By Moco Maccaulay
“STARING AT DEATH: A MEMORIAL TO WILLIAM WEAH” is our latest post paying tribute to a young Liberian student who was summarily executed on a roadside 25 years ago. The last moments of his life were captured in photographs that have touched the hearts of people around the world.
August 3rd 2015: On this day, 25 years ago, during the early years of the First Liberian Civil War, a Liberian student was summarily executed by a rebel of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in a grassy patch on a roadside in the small township of Bentol, located 50 km from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.
His name was William Weah.
And, but for the haunting photographs taken by photographer, Joël Robine, capturing the last moments of his life, he would have simply been one of the many nameless and forgotten casualties of Liberia’s internecine 14-year civil conflict. But, the world got to know his name, along with brief details about who he was and the situation that precipitated into his execution through the caption accompanying Robine’s riveting photos.
“BENTOL, LIBERIA: A rebel of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) fire 03 August 1990 in Bentol on student William Weah, executing him after roadside interrogation fifty kilometers east of Monrovia. NPFL rebels suspected Weah to be a member of the Krahn ethnic group, the tribe supplying fighters to army of President Samuel Doe. Following the outbreak of civil war, President Doe was captured and killed in Monrovia 09 September 1990,” the caption reads.
“Seeing the terror in his eyes made me shiver…”
a Reddit commenter
In most images showing the victims of war, especially those depicting the death and carnage of Liberia’s civil war, the victims are mostly nameless. And, Robine could have as well captioned the photos without providing personal details about the subject, but having apparently witnessed Weah’s interrogation and overheard him respond to his interrogators, he chose to do so, adding a humanizing poignancy to the photos which have touched the hearts of people around the world.
“That is deeply disturbing even compared to other executions. Who took the pics – a reporter? If so hats off for guts you never know when they will turn on you,” said one Reddit commenter.
“Seeing the terror in his eyes made me shiver…,” added another, referring to Robine’s photo showing the livid horror in Weah’s face, with his hands lifted and palms opened in supplication to the NPFL rebel who stood at the ready to execute him.
Robine won the first prize at the Festival International du Scoop et du Journalisme in 1990 for that particular photo. And, 25 years on, it is not only still widely used, but it poignantly captures the macabre nature of Liberia’s civil war where thousands of harmless civilians like Weah were senselessly killed by trigger-happy combatants.
But, unlike many of the over 200,000 victims who lost their lives during Liberia’s civil war, Weah has become more than just an obscure casualty of war. People around the world know his name and empathize with the tragic fate he suffered, which, in a way, has helped to memorialize him.
In Liberia, howerver, despite over a decade of peace, there is not a single national memorial paying tribute to William Weah and the thousands who died during the country’s civil war, a failure that not only vilifies the memories of the dead but persists because “the powers that be have soiled records of involvement in the country’s brutal civil war.”
So, today, on this 25th anniversary of his death, The Liberian Echo would like to pay tribute to William Weah!
On a grassy patch on a roadside
Your executioner took you aside
you pleaded and begged for mercy
But Death’s Messenger had no pity
Pulling the trigger he cut you down
So the Death your body could crown
Alas! In that grassy patch on the roadside
You died, but your memory lives worldwide
REST IN PEACE