“The Intellectuals” : A Rejoinder to Emmanuel T. Dolo



By Bai Gbala

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 19, 2004

I believe that the objective of any public discourse or exchange of views, particularly regarding the Liberian experience, is or should be to present un-ambiguous ideas designed to inform or educate, persuade and convince in the effort to pave the way forward, dedicated to peaceful, structural and socio-political change for national healing and unity, security and the “pursuit of happiness” for all Liberians. Given our fifteen-year, ethnically-driven, deeply-divisive” national tragedy, Liberians cannot afford to do or be committed to anything less.

It is in this context that I am extremely disappointed (but not surprised) by the response of the eminent professor to my simple but factual article,Those intellectuals…

Disappointed because I had expected that Dr. Emmanuel Dolo, the professor-guru of exiled, African intellectuals, would abide by the principles of his intellectualist search for the truth by confining or restricting critical analysis to the issues at hand, using the power of its analytical logic to demolish my “murky”-thought argument/conclusion in answer to the BBC-posed question. Disappointed, moreover, because such an approach would have provided support for Dr. Dolo’s “evidence-based practices...by-products of empirically-validated research”, as well as disrobe “feeble thinking” and “murky thinkers in our midst…” Yes, I am disappointed because I could have learned or picked up a theory or two about “clarity “ of thought and Logical Analysis, an intellectual gymnastic, had the professor chosen to tear my simple argument apart using this method.

But rather, Ladies & Gentlemen, Dr. Dolo and Mr Winsley Nanka (the gentleman who referred to me simply as “Bai Gbala” without a handle six times, an apparent lack of common manners or decency and civility), chose the convenient course of venomous demonization, denigration, vicious character assassination and humiliation, implicitly robed in ethnic/tribal, political profiling and “guilt-by-association”.

Now, what are the issues and the facts in support?

As indicated clearly in the original article, the BBC Focus On Africa Program posed this question: “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”.

In any answer to this loaded question, one needs to recognize and take into consideration the socio-economic and political factors that gave rise to the flight of African intellectuals and technocrats to foreign countries.

Given the socio-economic and political environment then prevailing on the African continent in general and Liberia in particular, it would not only be inappropriate and unreasonable, but also not in accordance with law and political considerations as well as unfair to give an un-qualified “yes” or “no” answer to the question. In recognition of this possibility and the factors – ethnic/tribal/religious violence, socio-economic deprivation, abuse of civil liberties, etc., etc. – which forced the recent, massive “exodus” of Africans to western, developed nations; noting, simultaneously, the painful widening of the gap in technological advance between our African, under-developed nations and the already developed, western nations; and considering the negative impact on the African economy by a massive out-flow of talent and know-how, I set out and compartmentalized African intellectuals living abroad into six categories in the manner hereunder identified, to facilitate description:

Those Intellectuals who abandoned their homelands, motivated by the quest for “greener pastures” of socio-economic prosperity, and thus become a statistic of the famous and well-reported “African brain-drain in favor of western countries;

Those Intellectuals who, for ten, fifteen, twenty-five, or more years or generations, have lived abroad and “invested” in careers, modern homes and pension income for retirement;

Those Intellectuals whose children, born and raised abroad, have acquired, internalized and adopted (including intellectual parents) socio-cultural patterns of behavior – mannerisms, language, attire, values, etc. – foreign to African, indeed, Liberian accepted socio-cultural norms and behavior;

Those Intellectuals who, when ask or told about returning to their homelands, ask in response, “what am I going back to that country for?”

Those Intellectuals who have apparently given up their sacred citizenship, and thus denounced, rejected and become disloyal to their States, ethnic/tribal pride and love of country (call it patriotism, nationalism) that one feels and experiences when one walks the alleys, paths, and byways of one’s homeland, un-molested but protected, respected and honored, with head held high, knowing that here, in this land, one is just as good and honorable as everybody else;

And yes, Those Intellectuals and technocrats who left, abandoned their respective countries and homelands, with their education, training, experience and specialized skills; failed or refused to “stand tall” and do battle, using their intellect, vision, wisdom, commitment against poverty, disease, ignorance and, above all, socio-economic and political tyranny, human suffering and death.

