By Elder Siahyonkron J. K. Nyanseor, Sr.
When a political party becomes exclusively controlled by the President and his partisan gatekeepers and friends, it spells disaster. Like previous presidents before Weah, he too is taking control of the party as his personal property. This practice is not new in Liberian politics. Those of us who were teenagers in the 60s experienced such an ugly history. During this period, our parents and relatives used to advise us to “Leave the people’s thing alone,” meaning we should mind our business and not get involved in politics – or express our views about what was going on in the society. It was during the administration of President William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman and his True Whig Party (TWP). He then owned and controlled the party. Subsequent administrations followed this practice.
CDC – The President’s Personal Party
Opposition leaders and citizens are in serious trouble when a ruling political party becomes the exclusive official mouthpiece of the president. It is highly dangerous because the president will have the power to engage in practices that are detrimental to the progress of the country. For example the president can do whatever he/she pleases like violating the Constitution and the laws of the land without being answerable to any governmental institution.
This exclusive power grasp got started when President JJ Roberts and his supporters connived to get rid of President EJ Roye, based on false charges that he embezzled the Liberian government’s funds. Historians later wrote that it was a conspiracy led by JJ Roberts and his followers to remove the dark-skinned Roye from the presidency, which he JJ Roberts the light-skinned (mulatto) inherited. Immediately, in December 1871, the Legislature by a “Joint Convention” elected former president JJ Roberts to succeed Roye’s vice president James S. Smith after he completed Roye’s term.
The problem of skin tone – light-skinned / mullato vs. ebony black plagued the Americo-Liberian settlers. The issue of skin color came from the antebellum south plantation culture based on an elite master class arrangement. This practice was carried over to their new colony – Liberia.
The Beginning of Suspending the ‘Writ of Habeas Corpus’
I believe the exclusive ownership of ruling party in Liberia began with President Edwin J. Barclay and President William V. S. Tubman perfected it — got the most out of practice. “The Open Door” and “Unification Policy” were his master plans to exploit the indigenous population and the international community with the ultimate goal of reaping the benefit for himself and his followers. Growth without development is a classic example!
Tubman instituted the Public Relations Officers’ (PRO) scheme along with The Open Door and Unification Policy. You may want to know the meaning of PRO or who exactly is a PRO? First of all, it was wrongly named — Public Relations Officers, which the Liberian people correctly named – PEOPLE REPORTING OTHERS. These so-called PRO officers performed the duties of what Liberians referred to as “busybody” or “besah.” These were individuals whose preoccupation was to tell lies or “tote” (carry) news on perceived enemies of the president or individuals with whom the president or his officials have or have had issues with.
PRO was similar to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Committee of the 1950s. In his effort to investigate Communists and their sympathizers, Senator McCarthy’s Committee denied witnesses their constitutional rights by forcing them to testify against themselves. Individuals falsely accused, and lies fabricated against witnesses; their reputations destroyed and their livelihoods were jeopardized. Eventually, the Americans found McCarthy out and expelled him from the Senate.
President Tubman, on the other hand, received praises for his policies. One such praise was:
“President Tubman turned this country around. We tribesmen can now mix up with the civilized people freely, and nobody is looking down on us. We can now eat at the same table, shake hands and dance with the civilized men and women. God will bless him to live long. We want you to be President until you die”. (Area Handbook for Liberia, 1972, p. 196) President Tubman did just that – he died in office after 27 years in power.
The Origin of Vagrancy and Pass System in Africa
Historian Eric Foner wrote, “In the spring and early summer of 1865, military commanders issue stringent orders to stem the influx of freemen into Southern cities. Military regulations forbade blacks to travel without passes from their employers or be on the streets at night and prohibited “insubordination” on their part. …A group of Memphis free blacks condemned the rounding up of “vagrants” for plantation labor.” (Eric Foner (1990) A Short History of Reconstruction, p. 69)
The vagrancy and pass system that President Tubman’s administration and the Apartheid government of South Africa implemented originated in the southern states of America. It started in 1865 during Reconstruction. It was a period when blacks were no longer slaves, and the Freedmen’s Bureau was established to assure their independence as well as protect their labor. But southern plantation owners, who were not used to this new arrangement, used the military that was supposed to protect free blacks from abuse by their former masters, supported the plantation owners instead. This practice was carried over to Liberia.
