On Behalf Of The "Book People"

By Wonderr Freeman


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 25, 2004


If all the degree holders were to conglomerate in one locality or in one building, I should consider myself fit enough to be a proud gatekeeper, knowing fully well that the degree I have earned is still further down the ladder. Furthermore, it should be considered no disrespect to the bigwigs amongst the "book people" if I undertake to speak on behalf of the group, for being a proud gatekeeper, I am naturally the first line of defense for any one wishing to get into the conference of the "book people". Additionally, in the community of the degree holders, freedom of speech is so highly cherished that though the fold may not necessarily agree with all I say or how I say it, they will defend to death my right to speak – even on behalf of the degree holders.

Now how true is the claim that the book people failed Liberia? Firstly, to understand this theory one must try to understand what is actually meant by the phrase "degree holders failed Liberia." Do the advocates of this misguided theory actually mean that those who have chosen the honorable path of going through formal institutions of learning as secondary schools, technical schools, colleges and universities are good for nothing? Do they mean that graduates of these educational institutions are miseducated; hence, the graduates are failures? Do they mean that these graduates fail to put into practice what they’ve been thought at these institutions? If the degree holders are failing in Liberia, what are they doing in other countries? Are the "book people" in other countries failing? Is there any country in the world where socio-economic development was achieved without degree holders? Is there any country in the world where the practice of the professions was turned over to the people who did not go to school; that is, the people who don’t know "book"?

Germane questions, indeed, these are! Interestingly just asking these questions makes the Book-People-Failed-Liberia theorists to fumble, for I know, for example, of no country in the world where the practice of any profession for that matter was turned over to people who didn’t go to the relevant training for that particular profession. Unfortunately, now a days in Liberia, many are contending that what is not done the world over should be done in Liberia – illiterates and school dropouts - should be permitted to practice professions for which they’ve got no relevant formal training. The most pathetic part of this tomfoolery is the fact that some very "honorable" members of the community of degree holders are advocating this view. It is not difficult to phantom how some one could spent some 20 or more years in acquiring formal education, and many more years in gaining experience (practical education) and yet become a mouthpiece for the misguided Book-People-Failed-Liberia Theory. This argument coming out of the mouth of degree holders defies logic. For anyone who considers himself/herself to be a "bookman" or "bookwoman" to suggest such a theory infers a lack of integrity, foresight and above all common sense; and common sense, I am told, is seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done. Unfortunately, however common sense has just been murdered in Liberia and many are now jumping on its grave shouting death to common sense and long live insanity!

Who are in fact the "book" people? I should think that professional such as teachers, professors, computer technicians, lawyers, pastors, engineers, foresters, and many other professionals can be properly considered as "book" people. Have these degree holders and other professionals failed Liberia? The answer is an emphatic no! Firstly, those who claim that the "book" people (degree holders) failed Liberia, contrary to their conviction continue to send their children to school to receive instructions from such degree holders as teachers and professors. These professionals, despite their low salaries, continue to impart knowledge in our schools. Is the above action an evidence of failure? I honestly don’t think so.

Again, when the advocates of this misguided theory get sick, they visit our hospitals that are, again, manned by another group of degree holders – the nurses, doctors and other medical specialists. These degree holders sacrifice daily, despite the lack of logistics to cater to the sick and oppressed. Is catering to the sick by the book people of Liberia an act of failure? I certainly don’t think so! These book people who cater to our sick and fallen members of society need our utmost thanks and appreciation. No monetary reward would suffice.

When the rights of the illiterates and school dropouts are trampled upon and violated, they go running to another group of degree holders – the lawyers and human rights advocates, and to the best of my knowledge they have not failed this country. Our lawyers and human rights activists have battled against successive repressive regimes. As a direct result of their advocacy, these degree holders have been jailed, beaten, tortured and sometimes murdered. Tiawon Gongloe, Aloysius Toe, Marcus Jones, Frances Johnson-Morris are fresh examples of degree holders who have been victimized because they’ve championed the cause of human rights and democracy. To dare say that this group of degree holders failed Liberia is glaring ingratitude, and ingratitude is sin!

