Liberian war­lord ‘re­birth’ tests Liberia’s for­give­ness Killer turned preacher seeks fund for char­ity

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Every­one likes a good re­demp­tion story, and there are few more re­mark­able than that of no­to­ri­ous Liberian war­lord “Gen­eral Butt Naked”, who re­pented of his atroc­i­ties and be­came a preacher. The “gen­eral”, who earned his nom de guerre from fight­ing street bat­tles naked dur­ing Liberia’s 14-year civil war, killed or mu­ti­lated thou­sands of peo­ple - some­times by his own hand, other times us­ing his army of mostly child sol­diers.

After rebels ousted his foe, ex-pres­i­dent Charles Taylor, in 2003 and peace re­turned to Liberia, the gen­eral begged for for­give­ness-and quickly found that the charis­matic per­son­al­ity that made him a nat­u­ral rebel com­man­der was well suited to preach­ing. So while Taylor does time for war crimes, Joshua Mil­ton Blahyi, 45, has re­mod­eled him­self as a pop­u­lar street pas­tor- a quick, and of­ten fi­nan­cially lu­cra­tive, way to gain re­spect in West Africa.

Now Blahyi wants fund­ing for a char­ity that he says is train­ing for­mer child sol­diers and drug ad­dicts in farm­ing and con­struc­tion-spurring mixed feel­ings among Liberi­ans, some of whom ques­tion whether he isn’t do­ing it all for the no­to­ri­ety. “When I got con­verted, I tried to show how sorry I was and how I can give back to the so­ci­ety. I tried to go after my kind, the most dan­ger­ous guys,” said the burly and deep-voiced Blahyi, who bris­tles at sug­ges­tions his mo­tives may not be sincere.

“The coun­try we de­stroyed is the coun­try we want to re­build.” His Jour­neys Against Vi­o­lence NGO has, he says, trained about 1,000 for­mer com­bat­ants and street kids in ac­tiv­i­ties such as farm­ing and brick­lay­ing since 2007, but has been ham­pered by a lack of funds. At his train­ing camp in a sub­urb of the cap­i­tal Monrovia, lush veg­e­ta­tion threat­ens to over­run half-built houses aban­doned for want of funds. Blahyi says he is ap­peal­ing to donors to sup­port him and is ask­ing for half a mil­lion dol­lars to com­plete the units and carry out farm­ing pro­grams.

Liberi­ans were re­mark­ably for­giv­ing of the war’s atroc­i­ties. Blahyi got hugs on the streets of Monrovia after be­ing the first war­lord to ap­proach the post-war Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) in 2008, where he ad­mit­ted to killing 20,000 peo­ple. He was then rec­om­mended for amnesty. His pub­lic apol­ogy also shot him to fame. News­pa­pers ran sto­ries on him, one doc­u­men­tary got 10 mil­lion views, and a par­ody vil­lain was named after him in the hit Broad­way mu­si­cal com­edy The Book of Mor­mon.

“I do want it to be writ­ten down in his­tory that I ... went to the TRC and also faced the court,” he said. Luke Bar­ren, an ex-com­bat­ant, says he has found work as a ma­son thanks to Blahyi’s NGO. “We have come here to do some­thing good for our­selves. Sleep­ing on the streets and do­ing bad things to other peo­ple is not nec­es­sary,” said Bar­ren. But some in Monrovia, a city that was re­peat­edly at­tacked dur­ing Liberia’s civil war years, are not con­vinced. “This is aimed at get­ting at­ten­tion for peo­ple to have sym­pa­thy for him,” said univer­sity stu­dent Wil­liam Dick­er­son. “His state­ments are not se­ri­ous.”

James Ren­nie, a 28-year-old taxi driver whose grand­fa­ther was shot dead by Blahyi at a road­side check­point, ex­pressed doubts about his re­demp­tion. “I’ve been hear­ing that Butt Naked is a pas­tor, but for me he is not a real pas­tor,” said Ren­nie. “Un­less I see my grand­fa­ther, I will never for­give Butt Naked.” How­ever the au­thor­i­ties, at least, seem will­ing to give him a chance. “If it’s in­tended to help young peo­ple, I think it is com­mend­able,” na­tional hu­man rights com­mis­sion head James Torh told Reuters. “We should en­cour­age him to con­tinue.” —Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.