A Liberian journalist sifts through agonizing stories of the victims and perpetrators of 14 years of civil war in her country.
Kamara-Umunna was the host of a call-in radio program, Straight from the Heart, broadcast from the United Nations Mission in Liberia beginning in 2004, a year after civil war devastated Liberia. In fact, there were two wars, from 1989 to 1996, and 1999 to 2003, in which the rebel warlord Charles Taylor wrenched control of the country from the previous illegal military dictator, President Samuel Kanyon Doe, then unleashed his murderous child recruits to wreak genocide to the magnitude of 250,000 dead. The author’s job involved soliciting stories from victims as well as from the young perpetrators of violence and the warlords, to some controversy, “paving the way for a countrywide conversation” about the mayhem that would lead to the creation of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2005. Each chapter begins with a brief eyewitness account by one of the traumatized voices, involving children being captured, brutalized, drugged, forced to perform savage acts and random murder in order to terrorize villages and please their commanders. Notes one soldier: “This was a method our commanders used to make us brave...Human lives became valueless to us.” The bulk of the narrative involves Kamara-Umunna’s own story. Growing up in neighboring Sierra Leone, the daughter of a Liberian nurse and a Sierra Leonean doctor (although she was not apprised that he was her father until grade school), she got pregnant at a young age, curtailing her education; later she worked as a secretary at a Freetown radio station, mostly escaping the violence by remaining in Sierra Leone. Her eventual work collecting stories was remarkable and brave, especially convincing her editors and listeners that the stories of the young perpetrators should be heard, and forgiven.
A well-composed work that brings the Liberian conflict up uncomfortably close and personal.