By Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor, Sr.
|Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh|
Dear Fellow Compatriots, the information that you are organizing a symposium to celebrate the 75th birth anniversary of Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh on August 31st 2016 is welcome news. I salute that decision, and, will conditionally support the effort. After all, it is better to give one flowers while the person is alive than dead. Count me in; you have my unconditional support. Count me in; you have my unconditional support.
And what an auspicious time to express appreciation
to a humble man whose love for his people still burns bright despite the bruises and scars of the unfinished struggle in securing dignity for them through critical affirmative consciousness and economic empowerment.
Friends, comrades, I chose the main title, “Better Late than Never” because it would seem that we could’ve held such a fitting event in 2011 (during the venerable comrade’s three scores and ten years) to commemorate his reaching a Biblical milestone. The idiom appropriately means “it is better to do something after it was supposed to have been done than not to do it at all” a meaning yours truly poached from the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, though the phrase is attributed to English Medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer, author of “The Canterbury Tales”.
History is replete with stories of individuals who sacrificed their professions, careers, and even lives in order to serve as examples to be followed, or take the bold steps that motivated many of us to become the better persons, or more comfortable people we are today. In African American history, for example, visionaries and doers such as entrepreneur and sea captain John Cuffee, who used one of his very own ships to transports twenty of his brethren from 1815 racist America to Sierra Leone. Others included John B. Russman, Henry Highland Garnet, Charles Lenox Remond, Frederick Douglas, Dr. W.E.B Du bois, Booker .T. Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Sojourner Jones, Harriet Tubman, Bessie Smith, Rosa Parks, not forgetting the son of a Kenyan immigrant who reached the US presidency. Individually and collectively their achievements impact us all, and they couldn’t done what they did without the favors of the Almighty or being one of God’s ‘Peculiar People. 1 Peter 2:9 reads: “But ye are a chosen generation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”.
It is this peculiarity or unusualness that envelopes the journey of the simple man we have chosen to honor – a brother and comrade who gave more than four decades of his life to the service of Liberia, and everywhere in Africa where the jackboots of reactionary rule and neo colonialism were marching on the backs of Shakespearean Othello’s country men.
Tipoteh: The Essence of the Man, a well – known bio.
The name Tipoteh in Klao (Kru) language means: Time will tell. Whether the period is drawing nigh, time will tell, that is.
He was born in Monrovia in 1941 unto the union of Rev. and Mrs. Samuel Togba Roberts of Grand Kru County. He is a Christian by faith, and a United Methodist by denomination. Dr. Tipoteh is married to the former Ms. Fatu Konneh of Lofa County. He was educated at the College of West Africa High School, and at the Universities in Liberia, Ohio, California, and Massachusetts, where he received a PhD in Economics from Harvard University.
The comrade accumulated a wealth of professional experience in international development. He worked in the United States of America, the Netherlands, Mozambique, Ghana, South Africa and other countries, as well as for the United Nations system: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Economic Community of Africa (ECA), and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (WORLD BANK), among others.
His commitment to good governance did not dissipate no matter that he was working for the Liberian government as a Budget Advisor to President William R. Tolbert, thus losing that position when he expressed concerns about waste, and advocated public management reforms. Dr. Tipoteh was the first Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs under the military regime of Samuel K. Doe, but resigned after 15 months in office, giving human rights abuses by the government as his reason for leaving. In the early 1970s, he was Associate Professor of Economics, Chairman of the Economics Department, and Director of the Management Research Institute at the University of Liberia.
For over four decades, he has been actively involved with democratic activities in promotion of human rights, civil liberties, constitutional rule, and growth with development in Liberia and throughout Africa. Currently, he is President of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), an organization with a Pan-African strategy for justice and democracy; Standard Bearer (Presidential Candidate, 1997) of the Liberian People's Party (LPP); founding Chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), an alliance of Liberian political parties; Director-General of SUSUKUU, Liberia's oldest (founded in 1971), a non-governmental development organization credited by the West Africa Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) as helping to disarm over 10,000 combatants through the program of “Guns for School”; and former Chairman of the Interest Groups of Liberia, a consortium of 32 national organizations with a collective membership of well over one million persons.
