The Making of National Heroes and Heroines – Part II

By: Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 28, 2015



At Liberia’s establishment, the Congoe-Country divide placed ethnic identity over national identity. It fostered longstanding tensions between citizenship and ethnicity. The stratified citizenship or ethnic separatism was done at the expense of building a collective sense of citizenship and social cohesion throughout the population. The civil conflict reinforced social polarization and with the shrinking space of citizenship came threat to political stability – ethnic politics dragging communities into cycles of protracted enmity. In the aftermath of the war, these pressuresand/or rigidities have been straining and fragmenting the social fabric even with the presence of peace.

As one of many attempts to reexamine the organization of the Liberian state, this article undertakes an analysis of the nature and dynamics of heroism with respect to how it can be made relevant to the challenges of social exclusion, cultural tensions, and marginalization. It considers the bearingnational heroes and heroines can have on building an all-inclusive citizenship and forging social solidarity amongst all Liberians. It providessome general and particular questions to ask and perspectives to use in analyzing the topic with the hope of bringing new insights to the national conversation. Making national heroes and heroines is examined with the root drivers of the civil conflict in mind, mainly, the absence of nationalism and social cohesion. It is undeniable that promoting social integration in Liberia is indelibly constrained by political and social schisms and narrow loyalties, which undermine peaceful coexistence. This is true as manifested in Liberian public discourse, where we see more words of enmity and de-legitimization of “others” in the highly contested discourse on dual citizenship. This destructive tendency must be stopped, thoroughly uprooted, and addressed for the social fabric to heal. The cultivation of national heroes and heroines can spur the restoration of unity amongst various segments of society, including marginalized populations.

Phillip Zimbardo, the psychologist, defines heroes or heroines as people who display such attributes as “integrity, compassion, and moral courage” and have an enduring commitment to social action. He adds: that heroism is common, a universal attribute of human nature and not exclusive to a few special individuals. The heroic act is extraordinary, the heroic actor is an ordinary person—until he or she becomes a heroic special individual. We may all be called upon to act heroically at some time, when opportunity arises. We would do well, as a society and as a civilization, to conceive of heroism as something within the range of possibilities for every person.”The goal of this article is to make popular the concept of heroism and motivate each of us to pursue it with the focus on unifying the social fabric.

That heroism is within the reach of everyone, how do we make this manifest in our lives as Liberians? How do we build a society that addresses the root causes of the war? How do we build the cultural, ethnic, and religious mosaic that is compatible with the nation’s emerging pluralism? How do we reinforce bonds of civic unity and a sense of communal history? What will bind the various groups in Liberian society together and prevent the spread of mutual mistrust and conflict? How can “citizenship” achieve its dynamic “integrative” purpose, if we allow ourselves to remain separated along parochial lines?How do we stop “citizenship” from being yet another source of discord, rather than nurturing unity in the face of growing diversity? By making the answers of these questions real in our individual and collective lives, we are certainly able to make heroism possible.

Since the advent of the Liberian state, its history has been defined by large number of prominent personalities, among them, William VS Tubman to William R. Tolbert, Samuel K. Doe and Charles G. Taylor and now Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. If a definitive history of the nation were written, what legacy moments would historiansrecordabout these leaders? What characteristics of leadership during these periods would historians hold as exemplars of good or poor governance? How would each of these leadershave shaped Liberian society, noteworthy of being in the historical spotlight? What image of governance would remain forever sealed in the public imagination about each era? Which leaders from each period would be counted amongst Liberian greats and what would catapult them to such a stature?

In a country like Liberia, with its history of political and social upheaval as well as entrenched inequalities, where girls, women, and people experiencing entrenched poverty(overlapping groups) have continued to suffer exceptional levels of disadvantages, how far has the society come on gender equality and pro-poor policy? Has our fight for political equality been inextricably linked to women and poor people’s fight for social justice? Who are the stalwarts of women and poor people’s struggles for political, social, and economic change?

