Cyberspace: New frontlines for Liberian “war criminals”

A decade and half old brutal war that left nearly 300,000 dead and ruined whatever infrastructures left of the economic-deprived West African nation of Liberia, no doubt created deep mistrust and hatred between key war-actors and their victims now living abroad, mainly, the United States. Even though the bloodbath ended more than a decade ago, however, the war of words continues, this time not in Liberia itself, but in cyberspace.

“This battle was won militarily and will be won intellectually,” wrote Mr. Varfley Dolleh on the OLM Listserv social media (Jan. 25/14). Dolleh, a current Trenton, New Jersey resident who at the height of the conflicts served as ULIMO liaison officer and a special Aide to ex-warlord Alhaji G.V. Kromah, rallied his fellow Mandingoes in a “jihadist militant style” to join him fight their “enemies” which in this case, consisted of Liberians of other ethnic groups who criticized Dolleh’s disbanded rebel movement for carrying out extra-judicial killings of civilians trapped in the faction’s controlled territories during the civil war of the 90s.

Social media critics who spoke to this writer about “social ills” resulting from the war seemed to agree on one thing; that it can be very agonizing for people victimized by the conflicts to hold normal discussions with those they suspect somehow played key roles in the torture and murder of their relatives. “Even more tormenting is when such suspected ‘war criminals’ refuse flat-out to exhibit any sense of remorse for egregious acts they may have done to their victims but choose instead to abusively use social media to denigrate bully their victims’ relatives,” said one critic on condition of anonymity.

This is exactly the scenario that has played out in the Liberian diaspora community in the U.S. since last January after a Liberian owned internet radio programing known as Liberia Diaspora Forum (LDF) invited former ULIMO-K warlord Kromah, also a professor at the University of Liberia, to speak on contemporary “issues of national concern.” The present standoff is between two groups: one comprised of mostly Liberians with Mandingoe origin, who uncompromisingly proved to be die-hard supporters of Mr. Kromah, while the other consists of social activists and even journalists but belong to diverse ethnic groups of the country. The row particularly centered on the dubious roles one Varfley Dolleh and Alhaji Kromah played during the war. Kromah’s supporters are not at all feigning their patronage for the ex-warlord whose Mandingoe-dominated ULIMO-K forces according to the country’s TRC reports based on eyewitnesses, carried out some of the most gruesome massacres of civilians.

Warlord Kromah’s “fanatics” are unique in many ways.They have even endorsed titles like “Kromah’s fanatics,” and “self-appointed defenders” of Mandingoe people given them by fellow social media critics.  Most of all, scores appeared to be newcomers to social media and thus, barely care to observe simple social etiquettes, let alone States and US Federal regulations prohibiting the abuse of “internet usages.” Indeed, in several instances, Kromah’s “fanatics” have used foul languages against opponents, including females whose views differed from theirs. And that’s not all. The ULIMO-K “fanatics” have also turned to the use of downright malicious falsehood and character defamation against opponents as way to disrupt these “debates” or dissuade the other parties. Their opponents know them to be short-tempered and quick to turn combative when the circumstances do not dictate aggression. They often veer from topics under discussion and also threaten rivals with “death” and physical “harm” if the argument doesn’t go their way.

Social workers spoken to said, behaviors such as “short-temper,” frequent use of “foul languages” against women, “threats of bodily harm” as well as taking on “combative posture” amid normal exchanges as shown by “Kromah’s fanatics,” all point to the likelihood that some may have participated in active combat. Psychologists linked such traits to “militias” who may not have gone through proper counseling and demobilization process after the Liberia’s brutal ethnic war. They see a compelling correlation (between “fanatics and active combat), reasoning that some of Kromah’s “fanatics” may have possibly served as “child soldiers” in Kromah’s ULIMO-K rebel army some 21 years ago. It is obvious that many of those who now flock to social media claiming to be “intellectuals” were in fact “rebels” who may have committed heinous crimes during the war, observed, Massa Washington, former Liberia’s TRC commissioner, now a clinical therapist in Philadelphia. She categorized such group as “social misfits.”

