Querying Bai Gbala’s Surrogate: Teaching Lessons in Social Justice


By: Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 19, 2004

“I will write a rebuttal. I will write a rebuttal. You are attacking me because of my ethnicity……” Mr. Bai Gbala told me on the day after my article criticizing his piece on African intellectuals was published on The Perspective website. A lengthy conversation followed between Mr. Gbala and I, during which I explained the rationale for my response. I assured him that my response to his article had nothing to do with his ethnicity.

His article was truly a bad idea that stirred painful feelings that had been dormant for a long time. But shockingly, a day after our conversation, Mr. Gbala called my home, got my office phone number from my wife, and called my office harshly demanding that I tell him my immigration status in the United States. Surprised by the tone of voice and request, I told Mr. Gbala that his demand was improper. He insisted that the information was necessary for the completion of his rebuttal to my article. I politely discontinued our conversation. I did not hear from him thereafter.

On November 15th, a friend of mine alerted me to an article that appeared on United Nimba Citizens’ Council’s (UNNICO) website by Mr. Marsilius Flumo. The article was entitled: It is Not Enough to Be Right…. In this article, Mr. Flumo characterized my critique of Mr. Bai Gbala as a sort of “verbal violence” and “bereft of sensitivity as well as civility.” I realized that in my search for the article in which he made his charges against me, Mr. Flumo had also written another article dated July 19th 2004, in which he criticized Mr. James Kollie for critiquing Mr. Gbala on the issue of decentralization. Mr. Kollie’s article had been published on the New Democrat website. It soon occurred to me that I was dealing with a potential serial cyber cop in the involuntary employ of Mr. Gbala. Reading through the article that Mr. Flumo wrote against me, I realized that he had used the same venom, which he argued, I employed against his elderly friend and patron.

In my rejoinder, I will not dwell on Mr. Flumo’s article directed at Mr. Kollie, but solely on his rant against me, which he couched in “saintly robes.” The place to start is Mr. Flumo’s admiration for Mr. Gbala. He described Mr. Gbala as “articulate” and a person who displayed an ‘admirable aura’ when Mr. Gbala appeared on the television to make statements on behalf of the Doe regime. Mr. Flumo’s words are as follows:

“First, let me share the little that I know about Hon. Bai Gbala. When Mr. Gbala served as Presidential Advisor particularly during the early days of President Doe’s administration, he made quite an impression on me whenever he appeared on television to make a statement. Not only was he articulate in his statements but also he appeared confident. More importantly, I found the aura of experience exuded particularly admirable.”

Seemingly, Mr. Flumo is coming to the defense of someone who has mesmerized him and thus blurred and/or blunted his objective capacity, although they have yet not met, but exchanged emails and had phone conversations lately. How did their emails and phone conversations translate into an article in which I was being charged with stroking the fuel of Nimba-Grand Gedeh war? Mr. Flumo’s mesmerized state and his response evokes images of aged Germany when German youth blindly paid homage to, if not worshipped at the altar of the persecutors of a defenseless people, including some of their own relatives. At the height of the persecution of the Liberian people, Mr. Flumo was finding it useful to admire one of the crafters of the policies that were responsible for our oppression by members of the Doe regime. What an irony?

I need to remind Mr. Flumo that there are lots of Liberians who directly suffered physical harm and cruelties from the Doe regime, maybe he didn’t. People were beaten and imprisoned many times by the Doe regime for exercising their inalienable rights to speak against the atrocities committed by that regime. People’s relatives and loved ones were killed while some of them watched the crime in action powerlessly. There were men, women, and children who missed the funerals of their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. There are Liberians who do not know the burial sites of their relatives. On the overall, the policies of the regime for which Mr. Gbala paid homage entered sacred spaces and committed genocide. Note also that it was the threats and physical attempts on the lives of many Liberians that caused their involuntary travel abroad. Mr. Gbala was a Presidential Advisor in the regime that precipitated and supervised these gruesome events. These painful memories do not get absorbed merely because Mr. Flumo says so.

How dare you, Mr. Flumo, to tell me or any other Liberian how to grieve and respond to one of the fomenters of my gaping wounds when the same person is suggesting that I have no business in even critiquing the regimes that hurt me so egregiously? As I read Mr. Gbala’s article, I felt as if he was pouring acid into the wounds that he caused, whether directly or indirectly. His age and ethnicity were not important factors here. Would Mr. Flumo be pleased to know that his political mentor one day following the publication of my article made a pathetic attempt to intimidate me? Would he be pleased to know that Mr. Gbala demanded that I tell him my immigration status, suggesting that this information had something to do with the writing of his response to my article? I am left wondering if Mr. Gbala is still living in the past when they blocked people’s attempts to travel to the United States using the so-called “Black List?” Would these facts change the nature of Mr. Flumo’s claims? Or perhaps this is the old Gestapo style intimidation process that Mr. Flumo has now joined in concert with his mentor to activate against me. Could this have motivated the search for information on me, including my immigration status in an effort to either discredit me or dampen my efforts to take on the culture of reinvention (disguising past and present failures in politically correct language) that I criticized Mr. Gbala for? Could all this talk about civility be Mr. Flumo’s attempt to cloth reality into the garment of ethnic reconciliation because it easily covers the weaknesses of his arguments and failed attempt to veil his ill-conceived ghost writing? Prior to now, I had respected Mr. Flumo as a professional. Unfortunately, it has become clear that his newest professional pursuit is to become a praise singer for a past government official with checkered records.

