Getting Liberia Right This Time Around

By Samuel P. Jackson


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 21, 2003

The last 23 years of turmoil in Africa's oldest republic can be directly attributed to the passions and burning desires of all Liberians to be recognized as full participants in the nation-building process. Some of the energies used in attempting to right the historical wrongs of exclusion were exploited by demagogues and other political neophytes. The results have been catastrophic.

There are some of us alive today who may have played key roles in not properly harnessing the energies of a people burning with the passions of self-determination and contributed to needless suffering. This is by no means acceptance of guilt or innocence by this writer. We can place blame on all of us, either by commission or omission. In any case, recrimination and Monday-morning-quarterbacking will never get us anywhere. We must use the knowledge gleaned from the events of the last twenty-three years to serve as a catharsis for a thorough national cleansing.

For the third time in my lifetime, I see opportunities and challenges staring stark in the faces of all Liberians. The opportunities and challenges first arose during the inception of the Doe regime in 1980, the ascendancy of former President Taylor in 1997 and now again in 2003 at the beginning of the Bryant-Johnson Interim Leadership.

The irony in the selection of the two gentlemen has not been lost on me. In 1980, both were on opposite sides of the political divide. Wesley Johnson was a young stalwart in the Progressive People's Party (PPP), while Gyude Bryant was enmeshed in the class politics of the True-Whig Party.

I never understood the political leanings of Mr. Bryant, but I can safely assume that he did not share the Wesley Johnson brand of revolutionary politics in the 1970's Liberia. I saw a degree of disgust, probably earned, every time Gyude Bryant threw his strong gaze in my direction. We eventually learned to co-exist. That is growth. I believe Liberians can learn from the political evolution of a Gyude Bryant and Sam Jackson.

I came to know Gyude Bryant a little better during many interactions when I served as Minister of State for Economic and Financial Affairs during the last 18 months of the Taylor presidency. The man clearly has two sets of manhood, firmly ensconced in that huge bulk. He was one of the few Monrovia-based politicians who openly challenged President Taylor during discussions with the political parties. He did it with respect for the office, but with a keen sense of moral obligation. Many of the issues were constitutional, and he spoke forcefully. President Taylor's attempts to sway him with arguments never worked. I saw the gaze I had come to know trained at my friend, Charles Taylor, not with disgust, but with a new savvy learned over the last twenty three years: political co-existence.

Mr. Bryant is a not perfect. He has several political warts, but I can live with the choice made in Accra. It is God's way of forcing us to learn the important lessons of living together, no matter which side of the political divide we find ourselves.

There are opportunities and challenges in making the new Liberia. I feel a sense of great relief that for once, a change came, where all of the people in Liberia are allowed to participate. There will be errors and serious disappointments. We are humans and we will make mistakes. But as one who has been given several chances in life at rebirth and reintegration into society, I know that we can make it.

For me, I know this could be the last chance in my life in being a part of a newer, kindler and gentler Liberia. I thank God for the opportunities. I will try to meet the challenges. I join hands with all my political adversaries, including those who hate me without cause and others who do for who I am. I will be there carving out a little niche to finally bring the peace and tranquility that we all so desperately need and deserve.

I have no plans to be part of the new transitional arrangements in an official capacity. I believe it best that others, more younger and energetic are given the opportunities and the challenges to serve Liberia now. For my part, I want to stand on the sidelines and cheer the new kids on the block. And so it goes!