Can We Sweep Away History?
By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
August 28, 2000
Liberian history is replete with contradictions. These contradictions are apparent in much of how events and processes have been interpreted or written about. It is obvious that when the Liberian problem is being discussed, various perspectives will be offered that are influenced by one's biases, interests and experiences. But while everyone is entitled to their opinion, the facts should not be distorted or misconstrued. This seems not to be the case these days when the Taylor government is confronted. Not only is intellectual dishonesty often displayed from certain quarters, but there is also a bitterness that is evident when those who "have a fish to fry" are unable to accept the truth.
There is a clearly a determined attempt on the part of Taylor's apologists and defenders, and those of the erstwhile Americo-Liberian oligarchy, wanting to revise Liberian history to fit their selfish understanding of the realities of our problems. This is evident in quite a few letters and statements this magazine has received recently.
"The Western media are without doubt the trumpeters of
tension and instability in the Third World. Since the demise of
colonialism, the level of war propaganda tirade of the media in
the West has increased manifolds due in ability of politicians
to understand to an appreciable level, the development of their
nations. The crises in Sierra Leone and the
Democratic Republic of Congo were created by the colonial masters.
"For example, the marathons of coups in Ghana, Nigeria and else where in [the] Third World during the 70s, and 80s were the results of bad media coverage dictated by the West," says Sayma Syrenius Cephus of the Liberian News Agency (LINA).
On the other hand, Ms. Siata Kranga writes: "I am so sick and tired of persons such as yourself sitting back and enjoying criticizing what you cannot change. The past is over. Isn't it? Why sit now and do nothing but decry those who fed the country. There have been the air about that. So now why don't eloquent persons such as yourself do something about what you deem is a terrible situation. The Americo-Liberians, those who no longer exist, but still carry English names who carried the country for so many years with everybody's gut full. The ones that the masses so hate. Why don't you do something for your country for a change. Why don't you rally the so (called) abused masses, the victims of society who were so abused. They were supposedly abused more than the crime of Doe to his own people. More than the war that destroyed the nation and left the victims more victimized. Why don't you do something. We are tired of hearing sorry Liberian men cop out and blame others for their demise. What is stopping you from making that change. Why can't you be another Martin Luther King, another Nelson Mandela. Why sit and shoot the mouth. Your women are waiting for your Liberian men to take action. Make us proud".
Ms. Lisa Givens, another self-appointed disciple of Jesus writes: "What are you all doing to better our land? The obvious hatred and envy for the people you call "Americos" is overplayed and your constant babblings--ridiculous. Your article has no substance and even if it did, you taint it with this hate propaganda. Where has that gotten Liberia? Are you so naive or is it just ignorance? You're so confused you don't even know whom you are attacking. Do something worthwhile and stop spewing your venom. Try searching for God instead. You know, that's why He sent Jesus--to take care of our concerns and save us. If your life is centered around what you write here--nothing constructive,ask Jesus in to free you all. We'll be praying for you in hopes that your magazine will instead be a light for others and not a stumbling block. In Him..."
And to add insult to injury, the Executive Director of the Universal Human Rights International (UHRI), Mr. Torli Krua writes: "Nothing right you are doing." Not only that, he called us "Nigger" and pretended to be an American. Read for yourself what he has to say:
"Hey Nigger, I wish you guys should leave our country and go back. If you guys are strong, don't sit in exile and make big fool out of yourself. If you are serious, get back to your country and become a president or help to rebuild your nation.
You are really doing nothing. I hope you guys leave this country.
Brooooooooooo .go to hell"
These are views from four Liberians--one of them is a Taylor paid propagandist from his Gbarnga days, and the others are two women probably living in the US writing under the cover of free e-mail providers (Hotmail or Yahoo). As for Krua, he is a so-called human rights advocate and President of the Liberian Community Association of Massachusetts, who last year referred to the Clinton Administration as 'racist' because of its favored policy towards Bosnia and Kosovo, and its failure to grant Liberians "green cards" or permanent residency status, eventhough, Liberians with Temporary Protective status (TPS) have been granted a deferred departure with their stay extended for one more year by the Clinton Administration. But interestingly, Mr. Krua who purports to be a human rights advocate has a disdain and animus against people who expose the human rights abuses in Liberia and the failure of the Taylor government for which Liberians do not want to go home.
We, however, find such exchange of views on the sickness prevailing in Liberia entertaining. Unfortunately, after the killing of 250,000 people with promises to create an environment of free expression as one of the pillars of democracy denied by Samuel Doe, we note that Liberians who hold free expression dear must live out of the country.
What one finds in Ms. Kranga, Ms. Givens and Mr. Krua's letters is not the denial of truth, which is honorable, but the call to stop its spread. "We know enough. Don't tell us anymore. The truth hurts. We find ourselves defenseless in dealing with the crimes committed now and in the past against African-Liberians. But we don't want to hear it." At the same time, one woman is calling for action against the past and present injustices that so "eloquently" (her word) put by The Perspective, and the other woman wants us to know how well she is familiar with the Scriptures. Moreover, Ms. Kranga admits injustices have and are being meted on the majority of Liberians. Therefore, she calls for action from Liberian men.
