Politics and Good Governance, with Emphasis on Democracy, Human Rights and Ethics and National Integration in Africa
(A presentation by Tiawan S. Gongloe at a one-day Youth Workshop held at the Francis Myers Recreation Center by the Association of Liberian Youth of the state of Pennsylvania on Nov 2, 2002)
November 5, 2002
The President and members of the Association of Liberian Youth of Pennsylvania (ALYP)
Ladies and gentlemen
Before, proceeding any further, I humbly request that you stand with me in one minute of silence in memory of the thousands of people who die on a daily basis on the African continent from civil wars, diseases and state sponsored brutalities which are direct consequences of the total disregard for the respect of the fundamental rights of individuals and groups by most governments on the continent, with the government of Liberia being at the top amongst the ranks of human rights abusers in Africa and the world. Thank you and you may have your seats.
I also want you to join me in expressing immense gratitude to the government and people of the United States for opening their doors to African immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees driven out of their countries by their governments and for giving them home and hope for better life for themselves and their family members in Africa. For besides the fact that Africans living here in the United States have the opportunity to live better than in their home countries, their earnings here are shared with their families and relations in their home countries. The Western Union, Money Gram, banks and other financial institutions engaged in the transfer of money will bear testimonies to the great financial assistance that the Africans in the United States are giving to the people in their respective countries. There are even Africans in the United States who have organized themselves into groups for the purpose of contributing to the up-liftment of their respective communities in Africa, and very often are providing other services that their governments have failed to provide for their people.
Besides the social and economic opportunities that the government and people of the United States provide, very often when governments in Africa, are violating the rights of their people, it is the government of the United States, opinion leaders and U.S. based human rights organizations that rescue them. I am one of the, most recent, direct beneficiaries of these efforts. I believe, therefore, that I can say, without any fear of contradiction that African people are grateful to the government and people of the United States. We hope that they will continue to host Africans who want to be in the United States until such Africans can freely choose to go back home. In the particular case of Liberian refugees, I hope that the bill before the U.S. Congress for giving immigrant status to Liberians on the DED, now TPS, will soon be passed into law. I call upon the Liberian Youth of the state of Pennsylvania to find ingenuous ways to persuade their congressmen to sign unto this bill. I hope that they will also encourage Liberian youth associations of other states to take similar steps.
With these introductory remarks, let me briefly discuss the topic that you have asked me to discuss here today. You have asked me to discuss the topic: "Politics and Good Governance, with emphasis on democracy, human rights and ethics and National Integration in Africa".
Doing justice to any of the key concepts in this topic such as politics, good governance, democracy, human rights and integration, in relation to Africa, will require at least a two hundred page book for each concept. Certainly, I do not have the expertise and the time for such undertaking. Therefore, what I intend to do here today is to introduce the discussion on this topic and to dwell more on Liberia, in doing so. I will not pretend to be academic, because I do not consider myself to be an academician . I intend to rely more on my observation of the trend of governance in Africa over the years.
Politics, good governance, democracy, human rights; ethics and national integration are all concepts and concerns associated with the process of governance. Politics is about how decisions affecting the collective interest are made, whether it is decision about the issue of leadership or the issue of how leadership is exercised in the process of governance; good governance is about the greater satisfaction of the greater number of the people by ensuring, transparency, accountability, tolerance of opposing views, respect for human rights in general and the rule of law; democracy is a governing process that allows for decisions made by a greater majority of the people in an atmosphere of freedom, both in the process of determining a leader and how the leader should lead; human rights and ethics underscore the need to promote and protect fundamental human rights, within certain legal and moral boundaries; and national integration relates to how decisions are made in the process of governance to ensure that people live in unity and harmony.
