Friday, April 22, 2011

Remembering Stanton Peabody: A Tribute

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

When I first met Mr. Stanton Peabody, by his age then, he should have been a retired person, but on the contrary, he was a classroom teacher and an active journalist for the Daily Observer Newspaper. This was in 2007, and I was a Junior Student at the A.M.E. University. My encounters with him went well beyond the classroom. My major was Political Science, and minor Print Journalism. So the Course was News Editing and Writing. I owe much of my practical skills in writing features to his lecture, and tutorials. In February 2008, Mr. Peabody announced his birthday to the class, and as young students, we asked him where were we going to ‘boil’ or ‘kick the dust’, he laughed and told us to read our lessons, and that was the only gift he wanted from us. This tells how much he was interested in making more print journalist for Liberia, before he departs the world; successfully, he died as an accomplished person. He had taught hundreds of persons before we met him. Some of my friends are today active journalists, that is a vocation I love too, but I am now immersed into public policy, governance and development research.

That February of 2008, Mr. Peabody or Bob Stan was 77 years of old - old enough to be a grandfather to any of us - but he was our teacher, so much committed. Our Class was on the second floor, and we all needed to climb long stair cases before reaching that afternoon class. Mr. Peabody was never late, and I can’t remember anytime that he was ever absent as was the case of most of the young lecturers. His style of teaching was through lectures and so many drills. A requirement for that class which ran every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was that each student submits a written news story before sitting in class. By the next class sitting Mr. Peabody would have read each submission, and evaluated them all. As students, some of us some times will default, and we won’t submit, but he didn’t care. Everyday there will be new exercise, either in writing a news headline, a news lead or writing a news story from a long press release. He kept all of those exercises, and surprisingly at the end of the semester, he distributed every paper with no one complaining of a missing exercise paper. All of Peabody’s exercises had made each of his students capable journalists – everyone had something to say that he or she had learned about news writing and editing.

He was so jovial a man, and he left me with a name. He was the only one who ever called me that name to the extent he forgot my real name, and would sometimes while ask me ‘what is your real name again’? One day, as President of the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia, I signed a press statement which was syndicated to the various media institutions. As editorial consultant at the Daily Observer, he ultimately saw the release and even made it published in the paper. So when we met, this was what the jovial old man had to tell me: “So you want to be the Ayatollah of Liberia; do you want to make Liberia an Islamic State’? And we both laughed about it. From that time till his passing, he never stopped calling me Ayatollah. Even in the classroom, he would call me Ayatollah. So on many other occasions, when I go around this old man, I tried listening to him to hear about his struggle as a journalist under repressive and authoritarian regimes in Liberia. One time, I passed by the Daily Observer office, and I asked to see him, just to joke, I was told he has not been coming due to sickness. This time he was eighty years old.

The next time I met him was in July 2010. I had accompanied Dr. Amos C. Sawyer to the launching of Mr. Kenneth Best’s book on Albert Porte. By the time we entered the hall, we met the old jovial Peabody, and this was what he had to say to Dr, Sawyer: ‘What is this Ayatollah doing here?’ Dr. Sawyer asked in return ‘who is Ayatollah?’ He said ‘this young man’, holding my hand, ‘he never writes anything except releases advocating for Muslims in Liberia, I am sure he wants Liberia to be an Islamic State’. We all laughed! Dr. Sawyer introduced me as his assistant. Peabody introduced me too, as his former student, and with compliments. I felt flattered by his compliments.

At that same occasion, I went back to the old man just to sit and listen to him. So I asked him for a copy of the book just to glance, he said he was doing a book review. This is a book of over three-hundred pages and this man at eighty was editing and writing newspaper articles everyday and at the same time doing a book review. His energy and penchant for writing beats my imagination; he never left the profession he loved so dearly. That taught me so many lessons. No wonder why he became a hero of journalism in Liberia.

From that time I did not talk to Peabody again, I only read his writings, and maybe once in a while saw him and just said hello until he finally stop going to the Daily Observer office. At last, while in Transit to Abuja at the Mutarla Muhammed International Airport in Lagos , Dr. Sawyer turned to me and said, ‘Ibrahim do you remember Stanton Peabody… he told me once you were his student’? I said ‘yes’, and in returned he said “well I am sorry, he died yesterday (referring to to Tuesday April 12, 2011), I just got an email on that news”. I became instantly dumbfounded.

