Life After the Liberian Civil War: A Native Tells All



Leslie Wonokay, Centurion Staff

Liberia is a country in West Africa which was founded, established, colonized, and controlled by citizens of the United States and ex-Caribbean slaves as a colony for former African American slaves and their free black descendants.

In its history, Liberia has had two civil wars. The First Liberian Civil War was an internal conflict in Liberia from 1989 until 1997. The conflict killed about 250,000 people and eventually led to the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States and of the United Nations. The second civil war began in 1999 and ended in 2003.
Paul Koimene, a 63-year-old Liberian immigrant talked about his life after the civil war in Liberia. Mr. Koimene tells us that The Liberian civil crises started somewhere in the middle of December 1989. “This period is significant for two reasons: first it was the time when the Rebel forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, NPFL which was loyal to Mr. Charles Taylor entered Liberia from the neighboring country of Côte d’Ivoire.

Their entry into the country was reported by the state media. That same day, the government of the late Samuel Doe who was then the President of Liberia imposed curfew and the security forces were put on alert and advised everyone to leave the streets and go home.”
“Secondly, the night of the entry of the Rebels was a night of celebration for me and my wife after our wedding earlier in the day. Just two days before that time, I had arrived from the Hague where I obtained a Master’s Arts Degree in Development with emphasis on Labor Relations from the International Institute of Development Studies.”
Discussing the impact of the Liberian War on his life, Mr. Koimene continued, “Actually, as someone who had lived in Europe for almost two consecutive years before the entry of the NPLF into Liberia, I did not have any comprehensive understanding of the war. As a matter of fact, there were incoherent and conflicting information emanating from the state media to the general public. The media continued to tell the public that the rebel fighters were disgruntled people who were bent on causing insurrection in the country and that the armed Forces of the country would be able to defeat them in time for normal life to resume in the country,”

Koimene continued, “On the other hand, the rebel fighters boasted through some international media especially the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), that it had trained thousands of men and women and was recruiting citizen fighters to unseat the government of Samuel Doe and put in place a democratically elected government. But none of this happened and the war continued for the whole year.

Koimene says the impact of the war was enormous. “By August of the following year, 1990, I walked from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia to the Sierra Leone border. It took me and dependents two weeks. I left behind my family and everything I ever worked for including cars, and other possessions. I entered Sierra Leone as a refugee. While in Sierra Leone, my wife and children got on a refugee ship and were taken to Ghana. Eventually, through the assistance of the All Africa Teachers Organizations, AATO. I joined my family in Accra Ghana.”
Paul says his life has never been the same since the war. He had goals and ambitions and all had to be reformulated to stay in the United Sates. Arriving in the United States in 1997, Paul wanted to have a safe place for his children.

Some of the struggles Koimene faced is a typical immigrant story. That all or maybe some immigrants have to retrain to fit into or adjust to the American way of life. That is, although he arrived in the United States with a Master’s Degree and driven in many countries including Europe. He could not get a Driver License and the immediate place he could work was at a Walmart where he was paid $6.00 an hour.

More struggles for Paul began with the acculturation which is the process of trying to fit in the American society and culture. This includes the learning of the language to enable you face employers and be accepted. This process is much easier for young immigrants than for the old ones. Another problem he faced is the fact that not many Americans and employers are conversant with educational systems outside of the American system.

Therefore, once one does not mention the name of the colleges that are common to them, the degree you have as an immigrant is not respected. This situation forces many immigrants to go back to college for retraining with the hope that they will get a better job.

Paul says “Consequently, it is common to see many very academically immigrants doing a low paying jobs.”
“The physical war may be over but the emotional scar and memory of love ones who died still linger, besides reconstructing the personal infrastructure that were damaged remain a major burden for some of us. Concerning his family, “We are doing well, especially for my children. Most of them have completed college or some professional training and have career paths.”