A Man Of All Seasons - A Man Of The People

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted October 25, 2002

Counselor Mohamedu F. Jones
In my last article under the title: "Liberians and Their Intellectuals: Playing the Blame Game", I commented on the sometimes ill-advised and little understood debate taking place between our intellectual class and others not so designated. I pointed out the folly of always blaming everything on the intellectuals and advocating their exclusion from our national conversation and future planning. I strongly defended the intellectual class to whom credit is due for raising our collective awareness. Although they made some tactical errors, they are not to entirely be blamed for where we ended up, I observed.

I also pointed out the validity of the argument that some of the intellectuals only sought their own aggrandizement and quoted a prominent education professor who expounded on three schools of thought: democratic equality, social efficiency and social mobility. I concluded that it seemed many Liberians mainly belonged to the last category - acquiring education for the primary or sole purpose of pursuing social mobility. As is clearly pointed out in the first two categories, education is seen as a public good whereas subscribers to the last theory see education as a private good to be used exclusively for one's own social promotion - a pathetic and unfortunate path to lead or follow, in my view.

In this piece, I shall throw the spotlight on a fellow Liberian - a public intellectual of the right sort. This individual belongs in a distinguished class, along with few others. He is a scholar who definitely favors the first two schools of thought outlined above, namely: "democratic equality and social efficiency theories", by word, action and deed. The person I have in mind is citizen Mohamedu F. Jones, a lawyer by profession and a graduate of the prestigious Harvard Law School.

I shall attempt to do an essay highlighting compatriot Jones' admirable and positive qualities as a citizen of conscience, although I question my own ability to do justice by paraphrasing what he has said and written in recent times. What's the alternative? I have decided to present excerpts from the man's speeches and writings covering subjects dear to our hearts.

But before getting to Cllr. Jones' expressed views, let's examine the thoughts of another great and renounced world citizen, Professor Noam Chomsky. A brilliant linguistics professor and distinguished political dissident and activist, Dr. Chomsky made a compelling case in his landmark article titled: "The Responsibility of Intellectuals", carried by the New York Review of Books, which is as relevant to our times as it was then in February of 1967. Professor Chomsky paraphrased himself in reference to the aforementioned article during an interview with David Barsamian of Alternative Radio. This is what he said:

"Every person bears responsibility for the predictable consequences of his or her actions - here I include the failure to act, looking the other way...

"Remember Orwell's first law: 'The State is always engaged in defense, no matter what the facts may be" and the second law is "The vocation of the responsible intellectual is to establish and protect that sacred truth'...

"If we regard ourselves as moral agents, the general answers to the questions of moral responsibility are fairly obvious. When we turn to intellectuals, other questions arise. We may first of all want to ask ourselves whether to think of intellectual work as being the province of a special class of people. I think we should not. And to the extent that such work is so restricted, it's a social defect to be overcome. I presume that it is a fundamental human need to try to understand the world around us, to appreciate its cultural wealth, to contribute to it as we can and no person should be deprived of these opportunities no more than any person should be deprived of food and shelter.

"But let's take the world as it is, with certain privileged sectors that do have the opportunity and training and the resources to devote themselves to the work of the mind. By virtue of these privileges, their responsibilities are simply greater. The other reason is that their range of choices is greater and the consequences of making those choices are greater..."

Let us take a closer look and see how our own public intellectual uses his acquired status for the good of his fellow citizens. When the Liberian government illegally revoked the license of Radio Veritas, Cllr. Jones wrote a letter to the Liberian Information Minister:

"Let me begin by informing the Minister that in Liberia, a "privilege" is a constitutionally protected right... The action of the government in constitutionally denying the station's license is a violation of this fundamental right..."

It was quite refreshing to know that Mr. Jones, living in America and having plenty of access to various media took the time to fight for "citizens and residents" of Liberia who were losing their right or privilege to listen to a short-wave radio station. Many other lawyers did not bother to occupy themselves with such "trivial". I call his actions a case of selflessness.