An opportunity to celebrate the lives and times of the heroes and heroines of our national struggle for democracy is an opportunity to reflect and reaffirm the intrinsic roots of our nation and the continuing relevance of nation building and social cohesion. Who are our national heroes and heroines? Could it be Ibrahim Seesay, Sao Boso, Sengbekeke Sims, Suacoco, Kpanagoba, Edward Frazier Gbessagee, Madma Mama Dukuly, Madam Weh Glapor Tetee or Chief Wrea Musu? Could they also be Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Nathaniel Brander, Berverly Page Yates, Stephen Allen Benson, Daniel B. Warner, James Spriggs Payne, Doris Banks Henries, or Suzanna Lewis? Which of these figures would be remembered for having spurred changes reminiscent of the French and American Revolutions within our history? Does the significance of each person mentioned above or those left out solely because of the scarcity of space go beyond that of their particular ethnic group?

It is established history that the Americo-Liberians, forcibly deprived indigenous people of land and natural resources, and there were indigenous people who stood up to fight for their right to self-determination and human rights. Although some of these indigenous people were labeled as lawbreakers, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned, has the democratic breakthrough since 2005 awakened all of us, both indigenous people and Americo-Liberians, to the fact that we are, after all, members of the same human community and a family? Have we realized that the only way we can be free is if all of us are free, equal and treated as brothers and sisters?True, this realization may not come like “manna from heaven” or in one instantaneous sweep, but hopefully, the brutality of the war and the liberation struggle, the revolutionary morality that underpinned it as well as the bloodshed and destruction we all enduredmeted out by both Americo-Liberians and indigenous people have taught us bitter lessons and the necessity to reunify and work together for the common good. We can look back and say that the revolutionary struggle did not only involve indigenous people, but there were Americo-Liberians who committed class suicide, and joined the pursuit of justice on behalf of the indigenous populace. Their “revolutionary”scruples must also be the bedrock and mainstay of our heritage and quest for stronger nationhood and social cohesion.

To prevent us from building the new Liberia on a weak foundation, even quicksand, these histories must be taught to all of young people, regardless of ethnicity, class, or gender. But the history that we teach of our heroes and heroines must bind us together and mobilize us to do good for one another, and ultimately for the country. In doing so, we must be able to draw distinctive principles and values of our national development and nation building project from such stories of our past.

The history of our nation is clearly not that one party or group of people, fought for change, but the story of us as a united front, in our refusal to never again surrender to the egotistical narrow-mindedness and selfishness that destroyed usfrom the dawn of the country through the coup making years to the warring period. Our history must be underlined by the inherent values of freedom, equality, and justice for all. This means that if there is a framework or structure that should guide our choice of heroes and heroines, it must be one that makes the salient point –citizenship is when individuals and communities recognize that they need each other, and each cannot claim to be superior to the other, but require harmonious, mutually reinforcing interaction.

Those who forge our social cohesion should then be registered as national heroes and heroines. The nation’s dignity depends on the discipline it uses to select its icons of history – those who muster the courage to speak against the pitfalls of history that we must avoid so that we should never return to the tyrannical and warring eras. Our national heroes and heroines are those who instill hope in the future by giving every Liberian dignity. By upholding democratic principles, cultural integration, and bold desire for change, we ensure that the peace for which we crave is sustained.
Who are our national heroes and heroines? They are the people who seek innovative ways to end the grinding poverty, deprivation, illiteracy, and mistrust that is wreaked upon the social fabric. Those who have and will transform our economy into one that is able to address the basic needs of all Liberians: food, shelter, education, health, and security - will qualify as national heroes and heroines. The economic prosperity of this nation will not happen when there are no qualified and dedicated teachers who establish a culture of learning and teaching; nurses and doctors who attend to people’s health and well-being. Equally, our country faces a spiritual disease of “lordship” that has deprived us all of building a caring and inclusive society. We therefore need interfaith leaders and communities that can heal this and other spiritual decadences that we face, while serving as the social conscience of the society – preaching equity. We need them to harness our national character and integrityand thus,in doing so, also emerge as national heroes and heroines. Our civic leaders who equip the young, mid-age, and old with inclusive citizenship values would also be lauded as heroes and heroines.