The argument could continue ad infinitum, across all spectra of Liberian professionals and one would come up with the same answer time and again that the "book" people as a group have never failed this country. Those who have indeed failed Liberia have always been the imposters; those that practice professions for which they have got absolutely no training. These imposters – the trial-and-error professionals have always posed the greatest threat to the establishment of professionalism in every facet of the Liberian society. Who are the imposters? The trial-and-error politicians, the quack lawyers, the blackbag doctors, the untrained administrators, the illiterate pastors etc., these are the people that have failed Liberia. These people who have failed Liberia, and their families as well, are and have always been the "round pegs" that insist that they must be fitted into square holes. It is no secret that jobs in Liberia’s public and private sectors are offered on a who-know-you-basis and as a result jobs allocations have traditionally fitted round pegs into square holes, howbeit unsuccessfully. The round pegs that have no education but crave jobs that only educated people can handle are the ones guilty of failing Liberia. Those who are educated but advocate for the continuation of such status quo are equally guilty of failing Liberia. How long must Liberia bleed because the wrong job was given to the wrong person? How long must Liberia suffer because jobs whose successful execution required extensive education and experience were given to illiterates and school dropouts? And Liberians are still calling for functional illiterates to be given high profile jobs. What kind of people are we that don’t learn from history or from suffering? It amuses me indeed!

Did I hear someone say "ok Wonderr, we’ve heard enough about your degree holders. Granted book people like teachers, journalists, engineers, doctors, activists etc. haven’t failed us, but what’s about the Liberian politicians, this particular group of book people, you must admit, have failed us, haven’t they? I mean, after all, the politicians have been running the country since "charley kin" time and the country is in shambles, while the wrecking is still in action carrying out business as usual. Most of our former presidents have been degree holders or at least they have been counted as book people, haven’t they? And they have all been failures. Only president Doe did well in this country and he was not degree holder – at least for nine years."

The crux of the contention to be understood is: a. Have all Liberia’s past presidents been degree holders (ie. book people), b. Have they all been failure as is been alleged? Assessing all Liberian presidents in their respective levels of success is clearly beyond the scope of my means. However, a moderate but honest attempt will be made to group the presidents in pre-"charley king" time presidents and post "charley kin "time presidents. Since "charley king" time in Liberia literally means ancients days, we will not venture into assessing a era for which information is not readily available. So naturally, my analysis will focused on the post "charley kin" time presidents in my attempt to verify whether all our past presidents have all been book people and whether they’ve all been failures.

The noted Liberian historian, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, wrote the following of Barclay in his book titled: A SHORT HISTORY OF LIBERIA. According to Dr. Guannu, Edwin J. Barclay was perhaps the most gifted and in the opinion of many, the greatest president of the First Republic. Barclay, he continues, "taught mathematics at Liberia college" (now University of Liberia) which fact presupposes that he must have passed through college or college must have passed through him; hence he could clearly be classified as a book man. Barclay according to our source initiated and concluded arrangement for Liberia’s first and only international airport, the Roberts International Airport. Additionally the "idea of constructing a port at Monrovia (Freeport) originated with Barclay… in 1943 Barclay raised the issue with American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; consequently on December 31, 1943 the agreement was reached in Monrovia for the construction of the Freeport of Monrovia." Dr. Guannu ends by saying, "when Barclay left the presidency in January 1944, Liberia’s economy was on a sound course and her sovereignty was respected by all members of the international community. Can these activities of Barclay be classified as failure? I certainly don’t think so!

Besides the above, Barclay was a patriot. His patriotism is not just limited to his writing patriotic songs as Lux-in-Tenebris and Lone Star Forever, but his patriotism can also be seen on the very strong stance he took against imperialist and exploitative foreign investors. Many Liberians do not know, for example, that the Open Door Policy was first pronounced by TJR Faulkner (of the Peoples Party), started under Charles D B King through the coming of Firestone 1926, skipped over Edwin J. Barclay and flourished under Tubman. Just why did the Open Door Policy go into a self-imposed exile never to return until Tubman ascended to the presidency? All we know in Liberia is that Tubman started the Open Door Policy, but in actual fact the Open Door Policy started under Charles D. B. King in 1926, went into coma from (1930-1944) under Barclay and resurrected in 1944 under Tubman. Now, the $64,000 question is why it took 14 years for the Open Door Policy to resurrect? Well, the simple answer is because Edwin J. Barclay was a patriot and he was determined to have no exploitation of Liberia’s wealth without the benefit of the ordinary Liberians. Consider what he says of foreign investment in his 1st inaugural address to the nation (1930), "we shall accord it such facility that while the investor may be satisfied the economic status of our people will at the same time be improved." With this kind of attitude adopted by President Barclay, the Open Door Policy had no alternative but to go in coma! After reading the facts, it should be clear to one and all that Barclay, a degree holder, a book politician, was no failure, and any attempt to classify him as such is slander and slander is a crime under the Liberian Penal Code.

