Opinions


By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

October 15, 2001

In the business world, there is something called corporate Alzheimer (CA). It is simply, the old way of doing things as compared to making use of new technology. Those who engage in Corporate Alzheimer for example, do not find efficient ways to file their work, instead stored documents in pigeonholes in walls of libraries, and list the contents of documents on the wall – a kind of “primitive database.” The same is true regarding the “Robbing Hood” of Liberia (Charles Taylor) and his “Merrymen” who engaged in Alzheimer or Waterside Argument (AWA) in defense of their corrupt practices.

Corporate Alzheimer as a concept derives from the disease known as Alzheimer or AD – a progressive dementing illness in which the core symptom is memory loss (an incurable degenerative disease of the brain). Other associated symptoms include impairments in language, abstract reasoning, and visual spatial abilities. Personality changes are common and range from apathy to restless agitation. Psychiatric symptoms, including depression, delusions, and hallucinations. Although the cause of AD is unknown, two risk factors have been identified: advanced age and genetic predisposition.

Corporate Alzheimer exists within a company where management does not make use of “Knowledge Management Technology”. Instead, it continues to do things “the old fashion way.” Rather than filing documents on diskette, hard drive or other databases, it stores the company’s records in a primitive database, which in all likelihood leads to the waste of valuable company time in locating documents. As a result, works are not performed in timely manner.

Alzheimer or Waterside Argument (AWA), on the other hand, is the deliberate attempt to conceal the truth; refusing to deal with facts; sidestepping issues and attacking individuals that raised vexed issues as unpatriotic and to please “Bossman” or “Papay”. AWA is a kind of reverse Robin Hood (Robbing Hood and his Merrymen); a Liberian version of Robin Hood.

Unlike Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the “Robbing Hood (Charles Taylor) and his Merrymen” of Liberia, robs the poor and the country of its minerals and natural resources as well as deprived the Liberian people of safe drinking water, electricity and other essentials. Because of these privileges, Robbing Hood’s Merrymen will engage in Alzheimer or Waterside tactics, to defend the National Patriotic Party’s (NPP) failed politics. And this has become a common practice because of the spoils the receive from Robbing Hoods’ rouge regime.

I guess this was the kind of behavior that Henry Fenwick Reeve’s referred to in his book titled: The Black Republic – Liberia: Its Political and Social Condition To-Day, which was first published in 1923.  According to him:

“Liberians are not much given to independent speaking. One man spoke out and the Government put him in jail without bail, and a woman was held without bail for ‘talking too much.’ In each case it was an ‘ally’ who got caught. No wonder everybody shut up like clam”.

I am inclined to believe that this is the reason why most Liberians become too timid to stand up for their rights when it involves government. A direct consequences of this behavior — they resort to the old cliché, “your leave the people’s thing alone,” and depending on others to fix things for them.

A case in point is a comment made the early part of this year (2001) by Joseph Walloh, the Liberian Ambassador designate to the Russian Federation. Regarding Liberia’s role in the West African sub-region, he said that President Taylor’s role in attempting to mediate in resolving the conflict in Sierra Leone should not be seen as a “cover-up for diamond smuggling and gunrunning in that country,” when in fact the evidence pointed to Taylor.

It is statement like Walloh’s that distorts and condones the wrongdoing of the Taylor regime, all because of a government position. Individuals like Walloh will do or say what the “Papay” wants to hear, even if it means they have to dress-up a lie, like the rest of the Merrymen (blind loyalists) Robbing Hood.

But thank God, there are others who will speak the truth risking to be accuse of being unpatriotic and spreading lies about their “democratically elected” government. A classic example is that of the Minister of Health, Dr. Peter Coleman. At a workshop in the St. Paul Bridge area, Dr. Coleman made a presentation on “Community Awareness and Sensitization on Drugs Abuse (and Alcoholism)”.  He said that the degree of alcoholism among drives in Liberia is very high, and “when these law enforcers are talking to some of these drivers, they are fully aware that they are drunk but they don’t take action against them.” Law enforcement “officers are interested in the $5 (bribe) they get from these drunken drivers” instead of upholding the law.

Regarding the dangers of drug abuse, he said that during the transitional period, Liberia served as a transit point for drug trafficking, and that “people still bring these dangerous drugs in bags, cartoon, boxes are sold to our potential youths.”

In response to Dr. Coleman’s presentation, the Liberia National Police (LNP) issued a statement (January 10, 2001), accusing him of being “unaware of the current world order which calls for scientific investigation and not by mere physical look for a successful prosecution of suspects charged with offenses by law enforcement practitioners”. LNP stated further that “considering Dr. Coleman to be one of Liberia’s renowned medical doctors, it is regrettable that he would tend to lend credence to unscientific conclusion of a drive alleged to be drunk while driving simply by his look, in the absence of the use of the appropriate task kids”.

The LNP failed to acknowledge that it is not in all cases that a laboratory test is required to determine that an individual is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In some cases, one can tell by looking at the person. The LNP refuses to acknowledge the problem, yet, it concluded its statement by asserting that “The LNP wishes to assure the public that it is doing everything humanly expedient to measure up with modern law enforcement standards despite the acute financial condition which government is faced with:. What a poor excuse!

It is a matter of public knowledge that the use of drugs has been and still is part of the NPFL/NPP government strategy. The NPFL and other factions that took part in the civil war, used child soldiers stoned on drugs and related substances to carry out the objectives of these warlords, some of which was to terrorize, extort, butcher, rape, plunder and terrify helpless and innocent citizens, especially, women, children and the elderly.

Furthermore, based on the available evidence, the National Patriotic Party government is a key participant in drugs trafficking in the region. For example, in 1997, the Dutch Justice Ministry launched an investigation that linked Taylor, Shaw, and a Dutchman know as the “Godfather of Liberia,” Gus Kowenhoven, the husband of Monique Kowenhoven of Tubmanburg City, Bong County to a drug gangster operating in Monrovia. According to a story printed in one of the Dutch dailies, Het Parool, the Al Capone in the “Tass-investgation” was described by the paper as a ‘veteran hash dealer’.  The investigation revealed that “The African West Coast with Liberia as points of support is being used by S’s (Jack S) gang as a transit station. It is there the mega transports are being transferred into smaller boats”. This gang used business covers to traffic drugs from Liberia to other parts of the world, mainly Europe and the United States. The scheme involved illegal passport issuance, money laundering and other criminal activities.

Due to these activities, Liberia has evolved into a criminal state that has the capacity of extending its influence in the West African sub-region. The solution to this problem can be found in the proposal made by Judd Gregg, the Republic Senator from New Hampshire:

“There can be no peace in Sierra Leone until the strongman of neighboring Liberia, Charles Taylor, is brought to his heel. Taylor never forgave Sierra Leone for serving as a staging area when the United Nations intervened in the civil war in his own country. It was he who basically created the rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and (it is) and he who has provided financing, equipment and sanctuary for it. As long as Taylor rules Liberia, Sierra Leone’s anguish will continue… To see justice done, the United States must lead a multinational effort to bring true peace to Sierra Leone. First, Liberian leader Taylor and his criminal gang must go; every feasible effort ought to be made to undermine his rule…”

Regrettably, it is Robbing Hood and his Merrymen that has turned Liberia into “One Nation, Divisible, Without Liberty and Justice.” Our concern is for the government, which Charlie heads to do the right thing for the Liberian people. Why? Because in a democracy, the people are supposed to be governed by their consent. Instead, the Liberian people are being govern by fear, while Taylor and his inner circle of loyalists are engaged in business as usual – repression, corruption, womanizing and having a s0-called good time in the midst of misery.

And if we continue to remain silent, Taylor will continue to dupe us. The first wrong thing we did was to think that by voting for Charlie and his party en masse,  the civil war would have ended, peace and stability restored to the country. Again, Taylor fooled us! Rather than Taylor and his party leadership using the opportunity afforded them by the Liberian people, he and his party leadership have resorted to corruption and dictatorial practices – the practices for which the civil war was waged to save us form.

One doesn’t have to be a fisherman to smell a fish that has gotten rotten from the head. Come to think about it, the Taylor government ranked as the most rotten fish compared to previous governments of Liberia. The Taylor Administration leads every other government in human rights violations, physical abuse, deaths, corruption, criminal activities, disrespect for the rule of law, etc. However, I have resolved not to expect much from someone who still behaves as a warlord. Taylor has turned Liberia into a totalitarian nation where the rule of law is based on the dictates of Machiavellian political philosophy; a philosophy characterized by cunning duplicity, and bad faith.

But little that the Liberian people knew that the road to a lasting peace and democracy would meet with all sorts of roadblocks largely due to Taylor’s insincerity, misconception about democracy and his obligation to the electorate. Instead, Mr. Taylor is exercising (De-Mockery) in place of Democracy.