Well, by "action" she probably means "manly" action to remove Charles Taylor. Some may agree, but The Perspective is determined to expose the injustices in the Liberian society including those meted on the Liberian people by President Taylor. Spreading the truth, the facts, which Ms. Kranga and her associates find disdainful, is one democratic way of awakening Liberians to the terror before them. We don't have drugged armies of young boys and girls to take her "action," and we have absolutely no intention to have any. Our Army is the pen and behind it the TRUTH, no matter how louder people like Ms. Kranga and her associates cry. We will not get into the pit of damnation so familiar with those that they defend.
There is a saying that if you believe that education is expensive, try ignorance. This is the case with many of those who have found themselves in the service of the worst, brutal dictatorship in Liberia's history. They want to sell the criminal gang ruling the country but their task is made more difficult by the depth of their ignorance. To sell something, one must understand it. This is beyond the capability of pedestrians now working for the Mafiosi.
So, we see, on the one hand, this cast of tragic comedians operating in Liberia as a Government telling the world with "one push of a button", Liberians will have drinking water they now lack. Let Washington build what Tripoli destroyed is the logic of Taylor the looter, a logic correctly rejected by men like Senators Judd Gregg and Jesse Helms. On the other, the gang sees no simplicity in condemning Western institutions and blaming them for their institutionalized criminalization called government. This lack of self-pride, believing that others owe you something even as you plunder your own resources, is one of the pathetic aspects of the rule of criminals concretized in Liberia.
And to claim that coups in Africa were caused by Western media indicates the lowest level of understanding the forces that have kept, and are keeping Africa down and a deep disrespect for the African mind. (Perhaps this propagandist has in mind the enormous backing given to Taylor the warlord by powerful media institutions such as the BBC. These media institutions helped to create this looter that far exceeded his value. In this case, there is a point to be made). If the Western media are responsible for Africa's sad state, then what can they say about the current spiral of rebel wars, criminalization of the state undertaken by men like Taylor, and the continued decay of society through drugging young men and women and depriving them of education?
The bedrock of protests and complaints The Perspective has received from a few individuals is tied to one request: stop discussing the phenomena called Americo-Liberianism. In other words, 250,000 people died to fight against the evils of condemned Krahn tribalism, but we must not talk about the tribalism of the Americos. Yes, it contained evil memories, but to fight it, we must not discuss it. We must not educate tomorrow's Liberians about how this backward system kept the Nation in darkness and economic sorrows for centuries. We must sweep centuries of historical relationships among the various ethnic groups under the carpet even if those relationships remain important determinants of current political and economic relations among the tribes. In other words, the protesters are demanding that burying the truth is a way of solving this serious ethnic divide, which remains more cancerous under the worst types of today's Americos hiding under Charles Taylor's butchering garment.
The fact of the matter is we, too, would be happy to let this problem go away, but for the past 10 years, and now, we only have experienced destruction rather than development. We were told that Natives, under Samuel Doe, destroyed Liberia. So Samuel Doe along with 250,000 of his country people perished as a punishment for interrupting the rule of another tribe--the Americos. But now, we are told not to link the rise of the Americo to the massacres of other tribes even if there is ample evidence of systematic elimination of Natives. In other words, those who saw Doe as evil and organized, demanded his death are now telling us not to discuss the ethnic factors that led to this continuing genocide. We must simply forget that the Taylors, the Pierres, Goodridges, etc., have no hidden agenda aimed at continuing what they call revenge. We must sleep until they come for our necks as they have done from December 24, 1989 till now. To the minds wishing that we become "Rip Van Winkles", the fact that the execution of 13 Americos was an issue in the trial of 13 Krahns now in custody, and that a video on the April 1980 executions became a regular feature on Taylor's "TV station" is all accident. We must not talk about this, for to talk about it is to be tribalist, to sow the seeds of division, to be narrow-minded.
Of course we reject this as another attempt to continue sowing the seeds of ignorance and therefore maintain a system of inequality brought to this part of Africa. Ms. Kranga and her associate do not deny this injustice, but they justify it because injustice existed in other parts of the world such as South Africa. What Ms. Kranga could not mention is that in the end, this injustice was brought down in Apartheid South Africa. The victims have received justice. In Liberia, the villains have triumphed, bringing with them the heroes of Apartheid South Africa to train more ignorant Natives to kill themselves for the dominant tribe--the Americos, Liberia's equivalence of South Africa's Afrikaners. But people like Ms. Kranga, who see no evil in the Black Apartheid because everyone's "gut was full", are Liberia's problem. To overcome this problem, such people must be made to understand that educating people about societal evil is not a divisive thing. Germans, other Europeans and Jews continue to see miles and miles of films about Nazi atrocities in order to prepare them to say no to any such thought in the future. We are simply telling Liberians not to accept the solution provided by the Taylors, the Goodriges, the Pierres, because such a solution, at this point in history, will backfire with greater consequences for us all. Not to see this is to be blind to historical reality. If this makes us tribalists, then indeed we are proud to be.
