Tautology In The Midst Of Chaos

By Nat Galarea Gbessagee

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 16, 2002

In introductory formal logic we are told that a statement or contingent proposition that is synthetically self-evident may or may not be true in all its manifestations. But the truth or falsity of such a statement is also not beholden to its logical form or definition. So the common example, "It will rain or it will not rain" is said to be synthetically self-evident in that its truth or falsity cannot be easily discerned by logical form or definition. But in the case of universal negative, the statement or proposition is deemed to be negative in all its manifestations. And this is a common threshold by which so-called "educated persons" are measured as to the quality of their public discourse, eloquence, and trends of thought. In essence, the "educated person" is expected at all times to present a logical argument supported by facts and experience, and devoid of malice and self-glorification. If, however, out of sheer desire to contribute to a debate about issues of paramount interest and concern such as the Liberian civil and political crisis we failed as "educated persons" to thoroughly research the subject matter at hand, then we may very well be guilty of tautology, or tautology in the midst of chaos as in the Liberian example.

The 1980 coup in Liberia, or Liberian Revolution as some prefer, ushered in new prospects and challenges for every Liberian, and new realisms for the greater Liberian society. Will Liberia fare well or any better under the new leadership than it has been under the minority elites who held a stranglehold on economic and political power for the past 133 years before 1980? Will the new power brokers and the old power brokers cooperate to create a "wholesome functioning society" as the deposed president had advocated? Or will self-aggrandizement, bloodletting, revenge, recriminations and sabotage be the order of the day? And for all practical purposes, which way the pendulum swung on the Liberian political landscape depended heavily on the "educated persons" within the ranks of the new and old power brokers, complemented by the progressives and conservatives on either side of the political aisles. After all, the so-called "illiterate people" - I prefer persons without formal or western education than illiterates - were never consulted in the past when it came to national policy and statecraft, and they were not expected to be consulted in 1980.

After the 1980 coup many ordinary Liberians and so-called “educated” Liberians took to superfluous language or tautology in their attempts to address the unfolding political, social, cultural and economic issues of the day - “It is now time for we the country people to enjoy; The Congo people now finish for good; Those country people won’t do anything better without us; What those Nokos know about government” - and countless similar epithets became the common sentiments after the coup. As usual, Liberian politicians were once more at work juggling for political power and influence. The two preeminent Liberian progressive groups (or civil society groups to use current jargon) MOJA and PAL were at each other’s throat for visibility in the new government. Prestigious cabinet posts such as foreign affairs, planning and economic affairs, education etc went to the progressive groups. The military government reciprocated with its own monikers such as "CIC" (Commander-in-Chief), "CG" (Commanding General), "SG" (Secretary General), and so on for taste of the political spotlight. Key Liberian politicians, strategists, clergymen and progressive and conservative groups were caught up in the euphoria of the day, and the tasks of nation building and promotion of peace and national unity were put off until another day. And that day is yet to come!

However, less than two years into the new administration it became obvious that the old politicians had outmaneuvered the new politicians in the struggle for power and influence as the military soon consolidated power unto itself and dropped most cabinet representatives of the progressive groups. The old politicians continued their onslaught with enticing propositions to the inexperienced military leaders. “You have the chance to be the first native-born president of Liberia", "Tubman had the same education as you so what’s the difference now?" The old politicians soon took up strategic positions as speech writers, political, economic and financial advisors, bank governors, and eventually replaced the progressives in the key cabinet posts of foreign affairs, planning and economic affairs, state and presidential affairs, and so on. The drive to restore the old order has begun in earnest, and it was only a matter of time before the plot would materialize, though the consequences of the transition soon became overwhelming for both the old and new politicians, as well as the progressives, conservatives, and ordinary Liberians.

First, it was clear that the plot would not materialize if the military leaders maintained their original unity and solidarity. So the old game of "divide and conquer" came into play, and in the end the five men deemed as the “real progressives” amongst the military leaders were executed. Here, the circumstances of the treason allegation, the treason trial, the guilty verdict and the execution of these military leaders in 1981 were not vehemently opposed by the public, the clergy or the politicians, but the sentiments that echoed in some quarters boiled down to “Let those country asses kill each other”. Soon the promotion, some say demotion, of the CO to SG generated much controversy leading to the 1983 Nimba Raid. When the traditional elders were summoned to Monrovia for their supposed input - a public relations tactic perfected by the old guards to give the appearance of consultation with the elders whenever it became necessary to legitimize their unsavory actions - the elders warned the power brokers to reconcile because “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers".

