More Disturbing Voices Are Arising

By S. Jabaru Carlon, Ph. D.


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 8, 2004

Sometime earlier this year I wrote an article in The Perspective titled: “Some Disturbing Voices Are Arising”, in which I attempted to warn our compatriots of the danger of publishing rather inflammatory write-ups that do not help heal the wounds that have been caused the Liberian people by warlords and their cronies and supporters. Since then, many more such voices have arisen; a few of which have caught my eye. As before, I wish to hereby advance further warnings about those writings, towards a safe and peaceful Liberia. Those that readily embolden and make themselves stand out (at least to me) range from a mind-bungling number of Liberians that have and continue to declare their intentions to run for the presidency in the forthcoming general elections in 2005, to a somewhat ingenious article that seems to muzzle the efforts of certain sectors of African and/or Liberians – Those Intellectuals…” - from criticizing socio-political policies of their native lands, on down to the age-old rice palaver. My comments and warnings/advices/suggestions on more specific issues raised appear below.

The first issue I shall deal with is that which has to do with some hinterland teachers, in an article published by The Perspective under the caption, “In Central Liberia: Teachers Abandon Schools for NGOs”. The article, originally published by a Liberian paper (Forum), deals with the perennial plight of teachers in Liberia, especially those who work in the hinterland. Essentially, the teachers who receive very low salaries with no other incentives are said to “seek greener pasture” by seeking more manageable jobs with NGOs – non-governmental organizations in their areas. And why should they be blamed for this attitude?

Chairman Gyude Bryant
From my personal experiences as a teacher in the hinterland and in Monrovia, it is not strange that those poor teachers do not only receive the lowest salaries in the country, their salaries do not reach them with any regularity; thus forcing them to live in perpetual debt with local merchants and petty traders. I am sure the situation presently must be far worse than when I was teaching. More besides, I speak of a country that has been devastated by more than a decade of a senseless civil conflict; and yet a country in which the Head of government has the heart to spend a million dollars for his personal safety and security. If the head of the country (who receives everything he/she needs and has unlimited incentives) can be that insensitive to the plight of his people, can we blame the people (teachers in this case) if they decide to care for themselves in whatever way they can? It is this kind of insensitivity and self-aggrandizement that can fertilize the dormant seeds of discord Liberia had suffered for over a century, until the coup of 1980. May God Almighty save us from such discord rupturing as it did in the past decade and a half!

Another perennial problem that has received keen attention recently is the price of RICE, the country’s staple. It is unbelievable reading from the Forum newspaper “…that the Chairman had requested that nine United States Dollars be added to the previous price of US$21 to enable the NTGL undertake a number of projects including the rehabilitation of roads and schools throughout the country.” Quite a lofty purpose, although there is no guarantee the money will be used for these purposes. (See, the Forum, as printed in The Perspective of November 23, 2004.) It is further reported from the same source that similar request was being made by the Chairman for the sale of petroleum products, another ‘Achilles heel’ of the country. I further read in disbelieve of “…Chairman Bryant in conversation with a BBC question with a few confidants…vowing to exert all efforts to ensure that he (Bryant) is economically capacitated following his two-year transitional leadership.” And that “…he will not allow himself to be drawn into an unfavorable situation as it is in the case of other past transitional heads of state” of Liberia. Wow! This is Liberian history 101: “Liberia, today, yesterday and tomorrow.” Need I say more of the three Gs? Go, grab and getaway! What a pity for our poor country and its people!

A third issue, which I count as rather nonsensical and a no-issue, is the BBC-Bai Gbala encounter – about “The Intellectuals”. I brand it as trivial above because Mr. Bai Gbala, Dr. Emanuel Dolo, Mr. Winsley Nanka and others who have treated with this somewhat simple question from the BBC don’t make very much sense to me. In the first place the BBC’s question doesn’t seem to come out clearly in any of their write-ups. Mr. Gbala restates that question thus: “’Whether or not Africans living abroad – particularly those who possess social, economic and political knowledge or expertise – intellectuals – have the right to criticize the socio-economic and political policies and programs of their native homelands.’” I am not sure if these are the exact wordings of the BBC broadcaster. But be that as it may, one gets the essence of the question to suggest that one living abroad does not have the right to criticize one’s home country’s policies and programs. In which case I would have turned it back to the broadcaster himself/herself if I were Bai Gbala. And why would anyone doubt my right to critically evaluate my country’s socio-economic and political activities? No doubt the BBC person who advanced the question cannot cope with someone depriving him/her of such an inalienable right. And instead of treating such a simplistic question simply, my compatriots decided to turn it into an ethnic/tribal warfare. Look fellows, we have a better, more tedious task to set our country aright. Let us put aside these old tribal feuds and begin to rebuild Liberia! Yaaah! We cannot afford to go on fighting each other forever. We have gone through a gloomy period of destruction and killing, let us now create the enabling environment for healing and rebuilding.

