There is a cultural revolution gradually taking place in Liberia and it is being spearheaded by Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) under the direction of its Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Joe Gbaba, and DATI’s management and Board of Directors.
Recently, DATI launched its National Peace and Reconciliation and Cultural Awareness Campaign through the performing and visual arts in Liberia, with the formation of two DATI Chapters in Monrovia, Montserrado and in Cape Palmas, Maryland Counties.
The purpose of DATI’s Peace and Reconciliation and Cultural Awareness Campaign is to train Liberian youth to serve as Peace Advocates in their communities and neighborhoods, and to secure the fragile peace in Liberia when they complete their training. They will use different art forms to promote peace and reconciliation throughout Liberia through dance, music, theatre, and literacy.
Another purpose for which DATI launched its National Peace and Reconciliation and Cultural Awareness Campaign in Liberia early this year is to empower Liberian youth to become peacebuilders that will be instrumental in the advocacy of nonviolence and dialogue to maintain the fragile peace in Liberia. Also, DATI reached out to the youth of Liberia to prevent the recruitment of Liberian youth for combat or violence-prone purposes because many of them were used as child soldiers during the Liberian Genocide.
As a result, most of them were deprived access to equality of efficient educational opportunities throughout most of their lives. Some of these deficiencies were caused because many teachers were killed, schools were closed during periods of hostilities and many families were displaced and fled into exile against their will. Sometimes Liberian refugee children did not attend school for four to five consecutive years due to migration from one country to another and/or because of internal displacement in Liberia during periods of hostilities.
For these reasons, DATI management reached out to a group of conscientious youth leaders in Monrovia, the capital City of Liberia, and introduced the idea of establishing DATI branches or chapters in Liberia.
This was done in fulfillment of DATI’s goal to promote Liberian and African culture and global peace not only in Liberia but here in the United States where DATI has also embarked on a nonviolence campaign in the City of Philadelphia.
The following passage also verifies the cogent need to actively engage Liberian youth in the Liberian peace process by using the history and culture of Liberia as a driving force to implement peace and reconciliation among post genocide Liberian citizens and foreign residents in Liberia.
Rationale for the DATI Peace and Reconciliation and Cultural Awareness Campaign in Liberia
In 1989 a rebel incursion was launched from the Ivory Coast by dissident Liberian politicians under the banner of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Their initially declared intent was to overthrow the regime of Samuel Kanyon Doe. Subsequently, what was supposed to be an attempt to oust Doe culminated to a genocide that claimed the lives of over two hundred and fifty thousand people.
Fortunately, West African leaders formed a peace monitoring group called (ECOMOG) that brought more than fourteen years of atrocities and mayhem to a halt with aid from the United Nations, the United States, and the international community. However, now that foreign peacekeeping troops have been withdrawn from Liberia, the responsibility of peacebuilding and peacekeeping falls on the shoulders of all Liberians.
Thus, the inauguration of the DATI Peace and Reconciliation and Cultural Awareness Campaign is indeed timely and much needed, especially as it is geared toward actively engaging Liberian youth to serve as Peace Advocates in their communities and neighborhoods after the completion of their two-month intensive peace education and cultural awareness training. Another reason the youth of Liberia have been targeted for this program is because they are vulnerable and most of them were forcibly conscripted by Liberian rebel leaders and politicians to serve as child soldiers and combatants during the Liberian Genocide. “Therefore, it is necessary to be proactive this time around by engaging Liberian youth to stand up for peace and justice so that their future can be secured” Dr. Gbaba remarked.
Formation of DATI Chapters in Liberia
The formation of DATI chapters in Liberia began in January 2019. Those who pioneered the establishment of DATI branches in Liberia include DATI’s Country Representative Roland Yowah, Central Region Director Hillaryson Soe, Secretary General Statesman Albert T. Ninneh, Jr., Montserrado and Grand Bassa County Director Henry Garjay Brumskine, and Assistant County Director for Administration,
Ali Tuweh. Currently there are about twenty-five registered DATI members in the Montserrado Chapter and almost all of them are college materials attending various universities in Monrovia.
A similar outreach gesture was extended to youth at Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County through Rabbi Gbaba’s former student and DATI’s Regional Director for Southeastern Liberia, Mr. Jerry Mwagbe. He is a professor at Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County, Liberia. Mr. Mwagbe was assisted by student leader Meshach Sie Elliott who serves as DATI’s Director for Maryland County. Now, there are about thirty-five registered members of DATI in Maryland County.
The participants are undergoing a rigorous two-month training in conflict resolution from the Liberian cultural and historical approach. Participants have an
opportunity to interact with Dr. Gbaba via satellite and engage in active dialogue regarding some of the underpinnings that caused the Liberian Genocide. Peace Advocate candidates also write papers on various topics regarding peace education and get regular feedbacks from Professor Gbaba.
DATI Maryland Chapter
Liberian Youth Overwhelmingly Support DATI’s Peace Advocate Program
Due to its timeliness and relevance to the current situation in Liberia, Liberian youth are overwhelmingly supporting the program. What is also very interesting to note about DATI’s Peace and Reconciliation and Cultural Awareness Campaign is that participants are making huge sacrifices on their own based on their conviction the program will benefit all Liberians.
For an example, students in the program purchase data for their phones to enable them to attend the online class.
They take care of transportation and other logistics such as printing and the use of internet services on their own in Liberia. This is very costly, but the participants are upbeat about serving their country and they are excited to give back to Mama Liberia.
Besides, DATI’s volunteers spend a lot of time outside of their busy class schedules to do and submit their assignments on time to Dr. Gbaba via internet services.
