Reflections On The Wrangling Among Liberia’s Educated Elites: Preventing New Pitfalls

By Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 13, 2005

As Liberia transitions from war to peace, squabble is raging among the nation’s educated elites once again. The recent example of these divisions has emerged among members of the Steering Committee designated/elected to facilitate an All Liberian National Conference (ALNC). The Internet has been inundated with emails, a few sensible and the majority reflecting the disappointing quality of thought that emerges from mere jousting for power and infatuation with self. The ad hoc institution formed to serve, as the vehicle for hosting a conference to lay the foundations for democratic and open governance has become a furrow of despotism. Months later, we are left wondering about the direction of this effort, aside from the fact that the old leadership has been removed and a new leadership has been instituted. Like other squabbles before it, this conflict is destructive rather than constructive. It has again added to the negative light that the general populace perceives Liberian educated elites.

The reason for these divisions resides in history, one that has made mistrust a staple of interactions or relationships between Liberian educated elites. For 25 years now, (since 1980) Liberian educated elites have been divided into various opposing factions. This has not been an ideological split, but a quest for personal influence and power. I start here because it is at this point where Liberian educated elites formed themselves into principally two factions: one loyal to Samuel K. Doe, Chairman of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) and the other to Thomas Weh Syen, Vice Chairman of the PRC. Ever since then, they have not formed alliances without some of the old wounds resurfacing and overwhelming collaboration. Then, the fallout from these divisions manifested itself in the implication of Weh Syen in an alleged coup and his subsequent execution by the then People’s Redemption Council (PRC), coupled with the fallout between Samuel K. Doe and Thomas Quiwonkpa, Commanding General of the Liberian Military.

Those supposedly loyal to Doe worked the nights to assure that their peers loyal to Weh Syen were couched as detractors and unpatriotic, and vice versa. This devious formula eroded the credibility of the educated elites and soon made the military regime suspicious of its intellectual patrons. It was not long when the military men begun to purge their institutions of the educated elites. Thus the nation started on a downward spiral from which it has yet not recovered. With the educated elites out of the government, some of whom had better understanding of the policy and programmatic interventions necessary for rebuilding the nation, government became a free for all, merely inviting predators rather than patriots.

If Liberian educated elites cannot agree among themselves about the mechanisms for hosting a national conference, what message does that send to the general public? When the educated elites quarrel among themselves unreasonably we invite suspicion and misgiving on the part of the Liberian people. If the educated elites are entrusted with administering the state -- would the process not be hindered by unnecessary intellectual formalities or lingering mistrust? This may be the suspicion and fear that interpret the realities of the average Liberian.

This essay is an invitation to my colleagues to think hard about the consequences of their actions. My hope also is to prevent new wars among Liberia’s much-needed educated sons and daughters. Many of Liberia’s educated elites may want to presume that they can overcome the bad omen that they have generated by continuing to practice in the same old tradition. I believe that there is only one way out. Overcoming the entrenched view held by the Liberian people that their educated sons and daughters are all about themselves and cannot make a difference in their lives; is critical to bringing about reforms in Liberia, perhaps more than any simple change paradigm. Threats from corruption and poverty are not the sole impediments to building a new society. Repairing the credibility gap that the educated elites have with the national populace is in my view right at the top with poverty, illiteracy, disease, unemployment and the like. Solutions to Liberia’s woes lie in closing this gap and defeating the “crab philosophy” of pulling one another down in an effort to get out of the bucket.

Instead of pondering the sources of the conflict among Liberia’s educated elites, I see more value in reminding my colleagues of our shared values and the usefulness of collaboration especially when our country and people need us the most. In my view, what we have in common is based on five important principles. These principles bind us more than they divide us. First, while the process of seeking an education is a selfish pursuit, the underlying purpose, I believe, is selfless. Education or skill acquisition of any kind should prepare the recipient to contribute to the well being of society. Second, education or skill building should also liberate and empower by allowing the knowledge recipient to gain broader perspectives and exposure beyond the narrow confines of their personal space and context. Third, education or skill acquisition should unite its beneficiaries into a network of sorts, allowing them to support and enhance the thought processes and well being of one another, including the larger society. Fourth, education or skill acquisition should make people curious, always searching for solutions to old and new problems. Fifth, education or skill acquisition of any sort should prompt those with advanced knowledge to want to mentor and sharpen the focus of those with less knowledge and skills.

I do not intend here to suggest that the larger illiterate or non-formally educated populace does not have the same patriotic zeal to want to make a difference in the life of our country. I am also not suggesting that the educated elites are the only group plagued with such a “crab philosophy.” The warring factions have given us numerous examples of the capacity to pull each other down while seeking to reach for the spoils of the society as the nation perish. This paper is intended to speak to a problem, which I perceive is more visible among the educated elites. Should we fail to address it, all other efforts aimed at rebuilding our nation may seemingly be deterred by the continued squabbles among the educated elites since their skills are indispensable to launching the nation building effort. I should also note that intellectual divisions among the educated elites are useful, that is if the differences of opinion are aimed at developing and refining strategies and techniques for rebuilding. But when we allow ourselves to get bogged down by petit jealousies and turf fights, we create avenues for the world community to continue to perceive us as lacking focus and merely flippant.

Academic differences are manageable, but what is not bearable is that we succumb to the “crab philosophy” and allow it to distract us from the greater purpose of giving our native Liberia a new start, which it deserves. It is my view that all of the conflict and political posturing is rooted in a selfish quest of individuals for power, privilege, and influence, and for some, relevance, which time and circumstance have eroded. It should be noted that all of these things, which the educated elites seek can be garnered in an honest and respectable manner without risking their personal reputations and the safety and security of the Liberian people. A successful nation building strategy in the new republic depends greatly on the willingness of Liberia’s educated sons and daughters to recognize that their skills and gifts are complementary rather than adversarial. Our National Anthem is a constant reminder that “In Union Strong Success Is Sure” while the title song of our National Flag, The Lone Star For Ever, urges us to work together With Hearts and Hands Our Country Cause Defending….”
About the author: Emmanuel Dolo lives with his family in Maplewood, Minnesota. He can be contacted at