Liberia and Biblical Oracles:The Devastation of the Locusts (Part Two)
By: Theodore T. Hodge
December 9, 2002
The Coming of the Creeping Locusts
After twenty-seven years of the Tubman presidency during which time Tolbert himself was vice president for nineteen years, his day finally arrived - William Richard Tolbert became the new sheriff in town. He left no stones unturned in signaling that a new day had arrived and he made a new set of promises to the Liberian people and nation. By his speech, mannerisms and leadership style, indeed he was a new man!
But sometimes (as we have often seen in politics), shearing your old image and becoming a new personality can be a double-edged sword. Tolbert was just too desperate to prove he wasn’t a second banana anymore. He immediately denounced some of Tubman’s policies and made a quick exit from his political style and called himself a “progressive”. He said he was willing to allow more freedom, equality and progress. He was going to take the people from “mats” to “mattresses” and build a “wholesome functioning society”. Yes, Tolbert was going to take the people to “higher heights” and freedom of speech and mass political participation would be encouraged.
In doing so, he made the fateful error of opening up the legendary ‘Pandora’s Box’ half way. As a general rule, this box is either left tightly sealed or opened entirely. Tubman and his predecessors had understood this fundamental truism and, therefore, had kept it tightly sealed.
In opening up this Pandora's box, Tolbert quickly found himself in a predicament. He managed to alienate many prominent conservative politicians of his party (the far right), who remained skeptical and disapproving of his attempts to change the old system. However, he wasn’t able to please the hard-nosed liberals or self-styled progressives (let’s call them the far left), who thought he wasn’t doing enough to radically bring about profound, genuine change. In the meantime, he simply confused the centrists or shall we call them the moderates?
There is an old saying, “The more things change, the more the stay the same”. Although this man was seemingly obsessed with the idea of portraying a new image for himself and the government, Nancee Oku Bright, in her documentary, "Liberia, America's Step Child" tells us he had about twenty-three family members occupying high offices. For example, one brother was Minister of Finance and another was Senate Pro Temp of the Liberian Senate and a son was the most powerful member of the House of Representatives, beside the Speaker. A daughter was a deputy minister and another son was an ambassador. These people had it going on. Miss Bright also tells us that the Tolberts owned a significant portion of the nation’s wealth. Some change, I’d say.
Tolbert also turned his hometown, Bensonville, from a sleepy town to a modern city and renamed it Bentol to immortalize the Tolbert name. No wonder this man angered displeased and confused Liberians of diverse political persuasions.
I hate to leave the impression that Tolbert was such an incredibly unpopular president at home and abroad. Tolbert did have his supporters, admirers and loyalists. Many thought he was the best thing to happen to Liberia since “palm butter and tabadu” became a favorite dish on the executive mansion menu. In fact Tolbert was the first Liberian president to openly and proudly speak an indigenous Liberian dialect. Speaking Kpelle endeared him to a number of indigenous Liberians.
About nine years into his reign, the army seemingly forgot its duty was to “obey, obey, and obey”. A group of young, disgruntled soldiers influenced by the changing times and a hint of political instability took matters into their own hands. They crept into the executive mansion and killed the president and overthrew his government. This group, led by an obscure army master sergeant, Samuel K. Doe called itself the People’s Redemption Council (PRC). Although they touted themselves as liberators, I call them the creeping locusts. Their coming was also an unfortunate continuation of the oracle. They had come to eat what the swarming locusts had left.
In what stands out to be barbaric in any culture and by whatever standards, Tolbert’s badly decapitated body was left out for open public display while the Liberian people sang and danced in jubilation. The body was left out to decompose and was finally buried in a mass grave unceremoniously. The whole world watched in horror, but the young soldiers were not done yet.
Shortly thereafter, they hurriedly tried and convicted some senior cabinet members of the Tolbert regime. Shockingly, they took them to a public beach in Monrovia, tied them to poles (without even bothering to cover their faces) and executed them by firing squad. They did this in broad daylight, in the presence of disbelieving Liberians and other nationals of Monrovia as well as the press, including the powerful media outlets of the world (I saw this on the CBS evening news to my utter shock and dismay).
Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe and his circle (circus) of army buddies remind one of George Orwell’s classic fairy tale, "Animal Farm". Animals on a farm convinced themselves that they were being ill treated by the farm owner. The thought it unfair that the animals did all the work and produced all the food but the humans were always the masters who enjoyed the fruit of their labor. They decided to revolt and put and end to this exploitation. The animals succeeded in getting rid of the humans. They were finally free to be their own bosses and control their fate, at least so the thought.
