By: Moses Uneh Yahmia
“No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough, and the masses will regard as the truth”.
The above quotation is attributed to Winston Churchill- a British statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940-1945, 1951-1955. The denotative meaning of Churchill’s words can be credited to unearthing the Ponzi scheme that has been persistently purveyed or parroted by the revisionists of Liberia’s history in their attempt to stamp a guilty verdict on the “Progressive forces” for confronting the 133years misrule of the moribund True Whig Party; paradoxically, at the same time, celebrating the brutal and callous restoration of the old order during the latter time of Samuel K. Doe and the war crime convict, Charles Taylor. What they have refused to realize is that this scheme has time without number been resisted by the masses of the people who are the prime beneficiaries of the selfless struggle of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), and the National Students Movement (SUP, LINSU, and CU) in the 70s, and moving forward.
It is against this backdrop that we took up time to pen these corroborating ideas as a way of continuing the education of our people relative to the role of the progressive forces in Liberia’s history. This will help to enlighten the minds of Liberians who have been brainwashed by people who brutally fought to maintain their political and economic dominance over the motherland. Therefore, in this piece, we will layout the objective conditions of the masses of our people in the 1970s, which obviously necessitated the struggle of the progressives. We will as well provide a lucid understanding about who are considered as Progressives in the political history of Liberia, and the reading audience will also get an in-depth knowledge about what constituted the politics of the progressives and how they went about informing the people about their conviction as means to galvanize their mass support. More importantly, this piece will also provide ways in which the struggle of the progressives has positively shifted the political culture of the Republic in this present dispensation for which they must be appreciated.
After One Hundred and Twenty-three (123) years of existence as an independent sovereign state, by 1970 Liberia remained a geographical space that was void of all the major ingredients of a nation. This space was not one of equal partners; it existed not as a place where everyone would hope, dream and aspire together as one people with diverse culture. It was a land where a minority clique with political and economic power regarded the majority of the people who made up the indigenous masses as objects and as a result were isolated from the historical development of the state. Take for instance, the national symbols of our country only represented the aims and aspirations of the settler slaves who directed and controlled the land politically and economically, thus disregarding the aspirations, and history of the indigenous masses. For example, the national motto “The love of liberty brought us here” is discriminatory. Every Liberian did not settle here in search of liberty. Some of our people settled here in search of suitable agricultural land. Some of them settled here as a result of escaping land locked territories after the fall of the big and wealthy empires in Africa. Some of them settled here due to inter-marriages and similarities in tradition and culture in the region.
In furtherance, the indigenous masses which made up the majority segment of the country’s population were denied popular political participation - one of the fundamental fulcrums of democracy. This is evidenced by the property clause in the 1847 Liberia’s Constitution which denied our poverty stricken forefathers from electing their leaders because they did not own properties or pay hut taxes. Their leaders were chosen from Monrovia without their involvement. If you meticulously read the preamble of Liberia’s 1847 Constitution, you will discover reasons why the settler slaves founded this nation. They postulated that “We the people of the Republic of Liberia were originally inhabitants of the United States of North America. In some parts of the country, we were debarred by law from all the rights and privileges of men- in other parts, public sentiments, more powerful than law, frowned on us. We were everywhere shut out from civil office; we were excluded from all participation in the government; we were taxed without our consent; we were compelled to contribute to the resources of a country, which gave us no protection..........”. The irony and tragedy is that, a people who suffered the bankruptcy and brutality of political and economic suppression of marginalization in America became the chief architects of the same acts of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man against the native sons and daughters of Liberia. Liberia became a land of the once oppressed becoming the oppressor.
Is it not evidenced that sentiments were used to deny the people’s children access to government and non-governmental jobs during settler slaves’ domination of Liberia? Is it not evidenced in the political history of Liberia that laws were used to make our people pay hut taxes without their consent? Has history not proven that during the TWP epoch our people were made through coercion and intimidation to work the land at the various plantations and mining pits without benefiting from the fruits of their labor through economic protection? Has it not been validated that the economic growth attained during the twenty- seven years of the True Whig Party’s Tubman led regime as a result of the exportation of natural rubbers and iron ore only benefited the few elites and subjected the masses of the people to poverty, diseases and ignorance? Is it not a fact that our people were denied rights to educational opportunities only because they refused to be assimilated, or were not members of the Methodist and Baptist Churches, the Masonic Temple, or families connected to the oligarchy?
Are you not aware that the rights of our people to speak critically about the status quo were amputated by the people who ruled this space for more than a century? Are you not also aware that the democratic tenet of freedom of the press was a taboo in a land directed and controlled by the now non-operational True Whig Party? It is audible to the deaf and visible to the blind that these were the prevailing realities in a country that was established under the banner and insignia of “All men are born equally freed and independent, and have certain natural, inherent, and inalienable rights; among which, are the rights of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property and of pursuing happiness”. The subjective conditions outlined in the preceding paragraphs amounted to the objective condition of the motherland by 1970. That was the state of affairs that the people we call “progressives” today had to be confronted with.
The emergence of robust progressive politics in Liberia started with the formation of the Students Unification Party (SUP) in 1970 at the University of Liberia, as well as the involvement of the radical students from the Cuttington College now University. We had the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) headed by Tokpa Nah Tipoteh, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), headed by Gabriel Baccus Matthews that also made up the progressive forces in Liberia. The students from the University of Liberia and Cuttington College now University became influenced by the self- sacrificing struggle of PAL and MOJA, thus provided ideological justifications for confronting the tyranny and barbarity of the kleptomaniac True Whig Party. These were a genre of Liberians who were thinking about the changing of the Liberian society in the context of many radical revolutions globally.