Now, this brings me to a more serious issue of Liberia today – elections 2005! As I understand and know it, these elections are about legislators and a (ONE) President. But all my readings in the media seem to point out that Liberians care only about the one person – the President. Consequently, I hear that over 43 candidates are already in the fight for this ‘lone soldier’. Why? Why, my people why? Well, of course, anyone vaguely familiar with Liberian politics knows of the awesome “cult of the presidency”, solidly ingrained in the country’s political culture by the Tubman regime, which governed Liberia for almost 30 years. When in 1985 some seven (7) parties – among them NDPL, LAP, LPP, UP, UPP, etc. – vied for the presidency, political pundits and critics hollered there were too many candidates! Only God knows what they have to say this time. For me it is simply a mad, mad world! And as if to add insult to injury, those who are entrusted with refereeing the process do not seem to know what to do.

For from a recent reading of an article in The Perspective by John S. Morlu, II dated November 24, 2004, it appears the NEC (National Elections Commission) is bent on “re-inventing the wheel”; as Mr. Morlu seems to be proposing “new” ways of how to reduce the ridiculously high number of presidential candidates in the field. As I read through the article I began to wonder if the Chairperson and her commissioners are oblivious of the 1985 elections laws; or whether they are just contemptuous of that document. Indeed, I cannot believe they did either of these. But perhaps only for the sake of an argument, if they did, then I would advise they revisit this document, imperfect as it may have been. For in spite of all its imperfections, the document has some very relevant nuggets that can be of tremendous help the NEC in crossing the river. So revisit it, Madam Chairperson and Commissioners, and revise it as may be necessary. Seemingly, Mr. Morlu and many others may not be familiar with the laws in this document either, as indeed some of the ones proposed in his article have been treated with therein.

Meanwhile, I must admit my limited knowledge of those who have declared their candidatures for the presidency to this point. One name, however, which seems disturbing to me is that of Liberia’s celebrated, yea one of the world’s most celebrated footballer, Mr. George Oppong Weah. But before I go on any further let me hasten to say that I have nothing at all against Mr. Weah as a person. In point of fact, and as an avid sports fan, I have had a great deal of admiration for him as a great athlete - disciplined, loyal, patriotic and humble – unlike many I have known in the country. Furthermore, he has shown tremendous concern for the plight of his country, whose national football team, the Lone Star, he has at many times single-handedly supported at home and abroad. And these observations of the young man were heightened when for a brief time – 1990 to 1994 – I served the then Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) as Minister of Youth of Youth & Sports. A few years ago, I even made some gestures to do a biography of this great man who has risen from humble beginnings to such a higher height. Unfortunately, he and his manager, Mr. M. Hoff did not acknowledge my proposal made through a lawyer friend of mine, the late Counselor Henry B. Baker. In spite of it all I still do admire the young man for his achievements and his character.

Given all of the above, however, and because of my continued admiration for him, I would not advise Mr. Weah to let himself be drawn into a sea of unknown depths. For one thing, such an endeavor on his part is reminiscent of the fate of late President Samuel K. Doe. And in that regard I’d like to give him an advice the late Dr. Edward B. Kesselly gave Sgt. Doe in June 1985, in a forum where only the three of us (Doe-Kesselly-Carlon) sat and talked (for an hour or more) about that year’s elections. Barring the flowery talks that preceded the advice as he was capable of conjuring, Dr. Kesselly told Sgt. Doe not to participate in the pending elections; but instead take a sabbatical abroad, undertake some relevant studies and then come back home and the Liberian people would give him a tumultuous hero’s welcome; and his way to the presidency would have been paved from then on. But, of course, the young sergeant’s undertone query was “Do I have to go back to school before I become president of this country?” And as the older man later told me, Sgt. Doe had consulted his “kitchen cabinet” and the result was the announcement of his candidature at the military base in Schefflin, a few days following our discussions. Kesselly told me shortly after that announcement, “…Professor, you can be assured the young man has consulted his kitchen cabinet who must have told him ‘Key, dose book people wan’ f… wi’ we-o’” And the rest, as we all know, is history; the history of a promising young man and of a prosperous little country gone amok.

Certainly, Mr. Weah has had a lot of advisements from various quarters, including his own peers, one like Omari Jackson whose lengthy letters I have read on the Internet. I would only want to add my own unsolicited, yet quite objective bit to those. You see, Mr. Weah, Liberian politics (and indeed African politics) is very unkind and has many rough edges that one may not see or understand from a distance. You have to enter in before you see it properly, but by then it would be too late to withdraw. For another thing, many of our compatriots are very deceitful; they’ll see a black object and try to convince you it is brown or even white. They’ll tell you anything that would make you do their dirty works for them; and unless you can see beyond their thoughts, they’ll lead you to your doom. More besides, the presidency, the highest office of the country presents one with a multiplicity of decisions, some of which the president will have to make in seconds on his own, in spite of advices from his ministers and other close advisors. Thus absolute reliance on other people’s brains, as contained in what I read in the Forum newspaper headlined, “To Lead Liberia: ‘I will Buy Best Brains’, Says George Oppong Weah”, is not sufficient, my young man. You must remember that most of those “brains” are those of sychophants, our national predators and self-serving people who care only in for themselves and what they can get from our dear country’s wealthy coffers. But, again, you wont see this until you get deep into it. Like we LUeans often say, “The test of the pudding is in the taste of it.” A word to the wise is sufficient.