Since elections and the many promises made, conditions have not gotten any better because “the fish got rotten from the head.” To a greater extent, the situation in Liberian is a reflection of the moral degradation of the leadership. Today, we are witnessing all sorts of censorship and ban imposed by the government and upheld by the legal system to further deny the constitutional rights of the Liberian people. The government and its supporters are becoming more and more intolerant of opposing viewpoint – and are resorting to systematic display of stupidity in the name of power to delay progress. But the most discouraging thing about the plight of the Liberian people, is the current collaboration or marriage of convenience between some former “progressive leaders” and the government in introducing policies of “The Dark Ages” and “The Inquisition,” in which individuals are prosecuted for expressing lawful forms of speech and publication. These undemocratic practices have turned Liberia into a society in which the destruction of personal property, arrest, brutality and the killing of opposition leaders have become a way of life.

The truth of the matter is — those of us that are critical of the government’s policies, do so not because we dislike any official in the government; but “truths in the service of bigotry create falsehood.”  This is what we are bitterly against. We are profoundly disturbed by it. As long as the operation of the government in Liberia is not based on a democratic system of government, there will always be serious disagreements. The government will have to govern according to the wishes of the Liberian people. It cannot continue to use our disagreements as a pretext to charge us with sedition and the lack of patriotism. “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” The people need to know that what is being practiced in Liberia is not Democracy, but rather De-Mockery!

In  short, I am reminded of a story told by former Ambassador Andrew Young during a Democratic National Convention in Madison Square Garden, New York. The story is about a farmer and his two cocks, which on this particular day were traveling to a cockfight for which he had trained them. As he drove on, the cocks began to fight in the back of the truck. They fought until both of them died. When the farmer reached to his destination, he opened the back of the truck and found that both cocks were dead. The farmer stood for a while and said, “Look how pitiful they are. They did not know that they were on the same side.”

This story reminds me of how we in Liberia, along with Robbing Hood and his Merrymen behave on issues our country. Those of us that these Merrymen brand as unpatriotic failed to see that like both cocks — we are on the same side, but the only difference is, we are not engaging in Alzheimer or Waterside Argument rather engaged in discussing in national issues without resorting to name-calling.

Published in the October 15, 2001 Edition of The Perspective.

2001: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive

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By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

January 19, 2001

The greatness of America has come from it being a beacon of hope for the helpless and the deprived on the one hand, and the brightest minds and the most talented on the other hand. America has offered hope and opportunity to many immigrants. The Irish came from Ireland during the great potato famine of 1840s, the Jews emigrated from Europe during and after the 2nd World War, the English escaped a depressed English economy in the 1700s to a land that offer a chance for the future. But Africans were forcibly brought to these shores against their will. They worked from dawn to dusk to create wealth for a nation that has denied them freedom and opportunity.

Now that they have been here (in America) for a period over 400 years, they too, would like to be treated like any other American whose ancestors worked to make this nation what it is today. But this is not how William Safire, the New York Times Columnist sees their plight. According to him: “The biggest gamble of the past election was made by the African-American leadership. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sponsored the most extremist ad attacking Republicans since LBJ’s discredited “daisy spot” of 1964. The Rev. Jesse Jackson went all out to paint the GOP as a hotbed of reaction and its standard-bearer as a danger to the hopes and jobs of black Americans.”

Andrew Carnegie, the wealthiest of multimillionaires of his time, once said “Put all of your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.” Robert G. Allen, the author of “Nothing Down” and “Creating Wealth,” transformed Carnegie’s statement in Wealth Principle Number 3 (Don’t Diversify. Concentrate All of Your Eggs in the Right Basket). According to him, Carnegie understood the basic principle of wealth. In a way, blacks too, have learned from the experience to put all of their eggs in one basket (Democrat) and concentrate, because the Democratic Party basket has served their interest.

But the party of Abraham Lincoln, which supposedly free the slaves and became the party for Blacks during the Reconstruction, failed to seek and promote African American causes, ­instead, the politics and policies of the Republican Party blamed African Americans for almost all of the ills of the American society and have denied them the gains (like Affirmative Action, the rights to vote, etc.) that they have achieved through “blood, sweat and tears”. And one does not have to be a Nuclear Scientist to be able to choose his friends from among his enemies, even animals’ lower class have this ability. And whenever the Republicans show genuine interest and concern in the affairs of African Americans, they will diversify.

Moreover, to the African Americans, the Republican Party is like the Tanzanian proverb says: “A good thing sells itself; a bad thing advertises itself for sale”.

In short, one like Safire is caught up in his conservative idealism until he fails to understand the black perspective and the practical implication in the statement that Bush made when the whole world was watching and listening. Blacks in the Third World and here in America have had bitter experience with U.S. domestic and foreign policies. So, when Bush said that Africa would not be a foreign policy priority in his administration, African Americans, the continent of Africa and blacks in general had to look to the candidate that could best serve their interest.

Despite President-elect Bush’s selection of two African Americans, Condoleezza Rice to run his National Security Council and retired Gen. Colin Powell to be Secretary of State, it has done little to assuage the fear that his administration will not ignore Africa.

Joseph Ahwa Laryea, Ghana’s deputy foreign minister, called the appointments “an honor and great relief for the black race. However, we’ll like to see whether it is not cosmetic or symbolic,” while Dr. Stanley Macebuh, an aide to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said Africa should abandon hopes of close ties with a Bush administration.

Why can’t African Americans’ critics see their point of view? All African Americans have fought for and continued to fight for is to be treated like any other America. But unlike others, they had to fight for everything that they have achieved through the courts.

With history as their best teacher, it reminds them that they do not need Safire to tell them (Africans or African Americans) the way they should respond to Bush’s comment. As a people, they have suffered the worse humiliation that no other race of people has ever suffered. These are experiences, the likes of William Safire, J. C. Watts and Clarence Thomas of the Republican Party wants them to ignore and forget.

It should be noted that four hundred years ago, their ancestors were brought to these shores against their will, accorded the worse type of treatment that was not even reserved for beasts; forced to work the land of their masters without compensation, under the worse of conditions that ever visited upon any human being. They were sold like cattle, with tags attached to their bodies in the market place; their mothers forced to breed more commodity to increase the wealth of their masters. Yet, it never dawn on their oppressors that since they were all humans, they could be related. But instead, they were distinguished on the basis of their features and the color of their skin.

How can a nation supposedly established on the basis of the inalienable rights of man, subject other people to the same inhumane practices from which they escaped to seek freedom? Believing in a sacred document to “Hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal;” but when it concerned their ancestors, those same truths could not be applied. Instead, they were referred to as property and three-fifths humans in the US Constitution. And to justify this cruel act of slavery, they were considered uncivilized and inferior, the same excuse that was provided in order to hunt Native Americans and showcase their heads as trophies.

It had to take a civil war and thousands of lives lost between the North and South before a Proclamation was to finally admit that slavery was unjust. But the many promises made on behalf of blacks were never honored, the 40 acres and a mule and Freedom from Harassment Acts. Instead, a new conspiracy to keep blacks oppress took roots, beginning from Reconstruction to Jim Crow and the Separate but Equal Laws that violated the very foundation the Proclamation stood on.

Having been denied true emancipation and integration, their ancestors were not considered citizens. They were taxed without representation, and denied access to education too. But when they were finally allowed to enter through few doors of opportunity, they were used as experiments. Even when their fathers and brothers died in wars to liberate Europe, they were refused burial rights in the same cemetery with whites because of the color of their skin.

The same holds true today because they are being blamed for crimes, drugs, welfare, you name it. How cruel can a nation be to a people that have suffered the worst kind of crime ever committed against humanity? And yet, it continues to be argued that they are inferior and that whites are superior! But the question that has yet to be answered is – if whites are so SUPERIOR and blacks are that INFERIOR, why goes through all the trouble to make LAWS to OPPRESS only them?

This is one question I would like for William Safire, J. C. Watts, Clarence Thomas, the Republican Party and those who think like them to answer. Why can’t they view slavery in the same way, they view the Jewish Holocaust? Like the Jews, blacks too, cannot take things for granted or leave their plight to chance. For example, reparation for the ancestors of slaves, is a topic the US government does not want to address. Yet, the government has compensated other groups of people they have wronged.

Salih Booker, Director of both The Africa Fund in New York and the Africa Policy Information Center in Washington recently wrote:

“Africa did not make his [George W.] short list: the Middle East, Europe, the Far East, and the Americas. A Bush presidency portends a return to the blatantly antiAfrican policies of the Reagan-Bush years, characterized by a general disregard for black people and a perception of Africa as a social welfare case. Vice President Dick Cheney is widely expected to steer the younger Bush on most policy matters especially foreign affairs. Cheney’s perspective on Africa in the 1980s was epitomized by his 1986 vote in favor of keeping Nelson Mandela in prison and his consistent opposition to sanction against apartheid South Africa.

In Africa, a Bush White House will likely concentrate on helping its oil industry friends reap maximum profits with minimum constraints, and it will have absolutely no sense of responsibility for past American misadventures, or for global problems like AIDS or refugees. But events and activism in Africa plus grassroots pressure in the U.S. and internationally could change all of that, as it did during the White House tenure of the last Republican Africaphobe.

However, thank God this is America! Blacks as Americans, will have their say in Bush’s America. He has to deal with African American issues, one way or the other because in Bush’s America, Blacks too, are Americans!