So Peabody had died, but he left behind cadres of young and determined writers that he trained. He left behind lessons of courage that every journalist must learn to keep up the profession. Those of us who had not yet become practicing journalists, it is impossible for us to leave the media activities, particularly feature writings, because what we learned under this old man is too worthy enough that to be wasted. His passing is a sad thing for us on earth, but he was called, and It was God that called him, I am sure if he gets the equipments and time, he will practice journalism in heaven, because this was a profession he lived his life for. His passing is like the burning of a historical diary…what a loss to this country?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ivory Coast after Gbagbo: The Road to Peace and Security

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

After intense international political and diplomatic pressures, followed by sustained military operations by his opponents, Ivory Coast’s long time political icon and defiant strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, has met an unfortunate political end. Gbagbo’s calculations probably ended up in the negative quadrant of the plane. He allowed himself to end a long history of so many years of unrepentant Ivorian nationalism and ten-years of presidency in disparagement. As of his fall, historical verdicts shall emphasize more on the troubles he created in which thousands of his kinsmen died, millions forced to the harsh lives of refugees, and the debris he left his flourishing country in. After losing to a long time rival, Gbagbo sidestep all efforts at negotiation, hoping for a Kenyan, or Zimbabwean style government of inclusion. Gbagbo’s fall must now signal a strong warning to autocrats, that with the emerging consolidation of regional powers, strongmen can now lose weights.

But Gbagbo has gone. Is this the end of the troubles he created? Experience reminds us that the fall of a single person (president) does not necessarily solve problems of systemic governance failures, particularly when rooted in ethnic and sectarian cleavages. Just around Ivory Coast, in Liberia and Sierra Leone, strong men fell; but the negligence to do institutional and systemic reforms led to prolong crises and violent disorders. The new Ivorian project after Gbagbo must therefore learn from the pitfalls of the projects in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Even though there were rebels challenging the Jospeh Momoh’s All People’s Congress in Sierra Leone, his fall in 1992 constituted no guarantee to peace and stability. As we witnessed in the ten years that followed Sierra Leone was engulfed in a civil war characterized by terrible human tragedies and social breakdown. In Liberia, Samuel Doe was painted as the demon holding back the country’s progress, Liberians thought that the end of Doe would have stabilize the country, but Doe’s demise just 10 months after a rebel invasion proved to be a piecemeal of a huge trunk of catastrophe to unfold in the next 13 years. With these experiences, conflict and security analysts believe that Ivory Coast is yet impulsive and unpredictable. However, despite the trivialities and fragility of the situation, there are opportunities for transformation and renewal. First, the participation of the larger international community in the crisis demands its participation in the rebuilding process. The support of the international community will therefore hasten peacebuilding activities. A second opportunity is the desire of the Ouattara government to reunite and reconcile the country, as was declared in his first address after the arrest of Gbagbo. The French security engagement in Ivory Coast is also among several other opportunities that can be exploited to stabilize the country.

The greatest challenge the situation in Ivory Coast will face is in the prosecution of those persons and institutions who have committed gross human rights violations. This will put the Ouattara administration in a serious dilemma - to prosecute Gbagbo’s loyalist who unleashed terror on the people while protecting his (Gbagbo) strongman-hold to the presidency after his electoral defeat; and to submit for prosecution those of his (Ouattara) own loyalists whom in the process of getting him installed as the elected president committed mayhem against the Ivorian people. The ethnic violence that sprouted in the wake of the crisis will also pose a stiff challenge to the reconciliation process if efforts are not made to stop political persecutions.

The elections of 2010 signaled to us that both Ouattara and Gbagbo do not enjoy original support of a significant portion of the Ivorian masses. As a matter of first choice, only 32% percent of the Ivorian voters wants Ouattara as president, while only 38% wants the incumbent Gbagbo. It is clear that the country Ouattara has taken over, about 68% of its decision-making population originally marked against his candidature. Ouattara preference came only when the people, by law, were constrained to choose between him and Gbagbo. This time Ouattara got 54.1% while Gbagbo got 45.4%. Again, a sisgnificant portion of Ivorian voters constituting 45% disapproved Ouattara’s candidature. The above analysis is intended to make us understand that the two men do not enjoy the confidence of the people at first choice, there is therefore a huge challenge of convincing the Ivorian people. What then are the way forward for peace and stability after four month of chaotic struggle for the presidency?

Ivory Coast is geo-strategically positioned in West Africa, and its instability could spill over terribly, and remake a cycle of violence in the Mano River sub-region or beyond. We must be reminded of the spill-over effect of the Liberian civil war that has still not been substantially dealt with. Liberia’s fragile peacebuilidng process is getting overburdened by an influx of refugees from Ivory Coast. The threats are in human security, border porosity, and the mercenary trade Liberia’s postwar economy is exporting. The Ivorian project must therefore be well calculated from both within the country and in the larger international community. This article does not claim to be absolute solutions to the Ivorian crisis, neither an academic treatise, but its recommendations cannot be overemphasized as relevant elements to the peace and stability of Ivory Coast and the Mano River basin.

