The Myth of 'Our Once Peaceful Country'

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 30, 2003

Many Liberians and outsiders have argued that Liberia was a "peaceful country" prior to the 1980 coup, and that the ongoing military and political conflicts in Liberia are a direct consequence of the 1980 coup. And, in fairness to the proponents of the "peaceful country" myth has some validity to their claim. First, members of the minority ruling class and their offspring had no reasons to think that Liberia was anything but peaceful, since they operated above the laws of the land, pacified the majority Liberians through draconian punishments and totalitarian rule, and dominated social, economic, cultural, and political opportunities in the country. Second, the waves of opposition political parties, human rights groups, and armed resistance, and other challenges against the sitting government were not possible under the totalitarian rule of the minority. So in aggregate terms, the minority ruling class and their supporters have every right to clinch to the notion of a "peaceful country" prior to 1980 since they lived in "relative peace," with no organized opposition to challenge their misrule.

Suffice it to say that there have been numerous tomes written about the founding of the Republic of Liberia, the LAND for freed people of color from abroad without taking into consideration, the original inhabitants, whom the "LOVE OF LIBERTY", happens to have met on the current Liberian soil. This very fact and the treatment of the original inhabitants of the landmass now called "Liberia" is one of the contributing factors that led to Liberia's present crisis. And not to see the present crisis as an extension of our past mistakes is to settle for historical amnesia. It is that clear!

There needs to be a deconstruction of the myth of the "peace" Liberians were supposed to have enjoyed in the past prior to Doe and Taylor's administrations. The present Liberian crisis did not start with Doe nor Taylor as some abroad and in Liberia would have us believe. To suggest that Liberia was once a "Sweet" and "peaceful country", negates the fact that it was kept "peaceful" and "sweet" by and for members of the minority ruling class at the expense of the majority original inhabitants and the poor in general. These were people generally looked down upon as domestic servants, and denied the opportunity to win the then coveted title of "Honorable", which became the title of choice or a right of passage for leadership positions and use of the country's resources for personal use.

This fact has been established despite denials by both Liberian and Liberianist historical revisionists who, in their preoccupation with the Protestant Christians' benevolence and paternalistic approach to the Liberian experiment, overlooked the mismanagement of the country's resources, and the exploitation, abuse and human rights violations perpetrated by the minority leaders of the country. As such, most Liberians continued to behave like the mythical Sisyphus - perpetually rolling the stone to the top of the hill only to have it tumble down upon their heads, over and over - refusing to face up to the wrong beginning of our country and relying on the United States to fix things for us. This reminds me of the concept of "Dual Consciousness."

Martinique born Frantz Fanon, a French resistance fighter and psychiatrist, first introduced the concept of Dual Consciousness back in 1900, after he came face-to-face with his own assimilationist illusions, or the harsh reality of racism in France after the war. Fanon had left his native Martinique to join the African resistance movement against France. While growing up in Martinique, he had hoped of becoming a citizen of France because that's what the people in his town were taught to do. But Fanon encountered varying degrees of racism, which shattered his desire to become a citizen of France. Out of this experience came his first book, Black Skin, White Mask (1952), originally titled "An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks." In this book, Fanon defined the colonial relationship as the psychological non-recognition of the subjectivity of the colonized.

This "psychological non-recognition of the subjectivity of the colonized" has always been a part of the Liberian experience - for that matter, the enslaved and colonized experience. It was an accepted norm that European behaviors and beliefs were superior to other races, particularly, people of African descent. This belief has long confused enslaved blacks as well as most people that were colonized by European imperialist powers. One may have heard the phrase - "When you are black, you have to be twice as good as white to get certain jobs," or "when you are black, you will have to speak certain way (‘proper') in order to make it in the corporate world."

This Dual Consciousness is what plagued the settlers whose aims were to return to their ancestral land, but yet wanted to maintain the identity of their former "masters." Those who were afflicted with Dual Consciousness, behaved according to standards established by the culture of their former masters or colonizers, which served as an impediment to their own culture, custom and tradition. The same is true with African Liberians reared by settler's family. These people behaved in such a way that they can best be described as "trees without any roots" or "individuals who run from their own shadow." In other words, they prefer to speak, dress, walk, and eat like those they imitate. And whenever they are out of line - so to speak, they are reminded to behave "correctly" - meaning like Europeans. Such people lack the "true knowledge" of their own history, therefore, are like trees without roots.

I once read an article by Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King, published on October 14, 2000, titled "The Pinky Doctrine," in which Mr. King noted:

For those too young to remember, "Pinky" was the 1949 film about a black girl, played by actress Jeanne Crain, who was able to pass for white. For many years following the movie's release, a line in the film seemed to get quoted without fail at every black dinner table and in black barber shops and beauty parlors across the country whenever talk turned to race.

In "Pinky," a black character, angrily commenting on the state of race relations at the time, told one of his friends that in America: "If you're white, you're all right. If you're brown, stick around. If you're black, git back!"

In Liberia, we too, could refer to this behavior as the "Settlers' Doctrine", which could be interpreted as - "If you are a member of their group, you are destined for leadership, and you have the RIGHT to RULE, and if you are an immigrant from the Caribbean or another African country, you too are entitled to similar privileges, but if you are of indigenous background, "no way, you can forget it, no leadership roles for you."

Therefore, let's face it; let's be real for once! The "State Side" many Liberians once boasted of originating from or belonging to, doesn't even recognize them. No special privilege for members and former members of the Liberian ruling class. Everybody is equal in America! So, let's face reality, and begin to channel all of our energies to resolving this aged-old problem of our once not so "freed" but beloved country. I believe this should be the first step to genuine peace and stability in our country. We must then accept that we are in this together, as one people, with diverse cultures.

At the same, we need to forgo the myth that Liberia was a "peaceful country" before 1980, if we desire unity. Liberia was definitely peaceful for members of the ruling class and their children, but it was real hell for the majority aborigines and their children. Besides, the 1980 coup and the 1990 and 1999 invasions of Liberia are not realistically in the same category. One action was confined to a few leadership targets, while the others extended beyond a few leadership targets to the summary executions of most national leaders and private citizens, and the destructions of national institutions, and private and public properties. Of course, none of these courses of action were negligible in any sense, because innocent people were killed and lives shattered for good. But the first step to national unity and healing is to evaluate the facts in their proper perspectives so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.