The notorious Belle Yalla prison was built by President Edwin J. Barclay but was utilized by President Tubman to suppress and control the indigenous population and progressive Americo-Liberians. An individual was sent to the Belle Yalla prison for alleged crimes like vagrancy, making trouble, showing disrespect for the president and officials of government; or disagreed with the president’s policy, newspaper articles critical of the president’s policies, etc. The president’s supporter’s common response to citizens’ criticisms is: “Much to do about nothing!”
President Tubman had the Constitution amended to grant himself Emergency Power to do whatever he wished. The United States that Liberian political system is mostly based on gave certain powers to the president to act in emergencies. Though such “emergency power” is not specifically expressed in the Constitution, the Executive Branch is designed to be able to act quickly in times of war or national emergency. Because emergency power is not specifically stated in the Constitution, its scope is somewhat limited, typically extending only to situations that compromise or threaten the safety or well-being of the public. However, Tubman’s Emergency Power was UNLIMITED; he could declare any of his political opponents ‘enemy of the state’ and have the person jailed for an unspecific amount of time.
Edwin J. Barclay who started the notorious Belle Yalla, was one of the victims of Tubman’s Gestapo tactics. The others were S. David Coleman, Paul Dunbar, S. Raymond Horace, Nete-Sie Brownell; J. Gbaflen Davies, Booker T. Bracewell, Thomas Nimene Botoe, S. Othello Coleman, etc. Later on in the 1960s, former Army Chief of Staff, General George Toe Washington, a law student named Frederick Gibson, Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr., Albert Porte and scores of others were the new victims.
Besides Death, Tuan Wreh Got the Worse Humiliation
Tuan Wreh, the assistant editor of The Independent, news organ of former President Edwin Barclay’s Independent True Whig Party (ITWP) of Liberia, got the worse humiliation. The inhumane treatment he received got him to go almost mad. The paper’s editor-in-chief, an American-born but naturalized Liberian Bertha Corbin was deported back to America for publishing Tuan Wreh’s article critical of Tubman on the front page of the paper. Other victims of presidential overreach also included Liberian Age editor Stanton B. Peabody (deceased); he was jailed in June 1964 for publishing article critical of Tubman. The list of media personalities who have been affected since includes but not limited is Charles Gbeyon (deceased), Tom Kamara (deceased), Tarty Teh (deceased), Tiawan Saye Gongloe, Rodney D. Sieh, Henry Costa, etc.
Tuan Wreh who had gained prominence in the 1955s was sentenced by the legislature to six months of imprisonment for legislative contempt and punished by making him to collect the feces of other inmates with his bare hands, mash them with his bare hands and made to walk in the streets of Monrovia naked, with his face splattered with feces for writing an article with the title, “Inside Politics: Why you should not vote for Tubman” in The Independent, a newspaper owned by the Independent True Whig Party in 1955. (Rodney D. Sieh,February 26, 2016)
This culture of intimidation and atrocities include closures of newspapers’ offices, arsons and routine “disappearances” of journalists and opposition leaders happened during Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Taylor and Sirleaf’s administrations. Scores of individuals were accused, charged, some imprisoned for treason, sedition charges that were never proven.
President William R. Tolbert, Jr. was Caught Between a Rock and Hard Place
After the death of President Tubman, VP Tolbert inherited Tubman’s government whose Foreign policy was pro-West. Immediately, he abandoned it and adopted one that focused on promoting Liberia’s political independence. To this end, he established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, Cuba, and several other Eastern Bloc countries, thus adopting a more nonaligned posture. As a result, he got Caught Between a Rock and Hard Place, which had him facing two equally unpleasant, dangerous, or risky alternatives, where the avoidance of one ensures encountering the harm of the other.
Tolbert was accommodating to the Baby-boomers who wanted measurable results. On the other hand, the Old Guards of the Grand True Whig Party (TWP) wanted things to remain the same; and they were determined to fight him at all cause.
Tolbert went on to initiate his policies of “From Mat to Mattress,” “Total Involvement,” “Rally Time,” and “Precious Jewel” then hell brook lose. The Baby-boomers got involved; but when Tolbert’s economic policies and cabinet appointments were dominated by nepotism; the popularity he once enjoyed turned into opposition; this led to the famous April 14, 1989 Rice ‘Riot’ (“Massacre”), which brought about the overthrow of the Grand Old True Whig Party government on April 12, 1980 by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC).