Now, having recognized and noted the social, economic and political factors that necessitated the flight of Africans into life in foreign countries, the foregoing descriptive analysis is also in recognition of the social, political, moral and legal responsibilities and obligations associated with the grant of “rights” and the enjoyment thereof. I admit, in general principle terms, as indicated in the original article, that “indeed” Africans living abroad are entitled, as citizens, to the right of free speech and to criticize the policies of their homelands. That “right”, I said then and now, “is part and parcel of constitutional, democratic thought and critical to its practice…it is one of humankind’s freedoms inherent in democracy – the freedom of speech. However, we must recall that constitutional (or legal) rights are not absolute, but conditional”.

For example, one is granted the right to operate (drive) a motor vehicle, but needs and must have an operator’s license; the right to marry comes with the responsibility and obligation of a marriage license; the right to vote requires the responsibility and obligation of age 18 or above, and citizenship; the right to life itself is conditional to the responsibility/obligation that one refrains from taking the life of another person; and the freedom of movement and association – one’s very liberty – requires the responsibility and obligation to refrain from criminal activities in order to stay out of detention or jail.

In the realm of political criticism, the responsibilities, obligations and legal/moral requirements are even more stringent. A confirmed political critic must demonstrate citizenship, impeccable character and excellent social standing, commitment, prior public service, personal contribution and sacrifice. So it is in the real world of politics!

In view of the foregoing considerations, I concluded then, as I do now, that those individuals and intellectuals – as categorized and identified herein, having failed to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities conditional to the enjoyment of the rights – have lost these important political rights.

As stated earlier, I am not surprised by the level of intensity of the response; in that, apparently Dr. Dolo and his collaborators fall neatly into the categories carefully described. Nowhere in his response did Dr. Dolo deny the validity of my argument/conclusion other than the use of uncivil language bordering on hate.

In this connection, the young, “aspiring scholars”, the reading public and I call upon, expect and, indeed, challenge the exalted professor and Mr. Winsley Nanka to prove my argument/conclusion fallacious; not to wallow in extraneous witch-hunts un-related to the theme of my argument.

Dr. Dolo writes that “Mr Gbala disregards the name, honor, and integrity of the person (Professor Chinua Achebe) to whom his (Mr Gbala’s) tirade is being directed…” Well, is it that Dr. Dolo did not read my article to which his response is directed or that this is one of his (Dr. Dolo’s) “evidence-based best practices…” or the revelation of “murky thinkers”? With respect to Professor Achebe, I wrote in the article that “this question (of the BBC) is the outcome of sharp criticisms against the Federal Republic of Nigeria by one of that nation’s foremost academics and intellectuals, Professor Chinua Achebe, internationally-recognized for his award-winning novels, including Things Fall Apart, an African and world literary classic”. If this is not recognition of name, honor, and integrity, will Dr. Dolo please tell me what is.

From the relative, political comfort of his suburban, USA living, apparently un-informed about the nature and “on ground” realities of Liberian, indeed African, political dynamics, but beholden to visionary, un-realistic, pie-in-the-sky pontifications, Dr. Emmanuel Dolo, an apparent “Johnny-come-lately” defender of Liberian/African democracy, made sweeping, generalized, reckless, vicious, hateful and false allegations particularly against courageous personalities with proven lifetime of public commitment to and defense of liberty/liberal democracy, oftentimes jailed for taking on our Liberian political leaders, from the late President William V. S. Tubman to the former President Charles Taylor, including some aspects of the present Interim Arrangement.

Human reaction to allegations of this sort and nature arise basically from “defense mechanisms”; such reaction demands swift, aggressive response in-kind. Indeed, these allegations will certainly not go without an aggressive but civil response; but not in the same breath with which I now respond to the venerable professor, specifically relevant to the issues at hand.

It is important to recall the saying, that those who live in glass houses should refrain from throwing stones at others. Given the “ethnically-driven, deeply-divisive” civil war that visited mind-boggling brutality, wanton destruction, human suffering and death upon our nation and people that spared no village, town and city throughout the nation, specifically dominated and committed by the Charles Taylor-led National Patriotic Front of Liberia, Liberians of ethnic/tribal origin should and must refrain from reckless allegations against any other Liberian based on “hear-say” and guilt-by-association, particularly against personalities that the accusers hardly know.

And finally this reminder. The historic, mindless brutalities and atrocities indiscriminately committed by Mr. Charles Taylor and his band of “freedom fighters” during the conflict, prompted a United States Diplomat involved in our search for peaceful resolution to conclude that “as compared to Mr. Taylor and the NPFL, Samuel Doe is a saint”.