Monrovia, Liberia – more than 14 years after Taylor’s removal
TO: D. Elwood Dunn
FROM: Siahyonkron Nyanseor
SUBJ.: Liberians Uniting & Becoming One People
DATE: July 26, 2015
I am very sorry for not responding to you in a timely manner. I would have done it sooner but there were too many activities at church and in the community in which I was involved that prevented me. However, I am prepared to address the concern you raised in your e-mail about “Liberians uniting and becoming one people”. I must be frank with you; our generation had the opportunity to have achieved unity but failed miserably; especially, during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency.
My friend, there are many in and outside Liberia that are honestly calling for us to unite and to become one people; but the fact of the matter is, they fail to look at the harsh reality of the problem that brought about the disunity – the relationship between the Settlers and the indigenous people. Our country has been in existence for over 168 years; the problem that is responsible for the disunity still exists – but at a different level. The question then is, given that the division (mindset) still exists, “Can we truly become “One Nation, indivisible, under God” when the FALSE START that is responsible continues in deeds, words, attitude, and behavior? Moreover, how can we truly unite when the system that divides us made ONLY cosmetic changes and the descendants of the Settlers and their wards believe it is their ‘Divine Rights’ to leadership and the wealth of our nation?
Brother Dunn, you and many of us have spoken and written (diagnosed the illness) about the problem; yet, our leaders (elites) are not serious enough to find a solution (cure) to the problem. Instead, our generation – the most educated, experienced in world affairs, technology, communication that is capable of finding the solution to our disunity fail to do so.
This reminds me of the warning the late Albert Porte made to us. It reads:
Liberia will always be looked down upon and despised by other nations and peoples unless as a people, we are courageous enough to cry loudly against existing evils, and our leaders are tolerant 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.
Even Frantz Fanon made a similar remark in his widely read book titled: The Wretched of the Earth. “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it…” We have done exactly that, betrayed our mission.
How did we let our dream for a society with equal opportunities, equality before the law, equal access to public services – irrespective of class, creed and political orientation evade us? We let our yearning for unity and peaceful change to be hijacked by our visionless and unpatriotic leaders. The blame lies with the past and present leadership. It is this group that has refused to pay heed to the inevitability of change and the reality of history.
Change as you know my compatriot is a necessary and inevitable part of life without which progress is impossible. Life without it would, after all, stand still. It is the only thing that remains constant in the world, yet, leaders and empires are ruined in the process to have it STOP. Change forces us to come out of our comfort zones. Change is not a respecter of persons! Change does not have an adjustment period. It can be uncomfortable for those who oppose it. The fact of the matter is the outcome of change cannot be controlled by even the most powerful army or leaders.
Change doesn’t believe in statements like, ‘Just hang in there’ or ‘be patient, it will get better in the future’; instead, it refuses to grow in retreat, and would rather endure until it achieves the ultimate end. It is measured by the impact it has on all who are connected to it; it takes hold of individuals or group that are dissatisfied with things as usual; which in the process may seem as a waste of time and effort to those who do not believe in it or are not willing to be a part of it. Believe me, change is the power invested in the unseen to reinvent what is seen because it is the only thing that is constant under this sun. More important, it has a rippling effect on those who won’t let it happen.
Brother Dunn, change involves a complete paradigm shift! To achieve change requires moving away from one’s comfort zone or the old way of behaving or doing things. 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 who seek change as ‘boat rockers’ and ‘troublemakers’ at best. And 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 is no exception.
My dear friend and brother, reconciliation is good, but repentance for doing wrong to others is better. Let’s be mindful that history serves as a constant reminder of a people’s past and present events; without first finding some resolutions to our national vexed palaver: INJUSTICE and INEQUALITY will not be able to achieve UNITY. Therefore, as a point of departure, we can learn a lesson or two from President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s speech that he made to the graduating class of Howard University on June 4, 1965. He said:
You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘now you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair. This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity – not just legal equity but human ability – not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.
For Liberians to reconcile and unite as one nation and people, we must honestly face the truth and address our problem as President Johnson did with Civil Rights legislation.
