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The Clara Town Tragedy

By. Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh  

 

The community of Clara Town on Bushrod Island, between Freeport and Waterside – with the community of Gibraltar next door, has a special place in my heart.

Before I went to Sinoe County for mission schools in the early 70s, I spent a whole lot of time in that part of Monrovia visiting my mother who had just moved there from New Kru Town in the 1960s.

With vast swampland serving as a backdrop and a habitat for the area’s many endangered species, Clara Town became a destination for good times, a glittering nightlife, and football, courtesy of the community’s many leaders.

One of those leaders, the late PSJ (Peter Slewion Jlakloh), kept the place lively by mentoring kids and hosting his annual football tournaments, which allowed many impoverished kids to live their dreams.

Even though neighboring Gibraltar was too busy trying to be relevant as a community, Clara Town was often overshadowed by its larger than life nemeses, New Kru Town, whose own established social scenes and organized football stayed intact.

However, like others who moved to Clara Town during that period, my mother also moved there. Together with the rest of her family, friends, neighbors, and other Liberians, they lived happily – or they thought they were living happily until their lives, their hopes, their dreams and everything they worked so hard for were abruptly taken away by an executive order from the highest political authority of the land, President William V.S. Tubman.

Before his death in 1971 and according to news reports, it is believed that the dictatorial Liberian president who was a life long senior member of the United Methodist Church of Liberia signed an executive order to have Clara Town demolished.

That executive order, unfortunately, was carried out by the newly chosen and crowned President William R. Tolbert Jr., whose administration presided over and committed at the time one of the worst violations of human rights in the history of the Liberian nation.

Without any public or court hearings on the part of the Liberian government to show proof of ownership that the land actually belong to the United Methodist Church, the victims, who were never compensated financially or giving temporary housing were told to leave Clara Town.

The feeling of helplessness, and the idea that their government let them down proved fatal for some, and also traumatized many who experienced psychological problems through the years.

The pressure that emanated from the demolition of those homes in Clara Town was unbearable, and is believed by some to have also contributed perhaps to the untimely death of the young, dynamic and vibrant Bishop S. Trowen Nagbe.

However, with all the pains and injustice those people experienced during that time, the Liberian government did not care to investigate why those Liberians were treated in such a horrible way.

Another painful part about the tragedy is the fact that over three decades since the residents of Clara Town were uprooted from their homes by the state, the land remains empty, and the place a ghost town with no economic development.

So why did the government of Liberia rush to forcibly remove those people from their homes when the church was never in the position to turn the area into a vibrant and economically resourceful community that spurs growth and development?

Why didn’t the government hold hearings or appoint a commission at the time to study the land issue between the church and the residents of Clara Town before taking such draconian action against its own citizens?

Why demolished those homes without having a public hearing to prove ownership of the land? And why demolished the homes without compensating the residents, or without finding them housing?

This issue bodes on class warfare, injustice, the violation of liberties, hate and intolerance against poor people who couldn’t fend for themselves.

So far, it seems the abuse of human rights by the Government of Liberia against the former residents of Clara Town has been ignored, with not a single body – government or human rights’ groups questioning why Liberians were driven forcibly from their homes, and what can be done to compensate the former homeowners whose rights were violated?

With a land commission set up by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to address the prevailing land issue in Liberia, which often pits one Liberian citizen against the other (including President Sirleaf), who also found herself defending against a lawsuit brought on by a Liberian who believed she took the individual’s land, something has to be done to end this national crisis.

For Liberians to feel they are fully a part of the peace and rebuilding process, a commission must be appointed by President Sirleaf to investigate the Clara Town tragedy of the 1970s.

 

Category: Editorial, Featured Articles, News Headlines

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