Also, as a businessman, he serves as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Kukatornon Reconstruction Corporation. He keeps physically fit through sports, and was Liberia's national Tennis Champion for 15 unbroken years. Through his scholarship program, he mentors and sends hundreds of students (mainly children) from all counties of Liberia to schools and colleges in Liberia.
Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh arrived on the Liberian political scene decades ago as a Vai shirt/dashiki-wearing activist professor and cultural crusader who popularized his name sake brand of sandals made out of rubber from tires, and injected into our national consciousness an awareness of a lost heritage taken away from the indigenous majority by the ruling minority class.
With like-minded professors, students and grass-root organizations, Tipoteh and others were able to overwhelm a helpless population with hard facts and graphic details about the terrible ordeals of injustice perpetrated against them by the ruling minority class, which set the stage for the overthrow of a government, war and dictatorship in Liberia.
Togba-Nah Tipoteh is to Liberian politics what palm butter and rice is to some of us, because, before he married his wife, Tipoteh was once, (and still is) married to the Liberian political struggle; simply put, the man eats, breathes, and lives politics. This is a plus and a minus for a man who is as popular and controversial as the many causes he believes in dearly.
Tireless in his pursuit of a democratic Liberia, and controversial, because of his incessant pursuit of the presidency during every election season, leaves no room, according to his many critics for others within LPP to grow, dream and aspire to be President of Liberia, which is a turned-off. Even as activists and potential presidential candidates exit Liberia in droves for fear of their safety, Tipoteh remained in Liberia at the detriment of his own safety. His critics see that as a calculated attempt to enhance his political standing for the presidency.
However, individuals who've worked with Tipoteh over the years on labor issues, economics, human rights and politics in general, quickly add to the debate that despite his presidential aspiration, he is the hardest working politician in that country today in terms of commitment, consistency and his rugged zeal to do things the right way. It is that moral compass that certainly fuels the flames of the opposition he is meeting day in and day out from his critics.
Our honoree made his marks in Liberian politics as one who led from the other side, by standing firm to his beliefs in opposing authoritarian governments. A seasoned Tipoteh can bring peace to his people and his political party by being the leader he once was - steadfast, principled, bold and strong. After which a retired Togba-Nah Tipoteh, as an elder statesman can wisely use his tremendous wisdom, leadership abilities and organizational skills to be an advisor and mentor to future leaders of his party and people. (Siahyonkron Nyanseor, Archive of Culture and History (1971-2016).
From Africa Now Magazine:
The October 1981 Edition of Africa Now carried a statement that Dr. Tipoteh had expressed his fears to the editors about the direction Liberia was taking. He could not relate to the soldiers and criticism of him had sunk to a ridiculous levels: sartorial. He should not be ordinary in the way he dressed (wear his African attire) because others wanted to be chic (well-dressed, based on European-American standards).
Dr. Tipoteh was attending a World Bank Meeting in Abidjan when Weh Syen was executed, and he decided not to return home. In his letter of resignation to Doe, he said his departure would “give the enemies of the Liberian Revolution less and less opportunities to work against the interest of the Liberian masses”. He added, “The enemies of the Revolution are using the old but effective strategy of sowing seeds of suspicion in the government, especially in the council and the Cabinet, so that members of the government can fight among themselves, not on matters of principle but on accusations based on vicious rumors and hearsay”.
In the same article, Doe is quoted to have said, “Tipoteh’s flight had many implications. The basic being Tipoteh’s fear of what would happen to him because his name was principally linked with Weh Syen abortive coup”. He also stated that his former Minister’s’ personality and socialist orientation’ rendered him unsuitable for negotiating much needed loans with international financiers and donor countries. His credibility as an international economist and planner both at home and abroad are at its lowest ebb. His desertion is a relief”. (Africa Now, October 1981, p. 33). All of these charges proved false as the Liberian economy never experienced a miraculous change, even with his departure from the scene.