Since the pigs were the smartest animals on the farm (remember, this is a fairy tale), they led the uprising and became the new leaders. But they agreed that all the animals would treat each other with respect and be kind to each other. "No animal must ever kill any other animal” and “All animals are equal" became the fundamental principles of their philosophy called "Animalism".
But before long, the pigs connived against the other animals - simply because they were smarter. They began to rule with iron hands, steal from and cheat the others. The chief pig even ran his chief rival, another pig, off the farm, accusing him of conspiracies against the animal revolution. But the entire animal revolution was reduced to a pig affair.
The pigs, for the purpose of self-preservation made a slick move. They gave the dogs special privileges and trained them to be obedient and protective of the pigs. They were trained to be vicious killers who followed orders from the chief pig and his species to the detriment of the other animals.
Rules and principles began to change, as the leader became a tyrant. Instead of "No animal shall kill another animal", it became "No animal shall kill another animal without cause", and "All animals are equal” became “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others".
In the end, the animals were unbelievably saddened to see their dream turned into a nightmare. They were shocked beyond belief to see that the pigs had deserted them to join a new league with humans to exploit them. Yes, the pigs and humans were now best friends, drinking and partying together. The pigs even learned to walk on two legs instead of four and dressed themselves like humans. They imitated all man’s habits including cruelty to animals.
Similarly, Doe and his PRC chumps had declared that the Americo-Liberians had exploited the indigenous Liberian masses and they were arresting the situation on behalf of the indigenes. The people, the masses would finally chart their own course. True freedom had finally come, they declared.
The poor Liberian masses, believing the hype, were running around shouting empty slogans, such as "In the cause of the people, the struggle continues". People were heard saying, “Our time has come”, believing all indigenous people would work together, respect each other and all would live happily ever after because their darlings, the army boys had finally stopped the Americo-Liberian era.
Meantime, Doe gave his first public interview to the international press and, according to Miss Bright, "He looked very uncomfortable, like a man who had triggered some events he had no control over”. When asked if he had any immediate plans for the country, he said, “I can’t tell you right now". When asked what the main problems were in the country, he said, "No problem". Asked if there were any particular area in which he was interested such as economic, political or social, he said, “The minister of economics will elaborate on that”. Asked if his government would consider any policy changes toward the United States, he said, "Same old policy".
I watched that interview, too. And as I looked at Doe in that circus atmosphere giving incoherent and unintelligible answers and sweating like a fool, I felt bad for the country. He simply looked like a moron with a lot of dead cells floating around in his head. This buffoon had no clue! And his PRC comrades and their advisors seemed to be suffering from a critical shortage of chromosomes.
Although their rallying cry had been to denounce the Americo-Liberians and restore dignity to the indigenous people, someone had forgotten to tell him that the indigenous people of Liberia comprised many entities, such as the Greboes, Krus, Gios, Golas, Kpelles, Vais, Lormas, etc. Poor, simple-minded fool, he thought the “people” meant just the Krahns. Doe and his tribal cohorts did all they could to punish the Congoes for their transgressions against the people. But as they began to taste the intoxication of power, they became blinded to the original cause. The people for whom they now fought were the Krahns - all others were expendable.
These poor, ignorant bastards wanted nothing else but to be the new leaders at the expense of the others. They invented new reasons and schemes to discredit their former compatriots. They now became the new Americo-Liberians. All they ever wanted was to control what was left of the Liberian pie. There are those who claim that these ingrates stole and did as much damage to the country than the Americo-Liberians had done in close to two hundred years!
Well, just as the cows, horses, chickens, goats, sheep and ducks realized that the pigs and their vicious dogs were up to no good, the Liberian indigenous people deserted Doe in due time. The Liberian people theorized that if the Krahns are going to be just as inhumane and certainly more brutal than the Americo-Liberians, we might as well go back to the old days. People began to sit in the sun and sadly dream of the “good old days”. The PRC made it so bad, the people thought the old days were good. They weren’t
The creeping locusts had lasted nine years before their end came. In the fashion of poetic justice, Doe was captured and killed just as brutally as Tolbert was. It can even be argued that he suffered more than Tolbert did since Tolbert's ordeal was rather swift. There was a transitional period of eight years - a period of utter chaos, lawlessness and outright inhumanity against the defenseless Liberian people. It is estimated that that as many as 200,000 (two hundred thousand) died and as many left the country under various conditions. This chaos and inhumanity and outright destruction was being orchestrated by a hodge-podge of disgruntled groups bent on seeking revenge and seizing power to get their share of the Liberian pie. The main group, the so-called National Patriotic Front of Liberia was led by a jail-escapee, a convicted felon, Charles Taylor.