Although he admitted liking and respecting Senator Brumskine and was sure that the former senator was "well educated and a very successful lawyer who had the intellectual, educational and personal history to be president of Liberia", his conscience still compelled him to question whether he (Brumskine) was "the right presidential material Liberia needs".

He wrote: "All Liberians should give Cllr. Brumskine's quest for the presidency serious consideration. He should forthrightly address the question of his long relationship and support for President Charles Taylor; explain his roles in the governance of the country that led us to where we were when he left, and especially show how he is different from Mr. Taylor. General denials and demurrers will not do."

In November of 2001, the good counselor once again gave us the benefit of his thoughts on the state of affairs of Liberia and the up-coming elections. He boldly and accurately observed:

"Liberia is one of those countries that entered the new millennium worse off in 2001 than it was 20 years before. Even more troubling, under its current leadership, the country will only continue on the downward spiral. In 2003, Liberia will hold general elections - we need to begin thinking about those issues and matters that ought to be addressed as we consider whom to support - these are issues that speak to the core of Liberia's future. If people who desire elective office are not thinking and talking about these issues (I don't mean lip synching), then they don't get it."

In a professorial way, he outlined and briefly elaborated upon five central themes he sees as fundamental issues facing our country. They were: Governance and democratization, Patterns and distribution of power and influence, Issues agenda, National values and Globalization and the information age.

One month later he was at it again, blasting the government of Liberia and calling a spade a spade when he wrote an article under the title: "A 'Dirty War' of Political Terrorism Against Certain Liberians". The Taylor government had accused Senator Brumskine and Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of raising "money to support warring dissidents" and asked them to exonerate themselves. He called the charges and tactics ridiculous and challenged the government to adhere to the legal principle, which requires that "those who accuse must prove." He likened such dirty tactics to those used by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950's America to smear and disgrace his opponents and other citizens.

As if to warn all Liberians who may have not thought these matters through, he wrote: "Moreover, it does not matter whether one supports either Cllr. Brumskine or Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or neither; Liberians should be very concerned about this 'dirty war' against them. Indeed, for Liberians living here in the United States, what is not stated in the story, but is clearly present, is that all Liberians who attend functions where funds are raised are either witting or unwitting supporters of war against poor Liberians."

As we entered the current year, it seemed like as the good constitutional lawyer he is, nothing consumed his thoughts more than Liberia's constitutional crises. At an MDCL convention held in Silver Spring, MD, in January, his topic was "A Review of the 1984 Liberian Elections Law". In that speech he rendered some insightful and very revealing opinions and proposals. He took many by surprise, including myself, when he said: "Liberia does not even have valid elections law in force to govern and regulate the 2003 elections because the 1984 Elections Law is defunct and obsolete."

Again in February, he revisited the issue (Liberia's 1984 Elections Law). It seemed he had opened a can of worms. Other Liberian constitutional scholars, so far comfortably slumbering and attending to other matters of self interest, and too busy to take up the great national issues, were finally jolted into wakefulness and challenged his position. He acknowledged the differing points of view offered by Cllr. Charles Brumskine and Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa. "I welcome these developments, because I may have reached the wrong conclusions about the law. My purpose was to offer my theory to the public for deliberation and discourse, and not to score legal points, or even more ridiculously, because of some 'hidden political agenda or vendetta'", the counselor wrote.

A month later Cllr. Jones returned to the matter in a one-page clarification of his previous stand. He displayed tremendous courage and convinced me that he is a man of integrity as well as modesty when he wrote: "Mea culpa" - "this is a Latin phrase that means "acknowledgement of personal fault or error". I was wrong in my conclusion that Liberia has no effective elections law, even while I was correct in my analysis that the 1984 Elections Law, promulgated by the People's Redemption Council "was obsolete, inadequate and not valid for the purposes of holding constitutional elections in 2003..."

In the open and fair way he has so far conducted himself, he wrote: "In an interview with "The Perspective" in February, Cllr. Brumskine indicated that he was confident that Liberia had valid elections law, even though he did not mention the 1986 law specifically. He was right. The next step is now for us to apply the same scrutiny to the 1986 Elections Law, that we did to the 1984 law, to be clear in our minds that it is constitutionally adequate to regulate the 2003 elections."