State Reconstruction: The state in Ivory Coast was approaching near failure. Empirical data from expert institutions will in the future tell us of the state of the Ivorian State amidst the 2010-2011 crisis over the presidency. But what is certain is that the Ivorian judiciary (Constitutional Council) was partially drawn into a political crises that has rendered its integrity and credibility muddy; and the parallel running of two governments spoke of a bloated, polarized and partisan-driven civil service. Both the judiciary and the civil service reforms must be at the heart of the state reconstruction project in Ivory Coast. Institutions of the state must be reconstructed that they may regain public confidence and efficient service delivery capacity. One of the challenges of postwar governments is in the management of the people’s expectations. Ouattara’s government will need strong state institutions that will be effective in public service delivery.

National Reconciliation and Justice: The 2010 election which was intended to reunite the country (North and South) ironically deepened the existing cleavages as a result of the crisis and violence that followed the elections. Rather than beginning with a process of a united government, the Ouattara Government will have a challenge not only in reconciling and uniting the North and South, but reconciling political and other ethnic cleavages that spawned in the aftermath of the elections. The Ivorian reconciliation and justice project is blessed to have lessons from Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Liberia, genuine reconciliation is yet to be achieved as politicians gamble with findings of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It would be important for a grassroot civil society movement to lead reconciliation and healing projects in Ivory Coast, while the international Criminal Court deal with issues of retributive justice for individuals who perpetrated mayhem against the population. Thanks to the Ouattara government for inviting the ICC to investigate the situation. As was indicated above, Ouattara’s dilemma will be in submitting some of his loyalists for prosecution, if indicted by the ICC. This was the case of Sierra Leone’s Tejan Kabbah when he had to submit his ally Chief Hinga Norman, leader of the Civil Defense Force (Karmajors) for prosecution. As part of the reconciliation process, Ouattara needs to appoint a prime minister of broader appeal from the professional, technocratic, or academic segments of the Ivorian society. His current prime minister may not appeal significantly to the people who supported the Gbagbo and who were victimized by the New Forces. Appointing someone of signicance acceptance among the majority of Ivorians will be critical to reuniting the people and running a credible government with popular legitimacy.

Disarmament and Security Sector Reform: Disarmament and Security Sector reform are very important in stabilizing and rebuilding violent-ridden societies. Security and political analysts are most often confronted with the questions of ‘who should be disarmed’ and ‘who should be recruited in the new security agencies’. The Ivorian case is not too different from the security systems polarization that took place in Liberia and Sierra Leone during their crises. There are slight differences though. In Ivory Coast, an elected president was rejected by the military forces, and supported by rebel forces. Careful Observations must therefore be given to security reform in Ivory Coast to avoid its further privatization and politicization. At this point it will help were the United Nations to assume full responsibility of the security systems in Ivory Coast. This will require the deployment of more troops and logistical and financial support to the UN Operations in Cote d’Ivoire. With the UN in charge, the New Forces, the Young Patriots, and the Army can go through a process of disarmament; demobilization and the moderate segment of the army go through a systematic process of reorientation.

Good Governance and Democratization: The 2010 elections in Ivory Coast and the crisis that ensued make it difficult to classify the state of Ivorian democracy. The results of the election as was announced by the Electoral Commission amidst insecurity and threats spoke of a credible electoral management body, and the machinations of the Constitutional Council exposed the weaknesses of democratic institutions in the country, which is characteristic of many African nations. A functional democratic government will contribute significantly to the stability of Ivory Coast after Gbagbo. The divided Ivorian media will have to be reoriented and given a free space to operate independently of partisan, regional and/or ethnic affiliations. A strong civil society must be supported to form part of the governance process, particularly in monitoring human rights, freedom of association and of the press. Democratic governance is now a foundational element of 21st development, and it is supported by broader participation of people at all tiers in decision making. The Ouattara government must ensure a significant decentralization of decision-making and promote a policy of mass participation, efficient service delivery and wealth distribution.

Finally, the road to peace and stability cannot be done in an isolated framework. The Mano River Union must play a greater role in following-up the process, particularly in enforcing sub-regional security. Security agencies in the border areas of the Mano River basin must be strengthened to protect civilians, deter invasions, and enforce peace in the sub-region. I end this with a reminder to leaders of the sub-region of my proposal for a sub-regional Mano River Peace and Security Council, and a joint paramilitary border patrol agency in the basin. These recommendations were sent to the Chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee of the Union, Hon. Amara Konneh, during the Union’s strategic planning session in Monrovia in 2010.