My friend, Liberia’s history has been marred with so many negative vices such as segregation, deprivation, corruption, bad governance, lack of patriotism, lack of love for each other, among other things, which have made national development, prosperity and a united nation with a unified front and agenda elusive, says Ambassador Charles Alexander Minor in his July 26 message. He indicated that Liberians need to realize how backward the country has been thrown because of the exhibition of these negative experiences and must begin to exhibit and prioritize national unity, tolerance, love for country and commitment to the Liberian agenda.
Yet, many Liberians and outsiders have argued that Liberia was a “peaceful country” prior to the 1980 coup and that the military and political conflicts in Liberia were a direct consequence of the 1980 coup. The proponents of the “peaceful country” myth failed to speak the truth. The fact of the matter is members of the minority ruling class and their offspring had no reasons to think that Liberia was anything but peaceful, since they operated above the laws of the land; pacified the majority through draconian punishments and totalitarian rule, and dominated social, economic, cultural, and political opportunities in the country. Secondly, the waves of opposition political parties, human rights groups, and armed resistance, and other challenges against sitting governments were not possible under the totalitarian rule of the minority. Therefore, in aggregate terms, the minority ruling class and their supporters had every right to clinch to the notion of a “peaceful country” prior to 1980 since they lived in “relative peace,” with no organized opposition to challenge their misrule.
Suffice it to say that there have been numerous tomes written about the founding of the Republic of Liberia, the LAND for freed people of color from abroad without taking into consideration, the original inhabitants, whom the “LOVE OF LIBERTY”, happens to have met on the current Liberian soil. This very fact and the treatment of the original inhabitants of the landmass now called “Liberia” is one of the contributing factors that led to Liberia’s present problem of disunity. And not to see the problem as an extension of our past mistakes is to suffer from historical amnesia.
My compatriot, there needs to be a deconstruction of the myth of the “peace” Liberians were supposed to have enjoyed in the past prior to Doe and Taylor’s administrations. The problem(s) we are faced with today, did not start with Doe or Taylor as some abroad and in Liberia would have us believe. To suggest that Liberia was once a “Sweet” and “peaceful country” negates the fact that it was kept “peaceful” and “sweet” for members of the minority ruling class at the expense of the majority – the original inhabitants and the poor in general. These were people generally looked down upon as domestic servants, and denied the opportunity to win the then coveted title of “Honorable”, which became the title of choice or rite of passage for leadership positions and to benefit from the country’s vast resources for personal use.
This fact has been established despite denials by both Liberian and Liberianist historical revisionists who, in their preoccupation with the Protestant Christians’ benevolence and paternalistic approach to the Liberian experiment, overlooked the mismanagement of the country’s resources, and the exploitation, abuse, and human rights violations perpetrated by the minority leaders of our country. As such, most Liberians continued to behave like the mythical Sisyphus—–perpetually rolling the stone to the top of the hill only to have it tumble down upon their heads, over and over—refusing to face up to the wrong beginning of our country and relying on the United States to fix things for us. This suggests the concept of “Dual Consciousness.”
Martinique born Frantz Fanon, a French resistance fighter, and psychiatrist, first introduced the concept of Dual Consciousness back in 1900, after he came face-to-face with his own assimilationist illusions or the harsh reality of racism in France after the war. Fanon had left his native Martinique to join the African resistance movement against France. But while growing up in Martinique, he had hoped of becoming a citizen of France because that’s what the people in his town were taught to do. However, he encountered varying degrees of racism, which shattered his desire to become a citizen of France. Out of this experience came his first book, Black Skin, White Mask (1952), originally titled “An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks.” In this book, Fanon defined the colonial relationship as the psychological non-recognition of the subjectivity of the colonized.
This “psychological non-recognition of the subjectivity of the colonized” has always been a part of the Liberian experience – for that matter, the enslaved and colonized experience. It was an accepted norm that European behaviors and beliefs were superior to other races, particularly, people of African descent. This belief has long confused enslaved blacks as well as most people that were colonized by European imperialist powers. One may have heard the phrase – “When you are black, you have to be twice as good as white to get certain jobs,” or “when you are black, and you will have to speak certain way (‘proper’) to make it in the corporate world.”