Was President Tubman a degree holder and was he a failure? President Tubman was not a degree holder: He is widely believed to have completed 8th grade education only. Not surprisingly, he was a miserable failure. He was nothing more than one of those trial-and-error politicians that I spoke of earlier. Such trial-and-error professionals, I maintained, are the people who have failed Liberia. Tubman, an eight grade graduate, cannot be considered a bookman when his immediate predecessor was a university professor and other contemporaries - pro-independence leaders and African nationalists- as Hasting Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Kenneth Kaunda of Rhodesia, Nnamdi Azikwe of Nigeria, were fully equipped with PhD’s to run their respective countries or independence movement.

Politically, Tubman was a flat failure! His Unification Policy was a charade. His Council Meetings; i.e., his trips to the interior, were simply to have the opportunity to be presented with "native women" on whom he could demonstrate his manhood. His creation of new counties was to flood the legislature with illiterates and by so doing prevent and stifle debate even in a one-party state! Politically, Tubman is on record for "uncovering" the first coup plot, on record for conducting the first "treason trial" in which the defendants were obviously found guilty. The so-called coup plot was clearly another opportunity to hunt down and drive into exile his political opponents especially degree holders like Didho Twe. Tubman is on record for carrying out the first politically motivated murder (The case of opposition politician Samuel David Coleman and son). Certainly, that is what you get when you give power to a trial-and-error politician. There is a clear distinction between the government of university professor Barclay and that of the eight-grader Tubman. The people perished when power is given to unschooled or semi-literates politicians.

Some one might argue, okay, we all know Tubman was no saint, so naturally he did some evil things and failed politically, but on the economic front, at least, he "brought" the Open Door Policy and the Open Door Policy brought money to Liberia, didn’t it? Certainly, that can be counted as a success. My response to that is: granted the Open Door Police flourished under Tubman, and money flowed in, no doubt, but what did the money do for Liberia? Was this new-found wealth shared equitably with all Liberians? Did this money improve the living standards of the common man? The answer is a clear and consistent no! As for the figures quoting economic performance, I have no qualms; there was indeed economic growth – without development – under W.V.S. Tubman. Consider the following excerpts from a work published in 1971 by the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs titled: Liberia remembers Tubman’s Diamond Jubilee:

1. UN Statistical Bulletin stated that Liberia achieved the highest GDP growth rate (624%) in the world from 1950-1969 GDP grew from US$48M in 1950 to 356M in 1969.

2. UN Economic Commission for Africa statistics revealed that during the same period Liberia’s GDP rose from one of the lowest to the second highest in Black Africa.

3. The Open Door Policy resulted in foreign direct investment (FDI) growing from US$5M to over US$1Billion

4. The value of foreign trade grew from less than US$13M in 1943 to US$310M in 1969. That’s an average compound rate of 15% considered one of the highest in Africa.

Did I hear someone ask where did all that money go? Of course, the money went in so many places like in foreign bank account of Tubman and other government officials, Tubman's cronies, luxury cruises, public relation officers (civilian spies) etc; Baby Shad even took a good chunk to casinos of Las Vegas. So in the case of Tubman would you say a degree holder failed Liberia? How dare you for that would be slander and slander is not only a sin, it is also a crime.

Was William R. Tolbert a degree holder and was he a failure? Tolbert graduated from Liberia College (now University of Liberia) with first class honors. He even ascended to the presidency of the World Baptist Alliance, a further attestation of universal recognition of his scholarship and leadership. One can only infer from the aforementioned that Tolbert was well educated. Now the big question is was he a failure?

In 1980 "native" women sang of their giving birth to "sojas" and of how "sojaman" killed Tolbert. Today, 24 years later, history has judged Tolbert simply as the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tolbert stood between desire to maintain the aristocracy of the TWP’s Old Guards and demand for multiparty democracy and mass participation of the Progressives. If he moved too far to the left he could be crucified by the Old Guards and if he moved to slowly or at least stood in the way, he could be overrun by the speed of the Progressives. As things turned out, he stood midway and got run over by the masses. Yet, today Liberians generally have fond memories of Tolbert, not so much for what he did wrong as for what he did right; for his love of punctuality, his support for education, his philosophy of humanistic capitalism, his overtures for African solidarity, and his initiatives on infrastructural development. Moreover, today, even Bacchus Mathews and the "native" women would be constrained to admit that Tolbert’s government was so much better than the looting, mayhem and massacres that we witnessed under his successors, Doe and Taylor. So ultimately was Tolbert, a book politician, a failure? The answer is not an emphatic but a considerate YES – given the very dismal performance of those who killed Tolbert because of "rampant corruption" and "violation of the civil, constitutional rights of the Liberian people."