Mr. Flumo asserts that instead of publicly responding to Mr. Gbala’s article, I should have allowed it to dissolve naturally. By addressing the issue publicly, I potentially contributed to “more harm than good,” Mr. Flumo alleged. If Mr. Flumo were a mind reader, he would be wrong on this particular matter. The amount of Liberians spanning the age, gender, and ethnic spectrums who felt verbally assaulted by Mr. Gbala’s attack and who called or wrote to thank me for putting such a harangue to bed are numerous. Each accounted how they identified with the deep hurt and contempt that Mr. Gbala’s article evoked. My expectation is not that Mr. Flumo shares my pain and suffering. He should engage in his priestly evocation privately and not tell me how to manifest my protracted throb and trauma.

Mr. Flumo described my article as “rendering” Mr. Gbala as “useless to society.” Mr. Flumo may be caught up in his excessive admiration for Mr. Gbala so much that he excuses him for being party to Liberian children who have taken 15 years to graduate from high school or college and their parents who have gone unemployed for years. He also mentioned that Mr. Gbala rendered services to our country. I am not show by what measure such services were evaluated. Was it through standing with Doe when generations of Liberians were killed, women raped, personal accounts pillaged, and many forced into second-class citizenship that Mr. Gbala contributed to Liberia? By what measure does he suggest that Mr. Gbala understands the machinery of government? Is it the depraved government, which saturated itself into ethnicity and polarized the Liberian people along ethnic lines and plunged the nation into war?

Mr. Flumo argues that I am a son of Nimba County and should have exercised sensitivity in dealing with Mr. Gbala because he is Krahn and I am Mano. Mr. Flumo chose a Nimba County Association website to launch his attacks against me. He failed to use the popularly accessed venue that many Liberians utilize, and was used to respond to Mr. Gbala’s criticism against a Nobel Laureate and African intellectuals in general. Had he published his article on The Perspective website where Mr. Gbala and I exchanged our views, the same audience that read the articles, which formed the thrusts of his piece, would have judged his article as well. He raised the specter of ethnic hatred when the issues that I raised had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Gbala’s ethnicity. Who is playing the ethnic card or finding refuge in a specious philosophy that when an ethnic Mano criticizes a Krahn person, there is an ulterior motive. If speaking about life and death matters passionately is incivility, I plead guilty. But in my guilty plead, I need to let my accuser know that I will not stand to be re-victimized by the likes of Mr. Gbala and his associates just to comport myself in accordance with their definition of civility. “Thou shall not criticize an ethnic Krahn if you are Mano or Gio.” I do not recall when Mr. Flumo was awarded deity to write the eleventh commandment and dismiss the expression of the grief of others as incivility.

I will not take a back seat to you, Mr. Flumo, regarding wanting to reconcile with Krahns. I am one of those Liberians whose ethnic background spans more than one ethnicity. Perhaps you do not know that I have Krahn and Mandingo relatives. I have been part of many efforts to bridge this divide, and devoted my intellectual pursuits and personal efforts to bring about a reconciled Liberian state. Justice and peace are not anathema pursuits. There are two types of justice: punitive and non-punitive, both of which are intended to serve as correctives to societal ills in the nation building process. Mr. Gbala, and Mr. Flumo by extension, deserve non-punitive correctives, for both Mr. Gbala and Mr. Flumo have no appreciation for the depth of the injury caused under the auspices of Mr. Gbala’s policy tutelage to the Doe regime. Peace in the absence of justice is merely a charade because justice is the conduit through which peacemaking and peacebuilding are anchored.

What is missing in Mr. Flumo’s formula for reconciliation is that we who were the targets of injustice by past regimes should continue to take insults from our persecutors without responding. The perpetrators have no responsibility to be civil and sensitive to our pain. Mr. Flumo may be a saint, but not all of us are. I spent some time in seminary and pastor churches for a while and have clear understanding of the Scriptures. I do not need Mr. Flumo’s sermon to be enlightened about these matters. Reconciliation is a truth telling process that leads to forgiveness and not one that submerges the aches of a wounded people. When someone who is supposedly an elder violates me by kicking me while I am bleeding and powerless, such a devaluation of my hurt deserves nothing but a stinging rebuttal to draw him back to his senses. Civility and reconciliation start with the outpouring of hurt feelings and stemming the tide of pain-inducing actions that evoke past torture and trauma. For those of us who subscribe to corrective (non-punitive) justice, vigilance is our preoccupation as we ready ourselves to reconcile to prevent being re-victimized. If authentic reconciliation is to occur in post-conflict Liberia, it will begin with recognizing that Liberians are deeply hurt, and we cannot expect them to forget if we are going to take jabs where it hurt.

But Mr. Flumo, I hope you will be proud that when your children read your response to me and my rebuttal 20 years from now, they will hail that their father stood in defense of a system and its henchmen whose absorption into ethnicity wrought harm and stunted the growth and development of a nation state named Liberia. I hope you will teach them that it is okay for their perpetrators to keep hurting them without speaking out so that their victimization can be stopped. “Turning the other cheek” was mandated in context. The Greek Bible does not suggest anywhere that you stand meekly in the face of victimization.

Finally, I hope when you awake from this Gbala induced haze, you will realize what disservice you have done to the Liberian people. Do not be fooled, Liberians will surely remember.

About The Author: Emmanuel Dolo lives in Maplewood, Minnesota with his family. He can be contacted at edolo@hsicares.org.