Published in the January 19, 2001 Edition of The Perspective.

2001: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive

(In Celebration of Black History Month)

February 28, 2001

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

Many adjectives have been used by Europeans and people of European descent to describe Africa, which not only carry derogatory connotations, but are also couched in racial undertones. One popular reference to Africa is that it is (or was) a “Dark Continent,” which they popularized in their history and their psyche, relegating the continent to one that was barren, lacking in enlightenment and devoid of civilization which other cultures especially Western Europe had experienced.

In spite of Africa’s monumental contributions to world civilization, it was evident that there was a deliberate attempt, a conspiracy by Westerners to subjugate the continent to its needs. Never mind Africa’s rich tapestry of languages and culture. Never mind Africa’s ancient tradition of arts, music and stories. Never mind Africa’s long history of power and highly developed empires, the continent still suffers stereotypes and negative images.

The truth needs to be told; the continent has not been immune from its own internal contradictions. While the continent is endowed with enormous wealth, it ranks as the least underdeveloped continent. On the Human Index Scale, in terms of general quality of life, there is still a prevalence of mass poverty, deteriorating health services, poor and inadequate schools and a myriad of other problems that strangulates the continent and its people from achieving their potential capacity. Then, added on that, there is the problem of perennial civil wars fueled by criminally-minded men who now rule Africa and are bent on spreading terror – even if it means making African children expendable ­ in their selfish pursuit of personal wealth and aggrandizement.

But this is not to downplay or reduce the significance of the devastating impact of European colonization on Africa. Europe’s colonization of Africa was real, and its cultural influences had an even more profound impact on Africa. The Liberian experience is pretty instructive here in terms of how the “Settlers” ­ freed black slaves from America who established Liberia in 1822 ­ influenced by European cultural hegemony, used the same method, sometimes even more dehumanizing, to conquer and rule the African natives of Liberia. This is indeed a contradiction and one of the saddest commentaries on Africa’s history.

However, to be able to understand the settlers’ mindset and their psychology, one has to understand its origins. Listen to William Lynch, a white slave owner, who delivered a speech on the bank of the James River in 1712, titled “How to Make a Slave.”  Had to say:

“Gentlemen, I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First, I shall thank you The Gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies where I have experimented with some of the newest and still oldest methods for control of slaves. Ancient Rome would envy us if my program is implemented. As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious King, whose version of the Bible we cherish. I saw enough to know that your problem is not unique. While Rome used cords of wood as crosses for standing human bodies along its highways in great numbers, you are using the tree and the rope on occasion.

“In my bag here, I have a fool proof method for controlling Black Slaves. I guarantee everyone of you that if installed correctly, it will control the slaves for at least 300 years. My method is simple and members of your family and any Overseer can use it.

“Don’t forget you must pitch the old black versus the young black and the young black male against the old black male. You must use the dark skin slave versus the light skin slaves and the light skin slaves versus the dark skin slaves. You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us.

“Gentlemen, these Kits are the keys to control, use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. My plan is guaranteed and the good thing about this plan is that if used intensely for one year the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful.

“Thank you, Gentlemen.”

If for nothing else, this speech served as the basis for controlling slaves. Slaves owners (masters) of the antebellum plantations in the Southern parts of the United States used William Lynch’s method to control their slaves. This method involved the use of extreme forms of torture as a means of breaking the Africans’ spirit. But despite the atrocities inflicted on Africans, they retained their proud spirit. Soon, the slave masters realized that Lynch’s method alone was useless, that’s when they came up with a completely new strategy ­ the use of Christianity and the BIBLE to break the spirit of Africans. The strategy involved the deliberate mis-interpretation of the BIBLE and the Christian religion in perpetuating their religious and cultural conspiracy.

Coming to Africa and establishing the Colony of Cape Mesurado, which later became the Republic of Liberia, the settlers introduced a foreign concept of civilization, religion, considered supreme in their view, which conflicted with the existing indigenous culture. Since then, they have perpetuated this way of thinking, along with the attitude that has brought about a serious division between they and the indigenous inhabitants.

With the passage of time, and based on available evidence regarding civilization, religion, God and man, their descendants have refused to acknowledge the mistakes of their ancestors, instead, they have resolved to imposing similar treatment on the African Liberians. Here lies the age-old conflict! This conflict will remain irreconcilable if it is not addressed and put in the proper historical context, it will continue to divide us; because it is not a simple misunderstanding; these differences are based on distortions, which are rooted deep in our history. And they need to be corrected in order for us to truly become one people, indivisible, with liberty and justice.

For now, let us see how this “cultural conspiracy” has impacted those of us who are referred to as Liberians:

Let us start with issues relating to culture, politics and the general attitude of the settlers towards their African brethren. This exercise is not intended to change what has taken place but rather to change its conclusion as rightly put by the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev: “History cannot be changed but conclusion can”.

In doing so, one needs to find out the reason why the following distinctions got started – the name-calling or how did these words (Americo-Liberian, tribe or native, civilized, uncivilized, country, Congo, inside child or outside child) become part of our national vocabulary?

According Edward Wilmot Blyden, it got started by:

“A group of returned exiles – refugees from the house of bondage ­ settled along a few hundred miles of the coast of their Fatherland, attempting to rule millions of people, their own kith and kin, on a foreign system in which they themselves have been imperfectly trained, while knowing very little of the facts of the history of the people they assume to rule, either social, economic or religious, and taking for granted that the religious and social theories they have brought from across the sea must be adapted to all the need of their unexpatriated brethren.

“Liberia is a little bit of South Carolina, of Georgia, of Virginia ­ that is to say – of the ostracized, suppressed, depressed elements of these states – tacked on to West Africa – a most incongruous combination, with no reasonable prospect of success; and further complicated by additions from other sources. We take a bit from England, a bit from France, a little bit from Germany, and try to compromise with all. We have no definite plan, no dominating race conception, with really nothing to help us from behind ­ the scene whence we came ­ and nothing to guide us from before the goal to which we are tending or should tend. We are severed from the parent stock – the aborigines – who are the root, branch, and flower of Africa and of any Negro State in Africa.”

To support Blyden’s observation, let’s take a look at excerpts from inaugural speeches of a selected few of the Presidents of the Republic of Liberia, starting from Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the father of our nation. In his First Inaugural Address, he made the following remarks:

“At a time, when they were almost without arms, ammunition, discipline, or government – a mere handful of christian (sic) pilgrims, in pursuit of civil and religious liberty, surrounded by savage and warlike tribes bend upon their ruin.” (Joseph Jenkins Roberts’ First Inaugural Address – January 3, 1848).

Hilary Richard Wright Johnson on the other hand said:

“The government and advancement of the native tribes are subjects of vast importance. Their wars should be discouraged. They should have some share in governing the country under the laws of the Republic, and they should contribute, in a measure, to support of the Government. To accomplish these objects, I am of the opinion that reasonable subsidies should be granted to important native chiefs, who are really capable of governing. Among the well-organized native tribes, from which the Government expects to derive taxes, collection of the taxes might be assigned to the chiefs, who would receive a certain percentage of the amount so collected, as I have already suggested in another connection.” (Hilary Richard Wright Johnson’s First Inaugural Address – January 7, 1884).

Up to this time, the natives were taxed without true representation nor considered citizens of the Republic.

To say the least, I don’t know what William David Coleman was thinking about when he made the following statement under the title:

Our Aboriginal Brethren, the Vastly Preponderating Portion of the Population of This Republic:

I have not the least doubt that all intelligent citizens are desirous for the elevation of this class into complete citizenship, and as the Christian people generally believe, that the sooner the fall of the superstitious customs that now exist among them, the sooner the object will be attained. Therefore it is quite natural to expect that the effect of our civilization and Christianity has been to break down these greegress and other heathenish beliefs of our native brethren; this effect is just what is rightly to be expected as a result of our contact with them.” (William David Coleman’s Second Inaugural Address – January 1, 1900).

Garretson Wilmot Gibson made matter worse by adding:

A Righteous Native policy, or in other words, the application of the golden rule in our dealings with our aboriginal Brethren will prove the most practicable solution of the problem as to how the civilized and semi-civilized elements that compose the population of the Republic can cooperate in the erection of our National fabric.” (Garretson Wilmot Gibson’s First Inaugural Address – January 6, 1902).

Arthur Barclay attempted to put the issue in the proper perspective, but felt short for being consumed by old habits.

Our old attitude of indifference toward the native populations must be dropped. A fixed and unwavering policy with respect to the Native, proceeding on lines of interest in their local affairs, protection, civilisation and safeguarding their institutions when not brutal or harmful, should at once be set on foot.

“I urge upon the Legislature, most of whom have been elected by the Whig Party which has received for many years the undeviating support of the farmers, the passage of a bill proving for the appointment of a Commissioner of Agriculture with a committee in each township, Americo-Liberian as well as Native, for the dissemination of agricultural information, the distribution of seeds, and the culture of plants new to the country, economically or commercially valuable.” (Arthur Barclay’s First Inaugural Address – January 4, 1904).