After the Nimba Raid, suspicions and tensions began to escalate between the two dominant and influential ethnic groups in the military government. The plotters had hit a key nerve powerful enough to undermine the unity, solidarity and cohesiveness of the new power brokers, and the seed of division planted between the two heretofore peacefully co-existing ethnic groups soon germinated into the seven-year civil war that saw the near obliteration of the Liberian nation and people. And, as the traditional elders correctly predicated, the “elephants (the power brokers, warlords, etc) had begun to fight, and it was the “Grass (ordinary Liberians)” who suffered and continued to suffer the most. The 1989-1997 civil war was only the beginning of the end of the rope. The momentum for the 1989 rebel invasion that actually ignited the civil war reached a higher plateau in 1985, but the momentum had been building up at the very onset of the coup in 1980.

In 1985, two major events of historical significance took place in Liberia that were later to accelerate the path to self-destruction, or the 1989-1997 civil war. First, national legislative and presidential elections were held (the first national elections in which the citizens freely and physically participated), and the CIC was declared the winner and advised by the elections commission to prepare to take office in January 1986 in keeping with the new constitution adopted in a national referendum in 1984. There were talks in some quarters that the elections were rigged, but the issue was marred in controversy as all four presidential contenders claimed victory, and none of the three losing candidates challenged the elections results in court to either verify the allegation and throw out, or legitimize, the elections results. But the allegation of rigged elections persisted, and very strong anti-incumbent rhetoric and animosity engulfed the Liberian political landscape.

It was in the midst of the ongoing controversy about the elections results that the old CG who had been abroad for sometime, suddenly appeared on local radio and television by the dawn of day in late 1985 to announce that he had seized power in a military coup, but that the incumbent leader and president-elect was still in hiding. Liberians were glued to their radio and television as the political drama unfolded, progressed, and culminated into the capture and execution of the former GC. The death of the former CG brought about intense recrimination and retribution between the two dominant ethnic groups who rose to prominence in 1980 as the new power brokers in Liberia. The inauguration went ahead as planned in January 1986 and the erstwhile military leader became the new civilian leader. But the die was now cast for political and social enemies of the military leader-turned civilian-president to get even. Opponents of the new civilian leader began coordinating fund drives across the globe to raise funds to launch an invasion of Liberia to remove the new sitting civilian president by force of arms. The plot succeeded, though not as originally planned.

Unknown to his benefactors, the commander of the invasion forces decided to take matters into his own hands. Contrary to the original plan wherein he was to overthrow the sitting government and hand power to his benefactors anxiously waiting somewhere in exile, he would now take power himself if the invasion succeeded rather than continue in his original role as a battlefield surrogate for others. A new twist has been added to the unfolding plot to remove the 1980 coup leaders from power. Angry and frustrated, some benefactors of the invasion force began to withdraw their support, but it was now too late. The battlefield commander had solidified the contacts provided to him by the benefactors, and he would now go ahead with or without them. But some of the original benefactors would not give in so easily. They outmaneuvered the battlefield commander and spearheaded the ad-hoc creation of an interim government, blessed and protected by a sub-regional protection force. The so-called progressives and intellectuals of the 70s, 80s, and 90s soon dominated the interim government, but even up to four years at the helm, they could not quell the tide of the continuing insurrection and anarchy, amid widespread theft and plunder of national resources by both the warlords and civilians administrators. Numerous administrative errors and indecisiveness by the interim government also gave hope and new life to the battlefield commander to manipulate issues until his election as president in a special election in 1997.

So far, I have given you a gist of the intriguing and chaotic political mechanisms that set into motion after the 1980 coup, and which are directly responsible for the near complete destruction of the Liberian state along with its social, economic, cultural, political institutions and people today. Pardon me if you suspected a slight diversion from my original topic, “Tautology In The Midst Of Chaos”. But, believe me, this is not the case. I deliberately chose to give you some background information in order for you to better understand and appreciate the subject matter at hand so as not to needlessly be walloped in belated advocacy drives and claims by some so-called “educated persons” or” intellectuals” that Liberians holding such advanced degrees as “PhDs and MA’s” ought not to be faulted for the Liberian catastrophe because they were merely “messengers” of political and social change.

