(Written September 2012)
By D KaihennehSengbeh
Partial view of the UN Headquarters where the event took place
I was very thrilled Friday (September, 21) when I participated in the official observance of the International Day of Peace at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
I followed the activities with inquisitiveness and penetrating eyes, especially when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, right before me, rang the Peace Bell, followed by the President of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremić, after each made brief statements.
The UN Chorus then rendered a lovely “peace” song, before beautiful white doves were released into the sunny skies—flying high above the UN headquarters—to carry the messages of peace throughout the world: to Sudan, Syria, Congo, Yemen, Cote d’Ivoire and, of course, Liberia and other violent conflict-choked regions.
The International Day of Peace, sometimes unofficially known as World Peace Day, is observed annually on 21 September since the last 21 years. It is dedicated to peace, and specifically the absence of war and violence, such as might be occasioned by a temporary ceasefire in a combat zone for humanitarian aid access. The day was first celebrated in 1982, and is kept by many nations, political groups, military groups, and peoples, including my native Liberia.
To inaugurate the day, the “Peace Bell” is traditionally rung at UN Headquarters (in New York City). The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents except Africa, and was a gift from the United Nations Association of Japan, as “a reminder of the human cost of war”; the inscription on its side reads, “Long live absolute world peace”, according to research.The theme for this year’s celebration was“Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future”.
What touched me most and impelled me to write this piece was the highlighting and participation of Liberia during the official program in New York, where several speeches calling for a peaceful world were made.
On large TV screens in New York, we saw a group of young Liberian students selected from six universities—a representation of the Liberian youth—to actively participate in the program from the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
The 20 young Liberians, through technology, actively participated in the event, performing live drama, asking and answering questions as did their brothers and sisters from South Sudan—the two countries featured in this year’s commemoration. Youths of the two African countries waved back when we waved to them, and clapped their hands at the end of each statement just as we did on this other side of the world. It was really fantastic.
The Liberian youth, in their drama, demonstrated the need for leaders to wisely use state resources for the benefit of all if societies must remain stable, peaceful and developed. They tried to explain that if the resources in countries are used to educate citizens, construct better roads, build healthcare institutions and provide electricity and pipe borne water, there would not be need for violent conflicts, as everyone would be enjoying the national cake rather than a handful few at the scathing detriment of the masses.
The theme of the message in the drama was strongly built in the statement of the UN chief when he said: “Natural resources should be used for the benefit of society, not to finance wars,” he stated. “Children should be in school, not recruited as soldiers. National budgets should focus on people’s needs, not deadly weapons.”
Mr. Ban said “in this tense global climate, we need a message of tolerance, dialogue, cooperation and harmony to resonate across the world.”
“The United Nations works for sustainable peace across the world,” Mr. Ban said. “We strive to prevent conflicts before they erupt – to resolve disputes through peaceful means – and to help people build the foundations of lasting peace.”
“Today,” he went on,“we must ring the peace bell with extra force and conviction. We need its beautiful sound to be heard above the voices of discord and extremism that have sparked violence in recent days.”
The UN chief, among others, highlighted two of the most concerning aspects of recent conflicts, the use of child soldiers to fight them and the unlawful mining of so-called blood diamonds and other natural resources to finance them.
“Natural resources should be used for the benefit of society, not to finance wars” and that “children should be in school, not recruited as soldiers. National budgets should focus on people’s needs, not deadly weapons.”
The UN currently deploys close to 120,000 peacekeepers – in military, police and civilian capacities – in 16 peace operations around the world including Liberia since 2003.
The fact that Liberia was one of the two countries featured during this year’s celebration in New York rings a bell that Liberia has come a long way and the world is watching it. Its success story is being used as reference of a successful post conflict society, and that’s great.
That’s why I strongly feel that if no other country on Earth could have celebrated the International Day of Peace, it couldn’t have been Liberia.Why? Only nine years ago, nobody in Liberia knew peace. Even the unborn in their mothers’ wombs knew the country was facing one of the most catastrophic civil wars in the world.
Blood and deadly scenes filled international television screens; the country turned unruly—into a pariah or failed state. Dead bodies littered the streets and communities while women and children and the elderly faced the burnt. Starvation, malnutrition, water borne diseases and madness ruled that land. No, there was nothing called “peace” in the Liberian dictionary.
Today, however, many of us have forgotten those deadly gruesome scenes and period as we now enjoy peace and stability for the past several years, after the United Nations and the rest of the international community intervened
Other nationalities lost their lives, wasted their blood and/or resources to give peace a chance in Liberia. Taxpayers’ monies from other countries have been spent in putting back the broken pieces for the last eight to nine years. The country is being rebuilt, taking different shapes, and the prospect looks bright, especially if this journey continues.
It doesn’t, in my clear thought, mean that these countries and the UN do not have places to use these resources. However, they want to see Liberia and Liberians become a peaceful place and people once more, realizing that a peace-threatened Liberia is equivalent to a peace-threated sub-region, and world in general, taking into consideration that the world has become a more single-body than ever before. What affects Armenia affects Zimbabwe.
The message and lesson here are that Liberians need to lift up their heads high and build on the successes of the past years so that they continue to enjoy peace and stability. They must solve their problems andresolve their differences through peaceful dialogues and never think of using those red-hot bullets to settle disputes.