Samuel K. Doe’s Unlimited Use of Power
On July 21, 1984, Head of State Samuel K. Doe implemented Decree 88A, which gave security forces the power to “arrest and detain any person found spreading rumors, lies, and misinformation against any government official or individual either by mouth, writing or by public broadcast.” Doe wielded Decree 88A like the hammer of the gods bludgeoning his opponents into submission during the run-up to the 1985 election.
Editors and others considered Mr. Doe’s ‘political enemies’ were harassed or worse, and newspapers were shut down, or their facilities burned to the ground. Drs. Amos C. Sawyer, Togba Nah Tipoteh, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Tom Kamara, Tarty Teh, etc. were some of his victims. After that, the worst incident of ethnic violence in Liberia’s recent history occurred after the 1985 election scattering Doe’s political opposition and frightening Liberians into submission.
Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor’s Unlimited Use of Power
The Taylor administration imposed a ‘State of Emergency’ in response to rebel advances on the capital. Monrovia journalists and the independent media in Liberia became victims of incessant acts of intimidation and assault. The government used those State of Emergency powers to impose restrictions on the reporting of human rights abuses and other excesses committed by State Security officers. Those who dared to go beyond the government’s version of information were routinely picked up by security agents. It is recalled that when the Analyst newspaper published the text of a speech made by human rights lawyer Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe about democracy and peace in the Mano River Union, the government used the state of emergency laws to shut down the paper. The media was further instructed not to report on Cllr. Gongloe’s incarceration and torture by State Security agents.
At that time, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) expressed concern about the fate of media practitioners in Liberia and urged the government of President Taylor to stop the serial abuse of media freedom and human rights in the country. The MFWA appealed to Liberians to protest the illegal detention of Mr. Mondaye as well as the distressing state of media freedom, freedom of expression and human rights under the government of Mr. Taylor. (http://www.mfwa.org/liberia-alert-journalist-arrested/)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Unlimited Use of Power
Under Sirleaf, a six-man jury rendered 13 men guilty of the crime of being mercenaries. It was in 2014! The decision was reached after more than four hours of arguments between the prosecution and defense counsels. Six of the nine-member jury overwhelmingly came down with a verdict that the 13 men were guilty.
Another 19 defendants initially were indicted by Criminal Court ‘D.’ Five were set free for lack of evidence while one was allowed to post bail before trial.
Upon conviction, many Liberians called on the government to pardon them, including Maryland County District #2 Representative Bhofal Chambers. The lawmaker, on several occasions, had called on the president to grant the convicts clemency.
During the trial, Chambers’ supporters thought that it was a political ‘witch hunt’ against the Krahn group which was the ethnicity of former President Samuel Doe who Ellen Sirleaf disregarded as unfit to be Head of State. (https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/ellen-pardons-4-grand-gedeh-convicts/)
Upon the shocking death of the former Managing Director of Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LRPC) Harry A. Greaves, Jr. whose remains were found on a local beach in Monrovia; Mr. Simeon Freeman, leader of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) held a press conference during which he said, he had “received information that the government had a list of politicians in the opposition bloc to be executed by special hired men”. Due to Mr. Freemen’s statement, the Sirleaf government described him as ‘enemy of the state’ and was considered threat to national security. As a result, Mr. Freeman fled the country and went into self-imposed exile.
These are a few examples of the plight of the Liberian masses under the rule of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her Unity Party (UP) government.
Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will… The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” The Liberian masses were prepared and determined not concede under Sirleaf or any other government.
The question that bothers me is why African leaders do not learn from history? It was not too long ago when the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) government of Samuel Kanyon Doe implemented Decree 88A that banned all student political activities, and anybody from criticizing the ruling military council in regards to how the country was being run by the PRC. Now Weah & CDC are copying similar BAD practices of the past that will eventually render them unpopular with the Liberian people. Why can’t they learn? This reminds me of the African proverb that says, “It is only a foolish fly that follows a corpse into the grave.” It is exactly what awaits them if they continue.
CDC is becoming Weah’s party
Weah has become to use the unlimited powers of his predecessors to run and control the CDC as his personal party. It led one political commentator to say, “The Weah Pro-Poor CDC government is continuing this undemocratic Liberian political culture of using unlimited presidential power.” The following examples are very alarming:
- The Press accused as “the enemy of the State.”