But to take such claims seriously is to overlook the basic fact that since Liberia’s declaration of independence in 1847, key national political and economic leaders, power brokers, progressives, and conservatives were all said to be “educated persons” with some form of formal or western education at the elementary, junior high, high school, baccalaureate, master’s and doctorate levels. As opposition, the “educated persons” planned and executed mass public demonstrations in Liberia and across the capitals of the world, and appeared before foreign parliaments with prepared statements to register their distaste and disgust with sitting Liberian governments. And as government functionaries, the “educated persons” formulated and implemented national socio-economic and political policies and laws that were not only draconian but also distasteful and misdirected against the people. It was also the “educated persons” (pro-government or anti-government) who vigorously recruited Liberian high school and college students to swell their ideological ranks.

In the recent seven-year devastating Liberian civil war of 1989-1997, the key factional rebel leaders and their advisors, and their pro-sitting-government counterparts were mostly “educated persons” with Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs. In Liberia past and present, the “educated persons” (even where a distinction existed between anti-government and pro-government ideologues) usually occupied key public posts such as cabinet ministers, heads of agencies, county executives (superintendents), lawyers, judges, diplomats, educators, clergymen (pastors and bishops), politicians, and the likes. The so-called Liberian “illiterates” (those persons without formal western education) were left in the loop, and called upon only as foot soldiers or as low-level civil servants. Even key functionaries of the present Liberian government and Liberian opposition politicians at home and abroad are mostly “educated persons”.

With such visibility and domineering role in Liberian politics, it is difficult to distinguish between the “educated persons” who are supposed to be the “messengers of change” and those who are supposed to be “inept managers and governors” of state resources that should be blamed for the current Liberian mess. But fellow “educated” Liberians Yarsuo Weh-Dorlia and John F. Josiah, Esq. have joined in the chorus of those Liberians who still think the difference is apparent. Let us look at their arguments closely before I tell you why I think there is no difference between the so-called “messenger” of change and the callous and inept governor or administrator in the Liberian political trajectory.

In a recent article in the Perspective sub-titled, “Blaming the Messenger”, Yarsuo Weh-Dorlia, in his attempts to seek rationale answers to the unending social, economic and political plight of Liberians went on a loop blaming the 1980 coup makers, pre-1980 Americo-Liberian-led Liberian governments, and anybody else for the Liberian crisis but what he called the “Liberian intelligentsia - the book people “ who were, according to him, merely “messengers” of social and political change. He alluded to a newspaper headline in 1980 that read: “MA's and Ph.D.'s Will Not Build Liberia”, and concluded that the headline was aimed at “…blaming the Liberian intelligentsia - "the book people" - for all of the nation's problems” because “the new Liberian leader… was functionally illiterate and such statements were intended to accommodate him.”

Weh-Dorlia also dismissed those who "...accepted the mistaken notion that if the "Book People" had not placed themselves in opposition to the. (sitting) Government in advocating change, there would have been no coup (in 1980) and no war (1989 to the present)”. He reasoned that 1980 military leaders and pre-1980 Americo-Liberian elites should be blamed for the Liberian crisis because the military leaders "...had no knowledge of statecraft and their idea about what government should be was directed by a village mentality of primitive proportions..." and the Americo-Liberians for 133 years presided over a "... miasma of poverty, disease, socio-economic discrimination, organized thievery and banditry in high places... (for which) change was inevitable (and) which direction it (the change) took -peaceful or violent - was the sole prerogative of those who held the pillars of power before April 12, 1980." But where were the "book people" in all of this?

Weh-Dorlia believes the so-called "educated persons" were only “messengers of change” who “…may have foreseen the specter of national self-destruction hanging over Liberia. (and made) a call for peaceful change - democracy - and not a call for armament or violent change”, and laments that, “This generalized blame mentality in which all educated people are unfairly condemned and openly discredited is besmearing the future of the intelligentsia, especially the educated politicians as voters will eventually look at all "book people" with suspicion…” He then branded Liberians who dare to criticize or blame the “book people” for Liberia’s problems as "...rural fugitives and urban rejects of our society, who are paralyzed by the embarrassment from their own cultural and political illiteracy to spit fire because thriving on social conflicts is the only thing they know..."