One final issue I would like to briefly touch on is that of a recent so-called “Religious War.” One of the strangest phenomena, perhaps secondly only to “child soldiery”, that has belatedly surfaced on the Liberian social scene is that of a “religious war”. Surely, we hear of such wars in the Middle East between Arabs and Jews, and in places in Africa like Nigeria, Ghana, in North Africa, etc. But in Liberia? Well, perhaps it is one of those things that some members of the warring factions for whom Liberia is really not an original home would like to import into our country. And why do I say so? Because, like many other Liberians, I was born in a Moslem family – in which my parents, my siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins, etc. were and are all Moslems. I am the only Christian of the family. And yet, after all these many years – I’m now over 60years – we have lived (and some have died) together without an incident of a religious quarrel, let alone a religious fight; to say nothing of a religious war. Of course, we have had arguments about the two religions, but never even to the extent of keeping malice with each other. To hear of a “religious war”, therefore, must be a wishful importation of our brothers and sisters from foreign parts, which must not be allowed to take root in our country, where religious co-existence and religious tolerance is the norm. I would stop thus far on this particular issue, as to say anything further would be tantamount to glorifying the notion of a religious war.

And now some closing thought. As I lay in my bed one night, having thought quite deeply about the Liberian situation for the past 15 years, I had a dream of my nativity place of Bendaja. For those not familiar with this little town in Cape Mount County, it sits on a hill and is approached by roads leading from four lesser towns and villages: Gbarnga on the South, Boisahn on the North, Guasay on the East and Kpesseh and/or the big motor road on the West; for a crude description at least. [Actually, Bendaja is one of the largest towns in the county]. The dream was about our long drawn civil conflict, a conflict in which the only thing doable by our avowed “redeemers” has been looting, killing of non-combatant civilians, pillaging and burning villages and towns. Standing in the middle of Bendaja town, a group of us saw a blazing fire burning over the town of Gbarnga. It was like hell fire over that town, visible to us in Bendaja. Immediately, pandemonium broke out among the townspeople in Bendaja, most of whom were fishing and harvesting sweet potatoes in and around the swampy river of the Bogbey, on the way to Gbarnga. Everybody suspected the obvious – the rebels have arrived! Those so-called redeemers and saviors, who are unable and unwilling to build a shed, were once more doing what they can do best: destroying a relatively prosperous town that had till then been left in tact. Instinctively, I called to my cousin, Sayan, whose father (my uncle) had been seen going towards Gbarnga, to our village, Nganyagoehun near Bendaja. I yelled to Sayan (Harris Gapi), “You better run and tell your father to come back! The rebels have taken over Gbarnga, and pretty soon they will be coming towards us.”

In the meantime, those digging the potatoes and fishing told each other, “We’d better pack up our fish and potatoes and get out of here before those thieves reach us. We know how unmerciful they can be!” But they were not quick enough. The rebels had already begun descending the hill to the Bogbey. As the people panicked to get away, a lonely, yet very powerful and loud voice bellowed over them: “No! No! Let’s leave everything as is and let those thugs and killers come and have them, if they will! Let nobody run away – instead, let us stand off and see if they will take our wares and kill us as they have done these many years!” As this man spoke, the rebels stood by to listen. They saw the crowd of some 200 persons in a standoffish posture, and the lone, loud voice again spoke, this time to the rebels: “Yes, our brothers and sisters, you have for the past 15 years terrorized us, you have taken our “valuables” as you called our meager possessions. You have never built even a hut in our villages and towns which you have wantonly burned. So we are not going to run from you any more. We are tired of running! And since you seem to consider it a divine ordinance to wreak havoc upon your own kin, your own country men and do to us as you have done to us in the past 15 years, we have decided today to let you have all our fish and potatoes, and on top of it all, kill us if you think it is the right thing to do.” So saying, the voice disappeared without my recognizing from whom it came. Then as if by God’s command, the rebels dropped their weapons one by one and mingled with the crowd, hugging them as brothers and sisters would do. They refused to have anything to do with the fish and potatoes the townspeople had gathered. And there was peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation everywhere in Bendaja and the other towns nearby. And those of us who saw it, Moslems and Christians, together said simultaneously, Amen! Amina!

Though some readers may think this a cooked up story, I must tell them in all honesty, it is a true dream I have had. It is a dream I think that bears an important message for the people of Liberia everywhere – combatants, non-combatants, those who physically took part in the atrocities and those who did not. To me, the underlying message is: The time for fighting and for war is over. It is now time for peace, a time to forgive each other and to reconcile our differences. And anyone who considers himself/herself a true citizen of Liberia should see a great deal of sense in this. Above all, our leaders must lay aside the kind of excessive greed and selfish attitude that has pervaded our country for more than a century. Towards this end also, those that will participate as voters in coming elections must look at, above and beyond the myriad candidates for the Presidency during next year’s elections and give our bleeding country and its deprived citizens that man, or that woman in whom they see genuine leadership qualities, one whom they think will heal our wounds and build our country.