The question this topic poses than is this: Has Africa been governed in a manner, by the governments of the various African countries, to ensure acceptable politics or political processes, good governance, democracy, respect for human rights and national integration? Ofcourse the answer is a resounding NO. If the answer were to be yes, Africans could not have found themselves as refugees in different parts of Africa, Europe and the United States. Millions of Africans have been displaced by civil wars and exiled due to the No answer to this question. From one country to another, in Africa, the situation is virtually the same, with one person or a group of persons in an effort to seize power or to keep it, turning people against each other on the basis of race, ethnicity,clan,geography, religion, culture, language, family connections etc. Therefore, from the 1960s to the 1980s we saw multiple coup de tats in every region of Africa and from the 1980’s through 2000s, we have experienced civil wars. These wars are not being fought for any national or collective interest, but most often for the selfish motive one criminal-minded individual, who opportunistically takes advantage of the displeasure or anger of a segment of the population or a majority of the people over the process of governance, to wage war in order to capture state power and preside over the resources, not for the benefit of the majority, but for his own benefit and those in close association with him. My friend Bill Berkeley, the author of the book, The Graves are Not Yet Full, describes this trend of events in Africa as organized crime against the people of Africa. Is it not true? Just look at the life style of the coup makers in Africa when they seize power and the warlords even while they are waging war. They display wealth in the presence of extreme poverty and human sufferings as if they are blind or mentally ill. I believe that the only exceptions to these criminals are the late general Murtala Muhamed of Nigeria and the Late Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. They were selfless and decent examples of the leadership that is required in the proper governance of Africa.
In this gloomy picture that I have just painted of Africa, it is sad to say that my own country,Liberia, the country whose name suggests a land of liberty, has turned out to be the worst example of governance in Africa. Liberia as a country was conceived and founded on the dream that it would be a country where the respect for human rights would be the highest consideration in the conduct of national affairs. This dream was highlighted by Joseph Jenkins Roberts and other freed slaves in the declaration of independence, when they said they were establishing a state in which their rights would be respected because, they, the founders of Liberia, were citizens of the United States where they paid taxes and demonstrated liberty but did not benefit from the rights of citizenship and citizens of other nations with different skin pigmentation were preferred over them. The motto of Liberia,"The love of Liberty brought us here" emphasizes the Liberian dream. Yet, these founders of Liberia and their descendents led Liberia for 133 years excluding Africans who were met on the land, and denying the basic rights of these Africans in inconceivable ways.
Following over hundred and twenty five years of Americo-Liberian rule, President Tolbert, a very enlightened and far-sighted leader tried in the late seventies to address the issue of exclusion by his decision to appoint the late Jackson F. Doe as his vice president, but the hawkish conservatives of the ruling True Whig Party, the party of the founders and their descendents, vehemently opposed this effort by president Tolbert and he unfortunately gave in to the pressure of the hawks.He did not appoint Jackson F. Doe. I believe that president Tolbert made a great mistake----a mistake that has caused Liberians to suffer beyond expectation. It is often said that when a doctor makes a mistake one person suffers but when a politician makes a mistake thousands, if not millions of people suffer. President Tolbert, as an agent of change, should have remained guided by his conviction and redeem the Liberian nation, but he did not. Liberians are suffering today as a result of this political mistake.
I strongly believe that if the late Jackson F. Doe had been appointed vice president, as president Tolbert intended, there would not have been a coup d'etat in 1980, because his appointment would have been a turning point in Liberian politics. It is well known that the foundation of political agitation in Liberia, prior to the coup was the exclusion of the indigenous population from the process of governance. Interestingly, majority of the members of the pressure groups in Liberia at that time, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the Movement for justice in Africa (MOJA) were from Nimba County, the birth place of the late Jackson Doe. His appointment, therefore, would have slowed down the activities of those two pressure groups, as Nimba would have been the first beneficiary of inclusion of the indigenous in the political process in Liberia, at the highest level. In this respect, Tolbert's decision was correct. It was also correct, because even if that appointment had eventually led to the transfer of power to the natives, the rights of the Americo-Liberians would have been respected and they would have remained a part of the governing process at the highest level, particularly in the legislature and the judiciary, because, although, Jackson F. Doe was an indigenous by birth, at the age of 12, his father, then a chief in Gblolay, in the Central Province , now Nimba County, carried him to Monrovia to live with the late Louis Arthur Grimes, then Secretary of State. He lived with the Grimes until he completed university education. He grew up in Monrovia and many Monrovians considered him the brother of Rudolph Grimes and Mary Antoinette Grimes. His administration would not have hurt the Americo-Liberians or the indigenous. He certainly would have integrated Liberia.