Most of the participants do their assignments at local cafes in Liberia. Thus, this exemplifies the seriousness Liberian youth attach to the maintenance of peace and reconciliation in post genocide Liberian society to prevent their being used as stooges to put Liberian politicians and warlords in power in the future.
Promotion of Quality and Culturally Relevant Education in Liberia
Another good quality and intent of DATI’s project is to promote quality and culturally relevant education in Liberia. The program is also designed to engender good scholarship among Liberian youth through the DATI curriculum that provides trainees lessons on the history and culture of Liberia, teaches them reading, writing, and speech skills, and provides training to improve their
people skills so that they may effectively serve in their capacity as Peace Advocates. The project also provides an avenue to assess participants’ academic skills. Overall, assessment from participants’ paperwork thus far reflects a need for a more structured culturally relevant and efficient educational system. However, DATI’s volunteers have exhibited a high degree of resilience and brilliance in their academic performance and demeanor, which is very commendable for post-genocide youth.
Further, most of the participants were born during the war. They were deprived the opportunity to grow up as children. They missed out on some fundamental lessons and subject matters in the curriculum as a result of the constant closure of schools during the war and due to brain drain in Liberia. Yet, their spirits are high when it comes to their quest to seek knowledge.
They are also determined to make up for what they lost along the way.
In fact, there are more youth who would like to participate in the training than the current capacity of the program can accommodate.
This is because most Liberian youth born during the war have realized the importance of self-knowledge. Most of them have not read in-depth about the history of Liberia, let alone having the opportunity to learn about their diverse and rich cultural heritage.
The reason for this is because the national curriculum of Liberia does not
provide this kind of information for Liberian students. Hence, generations of Liberians were and are still deprived knowledge about Liberia. Rather, Liberian pupils are mainly taught western history and philosophy that have no relevance to their culture and history. Consequently, this has trickled into breeding generations of Liberian citizens who lack self-knowledge and love for their country as exhibited through the destruction of lives and properties over the past forty years.
Despite all these shortcomings, DATI’s Peace Advocate trainees are very determined to learn more about their culture and history and they are willing to serve Liberia as volunteers and patriots. An additional reason such a program is timely is because over the past forty years there have been political upheavals in Liberia and consequently, Liberian youth have been most vulnerable and victimized by decisions made by Liberian politicians, warlords, and economic saboteurs.
The following passage provides a bird’s eye view of events that trended during the past forty years in Liberia to verify the timeliness and necessity for such a vital civic and peace education program in Liberia.
Forty Years of Political Upheavals
Liberia has undergone numerous political upheavals over the past forty years (1979-2019). The April 14, 1979 Rice Riot marked the beginning of the forty-year political and social upheavals in Liberia. The Rice Riot was the result of Bacchus Matthews’ Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) initially planned peaceful protest that turned violent. During the demonstration organized to protest the increase in the price of a forty-pound bag of parboiled rice, many protesters-turnedlooters lost their lives. Some protesters were injured and many properties were damaged.
The security situation in Liberia was so tense that President Tolbert requested the military intervention of the Republic of Guinea. Subsequently, President Ahmed Sekou Toure sent troops to guard the Executive Mansion. Many Liberians disdained President Tolbert’s decision on grounds that Liberia’s sovereignty was breached with the presence of foreign troops intervening in an internal crisis.
The following year, April 12, 1980, a military coup was staged by foreign ‘invisible hands’, using non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to do the dirty work. During that time, it was believed that the AFL single-handedly orchestrated the military coup but nowadays Liberians have realized there are many circumstantial evidences to prove President Tolbert was the victim of his own foreign policy. Further, it is now no hidden secret that his demise was partly due to his support for Pan African philosophy: self-reliance, solidarity with
Africans that were seeking independence from their colonial masters, his support of the Non-Align Movement, and his prominence as a worldwide Baptist clergy, among others.
However, what happened on April 12, 1980 was very historic in that after one hundred and thirty-three years of Settlers’ rule, the first Indigenous Liberian became Head of State of Liberia.
His name was Samuel Kanyon Doe, a Krahn citizen from Grand Gedeh County in Eastern Liberia. The Krahns are members of the Kwa linguistic cluster from Southeastern Liberia. The Kwa speaking peoples of Liberia include Krahn, Grebo, Kru, Bassa, Deiweion, and the Belleh people who live in the northwestern region of Liberia.
Nine years after Doe came to power Liberian dissidents residing abroad under the banner of the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL) and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched a rebel incursion through the Ivory Coast and Butuo, Nimba County, Liberia, on December 24, 1989. The consequences of the bloody civil war culminated to genocide with the loss of over a quarter million human lives and the destruction of the entire infrastructure of Liberia.
The most vulnerable victims of the Liberian Genocide were the youth of Liberia, innocent children ages eight and up that were forcibly conscripted and used as child soldiers. Most of them were maimed and killed. A huge population of Liberia’s current electorates were born and lived through hostile decades of human carnage, and neglect, and most of them were orphaned. This is the background from which DATI’s Peace Advocate program was birthed.
DATI’s June 21st, 2019 Community Engagement Event in Philadelphia
DATI will host a community engagement event on June 21st, at the Myers Recreation Center, 5801 Kingsessiong Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19143, from 6-8 p.m. Admissions is free. During the community event there will be a display of traditional Liberian folk storytelling performed by Ms. Saigay Sheriff. She will be completing one year of training as an apprentice to Dr. Joe Gbaba in fulfillment of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) Traditional Folk and Apprenticeship Grant awarded Dr. Gbaba and Saigay in 2018. There will also be a dramatic skit entitled “Storms of Violence” which promotes gun and domestic violence prevention in Philadelphia.