By: Theodore Hodge
I have literally written volumes of critical essays for close to fifteen years now. I have expressed some very strong opinions. Well, I can't help it; I am by nature a very highly opinionated person. But I try to balance my personal viewpoints with deep critical analyses. I try to be as objective as I can be. I try to use as much evidence as I can find to support how I come to the conclusions that I reach in my opinions. So yes, they are my opinions, but I try the best I can to provide my readers with a clear path as to how I derive these conclusions. The process is called deductive reasoning or deductive logic; the process of reasoning from one or more statements (premises) to reach a logically certain conclusion.
Recently, after reading one of my articles, a reader wrote to dismiss what I had written as simply an opinion. He was stating what was obvious; I did write an opinion piece and made it clear that I was expressing my personal opinions based on my observations. But are we to draw the conclusion that just because an article or piece of writing is an opinion it is therefore wrong or unimportant? Not necessarily so. We are not monolithic; we are diverse and it is natural that our opinions may vary and differ. The right way to go is to allow me to express mine and you take the challenge to offer your contradictory view. Allow the readers to determine which view is palatable. Sometimes yours and mine may have equal weight, or one may be more favorable to the other. I accept that, and as a matter of fact, encourage dissenting views, but not cheap shots.
In responding to my last article, "The Great Liberian Drama..." someone took me to task by writing: "Mr. Hodge conjectures the failure of leadership was actually premeditated ex-ante: that politicians and activists such as EJS, Tipoteh, etc. never had the country's interest at heart from the start, and were only in it for their personal interests..."
No sir, I made no such conjecture. There is a distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning. I used deductive reasoning by examining the minor and major premises in each case before drawing the conclusions from the observations. In other words, I drew the conclusions in retrospect. I did not form a major conclusion in advance and then devise a narrative to establish its validity... there is a fine line there.
The second point to be addressed is this fallacy espoused by the same critic: "It is clear here that in our polity, the variables that change often are the leaders and technocrats, while the system remains relatively constant. Given that we almost always have the same results regardless of the leaders, it suggests to ME that there is something fundamentally flawed about the SYSTEM. Change EJS and her "cast" today, and I'd wager that the outcomes we care about (rule of law, economic development, etc) will not improve that much."
I believe that this is flawed thinking. The "system" is not something written in blood and stone that lies beyond our control, perhaps something of a mystical (or even metaphysical) phenomenon imposed on us by unknown forces. The "system" is man-made. It encompasses the political, economic, social and other contracts guiding a society. It is generally shaped, perhaps re-written, by the leaders in conjunction with the society at large. The various national institutes, along with the various stakeholders are utilized in implementing the changes. It is therefore a weak argument to say that the leaders and activists that come to power are powerless in changing or reshaping the system. It is a responsibility they understand (or should understand) and vow to change before coming to power. When they get into a corrupt complex system that swallows them, the failure is theirs. It is not a matter of a system being unchangeable or inflexible to change, it is because these so-called leaders failed to be effective. To blame the "SYSTEM" is a cop out, and an easy and convenient thing to do.
For example, Dr. Amos Sawyer wrote an excellent book detailing "systems failure" in Liberia. He narrated and analyzed how Liberia got to be where it stood from the country's inception to the present day. He knew the short fallings of all our past leaders, from J.J. Roberts to Tubman to Tolbert to Doe, etc. He criticized the True Whig Party vehemently and promised to change the system when he ran for Mayor of Monrovia. He promised to change the system from his bully pulpit at the university where he had a captured audience. He became an advocate championing the cause for freedom, justice and equality, etc. Now, is it logical to make an excuse for such a man that he failed because the "system" was immovable? But what was he talking about all along, if he had no clue how he was going to change the system? Why did he promise to do so? Enough said on debunking that theory.
The same could be said of the late Baccus Matthews. He started a revolution and did not establish the necessary steps to accomplish the goals to achieve success. Perhaps it could be said that he set no goals, except to change the Tolbert regime. He had no clue what it would take to change the Liberian "system". He thought changing the regime was tantamount to changing the system. He hurriedly and boldly asked for Tolbert's recognition. Incidentally, Tolbert was removed faster than he Matthews anticipated. But he got caught with his pants down. He had no plan to change the system; regime change did not effect system change. Mr. Matthews was exposed and went on to lead a marginalized life... we know the rest of the story.