In 1980, an Armed Forces of Liberia Master Sergeant, Samuel K. Doe, a young man in his late twenties from Grand Gedeh county with other young non-commissioned soldiers, largely from Grand Gedeh and Nimba Counties seized power in a military coup to the amazement of the Liberian people and the world.They named their government the Peoples Redemption Council (PRC). These young men were not capable of performing the difficult task of governing a nation turn apart by serious political problems and at that time a contested territory of combating forces in the cold war. These young men did not have the education and experience to govern Liberia, they did not know the issues and therefore, they could not provide the solutions.
With this state of confusion, these young men turned on different segments of the Liberian population one after the other. At first they summarily executed thirteen officials of the Tolbert government. Then, they turned on the students, then politicians who were opposed to the True Whig Party and finally began to turn against other. At least seven members of the Peoples Redemption Council (PRC) were executed by the governing entity they put in place. The governing process adopted by the PRC did not only lead to the deaths of people but send a lot of Liberians into exile. Political parties and other forms of association were banned and freedom of expression curtailed. Like the TWP, the PRC turned National Democratic Party of Liberia, excluded the Americo-Liberians from participation in the governance of Liberia at the highest level and silenced opposing views by all kinds of repressive means.
In order to find a remedy to this terrible state of affairs, a group of exiled Liberians largely of indigenous background led by an Americo-Liberian, supported by initial funding from both indigenous and Americo-Liberian sources, lunched a military attack on the Doe regime and this attack evolved into a full-scale civil war.
If the general and presidential elections held in Liberia in 1985 had been free and fair, there would not have been a civil war and Taylor could not have been president of Liberia today.The election was largely free as to the casting of ballot but was unfair as to the counting of ballots.The ballots were counted two weeks following the elections, not by the Special Elections Commission, but by a fifty person committee appointed by the interim government headed by Samuel Doe, a candidate.The result was in favor of Samuel Doe.
Despite this official result, it was widely believed that Jackson F. Doe of the Liberia Action Party won the presidential elections. Interestingly, this was the second time that Jackson F. Doe had come close to having access to power at the highest level.It was the popular view in Liberia then that once more Jackson had been denied political power. This denial like the first one was again based on the pressure of the hawks within the NDPL, who felt that the absence of Samuel Doe in power would have denied them jobs and other opportunities. As in the case of Tolbert, the hawks succeeded in making Samuel Doe to make the wrong decision of forcing the elections commission to declare him the winner. This was mistake by Samuel Doe. I strongly believe that if Samuel Doe had allowed Jackson Doe to become the president of Liberia, there would have been peace in Liberia, as Jackson Doe could have reconciled the people of Nimba and Grand Gedeh ,specifically and the Liberian people generally. A president Jackson F. Doe could have brought true unity between the Americo-Liberian and indigenous population of Liberia. He was the bridge to peace, national integration and unity, which are preconditions for the building of a prosperous Liberia. Tolbert and Doe changed their minds using this bridge and the result was coup d'etat and civil war. Taylor as a warlord, saw this bridge, this unifying link between the young and the old, the Nimbaians and the Grand Gedeans, and the Americo-Liberians and the indigenous and instead of using it broke it to pieces. I can say, without any doubt in my mind that Taylor would not have been where he is today,if he had not broken that bridge. Today, Liberia stands in need of a person who can unify and reconcile the people , so that the nation can move forward.
In view of the observations that I have made thus far, it appears to me that both some of the Americo-Liberians and some of the indigenous Liberians, have, by their poor governance, contributed to undermining the survival of the Liberian state. The problems in Liberia today cannot, therefore, be exclusively attributed to the Americo-Liberians or the indigenous Liberians. As the Bible says "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23.
In our effort to redirect the path of Liberia, Liberian people need not evaluate each other on the basis of the original sins of their kinsmen, whether those kinsmen were Americo-Liberians or indigenous Liberians. Liberians must not engage in guilt by association. The better way forward is to examine each Liberian on the basis of his track record and what he has personally done or said about the governing process in Liberia. The personal evaluation approach is a catalyst for promoting proper behavior in national life because if people know that what they do or say today will affect their quest for public office tomorrow they will be careful in whatever they do or say.
