By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
Hon. Bai Gbala, Sr.
During the past week or so, the Liberian media - print and electronic - reported, entertained and shocked the Liberian people with chilling events of violence in the iron ore mining town of Tokadeh, including the towns of Zolowee and Yekepa, in the northeastern Province of Nimba County. Acts of “mob violence” were graphically described in print and on radio and, also, graphically described and displayed on national television with arrested, young suspects.
Undoubtedly, related news-gathering and analysis for further reports will follow and continue during the coming weeks or months, considering the reported, inevitable, potential impact of this “violent” attack with guns, shootings, hostage-taking, looting, destruction of properties and disruption of mining operations; an attack on one of the nation’s major, post-conflict, economic investments and, by extension, on the nation’s, already, ailing economy. Understandably, there has been and is wholesale out-cry, condemnation of “mob violence” and denial of Nimba County’s appropriated/allocated, social development fund with suggested, no-nonsence application of the law for punishment of those found liable.
This approach, with an announced verdict in the absence of the report of the ordered inquiry, appears to be “rush-to-judgment”; and also, given prior, historical context of Nimba County’s mining developments, with prevailing realities, this approach tends to lend credence to the conclusion of widely-held argument that “the resort to violence is (due to) the failure of reason” (Schlesinger, Jr., 1969). In other words, mob or organized, group “violence” has been and is the response to failure/application of reason and, therefore, the announced decision against Nimba County is a case of an apparent rush-to-judgment. We pause to navigate, briefly, relatively, the socio-psychological and philosophical/intellectual literature/arguments regarding reason, public policy and violence.
Reason, we are taught, is the capacity for making sense, consciously, of things, applying logic for establishing and verifying facts and changing or justifying practices, institutions and beliefs, based on new or philosophy, science, language, mathematics, and art, and is normally considered to be a definitive characteristic of human nature. Reason or "reasoning" is thinking, cognition, and the use of intellect. It is the means by which rational beings understand themselves, to think about cause and effect, truth and falsehood, and what is good or bad.Indeed, reason is identified with the capability/ability to change beliefs, attitudes, traditions, and institutions,self-consciously and, therefore, with the capacity for determination/application of governance, public policy, freedom and self-determination.
Government or Public Policy
Public policy is a course of action adopted and pursued by a government. It is a purpose consistent with a course of action for pre-determined goals/objectives, produced as a response to a perceived problem, formulated by a specific political process, adopted, implemented, and enforced by a public agency. Public policy is determined by specific organs of government through established, often complex and cumbersome, procedures. The process takes place in some arena, some public place. In our Liberian system, the arena for policy-making is, generally, the bi-camera, National Legislative Branch of Government. Although a social State phenomenon, successful Public Policy draws its majesty from human reason, a gift of nature, only, to humans.
The claim that a problem exists and that government should do something about it through Public Policy should be and is reason to subject the process – public policy - determination and implementation to critical, thorough examination. This is the reason for which the study of public policy is intellectually and ethically demanding. Conversely, a possible failure of public policy is or suggests that the political process charged with policy-making lacks either intellectual rigor or ethical integrity, or both.
The World Health Organization defines Violence as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation," but acknowledges that the inclusion of the "the use of power" in its definition expands on the conventional meaning of the word, according to Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia.
Generally, though, anything that is turbulent or excited in an injurious, damaging or destructive way may be described as violent or occurring violently, even if not signifying violence by and against a person.
Violence, though in many forms, is preventable. Evidence shows strong relationships between levels of violence and potentially modifiable factors such as concentrated or “abject poverty, hunger and disease” (core problems in our country, Liberia), income and gender inequality, the harmful use of alcohol, drugs abuse, etc. and the absence of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships between children and parents. Scientific research shows that strategies addressing the underlying causes of violence can be effective in preventing violence in our country, Liberia, as we shall see later.
Categories of Violence
Violence is divided into three major categories according to the objectives and the characteristics of the individual(s) committing the violent act(s).
Self- Directed Violence is subdivided into suicidal behavior and self-abuse. The former includes suicidal thoughts, attempted suicides – also called or deliberate self-injury in some countries – and completed suicides. Self-abuse, in contrast, includes acts such as self-mutilation.