This quest for national heroes and heroines is a question about our collective vision of the kind of society we want to build in the aftermath of tumultuous times. We hunger for a democratic society that is “unified, non-ethnic, non-sexist, and prosperous,” and the prosperity that is shared widely. It is devoid of the self-righteous arrogance that points fingers at one group as the culprit of the society’s failings and denies responsibility for its actions in the nightmarish saga. The pursuit of these goals must define our quest for national heroes and heroines. Philanthropists, who give their personal resources to worthy causes on behalf of the vulnerable will certainly go down in our history as national heroes and heroines. We must honor our national heroes and heroines because their contributions should not be taken for granted and draw inspiration from those influences.

Strong individuals and institutions in Liberian society, among both Indigenous People and Settlers, must continue to engage and advocate for improving the terms of our coexistence and the building of a multicultural and multiethnic civic democracy against strident forces on the other side of the debate. These individuals and institutions must help to fit the pieces of our scattered history and painful reminisces together in distinctive ways to tell the life story of our communal heritage devoid of prejudices and preferences. That there are many compelling, but competing stories of Liberia’s past is a fact, but interpreting them is a challenge for our historians: formal and informal; oral and written. Understanding of the past will remain incomplete, which is why we must keep the intellectual curiosity well and alive – cultivating and deepening our understanding of the past.

We will certainly disagree with one another on individual candidates for national heroes and heroines, but we would have to agree that our national heroes and heroines are those imbued with talents, creativity, and leadership – who use their gifts in service of others and society. Our national heroes and heroines work hard to achieve more and give more so that they can eventually make a big difference in our lives. The destiny of the nation remains at risk so long large numbers of Liberians continue to believe that our diversity is a social problem of disruptive kind, rather than the nation’s strength. In selecting our national heroes and heroines, the messages that we will be sending are as follows: the values that we cherish, the development goals that we should pursue, the loyalties that we should hold dear, the social and political norms that we should follow, and our hopes and dreams for the future. This is why Healey’s words are so apt for the moment: “Our nation is not built. It is still under construction. We are all the builders.”

Previewing Part III: It will deal with my personal heroes and heroines and taps into the intimate/domestic sphere, the traditional value system and family structure that steered me, how my heroes and heroines made critical life-saving difference in my growth and development. I will also capture and interweave some of the many comments that I have received from readers on this important topic in the final article in the series.

The Author: Emmanuel Dolo is the President and CEO of the Center for Liberia’s Future, an independent think tank based in Duazon, Liberia.

I have always wondered why the Native tribes didn't use their natural resources to their advantage before the Americo-Liberians arrived. If they did, where are the results? Even after the settlers created Liberia most of the land was still under native control. Even with more advanced weapons 5% of the population could in no way manage and control all of the land mass that would eventually become Liberia not to mention hundreds of thousands of indigenous people! So there is certainly more to the story than is being told in slanted pieces that portray Americo-Liberians as some sort of Godly Super-beings that could work miracles. Also the Country-Congoe divide introduced a new rift, there were existing rifts between the indigenous tribes already.
CK at 03:19PM, 2016/01/29.
Sylvester Moses
A Well-introduced, and well-developed case for the "The Making of Heroes and Heroines, an activity which was undermined by some of the assumptions of the Congua - Country divide. After all, others contend that was the purpose of the Old Testament Bible, and Homer's Iliad. But considering the realities on the ground, we wonder whether myth-making is the best use of the time of adviser to a besieged president in a fragile state.
Sylvester Moses at 11:10AM, 2016/01/30.
Emmanuel Dolo
Mr. Moses,

If you took the time to read the note about the author, it says precisely my current employment status. Thanks.


