Some Disturbing Voices Are Arising

By S. Jabaru Carlon, P.hD.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 7, 2004


During the reign of one of our tyrants in Liberia I frequently cautioned some of my compatriots not to stop others from voicing their opinions; that it was necessary and healthy for us all to speak out about the ills of our society. I reminded them of what my late uncle used to tell us: a big and nagging sore deserves treatment using diverse medications. Liberia seems to be plagued by that old and nagging sore of violence, destruction and doom. And I still insist that we must all speak to it.

However, as we do so we must exercise caution, concern and genuine feeling for the land and its people – especially the 90 percent or so of those whose fate is tied down to the ground. This is that group of our citizenry which perpetually roams the city streets and the country side, in search of a safe haven from the marauding gangs of thugs that chase them for the meager possessions they may have left. This brings me to the focus of my present writing. Call it whatever you may: reaction, a rejoinder or simply an opinion. Accordingly, I wish to treat with a few articles that have recently appeared in "The Perspective" newspaper: i.e., (a) "Sawyer Wants Revolution of Authority in Liberia", reported by Sidiki Trawally; (b) "Putting the Matilda Newport Myth to Rest – Part I", by Siahyonkron Nyanseor; also, on the same subject by Cllr. Mohamedu F. Jones "Matilda Newport and the Miracle at Crown Hill"; (c) Confusion in Washington: Who Runs the Liberian Embassy? [Part II & Part III], by Abdoulaye W. Dukule; also by A.W. Dukule, "Jobs, Guns and Peace". Although there may be many more disturbing voices rising up in connection with that poor country, I have elected to react with the few mentioned above.

1. The first of these articles, "Sawyer Wants Revolution of Authority in Liberia", published on 11/25/03, rather intrigues and amuses me. Interestingly, the reporter does not point to any achievements or show anywhere to his readers an indication of President Sawyer's own efforts and/or achievements towards the institution of the "revolution" he reportedly spoke about. Oh, surely, the former President did, in that familiar scholarly, professorial way, often proclaim the need for Liberians to unite, as well as the need for decentralizing the "boggy man" that is the Liberian government: a government for the President, by the President and of the President. In practice, however, there was very little one could see by way of achievement along those lines. I also beg to disagree with President Sawyer that the "international community, including the United States, did almost nothing to rescue Liberia." And that "’our lives did not make any difference to them.’" At this point I beg to differ. For whatever the ills of the ECOMOG forces may be today, our brothers and sisters of ECOWAS, staunchly led by Nigeria, were the ones that first blew the whistle on the atrocities in Liberia, even before the UN could get engaged in late 1990. I am sure President Sawyer still remembers the popular song of the IGNU: THANK GOD FOR ECOMOG! It was not "Thank God for the US" or "Thank God for the UN." Surely, the latter two did play rather substantial roles at that time. But the UN Secretary General’s Representative to Liberia, Mr. Gordon Sommers, for instance, was simply an aggravation to that country’s nightmare.

Finally, President Sawyer may have something to say to the Liberian people as an explanation of the Dogonyaro-Taylor embargo in Kakata, early in ECOMOG’s intervention. Why, for example, did General Dogonyaro rather abruptly order troops withdrawal when they took Kakata? Indeed, I guess proximity is a seventh sense, which functions more effectively only with hindsight. Now we all can sit back and see our failures and shortcomings. I hope others can learn from them.

2. The second issue, "Putting the Matilda Newport Myth to Rest – Part I", published on 12/01/03, and, "Matilda New Port and the Miracle at Crown Hill", 12/5/03 should by now be a non-issue in the Liberian historical and political scheme. For as far back as the late 1970’s (1975/76) when I was Director of the African Studies Program at the University of Liberia, I organized a seminar on this very issue of Matilda Newport’s day celebration "truth or myth?" Notable among presenters were Dr. Jane Martin of Boston University and Dr. A. Doris Banks-Henries, a popular Liberian historian. Dr. Martin had done an in-depth research of the Grebo people in Harper and inland towns of Maryland County, and had taught for many years at the University of Liberia. Among other things, Dr. Martin’s presentation quite categorically refuted the reality of the act that has been attributed to Matilda Newport; and indicated that no historical record inside and outside Liberia had shown her the fact of even the existence of Matilda Newport. On a more practical note, Dr. Martin related her own experience with the Grebo war dancers in Harper; how she was completely terrified when she first saw those men in full warring regalia. She then expressed extreme doubt that Matilda Newport, way back then and from an entirely different culture, could have faced those men in real war appearance. Dr. Banks Henries in her presentation did not refute anything proposed by her colleague, nor did she point to any historical record that would clarify the issue at hand.

At the end of the seminar it was concluded that the Matilda Newport phenomenon was everything but a historical truth; that unless and until later research proves otherwise, the Government of Liberia should reconsider celebrating Matilda Newport’s Day, as it tends to undermine Government’s unification policy. And since then the celebration had been downplayed. And as far as I can recall, the Tolbert government, either de facto or de jure had effectively abolished further observance of the day as a national holiday. Let us therefore lay away the myth that was Matilda Newport’s Day and go forward, with more realistic events and issues that bind us together as a people.

3. Thirdly, I wish to treat briefly with the "Confusion in Washington: Who Runs the Liberian Embassy?" (Part II & Part III), 12/15 & 29/03. I have no knowledge of a Part I. Both of these articles above, by Mr. Abdoulaye Dukule point to "Confusion in Washington, D.C., over the real Charges d’Affaires representing Liberia in this U.S., yea world Capital. Letters have been flying between Monrovia and Washington about two gentlemen in Washington, one of whom should serve at the Liberian Embassy. What a shame upon the oldest African Republic!

