Liberian Educator Recommends A Department of Liberian
Studies at Universities
--- Speaks on the 2005 Elections

By Josephus Moses Gray
Monrovia, Liberia

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 29, 2004

Dr. Syrulwa Somah, a United States based Liberian educator and author stressed the need for the establishment of a Department of Liberian Studies at the various universities operating in Liberia to grant undergraduate and graduate degrees in Liberian Studies. Dr. Somah, a tenured Associate Professor of Occupational Safety and Health at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Greensboro, North Carolina is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, (LiHeDe), Inc.

Dr. Somah who arrived in Monrovia on 2 June told local and international journalists in Liberia that, when established at the various institutions of higher learning, graduates of the program would become experts on Liberian social, political, educational, cultural and bilateral issues. These experts on Liberian Studies, he believes, could also represent the nation at major conferences and programs to discuss the many challenges facing Liberia, while other graduates can be assigned at the secondary and primary levels to teach students and future leaders. “Our nation could be educating our clan chiefs, paramount chiefs, soldiers, civil servants, social workers, ethnic specialists and others who may not want to become engineers, pilots, medical doctors, and so forth”. He added, “these universities could be fitting ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ together in the nation’s unique cultural mix--not as living fossils, but as living links to our long-term human past and active participants in today's global village”.

Dr. Somah said that our educational system is totally devoid of a “Rallying Point” to promote patriotism, effective and efficient use of national wealth (human and materials), educate Liberian leaders and all Liberians about national history, leadership, and networking, in order to unlock the creative talents of Liberians to become better people. He said, since the formation of Liberia College in 1851, now the University of Liberia, the nation’s higher institution of learning, which currently offers degrees in various disciplines including English and French Languages, has yet to offer degree in Liberian Studies or Liberian Languages. But in the past, the University offered degrees and courses in Greek and Latin, among other languages.

Using the United States as case studies, the Liberian educator said the various universities and colleges in United States have specialization in African-America, Asian, Native-American, Middle East, European Studies, etc., and graduates from these departments are authorities in these areas, which for example, when Japanese and American relations becomes a subject for discussion on television or talk-shows, these experts are called upon.

Addressing a cross-section of administration, faculty members and students of the University of Liberia (UL) and Cuttington University College (CUC) in Monrovia, Dr. Somah noted that had Liberians understood and appreciated their traditional values, norms, mores, history and accepted each other as brothers and sisters, we would not have taken up arms and weapons to fight each other. Another incentive for such curriculum he noted would be to encourage student exchange between Liberian counties for cultural understanding since people in these counties know very little about each other.

The Department of Liberian Studies, when established at the various universities, Dr. Somah said, will help to educate Liberians and teach them their cultural values and norms while it will afford Liberians to learn more about themselves and their nation. The department, he believes will help develop and teach traditional values, cultural heritages and norms.

Dr. Somah went further to say, Liberia has a unique history and if we knew a lot about each other, we wouldn’t have fought each other the way we did during the past 14 years. By knowing about each other and who we are as a people, we would have been in the position to make effective and informed decisions.

Besides the two institutions of higher learning in the country, the visiting Liberian educator also addressed senior and junior ministers, directors and staffers of the Education Ministry on his proposal for the establishment of a Liberian Studies degree at higher institutions of learning. Propounding further at these locations, Dr. Somah suggested to the Minister of Education, Dr. Evelyn Kandakai and the presidents of UL and CUC, Dr. James Kollie and Dr. Henrique Tokpa to establish a scholarship program for the first five hundred students to enroll at the department. The scholarships program, he said will help to encourage Liberians to enroll and devote their times and energies to their lessons while he (Somah) will arrange in consultation with other individuals and universities to teach these courses for the first two years, in a series of three-week compact courses during each summer. He also promised to appeal to others Liberian authors to donor books to the program but said he cannot make the appeal when the department has not been established or he has not gotten the blessings of the Minister of Education.

During his visits at these areas, the students, faculty of the two universities and senior staffers of the Ministry of Education were given the opportunities to ask Dr. Somah questions. He was able to answer the various questions put to him. The students and faculty members of the CUC and UL as well as the employees of the Education Ministry applauded Dr. Somah for the answers he provided to their questions and manner in which he conducted himself throughout the exchange.

Dr. Somah who did not hide his passion for the Liberia, underscored the need for the collective efforts in the establishment of the Department of Liberian Studies and the development of the nation, which has been devastated by 14-years of civil war.

In addition, Dr. Somah used the occasion to present copies of his book, “Nyanyan-Gohn-Manan: History, Migration and Government of the Bassa” to the Minister of Education, University of Liberia, Cuttington University College and media groups. The book he said detailed a government derived from traditional African culture, which can fit the need of African people, while chapters three and four deal with the leadership concept of Africa and the underpinning of European view of African leadership. In their words of appreciation, the authorities of these institutions (CUC, UL and the Education Ministry) lauded Dr. Somah for the donation and promised to use the book for its intended purpose.

Speaking separately, Minister Kandakai praised Dr. Somah for his dream for his country and pledge her ministry fully cooperation to the establishment of the Liberian studies department at the various higher institutions of learning. “I can guarantee you that this proposal will not fall on deaf hear”, Dr. Kandakai added. She encouraged the Liberian educator to always visit his country and share his experience and research with the students and people of Liberia. Also speaking, the President of the University of Liberia, Dr. Kollie commended Dr. Somah for the proposal and the donation, saying that he will seek the UL Board of Trustees approval for the establishment of the department. Similar sentiments were expressed by Dr. Enrique Tokpa, President of the Cuttington University College. The CUC president also used the occasion to brief the visiting Liberian educator and author on programs his university is administering and planned to offer master degree in other disciplines.

