Family Tree Lyrics

By Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 7, 2002

Blaming The Messenger

"Family tree can bend; but it can't break." In postwar Liberia, a notorious fallacy still haunts the intelligentsia: " the book people bring all the trouble; they bring the war on us". In other words, those educated people who were bold enough to call for fundamental changes in Liberia's social and political system were the ones who brought trouble and war on Liberia. To say the least, I disagree.

There is plenty of confusion amongst us in these trying times, but we must endeavor to focus on understanding our past so as to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. One of the many newspaper headlines following the 1980 coup was a quotation that read: "MA's and Ph.D.'s Will Not Build Liberia". At that time, it was open secret that the new Liberian leader, Samuel Doe, was functionally illiterate and such statements were intended to accommodate him. But the Master sergeant himself held on to the idea and in the events that followed, the stage was set for blaming the Liberian intelligentsia - "the book people" - for all of the nation's problems. Eventually, some people even accepted the mistaken notion that if the "Book People" had not placed themselves in opposition to the Tolbert Government in advocating change, there would have been no coup and no war. This generalized blame mentality in which all educated people are unfairly condemned and openly discredited is besmearing the future of the intelligentsia, especially the educated politicians as voters will eventually look at all "book people" with suspicion.

Of course, if we accept this line of thinking that "book people" destroyed Liberia, - God forbid !- then we should close down all the schools because school breeds troublemakers. But then consider this: With all due respect, the Liberian constitution was not drafted in Gio or Krahn, nor in Grebo; there is no known Bassa or Lorma procedure for kidney transplant; there is no known Mandingo scale for measuring weights nor a Kpelleh method for water purification! Much of what we really know about agriculture is still in the cutlass age. We have eaten up all of our forest resources - plants and animals alike - to extinction and the fittest that have survived thus far are still running away from us.

It is not that knowledge about these things may not have existed amongst our people (Vai, for instance, could have become our official written national language), but as in just about every other case, those who possessed such knowledge died out. Every information was transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to another until it all faded away. Nothing about our existence was ever recorded and we must now go out in search of the very knowledge which, in many ways may have been copied from our ancestors so that we can keep pace with the rest of the civilized world. Education - indeed western education- therefore, is good and our parents realized it - better late than never!

Fact is, those who spearhead blaming the "messenger" are actually the rural fugitives and urban rejects of our society, who are paralyzed by the embarrassment from their own cultural and political illiteracy; but they must continue to spit fire because thriving on social conflicts is the only thing they know. It is only through political confusion and lawlessness that they can drive away honest , capable and well-meaning men and women from the mainstream of power.

Tell them how educated people, indeed politicians and their politics can be good. The United States, which is revered by every Liberian as "God's Country" is run by "book people". In this "God's country", a revolution occurs every four years. It is a peaceful and organized process of political change called elections. Simply put, political leaders who keep their promises made to the people get reelected; those who do not, are voted out. And no one in his wildest dream can ever think of finding shortcuts to the constitution. Politics, when practiced in respect of the rule of law, can channel peaceful change, foster political stability and establish a democratic culture.

This is the kind of peaceful change that the real "book people" who were our political "messengers" advocated. Remember there came a time in our country when nearly every citizen saw the need and craved for peaceful and democratic change. Unfortunately for our country, the Americo-Liberian oligarchy remained purposeful and determined, and stood in the way of constitutional change consistent with the values of democracy. Hence, peaceful change was never forthcoming because those in power had become indifferent to the clarion call of the "messenger".

Remember this: When wise men become stubborn, fools come to power. And so it came to pass that the men who dethroned Tolbert -his soul rest in peace - had no knowledge of statecraft and their idea about what government should be was directed by a village mentality of primitive proportions. Yet, those seventeen enlisted men too, were themselves victims of a system that treated its military establishment as nothing more than a breeding ground for domestic bodyguards.

Revolutionary theology teaches that it is the legitimate obligation of the people to resist the authority of rulers who fail to effect change but yet do not meet their needs. Consider the biblical hero Moses who, with God's blessings, led a successful revolt against the pharaoh's authority and led his tribesmen out of Egypt; and Jesus who declared that the high priests who had entrenched themselves in the synagogues were unholy and unfit for His Father's mission. And when Chairman Mao said that a revolution was not a tea party, he was actually referring to violent change when peaceful change cannot happen. Throughout world history, societies which fail to channel peaceful change become victims of destructive change. That is why today, just about every Liberian, the innocent as well as the guilty, has become a victim of destructive change. The " messenger" may have foreseen the specter of national self-destruction hanging over Liberia. That is why his call was for peaceful change - democracy - and not a call for armament or violent change.

After one hundred and thirty-three years of self-rule matched against the miasma of poverty, disease, socio-economic discrimination, organized thievery and banditry in high places, anyone with a good heart and mind for our country ought to have known that change was inevitable. Which direction it took -peaceful or violent - was the sole prerogative of those who held the pillars of power before April 12, 1980.

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