By Elder Siahyonkron J. K. Nyanseor, Sr.
Praising and flattering elected and appointed leaders are nothing new to the political culture and landscape of Liberia. During the Tubman era, all we heard was “Tubman is the man we want”. As the result, Tubman and his True Whig Party (TWP) click ruled Liberia as their personal property for 27 unbroken years.
A reasonable person would like to know what flattery is. Flattery is defined as a practice of praising another person with the view to please him/ her in order to gain favor, or to accomplish a personal or group purpose.
Every leader should beware of flattery. For example: Proverbs 29:5 says, “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” The imagery here is of a trap, because flattery is almost always fueled by an ulterior motive. Furthermore, Proverbs 26:23-26 drives the point home: “Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. He, who hates, disguises it with his lips. And lays up deceit within himself; when he speaks kindly, do not believe him. For there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.” Therefore, to compliment one excessively should immediately raise a red flag. Flattery is typically discernible by its effusiveness, and insincerity.
Aesop’s Fable of “The Fox and The Crow” is worth mentioning here. According to the fable:
A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree. “That’s for me, as I am a Fox,” said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.
“Good-day, Mistress Crow,” he cried. “How well you are looking to-day: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds.”
The Crow lifted her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox. “That will do,” said he. “That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future: “Do not trust flatterers.” (Eliot/Jacobs Version)
While many Liberians are unemployed, and cannot afford a cup of rice; they and their children go to bed hungry, and many of them died of curable diseases on a daily basis; the former President, ‘Dr.’ Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the current President, ‘Dr.’ ‘Dr.’ Rev. George Manneh Weah amassed wealth, statute has been built and erected honoring him – just in eleven months of his presidency. The people are wondering whether this is the Pro-Poor platform on which he and the CDC was elected! The people can be fooled some of the time, but they cannot be fooled all the time!
How true these words are! There are individuals, who have sacrificed their professional careers, and even their lives for many of us to become what we are today: students, community activists, pastors, Imams, human rights advocates, teachers, parents, etc. It was the sacrifices these individuals made that made it possible for us to have the opportunities we enjoy today. But some individuals, when they occupied positions of privilege and power, it doesn’t take long for them to forget and show their hidden agenda.
Praise singers and their leaders are only concern about themselves and their benefactors.
In 2008, the late Bloju Tarty Teh identified the problem in this manner:
“…..We all are actors on our nation’s behalf. What we do individually have a collective effect in creating our country’s profile. If we project a shady profile, we will attract shady characters that are oftentimes much more adept in exploiting the weakness that is inherent in our penchant for subterranean dealings.
It is bad enough that we infuriate well-meaning adventurers in our national sphere with our crooked bent and matching ineptitude when executing even legitimate deals. But when we fail miserably in keeping up with the crooks we invite, the whole country suffers the consequences after the foreign crooks pay off a few domestic ones before settling down to suck us dry. A look around Liberia will confirm that our level of infrastructural development clearly belies the 161+ years we have existed as a nation…”
Based on my late friend’s indictment of the past and current Liberian society, I conducted the research to write this article by looking up several references regarding political process of change; they include totalitarianism, dictatorship, revolution, coup d’ tat, election, etc. The results I arrived at showed behavior patterns are similar: serving the interest of the ruling class, the elites, or the party in power. About half of the time, it is never in the interest of the masses. In the case of Liberia, I went as far as the first president of Liberia, Joseph Jenkins Roberts and to the current President George Manner Weah. Again, I arrived at the same results – personal and group interests as opposed to the interests of masses.
Liberia’s problem is unique; it described it as: “KoKo and MeSee”.
One may ask what is KoKo and MeSee? KoKo and MeSee behavior isrepeating the same thing over and over.Simply put, KoKo and MeSee is ‘Head and Tail’ (front and flip sides) of a coin. It was a game played by young people of the day; a kind of gambling. Those that grew up in Monrovia in the late 50s and early 60s will know what I am referring to. It was the way the government was run –the governing system so to speak; which started with President JJ Roberts and inherited by President George Manner Weah that he is now governing by. It is sad to say; this practice or governing principle yields the same result – nothing new. It is referred to by ordinary Liberians as “Nothing New” or “Same Old, Same Old”.
