Remembering Former US President Reagan From A Liberian Perspective

By Cecil Franweah Frank
Kyiv, Ukraine

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 8, 2004

Since the passing of former US President Ronald Wilson Reagan on Saturday, June 5, many tributes have been pouring in to honor his memory, mostly from Europe. As one commentator put it on CNN, Mr. Reagan was immensely popular in the US than on the international arena, which contrasts sharply with his predecessor President Jimmy Carter. As if to reflect his standing in the eyes of men, Mr. Reagan was given many names, including "Dutch" (his official biography was written under this name) and the "Great Communicator" for what seems to be his adept ability to connect to voters and the American people as a whole. In Europe and probably in many parts of the world, Mr. Reagan is widely credited with having hastened the demise of communism, which subsequently paved the way for the disintegration of America's arch ideological foe the Soviet Union and the Warsaw bloc.

No doubt, Mr. Reagan may have connected well with the American voters, which helped ensure him two terms in the White House, and in particular his crushing defeat of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Feraro in the 1984 election. He also may have been instrumental in inflicting mortal blows to communism, but was also fortunate to have had a partner like Mikhail Gorbachev. These two points form the basis for many of the praises that are being showered on Mr. Reagan in the run-up to his burial, especially from the Europeans who benefited most from his policies. But both of these things may have brought little or no relief to the peoples of the "third world," especially in Asia and Africa, and particularly in Liberia. If anything, Mr. Reagan's lingering legacy had the opposite effect of fostering tyranny and bondage. He spread servitude and dictatorship to millions of people in third world countries, including Liberia and deepened their lives in darkness and oppression. Mr. Reagan's administration did helped to change the world, especially for Liberians.

Liberia, and not Libya, is today a living testament to the absolute failure, neglect and absolute negative impact of the Reagan administration's policies on third world countries, especially those in Africa. The turmoil in West Africa in general, and Liberia in particular all started when Mr. Reagan took the oath of office in January 1981. In his bid to contain the spread of communism and enhance America's security, Mr. Reagan used Africa as a mini-laboratory in his fight against the communist scourge with devastating results for the African people. There were several methods used by the Reagan administration, the most notable of which included rendering covert support to "anti-communist" groups to destabilize governments in their countries that were susceptible to communism idea, or directly supporting the establishment of military dictatorships. The paradox is that instead of promoting representative democracy, Mr. Reagan made used of the communists' preferred choice of dictatorship.

In the case of Liberia, the establishment of military dictatorship was the preferred method of the Reagan administration, which inevitably laid the foundation for the mess Liberia finds itself in today. The Reagan administration had given more than $500 million of American taxpayers' money to the Doe government for no other reasons than to keep it out of the claws of communism, even when it became apparent that the funds were inappropriately used. By so doing, the Reagan administration was intentionally acquiescent to the abuse of state power in Liberia by the Doe administration. Despite the fact that Mr. Reagan was directly linked to Liberia in his autobiography "Dutch", it was no secret that he had utter distain for Africa and the African peoples, which was evidenced by his failure to visit the continent throughout his eight years in office. Mr. Reagan's administration simply had no concrete agenda of a development nature for Africa. He abetted Apartheid in South Africa by his "constructive engagement" policy.

The result of Mr. Reagan's policies for Liberians is that thousand of our countrymen have been killed or have been forced to leave their homes to take up refugee status in sprawling camps around Africa, or are even dying in refugee camps thanks to Ronald Reagan. By the time Mr. Reagan ended his term in 1989, Liberia was at a crossroad and just months away from total destruction in a bitter civil war. Most of Mr. Reagan's polices as relate to Africa were carried over into the Bush Sr. administration. As history has now shown, it was the administration of Bush Jr. that was brought under pressure to clear up the mess that the Reagan/Bush Sr. presidencies had created in Liberia.

In conclusion, I should note that history would judge the Reagan administration harshly in respect to its policies in developing countries, and particularly in Liberia. It is unlikely that millions of people in developing countries, including in Liberia, would remember Mr. Reagan as a man who used America's superpower status to bring them peace, liberty and democracy. For many Liberians, Ronald Reagan had helped change the world for the worst and not the better.