At this point, it is not difficult to detect the false premise or self-exculpation of Weh-Dorlia’s statements and conclusions, which in all likelihood seem to border on superficial logic or tautology. First, was the newspaper headline cited, "MA's and Ph.D.'s Will Not Build Liberia" correct or incorrect? Can MA's and Ph.D.'s in themselves build any nation? Does nation building involve the collective efforts of the educated, uneducated, skilled and unskilled members of society or only persons with MA’s and PhDs? Is earning an advanced degree no longer a personal achievement but a measurement of leadership qualities, innovative skills and integrity for the tasks of nation building? What roles did the “educated persons” play behind the scene or in public during each sitting Liberian government? What are the barometers here? Of course, it is understandable that Weh-Dorlia would find offensive, in his efforts to isolate the Liberian "book people" from the Liberian crisis, the statement, "MA's and Ph.D.'s Will Not Build Liberia" because in Liberia we have a tendency to give undue credit and respect to advanced degree holders without first evaluating their skills, competence and experience in their areas of study, and analyzing their motives for particular public utterances and positions.

Moreover, since anybody who ever held a leadership position (public or private) in Liberia claimed to have had some sort of formal western education, where are the "messengers" of peaceful change Weh-Dorlia is referring to? Did he not know that the leaders of the barbaric seven-year Liberian civil war were "educated persons" with Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees? Or should I consider myself a part of "the rural fugitives and urban rejects" guilty of “cultural and political illiteracy” if I declared that the "book people" destroyed Liberia because they were the rebel leaders, progressive leaders, conservative leaders, political leaders, civil society leaders, academic leaders, union leaders, religious leaders and so on? Surely, I would if we were to conform to Weh-Dorlia’s logic that blaming the "Liberian intelligentsia or book people" for destroying Liberia, even where it became obvious, is a desperate act of "cultural and political illiteracy".

Like Weh-Dorlia, Liberian Lawyer John F. Josiah, Esq. also noted in a recent article in the Perspective, titled "Intellectual McCarthyism" that, "The greatest battle that awaits Liberia is far beyond the military battle that we have experienced for a little over a decade. The anti-intellectual culture that is rapidly developing and been politicized in every aspect of our society must be vehemently dealt with. The titillating background to this has blurred the profound issues that engendered our current political crisis. The campaigners of the anti-intellectual culture will want the Liberian people to believe that the cause of our political dilemma entirely rests on the ‘PhDs’ of our society. It is this anti-intellectual sentiment that I refer to as "intellectual McCarthyism". Is Josiah right, and should we take him seriously that Liberian intellectualism is under attack? Is holding Liberian PhD holders (BA’s and MA’s also) who fought for and received political appointments in the 1980 military government or served as rebel leaders during the civil war of 1989-1997 for their actions a form of “Intellectual McCarthyism” or “anti-intellectual propaganda”? Or is this guilt by association?

Josiah dismisses outright any suggestions that "The PhDs and the Masters are the germinators of our (Liberia’s) current problems," though he is quick to say that "The (Liberian) problems were created by the exclusive behaviors of those who were in power. Therefore, to place the blame only on the intellectual alone is unjust. Intellectual McCarthyism must be avoided because it promotes division in our society. Instead, we should concentrate our ever efforts to deal with Taylor and partners that are destroying our country.” Again, where is Josiah leading us? Can he certify that those persons in power whose "exclusive behaviors" created the current Liberian problems did not include “educated persons" with advanced degrees? Or is he speaking about certain Masters and doctorate degree holders who did not hold public office or participate in the Liberian crisis? At least I and other Liberians would want to know! Because yesterday, the problem was Tubman, then Tolbert, then Doe, and now “Taylor and partners" (to use Josiah’s words). The “educated persons” who worked behind the scenes or in visible public positions to keep whatever Liberian government in power running have no fish to fry in the Liberian mess? Is this what Josiah and Weh-Dorlia want the Liberian public to believe? I guest not!