“You know book or you na know book”, if you do thing the same way over and over, you will end up with the same results. And no amount of political theories or education can solve the problem. The solution to this problem must be based on changing the KoKo and MeSee mindset or behavior, which includes the good for nothing praise singing and flattery.
Whenever a people engage in the same practice over and over, they cannot expect differentresults, but the same. It is that simple! This kind of behavior has the propensity to lead to mass poverty for the masses, which eventually lead to armed robbery, prostitution, rape, rampant corruptions, and eventually civil unrest. The answer lies in genuine paradigm shift.
Genuine Paradigm Shift
Doing things, the same old ways do not benefit us. To reap the benefit of our labor and resources requires a complete paradigm shift. More important, to change requires moving from one’s old ways of behaving. It encompasses a deeper understanding of humanity’s quest to do what is right for no reason other than it is the right thing to do. Since change is not easy to come by, those who are not willing to make the sacrifice, often refer to those of us who seek change as ‘boat rockers’, ‘troublemakers’ or “enemies of the state”. If history is any guide to understanding the genesis of a country’s pregnant palaver, and how that palaver, i.e., ethnicity, inequality, injustice, peace, reconciliation and national unity are addressed, the Liberian experience requires serious examination and attention.
The truth of the matter is – these days, government of any country is being held to be accountable to the people and the mass media serves as the means of communicating the message to the people. Change takes a long time, but with consistency, it is bound to take place. But citizens must be prepared to take on those for some reasons or another opposed change.
According to Joey Sievert, “Not knowing the truth doesn’t make you ignorant, not wanting to know the truth is what makes you ignorant”. Even II Timothy 2:15 admonishes that “Study to show yourself approved unto God…” Don’t make flimsy excuses to exonerate what is truly WRONG.
Ugly Liberia History is Being Repeated
Liberians must beware of praise singers, especially those who flatter. Our country has become a failed state due to the way it was established and ruled by “finger-full” elites, who ran the government as their personal property. They did so with little or no regard for the constitution, the laws of the land; abused their power by restricting freedom of the press and speech. In addition, they and their families, friends, associates used the wealth and resources of the nation as their own, while their ruling party and its officials ‘eat’ and misuse the country’s money with impunity. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that today, in broad day; 16 billion dollars can go missing without any trace. It is business as usual! This is the same method of operation used during the 12 years of Ellen and her Unity Party (UP) administration. Change of government in Liberia has always followed the same blueprint of “new wine in old bottles” (saying reversed). The daily assault on the media is their way of attempting to maintain control. How soon these opportunists forget history!
The Danger of Violating Freedom of Speech and Press!
In a democratic society, the Media is the Fourth Estate; and it 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’s mandate is to serve as a check on the three branches of government. Its role cannot be only working to make profit or blindly promoting the interest of a group or class in society. In order to remain relevant, the Media must pursue its mandated responsibilities for society without favoring one individual or group. Yet, these former opposition leaders and their supporters refer to the opposition and the media as “Enemies of the State”.
“Enemies of the State”
As soon can one forget! It was not too long ago when Weah was an opposition leader who relied on the press and the opposition; now that he is President, he considers the same opposition he was part of as “Enemies of the State”. “Wonders shall never end!” If it wasn’t for the opposition, he won’t be where he is today – President of Liberia.
Weah’s statement was published in the article under the title (“‘Liberia: Enemies of State’ To Become Pres. Weah’s Advisors on Moving to A New Country Forward.” It was published in the August 15, 2018 edition of FrontPage Africa).
It reads: “My people don’t listen to those criticizing for lobbying for loans. Those doing so are enemies of the country. The loans I am taking will be able to complete the roads in three years. When I am asking partners for loans, any of them who tell me that they want to complete the roads in six years, I can say no because I know in the next six years, if I don’t do anything for you, I will not be re-elected.” The President made this statement in June while visiting Bong County.