WHEN THEY WERE TOGETHER-Mandingoes & Krahns: The above photo was captured by James Kokulo Fasuekoi hours after ULIMO fighters arrived to Po River August 24, 1992. Then, they were being celebrated as "heroes." Their "tribal-head-hunting" began soon after the rebel group broke up following intense inter-tribal warfare. The killing later spilled over to other innocent ethnic groups of the country. Photo copyrighted

WHEN THEY WERE TOGETHER-Mandingoes & Krahns: The above photo was captured by James Kokulo Fasuekoi hours after ULIMO fighters arrived to Po River August 24, 1992. Then, they were being celebrated as “heroes.” Their “tribal-head-hunting” began soon after the rebel group broke up following intense inter-tribal warfare. The killing later spilled over to other innocent ethnic groups of the country. Photo copyrighted

Mr. Kromah’s guerrillas, like those of other rebel factions that fought for state’s power often operated under the influence of drugs like marijuana and cocaine in the heat of the war and became accustomed to committing violent acts against women and children-these included the use of profanities, sexual violence, forced labors, beatings, and the holding of women as sexual slaves amid the terror. Long after the war ended, that authoritative spirit apparently stayed with them only to resurface in situations where they have disagreement with other parties.

Leading Kromah’s “fanatics” in the current cyber war is Mr. Dolleh, a man well known for his radical activities from school days, thus earning himself the nickname as “troublemaker.” Other hostile followers of Dolleh included: Vasekou Konneh (Pennsylvania); Manyou Bility (Milwaukee); Sekou Konneh (Minnesota); Faliku  Konneh (Pennsylvania); Obe Bamba (Minnesota); Mohamed Sherif of Pennsylvania, and one Jacob Kromah. Of the above named, Manyou Bility and Jacob Kromah may forever be remembered by social critics for their derisive comments directed at TRC’s commissioner, Washington.

Brief history of Varfley Dolleh & his roles in the war

Around 1995, Mr. Dolleh was sent to the national Transitional Legislative Assembly (TLA) on orders of ex-warlord Mr. Kromah, as ULIMO-K “Lofa” representative to that body for the sole purpose of protecting the faction’s social, cultural, political and religious interests. This power-sharing deal, (arrangement) was crafted by ECOWAS nations with the intent to appease Liberian warring factions so they could lay down their weapons, end the mayhem and let peace prevail.

A transitional regime led by Prof. David Kpamokpor was to play a referee role through disarmament. Like Mr. Kromah, Dolleh too is muslim, and so were 98% rebels who fought for the ULIMO-K after the movement’s split. Among Dolleh’s tasks in the House was to lobby and have his fellow legislators grant Muslim prayers alongside Christian devotions during its regular sections. If worked, this could be a breakthrough for Liberian muslims and the first of such event in over 200 years since the founding of this Negro Republic by free American Black slaves.

Unfortunately, Mr. Dolleh’s request was rejected by his “TLA colleagues” chiefly on grounds that Liberia was founded based on Christian principles. Secondly, Dolleh’s mannerism (act of insubordination at the TLA) largely played a key factor in the rejection of his “proposal.” Dolleh being the person he is, didn’t go in trying to win the favor of TLA members (made up of 95% or so Christians) but preached his “proposal” as a right which eventually led to the “bill’s” outright rejection  by the parliament. But things would not end there-Mr. Dolleh threatened to disrupt every proceeding so that nothing meaningful would go on in the House unless his “request” was granted.

Sure, Dolleh made his threat come to fruition during the weeks that followed, disrupting every legislative deliberation so much so that he was thrown out of the House’s chamber sections several times for disorderly conducts before being threatened with expulsion.

At the time of Dolleh’s standoff with the Liberian parliament, Dolleh’s rebel ULIMO-K faction controlled the country’s main gold and diamonds belt region called Weasua in Liberia’s Grand Cape Mount County and rumor abound there were inexorable efforts by the faction to bribe a considerable number of House members into backing Dolleh’s “demand” (proposal). There are reliable proofs that the ULIMO-K, like Taylor’s NPFL, which controlled the gold and diamond rich Western Liberia during the heat of the war, actively engaged in gold and diamonds mining there.

Irrefutable sources told journalists in Monrovia that profits from mining were used by Kromah’s ULIMO-K to purchase weapons for their war; arms used to carry out civilian massacres, and at the center of it all was Varfley Dolleh, a man who served in multiple capacities, a special confidant to warlord Kromah and ULIMO-K liaison officer.

At the height of the civil war in 1994, the “all powerful” aide to warlord Kromah, Varfley Dolleh intentionally put me down from a chartered small aircraft carrying a team of ULIMO-K’s “hand-picked journalists” headed to the troubled war-zone, Zorzor, Lofa County, via Guinea, to investigate reported ULIMO-K massacres of civilian women and children that belonged to the rival Lorma ethnic group. I was then Photo Editor for the independent local daily Inquirer and also Liberia-based photographer for The Associated Press in New York. Dolleh’s action was meant for a cover-up, aware that I am from the Lorma ethnic group that was affected by the killings.