This Dual Consciousness is what plagued the Settlers whose aims were to return to their ancestral land, yet wanted to maintain the identity of their former “masters.” Those who are afflicted with Dual Consciousness behaved according to the standards established by the culture of their former masters or colonizers, which served as an impediment to their own culture, custom, and tradition. The same is true with African Liberians reared by Settler’s family. These people behaved in such a way that can best be described as “trees without roots” or “individuals who run from their own shadows.” In other words, they prefer to speak, dress, walk and eat like those they imitate. And whenever they are out of line – so to speak, they are reminded to behave “correctly” – meaning like Europeans. Such people lack the “true knowledge” of their own history; therefore, they are like trees without roots.
Once I read an article by Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King, published on October 14, 2000, titled “The Pinky Doctrine,” in which Mr. King noted:
For those too young to remember, “Pinky” was the 1949 film about a black girl, played by actress Jeanne Crain, who could pass for white. For many years following the movie’s release, a line in the film seemed to get quoted without fail at every black dining table and in black barber shops and beauty parlors across the country whenever talk turned to race.
In “Pinky,” a black character, angrily commenting on the state of race relations at the time, told one of his friends that in America: “If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, git back!”
In Liberia, we have similar practice – the “Settlers’ Doctrine”, which is interpreted as – “If you are a member of their group (Settlers), you are destined for leadership and have the RIGHT to RULE, and if you are an immigrant from the Caribbean or another African country, you are entitled to similar privileges, but if you are of indigenous background, “no way, you can forget it, no leadership roles for you and your descendants.”
Therefore, let’s face it; let’s be real for once! The “America” many Liberians once boasted of originating from doesn’t even recognize them. No special privilege for members and former members of the Liberian ruling class, or persons regarded as members of the Liberian lower class here. Everyone is equal in “America”; so, to speak. Let’s face reality, and begin to channel all our energies to resolve this age-old problem of our once not so “freed” – beloved country. I believe the first step to genuine peace and stability in our country is to ask the Almighty God/Allah for the forgiveness of our past and present SINS. We must then accept that we are in this together, as one people, with diverse cultures – Settlers, Mandingoes, Bassas, Klaus (Krus) Krahns, Dans, Mas, etc., who have continued to suffer the mistakes and effects of the “Settlers’ Doctrine” of Christianizing and civilizing “Country People.” At the same, we need to forgo the myth that Liberia was a “peaceful country” before 1980 if we desire unity. Liberia was peaceful for members of the ruling class and their children, but it was HELL on earth for the majority – aborigines and their children. Besides, the 1980 coup and the 1990 and 1999 invasions of Liberia cannot realistically be put in the same category. One action was confined to a few leadership targets, while the others extended beyond a few leadership targets to the summary executions of most national leaders and private citizens, and the destructions of national institutions, and private and public properties. Of course, none of the course of action is justifiable. Too many innocent people were killed and lives shattered for good. Therefore, we must evaluate the facts in their proper perspectives so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past; in this way, we can start the healing process that will eventually lead to national unity. That’s the way forward!
The Way Forward
To do nothing about the injustices in our country and hoping that the problems will eventually vanish, to me, is wishful thinking. “Affirmative Reconciliation” is the way forward.
As a progressive liberal, I believe in Senator Al Frankel’s statement:
When liberals look back on history, we see things we’re very proud of. And we also see some things, which might have seemed like good ideas at the time, but turned out to be mistaken. And some things we did, well, they were just bad. That doesn’t keep us from loving our country—it’s part of loving our country. It’s called honesty. What do you think is more important to a loving relationship: honesty or lies?
Unfortunately, Senator Frankel’s assertion does not reflect the frame of mind of most Liberians! In my opinion, most Liberians see those that say what’s on their minds regardless of the consequences as troublemakers. Their thinking is strikingly like that of the religious Jewish leaders who put Jesus Christ to death. To the Jewish leaders, Jesus was a mere “TROUBLE MAKER” for speaking the truth about the behavior of the political and church leaders of the day.
