The Evil Liberian Legacy
By George H. Nubo
Published in the first edition of The Perspective Jun-Aug 1996
|Captain Stockton coerced King Peter by pointing a pistol to his head, thereby forcing the King to reluctantly make his "mark" on the paper.|
On December 15, 1821 there was a big ceremony taking place along the Atlantic
Ocean on the Mesurado Peninsula. It was a multicultural ceremony - African and
American participants. Captain Stockton and Eli Ayres represented the American
Government and the freed slaves, while the man Stockton named "King Peter"
and some elders represented the inhabitants of Cape Mesurado. Unlike African
ceremonies that are satiated with festivities and jubilation, this ceremony
was different. During the ceremony, King Peter accused the Americans of slaving.
He and members of his delegation opted to call off the ceremony because they
did not trust the Americans and their cargo - freed slaves. It was at this point
the first armed robbery in the history of what is now Liberia took place. Captain
Stockton coerced the King by pointing a pistol to his head, thereby forcing
the King to reluctantly make his "mark" on the paper. Women wept and
children took cover when they realized what was going on. It took force, "six
muskets, one box beads, two hogsheads of tobacco, one cask gunpowder, six bars
iron,..." to purchase what is now Monrovia. Had the indigenous known the
meanings of the names of Ayres and Stockton's ships (Shark & Alligator)
that would have served as initial warnings to them.
The treatment King Peter received was the foretaste of the Draconian misdeeds, and repressive society that the Sharks and Alligators were determined to establish - a large body of water in which some of the Americos were the epitomes of the sharks and alligators to whom the tribesmen (fishes) fell prey. They succeeded in 1847 when they declared Liberia as an independent nation. That same dynamic is overflowing into the current Liberian conflict. More typical now as then is the high level of wariness, the suspicions of bad faith, heightened degree of mistrust and open animus between the two sides. In the guise for peace, the Americos are secretly planning and reviewing strategies, desperately seeking means, (any means) which would help facilitate their return to power. But lest we forget and become victims of amnesia, these are the same people who are financing and supporting the destruction of our people.
Since that 1821 event, Liberia did not make significant strides to improvethe relationship between the two groups. In fact, some people think the interaction has deteriorated, becoming increasingly hostile, as more and more African - Liberians became educated. The only difference between what happened in 1821 and what is going on in our country today is that captain Stockton acted personally in assaulting the indigenous people, whereas today Americos are using proxies to administer death to the native population.
As Ijoma Flemister correctly wrote, "Liberia's history after independence
has been a tale of two cities and people. On one hand an affluent minority with
access to all the benefits of a free people and on the other hand a majority
underclass, disenfranchised and taxed without adequate representation in the
government." The history of Liberia since independence is replete with
"politics of exclusion", corruption, slavery, humiliation of the indigenous,
greed and selfishness.
The unjustly taxed indigenous were excluded from the government. This was made crystal clear in the Declaration of Independence: " We the people of the Republic of Liberia formerly citizens of the United States of America..." It does not take a brain surgeon to figure out that the constitution of Liberia represented less than five percent of the Liberian population - the Americos.
Corruption is nothing strange to the Liberian Government. Rampant corruption in the government can be traced back to the administration of our second president, Steven Allen Benson. J. J. Roberts noted, in 1872, the "gross official and lavish misapplication of the public funds." He was referring to the Roye and Benson administrations.
During the Fishtown war (Grand Bassa County) in June 1835, and the Kru & Grebo revolts in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the Americos claimed that the tribesmen were fighting because their slave trades were disrupted. The reason was given to gain America's support. Interestingly, the same argument is being made today regarding the civil war by most Americo - Liberians, claiming the fighting is based on ethnic rivalry. Often, these people are quick to claim credit for the virtues of Liberia; conversely, they promptly discharge themselves from the results of their actions. How disingenuous!
In the 1920s there was institutionalized modern day slavery in Liberia. Slavery practiced at higher places in government. It can be recalled that President King promoted Allen Yancy from Superintendent to Vice President for a job well done. According to President King, Yancy had done a good job in selling the indigenous of Maryland as slaves to Fernando Po. President King and his vice president were forced to resign by the League of Nations.