However, it was Charles Dunbar Burgess King who in my opinion honestly attempted to bring about the discussion as in regard to the heart of the matter, but in the end, his administration was charged with practicing slavery and forced labor by the Christy Commission of the ‘League of Nations’ (later became the United Nations), which led to his resignation. According to President King:

“There must be a solidifying of our populations into one compact whole. The various indigenous tribes must be brought into the body politic, taught the duties and responsibilities of civilized government. Into them must be infused or inculcated an appreciative knowledge and understanding of hopes and aspirations of the Fathers who established this nation. There should be no words known in our National Vocabulary of Speech or even of thought as “Americo-Liberian”; “the country-man”; “the new-comer”; “the Sierra Leone man“; or such like terms of designating the various elements of our population.” (Charles Dunbar Burgess King’s Third Inaugural Address – January 2, 1928).

Gathering from the inaugural addresses of these former presidents, it is safe to say that it was their general attitude and mindset that set the stage for the socialization and behavior that has been passed onto their descendents. For example, their descendents see themselves as custodians of this tradition. A classic example was the opportunity afforded the Deshield Commission on National Unity. This Commission was established by an Act of the Legislature on July 22, 1974 authorizing the president to set up a commission. The Commission came into existence purposely due to persistent calls from citizens who felt that certain national symbols were divisive; therefore, they needed to be revised in order to include all of the citizens of the Republic of Liberia.

As a result, the president through a proclamation outlined the guidelines by which the Commission was mandated to review the motto, flag, anthem and constitution. The mandate empowered the Commission to review the motto, flag, anthem and constitution “with a view of stamping out every idea that may suggest class distinction, separateness or sectionalism among the people of Liberia.”

The fifty-one member Commission was chaired by McKinley A Deshield. The membership consisted of the following: Montserrado County – McKinley A Deshield (Chairman), C. Abayomi Cassell, E. Reginald Townsend, R. I. E. Bright, Luvenia V. Ash Thompson and Nathan C. Ross, Jr.; Grand Bassa County – G Flama Sherman, Lawrence Morgan, Joseph Findley, Martha Dunn and Joseph M. N. Gbadyu; Sinoe County ­ Harrison Grigsby, H. C. Williamson, E. Richmond Draper, Charles A. Minor and Florence Ricks Bing; Grand Cape Mount County – Charles Dunbar Sherman, M. Fahnbulleh Jones, Abeodu B. Jones, Eric David, Evelyn Watson Kandakai; Nimba County – Jackson F. Doe, Michael J. S. Dolo, David M. Toweh, J. Railey Gompah and Phoebe A. Logan; Lofa County – E. Sumo Jones, Milton K. Freeman, Moima K. Morris, William W. Momolu and Robert K. Kennedy; River Cess Territory – John Payne Mitchell; Maryland County – David Hne, J. Daniel Anderson, H. Nyema Prowd, Nathan Barnes, Jr. and Janet . Cooper; Bong County – Harry A. Greaves, Sr., Elizabeth Collins, Melville Harris, Sr., Joseph G. Morris and Bismark N. Kuyon; Grand Gedeh County – Salis Rue, Harry Garngbe, Yancy Peters Flah, E. Yeda Amafili and Albert T. White; Marshall Territory – Emma Campbell; Bomi Territory – C. C. Dennis, Sr.; Sasstown Territory – Joseph S. Nimene; Kru Coast Territory – S. Edgar Sie Badio.

It is doubtful whether the Commission carried out the President’s mandate after it was warned by Chairman Deshield in a national broadcast announcing its launching. In that broadcast, Deshield stressed that the President’s mandate was “to give consideration to possible, I repeat changes the Commission does not conceive neither interpret the President’s mandate as an authorization or directive to necessarily change it is not the intention of the Commission to merely propose changes apparently to satisfy the whims and notions of a few purported academic detractors.”
Having made such statement, the Commission never got down to actually examining the issues. Since there were those on the Commission who did not care to as he put it “change history,” no matter who these symbols offended. Those who held this belief, were the ones who constituted the ruling class. This approach rendered the whole exercise as a sham.

After three and half years (July 22, 1974 – January 24, 1978), the Commission submitted its recommendations. The recommendations did not mention any basic changes to the flag. Regarding the constitution, the Commission “indicated a disposition to certain changes, which were never specified in the report.” On the national anthem, it recommended that the word “Benighted” be replaced with “undaunted.” It also recommended that the national motto be changed to “Love, Liberty, Justice, Equality,” replacing “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here.”

However, none of the changes recommended were ever implemented. One of the reasons it is alleged, was the opposition to changing the motto by Commissioner C. Abayomi Cassell. Commissioner Cassell made his opposition known to the President through a memorandum, after the Commission had submitted its final report (Historical Dictionary of Liberia, 1985).

At the end of the day, the position of the descendents of the settlers prevailed. Secondly, the President’s failure to act upon the recommendations tells us that the entire exercise was a waste of taxpayers’ money, resources and time. The ruling class refusal to change their attitude as well as make fundamental changes in the way the government was being operated, were some of the factors that led to “the struggle which culminated in the April 12, (1980) coup d’ etat that had been long in its gestation. Indeed, the depth of the hostility that lay beneath the surface had been marked to the outside world by the very urbaness and sophistication of these young diplomats and other officials who represented Liberia abroad during the past two or three decades,” says the Liberianist, J. Gus Liebenow.

The Americo-Liberians, Liebenow argues, imposed a set of dominant cultural norms for the new state, which were roughly modeled after those of society across the seas that had rejected them. These norms, he explained included “the Christian faith; monogamy; a commitment to private ownership and free enterprise; and increasingly Liberianized version of the English language; a preference for American styles in clothing, food, architecture, literature; and the creation of a political system which superficially resembled that of the United States” (“The Seeds of Discontent,” Part I – Liberia: The Dissolution of Privilege, 1980).

In other words, the concentration of political power in the hands of a few is the fundamental flaw of Liberia’s political culture because it is inconsistent with the nature of modern democracies and contradicts both the spirit and substance of the principles of freedom, justice and equality upon which Liberia was founded.

Former Ambassador, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr. puts this problem in the proper perspective, when he explained: “These problems (problems that led to April 12, 1980) pre-date Mr. Tolbert’s presidency, he nevertheless made these problems ‘more acute rather than seeking to remove them’. “High-sounding talk, lofty and pious rhetoric. “The uniqueness of Tolbert regime is that it succeeded in the centralization and concentration of corruption” (West Africa No. 3327, May 4, 1981 – “Threshold of a New Liberia”).

The truth of the matter is, the inaugural speeches of these former presidents, the refusal by their descendents to face the new reality and Charles Taylor’s total disregard for civil discourse has continued the general attitude and mindset that we find dividing us today as a people. And unless we take the advice of Edward Wilmot Blyden serious, we as a people will forever be, at odds with each other due to the mistakes our forefathers made or we could begin anew by embracing what Blyden said on July 26, 1908 for the greater good of our country:

“Our progress will come by connection with the parent stock. The question, therefore, which we should try to study and answer is, what are the underlying principles of African life? Every nation and every tribe has a right to demand freedom of life, and abundance of life, because it has a contribution to make peculiar to itself toward the ultimate welfare of the world. But no nation can have this freedom of life, and make this contribution, which no other nation can make, without connection with its past, of which it must carefully preserve the traditions, if it is to understand the present and have an intelligent and inspiring hope of the future.”

Being ahead of his time, Blyden had an enlightened understanding and better grasp of what constituted a nation, or what held the nation together. But he was not alone in his thinking. Albert Porte, Liberia’s foremost constitutionalist and prolific writer, was even more forthright. According to Porte:

“Liberians will always be looked down upon, despised by other nations and peoples, unless as a people, we be courageous enough to cry loudly against existing evils, and our leader be tolerate enough to face our problems calmly and dispassionately, and together we have them remedied. We cannot delay and wait for others to do these things for us and still expect to maintain our dignity and self respect as a nation”

In other words, Liberians should deal with the truth, no matter how ugly it may seem. We cannot continue to think like the “founding fathers”, individuals who thought of a nation almost entirely in terms of the values and historical interpretations of their slave masters and the antebellum South. In their view, the local inhabitants would be brought together, and national solidarity would be achieved by fitting them to the Americo-Liberian accommodationist mold.

These general attitudes were embedded in a narrow Americo-Liberian interpretation of the republic’s history, which served more to perpetuate the division between the tribal people and the rest of the population than to bring them together on common ground.

President Tubman who many thought was in a better position, and would have used his Unification policy to improve the situation was himself a dismal failure, enacted into law among other things, his “Operation Production” policy.

In mid-1963 it was announced that a new development program would be the major preoccupation of the administration when it took office in early 1964. The main objectives were to develop self-sufficiency in essential foodstuffs, especially rice, and to build up industries that would not depend entirely on exploitation of wasting asserts such as iron ore.