What a shame!
The late Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis’ statement is appropriate at this juncture:
“We (Liberians) are in many instances insincere, dishonest, deceitful, and sycophantic. We have serious attitudinal problems. For the past two plus decades our society has been so replete with a culture of violence, a culture of deception, a culture of dishonesty, non-achievement and multifaceted negative social attitudes that moral decadence has become the order of the day.
“There is now a looming fear that if this trend is not reversed our younger generation will grow up with negative attitudes and this country will suffer greatly. Just think, sixty percent of our population was born after 1979 – one understands the magnitude of the problem.
“We should address ourselves not only to healing the wounds of the past but also to dressing the open wounds of the present.” (From the speech delivered on August 28, 2002 at the Government Reconciliation Conference in Virginia, Liberia)
Christopher Dodd, an American Politician once said, “When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.” The media in Liberia remains an integral and indispensable embodiment of our democracy.
Criticism of governments has long been a major part of Liberia’s history. Historians and political observers agree that while those labeled “enemies” have been instrumental in holding governments’ feet to the fire, they have also forced the likes of Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Taylor and Sirleaf to face the realities of the day.
Many are beginning to feel that the re-emergence of some controversial figures from the Doe and Taylor eras, particularly Mr. Emmanuel Shaw and Mr. Charles Bright may be having a key factor in President Weah’s pattern of governance.
Ironically, Doe’s acknowledgement of an age-old problem – the lack of accountability and transparency remains visible today with many critics unsure about the source of the nearly one billion dollars and the obvious breach of the laws of the land. Criticisms of the Weah administration’s entanglement in what many bystanders believe are a couple of shady loan arrangements – and more expected, bordering money laundering and disregard of integrity institutions could spell problems for the foreseeable future, particularly for so-called ‘enemies’ waiting in the wings to dissect and scrutinize every move.
Liberian leaders have an ugly history with freedom of expression and the press. These leaders were successful in silencing the press; but got to find out they were fighting losing battles. The media in any country is the voice of the citizenry; therefore, it cannot be silenced. Yet, President William V. S. Tubman jailed E. Frederick Taylor for 17 years in his dreadful penitentiary. He did the same to journalist Tuan Wreh in 1955 for writing an article accusing Tubman’s manipulating the Constitution to keep himself in office forever. The Almighty God made it possible; Tuan Wreh became dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, Commission of Immigration and Grand Kru County Senator.
In November 1985, similar fate befell the 29-year-old Charles Gbeyon who was a brilliant news anchor at the time. The list is too numerous to mention.
Liberian Journalist Kwame Clement provided a detailed account before the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on the circumstances surrounding the death of his former colleague Charles Gbeyon who was killed in the aftermath of the failed 1985 coup invasion.
Journalist Clement and the late Charles Gbeyon were working with the state-owned Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS), when the late General Thomas Quiwonkpa and his men staged the failed invasion.
In addition, journalist Isaac Bantu who was in exile at the time reported the execution of prominent Liberians by Taylor’s NPFL, among them Gabriel Kpolleh, Jackson Doe, while others with links to the warlord through ethnic (Americo-Liberian) connections were protected. Another journalist, Jerry Wion, dwelled on Taylor’s interference in legal matters, including the arbitrary closure of Star Radio and forced eviction of residents around the presidential mansion to provide room for security.
There are several areas of interests where partisan politics is completely derelict in its responsibilities to provide oversight on many of President Weah and the CDC’s policy decisions. Eleven months into Weal’s administration, he has done more damaged to the country than it took Ellen in twelve years. This is a bad sign of what is in store for us.
Certainly, there are lots of allegations against Weah and his CDC administration; one of which is Senator Sando Johnson’s rejection of Liberia’s new Ambassador to the U.S. as “illegal” because he was not properly confirmed by Senate.