Was Doe a degree holder and was he a failure? Master Sergeant Doe without the slightest doubt was not a degree holder at least up to 1989 – for 8-9 years of Doe’s rule; he was nothing more than the half-educated school dropouts (I spoke of earlier) who insist they must be allowed to practice profession for which they’ve got no training or experience. Secondly, Doe spilled human blood in order to get to power, for he was neither elected in 1980 nor in 1986. Any wonder then he left power in 1990 in similar manner as he entered in 1980?

Now, was the school dropout and trial-and-error politician, Doe, a failure? Most people in Liberia today are already familiar with the performance of the Doe government. What some may not be familiar with though are his words in 1980. My duty here, firstly, is to let Doe’s very own words be the yardstick by which he is judged, for it is only in matching Doe words with his deeds can one know whether or not Doe was a failure or success. On Monday, April 14, 1980, Master Sergeant Doe Samuel K. Doe, head of the new government, the People’s Redemption Council, made his first address to the nation. He summarized his reason for overthrowing the Tolbert government as follows:

1. Rampant Corruption characterized by conflict of interest, influence peddling and use of government position for private gain.

2. Failure of government to effectively respond to the problems of the Liberian people such as rising unemployment, rise in the cost of living, low wages, high rent, poor health and housing conditions and inadequate education facilities.

3. Violation of the civil, human and constitutional rights of the Liberian people including illegal search and seizure
4. Concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few and prevention of full participation by the masses in the political process.

5. Erosion of participatory system of check and balances in government - A Short History of the First Liberian Republic by Dr J.S. Guannu, P 15.

After 10 years of Sammy Doe’s rule and comparing what Doe preached against what he practiced, one must certainly laugh. One must of necessity laugh, because comparatively all the accusations Doe made against Tolbert, Doe did much worse than Tolbert. The below constitute excerpts from Doe’s ten-year rule vis-à-vis his accusation against the Tolbert government.

DOE’s WORDS – Rampant Corruption.
DOE’s DEEDS – Doe died a multi-millionaire and a proud owner of mansions and estates
in and outside of Liberia, despite the fact that his presidential salary was a mere L$3,600. Overnight his status changed from that of a pauper to the chief patron of sports, weddings, parties, festivals, funerals etc.

DOE WORDS – Low wages, high rent, inadequate support to health and education.
DOE DEEDS – Support for health and education programs actually dwindled under the Doe’s regime. Liberia’s only referral and teaching hospital, JFK, for example, built by the Americans in 1965, became a national disgrace. The annual budget – of JFK – was originally US$12M, but between 1983-1989, as public monies were misappropriated, it received only $6.2M (ie a full 48% drop) (SOURCE Daily Observer, January 31, 1989).

Also, a World Bank Study in 1988 noted that between 1982-1986 public primary school enrollment drop 27% (ie. from 109,681 to 80,098). The total percentage of the national income spent on education in 1980 and ‘83, was 24.3% and 13.2% respectively – a full 45% drop in Doe’s government commitment to education. SOURCE: Melvin J. Mason, Liberian Education: Toward the 21st Century published in the Daily Observer 25 July 1989 P. 5

DOE WORDS – Violation of human and constitutional rights of the Liberian people - including illegal searches and illegal detentions.

DOE DEEDS – One can only begin to imaging how bad human rights abuse was under Doe when one hears, for example, Doe’s Minister of Justice, Jenkins K.Z.B. Scott, goes on record for saying "Due process is foreign to Africa"- thereby sanctioning Doe’s uncountable extra judicial arrests, tortures and murders (SOURCE Paul Gifford, Christianity and Politics in Doe’s Liberia, P. 26). While Tubman is credited with being the first Liberian president to introduce politically- motivated murder as in the Samuel David Coleman case, Doe is, indeed, the father of massacres (mass murders), beginning with the 13 TWP politicians, the Nimba Raid, the mass reprisal killings after the 1986 attempted coup and the Lutheran Church massacre 1990.

