us? How can we build a brighter tomorrow when the specter of injustice haunts our present? The answer lies in our willingness to confront the painful truths of our history and to seek justice for the atrocities committed against our people.

I like to first extend my profound thanks and appreciation to the leadership of both houses of the Liberian Legislature for garnering the intestinal courage and moral fortitude to pass a resolution for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia.

The establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia is not merely a matter of legal accountability; it is a moral imperative, a symbol of our commitment to uphold the values of justice, truth, and reconciliation. By prosecuting our past and all those responsible for the heinous crimes perpetrated during our genocidal and horrendous wars, we send a powerful message to the victims and survivors that their suffering has not been forgotten, their voices have not been silenced, and their quest for justice will not be in vain.

Some may argue that the wounds of the past are best left undisturbed, and that reopening old wounds will only serve to deepen divisions and prolong our collective pain. But to those skeptics, I say this: true healing can only begin with truth, and true reconciliation can only be achieved through justice. We cannot bury the past beneath a veneer of forgetfulness; we must confront it head-on, with intestinal courage and determined will, if we are to forge a path toward a more just and equitable future.

For too long, impunity has reigned supreme in Liberia, allowing perpetrators of unspeakable crimes to evade accountability and roam free. But today, we stand united in our resolve to break the chains of impunity and to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable for their actions.

During those years of horror, we witnessed despicable atrocities committed against our fellow citizens—men, women, and children slaughtered in the name of greed, power, and ethnic hatred. We saw villages razed to the ground, families torn apart, and lives shattered beyond repair. We cannot turn a blind eye to the horrors of our past, nor can we afford to trivialize the suffering of those who endured unimaginable pain and loss.

The human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed during Liberia’s genocidal wars are an affront to our shared humanity, a stain on the conscience of our nation. We cannot move forward as a society until we confront these painful realities head-on and push for retributive justice. We owe it to the victims and survivors to ensure that those responsible for these heinous crimes are held accountable for their actions.

I implore the Nelson Mandela Intellectual Forum to join in this national quest to collectively revive our nation’s soul. The long-term moral health of our democracy depends on us all. We owe it to the countless victims and their families to ensure that justice is served and that their suffering is acknowledged and redressed.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Let us heed his words and strive to build a Liberia where justice reigns supreme, where the rule of law is sacrosanct, and where the rights and dignity of every citizen are upheld and protected.

We must never forget the lessons of our past, nor should we allow the wounds of history to divide us further. Instead, let us draw strength from our collective resilience, our shared humanity, and our unwavering commitment to building a better future for ourselves and for generations to come.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Let us have faith that justice will prevail, that truth will triumph, and that reconciliation will ultimately prevail over division and hatred.

Today, we gather with a collective purpose burning in our hearts—to champion the cause of justice and ensure that it is accessible to every Liberian, regardless of their background, status, or circumstance.

Access to justice is not just a noble aspiration; it is a fundamental right, a cornerstone of democracy, and the bedrock of a fair and equitable society.
In our beloved Liberia, we envision a future where every citizen can confidently navigate the legal landscape, where justice is not a privilege reserved for the few, but a right enjoyed by all.

Yet, we acknowledge that this vision remains elusive for many of our brothers and sisters. Too often, the marginalised and disadvantaged face insurmountable barriers in their quest for justice—barriers of poverty, ignorance, discrimination, and distance.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us, as stewards of justice, to dismantle these barriers brick by brick, to pave the way for a more inclusive and accessible legal system. We must strive to empower every Liberian with the knowledge, resources, and support they need to assert their rights, seek redress for grievances, and participate fully in the administration of justice.

To truly move forward, we must first acknowledge and understand the root causes of our past conflicts. We cannot build a peaceful and prosperous Liberia without addressing the underlying issues that have fueled violence and instability for generations.
One of the fundamental root causes of conflict in Liberia has been the deep-seated inequalities that have plagued our society.

Economic disparities, unequal access to resources, and systemic injustices have bred resentment and discontent among our people.

Another critical factor that has contributed to past conflicts is the lack of inclusive governance and representation. For too long, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few, while the voices of the marginalised and disenfranchised have been silenced.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” We must work tirelessly to build a government that truly represents the interests of all Liberians, regardless of their background or beliefs.

Furthermore, the legacy of ethnic tensions and tribal rivalries has fueled much of the violence in our country. We must recognise that our diversity is our greatest strength and embrace it as a source of unity, rather than division.

In the words of Desmond Tutu, “We are different so that we can know our need of one another.” Let us celebrate our diversity and build a society where every Liberian feels valued and respected, regardless of their ethnicity or heritage.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let us be beacons of light in a world darkened by violence and hatred, showing that peace is possible even in the midst of chaos.

Furthermore, the exploitation of natural resources has fueled conflict and corruption in Liberia. We must ensure that our natural wealth is managed responsibly and transparently, for the benefit of all Liberians, present and future.

As Wangari Maathai once said, “Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” Let us not just talk about change, but take concrete actions to build a more just and sustainable future for Liberia.

Moreover, the lack of access to education and opportunities has left many of our youth vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups. We must invest in education, job training, and vocational programs to empower our young people and break the cycle of poverty and violence.

Furthermore, the erosion of trust in our institutions has undermined the rule of law and perpetuated impunity. We must strengthen our judicial system, combat corruption, and uphold the principles of accountability and transparency. In the words of Kofi Annan, “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.” Let us work together to build a Liberia where justice is not just a dream, but a reality for all.

Together, let us embark on this journey towards reconciliation, guided by the principles of truth, justice, and compassion. Let us confront our past with courage and humility, knowing that only by acknowledging the dark chapters of our history can we hope to write a brighter future for generations to come.

In conclusion, addressing the root causes of past conflicts in Liberia will not be easy, but it is essential if we are to build a peaceful, just, and prosperous society for future generations. Let us draw inspiration from the words of Nelson Mandela, who said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Together, let us embark on this journey toward reconciliation, healing, and a brighter future for Liberia.

Thank you, and may God bless Liberia.

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