- Unseat a Supreme Court Justice for voting against Weah’s interest
- Unqualified persons serving inWeah’s Administration
- Weah’s Refusal to make public his declared assets as required by law
- Monrovia is swamped with garbage, and the City Mayor is not being held responsible
- Government services are poorly provided
- Perhaps Health Care is not made a priority because government official and their families have the means to go abroad for medical treatments
- Government policies and employees are more responsive to partisanship and friendship than work to serve the Liberian people and the country
- Liberia’s unlimited resources are used without regards for the citizens
- The increase in youth violence
- The lack of economic opportunities for citizens, especially for young people
- President Weah and his officials are violating the Constitution and laws of the country
- VP Howard-Taylor and CDC partisans are advocating for elected opposition members to join the CDC to do away with multi-party democracy
- It has become a common practice by CDC partisans and supporters to attack the opposition and anyone on social media that disagreed with government policies
- Large amounts of money were spent during the July 26th celebration when most citizens barely had food to eat
- It was a waste of money and resources to borrowed motorcyclists and related machinery from neighboring states to participate in the 26th celebration when medical facilities remained sub-standards
- Chief Moses Suakollie the Dakpanah was dethroned, and Superintendent Arthur Kulah of Bong County (head of chiefs in Bong County) lost their jobs on the ground that the Weah should have been made Dakpanah first before VP Howard-Taylor
- President Weah’s statement: “What I have done in just one year, no president since 1847 has done it” – is similar to what President #45 is fond of saying.
Benjamin Franklin is worth stating here: “Don’t throw stones at your neighbors if your windows are glass.” To live in a glass house’ is used as a figure of speech referring to vulnerability. In short, CDCians who are vulnerable to criticism should not criticize others, especially not for the faults that they have; since such criticism will likely be returned.
Another example is, “Never trouble, trouble, until trouble troubles you.” Several decades ago, this adage was popularized by The Student’s Companion written by Wilfred D. Best. It was one of the most cherished English language textbook supplements that students in Liberia used in the 1960s. The book was resourceful with extensive vocabulary and proverbs. Some of use the “Never trouble, trouble, until trouble troubles you” adage to debunk positions of Liberians who were convinced that God had given them the exclusive rights to be the only people to have a say in discussions regarding Liberia; and that those of us who did not see things their way should be banned from offering any opinion about Liberia.
I chose not to be among the silent people; I’d rather continue to present the truth about Liberians’ “false pride” and “corrupt practices” than remain silent. The suggestion to remain silent or join the chorus of opportunists in defense of the government, especially a corrupt government, is not being HONEST. I honestly believe that is not the way to go. It is not that I dislike those who head the government, but I do so because it is my patriotic obligation. More importantly, the truth has to be told for the public to decide which side is presenting it. Moreover, it is paying my dues for the platform that my Creator has blessed me with.
More importantly, the reason for presenting the other side of the “Liberian Palava” is to honor the past to shape the present for those who are willing to learn from it. Without knowing the truth about the past, one will not be in the position to make valuable contributions in the present.
Experience and history should influence the decision a person makes. Based on the experiences of the past, we can influence the decision we make in the future. It is as plain and simple! One does not need book knowledge to know the difference between fact and fiction. If for no other reason, all of us must be the change agent we wish to see in our country.
The late patriotic Liberian, Tarty Teh made it crystal clear:
…We all are actors on our nation’s behalf. What we do individually has a collective effect in creating our country’s profile. If we project a shady profile, we will attract shady characters that are often quite 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 belies the 161+ years we have existed as a nation. (2008)
Let me make it clear here to that; being popularly elected should not make a leader feel he/she is above the law. The popularly of the leader should make the leader the servant of the people and not their master as in a slave relationship. When the people are not pleased with their leader, they will do what they did in the recent By-Elections by expressing their frustrations and dissatisfactions through the ballot box.
The use of censorshipin a democracy cannot work! In a democracy, there have to be opposition parties to assure free speech, a system of checks and balances in operating the government. The free press serves as the mouthpiece of the people to write and explain the various points of views on issues. For this reason the press should be allowed to operate and not be censored. To do otherwise is detrimental to the growth, development, and progress of a nation and its people. Therefore, it is in the mutual interest of the ruling party and the opposition to work together for the greater good of its citizens. History shows that a ruling party and their leaders who engage in the practice of silencing the opposition never survive.
This brings me to my final observation regarding the recent National Orator. I believe the responsibilities of an Independence Day National Oration, is for the Orator to provide honest assessments of government’s programs and policies during the year; and to make recommendations where improvements are needed. It is not the duty of the Orator to shower praises upon the President and his government. Madam Leymah S. Gbowee performed her duties as required by an Independence Day National Orator. Therefore, I suggest the government consider the recommendations she made. Her recommendations will serve a useful purpose for CDC’s Pro-Poor Agenda.
