By T. Q. Harris, Jr.
Thursday, July 1, 2010 6:01 AM
A flurry of activity has begun in order to ensure that the 2011 Presidential and Legislative elections produce a new generation of leaders across the three Branches of government who will have the mandate, respect and support of the Liberian people. The transition no doubt will amaze, excite, and inspire even those who have lost hope. Liberia is being repositioned to become a powerhouse in the not distant future. It will again provide leadership and be a voice for justice. The ‘First Among
Many’ shall remain a beacon of freedom and equality in Africa. The old has passed away and now all things have become new. More than 200,000 men, women and children have died that this day may come. Therefore, no one should underestimate the hunger for change.
We have embarked upon this endeavor knowing full well there’s a price to pay. Climbing out of the pit of poverty, illiteracy and disease up onto the pinnacle of confidence, prosperity and respect will involve pain…much pain indeed; simply, because transitions by their very nature are painful.
And people generally do not like change or parting with the familiar, not even that which causes destruction. But change we must.
The dysfunctional Liberia created in 1847 where for decades the dark skins battled the light skins and indigenous were the pawns will no longer exist as of 2012. Likewise the age where a person’s last name signified position of privilege – though undeserved – also will come to an end. In the new
Liberia merit will determine how high one rises or how low they sit. Never again will you be asked this intimidating question: Do you know who I am? Because they shall be known by their fruit.
Tubman’s impact on the Liberian society
How do we fix Liberia without first identifying the root causes of the problem? What is at the root of Liberia’s problems, you might ask? The answer to this question may surprise many, considering for a long time emphases have been placed on the symptoms rather than the disease. To
effectively remedy the nagging ills and alter Liberia’s current trajectory, the haunting legacy of President William V. S. Tubman must be completely eradicated. Among its negative consequences is the assassination of Presidents Tolbert and Doe as well as the 15-year carnage. Progress in large part will depend on Liberians’ willingness to rid this nation of the devastating effects of Tubman’s leadership.
But first, it is important to understand how the rivalry between the former slaves contributed to Tubman’s success in shaping Liberia to the extent he did. Almost immediately upon setting foot on the land, light skin and dark skin slaves engaged in a fierce rivalry which continued unabated for the better part of a century. Throughout this period the light skin slaves dominated practically all facets of society. But in 1944 a dramatic shift occurred. The very dark skinned William V. S. Tubman became Liberia’s 18th president. His election was a mixed bag. It diminished the light skin-dark skin rivalry, elevated the status of the indigenous, and set the stage for growth. This, however, was achieved as a result of Tubman’s heavy-handed approach to governance where political
expediency took precedence over morality; and criminals were celebrated.
Not long following his inauguration, Tubman created what has now become the “imperial presidency” by muscling out his political rivals while at the same time tactfully winning over the indigenous (the largest population group) as a counterweight. In short order he decimated the
opposition, effectively transforming Liberia into a one party state. And, for the duration of his tenure, Tubman’s True Whig Party was the only vehicle for political expression. Hence, it shaped the thought, opinion and behavior of the entire nation. Nonconformance was not an option. In
the new order, the Presidency stood supreme; even above the law.
Tubman’s 27-year reign could very well be described as the best of time and the worst of time. Liberia during this period experienced significant economic growth and was brought squarely into the modern age…thanks to World War II and the Cold War. Yet, on the other hand, it was a time of unparalleled moral decadence, corruption, indifference to rule of law, witchcraft practices, dependency, greed, as well as extreme fear amongst the population resulting from widespread mistrust. And it is fair to say under the Tubman administration Liberia lost its innocence as well as its bearings.
At the time of his death in 1971, President Tubman had successfully molded
the hearts and minds of an entire generation, particularly the men and women Liberians have turned to for leadership. But sadly they are the embodiment of a dysfunctional age. Like their esteemed patron, these individuals would rather watch the nation disintegrate than step aside for the greater good. True to form, they have in the past 30 years pitted brother against brother in order to gain power. And it’s no surprise fear and apathy has returned, as morality is pushed to the back of the line. This, in its most conspicuous display, is President Tubman’s haunting legacy which must be brought to an end if Liberia is to prosper.
TGLs – a dangerous and destructive group
The imperative of this nation’s survival demands that we retire Tubman-generation-leaders (TGLs) no later than 2011. They have been ineffective, even dangerous and destructive. Like Tubman himself, TGLs are a contradiction, often placing style before substance. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Charles Taylor illustrate perfectly the nature of TGLs. At the moment, Ellen is more concerned about her image as Africa’s first female president rather than exposing the fact rule of law (the cornerstone of any viable nation) is nonexistent in Liberia. And, paradoxically, she is
promoting a book about her life, but is not in the least embarrassed by the devastation she brought upon the nation that gave her life. This is not unlike President Tubman who smoked expensive Cuban cigars and drank the finest whiskey money could buy as he sailed on his multi-million
Dollar yacht unfazed by the severe shortage of schools in the country. TGLs are known to present an impressive image even when they have nothing concrete to offer. The impeccably dressed – top hat, tuxedo wearing – Tubman often received foreign guests in grand style, leading the grand
march at banquets while his people languished in abject poverty.
