11 Questions: Nvesekie N. Konneh, Writer
Konneh, a veteran with nine years experience in the American navy is looking ahead to his forth coming book: “The Land of My Father’s Birth.” The Liberian Listener spoke to him recently.
1. There is great anticipation for your forth coming book, why the book now?
The Liberian civil war affected all Liberians one way or the other. The war had political, religious and ethnic dimensions. So the book is a narrative of how I experienced the war and how I interpret that experience. I am sure my experience, where I went and what I saw may be or may not be similar to those of others. One way or the other, we have to tell our stories of the war so they will serve as permanent reminder for feature generation of what we went through individually or collectively.
2. Not to let the cat out of the bag, what themes are being explored?
The book explores the theme of ethnic and religious diversity both in and beyond Liberia. This is very important in a country where war was fought with ethnic and religious dimensions. At the end of the day we all have to come to term with the fact that we are all here together in the same boat and we can either sail calmly to everyone’s benefit or sink to everyone’s peril.
3. Besides “The Land of My Father’s Birth,” what else have you written?
Over the years I have published extensively in newspapers in Liberia as well as various websites. In 2003, I published my first book of poetry, “Going to War for America” with the theme of war, peace and love. In this book there are poems about war, peace, reconciliation and love. There are poems about my Liberian experience as well as my experience in the US navy in which I served for nine years, serving on two war ships, USS Detroit and USS Eisenhower. Beside the current project, “The Land of My Father’s Birth,” I have several other manuscripts. One of such is “The Liberian Voices.” This is a collection of book reviews and interviews I have conducted over the years with some contemporary Liberian writers such as Prof. K. Moses Nagbe, Dr. Patricia J. Wesley, Wayetu Moore, Dr. Boima Fahnbulleh, Vamba Sherif and others. There is another book of poetry, “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Together.” I also have the manuscripts for two children books, “Saye Musa Goes to Monrovia” and “16 Ways to Say Good Morning in Liberia.”
4. Liberian writers are hardly recognized in the Liberian society for their works, why?
There may be many reasons why. Among them will be that Liberia does not have a well developed literary and reading culture; no publishing house that publishes books and seeks readers’ attention in the market place. The media is saturated with politics and no space for creative arts and cultural expression. There is no literary prize that will fuel competition among writers to come out with the best novels, anthology of poetry or short stories. So what you have in the absence of all these are individuals struggling on their own to publish here and there and not enough budget to mount the kind of promotional campaign that will create awareness about the works and their values to society. Nevertheless, I am very optimistic that the future holds bright because there are many Liberians now than ever before who are writing and one way or the other Liberians will come to appreciate that literary materials produced by Liberians should be taught in schools. When this large body of literature is introduced to students in our class rooms they will come to appreciate their culture and traditions and demand more. And if I must add, despite all of these factors, Bai T. Moore and Wilton Sankawulo succeeded because their books are required readings in our school systems. At this time our reading list of works done by Liberian writers should expand to include contemporary Liberian writers.
5. What must be done to lift the endowments in the country?
This can be done individually, collectively as well as through government initiative. In many countries where arts and culture are contributing meaningfully to national development, governments have set up endowment funds. In the US for example, there is something called National Endowment for the Arts. In delivering the July 2012 national oration, Dr. Elwood Dunn made a bold recommendation. He called for the setting up of a Liberian national endowment fund for the arts which he believes will contribute to Liberia’s development and progress. One way to this objective is for the government to re-establish the National Bureau of Arts and Culture which should manage such endowment funds and oversee the promotion of Liberian arts and culture. Some days I hope we will get there.
6. What do you expect by publishing this book?
This book covers lots of new territories that have not been part of our national conversation in the past and as such I expect it to generate some conversations around those issues. If it succeeds in doing that I will feel like a mission has been accomplished.
7. How is the reconciliation between the people of Nimba and Grand Gedeh going?
Nimba and Grand Gedeh are moving on beyond the years of war. I think what happened is history now. I think the fight was more about political power with Grand Gedeh fighting to maintain political power and Nimba fighting to wrestle political power. In the process lots of other people were victimized including lots of innocent people on both sides. The only challenging problem in Nimba County now is the land dispute between the Manos and Gios on one hand and the Mandingoes on the other hand that have proven to be very intractable in post war Liberia and this may be because the government of President Sirleaf has not demonstrated any real commitment in resolving the issue. She has set up several committees to deal with the issue and each time the committees have reported their findings and recommended solutions but the president has not demonstrated the political will to resolve the land dispute in that county.
8. Are you satisfied with the progress?
Yes, if you mean the relation between Nimba and Grand Gedeh in post war Liberia. With respect to the land dispute between the tribes mentioned above I am not satisfied with the government’s handling of the situation.
9. What do you think about the current charge of nepotism brought against President Sirleaf?
Her children are Liberians and if they are qualified and want to work in their own country just like any other Liberian, I don’t see why not. I don’t know if there’s any law in the country that says the president’s children cannot seek employment in the country. I will call it nepotism if all the positions in the country were filled by her children and other relatives at the expense of other qualified citizens.
10. Do you think she should be impeached?
No. Let her complete her second term. For once we must have some closure to the crisis and wars of the past years. We can’t be in perpetual crisis mode and changing leaders in response to such crisis. I will prefer Ellen to complete her term and let us judge her on her accomplishments. She will be the second longest serving Liberian president after President William VS Tubman and the question is what kind of Liberia she will transfer over to her successor, whoever that be? At the end of her second term when she would have spent 12 unbroken years in power, let see where Liberia will be. Will her accomplishments in 12 years commensurate with her lion-sized image nationally and internationally? I am sure she cares about her legacy. This will be defined by what kind of Liberia she will leave behind. Will we be in the same place we were before the war or before she became president? I am talking about poor road condition leaving vast portion of the country inaccessible; our people living in perpetual darkness throughout the country; unemployment at 85%. That’s what Liberia has been through, with all the past presidents. While past presidents can find convenient excuses for not being able to complete their terms, Ellen shall have none of that after her second term. So for once let’s have some sense of normal transition that can only be when Ellen peacefully transfers power to her successor through a transparent democratic process.
11. Anything you would like to add that was left out?
For a country that has gone through such a prolonged period of war, now must be our period of national renewal politically, economically and socially. This message should loudly be propounded by Liberian creative class in their narratives, poetry, music, films, and drama as well through visual arts. No longer should we allow ourselves to be bystanders thereby leaving the stage to only politicians to manipulate and mislead the society. As a writer, cultural and community activist, I come on with a strong sense of mission. I have demonstrated this over the years since 1992 when I started publishing poems and articles in local Liberian newspapers. Over the years we have built large following through our writings with this message of national renewal. That’s why there is such great anticipation for my forth coming book, “The Land of My Father’s Birth.”
Pic: NnVASEKIE N. KONNEH