In May 2003 Cllr. Jones once again was a speaker at a Liberian conference, this time hosted by the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA). He dealt with the issue of "Putting into Effect Election Laws and the Constitutional Provisions for the Conduct of Democratic Elections in Liberia in 2003."

About 'electoral integrity in Liberia', he said: "In a democracy people compete in the elections to win public office to gain public power for the purpose of influencing public policy and the use of state resources. Historically, political leaders in Liberia have been more interested in the use of state resources than in influencing public policy for the national benefit... Integrity in any electoral process comprises a legal and ethical behavior, as well as a system of mechanisms adopted to protect the viability of the electoral process."

Counselor Jones has not only tackled the tough and technical issues of his profession, he has been willing and available to visit Liberian communities all over this great country to dispense simple and assuring words of comfort and wisdom to his fellow countrymen.

In December of 2001, he was the installing officer for Marylanders for Progress (Liberia), Inc. He spoke on the theme: "Issues of Liberia's Ethnic Relationships" and challenged the members of that organization to think about "a complex set of issues that Liberians avoid, or discuss with acrimony, or engage with temporization, or view with trepidation, or employ with malevolence. They are issues that bring a certain level of discomfiture to many Liberians. They are the issues of Liberia's ethnic relationships...

"Specific to Liberia, as an example, we must remember that all Liberians who have ruled the country from its founding until today, have done so to their privileged benefit, and to the detrimental exclusion of the majority of the people. This is a truth, whether we like it or not. Now, how do we remember this truth – we can remember it in a number of ways - but I suggest that the beneficial way to remember and employ this truth is that we must challenge Liberian leaders, regardless of their ethnicity, who would run our country in a fashion that is not beneficial to the whole people and the whole country."

Then he left them with a powerful quotation. Remember, he said, "Truth without Mercy is blinding and raw; Mercy without Truth is a cover-up and superficial. Justice without Peace falls easily into cycles of bitterness and revenge; Peace without Justice is short-lived and benefits only the privileged or the victors."

In March of 2002, he was yet again called on to be the installing officer of another Liberian organization, this time the Grand Gedeh Association. In offering them his thoughts on leadership, he urged them to "provide leadership through vision, offer leadership through communication, build leadership through trust and to finally remember that good leadership is founded on 'wisdom'".

After elaborating on the virtues of wisdom, he made another powerful and stunning statement, one with which I am totally in agreement: "The absence of wisdom in Liberia's national leaders over the years, and continuing today, helped to create the circumstances we face presently as a nation and people. You must be wise in your leadership of the Association."

When installing the officers of the Liberian Educational and Cultural Organization he turned to the late and soulful Marvin Gaye who popularized the lines "What's Going On? War is not the answer." He went on to admonish his fellow citizens once again: "War is certainly not the answer for Liberia. We need to be cured of our "warring madness". All Liberians of goodwill must reject and condemn the wars that are presently being waged against the people of Liberia, and do everything to stop it. The so-called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) are just simply wrong, and need to end their war. It is essential that peace once again becomes a part of Liberia's culture, replacing war, which is now a part of the culture of our country."

Mincing no words in New Jersey where he was once more called on to install the officers of the Liberian Community Association Of Willingboro and its Environs, he sounded a familiar theme when he said: "In terms of the state of human development in the 21st century, Liberia's current conditions are among the worst that may be found anywhere in the world. The people of Liberia are living a 'reality show' that is beyond the curse of the devil. The Republic of Liberia and its people are in a state of total and complete dysfunction; Liberia is a wholly dysfunctional society...

"The public record just simply does not support the proposition that the Liberian president is capable or even interested for that matter, in administering good government in Liberia. I think it is fair to say that President Taylor's model of governments has been to embrace and institute in Liberia some of the worst excesses of some of the worst presidents in Africa's post independence history."