Collective or Mob violence, as a unit in and of itself, is very important for several reasons. For, it threatens, possibly, the peace, unity, security, economic well-being and the very survival of the political community or human society in which it takes place. It is subdivided into sub-categories, based on motives unlike those committed by the larger, organized, collective, mob violence which is committed to advance a particular socio-economic agenda. This includes, for example, hate crimes committed by organized groups, terrorist acts and mob violence. Political violence includes war and related violent conflicts, state violence and similar acts carried out by larger groups.
Socio-economic violence includes attacks by smaller groups in and against their political community motivated by economic gain, such as attacks carried out with the purpose of disrupting economic activity, denying access to essential services The recent acts of violence in the Towns of Tokadeh, Zolowee and Yekepa in Nimba County are memorable examples. Clearly, acts committed by larger groups can have multiple motives, with attendant consequences.
The definition of the categories of violence, while imperfect and far from being universally accepted, provides useful framework for understanding the complex nature of violence taking place around the world, particularly mob violence in our small country of less than 4 million people, disrupting the everyday lives of individuals, families and communities.
Not surprisingly, available evidence about the effectiveness of public interventions to prevent collective (mob) violence is lacking, although public policies that facilitate reductions in poverty, economic inequalities and, eventually, eradicate access to drug abuse, biological, chemical, nuclear and other weapons have been, and hopefully, are recommended, but implementation plans gather dust on the shelves in the offices of bureaucrats, while millions of dollars made available for implementation end up in the satchels of the Liberian Mafia, Corruption. Inc.
Collective or “Mob” Violence in Liberia
Collective or Mob Violence on the national, as oppose to international, level with socio-economic and political objectives/agendas, is not new in Liberia. Indeed, such Violence is as Liberian as “palm butter and rice”.
A revisit of our nation’s turbulent, political history shows, quite clearly, the facts of Liberian History (Sherman, 2011, Dunn, et al, 1989 & Guannue, 1980). Author Sherman notes that our major founding Fathers, the African-American settlers, re-created, in Liberia, one aspect of the US cultural and racial caste system with themselves, however, on the top. Between 1847 and 1980, the African-American settlers, together with their offspring, an estimated 5% of the nation’s population, governed the Liberian state, refused the African-Africans participation in political affairs and tightly controlled all the resources of the country.
In this way, the authors observe that African-American domination and suppression had been complete, profound and ignited anger and discontent with intermittent resistance and uprisings, including armed, violent hostilities throughout this period up to the riot for Rice and Rights of April 14, 1979, culminating in the April 12, 1980 Event. Particularly memorable and historic were the Grebo/Kru Coast wars of southeast Liberia, with the fabled, legendary, Sasstown, Kru Coast Paramount Chief, Seyon Juah Nimely in the 1930s.
Also, memorable were and are Chief Juah Nimely’s graphic account, as Resistance Leader, of rejection of invitation to a peace conference by President Barclay, while armed resistance is already in an advanced stage, for fear that he could be treated like the rebel leaders of the 1915-1916 rebellion. Expressing this fear, Chief Nimely wrote to Lord Cecil of the League of Nations Liberia Committee: “It is most certain that we will be arrested like the Nana Kru Chiefs who are now in custody in Sinoe and in the end we may be killed like the 75 chiefs who were invited to a ‘peace conference’ at Sinoe but then seized and executed in 1916”.
Native (indigenous) Insurgencies & Resistance
The period 1856-1920s shows the chronology of violent conflicts, including armed hostilities between indigenous citizens and government of Liberia:
1856: War with Grebo and Kru peoples that led to the break-up of the Africa-America Colony of the Republic of Maryland and annexation to the Republic of Liberia in 1857 (Presidency of Benson).
1875-1876: War in Cape Palmas (President Payne,II)
Mid 1880s – late 1890s: Tribes and government still at war (President Colemann)
1893: Grebo tribesmen attacked settlement of Harper (President Cheeseman)
1900: Bloody battle between government and tribesmen (President Coleman)
1912-1915-1920: Internal wars & Kru Coast Rebellion (President Howard)
Our Nation’s Critical History
Indeed, as long as the majority of the nation’s population is entrapped and remains abject poverty, hunger, disease and the lack of information/education; as long as there is rapid population growth with rural-to-urban migration, conspicuous consumption without production; as long as there is no attention paid to rural Liberia, in term of socio-economic and political development, where the overwhelming majority of the population lives and where the nation’s known, natural resources are located; and as long as the “transformation” or transfer/release of administrative, economic and political power to regional, political/administrative, semi-autonomous sub-divisions, while a very few, less than the usual, political minority who controls political power and policy-making, lives in palatial mansions, but pays no attention, does little or nothing to assure or resolve the critical problems of the people, the seed of this class of organized, collective mob violence is planted and will, certainly, germinate with collateral damage.