They had watched the determined, united, conscious and courageous people of Vietnam militarized by Ho Chi Minh defeated the conventional army of the United States of America in 1975. They were reading about the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa with the involvement of Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Ruth First, etc. The progressives had understood how Kwame Nkrumah, through the Convention People’s Party, mobilized the masses of Ghanaians in his fight for Ghana’s independence from British Colonial rule, which was finally attained in 1957. Those conscious men and women we refer to as progressives had also flipped the pages of the Angolan struggle for freedom from Portuguese imperialist control with the participation of the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA), with Augustino Neto as its trailblazer, the Mozambicans’ fight for liberation with the involvement of Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), founded by Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel, etc.
These and other factors provided the impetus for the progressives forces to agitate for the radical change in the objective condition of the masses of Liberians- a condition created by the backward political and economic system of the True Whig party. Through agitation and the education of the masses of the people, which was the first stage of the progressives’ struggle, political freedom was one of the pillars of their struggle to transform the Liberian society. As part of the ingredients of political freedom, the upholding of civil liberty which would guarantee every Liberian to be freed to move, to speak, and pursue for happiness, provided another man’s rights are not being trampled upon was put forward.
They lamented to the people and the state about the need to institute a true democratic order which would set the stage for every Liberian regardless of one’s tribal, religious, political, or economic origin to be given the opportunity to elect his/her leaders, and that the government of the day must be accountable to the people. Equality, the rule of law, nationalism, the devolution of power in the rural area, etc. were also pivotal ingredients in the progressives’ struggle for political freedom. They envisaged a nation where everyone will work together as equal partners in moving the country forward. They told the oppressors that this land is a land of equal citizenship. Therefore, everyone should survive based on their talents and skills which will be developed at the expense of state resources. They were emphatic in letting the masses of the people understand that their survival should not be guaranteed because of their class origin, their names, or family lineage.
The second and last pillar of the progressives’ struggle for the societal transformation of Liberia was economic emancipation. They had analyzed and realized that the socioeconomic system was bankrupt and did not have the capacity to improve the living standard of the people. They understood that such system which was drawn only from neo-liberal economic methods and theories was simply meant to benefit the oligarchy and its allies while the majority of the people live in deplorable conditions in a sea of abundant wealth.
So, they projected to the masses of the people, the prudence of adhering to a social democratic economic system (developmental state) which would allow the people’s satisfactory participation in the economy of the state, and, thus make them to have leapfrog in their standard of living to a middle income level. This would have only been achieved through the last stage of their struggle, and that was the attainment of political power on a democratic and peaceful platform in 1983. This is because the ingredients in their struggle for economic emancipation could not be easily guaranteed by the oppressors. History has taught us that oppressive people may as a result of consistent pressure give the oppressed masses political freedom, but would do everything possible to reject any fight for economic emancipation. For they understand that he who controls the economy, controls the politics.
The above analysis constituted the politics of the progressives which was championed through agitation, the political education of the masses and the possible attainment of political power on a democratic and peaceful platform. Fast forward, how can someone argue here today that the politics of the progressive forces failed Liberia? Are we not seeing the benefits of many of the ingredients of the progressives’ struggle for the pro-people change in the Liberian society? Yes, unarguably the benefits of the progressive struggle are well and alive in the present political culture of Liberia. Because of the progressives’ agitation, our people now have the right to elect their leaders into the national legislature as well as the presidency whether they own properties, pay taxes or not. The progressives’ agitation ushered in the multiparty democracy being enjoyed in our country today. The altruistic drive of those noble men provided the democratic framework for the Ellen-led regime to in words and in action adhere to the democratic doctrines of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom for the people to assemble and petition the government of the day, being held responsible for the abuse thereof. The rule of law is in full swing. There is a national symbol review process currently ongoing for the purpose of revisiting our symbols so that they can take into considerations the historical experiences, culture, aims, and aspirations of all and sundry. Nation building in Liberia has gotten initiated and with a united, courageous, and conscious people, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Presently, from where we sit, unlike during the time in power of the oligarchy, the military junta, and Taylor’s criminal cartel, our students will never be arbitrarily arrested because they peacefully protest for improvement in the learning conditions at the University of Liberia, Tubman High School, or Voinjama Multilateral High, etc. The media will never be censored because they present critical analysis or reportage of the status quo. Our people will never be denied the opportunity to unfavorably evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the regime at the various intellectual centers, universities’ campus, etc.
Where we are today as a country is because the history of this country has recorded men and women who put their lives on the line, exposed their chests for the bullets, in fighting for social, political, and economic transformations. Those men and women can be placed in the genre of the progressive forces whose struggle we stand by today. Anyone who takes up their time to read this will never leave with the belief that progressives’ politics or struggle for political and economic frredom has failed Liberia. Only the apologists and remnants of the True Whig Party who are bent on falsifying the political history of our country will shamefully deny these historical truth- telling. Believe me, we will always sit somewhere, somehow, to remind them about the non-egoistic roles those noble people played in our country’s history.
Author's Statement: Moses Uneh Yahmia is a student of the University of Liberia. He studies Political Science major, Economics minor, with emphasis in International Relations. Brother Yahmia is one of the many beneficiaries of the progressives’ struggle for political and economic emancipation in Liberia. He is a student and mentee of Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr.. Uneh can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org/0886944248/0776355802.