What is your new role and your hope for resolving land conflicts in Liberia?
Bishop Brown: The president of Liberia has asked me to participate in a national effort aimed at resolving land conflicts in one of Liberia's troubled sub-political divisions, Nimba County. About 32 years ago, civil war broke out in the country through Nimba County, from where rebels entered the country, prosecuted a 15-year fratricidal conflict and eventually overthrew the government of the late president, Samuel K. Doe, 1980-1990. The civil war left in its tray several conflicts including the land conflicts. We have been informed that Nimba County has more than 500 land conflicts recorded. So as a member of the Special Presidential Committee on the Resolution of the Nimba County Land Conflict, we hope that our work can help bring healing and reconciliation to this troubled area. Four of the major tribes which prosecuted the civil war which began in 1989 also come from Nimba County. These include Gios, Manos, Mandingoes and Krahn. We hope that our intervention will help undermine the growing wave of violence in those communities over the land conflicts.
Why have you felt the need to intensify your call for a War and Economic Crimes Court?
Bishop Brown: There is a serious need to bring closure to the civil war through addressing impunity. We must hold people to account for the atrocities committed during the civil war. No one actually knows how many people died during the civil war. Some estimate around a quarter million people which would be about 5% of the current population. Whole villages and towns were destroyed while people looted the natural resources of the country. Many of the leaders and their associates of the civil war got rich overnight. Because of the lack of accountability for atrocities committed during the civil war, there is a growing wave of violence in the country. In this year alone, three regional police stations in northern and eastern regions—including Nimba County—of the country have been burnt down by protesting mobs. People argue daily that there is no justice in Liberia. If we must ensure peace, security, the rule of law, good governance, transparency, accountability, we must address the culture of impunity. That's why we have intensified our call for a War and Economic Crimes Court through public statements, ecumenical meetings, and engagement with members of the international community. We expect the United Nations to accompany us on this journey. We also expect that the concerns for reparations will be addressed to help advance healing and reconciliation. Ordinary Liberians lost their properties and families—and some places, their whole villages.
Why are interreligious interventions critical to resolving land issues?
Bishop Brown: Liberia is about 99% religious. The 1998 National Population and Housing Census estimates that Christians are about 86% of the population while Muslims are about 12%. At the community level, that is a huge influence. Liberians believe in their religious leaders to address national and community issues. A case in point was the outbreak of COVID-19. The whole country was glued to the religious community on the way forward. That's why we are working together with our Islamic and Traditional friends on the Special Presidential Committee to help resolve the land crisis in Nimba County. The religious community laid the groundwork for the Ecowas Peace Plan in 1990 that resolved the civil conflict in Liberia. During the mid-term Senatorial elections in December 1990, the religious community led the charge for peaceful, free, fair and transparent elections. The religious community led the 'VOTE NO" Campaign to the referendum sponsored by the Government of Liberia to amend the tenure of the president, vice president and members of the legislature, amongst others. The religious community argued that the country wasn't adequately informed about the process, that civil education for voters was poor and that the majority of Liberians would not vote properly. Liberians listened and the referendum was defeated.
What can the global fellowship pray for you?
Bishop Brown: Pray for reconciliation through forgiveness. "If we forgive men and their trespasses..." (St Matthew 6:13-14). If Liberians will forge peace and reconciliation, they must forgive. Without forgiveness there will be no genuine reconciliation. There are too many divisions in the country based on tribal, religious, community and other lines. The situation is like a clotted combo. It has to be flushed out. I am talking about the lack of genuine reconciliation. Secondly, pray for the resources to effectively and efficiently execute our task. And thirdly, for complementary actions like reconciliation workshops for traditional, religious and community levels; and forgiveness education workshops for the young people so we sow seed of forgiveness in them and redeem the future from all the hate, malice and lack of forgiveness retarding our society and local communities. We hope the WCC can accompany us on this.