As you are aware, in our beloved country, Liberia, critics are for the most part derided as enemies. That is the main reason Liberians rarely discusses issues amicably. Most often, compatriots who disagree with us tend to resort to name calling–spewing here and there unrelated issues that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. That is how they participate in national discourse—at home and in the Diaspora. They make excuses for wrongs of friends and relatives who happen to be in power, blame those of us who have the guts to raise concerns about vexed issues of national interest.
In other words, Liberians put selfish interests over the common good of the masses. Their support for politicians is for the most part based on favors and what they can get from them—not on principles. That is the reason most elected officials in Liberia grossly violate the public trust. To get the support of a Liberian, simply give him some handouts—a job that he isn’t qualified for, ill-gotten ‘brown envelopes’ in the corner or at night. He does not care where these handouts come from! If they keep coming to him, his family, friends and relatives, there is no empathy for the rest of the people.
An average Liberian who enjoys favors from a government is not only indifferent to the plight of ordinary Liberians, but he is also dead scared to engage the government—even constructively. In his selfishness, a constructive engagement with the Government might get him out of favor. He rather let these government officials go on misusing the people’s wealth and resources with impunity. He is, therefore, a cheerleader and supporter of these corrupt officials. He will go to any length to make ridiculous excuses for their corrupt practices.
In addition, some of our countrymen and women running for public office— the Liberian presidency, the nation’s highest public office, have chosen to play on the basal instincts of the Liberian populace by not lifting the discourse or national conversation on unity and reconciliation. It has been reported that one presidential candidate has called for the restoration of the “Masonic Craft”, and averring further that this institution must produce the next president of Liberia. As you are aware, this institution is associated with the ‘dark corners’ of our history and is a relic of the past that should not be restored in any shape or form. While others have called for the creation of an indigenous hegemony which occupies the same dark space as the former; it is unfortunate that there has been no robust condemnation of these negative statements. Sometimes I wonder where the enlightened Liberian intelligentsias on the issue like this one is. Why the silences from enlightened quarters? Yes, there has been some chatter about this, including some debates among Liberians on the web pages, but the impact has been less effective. Again, this is where I believe our generation has failed.
Brother Dunn, I honestly believe “Affirmative Reconciliation” is the way forward. Affirmative Reconciliation is a concept I derived from President Johnson’s “Affirmative Action” Policy in which he asserted that civil rights laws alone were not enough to remedy discrimination.
The focus of my Affirmative Reconciliation (AR) is to eradicate the mindset of the popular “Mind your business” or “Your leave the people’s thing alone” that as a youth and young adults we were advised not to get involve in pregnant issues in our society. Had we gotten involved at an early age to participate, I believe we would have helped to educate our people ‘correctly’ regarding what was wrong in our country and how it could be resolved amicably, and we could have prevented some of the problems we are faced with today. Since that did not happen, we are far from being united as a people of one nation.
In this case, our first act of business should be to honestly repent, asks the Almighty God/Allah for forgiveness for our past and present SINS, and seeks atonement. Secondly, put on our thinking hats for the sake of our beloved country; accept the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, rather than discredit it – without giving it any consideration. In addition, we must learn from our recent tragic history and the current writings on the wall in 2015.
Finally, to buttress my point we can learn from McKenzie Doe’s e-mail to Patrick dated Thursday, July 9, 2009, in which he sums up the Liberian problem:
My brother, it doesn’t matter how you look at the situation in Liberia, there will be no peace without justice. If we shelf the problem now it will rare its ugly head soon and we will be stuck in a vicious circle. We need to take the tough decisions now and somebody must answer for the carnage that took place during the conflict in Liberia.
The sooner the TRC recommendations are implemented the better. Trust me, it will become very embarrassing and scary when the international community begins to add its voice to those calling for the full implementation of the recommendations.
Lastly, Sylvester Moses recommends that Liberian leaders must “Lead by example; fight poverty, fight mass literacy, restrain corruption, show integrity, accelerate electrification, ensure safe drinking water, and improve health delivery. They should surely serve as apt peace offerings for reconciliation, and unity”.
Happy Independence Day! My 26 on you!
A Patriotic Liberian