Empty Words, and No Action
By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
History is about to repeat itself again in Liberia. As a people, Liberians have a short memory; they have refused to learn a lesson or two from history. If there is any such thing as a Liberian mindset, it is complicated and confused and difficult to understand even among those who considered themselves "civilized." This mindset suffers from a dichotomous relationship between words and action. In a sense, Liberians are full of wasted words and no action in seeking the truth. This kind of behavior makes it difficult for those Liberians who want to see genuine change take place.
As for a vast majority of the so-called "civilized", they have not recovered from their Post Tubman Syndrome - a condition in which they believed with all their hearts that Tubman's presidency was good for Liberia. Because Tubman appointed a hand-full of them to government positions and on his official trips abroad, he included prominent tribal chiefs in his official entourage. This approach prompted a paramount chief to make the following remarks:
President Tubman really turned this country around. We tribesmen can now mix up with the civilized people freely and nobody is looking down on us. We can now eat at the same table, shake hands and dance with the civilized men and women. God will bless him to live long. We want you to be President until you die (Thomas D. Roberts et al, Area Handbook of Liberia. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1972, p. 196).
Tubman did just that, he died in office, after 27 years as president.
Once again, Liberians are falling for another sweet-talking President, who promised and can not deliver decent drinking water. He has everybody in his "hip pocket", especially, the Legislature. Their latest act of duty is to reward him with a new Sedition Law. Section 11.12 of Liberia New Penal Law empowers the government to charge a Liberian citizen with the crime of sedition for speaking honestly and critically, about the policies of the government and the President's performance.
As a result of this new Penal Law of Liberia, the chairman (John Kucij) of the Washington, D. C. based organization known as Friends of Liberia (FOL), sent letters to the members of Liberia's Senate and House of Representatives urging them to repeal the sedition law because it "...conflicts with Liberia's constitution and a cultural tradition that encourages vigorous, but peaceful, discussion of issues affecting community and nation." It was based on this law that human rights activist James D. Torh, Executive Director of the Liberian child-rights organization known as FOCUS was arrested and jailed by the National Police on December 15, 1999, because of the comments he made at Tubman High School, which - it is alleged - was critical of the government and the President of Liberia.
The government's writ of arrest alleges that Mr. Torh "advocated by words of mouth negative comment about the government and President of the Republic of Liberia with the intent to incite the students into hostility, create disunity among the people of Liberia, and accusing the incumbent President of the Republic of conduct which constitutes a violation of his Oath of Office."
This practice by the Taylor government is a repeat of the Tubman's Emergency Powers (networks of Public Relations Officers and security agencies) that restricted freedom of the press and expression. We are slowly but surely returning to the days of the "Cult of the Presidency." For example, President Taylor is now being referred to as "Papay," a kind of mindset many of our generation grew up with. And for the purpose of our discussion, let me provide you with a classical illustration of the type of behavior I am referring to.
During the 1940s through 1950s, teachers were perceived to be supreme. It was also the general feeling that they had monopoly over knowledge. In this society, almost everyone believed that teachers knew the answers to most problems, especially, academic ones. For example, one teacher taught almost all the major subjects - English, Math, Science, History, Geography, Civics, Arts, etc. There was no such thing as "specialization." For this reason, they were referred to as Jack of all Trades and Master of None.
Based on this general belief, teachers were placed in a class of their own - a position in which they could never say, "I don't know, let me look it up." A good example of this experience involved a teacher I call Professor G. Aloysius Tugbeh Woljlu. I was told that the actual incident occurred in the 1950s, in an American Literature Class of Professor Woljlu; the place was Grandcess Territory ( now Grand Kru County), Liberia. It happened that the Literature teacher at the time, was a Kru man who studied down the coast. This particular day, he was put on the spot. Here is the rest of the story:
On this particular day, a male student named Dohbeoh Klah was reading an American classic about adventure when he came across the word, TV. The passage read like this: "At their coaster home, the family gathered around to watch the TV." At that point, Student Dohbeoh was curious like most of his classmates who wanted to know the meaning of TV. Dohbeoh asked Professor Woljlu to assist him with the meaning of TV. Instead of Professor Woljlu telling Dohbeoh that he does not know, and that he would look it up and tell the class the next time they meet, he went on to instruct Dohbeoh to resume reading the story, and at the end, he would provide them with the meaning of TV.