Apart from his visits to educational institutions and related areas, Dr. Somah also used his visit to Liberia to speak on other issues such as democracy, the forth coming presidential and legislative elections, in 2005.

In order to get his messages across to the Liberian people, Dr. Somah appeared on several talk shows including the Radio Veritas’ “Tropical Issue”, Talking Drum’s “One step Beyond”, LBS’ “Reconciliation Today”, Power FM’s “Agenda”. He also appeared on one television show.

Another time, Dr. Somah addressed an intellectual forum organized by the Association of Intellectual Few. This group comprised of experienced and professional Liberian journalists, managers, technicians, political analysts, university students, lawyers, teachers and human rights activists, among others.

The forum was well attended. It was held at the association’s headquarters, which is located at the Adama Atair Center at the corner of Gurley and Carey streets in Central Monrovia. Following his presentation, the audience posed several questions to him, which he answered, and crowd applauded his candid responses.

Earlier, Dr. Somah paid courtesy visits to several prominent political figures such as Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, standard-Bearer of the Unity Party (UP) and Chairperson of the Governance Reform commission; Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, standard-Bearer (1997) of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris, Chairman of the Elections Commission of Liberia and Mr. J. Napoleon Toquie, Chairman of the Consolidated Registered Political Parties of Liberia (CRPP).

During the meetings with these individuals, Dr. Somah made several recommendations, aimed at free, fair, and transparent national elections: “It the time as Liberians, we take charge of building our nation by using an electoral process and form of government that represent our cultural values and political realities”. He went on to proposed county electoral points, one person, one vote, as well as the counting of every vote cast during the upcoming elections fairly without prejudice in the same manner our traditional forefathers elected their kings, chiefs, and other leaders.

Addressing them on an individual bases, Dr. Somah said we must symbiotically join together and contribute meaningfully to the good fight of our forefathers so as not to make only ourselves proud as a nation and people, but also to make our ancestors whose footsteps we are walking in proud during and after elections 2005.

He added, as Liberians embark on new sweeping changes for a better Liberia beyond 2005, we must consider carefully those cultural mores of national stability, peace, belongingness, loyalty and nationalism, which were the very fulcrums our forefathers relied on to promote good governance, civil discussions, unity, and peaceful elections.

Speaking further, he said the divergence of views did not lead to forming multiple political parties in traditional Liberia. National development objectives were decided upon and attained through consensus, which came about by finding a common ground and assembling the best brains (the best human resources in the society).

Liberians, he said has spent the last 156 years of our national existence as a nation and people in promoting a society of social and political inequalities, dominated by a multitude of political parties gravitated toward individual enclaves and "cult personalities,” resulting to nearly two-dozen political parties whose goals and contributions to the Liberian society remained meaningless.

During his meeting with the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Dr. Somah said there is another group of Liberians who think the Liberian presidency is their birthright. But added that free and fair electoral process could minimize civil strife and destructive radicalism, and also eliminate any violent acts against the nation because the people would have freely spoken with their votes.

Dr. Somah told the Elections Commission’s Chair that the Commission must not only ensure that voters are duly registered to vote, but must also endeavor to educate the voters on their rights and responsibilities as voters.

He reminded Cllr. Johnson-Morris that “voter’s education is crucial to the success of any democratic elections”. In regards to the number of registered voters as a percentage of the total population, he noted that “voting must be orderly and transparent in such a way that it becomes a tool of cooperation and not a tool of division”.

He urged the Elections Commission that education about voting must be part and parcel of Liberian junior and senior high schools curricula so that the voter’s registration message can get across to all Liberians at an early age and warned against Liberians voting under a system they do not understand. He noted that doing so will continue to hurt and not help the Liberian nation and people.

According to him, Liberians need to establish a regional voting division in each of the 15 counties to handle the counting of ballots during local and national elections. In order for the 2005 elections to be inclusive, Dr. Somah said, we need to establish a media landscape throughout Liberia to educate the Liberian people about their rights and responsibilities as voters. Dr. Somah also proposed that each major language in each of the 15 counties should have its own independent radio station at the county level to explain the process to potential voters.

In his meeting with the Chairman of the Consolidated Registered Political Parties (CRPP), Mr. Napoleon Toquie, Dr. Somah introduced his proposal for the 2005 elections. He proposed what he refers to as: "Tetrahedron Primary System”, or a four-step electoral system that could ease our electoral confrontation. Under the “Tetrahedron Primary System”, Dr. Somah said, the first and second primaries, only candidates with the highest votes, say 40-45 percent of the popular vote, can move into the next round of voting, while the third or runoff primary would be restricted to cases in which three candidates are evenly tied in the number of popular votes.

According to him, no run-off primary election would be permitted even if a candidate wins by a single (one) vote margin, as long as the national elections commission can certify the first or second primary election was free and fair and both the process of the elections and the elections results are verifiable.

He told the CRPP chairman that in this case, the two candidates with 48 percent of the popular votes would be eligible for the run-off primary, and the candidate with 47 percent of the popular votes would be effectively disqualified from running in the next rounds of the elections.

In response, Mr. Toquie lauded Dr. Somah for his proposal and appealed to him to help empower the grass root political parties. Major among their problems, Mr. Toquie said were education, i.e., workshop, transportation and financial assistance.

During the discussion, the CRPP chairman expressed fear that if nothing is done to empower the CRPP members, Liberians might against make the wrong choice to elect the wrong person, adding that some politicians are residing in the United States, raising funds, which will enable them to purchase rice and distribute it to the Liberian people during elections.

Besides, the Liberian educator also paid a one day visit to the Port City of Buchanan, 80 miles south of Monrovia where he used his visit to appear on Radio Gbezohn to address the people of Bassa regarding his book, education and his elections proposal before leaving Liberia.