Meeting the Stars
“ LIBERIA WILL RISE AGAIN ” – Public Works Minister
Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods says “Liberia is on an irreversible path of progress not because any individual likes it, not because any individual desires it, not because of the benevolence of any group of individuals, but because of the blood, the sweat and tears of Liberians that had been shed” for the West African nation.
Liberia went through a 14-year devastating civil crisis beginning in December 1989 when rebels of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front launched a cross-border attack from neighboring Ivory Coast. Aid agencies estimate that over 250,000 people died in the war that left the infrastructure of the country massively damaged. Taylor is now on war crimes trial in The Hague, the Netherlands, but for crimes he’s alleged to have committed against the people of Sierra Leone during that country’s brutal civil war.
Minister Woods said because of the price that had been paid by every Liberia and friends alike, Liberia is determined to rise again.
The Public Works Minister made the remarks in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, last week when he launched a book written by Liberia’s renowned photojournalist Gregory Stemn. The book, entitled, “ Liberia: When Darkness Falls”, relives the Liberian civil war in captivating images. The well-attended ceremony was held at the Emmanuel Temple of Hope Ministries, a Liberian church pastored by the Rev. Wilmot Dennis.
Minister Woods, who addressed his audience extemporaneously, said Liberians “have decided to enter a sacred covenant to ‘Study war no more, to invest in peace, to contribute and sustain the elements of development and justice,” adding that the book endeavor was a contribution to the path of progress Liberia has taken.
Speaking from two fronts – Use of our talents and What the souls (images) in the photos tell us, the outspoken official said, “Talent is no static, romantic character of individual; it’s divine, it’s what God gives us to give purpose and meaning to our lives in the communities in which we live.”
Unfortunately, he said, the book reflects how others use their talents “to pillage, to rape and to destroy, but it also manifests the triumph of the human spirit where another person uses it (talent) to contribute to the healing and reconciliation process of Liberia.”
Minister Woods, a human rights lawyer and activist, recalled working with Gregory in some of Liberia’s darkest days –like the Harbel massacre where they counted and buried over 600 bodies, “lifting up babies who were still sucking the dead mother’s breast.” He stated emphatically that “no way in small measure can we begin to reflect on that history of Carter Camp, or the massacre of Camp Johnson Road, or the destruction of lives and property and emasculation of people in Bomi Hills, but through the lens of Gregory.”
He said those of them who receive honor in the human rights world, those organizations who have been recognized and appreciated, “all of us owe a debt of gratitude to Gregory Stemn,” Woods paid homage amidst a prolonged applause.
Minister Woods reminded his fellow Liberians and friends of Liberia that when no one could speak, when on one could understand and appreciate the level of barbarity in Liberia, it took the lens of Gregory to bring to the world the images that compelled them to wake up and come to help Liberia.
He said Greg “challenged the indifference of a world that tended to lose interest in Liberia, a world that did not understanding that greed and naked power had consumed our country, that man inhumanity to man had overwhelmed us, that we have been engulfed with large measure of madness, women were being disemboweled,” adding, it took the lens of Greg and other Liberian journalists to tell the world that they have to come to our aid.”
Minister Woods said Liberian journalists are Liberia’s invisible heroes, but he expressed regrets that “in Liberia we don’t appreciate our heroes and heroines – we kill them; we destroy them, we demonize them to the extent that we demonize our own nation.”
He said in the midst of the envy, condemnation and vilification, Liberians must begin to understand, as they “condemn and crucify, the goodness of the human spirit, that there lies in each of us the capacity to do good; to help each other, and let us seize that moment of opportunity to use our talents not only to benefit ourselves, but to be able to contribute and give our lives meaning by helping others.”
The Public Works Minister, who understands Liberia’s reconstruction process, told his audience that a new nation is being born out of the ashes of war, but equally admonished Liberians that, either individually or collectively, they must give their best to their nation so that it can survive. “It is not about Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; it is not about Samuel Kofi Woods, it’s about our nation,” he averred.
Turning to the second point in his address – the souls of the photos – Minister Woods said the souls of the photos are directly linked to the soul of Liberia. “In those photos,” he said, “we see the agony in the eyes of children, the pain of our women, the abuse of the old and the elderly, massive destruction of our nation, but also in those souls,” he emphasized, “we should see the triumph of the Liberian nation.”
He said each Liberian in the audience “was connected to the souls in the photos, but yet you have been able to persevere, endure, reach this point and demonstrate that deep in the human spirit is a desire for justice and dignity. And so as we look at those photos we must focus on the possibility of the triumph of our nation” he noted,
Minister Woods went on to say that the souls of the photos tell Liberians that their country has abundant natural resources. “I was told a month ago that Liberia can be the largest diamond producing country in the world,” he disclosed, adding that the photos also “tell us that never again we must discriminate or marginalize any sector of the country, that reconciliation must mean a desire to mutually respect each other and to deliver justice to our country…that your desire to get rich and be powerful must not be at the expense of the blood and the sweat and tears of others.”
Isaac Bantu and John Saigbah
Minister Woods, who experienced some of the most difficult travel experiences to beat the time to attend the book-launching ceremony, said he came to Massachusetts not to launch a book, a but ‘a master piece of talent.” He joined former president of the Press Union of Liberia Isaac Bantu who in an earlier statement called on Liberian journalists in the Diaspora to learn from the fine examples of Gregory Stemn to stop launching attacks on each other on the Internet and engage into acts beneficial to themselves and their country.
Making a special presentation, Mr. Gregory Stemn, the author of “Liberia: When Darkness Falls”, presented an autographed copy of his book to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf through Mr. Woods, who also received a copy of the book as a goodwill gesture.
Mr. Stemn then called on the Liberian Government to establish a war remembrance museum on Liberia to which he has promised to donate all his works.
The ceremony was followed by elaborate refreshment in the church’s cafeteria, which was followed by a party-like reception at the residence of the President of the Liberian Community Associations in Massachusetts, Mrs. Yvonne Kamara.
Writes James Seitua
Secretary General, Mano River Media Forum
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