Eventually, the entire trip ended in failure after the team arrived to Voinjama. The public was greatly disappointed as the over-publicized trip to Zorzor had reporters grounded in Voinjama, from where they had to return to Monrovia again through Guinea with excuses from Mr. Kromah and Dolleh that there was fighting taking place  in Zorzor, the scene of the reported massacres. See: http://www.theperspective.org/kromah_dolleh.html and http://www.theperspective.org/lofatragedy.html.

EX-WARLORD KROMAH: Former ULIMO-K guerrilla leader Alhaji G.V. Kromah backs his rebel group’s ruthless actions at mass meeting of ECOMOG African peacekeeping soldiers and fighters of both ULIMO-K and ULIMO-J, near the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Copyrighted photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

EX-WARLORD KROMAH: Former ULIMO-K guerrilla leader Alhaji G.V. Kromah backs his rebel group’s ruthless actions at mass meeting of ECOMOG African peacekeeping soldiers and fighters of both ULIMO-K and ULIMO-J, near the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Copyrighted photo by James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Mandingoes generally, including rebels of Kromah’s ULIMO are muslims (as stated earlier) while most members of the Lorma ethnic group are Christians with a small segment as atheists and traditional believers. Even so, the two have co-existed peacefully for centuries. However, intermittent fights between both ethnic groups are the result of religious and cultural differences, deeply rooted in Kromah’s ULIMO-K war in Lofa that targeted mainly Lormas and destroyed their Polor groves. Though they didn’t make it known till the war, most Lofa Mandingoes had always been contentious over certain Lorma cultural practices in towns where both groups lived. With such age old animosity existing among them in Lofa, the arming of “Mandingoes,” followed by their takeover of Lofa became a recipe for disaster. What even exacerbated this fragile atmosphere was the forming of the Lofa Defense Force by ethnic Lormas in order to halt the indiscriminate killings of their people by Kromah’s men, which led to several civilian massacres by ULIMO-K rebel forces in Lofa sometimes 1994-95.

Ex-warlord’s aide rallies supporters to fight on

“This battle was won militarily and will be won intellectually,” wrote Varfley Dolleh [Jan. 25/14], as the former college students’ activist called out to Liberian Mandingoes in a jihadist militant style to join him fight their “enemies.”

“Enemies”, in this sense, are Liberians from other ethnic backgrounds who express dissenting views toward warlord Kromah and the ULIMO-K’s extra-judicial killings of civilians who got trapped in their controlled areas. In calling for help to fight, he selectively used words and phrases like “elements of cowardice,” “our detractors,”  “our aggressors,” to describe his Liberian opponents mainly from Christian backgrounds, as he rallied loyalists to the former warlord to join him in fighting their perceived “enemies.” Dolleh’s description of their “perceived enemies” of Mandingoes is largely based on the ideologies of his boss, former warlord Kromah (as preached to their rebels during the war) who sees “the Mandingoe nation” as a distinct and separate from within Liberia’s borders.

“Those pseudo Mandingoes who want to show their hypocrisy most [must] go ahead but with the caveat that we will go after them at the appropriate time,” declared Mr. Dolleh in a Jan. 24, 2014 post. This warning was particularly directed at moderate Mandingoes like writer/author Nvasekie N. Konneh and Mr. Francis Duwana, a former Executive Mansion senior television journalist who had earlier intervened, urging Mr. Dolleh and his followers to exhibit a sense of civility.

In no time Mr. Dolleh’s hateful messages meant to incite youthful Mandingoes (many of whom have been programmed over the years into believing the rest of “Liberia” hate their tribe), reverberated via cyber network around the globe which in turn were beamed across the “Mandingoe nations” through dozen of social media, among them, “FELMAUSA,” the largest Mandingoe organization worldwide with branches in the U.S.

Dolleh also used this event to lash out at those (from within) he views as old “foes,” and described Mr. Duwana and Mr. Anthony Kesselly (both Mandingoes) as “traitors” and accused both men for joining “the side of our enemies” instead of supporting the Mandingoes- owned ULIMO-K movement.

Mr. Anthony Kesselly, a former University of Liberia students’ activist, is another moderate Mandingoe. He, together with Mr. Duwana, unlike many Mandingoes, had preferred to work for the country’s broad-based IGNU transitional government led by Dr. Amos Sawyer.

