By Jerry Wehtee Wion
The Liberian elections on October 11, 2005, are not about who is the best “qualified” candidate to lead Africa’s oldest republic. Neither are they about which candidate has the highest level of education.
For if those were the deciding factors (outside the constitutional requirements for the presidency), then why would GEORGE MANNEH WEAH, equipped only with a high school education loom so high above the rest and be regarded as the favorite to win the presidency over a number of candidates, some with doctorate degrees?
It means that leadership must be part of a person intrinsic character because it transcends mere academic disciplines.
The people of Liberia have a feel for a good leadership when they are given an opportunity to choose freely. And this is my best attempt at explaining the Weah Phenomenon.
We must not romanticize the tragic history of Liberia. For over 150 years, Liberia was Africa’s other Apartheid in addition to South Africa, blindly hidden under the cloak of a so-called imported culture from America that resulted in a minority black-on-black domination of the African majority population of Liberia.
In South Africa, it was the white minority that suppressed the black majority. And in Liberia, an even tinier black minority (5%) of the Americo-Liberian/Congua stock kept the black tribal majority (95%) down for more than a century.
This was so obvious that nearly everything written about Liberia’s history began with a sentence or two talking about the grips of the minority over the majority Africans of Liberia.
Again, given an opportunity to choose freely, tribal Liberians will not shun their roots or bedazzled with fancy resumes to make counter-intuitive choices. And the people are speaking loudly: Weah is more than a leader; he is an inspiration.
A dynasty is ending and perhaps a new paradigm and political dispensation are emerging.
A handful of freed black slaves from the United States of America who settled in modern day Liberia around 1822 have had their turn at fully planting the seeds of a genuine democratic experiment and fully participating in its growth and expansion, not only on Liberia but Africa as a whole.
The freed slaves had a century and a half in realizing at least a portion of their expectations in building Africa’s first true democracy.
Had the new settlers lived up their promise of a democratic Liberia, perhaps Africa’s long years of colonial subjugation may have been abbreviated. And so we turn the page in this election.
It is therefore ironic that those who held the reins of political power for over a century and neglected to make education a priority but instead spoon-fed natives with some “Bantu-like education” are today making illiteracy an election issue.
It was not a historical accident that the settlers from America who refused to adopt any African labels, built only one public college, The University of Liberia that they ran with an iron-hand and controlled dissent and the student population never exceeded three thousand students in any given academic year.
Indeed, the Liberian “Bantu Education” system was conically crafted to deny African Liberians the right to education in order to keep us at the bottom of the political and economic ladder.
And the policy worked for some African Liberians who had to drop their African last names to try to “fit in.”
Equally so as it was in Apartheid South Africa, lack of resistance can breed worse things than mere subjugation with many natives working for the settlers in enforcing the rigidity of the regime.
We must all, therefore, share in the blame of not helping true democracy take riots soon enough in Liberia. Because many in the majority are complacent in our own repression.
We waited too long to complain, and longer still to take action. Therefore the control by the settlers over the natives did not end with mere suppression. It was also psychological.
As recently as the 1930s, President Charles D.B. King and the former slaves sold thousands of native Liberians as slaves to the Spanish Enclave of Fernando Po and Sao Tome & Principe, auctioning off natives for $20.00 per head as a cattle rancher would auction off his cattle in the name of democracy and Christianity. And then they settlers were out Sundays for a church to thank God for their new homeland.
In the old “democratic” Liberia and as recent as the 1970s, natives were so degraded to a point where a teenage Americo-Liberian/Congua Would refer to an adult native house servant old enough to be the kid’s father as a “boy.”
The lingering effects of the more than 150 years of brainwashing that natives endured at the hands if the ruling settler class are still evident today in Liberia.
Most natives don’t see any good in any native regardless of how much educated that native is. And there for some tribal people had acquired Western names to escape (albeit temporarily) the discrimination of the Congua in sharing opportunities for self-improvement.
The advantages that were accrued to the Americos in the beginning of our nationhood are built right into the field of candidates contesting this year’s elections. Take a look.
How many native candidates are ranked among the top five of the 22 presidential candidates?
Apart from George Manneh Weah, the other “leading candidates” are a: Johnson (Ellen), a Brumskine (Charles), two Tubmans (William and Robert) and a Sherman (Varney).
Ironically, none of the top five holds a doctorate degree, whereas there are some natives with doctorate degrees–a Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh and a Dr. George Klay Kieh but both are not ranked at all in the top tier in the race.