One of the main purposes of President Tubman’s Operation Production was “eliminating idleness and increasing productivity in all sectors of the economy. A significant provision of the program is in strict enforcement of vagrancy laws under which any man who cannot show that he is actively working for his own account or for someone else will be subject to arrest and returned to his home village. The government hopes that implementation of this provision will eliminate the large number of idlers living off their relatives in urban areas and around concession sites and return them to achieve food production in their rural homes” (Area Handbook for Liberia, 1972).

If eliminating “idleness” and “increasing productivity” were the goals of Tubman’s Operation Production Program, the rural community was no great beneficiary. To the contrary, the vagrancy laws that were being enforced were only promulgated to ensure that able-bodied men not leave their village, which at the time served as a major reservoir and labor pool for the emerging extractive industries, i.e. iron ore, rubber, etc. The slave nature of these extractive industries was a pull factor contributing to the migration from the rural to the urban areas, and other foreign countries by African Liberians in search of a better life. This development was aptly observed by then Representative of Montserrado, Didwho Twe:

“While I am not today concerned with discussion of the native question, I wish to make this brief observation. We cannot but concede that there is a general dissatisfaction amongst the aboriginal population throughout the Republic. The continual migration of the natives in large numbers into British and French colonies; leaving countless number of broken towns behind, is nothing but passive expression of their disappointment. But it must be clearly understood that the unhappiness of the native population is a legacy handed down by previous administrations. Adding further, he said:

“In 1926 I delivered the Newport Day address for that year right in this very hall, but on that day I went against my conviction. The task was therefore a very uncomfortable one to perform, for I have always felt that the continual celebration of the destruction of men of the Bassa Tribe by Matilda Newport is a short sighted policy to sustain. It invites ill feelings from within and criticism from without. The outside world would feel, and rightly so, that is radically wrong in Liberia where, one brother fires canon in celebrating the day he was successful to kill the brother.

“What sort of unity do we really expect to establish? Nevertheless, I delivered the oration. It was my first public address but it landed me in the National Legislature the following year as member from Montserrado County.

“Unfortunately, I acted very ‘unwisely’ in the Legislature as I did in 1912, when I was District Commissioner on the Anglo-Liberian border. Instead of dancing to the popular music, I took a position and made a speech that was not acceptable to the powers that be. I was looked upon as a dangerous character and was therefore promptly expelled from the Legislature. I was not disappointed and kept malice against no one for the reprisal. But I never understood the real reason for my expulsion till I read the statement of a distinguished Liberian statesman. On the 25th of January, 1932, the Liberian Secretary of State, the Honorable L. A. Grimes now Chief Justice of the Republic, made the following statement before the Council of the Leagues of Nations, which statement is now a part of the records of that International Body:

“In 1929 the Honorable D. Twe who is a Kruman by birth, and was then a member of the National Legislature, discovered that some laborers were about to be shipped out of the country against their will. He appealed to Mr. Barclay, President Edwin Barclay, who took over from C. D. B. King, who promptly took actions that interrupted the proposed shipment. Mr. Twe was soon expelled from the Legislature under the circumstance which strongly suggested that his expulsion was arranged as a punishment for having been responsible for interrupting the shipment” (July 26, 1944 Independence Day Oration Delivered by Didwho Twe).

On account of the same Fernando Po forced labor issue, Representative Francis W. M. Morais was expelled. Morais was elected a member of the House of Representatives in 1927. In August 1931, both he and Nete Sie Brownell were sent by Klao (Kru) and Grebo leaders to the League of Nations in Geneva to present the African Liberians position regarding the political reprisals in the aftermath of the forced labor scandal. On their return the early part of 1932, Representative Morais was arrested for sedition, deprived of his seat in the Legislature and imprisoned at Belle Yella (Historical Dictionary, 1985).

Chief Seyon Juah Nimley too, had similar experience. He was captured in 1936 and exiled for resisting the inhumane treatment the government imposed on his people. He died a year later in exile (IBID, 1985).

CONCLUSION
Finally, in search of a lasting solution, those who considered themselves Liberians, today, cannot, when it concerns the mistakes the settlers made in establishing Liberia, claim to have “historical amnesia”. In short, we would like for our fellow countrymen and women to know that those of us who continue to push for this dialogue have no intention to change what has already taken place. If we wanted to, we couldn’t! But rather it is our desire to correct the mistakes made by the settlers and their descendents, so as to establish genuine relationship and lasting peace amongst the citizens of the Republic of Liberia.

Today, many of the legacies of the past that continue to plague Liberia mirror those of the European contact with Africa. For example, the missionaries’ approach to the indigenous Africans’ way of life was negative. The African was regarded as a child. He must be nurtured and guided through a process of slow and carefully controlled growth toward a time in the dim future when he would be ready to look after himself (Impact of the African Tradition on African Christianity, 1984).

It is in the same light that it can be said that the settlers, who were victims themselves, were fooled in believing that their ancestors came from an inferior culture, and after several hundred years of William Lynch’s indoctrination and false Christian doctrine, their descendents have not comprehended Blyden’s warning; instead, they have continued to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors which is based on “pure ignorance“.

Published in the February 28, 2001 Edition of The Perspective.

2001: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

February 4, 2003

At 7:35 a.m., Sunday, December 7, 1941, six years before I was born, according to history, the USS Arizona was attacked and sunk by Japan at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo carried out the surprise attack that sunk USS Arizona. Japan was identified as the enemy, along with its Axis allies Germany and Italy.

The surprise attack on U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and military airfields on Oahu, left 2,402 people dead, and 1,178 wounded. The attack sunk three battleships, one capsized and another seriously damaged, three light cruisers, three destroyers and other vessels sunk and 169 planes destroyed.

These incidents plunged the United States into World War II, fulfilling Yamamoto’s warning of “awakened a sleeping giant.” However, before the war ended on September 2, 1945, more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in detention camps for the duration of the war. Military tribunals tried, convicted and executed eight German saboteurs.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on American soil (New York and Washington, D.C.) that left 3,329 people dead (3,096 – World Trade Center, 189 – Pentagon and 44 – Pennsylvania), destroyed the 110-story twin towers at the World Trade Center and caused severe damage to the Pentagon, brings back memories of Pearl Harbor. The perpetrators are identified as Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network and the Taliban government of Afghanistan that sheltered them.

In order to avoid similar mistakes that were made during World War II, America needs to draw from that experience. During that war America singled out Japanese-Americans, and the same is about to be repeated. Noncitizens have been questioned and detained for prolonged periods, and President Bush has authorized open-ended use of military tribunals to try suspects.

Regarding the above, Syndicated Columnist and Economist Thomas Sowell wrote an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution titled: Despite critics’ claims, peace isn’t an option. He argues:

“…The most irresponsible signs of unreality among people in high places are coming from the Senate Judiciary Committee, where its chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), is carrying on his own political jihad against Attorney General John Ashcroft.

“The Justice Department is holding hundreds of suspected terrorists and President Bush wants to hold military tribunals for foreign terrorists, instead of putting them into the American criminal justice system. Leahy is leading the charge of those opposed to these policies.

“Does it occur to those who are making so much noise about the detention of suspected terrorists that the fact there has been no follow-up terrorism to compare with September 11 may have something to do with the fact that so many terrorist suspects are behind bars? Or are liberals still not prepared to admit that keeping some people locked up is one way to reduce dangers to society?

“…There is no point in the critics of military tribunals wrapping themselves in the Constitution, which deals with the rights of American citizens. Nobody is talking about trying American civilians in military court.”

In his attempt to promote the conservative cause, Mr. Sowell missed the point Sen. Leahy and those who advocate for the Bush Administration to use caution. And to say that U.S. Constitution deals with the rights of only American citizens is further from the truth. The U.S. Constitution also protects noncitizens. That’s the beauty of it!

Joining Mr. Sowell’s chorus is former governor of Georgia and now Senator Zell Miller who wrote an article title: Tribunals’ critics will pay in the next election.  The article reads:

“The howls of protest over the administration’s efforts to treat terrorists like the war criminals they are is mind-boggling. The critics are crying foul at the mere mention of bringing suspected terrorists to justice in military tribunals. This obsession with protecting the rights terrorists is naïve and wrongheaded. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, just wait – voters will say it loud and clear in next year’s elections.”

Miller went on to say:

“…President Bush is proposing military tribunals only for noncitizens, and he is absolutely right to do so. …The critics say Attorney General John Ashcroft is shredding the Constitution. They’ve wrongly turned Ashcroft into the enemy while our true enemy is still at large.

“It’s crazy. Ashcroft is right to use military tribunals for terrorists. He is right to detain those suspected of helping the terrorists,” the Senator lamented.

Thomas Sowell, Joseph Perkins and Sen. Miller have forgotten that what makes America the great nation that she is – is her “due process,” “freedom of movement” and “free speech” that the Constitution provides for all – including noncitizens. Those who are against trial by military tribunals, do so to carry on America’s cherished tradition, and not as their critics implied.

The framers of the Constitution saw to it that the system of “checks and balances” should exist between the three branches of the government. This was based on their experience of the “unlimited power” the King of England exercised at that time. To do so now, is to violate the sacred covenant provided by those honorable men.