In one post of Sun, Jan 26, 2014, Varfley Dolleh derisively referred to his Liberian opponents from other ethnic backgrounds, as “monkeys.” “Monkeys is the label given to our enemies during the hey days of the war,” bragged this puppet of former warlord Kromah. Earlier on Jan. 14, 2014, the University of Liberia’s “Political Science” graduate had equated his faction’s misguided struggle for Mandingoes’ social and political equality in Liberia to that of South Africa’s Mendela‘s in total disregard to ULIMO-K’s unwarranted murders of armless civilian women, children and elderly people caught in their controlled areas.

“Our struggle was a just cause akin to that of the ANC of Nelson Mandela,” he wrote repeatedly Jan 14, in several of his posts as he urged his supporters to “Pls continue the fight.” “No heavenly blessing more than defending your people [Mandingoes].” “May the Omnipotent Allah reward all of our intellectuals brothers who stood the test of the moment,” the former ULIMO-K’s TLA (Transitional Legislative Assembly) representative, admonished his compatriots (Jan. 27, 2014) who had yielded to his call to fight.

Faction and ethnic fanaticism is so ingrained in Kromah’s loyalists that it has become a way of life for many of them irrespective of their “educational” and “leadership” roles in the community.  One Isiaka Sidibey, “president” of the Mandingoe Association in Texas, whose inauguration is expected March 15, 2014, couldn’t resist the temptation of joining Kromah’s fanatics. A suggestion by a moderate social commentator, Mr. Dennis Jah (Jan 16,) that Kromah’s fanatics should “Be able to make the distinction between a criticism of Mr. Kromah and that of the entire Mandingoe community,” prompted this swift respond from Mr. Sidibey. “You and your likes benightedly try to sweepingly throw in together our hero with your killers in order for us to join you in your guilty conscience…You insist on differentiating Alhaji Kromah issue from a Mandingoe issue as if ones body functions without its hearts.”

Even though Mr. Jah’s point is quite sagacious, that criticism of a former warlord like Mr. Kromah, whose forces committed heinous crimes against humanity must not be confused or seen as “attack” on all Mandingoes, still, one sees how judgmental Mr. Sidibey sounded by now accusing-placing Mr. Jah (himself, a victim of Taylor-Kromah’s war) among the “killers.” Mr. Jah is Grebo who was also affected by the brutal war and had to escape through rebel territories to get out of the country like many Liberians. But because he disagreed with the opinions of Mr. Sidibey and other Mandingoes over the categorization of Mr. Kromah as warlord, Sidibey and other followers brand him “enemy.” This is an example of the pointless trend these exchanges sometimes take with people like Sidibey, expected to know better, flaming the fire.

But as Mr. Jah rightly pointed out, “It is that notion [fanatical posture] that politicians ride on to exploit their tribal connections and pit heads against one another for their own political interest.” This is exactly the case with Mr. Dolleh, a failed “politician” who, like his boss Kromah, has not been able to acquire any elective post in the post-war nation due to his appalling war history.

Mind you, it is not only warlords from Mandingoe background this handful of Kromah’s “fanatics” go out to fight for. They will go as far to bully and verbally attack any distant person (persons from another ethnic or cultural background) found in a debate to be at longer head with any of their kinsmen. Distinguished personalities like former Liberia’s National Defense press officer, Col. Arthur B. Dennis and Dr. Joseph Gbaba, an outstanding Liberian playwright and former deputy Information Minister (both Krahns), have all suffered from such uncivilized behaviors by a group of “fanatics” like present “clique” within that community all for simply writing analytical featured articles which one way or the other tried to at least settle some “stereotype” questions regarding Liberian Mandingoes.

From all indications, it is fair to infer that this general atmosphere of suspicions held by Mandingoes derives from the negative publicity accorded other ethnic groups of the country by certain politicians and writers from Mandingoe backgrounds who think their counterparts of other ethnic groups “harbored” some type of “malice” against their tribe.

It’s a line that has long been pushed by people like Dolleh and Mr. Kromah and it was made worse by the advent of the war. As a result, every Mandingoe child growing up nowadays has the tendency to watch out for “enemies” of the “Mandingoes” even in times where there isn’t war; hence the reason why such notion is clearly exhibited in their writings and communications including those posted on the social media. For example, a young editor for the Quadu Gboni Mandingoe website, King Mohamed, recently posed this hypothetical question to readers: “Whose name is ever mentioned first by the detractors when there is a discussion about war crimes in Liberia besides Kromah?”

