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Liberia At The Crossroad: Which Way To Go?

…Rehabilitation or Abandonment?

( Psychotherapy Is The Sure Way)

By Kpangbala W. Sengbe, MSW - March 25th 2005

"... On the other hand, opponents of the comprehensive approach to national rehabilitation feel that these child soldiers caused enough havoc on the nation and do not deserve any therapeutic help. This group believes that these “criminals” are not worth living because they were the killing machines that helped the “criminal empires of their masters”. For this group, the “only good rebel is the dead and buried one”. They furthered their arguments that like their “masters-in-crime”, these child soldiers are equally liable for their participation in the criminality of Liberia. ....."


About a year ago, this writer wrote an article entitled: Rehabilitation of a Nation: Liberia’s Path to National Recovery-The Need to Utilize Services of Liberian Professional Psychotherapists. In that article, a call was made to the international community to utilize the professional skills and knowledge of Liberian Professional Psychotherapists if treatments to the psychological, drug and alcohol abuse, emotional and neurological problems that have beset the nation as a result of the civil crisis are to be obtained. Immediately after the article was published on several Liberian websites, Liberians and other professionals from all walks of life began writing and calling to express diverse opinions about the article. While it is appreciated that all these calls were made, this writer must also state that it is very intriguing to realize that Liberians are indeed divided on this issue of national importance-comprehensive rehabilitation of ex-child combatants. Moreover, the different views expressed were practically split down the middle among the population.

Those who support the process of a comprehensive rehabilitation process (rehabilitation encompassing all traumatized children and youths) think, like this writer do, that all children were victims of the cruelty meted out on the people of Liberia by the various warlords (white collar, bush, economic, emotional, etc.).

The proponents of comprehensive rehabilitation views are that the children who made up the bulk of the armies of the various factions were decent and innocent children, who before the civil war had nothing to do with guns, drugs and violence.

The fact that they were drugged by these “masters” of gangsterism, and given weapons of mass destruction, along with mindset of cruel dispensation of jungle justice (some as young as seven), are major reasons why proponents of comprehensive rehabilitation think that these children should go through psychological and neurological rehabilitation in order for them to get necessary professional help and move forward with their normal lives in post war Liberia.

On the other hand, opponents of the comprehensive approach to national rehabilitation feel that these child soldiers caused enough havoc on the nation and do not deserve any therapeutic help. This group believes that these “criminals” are not worth living because they were the killing machines that helped the “criminal empires of their masters”. For this group, the “only good rebel is the dead and buried one”. They furthered their arguments that like their “masters-in-crime”, these child soldiers are equally liable for their participation in the criminality of Liberia.

Rationale for the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Approach

This writer has continuously stated in professional life that people must be held accountable for their actions. Consequences are associated with negative behaviors, while rewards are given for good behaviors. The situation in Liberia is no exception. In this light, this writer does not believe that people who committed crimes against the people of Liberia should be “left to go scout free.” Moreover, these individuals should be made to pay for their deeds through the appropriate dispensation of civil justice.

Again, there have been exposures of differing beliefs that people, who are deprogrammed from acts of violence and reprogrammed with instruments and skills of positive mindsets, go long ways in becoming productive people in helping to reconstruct their communities.

Comprehensive rehabilitation through psychotherapy and psychopharmacology will not only help former “child soldiers” but will also enable them realize that actions taken by them through the course of the Liberian civil crisis were inappropriate and “being tagged and transformed into killing machines” by their godfathers was only a means for these individuals (warlords) to seize state power (which they have done successfully over the years) and abandon them (child soldiers). As we all know (whether we publicly admit it or not), these ex-child soldiers have long been abandoned by their leaders since the leaders took positions in government. It is a call to duty of all professionals to step up to the plate and get involved in the lives of these children, if the country is to move forward in the process of national recovery.