In this regard, I find myself agreeing with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and both William Safire of the New York Times and Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, who called for restraints.

According to Leonard Pitts:

“…It was because the government abused the trust we gave it. It lied about Watergate, lied about Vietnam, lied about the domestic threat of communism. And did so, not to further the national interest, but to promote the careers and protect the backsides of a series of slimy men. The government lied so prolifically that mistrusting it became a self-defensive reflex. We learned to question everything and believe nothing.”

William Safire on the other hand, responded with an article titled: Questioning tribunals not negativism, just common sense:

“…Attorney General John Ashcroft lashed out at all who dare to uphold our bedrock rule of law as ‘voice of negativism.’ (A nattering nabob, Moi?)

“…Here’s why we are not: The sudden seizure of power by the executive branch, bypassing all constitutional checks and balances, is beginning to be recognized by cooler heads in the White House, Defense Department and CIA as more than a bit excessive.

“Not that they’ll ever admit it publicly. Bush will stick to his shaky line that civil courts cannot be trusted to protect military secrets and, as fearful Orrin Hatch assures him, jurors will be too sacred to serve. But his order asserting his power to set up drumhead courts strikes some of his advisers, on sober second thought, as counterproductive.”

As blacks, our experience with kangaroo courts and the lynch-mob justice system serve as constant reminder what can be done to a select group of people if we fail to uphold what is considered the “bedrock” of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “one is innocent, until proven guilty,” and those provisions that make the United States a country, where citizens and noncitizens’ rights are protected under the law.

This effort to mete out “quick justice” by setting aside the Constitution and ignoring the basic civil liberties of individuals, would not have created an ire where this to occur in some other country other than the United States. By instituting secret military tribunals, this would make it next to impossible for the United States to protest on said trials abroad.

Finally, as a champion of the rule of law and the citadel of modern democracy, America cannot afford to set such example that would send negative signals and mixed messages to a world still rife with tyrants and dictators, who would take their cue and find easy justification for their continued misrule and total disregard for the rule of law.

2003: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

Being the Fourth Estate, the Media is charged with the responsibilities of checking on the activities of the First Branch of government – the Legislature, which makes Laws; the Second – the Executive, enforces the Laws, and the Third – the Judicial, decides arguments about the meaning of laws, how they are applied, and whether their application violate the Constitution and the rights of citizens. The Media’s role in this arrangement is to act in the interest of the public with the intent of pursuing truth and justice, in order to make society free of abuse and censorship. In other words, the Media whose mandate is to serve as a check on the three branches of government, cannot be seen as only working to make profit or blindly promoting the interest of a particular group or class in society. In order to remain relevant, the Media has to pursue its mandated responsibilities for society as a whole without favoring one individual or group.

This brings me to the points I made recently in one of my recent articles, the reason why Liberians should not tolerate the abuse of power by our elites and elected officials. In the article titled: “Liberia’s Culture of Unlawful Practices Continues Under New Officials”, published in The Perspective’s June 24, 2006 edition, I said, “The practice of government officials or so-called “Big Shots” suppression of free speech was elevated to a higher lever during the administration of William V.S. Tubman. During this era, journalists were not only assaulted and intimidated; supporters of the government took the law into their hands — they dispensed justice outside of the law”. I went as far to say, “Tubman did not like to be criticized. Criticism to him meant you were against his government”.
Today, this culture of unlawful practices has risen its ugly head with impunity in Liberia. The recent statement made by Mr. Walter T.Y. Winsner, Acting Minister of State and Chief of Staff in response to the flogging of members of the Media, is a classic example of such behavior. Mr. Winsner is alleged to have said, “Let me mention that the Ministry of State is equally unhappy with the manner in which journalists are carrying out their national responsibilities… there have been reports intended to encourage insurrection and dissent, a violation of the spirit and intent of Article 15 of the constitution.” He did not stop here, instead, he added, “In many other cases there have been wide, inaccurate and speculative attacks on the government officials including the President herself”. Can Mr. Winsner prove the INTENT of these articles for which the government securities flogged these journalists? Who determines the just punishment for the so-called violation, the court of laws or the securities? Are we reading the same constitutional provisions of Article 15a – d of the Liberian Constitution?

For example, the great United States that we Liberians emanate for almost everything – ranging from our flag, system of government and what have you — high court ruled in the case involving the New York Times Company and Sullivan that “the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and press require …a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he [she] proves that the statement was made with `actual malice’ – that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” And that the same ruling is applicable to individuals who are not public officials, but who are “public figures” and are involved in issues in which the public has a justified and important interest. The matter has, however, been passed on by a considerable number of state and lower federal courts and has produced a sharp division of opinion as to whether the New York Times rule should apply only in actions brought by public officials or whether it has a longer reach.

Article 15a thru d of the Constitution, which Mr. Winsner grossly misinterprets, states: “Every person shall have the right of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in according with this Constitution.

“b) The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impact knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge is available. It includes no interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.

“c) In pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.

“d) Access to state owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas express. Denial of such access may be challenged in a court competent jurisdiction.

“d) This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights of privacy and publicity or in the commercial aspect of expression in deception, false advertising and copyright infringement”. (Constitution of the Republic of Liberia – January 6, 1986)”

Based on the interpretation of Articles 15a thru d, the government of Liberia, including its elected officials or elite, cannot arbitrarily intimidate, arrest and jail any person, for that matter, a journalist for publishing an article they do not agree with. The birth of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) in 1964 was in response to such practice – the detention of Stanton Peabody who at the time was detained for referring to members of the Legislature as “radicals”. The Tubman administration viewed his expression as a crime against the establishment. If the PUL could work under these difficult circumstances without fear and intimidation – to keep the Liberian people informed regarding the activities of their government and elected officials, the PUL today, cannot and must not allow elected officials and public figures to get away with the arbitrary use of power, intimidation of the opposition and the press. There is no place for such behavior today in the new Liberia.

Therefore, we take our hats and headties off to the Press Union of Liberia for taking such a gallant stance in reminding Mr. Winsner that, “To brush aside the attacks on our members and invite us to discuss other matters is not in our interest and we think, the respect for the fundamental rights of journalists and ordinary people are supreme… the excesses of the past that undermined democratic values and practices must not be repeated.” This move by the PUL is in line with the tradition set forth by gallant individuals like Albert Porte, Tuan Wreh, G. Henry Andrews, Stanton Peabody, Rufus Marmoh Darpoh, Hassan Bility, and others who believe in the Fundamental Rights established by the Liberian Constitution (Chapter III).

The question then is, why is it that succeeding governments resuscitate this culture of impunity that the previous government had exercised? This question was answered sometime ago, I believe by H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., when he said, in order to change society, you must first change the individuals, because it is the individuals that make the rules by which society is governed (paraphrased). By this he meant, if a system is overthrown (in our case – the government), and those who overthrow it do not work on changing the people’s behavior (mindset) in the society, then what you see is old habits being practiced all over again, by the new players – a kind of rude awaken for the society. This is what has been happening to us since April 12, 1980!

The so-called change that took place on that day, April 12, 1980, did not change the behavior of the Liberian people. What took place is the changing of players, which some political observers referred to as, “putting old wine into new bottles”. According to these observers, since the coup did not change the thinking or mindset of the Liberian people, the temporarily change we experienced became a respite awaiting the exploits of various tribalists and money peddlers to exercise their influence over the new leaders, which in the end, they accomplished by assisting the new leaders to rain havoc upon the entire society.

While from the beginning, the military leaders embraced the populist movements, later on, they came to rely upon these tribalists and money peddlers on policy matters. As a result, they failed to translate the slogan of the populist movements, such as, “In the cause of the people, the struggle continues” into concrete programs that could have provided the orientation and direction for the new government. Instead, these ‘bounty hunters’ and ‘influence peddlers’ exploited their “…tribal connections in a country where tribal loyalties emerged after the coup as the safest insurance against harassment, intimidation and imprisonment, the True Whig Party members purveyed the fable that their foreign business friends were leaving because there were socialists in the new government. For the new military leaders, socialism was what the late Tolbert and his cohorts had said it was: a system that takes away from you everything you have. Next, the True Whig Party members impressed upon the military leaders that if only they could be brought back into government, they would check on the socialists and convince their foreign business friends to return to the country. (Amos Sawyer, Effective Immediately: Dictatorship in Liberia, 1980 – 1986: A Personal Perspective, 1988 & Gedebbo Sie a.k.a. Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., “Liberia and Democracy: An Analysis of the Restoration of the Old Order and the Betrayal of the People’s Democratic Aspirations”, 1986)
These ‘bounty hunters’ and ‘influence peddlers’ resorted to Tubman’s cold war antics, which he delivered in 1963 in a speech in Kolahun. He said:

“We wage no war against socialism… if it is kept within the territories and among people that are so inclined, but we shall fight till death any attempt to impose and force upon us what we consider a mystical illusion.” (Thomas D. Roberts, et al, Area Handbook for Liberia, 2nd Edition, p. 216, 1972)