As it relates to contradictions, Amos Claudius Sawyer (a TGL) is rightfully the poster boy. A key opponent of the Americo-Liberian hegemony and a leading advocate for justice and equality; Sawyer – the activist – failed miserably when given the opportunity to lead. And he exhibited a
major character defect by agreeing to head the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), having previously served as chairman of the committee tasked with writing the Liberian Constitution. In his greed for power, Amos Sawyer violated the Constitution when he opted to become interim head of state while the sitting vice president was able to carry on the affairs of state following President Doe’s assassination. This willful breach created a constitutional crisis that lasted seven long years and claimed more than 200,000 lives.
Charles Taylor, on the other hand, was not only a TGL, but also a practitioner of the Tubman doctrine. This clearly showed in his brutal strategy to acquire absolute power in the very early stages. Right from the start, he muscled out Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from the leadership of the
NPFL; and in short order asserted supremacy by eliminating all potential rivals – a move not unlike Tubman’s deadly 1955 assault against the opposition. Wanting to appear in every way like the 18th president, Charles Taylor even delivered his inaugural address in a cadence quite
familiar to listeners of Tubman’s lengthy speeches.
As Charles Taylor attempted to revive the Tubman era, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was dusting off President Tubman’s rules book. Almost immediately following the inauguration, she held a private meeting with Charles Taylor at the Executive Mansion. Four hours later Ellen emerged to publicly
announce her endorsement of Charles Taylor’s so-called economic plan. But, in yet another demonstration of a character defect, Ellen within 24 hours retracted her endorsement.
Integrity has always been a challenge for TGLs. Prior to Charles Taylor’s forced exit from Liberia, a group of TGLs under the leadership of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Amos Sawyer organized a so-called peace conference in Burkina Faso under the auspices of President Blasé Compaore. This
disgusting show of insensitivity and total disregard for Compaoré’s contribution to the carnage in Liberia is further evidence that TGLs will go to extremes in order to obtain power.
And despite the preponderance of evidence confirming Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s role in organizing and financing the NPFL, she has continued to deny these accusations, though never willing to do so under oath. There is, however, no denying that NPFL fighters did receive training in Libya
to overthrow the Doe Government and now Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Maummar Gaddafi and Blasé Compaoré are buddies. Her sudden intimate bond with the men most responsible for Liberia’s destruction creates doubt as to Ellen’s truthfulness regarding the violence that destroyed Liberia. After all, Gaddafi armed the NPFL while Compaoré sent mercenaries to murder Liberians. Yet Ellen Johnson Sirleaf can’t seem to get enough of them and their families. Why is she cozying up to known enemies of the Liberian people? The answer is simple: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is no different than Charles Taylor; and as long TGLs are calling the shots, Liberia will never
Liberians have common sense
Elections 2011 will no doubt mark the end not only of President Tubman’s haunting legacy, but also the confusion, deception and ignorance that have become a mainstay of Liberian politics. It is unfortunate the destructive behavior of TGLs has created the impression that those who seek leadership positions are abnormal, power-hungry men and women. This couldn’t be
further from the truth. Liberians in general who seek elected office are patriotic and have common sense; however, the same cannot be said of TGLs. They are obsessed with power and must lead regardless of the circumstances. They lack respect for one another and are incapable of
compromise. Count the number of TGLs who since 1984 have formed political parties and run for president; it is then easy to see that a small group of misguided individuals are responsible for the chaos. Every election season they come out of hibernation and confuse the electorate by dividing
into multiple camps, only to later merge and forge alliances which do not last. For the past 30 years TGLs have been the cause of continuous instability primarily because of deep-seated hatred and mistrust of one another.
Most Liberians have no desire to work in government or become president of the country. TGLs, on the contrary, will do almost anything to get a high-ranking position in the government. Because they came of age at a time and in a culture where being an official of government was the most
prestigious career pursuit. With this mindset, they feel worthless outside of government. This is why it is hard to find TGLs with advanced degrees starting a business or pursuing research. Rather, they all head for a desk in a government office, and will fight tooth and nail to get it.
As their colleagues in other nations were making significant advances, TGLs spent their time bickering, squabbling, waging war and killing for government jobs…and all wanting to become president at the same time. Greed and selfishness led them to practically give away the nation’s
valuable resources for weapons and other useless trinkets. On their watch, Liberia has fallen far behind, severely lagging in every critical area.
Changing our fortunes
More than a change of leaders, Liberians must embrace a new order. It will take a new vision as well as a paradigm shift which can only come through a new generation of leaders unencumbered by the Tubman albatross. As a people, we must do what’s best for our common survival. It’s obvious we must no longer rely on the international community, the UN, or any entity
for that matter to do what we ourselves are capable of. It’s high time we change our fortunes and put this nation on the right path. Everyone must become involved. There is no need for further violence. However, those who see the facts and insist on continuing with business as usual shall leave us no other alternative than to stop them by any means necessary. We will not stand idly by and watch the destruction of yet another generation.
In the coming months a list will be published containing names of individuals who are likely to experience the wrath of Liberians should they in 2011 attempt to seek elected office. You may help by emailing us the name of anyone you believe should be included in this list.
The time has come for Tubman-generation-leaders to bow out gracefully and avoid a shameful exit similar to that experienced by Charles Taylor who was given numerous opportunities to avoid his current predicament; and yet he failed to heed the warning not knowing when to quit. Let there be no doubt, those who have harmed the Liberian people will answer for their
crimes. So help us God.