The Coming of the Stripping Locusts
Finally, the stripping locusts had arrived. If it were difficult imagining the creeping locusts doing over two hundred years’ worth of damage in nine years, the stripping locusts have done twice as much damage as the gnawing, swarming and creeping locusts all combined in less than five years! That’s about five hundred years of damage in five years! Now that’s a record that may have to stand for eternity no matter what society one examines.
Our new emperor, Charles Taylor, and his companions are like cockroaches. They prefer to operate in dark and filthy places that explains why there’s no light or running water in Monrovia. They’ve given new meaning to the term “corruption”. For the first time in our history, the government of Liberia is now considered an active promoter and participant in wars and uprisings in neighboring countries.
Just imagine a government that can afford to spend billions on arms and foreign mercenaries, yet does not have public utility (light and water) in its capital.
Again, imagine a government that is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for newspaper ads and millions on PR firms to promote its image abroad but fails to pay its employees. A government that cannot afford to give its citizens the most basic services (education, health care, road construction and maintenance and garbage removal services) yet underwrites the cost of war in another country.
Our country has a government that is isolated and classed as a pariah state by most of the civilized world, yet remains defiant and unapologetic. This is a government that is caught up in its illusions and grandeur to the point that it believes itself - a classic case of self- delusion.
My countrymen and women, we are dealing with a new phenomenon, the likes of which we have never seen. This case defies logic and comprehension at any level. This is Liberia under King Charles Taylor, a vagabond and parasite.
These stripping locusts, led by the heartless and cruel dictator are devouring all left to fill their little bellies. They leave nothing for the poor masses who could adopt the old reggae tone "Dem belly full, but we hungry" as a national anthem. I hope the also understand the same song says, "A hungry man is an angry man".
Oblivious to the suffering of the masses, they are cutting down and selling virgin forest trees at such an alarming rate, it boggles the normal mind. They are also mining gold and diamonds to buy and sell arms on the black market.
Our King Charles Taylor has now married multiple women and claims he has a right to marry one from each of the counties maybe that’s what accounts for the creation of new counties on a regular basis. He is creating so many new counties, the average Liberian (including myself) cannot name all the counties of Liberia. This freak has certainly given new meaning to the expression, “Growth without development”.
I know I have painted quite a grim picture of our situation. Yet this is not the product of an overworked imagination, this is no tall story made up simply to discredit our fellow countrymen. This is the reality of today’s Liberia where people’s human rights are abused, where press freedom is curtailed and granted as a presidential privilege to be revoked at the whims of the dictator and his brutal police. This is a place where most lawmakers are ignorant thugs who feel and act as if they were above the law.
Yes, this is a place where the dictator’s close relative shoots and kills a cab driver simply for overtaking him in traffic and his son orders his driver beaten to death because he hit a dog and damaged his car! This is a place where the dictator threatens to chase people into their mothers’ wombs to punish them! Our dictator, Charles Taylor is a "discount Stalin with an appetite for blood and a gift for wrapping his country in poverty", to use a description I recently came across in a Cleveland magazine, "Scene". King Taylor is definitely running a system built on the rat system, where selling out your neighbor is proof of loyalty.
Is there any hope left or is the average reader filled with a sense of pessimism? Is there no optimism left given the scenarios depicted? I certainly do not blame my fellow citizens who will feel overwhelmed by these tremendous conditions. But we must challenge ourselves to rise above this just as we have done in the past. We must be thankful that a country called Liberia still exists. For about five hundred years, the gnawing, swarming, and creeping locusts have eaten. Now the stripping locusts are determined to finish the crumbs and lick everything dry. If there is one lesson we have learned in history it is that they too will eat their bellies full and our country will still be standing long after they are dead, dead, dead.
The great British Prime Minister and statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, once told his countrymen during a period of severe crises: "Don’t ever, ever give up". My fellow Liberians, I couldn't have said it better myself.