The fact of the matter was, Professor Woljlu did not have any clue what the meaning of TV was. He found himself in a situation were he had to find his way out as quickly as he could or else, he would truly be made ashamed. He took this approach to buy himself sufficient time to come up with a reasonable answer that he felt would make sense to the class.
Professor Woljlu's basic attitude typifies the general behavior of most teachers of this period. For him to admit to the class that he does not know the meaning of T V would have made him appear incompetent to his students. Therefore, the poor guy had to make up a lie to save himself the embarrassment. The answer or what he thought was the answer came quite easy for him because of his ethnic background. The Krus (Kraos) are known for their sea-related profession and adventures. It was from this experience that the Professor got the meaning of TV or what he thought TV meant.
When the Professor thought he had the correct answer to the word, TV, he was all-smile and confidant. He could hardly wait for Dohbeoh to complete the story. However, he waited patiently until the story came to an end. He then instructed Dohbeoh to read the passage that contained the word, TV once more. Dohbeoh followed his instruction and read: "At their coaster home, the family gathered around to watch the TV." At this point, the Professor interrupted and added TRAVELING VESSEL in place of TV. Again, Professor Woljlu read aloud the passage: "At their coaster home, the family gathered around to watch the TRAVELING VESSEL." TV to Professor Woljlu meant Traveling Vessel.
Professor Woljlu's failure to demonstrate a level of moral standard and to tell the truth reminds me of the way most Liberians behaved when Ambassador H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr. was arrested tried and convicted of treason in 1968. Ambassador Fahnbulleh's arrest derived from a speech given by President Tubman in which he "hinted that an ambassador, whom he did not identify at the time, had interfered in the affairs of the nation to whom he was accredited and had violated the Foreign Service code in other ways" (Read the "The Trial of Henry B. Fahnbulleh" by Victor DuBois).
During the trial, which began on June 10, 1968, there were organized demonstrations as well as newspaper editorials denouncing Ambassador Fahnbulleh. From the start of the trial, no lawyer wanted to represent him until President Tubman had to give his approval. During the trial it was alleged that "Fahnbulleh may have had a long-range program for the encouragement of a political movement among the rural majority. The testimony emphasized by the prosecution, however, concerned alleged penetration of Liberia by foreign agents and other generalized dangers from subversion, and attempts were made to connect the defendant with these threats (Ibid. p. xxx)
After a three-week trial the jury found Fahnbulleh guilty of treason, and he was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment at hard labor. His last appeal was exhausted in February 1969, when the Liberian Supreme Court denied his plea for release (Ibid. p. xxx).
This circle is about to repeat itself in Liberia, once more. Why? Because most Liberians lack the commitment to seek the truth. In fact, it is certainly impossible to have high standards and judgement without first having high moral principles. Evidently, the present leadership in Liberia and some Liberians at home and abroad do not think this way. Even though, all of those who think this way were born with conscience; yet, they failed to follow the dictates of their conscience regarding what is just and is unjust. This is what is wrong with us as a people!
Most Liberians lack commitment to higher principles. High moral principles make it keener in discerning right from wrong. Also, it strengthens the convictions of people in the face of enormous pressure. For example in recent times, many African countries came under the leadership of corrupt political regimes, which forced apparently decent people to commit terrible atrocities. But those with faith in God and high moral principles, even at the risk of their lives were able to abstain.
To be frank, Liberia does not require us to be perfect, but rather to be honest with ourselves. As imperfect humans living in these perilous times, we are not immune to the wind of adversity. But we have the ability to reverse the course of the wind. To do so, we must acknowledge that there is something morally wrong with us as a people. Having admitted our general fault, we may set-up the means by which our fault can be addressed. Incorporated in our solution would be the commitment to never again compromise our principles (national goals and objectives) for political favors or offices.
At this point, if we do not do as stated above, the circle of inhumane and corrupt practices will be repeated over and over. The government's policies will continue to be based on empty words and lies like the illustration about Professor G. Aloysius Tugbeh Woljlu. The type of lie told by Professor Woljlu is what the English novelist Sir. Walter Scott referred to when he wrote, "What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." The endless proliferation of these little prevarications does matters. After the first lies, others can come more easily. We can avoid going in this direction if we follow the advice of the Liberian proverb that says, "Small shame is better than big shame." In other words, Liberians should do what is right and not what is expedient. And if one is not sure, Mark Twain has given us a rule of thumb. "When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends."
For subscription information, go to: www.theperspective.org
or send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org