DOE’s WORDS – Concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few and erosion of checks and balances in government.

DOE’s DEEDS – During Doe’s 10 year rule, who else wielded political power and accumulated
overnight wealth, but his Krahn ethnic group and political harlots like Kekura Kpoto. Where were the checks and balances when the legislators were in Doe’s pocket and the judges were under his gunpoint (remember the bribery case between Chief Justice Cheapo and Doe’s Uncle Harper Bailey).

It strikes a chord that Doe’s record on corruption, human rights and democracy, concentration of power etc. are very similar to Tubman’s record. Did I hear you say their educational levels? Well yes, you guessed right! They were both half-educated persons trusted with power. It’s a pity what half-educated people do with power (remember Idi Amin of Uganda, Pol Pot of Cambodia, and Adolf Hitler of Germany etc). Indeed those that forget history are bound to repeat it! And Liberians are still calling for half-educated people to be given power on the misguided theory that the Book-People-Failed-Liberia. The advocates of this misguided theory must have pawned their common sense.

As for Charles Taylor, it is simply no use asking whether his government was a failure. It was a failure beyond description. The best comparism one can make is to match him with failures like Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seku, Mohammad Siad Barre, Jonas Savimbi, Magistu Haile Mariam etc. to see which of these men did the worst damage to the reputation of Africa.

What I might bother to survey is whether or not Taylor was an educated man. By educated, I do not mean whether or not he spoke the English language well, because except for instances where he spoke Liberian pidgin, Taylor spoke good English. But on the academic level, all we know was that he attended so and so school – including the University of Liberia. Never have we heard of the school from which he graduated, though Taylor claims he hold a MBA from Boston University. I do not find that surprising at all, for back in the days, when he was in America, he was a good friend of Nyondueh Monokormana and I suppose while Monokormana was "attending" Columbia, Taylor was equally "attending" Boston. Notwithstanding, Taylor’s policies on energy and economics clearly show that he was either expelled from the economics class or he left to attend the School of Hard Knocks (ie. the street school). Taylor then can best be classified as a school dropout.

During Liberia’s transition to constitutional order, there were several ad-hoc arrangements between 1990-1997. These included the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) headed by Dr. Amos Sawyer and other arrangements like LNTG I and II headed by 5 persons. It is difficult to apportion failure or success in a government of 5 presidents; hence my analysis of interim governments will focus on the Interim Government of National Unity headed by Dr Amos Sawyer.

My memories of IGNU are the fondest in war/post-war Liberia. Representative democracy was seen at its best. Freedom of the press flourished. Dissenters were not hounded and chased into exile. For the first time and probably the only time I can remember, the National Legislature rejected a presidential nominee, Dr. S. Byron Tarr, and Dr. Sawyer humbly accepted and replaced him with Francis Karpeh. Fond memories Indeed!

Despite the fact that IGNU controlled only Monrovia and surrounding towns, the economy under Dr. Sawyer flourished. The very coins that nobody wants now were universally accepted, and Sawyer did not decree its acceptance. I remember, as a high school student, how L$4 worth of kanyan and L$1 bag of cold water would make my day; how L$2 could take me from Broad Street to Oldroad; and how L$5 could take me from the same Broad Street to my home in Paynesville. The exchange rate was still wearing "short pants", hovering around L$10-15 to US$1. Yes, those were the days before Taylor’s "triumphant" entry into Monrovia, the days when home rent was still quoted in Liberian dollars. That was the government of Dr. Amos Sawyer, former professor of Political Science, University of Liberia. How dare your argue then that there isn’t a very thin line between pedestal political success and the halls of academia?


Enough has been said already to demonstrate that the theory that the "Book-People-Failed-Liberia doesn’t hold water. Analyses have shown that our half-educated presidents and politicians like Tubman, Doe and Taylor ran some of the worst governments in Liberian history, while the governments of the educated people like Sawyer, Barclay and Tolbert ran successful or at least comparatively better governments than their less-educated counterparts. Politics is a highly delicate profession and not a trial-and-error business. When a medical doctor fails someone gets crippled or dies prematurely, when a lawyer fails, an innocent person suffers injustice while the guilty walks scot-free, BUT WHEN A PRESIDENT FAILS, A NATION IS SHATTERED and the degree holders are always the first group of people called in to pick up the broken pieces.