The new leaders did not understand that the Liberian people’s struggle was about “Rights and Rice” as it was simply put. It was not over Socialism (Communism) vs. Capitalism, as they were misled to believe. This made it easy for the new leaders to go after and get rid of the so-called socialist elements in the new government that were planning to “take away from you everything you have”. For Doe and his associates, this was their point of departure from the populist movements. As the result, the PRC became to exercise a dictatorial approach in dealing with members of the populist movements, students and the Media. “…At one point Doe put a student activist under the same sort of banning order that is commonly used in South Africa against government opposition considered dangerous. He shut down a new independent newspaper, the Daily Observer, and jailed its entire staff for ten days for printing letters critical of the ban. Later it was closed altogether. Even the government-owned New Liberian was routinely scrutinized and its staff harassed. In 1984 Rufus Darpoh, a well-known Liberian Journalist, was arrested after writing unsigned articles exposing the plans of some members of the military to try to remain in power; government agents accused him of ‘transmitting news clandestinely against the interest of the government.’ Darpoh was released after five months in Liberian prisons, after torture had prompted him to confess that he was the author of the controversial articles. Doe ordered the censorship of all incoming publications on Africa, with the aim of removing anything considered ‘derogatory’ to Liberia”, wrote Ungar. (Stanford J. Ungar, Africa: The People and Politics of An Emerging Continent, p. 115, 1986)

I find it quite interesting that the same individuals who condemned Doe and Taylor for the abuse of power, started engaging in the same behavior once they acquired power. Even worse, the culture of unlawful practice did not change.

For instance in 1981, the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) government almost reintroduced the “Operation Production” policy that Tubman initiated at the end of 1963. The aim of his “Operation Production” policy at the time was to eliminate idleness and increase productivity in all sectors of the economy. According to the policy, “a significant provision of the program is the strict enforcement of vagrancy laws under which any man who cannot show that he is actively working for his own account or for someone else will be subjected to arrest and returned to his home village”. (Thomas D. Roberts, et al, Area Handbook for Liberia, 2nd Edition, p. 298, 1972)

Ironically in 1981, the PRC had intended to control the influx of idle people from the interior in Monrovia. A meeting was convened by the PRC’s Chair responsible for Ministry. The Minister of that Ministry, some PRC members of that Committee, several ministers of the government, and few of their deputies attended that meeting.

It is s reported by reliable sources that the Minister who chaired the meeting, opened the meeting with the following statement: “This meeting is called at the request of the PRC to address the influx of too many people from upcountry who are in Monrovia, not engaging in meaning activities, which makes it difficult for the smooth operation of the government, therefore, the government wants something done about this over crowdedness”.

At that moment, the PRC Chair for the Committee interrupted the Minister. “Your the book people, you mean, your called us here for this sample palava? This is a sample matter!” The Minister then asked the PRC Chair, “What will be your suggestion in handling the palava?” His response was, “The government should make army trucks available, with plenty soldiers who will be assigned down Waterside and in the Sinkor area, where they will be stationed. While there, they will ask the people they meet, question like, what you doing here? If the answer they gave is not good enough; they will be asked again, what county you come from, and if the person say Grand Gedeh, you ask him [her] to get in the truck assigned for transporting those persons from that county back to their county of origin. You do so tay, you remove plenty of them from Monrovia. That the way to do it, plain and simple!”

After he got through making his suggestion, someone at the meeting said, “But Chief, how do we make sure that the people we transport to, let say Grand Gedeh or Nimba County will remain there, and will not return to Monrovia?” His response was, “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way! The palava na reach your; your the book people, your come up with the answer”.

These were some of the problems Liberia was faced with because tribalists from the defunct grand old TWP and their money peddlers took advantaged of the innocence of the new leaders, which brought us to where we find ourselves today.

The truth of the matter is, the most important political role in society is that of the private citizen. We cannot shirk our responsibilities, we must preserve our freedoms. If we do not do so, they will be lost. The unlawful use of power will then undermine democratic values and practices. We must not allow this to happen! When we allow it to happen, there will always be inequality and injustice in society.

Therefore, both the press and the Liberian people need to follow the advice of T. Nelson Williams, who as President of the PUL in 1984 urged Liberian journalists to be “courageous, honest, truthful, and objective in their profession and that the march toward the return to democratic civilian rule, journalists should seek the truth, whether in hell or in heaven… the years ahead may be difficult but with faith in God and determination to serve our county and people, we shall not relent in our efforts until total freedom for the press in Liberia is assured”.

While on the other hand, the late G. Henry Andrews, challenged us, “…Never again should we allow a president to maintain four to five security forces, stock them with his people, and mold them into robots that do his every wish and command, good or bad, right or wrong, legal or illegal. Liberians must learn and live by the principle that the greatest right in the world is the right to be left alone as long as you don’t break the law. This is followed closely by the right to freely and fairly choose those who will govern you. The third great right is the right to hold your leaders accountable for their actions. In those rights lies the essence of democracy, no matter of what kind”. (from CRY, LIBERIA, CRY, the book written by G. Henry Andrews)

Regrettably, these are rough times in Liberia. In order to honestly serve the interests of the general public, journalists will have to separate their financial interests from the public’s legitimate right to receive unbiased news. They must guard against using their privileged position for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement or obtaining political favors. To do so will compromise their responsibilities and obligation to seek and report the truth. We must continue to fight for free speech and expression because, ”…Just laws, justly enforced and justly administered are a credit to any nation, and is the mortar by which it is kept together; and responsibility rests upon each citizen to insist that these conditions prevail at all times. …” (The prophetic words of the late Albert Porte, November 1, 1945). Therefore, justice must not be allowed to remain asleep or sleepwalk; it must be made to wake up – with it eyes wide-opened to the reality of OUR time. This we must demand unequivocally, without any compromise.

Published in the July 17, 2006 Edition of The Perspective.

2006: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

“Ninety years not forever” was once a popular expression by ordinary Liberians that were abused and exploited by the “You know who I am?” until the so-called PRC revolution sent many of them into exile in neighboring African countries,  the United States and Europe. Consequently, these once upon a time “Bigshots”, a.k.a. Senators, Ministers found themselves working as Superintendents (not County Superintendents in our country) and securities, also known as “water police to earn their living.  At least this time, they earned it the old fashion way – worked for it.

The expression, “Ninety years not forever” was in a way, a wish that someday, whether in ninety years or so, those who “ate the Liberian people’s money”, took the laws into their own hands, killed and violated every laws with impunity will have to pay for their sins.  To the ordinary person, “Ninety years not forever” was their cry for justice.

The Ninety Years scenario has made many African leaders and criminals alike – casualties; but for some reasons, man, either by his very nature or for the sake of power, does not learn from history; he/she keeps repeating the same offense over and over in order maintain power. And this is my point.

Charles Taylor’s son Chuckie has become the latest casualty of the “Ninety years not forever” scenario; like father and son, their sins have finally caught up with them. Since June 20, 2005, Charles Taylor, Sr. has been a guest at the International Criminal Court detention facility outside of The Hague; charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which stemmed from acts he is charged of committing during the Liberian civil war, 1991- 2002; while, Chuckie Taylor, Jr. might be serving life sentence in a U.S. prison facility for committing similar atrocities.

I believe Chuckie Taylor felt he was untouchable, because he has been traveling despite being listed on the U.N. travel ban. So while attempting to enter the United States by way of Miami International Airport on Tuesday, May 30, 2006, he was arrested and arraigned the same day before Miami Judge, Barry L. Garber in the Dyer Building courtroom; indicted for falsely stating his father’s name in a U.S. passport application. In addition, he goes under the assumed name, Charles McArthur Emmanuel.

Although Chuckie Taylor lived in Liberia, he is a U.S. citizen who was born in the United States. It is a crime under federal law for a U.S. citizen to commit torture and war crimes abroad. According to Dicker, “…we don’t know of a single person who has been prosecuted for them”.  We don’t know “how serious can the U.S. be about justice when these laws have never been used to hold our own citizens to account? With Chuckie Taylor in custody, this is an ideal moment to wield this authority,” he stated.

In order to accentuate the need for investigation and prosecution of Chuckie Taylor on torture and war crimes under federal law (18 USC sections 2340A and 2441), Human Rights Watch submitted a memorandum to the Department of Justice on serious abuses in which Chuckie Taylor is implicated. The memorandum includes Human Rights Watch’s research and information from other human rights organizations, along with other open source material documenting the evidence against him.

Human Rights Watch has additional information and research available, which  support their claim that during Chuckie Taylor’s tenure as head of the Anti-Terrorist Unit that many Liberians referred to as “ANOTHER TERRORIST UNIT (ATU) committed torture, including various violent assaults, beating people to death, rape and burning civilians alive.

On Wednesday, December 6, 2006, Chuckie Taylor, 29 years old son of former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor was charged with committing torture as well as conspiracy, and could be sentenced to life in prison.

Based on the report filed by the Associated Press, “The indictment said that in 2002, a man was abducted from his home, and Emmanuel (Chuckie) and others burned him with hot iron, forced him at gunpoint to hold scalding water, applied electric shocks to his genitals and other body parts and rubbed salt in his wounds.”