In life, one must always be prepared to take a stand. It doesn’t matter how poor you are; how many degrees you obtain or how high you climb the corporate or social ladder; life may throw a curve ball when you least expect it. In the old days, Boy Scouts of America taught young men the following motto — “Be Prepared!”
The Scout motto means that you are always ready to do what is necessary to help others. It also means you are ready, willing, and able to do what is necessary in any situation that comes along. You are also being prepared to live a full and worthwhile life, being physically fit and honorable citizen of strong character.
We live in fast-moving times. Sometimes it feels as if what we knew yesterday is relevant even the next day. Part of that comes from living in a so-called post-truth society where you cannot rely on the facts that used to anchor you even one day ago. We should be prepared to flexibly face life’s challenges — to roll with the punches.
Today’s environment requires that you stay on top of your game. It requires you to keep up with news, new information and technology. No longer is age or previous status an excuse for not being engaged with the world or the people in your family, community or social orbit.
No longer is age or prior status rationale for rude or displaying self-centered behavior. Knowing history is necessary and has its place; and not knowing history can inhibit your contributions to your community, country and the world. Keep reading! Share with others; and learn from others. That requires listening not posturing. Above all, treat others with godly love and sincere appreciation.
Today, the mass media is FREE all due to access to the Internet. Everyone with computer, smart phone has become freelance journalist, reporting anything of interest at anytime with no restriction. The groups that have problem with the way news are disseminated are those in the past that controlled the publishing of news – publishing companies, powerful elites and government officials of countries. Now that the Internet has taken away this control from them, they are trying very hard to put in place all sorts of infringements to denial citizens their “Nature Rights”, inalienable rights to written and expression of free speech.
That’s how it was in most African and developing nations; and to some extent, it still exists. Governments in power in these countries controlled the mass media. Newspapers, printing presses, radio and television stations and movies were predominantly government owned or censored. As the result, an atmosphere of phobia and apathy was created in the journalistic community and amongst those individuals who enjoy expressing their views through this avenue. Being denied this inalienable right, the people were not sincere at all in expressing their views about how they really felt about their government; but all that has changed with the ‘dot com’ age, and cell phones. The few that are still holding on to power are in denial, day dreaming or having BAD nightmares.
Until these African leaders stop being in denial and relinquish their quest for power, wealth and abandon their divine rule of the chief concept, there is little hope for them; and until they are politically matured to accept defeat in elections and criticisms from opposition without personal vendetta, there is little chance for them to be relevant.
Those of us the Grace of GOD has allowed to see 2019 must be thankful to be alive in order to continue the struggle for ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Human Rights’ for the greater good of humanity. Especially, those of us from Africa, Liberia, must re-new our commitment to engage our elected officials to work in the interest of the Liberian people, and to expose those who for selfish and ulterior motives will sing “for nothing praises” and flatters our elected and appointed leaders.
Whatever your position on these issues, I honestly believe debating them is healthy. It is the way to find working solutions to these enormous problems we are facing today. All of us cannot agree on every issue. However, in order to arrive at answers to our problems, we must tolerate disagreements instead of seeing those that opposed government’s policies as being against the leader or the administration; and then resort to rain insults on the individual or group. This practice is not only unhealthy, it is undemocratic, and it retards the progress of our country.
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 Liberian Constitution, which is grossly misinterpreted, 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.
I congratulatethe Press Union of Liberia (PUA), and especially, the Association of Liberian Journalists (ALJA) in the Diaspora which is headed by Moses D. Sandy for its position against CDC government’s threats towards the Liberian Media. To say nothing about the attacks on members of the press has the propensity to violate the fundamental rights of ordinary people. Excesses of the past which have undermined democratic values and practices must not be allowed to be repeated. The move by both the PUL and ALJA 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 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 if 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)
In short, pressure should be brought on the Government from the Diaspora, Liberians at home and the international community to expose and bring to justice those involved in broad day stealing of the Liberian people’s money. None of them should get away with any of it! Remember “Not knowing the truth doesn’t make you ignorant; not wanting to know the truth is what makes you ignorant”.
Gwei feh kpeh!
The time of the people has come!