By Theodore Hodge
Dr. Tipoteh & Charles Taylor
Former US President Bill Clinton was once asked a question during his impeachment hearing. He began his response this way: "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is..." The response outraged many, it made others laugh, and to some it justified the nick name "Slick Willie". But truthfully, if one goes back and re-examines the president's full response he was making a worthwhile distinction between present and past tenses. This may sound elementary to many, but sometimes people fail to grasp the distinction. This, apparently is the case with Mr. J. Kpanneh Doe.
I wrote a piece in which I posed the question, "Is Dr. Tipoteh Relevant or Not". Over the last two or three weeks, Mr. J. Kpanneh Doe has wrestled with the question but has failed to understand the relevance of the word 'is'. He has answered the question "Was Dr. Tipoteh ever relevant"? But that is the wrong question, and it saddens me that he is itching for an intellectual fight --- he calls a discourse --- but he fails to understand or address correctly the question I posed. He has decided he will take the liberty to answer the question he feels comfortable with. That is intellectual dishonesty, to say the least. I don't want to classify his failure as ignorance, but others might have already considered this a blow below the belt; and you know I don't fight like that.
To answer the question, "Is Dr. Tipoteh relevant?" Mr. Doe continually beats around the bush. He tells us what Tipoteh's role was in Liberia in 1978 and even much, much earlier. He even goes as far back to tell us about when Dr. Tipoteh was Mr. Roberts and was champion of Liberian Lawn Tennis. He does not tell us the number of international or national competitions he won to justify the champion title... All he knows is he was once a Lawn Tennis Champion. But one has to wonder, what has this got to do with the price of coffee in Brazil or Kenya? Mr. Tipoteh was once Mr. Roberts and associated with elite Liberians at home and abroad. But what does that have to do with his relevance today? Absolutely nothing; certainly he must not be relevant today because he once played lawn tennis with the elite.
The full historical background on Dr. Tipoteh takes the reader down a long and winding road; from SUSUKU to MOJA and other great accomplishments, as well as challenges and problems he faced sometimes resulting into undue persecution. Mr. Doe goes on and on and on providing what he describes as "facts". But are those facts relevant or material to the discourse at hand? The sensible reader knows the answer. No. Yet, Mr. Doe doesn't get it. He is so bent on proving himself right that he wastes time and energy on answering the wrong question.
A careful reading of what I wrote earlier would have given Mr. Doe another approach in his response. But whether he read and understood what I wrote is debatable. For the record, I shall reproduce as a reminder of what I wrote earlier because it bears repeating: "The issue before us is not whether Dr. Tipoteh is alive and making speeches; the issue is whether his contribution is significant or not. Further, the issue is whether he has joined the status quo and abandoned his original quest for advocacy for the poor and marginalized. In my previous article in which I questioned the relevancy of Dr. Tipoteh, I made the point that he has departed from his role as a firebrand. We all knew him as an agitator; someone who fought for social justice, not only in Liberia, but on the African continent. Nobody can dispute that “fact”.
I'm a man, for the sake of objectivity, who believes in giving credit where it is due. I've always tried to do so, and I did in this particular forum on more than one occasion, but that doesn't save me from Mr. Doe's wrath and rants... I can't help it. Now others who are not careful readers are jumping on my case insinuating that I don't like or respect Dr. Tipoteh... That is far from the truth. I'm only trying to make a case whose validity I think is provable. With all the writings Mr. Doe has done in defense of his mentor, he fails to prove me wrong.
The Tipoteh Factor: Restating the Case
I shall also reiterate another important point that I made as a matter of caution. I said, to paraphrase myself, 'there are those who will feel an emotional energy in responding to what I've written about Dr. Tipoteh either because they are his former students, or even perhaps they are his kinsmen. They consider him a hero and think they owe a duty to defend him endlessly.' Mr. Doe clearly brings a great deal of emotion to the discourse. Perhaps he lacks the objectivity required to make any strong reasonable arguments... simply because he's too emotionally attached to the topic.
In Mr. Doe's response to me, he launches into an issue that has "no head, no tail" according to a Liberian saying. He accuses me of using a photo to discredit Dr. Tipoteh in addition to what I wrote. But did it occur to Mr. Doe that I didn't take the picture? I was not even there when the photo was taken. I did not doctor or manipulate the image in any way. I was not even responsible for posting the photo along with the story. That responsibility belongs to the Managing Editor of the magazine. The picture is real. Dr. Tipoteh took it with President Charles Taylor. So why does Mr. Doe bend out of shape to accuse me of impropriety or indecency? Is it not an example of the emotions he brings to bear, as I've previously stated?
Lastly, Mr. Doe refers to me over and over again as "writer Hodge" as if the word 'writer' forms part of my name. I remember once in a similar debate Anthony Kesselly referred to me as "Journalist Theodore Hodge" about fifteen times in one article. Just last week, Dempster Yallah referred to me as the "venerable Liberian journalist"... They must come from the same school. Their attempt to be sarcastic loses its effectiveness from overuse. I have referred to Mr. Doe by his name only. Shouldn't the same suffice for me? Maybe I should remind them about what Mr. Sidney Poitier said in a movie: "Call me Mr. Tibbs". In this case, fellows, simply call me Mr. Hodge... that is enough.
I have spent too much time on this topic. In fairness, Mr. Doe has done likewise. I am now putting the matter to rest. I must move along to other topics. Let the issue of whether Mr. Tipoteh is relevant or not is not that important, after all. It simply is my opinion. I accept the fact that Mr. Doe disagrees; he is entitled to his own opinion. So, as they say, let us agree to disagree. I thank Mr. Doe for his civility in the matter. Not once did he cross the line and I appreciate that immensely. Who knows, maybe sooner or later, we will be on the same team as these great national debates continue to occupy our time.