“It is our hero G.V. Kromah,” he retorted in a Jan 18, 2014, post. His statement was buttressed by comments from scores of Mandingoes, among them, this one from one Faliku: “Kromah will continue to be a hero for some of us…”

These re-echoed claims by many of their kinsmen, is based on the notion that “tribes like the Mano, Gio and Krahn go in defense of their former warlords during these debates,” therefore, “Mandingoes” ought to do the same. However, such claim isn’t entirely truth because, there were instances where social commentators criticized and even used derogatory remarks against former warlord now Nimba’s senator, Prince Y. Johnson. Yet, no Nimba person showed stiff resistance. And it is no different whenever negative comments are made by debaters (including Mandingoes themselves) against late Pres. Samuel Doe or Dr. George Boley, the former LPC rebel leader (a Krahn like Doe) who was jailed in the U.S. by immigration authorities before being deported to Liberia years ago over accusations that his rebel forces murdered civilians in southeast Liberia during the war. What is interesting about Dr. Boley’s situation is the fact that it was a southeasterner (like Boley) who initiated the campaign that eventually led to Boley’s deportation. Still, Nimbians and Grand Gedians have never complained of humiliation.

On the other hand, the situation is totally different in the case with ex-warlord Kromah, as rightly stated by Benjamin Arthurson in this Jan 18, 2014 post: “…almost all [everyone] knew that Prof. Kromah was based in the Washington D.C. area in Silver Spring, Maryland for years; but nobody ever heard of him being chased or covered negatively in the U.S. media. He lived in the U.S. capital area peacefully and returned home to Liberia at his own volition.” True, Mr. Kromah, after fleeing from rival Charles Taylor, domiciled in Silver Spring for years and didn’t encounter hindrance from neither the U.S. Government nor his Liberian neighbors who clearly knew his brutal war history. In spite all these facts, Mandingoes like “Kromah’s fanatics” are quick to accuse opponents on social media for allegedly harboring “hatred” against them.

But as Mr. Arthurson put it, “When compared with what Dr. Boley went through, it would not only be grossly inaccurate but also unfair to make the sort of erroneous allegations advance by Brother King Mohamed.” In any case, “Kromah’s fanatics” are the ones who have proven to be the “most intolerant” and true “tribal bigots” in these “debates” and not their opponents. But thankfully, the “views” and “aspirations” of this clique don’t in anyway represent those of Liberian Mandingoes in general as some continue to claim.

To be continued

Written by James Kukolu Fasuekoi, Minnesota, USA, boiyedu1@hotmail.com

Note:  James Kokulo Fasuekoi is a freelance (human rights) journalist and author of two documentary books on Liberia’s civil conflicts that devastated the entire country. A member of the Coalition for Justice in Liberia (CJL), he has occasionally made presentations on the human rights aspect of the civil war.  Known for his coverage of dangerous assignments, the award-winning photojournalist was able to travel to all corners of Liberia, from where he reported on combats between guerrillas from all of the country’s warring factions. His bravely even led him as far to Sierra Leone where he covered the traditional local hunters, (perhaps the world’s most intriguing rebel group) known as “Kamajors,” in their warfare against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a splinter of the NPFL led by Foday ‘Saybana’ Sankoh. When former Executing Mansion Guard Battalion commander late Gen. Charles Julue, seized the presidential palace September 1994, in a coup d’état during the transitional regime of Prof. David Kpormakpor, the fearless reporter, then stringer for The Associated Press, joined two other Inquirer reporters to brace the coup leader for interview at the seaside Mansion. But despite all the breakthroughs, Fasuekoi never felt happy being barred by circumstances from his hometown area, Zorzor, Lofa County, which became the scenes of numerous civilian massacres by certain factions. But what troubled him most after the conflicts ended was that “baggage” of “unforgiving spirit” he held onto against those he believed, murdered his family members due to tribal, cultural and religious factors. To get himself free from such “bondage” so he could once more live normal life, Fasuekoi had to do something; that’s when he decided to turn to JESUS CHRIST. Having read the followings in Romans 12:14-19, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” “Repay no one evil for evil,” “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord,” his spirit became uplifted and in no time, he met his “adversaries” and made peace in the name of the LORD. Though he was able to finally forgive the “killers” of his people, he feels it is healthy for both “war actors” and their “war victims” to discuss the war that killed an estimated 300,000 people. Contrary to assertion by some key war-players that discussing or writing about the war could lead to another “upheaval,” Fasuekoi believes true reconciliation and healing will only come when both parties talk; with victims possibly venting and confronting those who hurt them. At the same time, according to him, Liberian war-victims must not be allowed to suffer twice at the hands of their former tormentors. If need be, he points out, every effort must be exerted by well-meaning people to not only expose but bring before the U.S. Justice System, former key war players and their associates who take pleasure in engaging in falsehood, character defamation and bullying against their victims. It’s based on this spirit that he wrote this series.

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