Issues In Perspective:The Trap Of Ethnicity
-The Case Of Grand Gedeh And Nimba Counties
By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
The strategy of ethnicity in Africa is nothing new to modern African political scene. The British invented the strategy, as we know it today. You may recall it was referred to as "The Divide and Rule" strategy. It was implemented during the colonial and post-colonial eras. Even today, Nigeria and other former colonized countries are suffering from its effects.
For example, those who implored this strategy, do so to serve their own interest, and not the interest of those in whose name it is used. The ethnic groups in Africa are caught in this trap due to the way in which African countries became nations. It was not a process where the various African "tribes" called a palaver (conference) to decide on forming a nation. European countries got together in Berlin in 1884 and decided to divide Africa amongst themselves.
As the result, Africans find themselves living in countries that were designed by Europeans. Citizens within these countries did not go through the process by which one develops nationalistic feelings for his or her country. In essence, we (Africans) are not nationalistic in the true sense of the word. Instead, we owe our allegiance to our tribes.
Because of this loose arrangement, citizens of the various African states owe their alliance to their ethnic or tribal groups first and foremost before the nation. For example, we see ourselves first as Krao before Liberians. Therefore, it is not by accident that we have all of these problems. This element is one of the contributing factors why we find it hard to unite. Take a minute or two to think about it. With all the book knowledge we say, we have, why haven't we realized that the use of tribalism in our national politics is a trap?
Ethnicity remains a dominant element of life throughout Africa, especially when it becomes necessary to mobilize grassroots support for political purposes. Ethnicity, therefore, is at the root of the political process on the continent. There are several points of view on the issue of tribalism. Some observers consider tribalism as a roadblock to nationalism, whereas others think that it is the source of cooperation and the maintenance of tribal values and loyalty.
But judging from the serious problems of governance that almost all of the countries in Africa are experiencing, I find myself on the side of those who say that tribalism serves as a roadblock to nation-building in Africa. Let me borrow from their argument - source of cooperation, maintenance of tribal values and loyalty. It is my contention that these are the very reasons that make African countries vulnerable.
This brings me to the point I intend to make. Please don't hold it against me. It is an honest analysis. Take it or leave it. My analysis is based on "the brilliant but dangerous" strategy developed by John C. Rancy, during the Samuel K. Doe regime. Rancy at the time was the minister of state for Presidential Affairs during the Doe era, and had served in both Tubman and Tolbert administrations. It was alleged that Rancy was the author of "The John Rancy Letter of March 22, 1983." The role he played in developing that letter is the same role advisors and other officials in any government play on a daily basis. This practice is evident in the day to day functioning of government in this country, where aides prepare memos on various issues.
The difference is that the advice given to leaders in this country is in the interest of the public, and if where it has a partisan tone, such communications are kept confidential. Often, their advice is aimed at achieving positive public policy objectives, not advocating violation of law. The point here is when you're caught violating the law you could be prosecuted. That's how it is supposed to be.
But with us in Africa, we see it from another perspective. The individual along with his ethnic group is indicted for his crime. Not only that, but we go as far to include innocent associates as well as their children. This was evident during the Liberian civil war. We are so conditioned by tribalism that we fail to see the narrow confines of our attitude toward other people regarding politics and a host of other issues.
In the case of Rancy's letter, in which he urged President Doe to effectively excise his Gio and Mano rivals from government, Rancy should have been exposed and brought to justice.
Similarly, Doe should have been held responsible for his actions, not the Krahn people from Grand Gedeh County. The same dynamic is taking place today in Liberia. All Krahns are liable for Roosevelt Johnson's alleged plan to overthrow the government.
At this critical juncture in our history, there is a need to move beyond the Grand Gedeh and Nimba manufactured conflict. Can't we see that Taylor is using this strategy to maintain himself in power? Therefore, to remain silent because it is not your ethnic group that is being killed, plays in the hands of Charlie and his Angels. This is why it so important for Liberian organizations to speak out now.
It is my gut feeling that Rancy wrote the letter. This is an opinion! I have arrived at this conclusion based on how every issue mentioned in the letter became a reality. All of the suggestions in the letter could not have been a coincidence! So, when Nimbaians accused Grand Gedeans for the evil contained in the letter, they were wrong. They should have blamed Rancy and Doe, not the entire ethnic group. But I see the same thing happening today. The Nimbaians who at that time accused the Grand Gedeans have not made any public statement on the Camp Johnson Road massacre.
It is just a thought! Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated? When was the last time any of you read the statement Tom Woewiyu delivered at the press conference of July 19, 1994? You need to read it if you haven't done so lately.
This brings us back to the main point of our discussion - ethnicity. In the John G. Rancy Letter, he did not mentioned anything about keeping Krahn people in power. The strategy was designed to keep Doe in power beyond 1985. In this design, he had other players such as President Reagan, the State of Israel, Libya, Ethiopia, Chad, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., MOJA, PPP, Abraham Kollie, Thomas Quiwonkpa and those he referred to as the "Socialists" involved. You see my point? Why then should we get caught up in the trap of ethnicity?
Ethnicity is a deadly tool used by the manipulator. It has nothing to do with the "tribe" that is being manipulated. It is only a means to an end. The John Rancy letter started off by saying - "per our discussion regarding possible strategies for remaining in office beyond 1985." No where did it suggest for the Krahn people remaining in power beyond 1995. So you see how innocent people can be considered guilty because of their birth or association? This is my point and nothing else!
If we have some pride left as Liberians, every one of us need to be angry at Charlie and his angles of death regarding the way he is treating our people. We ought to send him a message, loud and clear that when you mess with one ethnic group in Liberia, you'll have all of us to contend with. That should be our message! So say one, so say all will be applicable in this case.