General Johnson Praised for Averting First Military Coup in Liberian History

By Frederick G. Varney

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 18, 2004

A renowned Liberian educator, former student activist and former deputy minister for state for Presidential Affairs, Mr. Sando Wayne praised the late Army Chief of Staff, General Henry Korboi Johnson, for firmly upholding his constitutional responsibility in the face of propitious pressure, from within, to seize power following death of President William V.S. Tubman.

Speaking on the topic, Unresolved Issues- A source of the Liberian Conflict, at the installation program of elected officers of the Federation of Lofa Association (Minnesota Chapter), Mr. Wayne traced Liberia’s problem from its formative days when the settlers arrived at the Grain Coast (now Liberia) in search of freedom and self governance following their bitter and agonizing experience of "imposed human supremacy" from their masters in the United States. No sooner had the settlers arrived, and then they, too, began to impose their American experience of "human supremacy" on their "stranger fathers"- the natives of the land.

Invariably "The concept of the Liberian state", Mr. Wayne noted, "was conceived in conflict". "Six African chiefs decided to act for and on behalf of the African population, transferring an important asset -- land, which, according to the African tradition, is not for sale. The African chiefs who were traditionally hospitable to strangers and accustomed to exchanging gifts and courtesies as symbolic acts of friendship, one day awoke to a new day. The chiefs discovered that their land was gone. The strangers, who had given them hats, knives, tobacco, mirror, and other western implements as a show of goodwill, had established themselves on land owned by the natives. The strangers acted as if they were on a westward expedition with Lewis and Clark to dole out gifts to the American Indian tribes in exchange for their land".

That interdict controversy between the natives and the settlers over land ownership became the emblematic struggle that failed to define Liberia, at home, as tolerant, open and all - inclusive society. In spite of it professed irenic diplomacy on the African continent, Liberia, as a nation-state, was deigned to collapse based on its putrefy foundation. The strangers ruled their stranger-fathers for over 100 years in a segregated political system. The characters of the Americo-Liberian regimes posed an insuperable obstacle to future stability. The minds were already set. The natives, too, wanted to take control of their own destiny. Everyone wanted a change but the path to such a change was completely farfetched. Thus, many saw the death of the autocrat, William V.S. Tubman, as the drowning of minority rule in Liberia. Prior to the breaking of the death news, the then vice president, William R. Tolbert, was reportedly, out side of the Liberian capitol - on his farm in Belefeni. And many, at the time, expected that otiose military of which General Henry Korboi Johnson served as its chief of Staff to seize power.

General Johnson, as the story goes, was persuaded by top-notch diplomats, who were fully cognizant of the minority dominance of the political and social mosaic, to take power thereby unveiling an "indigenous" rise to power. The General, accordingly, did not falter on his constitutional and ethical responsibilities. Had he not thought wisely and hastily resisted the temptation of seizing power, the country would had its first military take-over with attending instability as it was in the case of the 1980 coup. Conversely, many regarded the General’s decision as cowardice and totally betraying to the cause of the natives. Today, history has begun bestowing its judgment of honor and heroism.

Comrade Wayne, as he is affectionately called, paid tribute to General Johnson for his refusal to be consumed by ambition for power. He described General Johnson as a man who demonstrated that unconstitutional rise of the natives to power was no more than act of cowardice. Adding, "General Johnson rejected the temptation of dishonoring the character of the great people of Lofa and his soldier oath". "By his example", Mr. Wayne noted, "General Korboi Johnson has taught us to respect orderliness and the courage to show true patriotism. He also taught us to understand that the natives are in the majority and if they decided to take power, nothing can stop a unified people. The number was always on their side".

Concluding, Mr. Wayne bashed at his fellow "Progressives" brothers for what he calls "failing to make any meaningful progress in the direction of a common pursuit". "For four decades now, the progressives of Liberia have championed independent movements to wrestled power from the hands of a crumbling oligarchy. To date, however, they have failed to make any meaningful progress in the direction of a common pursuit. Their failure to organize and forge a united front caused them two defeats at the polls, the elections of 1985 and 1997. In both elections the progressives worked against the interest of each other. Each party asserted its independence. The current trends of the build up to the forth-coming elections, scheduled for 2005, suggest that we have not learned much from these failed experiences". What more setbacks must we endure before we begin to extrapolate from the Lofa successes?" Mr. Wayne questioned his fellow "Progressives".

In a related development, the president of Federation of Lofa Citizens (Minnesota Chapter), Mr. Joseph M. Seley invoked a howl of nostalgia among his fellow Lofans by reminding them to begin thinking positively "big" about resurrecting their devastated county. "Our people, for too long, struggled to put in place what ever they owned….. Today, all is evaporated in a tin air. The once prosperous cities of Zorzor, Voinjama, Kolahun and Foya, now exist only in memories of the beholders. Our forefathers, once, took on the task of building a haven of peace, unity and development. What can we do to re-live that legacy of hope and aspirations?" Seley questioned this audience of fellow Lofans.

"Lofa", he noted, "is like a cow that doesn’t feed her own heifers but rather the heifers her fellows". "Lofa", he maintained, "has produced professionals from all spheres of disciplines, yet many of these professionals stand aloof when it comes to the issue of their own nativity-Lofa".

Seley, himself a holder of double masters’ degree in Finance and Leadership, then envisaged a future where colleges of University of Liberia, as in United States cities, will be located in various political subdivision of Liberia. Adding, "What would it look like to see the University Of Liberia’s College Of Agriculture and Forestry relocated in Foya? A Central & North-Western Primarily Health Care Center with headquarters in Kolahun? An Inter-link Satellite Communications Network based in Voinjama? etc."

He, then, admonished his fellow Lofans to think constructively "big" and not to resort to the slogan of exiled Liberian dictator Charles Taylor who cautioned Liberians to "Think Big" by giving guns to kids to murder their own parents. "If we conceive the idea, and believe in it, and then work toward it, we can achieve it", Seley concluded.

Prominent among Liberians in attendance were, Hon. Stephen F. Kimba former Law maker and former district commissioner of Kolahun District, Hon. Morris Momolu Dukuly former speaker of Transitional legislative Assembly and former minister, Liberia Telecommunications Corporation, Mr. Wilfred Harris in-coming president of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM), Mr. George Wuo out-going president of OLM, Mr. Joe Morris former News Broadcaster at the Liberia Broadcasting Station (LBS), Mr. Whelsoe Cooper out-going president of the Federation of Lofa citizens (Minnesota chapter) among others.