By Dougbeh Chris Nyan, M.D.
The April 14, 1979 Rights and Rice Demonstration and the April 12, 1980 military seizure of political power in Liberia are two events that altered the course of Liberian political history. It dethroned the socio-politico-economic domination of one group over the rest of the country. April 14 and April 12 ushered in a change that generations of oppressed people in Liberia collectively and individually fought for almost a century. Change eventually came, but was characterized by extreme greed and opportunism by some political elements. This change also saw corruption, brutality, and human rights abuses being perpetrated by the military junta throughout the '80s; the change was ultimately coined by the chaos and blood-shed of the '90s.
Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe succeeded Tolbert in a bloody military takeover on April 12, 1980. Although, Doe seems to have been development-oriented, he largely focused on sustaining power by using a vast portion of the nation's resources to purchasing military hardware and also spent on security for the protection of the regime (from 1980 to around 1990) until he was deposed. Just as many dictatorships have operated throughout history, a regime that came to power through the barrel of the guns, did not feel compelled or answerable to the will of the people. Hence, the need for human resources and other infrastructural development was accorded less attention. It is plausible to assert that this engendered a lapse in the Tolbert-years national development goals/program.
Charles M. Taylor succeeded Doe after destroying the country for nearly 10 years along with his compatriots-in arms (the other warlords). In the wake of the collapse of the civilian electoral coalition, Taylor was "elected" by the people out of fear of another prolongation and continuation of the civil war had he not ascended to the presidency in 1997. He spent the next 5 years amassing wealth at the expense of the people's aspiration for reconstruction and reintegration.
Between the Taylor years and the 2005 general elections, this period witnessed an array of interim leaderships that managed enclaves of the country (semblances of Greek City States), and sought to reinstate peace and civility with the help of regional and international forces, while the rebels rained destruction and mayhem in territories held under their control. This period was characterized by destruction and the quest for power. There was absolutely no focus on development. Hence, another lapse in the development goals set by Tolbert.
Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf took over since 2005. Critiques and supporters in contemporary Liberian politics have been analyzing her presidency. As there is no secret as to what is obtaining in her administration, I will humbly reserve and defer my comments to posterity.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing, it leads my reflection to the following as outlined below, that:
If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, probably the status quo would have still been entrenched, but more vulnerable today due to the present reconfiguration of international powers and the excesses of the uncontrolled media freedom. This could have ultimately led to its exit of political power in a peaceful and democratic process.
If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, the Liberian democratic struggle would have continued its gradual evolution and culminated into a mature political opposition for a proper democratic takeover of the country. President William R. Tolbert, I believe was a progressive with the inherent contradiction of managing a political superstructure he internally opposed and was gradually dismantling from the inside. From the outside, the progressive movements possibly misunderstood and also fell short of adequately comprehending his tactics, thereby creating a double-edged sword for President Tolbert.
If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, Liberia would have been the first African country to serve as "Secretary General of the United Nations" (an organization of which Liberia was a founding-member when almost all of Africa was still colonized). Liberia having served in major roles in the UN and as the 24th President (Angie E. Brooks) of the UN General Assembly in 1969, no other African country would probably have had equal international diplomatic credentials to off-set Liberia’s assumption of this major international role.
If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, Liberia would have continue to build an enviable social democratic state on the African Continent based on its Eastern and European alliances/influences, and irrespective of having being a vestige of the US slave-system. This probably would have enticed the first black President of the United States, President Barack Obama to have visited Liberia on his first African continental trip few years ago. Moreover, President Nelson Mandela would probably have paid his first visit (outside of South Africa) to Liberia, an ardent supporter of the liberation struggle of South Africa, Namibia, and the Frontline States.
If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, Science, Medicine, Agriculture, and Education would have advanced or exceeded the level of countries such as Singapore, Korea, and Malaysia, given the visionary far sight and national programs that were being laid out by President William R. Tolbert, Jr. ..... however, under the condition that whoever democratically or peacefully succeeded him would have built on and/or continued these national programs along the path of a sustained human and infrastructural development. Liberia would have acquired the capability of feeding itself. Besides, not only would Liberia have gone from “Mat to Mattress”, but she would have advance from “Mattress to Tempur-pedic or Sleep-Number Bed”. In a slight jest of humor, this is only meant to convey that Liberia would have advance to the level of comfortably meeting the current technological challenges in Science, Medicine, Agriculture, and Education.
If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, perhaps, the Liberia Institute for Biomedical Research (LIBR) would have matured to the level of building Liberia's scientific and biomedical research capacity in infectious diseases control and research. Liberia would certainly have acquired a level of preparedness to manage disease outbreaks like the current Ebola epidemic that has hit the Mano-River Union states (of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia).
If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, the Liberian cultural center, Kendja, would not have been dismantled, but improved for the preservation of the cultural relics of the nation and used as a major touristic show case for the country.
Certainly as there were human rights abuses during the Tolbert years, this reflection should not be interpreted as a clear pass of his presidency. Moreover, one cannot be overly idealistic to think that all would have been rosy and excellent had April 14 and April 12 not happened. Yet, as optimism and innovation are cardinal driving forces of human advancement, I am opined that Liberia would have advanced to the envy of the rest of Africa and the developing world as well as greatly admired by the developed countries.
Presently, one can see a Liberia that is navigating its way out of the self-inflicted destruction caused by the civil upheaval and blood-shed of the '90. This current trend seems rocky as there appears to be a lack of national consciousness and patriotism in some circles of the national and local leadership structures. Notwithstanding this drawback and looking positively into the future, I see a Liberia that will emerge from the present confusion and slumber and chart a well-defined national agenda for the socio-economic development of the country. This is achievable with visionary leaders who will harness the valuable human and natural resources (including the new-found oil wealth) for the ultimate purpose of advancing and propelling national development.
Note and Acknowledgment: The author, Dougbeh Chris Nyan, M.D. can be contacted through the editor. This article was inspired by topical questions raised by D. Chewlae Jah on historical development about Liberia. © Copyright April 14, 2014.