It is a sad commentary on the people, country and society founded in response to political tyranny and on the principles of the rule of law, economic justice and equality of treatment in pursuit of happiness, when the people are driven to extra-legal acts to awaken political power holders to acknowledge and to redress justified grievances.
The violent acts of Nimba County fall, clearly and neatly, in the class of collective, organized mob violence in response to the failure/application of reasonable public policy. Old and young Liberian leaders of this class of violence in today’s Liberia are grade, high school and, some, college graduates; they have travelled to foreign developed and developing countries and, have seen, lived, experienced and enjoyed the socio-economic and political comforts and dynamics of leadership of these countries in comparative terms with our, Liberian system. Returned home after several years of modern life exposure - reading the newspapers, mobile telephone (the social media), national/international television, electricity, sewer and water, now informed and “educated” - these Liberians are bachk home, face-to-face with poverty, hunger and disease, without hope for today and the future, powerless and no where and to whom to turn.
Add to this gloomy picture, in the case of Nimba County and the presence of this large, powerful mining company backed by high-priced, politically-connected, also, powerful, Liberian attorneys. This mining company imported/imports expatriate employees at six-figured salaries, who live in company-provided housing, complete with water, sewer, 24-hour electric power, transport and medical facilities at no cost and available food and telephone service at relative minimum, reasonable cost. All of these benefits are available and derived from the land – the iron ore assets owned by the people of the county – but the villages, towns, cities and people of Nimba County still live in “abject poverty, hunger and disease” without hope.
The Nimba County highway between Ganta and Saniquellie; and between Saniqullie, Sekinpa, Zolowee, Gbapa and the mining Town of Yekepa have been a serious, perennial problem for years. LAMCO, the mining giant in alliance with our government, mined, exported the iron ore and left only a hole in the ground on Mount Nimba without much of any benefits for the people who owned Mount Nimba. This has been the case with Bong and Bomi Counties.
Tokadeh is in the news. Who will next? The Gedeh-Putu investment has some critical problems not unlike the Bomi, Nimba, Bong and now, Tokadeh. Now, there is talk about Wologissi and Bea Mountains.
And finally, we said earlier that Collective or Mob Violence on the national, as oppose to international, level with socio-economic and political objectives/agendas, is not new in Liberia. On the basis of the following facts of history that such class of collective, group violence is not new in the international world as in Liberia. For:
1. Organized, collective violence against the British Crown produced American Republic.
2. The resort to violence was necessary to end slavery in the United States of America.
3. It was organized, collective violence that saved the world from the German, Third Reich.
4. Organized, collective violence ended 133-year minority rule in Liberia; the benefits of this class of violence are numerous.
5. Collective, mob violence drove President Charles Taylor out of power and out of Liberia.
“Frantz Fannon has written, Violence is a cleaning force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect . . . Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized and educated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths” (Schlesinger, Jr., 1969).
We are convinced that Liberia can prevent organized, mob violence by the development/application of reasonable, public policies, diligently implemented. After 167 years as a sovereign, independent nation, inaction is not an option.
“Finally, the winds of change which engulfed the world and Africa some three decades ago have now turned the spotlight on Liberia. The time for peaceful transition may be rapidly running out. This need not be, for ours is a small country of a closely-knit people; even our tribal units are not as rigidly defined and divided as in other, African countries nor are our political beliefs conditioned by ethnic/tribal origin.
However, the extent to which reason, not emotion; confidence, not mistrust; love, not hatred; unity, not division; and peace, not violence, prevail in our search for solutions to our problems, will depend, to a large degree, on the willingness of our leaders to listen and respond to the voices of the Liberian people – the young, old and unrepresented – crying out in the wilderness, pleading for meaningful and constructive change, for the betterment of us all. Thank you so very much”(Gbala, 1980).
Gbala, Bai M. - March 11, 1980, in a speech (as President of ULAA) before President Tolbert and Cabinet, in the Parlors of the Executive Mansion, Monrovia.
Schlesinger, Arthur M., The Crisis of Confidence, Houghton, Mifflin Company, Boston, 1969.