President Weah uttering statements such as “I came to fuss” and “Your beat the little girl (Telia) and her father (Benoni Urey) are directing violence towards those the President dislike. This widespread violence is becoming the normal practice of CDCians and their supporters; the aftermath of the Montserrado District #15 Election is a recent example. Secondly, for the President to propose that the Legislature amend the Constitution to replace By-Elections with an appointment is nothing more than moving towards a one-party state, which is continuing the practice of “Unlimited Presidential Power” of his predecessors. Weah and the CDC should remember it was this very practice that the Liberian people fought against with their blood, sweat, and tears to get rid of.
Selfish Practice of Constitutional Amendments
Amending the Constitution of Liberia has become normal practice by succeeding administrations. The only purpose it serves is for the president to run the country to fit his or her agenda.
For example, I was strongly opposed to rewriting of the Liberian Constitution of 1847. I felt it should have been amended in so far as to the preamble and other controversial articles that were seen to be inimical to the new realities of the country. But, regrettably, the useless exercise of rewriting an entire constitution from scratch rather than amending its obsolete provisions has somehow found following in many Liberian civil, social, and political organizations, including ULAA (“Conversation with Our Benefactors Regarding the Original Intent of the Founders of ULAA” –https://theperspective.org/~thepersp/snyanseor.html). Had our constitution not rewritten, it would have been one of the oldest constitutions in the world today.
Constitutions are written to address pressing issues of the period for which they are written. Provisions are made to address future problems – through amendments. The framers of the US Constitution knew that the government that they were creating would have to meet the changing needs of a growing nation. They could not possibly foresee all the changes the United States would undergo; therefore, provisions such as Amendment, Interpretation, and Custom became how these issues were to be resolved.
My challenge to all Liberians is to be first and foremost honest with ourselves to engage in healthy dialogues as men and women who have the nation at heart and not individuals who want to obtain power at the expense of the people. Our ultimate goal should be in the supreme interest of the Liberian people. This is critical! Posterity will judge us harshly if we do not create the necessary atmosphere to halt corruptions and the massive suffering of our people. We cannot continue to do business as usual! It NEVER worked in the past; it is not going to work today, and will NOT work in the future.
Finally, let me close with the challenge made to us by the late Liberian patriot G. Henry Andrews:
“…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”. (CRY, LIBERIA, CRY, G. Henry Andrews)
Weah should better take time because, with the rate he and the CDC are going, he may soon end up like his recent predecessors: TOLBERT, DOE, and TAYLOR!
Gwe feh, Kpeh! (The struggle continues)
About The Author:
Elder Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor, Sr. is a life-long activist (*troublemaker) in researching the true history of Africa, the people of African origin in the Diaspora. He had dedicated his teaching of African culture; spent over 48 years advocating for human, civil and constitutional rights of all people, especially, the Liberian masses. He is a Griot, poet, journalist and an ordained minister of the Gospel. To keep TEH’S legacy and memory ALIVE, Elder Nyanseor joined other writers and became BLOJU TARTY TEH’S 2012 SCHOLAR. BLOJU TEH is the late Liberian Literary Genius, Writer, Storyteller, Human, Civil and Constitutional Rights Activist who hails from the village of Pallipo, River Gee County (1946-2012). You can read about Bloju Tarty Teh at http://blojlu.wordpress.com or contact Griot Elder Nyanseor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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- “Reducing the AFRICOM Debate to ‘Mind your business’ or ‘Leave the people’s thing alone’”! by Siahyonkron Nyanseor& J. Kpanneh Doe – ThePerspective.orghttp://www.liberiaitech.com/theperspective/2007/1208200703.html
- “Better Late than Never: The Execution of Michael J. Doe by Gen. Prince Y. Johnson (Part I)” by Siahyonkron Nyanseor& J. Kpanneh Doe –ThePerspective.org http://www.theperspective.org/2018/1227201803.php
- ‘We Liberians Are Our Own Worst Enemies’ by Elder Siahyonkron Nyanseor – AfricanOrbit http://africanorbit.com/news/759/we-liberians-are-our-own-worst-enemies-by-elder-siahyonkron-j-k-nyanseor-sr.html
- “Economic Stabilization and Liberia’s Looming Recession” by Lawrence Kennedy– GlobeAfrique https://globeafrique.com/economic-stabilization-and-growing-the-liberian-economy-a-way-forward/