Liberia And The African-Dispora Liberation Struggle

By Nvasekie N. Konneh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 17, 2003

In February 1997 while on deployment in the Persian Gulf, the ship company of the USS Detroit organized a program in observance of the Black History Month. As one of the seven Africans on this US naval vessel, I was asked to participate in the program and the presentation I made is what I am sharing with you now as we go through another month of Black History. As a founding member of the Malcolm X African Disciples in Monrovia, Liberia before coming to America, I have always observed the Black History Month with keen interest. I have the burning hope that despite all the negativity in Africa, we will rise up some day from our slumber to take our rightful place in the world.

In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful, I say greeting of peace and love to the entire ship company of USS Detroit. It's a wonderful experience to be out here on the sea celebrating the Black History Month, an occasion that highlights the contributions of African Americans to the development of this great country, USA.

As we celebrate the Black History Month in the year 1997, I want to share a little light on Liberia in West Africa which is as much a chapter of your African American history as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, or the Million Man March of 1995. On this note I will say, if there were no Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade or an American social problem regarding the freedom of Black people in America, there wouldn't have been a country called Liberia. Perhaps the country now known as Liberia would have been parts of the former French colonies of Ivory Coast and Guinea or the former British colony of Sierra Leone.

Having said this, you may be wondering why Liberia. Liberia because after the "Emancipation Proclamation" of Abraham Lincoln which is said to have abolished slavery, thereby freeing the slaves, some Americans were not in favor of Blacks and Whites living together as equal citizens. They saw Blacks as problems in America and without them, they thought, America would be much more better. The solution they advanced was to take the Black people to another place. Some of them thought of Haiti since it was the only independent Black Republic at the time and was closer to America. Some thought of Africa, the original homeland of all Black people.

Several organizations came into being for the repatriation of the Blacks. There were the Mississippi, Maryland and American Colonization Societies. The most prominent of these colonization societies was the ACS, American Colonization Society, which with the help of the U.S. Congress sent agents to Africa in search of land to settle the Americans of African descent. The search which began in early 1800s finally led to the founding of Liberia in 1822. The first group of settlers settled on the island around which the city of Monrovia grew. This city, Monrovia, was named after your fifth president, James Monroe.

As it declared its independence in 1847, Liberia became the second Black Republic in the world next to Haiti and the first in Africa. It was Liberia's independence that inspired all other parts of Africa to seek independence from the European colonizers. In 1885 when the great European powers convened the Berlin Conference at which they decided to divide Africa among themselves as colonial possessions, Liberia was the only part of the entire continent that remained free.

Until 1980, Liberia was ruled by the Americo-Liberians who excluded the native majority from equal participation in government. In April 1980, Liberia experienced a bloody military coup that ended the 133 years of exclusive rule of the Americo-Liberians. Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, from the native background, led this coup. His ten-year rule was characterized by the same charge of corruption as the ruling class he overthrew. Doe became a victim of the civil war launched by Charles Taylor, an Americo-Liberian. The war that started in 1989 continued up to last year with the installation of a government of collective presidency, nominally headed by a female, Mrs. Ruth Perry. Mrs. Perry, as the head of the Liberian Transitional government is the first female head of state in Africa and one of the few in the world. Much more than America and most of the developed world, Africa can boast now of making some progress in term of gender equality.

The Americo-Liberians carried with them many cultural norms and practices from America. They built educational and religious institutions from which they propagated their Christian values to the native population. They didn't adopt the native African names. Instead, they forced the natives to change their names to western names. So today in Liberia, it is more common to hear people being called Charles, Johnson, Taylor, Cooper or Robert. As Malcolm X would say, they attempted to strip us of our original names, cultures and traditions. They treated us just the same way white people treated the Indians when they came in contact with them here in America. So, while your experience is white-on-black domination and oppression, ours is a black-on-black domination and oppression. Now today, we are all too familiar with black-on-black violence in the inner cities of America as well as on the Motherland of Africa.

The founding of Liberia preceded the much talk about Marcus Garvey's "Back to Africa movement” for more than 70 years. From all indications, one may say that Marcus Garvey was inspired by Liberia to start such a movement among Black people in Americas and the Caribbean. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which Mr. Garvey founded, was the largest of such movements among black people at the time. Though most of you may not know, Liberia was the destination of Marcus Garvey and his followers. They had reached an agreement with the Liberian government at the time to start settlement in Liberia. This became very alarming to the colonial interests of France and the Britain. The Liberian government feared that "France and Britain would use an influx of Garveyites as a pretext for an invasion and partition of their country." Another reason was that the government feared that Mr. Garvey might encourage the native population to rise up against their inhuman, illegal treatment by the "Americo-Liberian aristocracy."

Liberia was supposed to be a symbol of unity between Africa and her million children abroad after four hundred years of separation caused by the Trans-Atlantic Slaves Trade and the European colonialism. It was meant to be our own example of Israel in Africa, uniting the old and new to form something much more stronger than both. Unfortunately, Liberia has not lived up to that promise. Those that came from America thought they were better than those they met there. The resulting conflict has been unending, but most Liberians are determined and hoping for a better future.

This is just a little story about Liberia. I hope this will arouse your curiosity and cause you to go further in your quest to know more about Africa and the desire of her children at home and abroad to be free from political and economic oppressions. It is important that we all know that Africa's hour of redemption as envisioned by Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah and others, is yet to come. As long as Africa remains in the deplorable condition it is in today, no African, whether at home or abroad, can get his or her due respect from people of other races.