It is this lack of critical evaluation of individuals that got Liberia where it is today. If Liberians had been more careful they could not have elected a government that would deny the people of Liberia essential services and violate their rights. If Liberians had been more careful they could not have elected a government that has no respect for the separation of powers as defined by the Constitution of Liberia. If Liberians had been more careful, they could not have elected a government that could be linked to the destabilization of other countries. If Liberians had been more careful they could not have elected a government that has no respect for internationally accepted standards of governance. If Liberians had been more careful they could not have elected a government that does not seek the welfare of its people and give them protection. But Liberians were not careful, although it was too clear to every reasonable man that Liberia would have been like it is today had the election gone the way it went.
Because Liberians were not careful, they elected a government that has institutionalized the politics of opportunism, mediocrity,nepotism, bigotry, dishonesty and disregard for human rights and the rule of law. For example, over the last four months Hassan Bility, the editor-in-chief of the Analyst Newspaper has been languishing in an unknown jail for no legal reason. Court orders for his release has been disobeyed by the government, the President of Liberia has declared him an unlawful combatant, and a secret military court has adjudged him guilty of being a prisoner of war. The arrest of Hassan and others and everything that has happened to them, thus far, has been without any legal basis. Yet shamelessly the President has received a petition from a group of muslims calling itself Muslim opinion leaders led by one of his illegal wives Fatimata Taylor and his chief of protocol Musa Cissi, containing an appeal for the release of Bility. What a scandal! Although he promised to release Bility and others within 72 hours as of Friday last week, Bility is still in jail as I speak. Does president Taylor care about whether people believe him or not?
While Hassan Bility and others are still in detention the President has embarked upon a wave of arrest of additional human rights defenders, because they planned to march and petition him for the release of Bility and others. Does he not know that article 17 of the Liberian Constitution gives citizens the right to peaceably assemble, consult upon their common good and petition their government? The arrest of Cllr. Dempster Brown and others is in violation of the Constitution of Liberia. All Liberians and people of goodwill must condemn these arbitrary arrests and detention. I believe all Liberians and people of goodwill must work hard nationally and internationally to ensure accountability for these violations of human rights in Liberia and the desbilization of the west African sub-region.
What is the way forward? I believe that one of the ways forward is for Liberians to stop judging each other on the basis of their ethnic identity and instead evaluate individual Liberians on the basis of their track records. I also think Liberians must learn to exercise their freedom of expression in order to guard the process of governance. Further, I believe that Liberia will be a better place if Liberians can identify their common goal and work collectively for the attainment of that goal. Further, I believe violent change of power in Liberia has proven to be not in Liberia the best interest of Liberia, as it has caused more, destruction, pain and suffering. Therefore, strategies for change in Liberia must be non-violent, through the exercise of people's power as provided by the constitution of Liberia. Finally, I believe that the youth of Liberia, particularly those in the United States must learn and adopt the American culture of governance, especially the culture of tolerance of opposing views in the process of governance. For example, we have seen American citizens go to Iraq and oppose their government's decision to wage war against Iraq and then return to the United States without fear of any government sanction. Can this happen in Liberia today or in many parts of Africa? This is the environment that we must collectively work towards establishing in Liberia. The exercise of basic rights is consistent with the Liberian dream. Liberia is meaningless without it. We must make the respect for rights a reality in Liberia because it is at the heart of our national failure. Together we can do it successfully, but individually we will always fail. We must be guided by the words of our national anthem "In union strong, success is sure, we cannot fail". I, therefore, recommend to the Liberian youth of Pennsylvania to adopt the following slogan. In union strong , success is sure. In union strong , we cannot fail.
Let us not despair. Lets have hope for a better Liberia because we have a great country. One day we shall overcome the forces of evil in Liberia and succeed in making Liberia a paradise for the respect of human rights. Liberia shall truly become a "land of liberty by God's command." The Liberian dream shall become a reality.
I thank you.