The Trials and Tribulations of Tipoteh
Similar prejudice was directed at the Director-General of SUSUKUU, INC., Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh. At the time, SUSUKUU, INC., non-profit service cooperation, whose goals and objectives were to help poor people in helping themselves, and to assure that more Liberians get to know about their rights under the laws of Liberia, had a project in Putu Chiefdom, Grand Gedeh County. The project was a part of the parent organization – the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) programs, which included farming, literacy, legal assistance, health, school construction, food processing, road construction, production of reading materials, installation of safe drinking water wells, and the construction of recreation facilities.
The money that was to be generated from the sales would have been used to build schools, clinics, roads, and small factories, mainly for the people in Putu. Instead of applauding SUSUKUU and the people of Putu, they were attacked by Government operatives.
When the project started in January 1978, former Justice Minister Oliver Bright, former Local Government Minister Samuel Hill, former True Whig Party General Secretary Robert Bright, Education Minister John Bernard Blamo, Grand Gedeh County Attorney David Swengbe, Grand Gedeh Senator Albert White, Grand Gedeh Representative Silas Rue and Grand Gedeh Superintendent John P. Beh, threatened, intimidated, harassed, and jailed some citizens of Putu with the intent of abandoning their self-help development project; instead, the Putu Development Corporation (PUDECO) stood firm and challenged the authorities.
Somehow, Superintendent John P. Beh ordered the closing down of the Putu project in November that year (1979). This act led the people of Putu in many parts of the country to protest as well as filed their grievances with the Zwedru Circuit Court to prevent Superintendent Beh and his supporters from interfering with their self-help project. And while the Putu case was still in the Zwedru Executive Council, where the investigation was taking place, members of the National Legislature made slanderous and prejudiced statements against the Executive Director of SUSUKUU, Dr. Tipoteh. Those Legislators indicated that Tipoteh is a Kru man; therefore, he must leave Grand Gedeh County and go work in Sinoe or Maryland (counties), where Kru people are plentiful. (Nya Kwiawon Taryor, Sr., Justice, Justice: A Cry Of My People, 1985)
On April 25, 2010, the publisher of The Liberian Dialogue, Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh published an article under the titled: “Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Misunderstood and Misinterpreted”. Excerpts of that article reads:
Togba-Nah Tipoteh is a rare breed of a human being who you don’t see quite often in Liberia. He’s principled, disciplined, smart, humble, uncorrupted and consistent in his politics, the way he live his life, and the seriousness he has shown since he arrived in Liberia in the early 70s, to contribute to the development of his homeland.
Those traits are admirable in a country where politicians and the person at the lowest end of the totem pole always want to get over at the expense of the citizens and the nation, and are also admirable traits for anyone who aspires to work as a servant of the state. And if Liberia can get many more Tipotehs to lead, inspire, and show us how to carry ourselves gracefully in our politics and daily lives, the way he has done for decades, we all could be better humans, and Liberia, perhaps could be the developed and prosperous nation we all want it to be.
As usual, however, people like Tipoteh don’t always get the respect they deserve either, because they are misinterpreted, misperceived, or misunderstood, or seen as unusual. And for a man like him, such misperception and mischaracterization might had an unfavorable effect considering that he gave his entire life to the pursuit of justice, democracy, and the rule of law in Liberia. (Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh, April 25, 2010, The Liberian Dialogue web magazine).
The essence of the man could not have been so well-articulated. While he has been despised and unappreciated in some Liberian quarters, and by friends and foes alike—some of whom have betrayed him many times over—Togba-Nah Tipoteh has remained true to himself, his core values and principles, especially involving his commitment to peace, justice, economic empowerment for the poor and marginalized, and the expansion of freedom of suppressed people everywhere. For example, his work with the liberation movements of Africa in the ‘70s as leader of the MOJA is unrivaled. MOJA’s long-running support for Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC), Dr. Augustino Neto’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, Sam Nujoma’s South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), and Dr. Amilcar Cabral movement for the Liberation of Guinea Bissau, were instrumental in support of their independence from the remaining clutches of European colonial rule.