Immediately after Charles Taylor became president in 1997, he created the ATU. Initially, the ATU was intended to protect government buildings, the Executive Mansion, the international airport, and to provide security for some foreign embassies. Based on interviews Human Rights Watch conducted with former Liberian combatants, ATU’s responsibilities were expanded in 1999 to include combat and other war-related duties, after rebels from the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) began operating in Liberian territory.
Finally, In the words of Lesley Abayomi Norman Cole, Sr., It is sad to see someone who is a friend self-destruct. As a leader, if you surround yourself with your mutual friends and you failed to listen to them or they are too afraid to speak their minds, you will end up like our friend Charlie who has become a classic case of how absolute power corrupts (paraphrase).  So remember, “Ninety years not forever!” The indictment of Chuckie Taylor should serve notice to those of you that committed similar atrocities against the Liberian people and their neighbors.  You could be next; it is only a matter of time!

Published in the December 8, 2006 Edition of The Perspective.

2006: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

Throughout my life I have had the fortune or misfortune, depending on the situation, of coming into contact with mostly people who are either too bright and well rounded that they make instant authority on almost any subject matters, or people who are somewhat mediocre by any standards imaginable but wouldn’t hesitate to go on a wide geese chase on any subject matter simply to impress. The first group of people I would call knowledge givers or seekers, and the second group I would describe as knowledge polluters who don’t really know anything about most subject matters but will always pretend to know just to impress others. Suffice this to say that when I was in Houston, Texas, mid last month, I found myself once more witnessed in a spirited debate involving individuals of the two groups – the egotistical Impressionist and the knowledge giver or seeker.

As boyhood friends and family, we were in Houston to bury an aunt, and after the burial and repass we gathered together to greet each other and share some personal stories. Midway into the conversation one of our friends introduced the subject of “Ivy League” schools, and proceeded to state that by Liberian standards the Ricks Institute (high school) in Liberia is an Ivy League institution because of its “longevity”, having been established in 1887. He then said that by American standards, Ivy League schools are schools that were founded in the 1800s and offered bachelor’s degree.

But when asked if by his definition of Ivy League, Howard, Atlanta (now Clark Atlanta), Lincoln and Morgan State Universities would qualify as Ivy League institutions, he said NO because they were not established in the 1800s and did not offer bachelor’s degree at the time they were established. He even went so far to state that unlike, Ricks Institute, Liberian high schools such as St. John, St. Patrick, Lott Carey and Fatima wouldn’t qualify as Ivy League high schools because they were not established in the 1800s, though St. Francis and Fatima, for example were established in Liberia in the 1800s. So the question boiled down to whether our friend knew the definition of Ivy League, or whether he was just trying to impress us!

Most probably, he was just trying to impress us, or he was just too self-confident to entertain the notion that his definition of Ivy League was incorrect. And, as the discussion dragged on, we decided to call it quit for the evening and exchange email addresses with the purpose of researching the true definition of Ivy League and sharing our findings with each other. But our friend responded to the suggestion by saying, “I do not have an e-mail address because the Internet is not regulated.” He even argued that, “They (Internet providers) do not accept ‘Carte Blanche.'” Whatever that meant! We did not bother to ask, since he might have already concluded that we were so ignorant as not to understand the meaning of the French word, ‘Carte Blanche”. At that point, we all shook hands and bid each other farewell. But to set the record straight, I have researched the true definition of Ivy League as applied to a few U.S. institutions of higher learning, and wish in this article to share my findings with my friend, relatives (who participated in the discussion) and the public.

In his book, Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big Time College Athletics (1988; repr. 1990) R. A. Smith writes, “The Ivy League is a group of seven universities and one college in the Northeastern United States: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. All but Cornell were established before the American Revolution, and all have very selective admissions standards. Social and athletic competition among the colleges dates from the late 19th century. The concept of the league began when policies for athletic competition were set down in 1956. Ivy League college presidents, directors of athletics, and other officers meet periodically to discuss common problems of admissions, financial aid, and administration.”

In fact, originally, the phrase–Ivy League–had more to do with varsity sports than with academics or the longevity of a particular degree granting institution. The phrase Ivy League was first coined in the early thirties by the New York Herald Tribune Sports Writer Stanley Woodward long before the student newspapers partly popularized it. For instance, in 1936 the undergraduate newspapers of the concerned universities simultaneously ran an editorial advocating the formation of an “Ivy League,” but the first move toward this end was not taken until 1945. In 1945, the eight presidents entered into an agreement “for the purpose of reaffirming their intention of continuing intercollegiate football in such a way as to maintain the values of the game, while keeping it in fitting proportion to the main purposes of academic life.”

To achieve this objective two inter-university committees were appointed: one, made up primarily of the college deans, was to administer rules of eligibility; the other, composed of the athletic directors, was to establish policies on the length of the playing season and of preseason practice, operating budgets, and related matters. Two other inter-university committees on admission and financial aid were added later. As President Dodds pointed out at the time, the general principles agreed on by the eight universities were essentially the same as those set forth in the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Presidents’ Agreement of 1916 (the Big Three).

The first step toward organizing full league competition came in 1952 with the announcement that, beginning with the fall of 1953, each college would play every other college in the group at least once every five years. This plan was superseded in 1954 when the presidents announced the adoption of a yearly round-robin schedule in football, starting in 1956, and approved the principle of similar schedules in “as many sports as practicable.”

Thereafter, the Ivy Group (as the league was called in the Presidents’ Agreement of 1954) established schedules in other sports, including some in existing leagues with non-Ivy members. As of 1977, the Ivy League colleges competed, round-robin, in football, soccer, basketball, and, with certain variations as noted, in baseball (also Army and Navy), fencing (except Brown and Dartmouth), ice hockey (except Columbia), squash (except Brown, Columbia, and Cornell), swimming (except Columbia, but also Army and Navy), tennis (also Army and Navy), and wrestling (except Brown and Dartmouth). Ivy championships in cross-country and track were determined at the annual Heptagonal Meets, in golf at an Ivy championship tournament, and in rowing at the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Regatta.

The mid-seventies brought the inclusion of women’s teams in the Ivy League program with the institution of championship tournaments in basketball and ice hockey, and a move toward round-robin competition in field hockey, lacrosse, and other sports. Other instances of increasing formalization of the Ivy League occurred in the seventies — two of them involving Princetonians.

Since 1971, the Bushnell Cup has been awarded to the Ivy football player of the year, who is selected by vote of the eight coaches. This trophy, presented to the Ivy League by the Eastern Association of Intercollegiate Football Officials, was named in honor of Asa S. Bushnell ’21, the first commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, in appreciation of “his great contribution to the advancement of college athletics.”

In 1973, in order to provide greater coordination of the athletic interests of the eight universities, the post of executive director of the Council of Ivy League Presidents was created, and Ricardo A. Mestres ’31, financial vice-president and treasurer emeritus of Princeton University was elected first incumbent. Mestres served in that post until 1976, when he was succeeded by James M. Litvack, visiting lecturer in economics and public affairs in Princeton University (Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, Princeton University Press, 1978).

Now, let’s return to the spirited debate involving my friend. One sad practice that we Liberians inherited from our founding fathers is imitating or copying anything foreign – starting from our flag, form of government, names of important places, etc. — and now it has to be Ivy League, too. Why Ivy League? Why not the best schools with academic standards in Liberia? But, even where we wanted to copy Ivy League, in its original definition or sense, to apply to Liberian schools, Ricks Institute will still not qualify as an Ivy League school as our friend had wanted us to believe.

Only four Liberian high schools would qualify as Ivy League at all, If we must use the intercollegiate cooperation policies set forth in 1956 by Ivy League college presidents, directors of athletics, and other officers “to discuss common problems of admissions, financial aid, and administration,” as a yard stick. By Liberian standards, the four schools that come to mind are St. Patrick High (SPS), College of West Africa (CWA), Monrovia College (MC), and Booker Washington Institute (BWI). In the late 50s and early 60s, the Liberian Senior High School League was centered on these four schools – The Big Four– if you may. It was not until later that schools like St. John and others joined the league.

Therefore, the argument put forth by our friend – the Impressionist– was not only incorrect but also misleading. As a matter of fact, I found out while doing this research that our friend is not alone in thinking this way. There are many who believe Ivy League is based solely on longevity and academic requirements. While this may be part of the requirements today that was not the criteria around when the league was first organized. Ivy League was established to promote inter-collegiate sports amongst a group of higher institutions of learning along the American eastern shores. To the best of my knowledge, the Ivy League designation is unique to the eight institutions mentioned earlier. No other American institution, no matter how old or how high its academic standards, is considered an Ivy League school. In short, my advice to my friend and others is to always be careful not to thread into unfamiliar territory so as not to make a BIG FOOL of oneself. Similarly, it is NEVER good to underestimate one’s audience no matter how self-confident we become!

Published in the October 15, 2002 Edition of The Perspective.

2002: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive

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