Trustees Success Story

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Alumni Highlight

Nathanial Kwabo SIS IPCR Alumni Success Story

In December 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia submitted its final report on the over two-decades of violence that had plagued the West-African nation. At the head of the commission was IPCR alum Nathanial Kwabo (MA/IPCR ’05).

As the Executive Director of Liberia’s TRC, Kwabo oversaw four years of work by nine commissioners to collect over 20,000 statements in more than 700 public hearings conducted across the country.

Kwabo presented a copy of the completed report to American University’s library in hopes that students at AU would have the opportunity to learn from the TRC’s findings. "Hopefully, the students can make use of it and hopefully it can help the university to continue to break new ground in conflict analysis and peacebuilding around the world," said Kwabo as he presented the report to the University Librarian, Bill Mayer, and the Dean of the School of International Service, Louis Goodman.

Mayer thanked Kwabo for the donation, recognizing that report would provide discovery, access, and learning to the AU Community. Dean Goodman expressed the pride SIS felt in having an alumnus who has contributed so greatly to the field.

"We are all about trying to facilitate the work of individuals trying to be of service internationally," he said. "You have done it at least doubly here by doing this wonderful work in your country and then coming back here and making a donation to the university so that we can learn from your work and do more."

One of the challenges the TRC faced, reported Kwabo, was balancing a fragile peace with the need for justice. He identified this as a major dilemma facing peace researchers and students in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution field.

"It is important that the issue of justice and the issue of peace be addressed as quickly as possible," he said. "Otherwise, we can take all of the infrastructure in the country, all of the tall buildings, all of the bridges, they will just come tumbling back on us because we have failed to address the issues that divide us in the first place."

The TRC’s report was not without controversy. Included in the report’s recommendations, were a list of people who should not be able to hold public office because of their involvement in the civil war. On the list were many sitting office-holders, including the current President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This recommendation drew criticism and raised questions as to whether the report’s recommendations would be implemented. Despite the controversy, Kwabo described the work of compiling the report as a monumental achievement. "Whether the TRC was successful should be left to history," said Kwabo.

Following the presentation of the report, IPCR Professor Susan Shepler, moderated a panel that also contained several IPCR and SIS connections. Shepler had helped to organize a group of SIS students that worked with the Diaspora Project and the Washington College of Law to collect statements from Liberians living in the Washington DC area.

One of these students was panelist Patricia Minikon MA/IP ‘09. She worked with the Diaspora Project to collect statements not only in DC, but Europe and in Ghanaian refugee camp. Minikon, a Liberian-American, also provided cultural training for statement-takers on how to conduct interviews that often touched on difficult and emotional experiences.

Another panelist, Jason Terry, MA/ IPCR ‘07, traveled to traveled to Ghana in 2006 to work with Liberian refugees in the Buduburam refugee camp. Affiliated with the Population Caring Organization (PCO), Terry worked with small groups of refugees, informing them about the work of the TRC and engaging in dialogue on balancing the need for peace and justice.

The panel also featured three SIS students who had recently completed internships in Liberia. Alley Krupar, MA/ID ’10, Anna Casey, MA/ID ’11,and Sara Shanley MA/CRS ’11, spoke on their experiences in Liberia and what they heard from Liberians about the TRC.

Despite the TRC’s achievement, Kwabo and the panelists warned that peace has yet to be fully realized in the country. "As much as the TRC has done its work, conflict still looms large in Liberia, said Kwabo. "That is why it is important that universities like American University should be engaged in places like Liberia."

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2010 International Peace and Conflict Resolution by Courtney Hess (MA/IPCR '12).