Commitment to Peace, Justice, and Economic Empowerment
Even as he championed Pan-African causes, his commitment to peace, justice, and economic empowerment of Liberians, has remained constant. The decade of the 70’s, which is often characterized as the era of Mass Consciousness-raising and Mobilization, produced patriotic men and women with sterling commitment to peace, justice, and economic empowerment; and Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh remained one of the major leaders in this movement. Few examples highlight Tipoteh’s significant involvement during this period. Throughout the 1970s, patriotic Liberians did not rest in their continued effort to expose the injustices in Liberian law and mobilize the masses to change the law.
In 1974, for example, the masses were mobilized to struggle against the government’s attempt at forcing down a pro-gambling law upon the Liberian people. Working in collaboration with other honest and patriotic Liberians, such as Bishop George D. Browne, Bishop Roland J. Payne, Dr. Amos Sawyer, and the great Albert Porte, an anti-gambling campaign was organized under the banner of Citizens of Liberia Against Gambling (COLAG), to oppose this law. The law was quickly defeated. A parallel campaign also emerged during this era to defend the great, indefatigable and venerable, tireless pamphleteer and constitutionalist, Albert Porte. This campaign, Citizens of Liberia in Defense of Albert Porte (COLIDAP), was formed to save Honorable Albert Porte from being crushed by the powerful forces of corruption. It was during this same period that Porte wrote a paper to expose the corrupt practices of the government, especially through the office of Stephen Tolbert, the Minister of Finance at the time, and President of the Mesurado Group of Companies. Porte’s paper, “Gobbling Business”, referring to Mesurado, exposed how its President was using public office for private gain by taking over private businesses.
Tipoteh’s commitment to peace and justice has remained unending. In the 80’s, he worked tirelessly to expose the military junta, the PRC repressive rule of the Liberian masses; in the 90’s working actively in the West African region to bring peace to war-torn Liberia that was being destroyed by various warring factions leading to the deaths of more than a quarter million of Liberians, and the massive destruction of the country’s infrastructure. Leveraging his influence in the region, the ECOWAS states established the ECOMOG Monitoring force that helped stabilize and bring a modicum of peace to Liberia. In the 2000’s, using his periodic Column, “Talking With The President”, Tipoteh called attention to the continuing corrupt practices in government, nepotism, and the growing economic divide in the country.
To end, we must reiterate that Tipoteh’s stature rests on proven consistency of principles, trustworthiness, and the credibility he has earned over the years with the Liberian people in a lifelong struggle for change, democracy, and a better Liberia. Traits which, obviously, are in short supply everywhere these days and ironically when they are most needed in an anxious, suspicious, and fearful world. American Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, makes this point even more profoundly when writing about the leadership vacuum today. He avers, “The point is everywhere we look, leaders seem to have a feet of clay. So who can young people - and others - look up to and admire as an effective leader with Honor and Integrity?” Regarding these qualities, our revered comrade clearly ranks high among Liberian leaders, and this much we ought to highlight as we celebrate his 75th birth anniversary.
My Fellow Compatriots, it is not age that counts, rather the positive contributions the person continues to make to his country and in the lives of ordinary people. Lest we forget, the comrade has stamina, integrity, capacity, and empathy, and most significantly, the struggle for economic and social justice is still the cry of our people!
Happy belated 75th Birthday; may the Grace of God grant you excellent health and long life in your work for ‘Rights, Rice and Democracy’.
Gweh Feh Kpei! The Struggle Continues!
Chaucer, Geoffery (1386). The Yeoman’s Prologue & Canterbury Tales
Hayden, Dan (2013). A Word from the word
Conwell, Russell (1870). American Traveller