As far as I see it, though, the real confusion is in Monrovia not in Washington. Rather, what may be seen as confusion in Washington is simply a symptom of some disease, a real fever of confusion in Monrovia, whose cure lies squarely on the laps of Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant. As is mentioned in one of these articles, it takes only the stroke of the pen or a dial on the phone from him to clear up the whole mess. Clearly, the statement from the U.S. State Department quoted in Part III supra lends support to my point here. An official from that Department is quoted as saying that they have received copies of letters from Monrovia through their Embassy near here which leaves them with no confusion at all, more succinctly, the statement continues: "’As far as we are concerned, these letters settle the matter as to who runs the Embassy of Liberia in US unless we receive a new clarification.’" (Emphasis added.) Further writing on the issue indicates these letters were written by Deputy Minister (then Acting Minister) Abel Massaley, by directive of the Head of State, Chairman Gyude Bryant. In essence and in fact then, the whole matter should be laid to rest! Or has diplomatic protocol in Liberia changed? If not, then we are in error to assume that the statement from the State Department and the action of the Secret Service at our Embassy in Washington as inappropriate. Their actions have their origins in Monrovia. You see, fellow compatriots, one of the most deadly traditions many of us uphold in Liberia is that we take government assignments and positions too personally; so much so that we often forget the chain of command. My friends, let us not destroy the rope by which we climbed the top of the house. If we do, we may experience the humpty-dumpty act of a great fall.

4. And finally, and perhaps more importantly, I come to the fourth article, "Jobs, Guns and Peace", 12/24/03. What a Christmas eve message for disheartened and confused Liberians from one of their own compatriots! As I read through the article my heart leapt within me as did Elizabeth’s when visited by the Virgin Mother, laden with the Christ child. But unlike Elizabeth’s, my own heart leapt with anguish instead of joy. The anguish and chill felt in reading the article leaves me with no alternative but to liken Mr. Dukule unto a prophet of doom and gloom. Wow! So we must take it that the many weeks of seeming negotiations in Accra were only meant to carve out space for rewarding the warlords and their henchmen with government jobs in which they may further sap the country of its scarce resources. For as Mr. Dukule puts it: "The only reason anyone [including himself?] would take up arms to overthrow a government is to take power. It would be naïve to expect otherwise." This is a very chilling statement of support for the warring factions. It indeed justifies their clamor for more and more government positions, at all cost. But in fact this is not always the case; Mr. Dukule. One case in our long saga of national violence to contrary is the 1990 assassination of President Samuel Kanyon Doe. None of those who achieved this feat never took power. As a matter of fact, most, if not all, of them are out in exile or somewhere else out of the country. So who says a warring faction can’t overthrow a government and turn over power to civil society? Another case in point is Sierra Leone, where we are reminded of a coup maker who turned over the government to civil society, without being rewarded a government largesse or jobs. Clearly, this is an instance where some things are better not uttered than said.

Mr. Dukule makes use of some very strong words and statements that at the same time border on banality. Does he really want to make the rest of us believe that the international community (the UN, the EU, ECOWAS, the US etc.) are all in cahoot with the warring factions so as to let the latter further fleece Liberia of its resources? I would hope not. One would have thought that they have done enough of that in the fourteen or so years they have been in the bush. The point of the transitional government being simply a "makeshift arrangement" whose "basic underlying logic is that arms would be traded in for jobs; that Liberians would give up certain things to those who fought the dictorship in exchange for jobs, cars and whatever comes with governance" borders on absurdity. (Emphasis added.) My God, probably I am terribly dumb, but I do not catch on the logic alluded to above! The only sense it makes to me is that it brings to mind the undeserved praises showered upon the so-called "Big Guns" and "Big Three" at Abuja in 1995, who returned to Monrovia and filled all government posts (down to janitors) with members of their various warring factions. And the logical conclusion of such action was the fateful April 6 fracas of 1996. Would Mr. Dukule want a repeat of such a catastrophic scenario? If so, then where is the PEACE? When will it ever come to the weary masses of Liberia? I pray that the Almighty God may send us a prophet of hope, joy and peace. Well, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

I could go on and on with the gloomy, chilling statements of Mr. Dukule, but I won’t. But perhaps one last incident of his pacification of the warring factions may be in place: "The transition government is a warring faction government. This is not a matter of choice, it is the reality [sic]." Wow! At this point I would love to hang up my gloves. But not yet. For under the same breath he proposes some solacement: "Liberians must accept that fact and work hard to ensure that come 2006, they usher in a new democratically elected government." The polemic question is HOW? You cannot plant cassava and expect to reap eddoes. And certainly, I will not accept this premise, Mr. Dukule! I can’t believe that well meaning people like Mr. Jacques Paul Klein, the UN Secretary General’s Representative and General Okpande, head of the UN peacekeeping force, are out there for a sell out to warring factions. And above all, there is a God overseeing us all; He will make a way for the poor, helpless and war-weary people of Liberia. Thanks to Him the promises of Christmas of the year 2003 were not as bad as those of Christmas 1989! The tyrant is snugly tucked up on St. Helena and will do no more harm in Liberia.

Note: The reality is chilling. The fact is that the warring factions got what they wanted as I write. Jacques Klein and Daniel Opande are in Liberia to settle our national dispute. The groups that have jeopardized peace and stability are those holding the guns. This government was set up to bring together those warring factions, give them jobs in exchange for guns and move us into peace. We can dwell on our fantasies or we can accept the reality of facts and focus on a post-transition Liberia. There are realities and there are political theories.

Abdoulaye W. Dukulé, Ph.D.
Associate Editor
The perspective