The use of comprehensive approaches to psychotherapy is appropriate in the resolution of the emotional, psychological and neurological crises that these young people continue to encounter. This approach enables the professionals to have biopsychosocial assessments done for each individual child. These assessments help the psychotherapist to know the biological, social, and psychological history of the identified individuals and develop treatment plans according to the diagnoses. Once these are done, the psychotherapist along with other members of the treatment team will then systematically proceed with the implementation of these treatment plans.

With this approach, the identified individuals, the treatment team, significant others of the individuals, their communities and the society at large are expected to be involved in the course of treatment.

The Role of The Larger Society

Some people may already be asking, why do we discuss the involvement of the larger society in the treatment process? This writer believes, like every psychotherapist would, that for treatments to achieve positive results, every stakeholder in the life of that individual must be involved and be able to contribute consistently in the process. Parents of these children have major roles to play in the process of healing and rehabilitation. The government, the education system, community and religious leaders have enormous moral duties and obligations to also be involved in the process.

The identified individuals will have to get assurances from society at large, that they will be welcomed in the fold of the civil society once they denounce violence and allow civility to prevail.

However, this writer knows very well that it is not easy to forgive an individual who has been the source of pains and sufferings to the people of Liberia for the past fifteen years. It is also known that reliving the moments of horror of the war is not a pleasant memory either. Liberians continue to go through lots of hardships as a result of the crisis, however there is a need to concentrate on the treatment of everybody involved in the saga in Liberia with total care and respect. Moreover, people might think that offering these children comprehensive psychotherapy is a way of rewarding them for the sufferings and pains that they meted out against “the civil people of the country.”

This writer begs to differ with this belief. There is a need to be considerate when it comes to working with these ex-child soldiers. The fact that the nation has already awarded their godfathers with state power is not a secret. The law of comprehensive forgiveness should be applied in the case. Since the leaders and commanders of these ex-child soldiers are now in top government positions in Monrovia, the best that professional Liberians, with the financial and resource support of the international community, can do is to appropriately engage them into psychotherapy, psycho education, vocational and occupational training, smooth reintegration and continuous monitoring as they eventually enroll in academic institutions in order to avoid recidivism.

In as much as we all know that ex-child combatants committed serious acts of wrong doings against the “civil society,” this writer believes that it is a professional obligation to ensure that these ex-child combatants are given the appropriate treatments (psychotherapy) needed if the nation is to stop the spiral of violence that has engulfed us. With this rationale, all professionals and people of good need to join forces in this endeavor.

The need and urgency for the total rehabilitation of these ex-child combatants and other children is made even more imperative because of the action of the warlords in Monrovia. Liberia continues to bleed at this point in time when the leaders of the warring parties [like their predecessors] presently in the transitional government have abandoned the ex-child fighters and other war weary children and have now come together and formed a new front (NTGL). This new “fighting force”, even though at the helm of state power, has never made any serious representation to the international community for ex-child combatants and other children to be considered for comprehensive rehabilitation. In this vein, professional Liberians have to come together and seek the interest of these children. These children need us now than ever before.

The recipe for violence…

Instead of working on projects to enhance the process of rehabilitation, this writer continues to be surprise that nobody in government is preaching the message of unification through rehabilitation of the ex-child combatants and other children affected by the civil crisis.

There are worries in many quarters that the spiral of violence that has engulfed our dear country has a tendency to resurface because “Patriots, Liberators and Democrats” have not seen reason to direct funds in the national coffers toward helping to “deprogram these ex-child combatants from the mentality of war and criminality and reprogram them, through rehabilitation, for the task of nation building.” Instead, they (warlords turned leaders of the nation) have redirected their energies on using the meager resources of the nation on purchasing luxurious cars, frivolous foreign travels and bogus relocation allowances for warlords-turned-legislatures.

