By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
This is a revisit upon popular demand by the readers of our response to Dr. Dunn’s Remarks on December 12, 2013.
The former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs of the last TWP government, now retired Professor of Political Science, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, urged Liberians to “Introspect ‘What’, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ to Reconcile” in lecture-like remarks made at the national, memorial program held in memory of the late Nelson Mandela at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion in Monrovia (New Democrat, December 12, 2013).
In a historical, intellectual analysis, Dr. Dunn told Liberians that, “After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela . . . and his ANC colleagues worked . . . at reforming/transforming Apartheid government to transition (the Republic of) South Africa from oppression to freedom . . . There was a country to govern, . . . wounds to be healed and . . . compromises to be made. Remember, the racial, cultural and religious diversity that is South Africa. These, required accommodation, unending negotiations.” Continuing, Dr. Dunn noted that “A model design of a truth and reconciliation process ensued . . . A ‘Rainbow Nation’ sums it all up. Challenges remain, of course, but the social fundamentals seem in place, seem established”.
Concluding, Professor Dunn intoned, “what I am suggesting . . . is that we (Liberians) take home two lessons as we celebrate the passing of this great African freedom fighter and champion of reconciliation”:
2. And “closely related lesson, is what we do with ourselves as a people once liberated. Remember that once liberated, South Africa reconciled”.
While we appreciate and will remain grateful for the opportunity to learn and benefit from the political, diplomatic, and economic history of the African struggle for freedom from colonial, minority rule in which the Republic of Liberia, its patriotic sons and daughters – statespersons - were frontline leaders, but the facts of history of the South African and the Liberian struggles for freedom show absolute differences and, because of these differences, the “lessons” (of history) – of compromise, give-and-take, negotiated settlement and, indeed, reconciliation, “once liberated”, have been lost on or to us. Therefore, that Liberian, National Reconciliation for healing and unity continues to elude us is a reasonable expectation, as we shall see later.
“What I am suggesting” by these comments is that Dr. Dunn’s analogy or premise/conclusion of the South African and Liberian struggles for freedom, is off target for the following reasons:
Firstly, the South African struggle for freedom, led by the African National Congress (ANC) was directed against a racist, socio-cultural, quasi colonial, minority rule. The struggle was, in fact, the classical, general demonstration of African Nationalism, an African movement that began in the 1870s and became a significant, political factor from the 1880s. African Nationalism was seen, generally, and designed as political action, with some ideological tendencies, to demand and improve the social, economic and political status of Africans in the-then emerging world dominated by white, racist conquest and minority rule. The ideas, philosophical debates and treatment of African Nationalism pre-date the founding of the Republic. Many African organizations, independent and dependent nations, including Liberia, cooperated and supported the ANC, as indicated by Professor Dunn.
Secondly, in Liberia, the context for the struggle for freedom from minority rule was and is a belief or political ideology of attachment to one’s nation - Nationalism; national identification with and love-of-country. Although the South African and Liberian freedom fighters had similar or identical objectives for the struggle - freedom from minority rule - but the freedom fighters, their masters or minority rulers and nature of the minority rule from which freedom was sought, were or are absolutely dissimilar, different, not the same. In that, the South African freedom fighters were of the black, African race and socio-cultural tradition, while their masters or minority rulers were racist quasi, colonialists of the white, European race and socio-cultural tradition, with minority rule deeply grounded in and based on racial – Apartheid – discrimination and socio-cultural separation.
Whereas, on the other hand, the Liberian freedom fighters were and are black Africans of the Negro race with African, socio-cultural tradition, while their masters or minority rulers were and are, also, black Africans of the Negro race with African, socio-cultural tradition, with the minority rule based on socio-cultural and ethnic/tribal discrimination and socio-cultural separation. (Though it is argued, based on historical practice in Liberia, that the immigrant, American, minority rulers boasted and continue to boast superiority because of their socio-cultural, western inheritance from hundreds of years of human bondage, but this argument cannot survive application of a rigorous anthropological investigation/definition). In any case, the critical difference, as noted, was or is that the freedom fighters and minority rulers – of Liberia - are of the same race and socio-cultural tradition.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the South African, minority white racist rulers, forced from political power by the majority, black, freedom fighters during a struggle in which both, the freedom fighters and minority rulers, suffered great magnitude of sacrifices, human and material, the minority white rulers accepted defeat with grace and bowed to human reason – democratic, majority-rule under the rule of law, although they controlled and dominated all economic and military might (power), incidental to further conflict of plunder, destruction, human suffering and death.
It is very important that we note that despite this fact of their enormous economic, governing and military might, the white, minority rulers accepted political defeat with dignity for the benefit of all South Africans - black, white, yellow, poor, rich, educated, illiterate, etc., etc. This grace and dignity, indeed, this political, moral rectitude, was crucial and the critical, major factor in the successful negotiation, compromises and final accommodation.Both groups, the fabulously wealthy, but a defeated colonial, white, minority rulers and the poor, impoverished, majority freedom fighters agreed upon a plan now known as the “South African Model” – Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) – designed as roadmap for “post-conflict transition” to lead, peacefully, to democratic, majority rule with reconciliation and unity in South Africa.
Recent, Liberian Experience
Whereas, and on the contrary, in Liberia, the black, African minority rulers, defeated after, almost, a century and half of minority rule, not only refused to accept defeat and yield to reason – the classical, democratic principle of majority-rule – but also that the black, African minority rulers ignored the potential impact of armed conflict, took to some neighboring countries, organized, planned and invaded the Liberian nation, military-style, in an armed insurgency and tragedy that lasted for decades.
The insurgency, politico-military arm of and led by the minority rulers told the BBC Focus on Africain December 1989that this is “an armed struggle to remove a dictator (leader-representative of Liberian, majority freedom fighters) by force of arms in order to restore the right of free choice to the Liberian people in the selection of their leaders, but the insurgency rapidly degenerated into systematic manipulation and exploitation of ethnic/tribal, socio-political differences, inflamed passions that gave rise to the ethnically-driven, deeply-divisive tragedy of Liberia’s historic civil war. . .”. The result, a quarter of a million of innocent men, women and children lost their lives, with hundreds of thousands of others displaced and in self-imposed exile in neighboring and distant, foreign countries, including the near-total destruction of the nation’s social-cultural fabric and its economic and political infrastructure.
Moreover, the Liberian, minority rulers conspired in crafting the Constitution of the new nation of 1847; in that, they, the minority rulers, arrogated, and today arrogate, all administrative, economic and political power to a president who was and is their representative and, who has become an imperial president, with unquestioned control of the other two branches – Legislative and Judiciary – of government. All power has been and is, today, rigidly centralized in, controlled and dispensed from Monrovia.
In 2003, the minority rulers and freedom fighters congregated in Accra, Ghana, hammered out and signed a document, the now-famous, Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to end our deadly, internal struggle. Among others, the CPA, billed as the “South African Model” – Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) - called for Post-Conflict Transition to lead to democratic rule. Today, that document, though enacted into law, is gathering dust on the shelves in the offices of an effective minority-dominated and ruled government. Nothing has happened, consistent with this agreement.
Professor Dunn’s argument, based on his analogy of the South African and Liberian struggle for freedom, rested on an unfortunate absence of the critical facts of history.
Given this reality, I argue reasonably, therefore, that the Liberian, National Reconciliation continues to elude us, Liberia, is a reasonable expectation; and that healing, peace, mutual respect and understanding, unity and peaceful co-existence will, also, continue to elude us.