This month he was all the way across the country in Atlanta where he was the guest speaker at the Brewerville Civic Association's Annual Reunion. His topic was: "Where have we been" and "Where are we now?"

"The history of Liberia presents a country that is fundamentally flawed. Liberia failed to live in accordance with its declared principles, but instead what we developed was a society of exclusion, where full participation in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of the country was denied to the majority of Liberians. It was a system designed with the purpose and the intent to deprive certain Liberians of their declared natural, inherent and inalienable rights, because of their ancestry, and to reserve the benefits of the society to but a few, because of their ancestry. This was wrong and must not be allowed to happen again."

Any Liberian who can stare a bunch of descendants of settlers in the face and tell them such truth as outlined in the paragraph above, deserves a medal for honesty. Let's take a second look at one sentence:"Liberia failed to live in accordance with its declared principles, but instead what we developed was a society of exclusion, where full participation in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of the country was denied to the majority of Liberians." This was spoken to the children of the pioneers?

This great Liberian sounds very believable when he continues: "I, for one, apologize for a system, which by virtue of one's birth, denied equal opportunity, excluded participation in the governance of the country, restricted enjoyment of economic benefits, and refused entry into certain social and cultural statuses. This was terribly wrong and we must never let that happen again."

Answering the question where do we go from here? Again Cllr. Jones grabs the bull by the horns and audaciously says: "...I will say that as a nation and people, we would be in the better position if President Taylor were to immediately announce that under no circumstances would he contest for the presidency in 2003. I believe the evidence supports the proposition that after 12 years on the national political stage, and especially taking into account the five years of his presidency, and considering the track record of the president, there can be no conceivable benefit to Liberia for President Taylor to run for another term. A declaration by the president that he would not seek re-election would be a mark of respect for the people of Liberia. History will judge the president more benevolently if he were to be magnanimous and remove himself from next year's presidential elections."

Cllr. Jones, using his great perception outlines ten principles to which he challenges his audience to adhere and ends by saying: "I suggest to you my fellow Liberians that it is around principles that the discourse of our national conversations ought to revolve. Liberians must formulate national consensuses regarding the issues that confront our country, and develop these consensuses into actionable programs and plans that are guided by a common interest in the well-being of Liberia's people."

It is clear from reading Cllr. Jones' words on a variety of topics dealing with the principal subject of Liberia and its people: this man comes across as a caring and compassionate citizen. He definitely displays the mindset that education is a public good to be used for the benefit of his fellow citizens. He certainly does not see education as a private good to be used exclusively and selfishly to promote oneself.

Seemingly agreeing with professor Noam Chomsky's view that "the true vocation of the responsible intellectual is to establish and protect that sacred truth - to speak the truth and expose lies", he dares to speak the truth even at the risk of offending his friends. It is amazing how many times Cllr. Jones is willing to go on record to take positions that may not seem popular, but simply does anyway, just to satisfy his conscience.

I take my hat off to this fellow Liberian and proudly name him my man of the season, my man of the people. He is my man of the season because as his speaking itinerary tells us he is engaged in public speaking and writing year round. By the same token, he is the man of the people simply because he seems to be willing to engage Liberians of diverse ethnic and political persuasions in our national conversation. This man really seems to relish a good discourse wherever and whenever. Conversely, and most importantly, people of varying political dispositions seem comfortable enough to have him as their guest.

As I wrap up this article I wonder, won't it be wonderful and refreshing to know where some of our so-called presidential hopefuls and other national political leaders stand on some of these difficult issues? They seem to want to play it safe, just in case they cannot unseat the incumbent. But don't they owe it to their constituents to share their views, their philosophies, their beliefs, etc.?

It is people like the current crop of so-called national leaders and aspiring leaders that make this man shine so brightly. Amazingly, he's not even running for anything. Maybe a few of us should get together and form an organization calling ourselves "Friends of Jones" and have him declare his candidacy for something. Actually, "Jones For President" has a nice ring to it. One thing I do know is that generations yet unborn will take a look at this man's position and wonder if he actually lived in our times or just somebody's imagination. The man is simply light years ahead of his time. Right on!

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