We tend to end up with imperial presidencies in Liberia because political candidates tend to run individually only on their own strengths and popularity. Once they attain the position, they feel no obligation to include other strong individuals, although they might all want the same thing, i.e. to change the system. They shun team work and work hard to eliminate perceived enemies. But by concentrating on eliminating the other strong contenders, they cannot do the job of changing the system by themselves. They, therefore, settle for personal glory and ignore changing the system, simply because it requires too much work. They then settle onto the mindset that they must be mini-gods. After all, didn't the people elect them without the benefit of a team? The glory must be theirs, and theirs alone.
Solution: If you want to change the system, build a coalition. Build a team; a diverse team where individuals' strengths and expertise will complement each other. Do not go it alone. You may compromise a bit of popularity. You may compromise by losing some power. But together, a strong team in unison can change the various institutions that comprise the "system". You alone and a few cronies and sycophants will never do the job; after all, they will be too busy singing your praise and preserving and ensuring their cut, than to think systems overhaul.
There are many successful examples in history where a system change came from the vision and commitment of one individual, but the changes were implemented by a committed team; not just that individual with the dream or vision. The first example comes from the political life of Abraham Lincoln to be summarized here: Never be too conscious about your own popularity. Work with a team, although some team members may overshadow you in popularity. But the stronger the team you build, the better your chances of success. When Lincoln won the presidency, he staffed his first cabinet with his political rivals, some more well known and better accomplished than he. When asked why he had chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents, he replied: "We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services." Always remember as Dr. M. L. King said, "A chain is as strong as its weakest link."
Abraham Lincoln believed that to change the American system, which was a tall order, he needed the involvement of a strong team. He knew further that this team had to go to work changing the way of thinking of all the stakeholders, including the most ordinary citizens who make up the bulk of society. It is a tragedy that Mr. Lincoln did give his life for the plan he envisioned, but history records his success and his triumph is sung way beyond the borders of America.
Ironically, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf understood this very well. During her first inaugural address, she had this to say: "First, let me declare in our pursuit of political renewal, that the political campaign is over. It is time for us, regardless of our political affiliations and persuasions, to come together to heal and rebuild our nation. For my part, as President of the Republic of Liberia, my Government extends a hand of friendship and solidarity to the leadership and members of all political parties, many of them sitting right in front of me, which participated in our recent presidential and legislative elections. I call upon those who have been long in the struggle - and those who recently earned their stripes - to play important roles in the rebuilding of our nation."
It is fair to assume that the presidential candidate (Sirleaf) understood the vast challenges. Now, should we be apologetic that she has failed to implement those changes she so clearly articulated? Should we now settle for the excuse that the system is too complex for her to change; that in fact, that she didn't know how complex the system was? How come the candidate knew and articulated issues that the president is only now finding out? Hogwash!
Perhaps there are those who will claim that the Abraham Lincoln example happened so long ago and in such a fundamentally different system that perhaps the comparisons are invalid. Okay, let's grant that. But did Fidel Castro not come in and change the Cuban system that perpetuated under the Batista regime? Whether you admire Castro or not, you must admit that he did change that system; in my opinion, for the better in some cases.
The Polish labor union leader, Lech Walesa, after leading a strike in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, went on to change the Polish system. He struck a major blow against Soviet communism. Poland has not remained the same. It went from a communist-military system to a thriving capitalist system, instituting democratic rule in its own way. The struggle was not Lech Walesa's alone, he was simply an instrument used through the Solidarity Movement for the aspiration of the Polish nation and people.
Nelson Mandela was stuck away in prison for almost three decades. Many of his comrades and students gave their lives in the fight against the Apartheid system. Their party, the African National Council (ANC) became victorious in taking leadership. Nelson Mandela became only the public image of the movement; he did not make himself the movement. Now, as his successors move on, they are not perfect, but they are not sitting around moping and complaining about the Apartheid system being such an immovable and unchangeable system. They have instituted a new system, because they knew that was the mandate; not simply regime change, but systems change.
Yes, when politicians and activist rise to the helm of power, on the backs of the people, they have a responsibility to deliver on their promises. Our activists and rising politicians tend to understand the ugliness of our national system, ugly and nasty as a pig. But sooner or later, they get into power and then try to accept and live with the ugliness of the pig. The ugly pig all of a sudden becomes the pretty pig. They put lipstick on the pig and fantasize about its beauty. But here is the message to them as eloquently told to us by others: "You can clean up a pig, put a ribbon on its tail, spray it with perfume, but it is still a pig." Others have likened the idea of cosmetic change to simply "putting lipstick on a pig." Yes, fellows and gals, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig; ugly and nasty as can be
About The Author: The author of this article is Theodore Hodge. All "opinions" are his, and his alone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org