Interestingly, in their haste to absolve themselves and their “educated” peers and colleagues of responsibility for the ongoing Liberian crisis, Josiah and Weh-Dorlia apparently went into self-denial mode, and settled for the rosier picture. They found it difficult to admit to themselves that those rebel leaders, rebel spokesmen and rebel advisors, rebel cadets and the government functionaries who were killing unarmed civilians and destroying Liberia were their own college classmates, college professors and role models. They were even dumbfounded by the fact that the "educated" minority (30 percent literacy rate based on western education) had dominated the “uneducated” majority (70 percent illiteracy rate) in public policy and governance.

Perhaps, they finally realized that the battle for political power, influence and prestige has always been fought between and amongst the minority 30 percent "educated" group. Without measuring skills, competence and experience, the Liberian PhD holder thinks he or she knows better than the Master’s holder. The Master’s holder thinks he or knows better than the BA’s holder. The BA holder thinks he or she knows better than the High School diploma holder. The high school diploma holder thinks he or knows better than the junior high school certificate holder, and so on. But this is just perception because taking skills, competence and experience into account, some of the lower degree holders are better than the higher degree holders. And Josiah and Weh-Dorlia probable should know this. So Josiah and Weh-Dorlia, whether we as “educated persons” like it or not, the ball has always been in our court, and if we are willing to take credit for building Liberia, we must as well be willing to take credit for destroying Liberia. It is not "Intellectual McCarthyism" or "Blaming the Messenger" to say that the "book people" destroyed Liberia? It is a plain fact, and any arguments to the contrary must be stated and not clothed in accusations! The people we have isolated as "illiterates" cannot be the fall guys or scapegoats for us!.

But Josiah and Weh-Dorlia are not alone in this line of thinking. It is a common human shortcoming.. For instance, in "The Politics of Denial", Authors Michael A Milburn and Sheree D Conrad write, “In the early days of Operation Desert Storm, the (American) networks played incessantly, often to gleeful commentary, an image straight out of a video game: a ‘smart bomb’ zeroing in on a two-dimensional target. Many Americans were fascinated with the weapons and, admittedly, proud of its precision and the technological prowess it represented. Desert Storm was the ‘good war,’ the war to make us feel good about America again. Once it began, dissent was almost nonexistent; public opinion polls showed an approval rate of around 90 percent. The news media served as the war’s cheerleaders, only much later raising such questions as the United States’ role in helping create Saddam’s war machine and the number of Iraqi civilians killed as a result of U.S. actions. Unpleasant truths.”

The passage showed that the authors felt the average American’s gleeful reaction to Desert Storm resulted from denial; denial of unpleasant truths. And in Liberia today, it is unarguable that the so-called "book people" are in complete denial of the result of their years of advocacy for social and political change. But, in "The Politics of Denial”, we are told that “denial, as a psychological defense mechanism, is an unconscious mental maneuver that cancels out or obscures painful reality. We hear no evil, see no evil, and hence feel no pain or confusion. We don’t have to confront or change things that don’t exist; we don’t have to examine our motives, intentions, and actions..." So here we are as “educated” Liberians, always looking for scapegoats for the Liberian crisis, and excusing our own advocacy roles, participation and complacency. We don’t want to account for our own actions, nor take responsibility for our shortcomings. It is painful that we the so-called "educated persons" have done something so distasteful as helping to reduce our own country to rubbles. We don’t want to face up to that reality ever!

We don’t want to admit that we erred in supporting; raising money, and demonstrating for a cause we knew little or nothing about. Nonetheless, the easy way out is not to admit to our roles and take concrete steps to ameliorate the problem, but to blame the sitting government, the past governments, and the "uneducated" people (some of whom by the way read and write in their local languages) we have always looked down upon. It is obvious that denial of the role of the so-called “Liberian intelligentsia or book people” in fomenting the 1980 coup, the 1989-1997 civil and related crisis in Liberia will not suffice. Indeed, not all “educated” Liberians, nor all Americo-Liberians, native Liberians, and "uneducated" Liberians played an active role in the destruction of Liberia. Conversely, many "educated" Liberians, uneducated Liberians, native Liberians, and Americo-Liberians contributed to Liberia’s destruction. So we need to stop the blame game or the exoneration game and put our resources together to rebuild Liberia. Denial will not solve the problem, nor will blaming others do! Hope we can truly learn from our mistakes and regroup as a nation and people. But admission of guilt or taking responsibility for our actions is the first step in the process!

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