It is amazing the things that these people will do for the
sake of putting the past behind and earning a living. They will
hurl insults on well-meaning and honest people, or heap accusations
on them; call them by all sorts of names, ostracize, belittle
and demonize them in order to appear righteous. That is what the
likes of Cephus, Kranga, Givens and Krua have resorted to in their
article and letters to the Editor of The Perspective. One thing
that is crystal clear in these matters is that those who benefit
from the spoils of the rogue government in Liberia have become
our greatest critics because the place from whence they derive
their daily bread is being threatened.
These self-appointed patriots see nothing morally wrong with the corrupt practices and conspicuous consumption of the Liberian government officials. These individuals claim to know what is best for Liberia, and that no body else has the right to criticize the government, especially, those of us who reside abroad. Does living abroad abrogate our rights as concerned citizens to have the government respect the civil and human rights of our people?
We feel that if nothing else, these individuals should have learned from recent experiences in Liberia. Instead, they want to blame the ills of the society on those of us who are challenging the government to do the right thing. Since they are narrow-minded like those they defend, they rather take the position that is favorable to the government, in order to continue to receive their share of the spoils.
The fact of the matter is, the government in Monrovia is angry because it can no longer control the dissemination of information. Because the improvement of communication - starting from the drum, the printing press to the telephone, radio, television and now the Internet has placed the flow of information within reach of anyone who so desire. This revolution has led to the availability of information for everyone's consumption. Many of these individuals are able to react to the information they received by absorbing the messages more quickly, accepting them as facts without questioning while others analyzed the information received, critically.
In the first place, the dissemination of information is nothing new. From ancient times, humans have implored every available medium to spread ideologies or enhance fame and power. This process is referred to as "propaganda". The word propaganda has come to suggest negative connotation, i.e., dishonest tactics. However, the term - propaganda, originally was not meant to be negative. Propaganda comes from the Latin name of a group of Roman Catholic Cardinals, the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagation of the Faith). This committee was called Propaganda for short. POPE GREGORY XV established it in 1622 to supervise missionaries.
Gradually, propaganda came to mean any effort to spread a belief. It took on a generally negative connotation during World War I when governments began playing an active role in shaping the spread of war information through the media.
Again during World War II, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels proved themselves to be masters of propaganda. After the war, propaganda became a major instrument to promote national agenda. The Cold War was a form of propaganda used by the East and the West to promote their respective beliefs. Today, propaganda is used in political campaigns, advertisements to promote a particular individual or a product.
By making sweeping generalizations, propaganda has become very successful as a tactic. Generalizations tend to obscure important facts about real issues, and are frequently used to demean an entire group of people. One such example is the reference that "Country people (African Liberians) are uncivilized". Is it anywhere near the truth? Certainly not! Yet, there are those who believe this to be the Gospel truth.
However, some individuals are engaged in the habit of insulting those who do not see things their way. Instead of dwelling on the disagreement, they focus their attention on unrelated issues - things that have nothing to do with the issue of concern. They rather resort to name-calling and character assassination. The approach that the crews at LINA, MICAT, Siata Kranga, Lisa Givens and Torli Krua have engaged in lately to defend the Taylor government is one that even the devil will find hard associating with.
One like Ms. Kranga and company are victims of the one-sided history written by Ernest Jerome Yancy, Doris Banks Henries, Nathaniel Richardson et al. This is perhaps the reason their account of the history of the peoples of Liberia is poor. Worse yet, they are telling us to stop talking about their godparents as if we were wards from the same household.
Only a fool will believe just anything (Proverb 14:15) called
history. Education shows you how to think. Exactly, this is what
we have been doing - thinking on our own. A good historian presents
all sides of the issues and events, and not what suits his/her
purpose by concealing the truth, distorting and twisting facts.
We at The Perspective have since departed from the orientation
of "So say one, so say all".
We found out that to blindly follow the crowd is not such a good thing to do. Because not what everybody thinks or does is necessarily correct. And all things considered, we are the ones doing the right thing. We say what we mean, and mean what we say. Unlike the Cephus, Krangas, Givens and Kruas of this world who use their smooth talk and complementary speech to appear credible by telling half-truths. A case in point is to portray Liberia as "torch bearer of African redemption".
The fact of the matter is, the Liberian government has had a long history of hypocrisy and deception. The leadership had pretended to have been against colonialism when in fact, it had its own brand of Colonialism and Apartheid at home. So what are we to be proud of? Unless, you're a former houseboy or a housegirl who carry the pride of being chamber bucket totter. In short, Liberia has never played any "noble role as torch bearer of African redemption" or "champion the cause for peace in Sierra Leone".
Mr. Cephus needs to realize that it is he who is practicing mercenary journalism and had done such a good job "slaughtering the truth on the altar of lies", and not Douglas Farah. Like Farah, we at The Perspective have committed ourselves to tell it like it is - the truth, this is something Mr. Cephus and associates find hard to swallow.
Finally, the truth hurts, and "Those who do not know their opponent's argument do not completely understand their own", either.