It is appalling to learn that warlords are still riding around with huge entourage of bodyguards behind them in convoys in the capital. It is imperative that these individuals emotionally prepare these ex-child combatants for ultimate release to their family members because “they know very well that the interests of these children are not their (warlords) concerns.” These warlords are only interested in maintaining “forces” around them in the case that hostilities were to begin among themselves and these children will then be used as human shields to “protect” them. Enslaving the mind is a very dangerous thing to do and it is disturbing to see Liberians treating their fellow countrymen with total disregard.

Instead of having these children behind them as bodyguards, let warlords be prepared to help ex-child combatants by sending them to school and making them learn careers other than violence. But how can the warlords send these children to school when they (warlords) see these children as functions of war?

Where are we headed if the country will be divided on these lines of politics-when people do not see the need for national recovery after the mess that they helped to put us through the mess that we find our selves in.

It is foolhardy to believe that all the players to the conflict in Liberia are one way or the other incorporated in this new arrangement in Monrovia and still there are no prudent administrative and financial programs put in place to move the national recovery process forward.

We see all the “academicians and professionals” in the inner circle of the government but news reports about mismanagement and total disregard to prudent financial management procedures” are troubling and not welcomed any more in our national life. If Liberia is to be taken seriously by our compatriots in the international community, we need to put our priorities in the right perspective.

A whole generation was destroyed as a result of the civil crisis. What are we doing to reawaken the spirit of competence and accountability so that Liberia can once again take its place amongst the comity of nation?

From information gathered, Liberia is far from the road to recovery. As stated in previous paragraphs of this paper, government money continues to be used on trivial things (cars, veined foreign travels, relocation allowances for NTLA members, per diems for security operations, etc.). Instead, public money should be used based on the needs of the citizenry (psychotherapy, development of a justice system that will be devour of biases against individuals based on differences of ideologies, rehabilitation of the JFK Hospital and other hospitals, rehabilitation of the University of Liberia, re-opening of elementary, junior and senior high schools) and not necessarily on the privilege few.

We cannot sit and see that the ex-child combatants and all children are excluded from this process. Rehabilitation through psychotherapy must come to the centerfold of the national stage at this time of our national existence. The United Nations Organization, through its specialized agencies and other international organizations are willing to do business with Liberia but Liberians must also be willing to do transparent business with these institutions. Our priority should and must be rehabilitation of the mind of the children-the future of any vibrant nation.

By this means, we will help to “redeem” these children from their godfathers-the warlords. It is imperative that people in the transitional government, especially former commanders and warlords of the various warring groups stop using the children of other people as bodyguards while theirs are in schools in the United States and other parts of the world.


The work to be done in Liberia is enormous and there is a need for all Liberians to get involved in the process. For this writer, rehabilitation through psychotherapy is one of the ways. This has led to the formation of People United for Relief and Empowerment, Inc. (PURE, Inc.) by this writer and other Liberian professionals with the ultimate goal of providing comprehensive psychiatric rehabilitation, education enhancement, economic empowerment and human right advocacy for these war weary children.

This writer has also began the campaign of raising awareness in the international community and in the Liberian community (through media like this) for Liberian professionals and people of good will to join forces so that together, we can help ensure that ex-child combatants and all children are rehabilitated and reintegrated into civil society.

Total rehabilitation through psychotherapy is the alternative and we have to utilize it or else, we are treading on dangerous ground. Liberia needs all professional Liberians and our partners from the international community in order to combat those that are against the interest of the people. Work now while it is day for night cometh when you can do no more but sleep…

About the author:

Kpangbala W. Sengbe is a Liberian Psychotherapist and Childcare Professional based in Washington, DC, United States of America. He founded (along with other Liberian professionals) and serves as Senior Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer of the newly established People United for Relief and Empowerment, Inc., which provides various forms of psychotherapy, educational enhancement, economic empowerment, social/human rights advocacy and other services that enhances human dignity in Liberia. Mr. Sengbe is a candidate for the Doctor in Educational Leadership (Higher Education Administration) degree at Argosy University in Arlington, Virginia. Contacts: 202-409-4836 or

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