King was succeeded by his secretary of state, Edwin Barclay. President Barclay was very unpopular with African - Liberians because of his policies and style of government. He forced the natives to build roads and tortured them when they were delinquent in paying their hut taxes. After having been tortured and jailed because members of his clan were delinquent in paying their taxes, Chief Mlesedle remarked that " the best solution for the indigenous was to give back to the Americos their muskets, powder, cloth, umbrella, pots, beads ... so they would go back to where came from". Those remarks almost cost him his life at the District Commissioner Compound.
When Tubman became president he extended an olive leaf to the indigenous. He
launched the Unification and Integration Policy. That was good news for the
African - Liberians, but Tubman had a plan. His fellow Americos who had farms
in the new counties became representatives and senators as if to say the indigenous
could not represent themselves. The Liberian economy boomed during the Tubman
administration - there are no hallmarks of the economic boom in Liberia today
that we can point to. Our roads are inadequate, no communication systems for
the country, schools, hospitals, and clinics are scarce and inaccessible to
most tribesmen. The Tubman administration was our best time to develop our country,
but the only excuse Liberians have is that unlike other African countries, we
did not inherit any infrastructure. What a pitiful excuse!! Let's look at Botswana
In 1966 when Botswana gained independence, it "had less than five miles
of paved road. Now it has more than 1,800 miles. In 1966, there were 20 university
graduates. Now there are 20,000." Ninety-five percent of all primary-school
age children go to school. Transportation facilities have been expanded. Railroads
were constructed to link the country with South Africa and Zimbabwe. Plans are
underway to construct another railroad across the Kalahari to the coast of Namibia.
Pastoralism is their majoreconomic activity outside the mining sector that employs
only a fraction of the work force. At independence, Botswana was one of the
world's poorest countries. Today it is one of the world's fastest growing countries.
Liberia is 149 years old and Botswana is just 30 years old.
So when Tubman died we felt that corruption from Steven Allen Benson administration to the Tubman regime was buried with him. Accordingly, Liberians were happy to see Tolbert who was under Tubman's shadow for nineteen years. The assumption was dead wrong. Not all Rally Time funds could be accounted for. The proceeds from Tubman's Yacht could not be accounted for. He freed political prisoners - this is a practice of new presidents to gain support. But at the time of his death there were more political prisoners. He allowed an opposition party, but the next thing he did was to ban the same party.
In 1980, Doe and his group overthrew the Americo - Liberian dynasty and assassinated President Tolbert, not only for the president's doings, but also for the historic crimes, and all the inhumane treatment the indigenous received from the Sharks and Alligators.
At this time it was not Stockton who had the pistol. It was the new King Peter - Samuel K. Doe. He and his collaborators decided to prey on President Tolbert for all the suppression, humiliation, and discrimination that the indigenous suffered. Naturally, African - Liberians were dancing in the streets of Monrovia forgetting the repercussions.
Sadly, Doe had no direction or agenda. The only blue print available to him was the one he had inherited from the Sharks & Alligators. Sooner than later his regime was doing the same things for which it had assassinated President Tolbert. We need to strive for a better Liberia.
According to Ijoma Flemister ( a representative during the Tolbert administration), "denying the majority of the population adequate access to education, wealth and prosperity in Liberia was morally wrong, socially destructive, economically insane, and politically suicidal." But these are the unfortunate historical characteristics of Liberia. They are the foremost social problems of our society. Discussing the ills of our society should not be interpreted as the reciprocity of disdain. Equally so, a mere desire that the ills of our society will one day evaporate by itself is a fantasy. We need to discuss and debate our ugly past so as to find solution to the current crisis and the future of Liberia. If this is not done, Liberia will revert to its political, and social past, instead of moving to a future of stability, nationalism, sustainability and prosperity. Alligatosharkism - the legacy we received from the sharks and alligators!!!!.