Why? Because the old motion that no native is hood enough to be president has seeped into the psyche or mindset of most natives after more than 100 years of saying “yes sir” and ” yes ma” to the settlers.
Doesn’t it bother anyone that for over 100 years in so-called democratic Liberia up to 1980 there was one political party, The True Whig Party (TWP) solely for and by the settlers? And that from 1847 to 1980, all the presidents came from among the settlers?
Liberia’s longest-serving dictator/president, William VS Tubman (1944-1971), when asked in an interview in America during a visit why the two-party didn’t work in Liberia, the, said: “The two-party system doesn’t work in Liberia only when the people are not happy/satisfied. But when they are satisfied, they don’t bother,” he noted.
Tubman went on: “in the last two elections I didn’t have any opposition. In the first two elections, I had opposition. There is nothing to prohibit it [opposition]. The law is there…but we are not going to hand the darn thing to you. You have got to fight for it, “Tubman said.
We finally fought for it at the cost of 250,000 lives. But Weah will not kill to get it. NOPE!
To maintain their grip on power, the Americo-Liberians/Congua will go to any extreme even if it means killing one of their own who realizes the need for accommodating the majority elements of our population.
Such was the fate of David Coleman who never lived to tell his story. Tubman and the True Whig Party killed both Coleman and his dream for an opposition to Tubman.
The natives who had the same political craving for a multi-party system as Coleman were marginalized or driven into exile. Such were the fate of Juah Nimley, Dio Tweh, Henry Boima Fahnbulleh Sr and Jr., Tuan Wreh, Togba-Nah, Jackson F. Doe, Gabriel Baccus Matthews and others.
The riot if Liberia’s ever rooming and lingering crisis lies in the fact that a minority segment of our population blindly considers it as having being endowed with divine authority and therefore is heavenly anointed to always govern the silent tribal majority.
Anything that was against the settlers’ dogma [belief] in their false sense of supremacy over the natives was ruthlessly destroyed.
But we all have realized the power of education in the fight for social and political justice in Liberia. This is why Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has put education on her menu. But anyone who orders from that menu by voting for her will be in for a rude awakening.
The mere fact that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has publicly and openly confessed to raising $10,000.00 to buy guns for Charles Taylor-led rebel civil war that killed 250,000 Liberians is sufficient reason to disqualify her on moral grounds alone.
No one is asking what if Charles Taylor implicates Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in any future war crimes trial for her role in the civil war?
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf urged Taylor to “level Monrovia” or “level the Executive Mansion” and Taylor complied at the cost of 250,000 lives. That in itself causes enough for Ellen to face a war crimes tribunal.
Had George Weah given $10,000.00 from the millions of dollars he earned playing professional football/soccer to any of the rebel fractions to “level Monrovia,” the Americos and their native lackeys would have made that the campaign issue and not about Weah’s education or the lack thereof.
Yes indeed, times have changed in Liberia. Never would have Ellen Johnson Sirleaf abandoned the True Whig Party in its glory days to join a party formed by natives Jackson F. Doe, Edward Beyan Kesselly and Henry Boima Fahnbulleh Sr.
Ellen is now being praised and having served as a former Finance Minister but it all happened in the heydays of the corrupt and hegemonic True Whig Party.
The True Whig Party is not banned from this election but because Ellen does not want to take a chance on a sinking boat, due to changes political where it suits her interests and not for any ideological and political convictions.
Thus, a victory for Sirleaf and a return to the status quo. The old True Whig Party guards would come out of their political foxholes were they have been hibernating since 1980 for a new hunting season in what Ellen calls a “restoration” of the old order/TWP.
This is why Interim Head of State Gyude Bryant wanted the National Elections Commission (NEC) to “stop this boy” Weah at all cost.
But fearing a return to violence, the NEC came up with the flimsy allegation that George Manneh Weah, a natural born native from Liberia’s southeastern Kru/ Klao tribe in Grand Kru County is a French citizen and not a Liberian. How ridiculous!
Therefore the Tuesday elections represent a break away from Liberia’s ugly past in the context of the country’s long history of suppressing and marginalizing the true sons of the soil.
Liberia has been riding on a pseudo sense of democracy since 1847. Hence, a George Manneh Weah presidency would end a century of minority rule and domination and “Mark the Beginning of Rule in Liberia.” So let the message go forward and the truth is told and the truth hurts.
Copyrighted: October 5, 2005, By Jerry Wehtee Wion, Liberian African News Service, LANS, Washington, DC, USA
Editor’s Notes: This article was first published in 2005 by the author when President-elect ran for the Liberian presidency in the 2005 presidential election.