Abducted, Forcefully Conscripted, Trained to Kill, Mortally Wounded and Narrow Escape to Forge a New Life: A former Child Soldier’s Harrowing Account of Survival and Ultimate Redemption
By Moco McCaulay
The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade ferociously sliced through the air, shattering the calm of the humdrum morning. It was August 1990 and the town of Tubmanburg, in Bomi County, one of Liberia’s provincial districts, was under attack from the invading rebel forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), the defunct rebel army headed by Charles Taylor, who was recently convicted and sentenced to a 50-year jail term for “aiding and abetting” the commission of war crimes during the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Morlee Gugu Zawoo, Sr., who was just 15 years old at the time, along with his twin brother, Alex, and the rest of his family were hunkered down in their house as bullets and rocket-propelled grenades flew helter-skelter over their heads. Fearful and gasping from the suffocating uncertainty about the fate that awaited them, they stayed indoors all day and night, waiting for the fighting to subside.
By Moco McCaulay
Sometime around 2:00 pm on November 12, 1985, as Liberians were glued to their radios sets, the solemn droning of the country’s national anthem blared over the airwaves, a precursor to yet another announcement regarding the turbulent events unfolding on that day.
But this time around, to their utter astonishment, it was the President’s voice that crackled through their radio sets. President Samuel Doe announced that the putsch against his government had been squelched and that the military had retaken the main public radio station and was now in hot pursuit of those responsible for the attempt to topple his government.
During the wee hours of that day, Liberians had been jostled from their slumber by the spluttering sound of gunfire. And when they frantically turned on their radio sets to find out what was going on, they were greeted with the somber blaring of the country’s national anthem, followed by the voice of a man who introduced himself as General Thomas Quiwonkpa, the erstwhile Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
General Quiwonkpa announced that he and his band of insurgents had overthrown the government of President Doe who was now in hiding.
But, he assured his listeners that President Doe had no means of escape and would soon be captured.
By Moco McCaulay
It happened early that Tuesday morning on July 3, 1990.
Americans were preparing for the celebration of their 214th Independence Day Festivities; Germans were caught up in the euphoria of Deutsche Wiedervereinigung (German Reunification); and the rest of the world were glued to their TV sets watching the 1990 World Cup in Italy. In fact, on that same day, Italy and Argentina would go head to head in a semi final match, which ended in a penalty shootout, with Argentina edging the host Italy to advance to the finals.
For us, however, there was nothing to celebrate. The morning before, on July 2, our Paynesville neighborhood had been attacked by the rebel forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). We had spent the day and night hunkered down, as the crescendo of machine gun fire and artillery shelling violently ruptured the uneasy calm that had filled the days before the attack.
By Moco McCaulay
On March 14, human rights activists and especially victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo, celebrated the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) pronouncement of a guilty verdict on Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former Congolese warlord, for “the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities from 1 September 2002 to 13 August 2003.”
This was the first guilty verdict issued by the ICC and it has been hailed as a historic victory for international justice and especially as a warning notice to warlords everywhere that they will be held accountable by the international community for violations of war crimes committed by their rebel armies.
And now, the world awaits April 26 for the final verdict announcement by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the trial of Charles Taylor, former president of the Republic of Liberia, who has been charged with “11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of human rights” for his allege support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Sierra Leonean rebel group that waged an 11-year brutal civil war in that country. As I conjectured in an earlier article (Immovable Judgment Day: The Die Has Been Cast for Charles Taylor), all the signs seem to portend that Taylor too will be found guilty. And once again, human rights activists will celebrate how that verdict will go down as a watershed moment in the annals of international justice.