Emmanuel Dolo at 12:50PM, 2016/01/30.
Sylvester Moses
Thanks,Dr Dolo, for the reminder; we stand corrected.
Sylvester Moses at 06:48PM, 2016/01/30.
Dempster Yallah
Umm! Anxiously awaiting to read who made brother Dolo's list of "heroines and heroes" of Liberia. Hopefully this will transcend the conventional "my ma, my pa, former teacher this and the other sentimental preferences. I say so because Dr. Dolo himself seems to fit the very characterzation he so aptly coined of people he described as, "self-righteous" and "arrogant," in the despicable habit of "pointing fingers at one group as the culprit of society's failings..." Hence like one of those Academy Award nights, we will be anxiously waiting. ...Carpe diem!
Dempster Yallah at 07:28AM, 2016/01/31.
Sylvester Moses
Dr. Dolo, notwithstanding, the "assumptions" were/ are the competing, contrasting, and conflicting perspectives of the story of a land mass called Liberia, which were underscored by President Tolbert's farsighted nullification of Matilda Newport Day. In other words, we believe that "reviewing Liberia's state symbols to renew national identity", and hence reconcile, not revise, her history is fundamental, if not foundational, in determining/ making heroes and heroines.
Sylvester Moses at 07:38AM, 2016/01/31.
Sylvester Moses
Needless to say,"if the goal of the article is to make popular the concept of heroism and motivate each of us to pursue it with the focus on unifying the social fabric", we shouldn't individually be choosing "personal heroes and heroines". That coalescing task so central to our collective aspiration for national reconciliation must be performed by a nonpartisan multidisciplinary panel.
Sylvester Moses at 01:19PM, 2016/01/31.
Kou Gontee

"The fact that you can participate in all of the various discussions about Liberia and is manifold nation building challenges, many of which emanated from the Doe administration without the reckless and repressive tools of government amassed against you distinguishes the Sirleaf administration from the one for which you worked."

Now Mr. Dolo, please actually tell us "WHAT DISTINGUISHES the Sirleaf administration from" the Tolbert´s, Doe´s, and Taylor´s, ADMINISTRATIONS with critics and defectors of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf been murdered on a daily basis; not to mention journalists dragged from their desks and thrown in jail with their cameras and microphones destroyed!


MR. DOLO, PLEASE TELL US WHAT DISTINGUISHES the Sirleaf administration from" the Tolbert´s, Doe´s, and Taylor´s, ADMINISTRATIONS when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf whose son is one of those with keys to the vault at the National Bank decides to change the head of the very bank(Mill Jones) while investigation is going on, and when the bank´s governor´s (Mill Jones´) term has not yet expired!

Kou Gontee at 04:56AM, 2016/02/01.
Emmanuel Dolo
Kou Gontee,

From your tirade or devious mind you seem to know more about who killed Harry Greaves than me. In civilized society, when matters are under investigation, conscious people refrain from comments, especially damning ones. Instead, they console the bereaved family.

We are mourning the loss of a friend, and I joined Harry's brother and family yesterday to express the condolence of my family to them during this difficult moment.

Sadly, the blatant insensitivity that you have demonstrated here, pointing accusatory fingers at "whomever" speaks volumes of your state of mind and mood. You are only deserving of prayer and empathy.

Emmanuel Dolo at 09:12AM, 2016/02/01.
Emmanuel Dolo
Dear Kou Gontee,

There are instances in life that require each of us to suspend judgment, and leave behind our prejudiced conditioning. Sadly, some of us lack the maturity to undertake such a cognitive process – move from irrational state of mind to one where you make the moral or ethical decisions required in sensitive matters. The kind of premature judgment that you have displayed here is so undignified that you are not worthy of any further engagement. It is apparent that you are one of those people who voice strong opinions based on third-party rumors and supposition – the mark of accumulated erroneous knowledge – riddled with errors, remarks that are just not true.

What does President Sirleaf stand to benefit from killing her long-time friend as you have insinuated? What threat does he pose to Liberia? Lots of President Sirleaf's critics pervade the streets of Monrovia including former cabinet officials and ordinary citizens of multiplicity of identities. What was so special about Harry Greaves that she would order his brutal killing? You might know.

Do you know the President's state of mind upon suddenly hearing of this traumatic news? It will do you a lot of good, even if you do not know how to suspend your judgment, in respect for the bereaved family and the slew of Liberian people who are in mourning.

As is the case with many unsettled minds with lots of free time on hand, you might be in search for a new level of certainty and pattern of predictability here, but leave this subject alone. Harry was my friend and his brother is one of my closest friends. I ask for your indulgence when the family is enduring tremendous pain and sorrow. Let the investigation take its course.

Emmanuel Dolo
Emmanuel Dolo at 10:34AM, 2016/02/01.

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