Liberia: Bloodbath, Stagnation and Sovereignty: The case contra and pro trusteeship: An urgent SOS

By Jacob Massaquoi, MBA and Lawrence A. Zumo, MD

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 25, 2014


Health workers remove the body of a young man suspected to have died of Ebola.
Courtesy of (Reuters/James Giahyue)

In the wake of the current “Ebola metastasis and smoldering devastation” out of Liberia, that tiny problem prone West African nation that for nearly two hundred years since its founding and funding by the American Colonization Society has continue to baffle even the best gnomes of proper governance and international geopolitics. We  make this an urgent appeal for a discourse about the future of that nation and its people, -the majority of whom who continue to live in grinding poverty and deprivation, while a tiny fraction of the citizenry( whose now infamous, innovative contribution to the compendium of national governance is the routine and summary expulsion of Liberia’s most promising and prominent indigenous citizens thru overt and covert means with absolute impunity) bask in stupendous wealth and unbridled political power. In this article , we bring Liberia front and center as we critically look at Liberia via the lens of trusteeship or neo-United Nations administered neo-trusteeship, in short neo-UN backed transitional administration (akin to the arrangements in East Timor of recent memory). Mighty nations with mighty armies down played and cast away the causes and effects of Liberia’s   recent uncivil blood bath relegating it to the trashbin of world history as more of the same customary and usual misguided misery of third world nations.. However, as we can see in this setting of structural governance deficit, lack of justice, the new menace of Ebola and its metastasis from decrepit Liberia. Liberia’s problem can no longer be honestly ignored by mighty nations with mighty armies. Two opposing viewpoints will be proffered in order to broaden the length and breadth of the current discourse as well as to reveal the complexity of a rather distressingly grotesque situation. Jacob D. Massaquoi will present the case against trusteeship whilst Lawrence A. Zumo will present the case for trusteeship in Liberia.

The Case against trusteeship (with examples)
In the face of  deteriorating political, social, and economic conditions in Liberia, trusteeship is   widely touted today as a solution to the problem  facing Liberia- an  extreme form of limited statehood.  Trusteeship is possible when the subject state cannot or will not exercise authority in a responsible manner.   

In 1945, under Chapter XII of the Charter, the United Nations established the International Trusteeship System for the supervision of Trust Territories placed under it by individual agreements with the States administering them.  Under the Article 77 of the Charter, the Trusteeship System applied to:  

Territories held under Mandates established by the League of Nations after the First World War; Territories detached from "enemy States" as a result of the Second World War; Territories voluntarily placed under the System by States responsible for their administration.

Below are the list of Trust Territories that have since gained independence:

  1. Togoland (under British administration) United with the Gold Coast (Colony and Protectorate), a Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by the United Kingdom, in 1957 to form Ghana
  2. Somaliland (under Italian administration) United with British Somaliland Protectorate in 1960 to form Somalia
  3. Togoland (under French administration)Became independent as Togo in 1960
  4. Cameroons (under French administration) Became independent as Cameroon in 1960
  5. Cameroons (under British administration) Northern territory joined Nigeria and Southern territory joined Cameroon (1961)
  6. Tanganyika (under British administration) became independent in 1961 (in 1964, Tanganyika and the former protectorate of Zanzibar, which had become independent in 1963, united as a single State under the name of the United Republic of Tanzania)
  7. Ruanda-Urundi (under Belgian administration)Voted to divide into the two sovereign States of Rwanda and Burundi in 1962
  8. Western Samoa (under New Zealand administration)Became independent as Samoa in 1962
  9. Nauru (administered by Australia on behalf of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom)Became independent in 1968
  10. New Guinea (administered by Australia) United with the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Papua, also administered by Australia, to become the independent State of Papua New Guinea in 1975
  11. Federated States of Micronesia Became fully self-governing in free Association with the United States in 1990
  12. Republic of the Marshall Islands Became fully self-governing in free Association with the United States in 1990
  13. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Became fully self-governing as Commonwealth of the United States in 1990
  14. Palau became fully self-governing in free Association with the United States in 1994

Why Trusteeship is Unsustainable
Trustees face two competing goals. As state builders, trustees want to construct states that are perceived as legitimate by their people. At the same time, however, as parties with interests in the failed states, they also want compliant leaders who will carry out their wishes. Except when the policy preferences of the target population and those of the trustee are closely aligned, legitimacy and loyalty are incompatible. Adopting policies
preferred by citizens clashes with the desire of the trustee for policies consistent with its aims. When the leader complies with the wishes of the trustee, this alienates the population, which sees its new leader as a puppet of a distant imperialist power. Leaders, in turn, can stay in power only if they are autonomous from their citizens or, at an extreme, authoritarian.

The trustee is then locked into providing aid while simultaneously allowing the leader to use those resources to bolster his/her own political position. Both trustee and leader are, therefore, complicit in a relationship that secures the power of the leader at the cost of democracy, economic reform, and state capacity. The more distant the preferences between the two societies, the more likely the new state created by the trustee will be
autocratic, unaccountable, and ultimately illegitimate. Historically, trustees, and especially the United States, have emphasized loyalty over legitimacy when these goals come into conflict (Lake 2010b).  Despite the limitation of trusteeship, the current state of affairs of Liberia demands a hard look at the possibility of trusteeship.

The Case for trusteeship (with some caveats).
Historical Backdrop
Liberia, a nation lying in the tropics of West Africa was founded and funded by the American Colonization Society for the repatriation of Negros from American soil, i.e. forcibly deported, as their presence in the USA was very conflicting to the US freedom fighters who were finding it increasingly difficult to answer to the cruelty and contradictions observed in their dealing with the American Negro. Those who made the trip to Liberia, although physical free, were in the state of mental weightlessness, i.e.  not zeta transformed.. This lack of zeta transformation has had numerous effects and manifestations in their political, economic, sociological and governance performances.
For example, although Liberia’s constitution was modeled on that of the USA, the Liberia state and its political class can not be said to be practicing democracy. The governing Americo Liberians hold the indigenes in absolute subjugation and bondage in order for their menial jobs to be done since they themselves are not capable of doing that as well as  other higher level jobs because of their (Americos) quasi normal state. As a result, series of fatal mistakes continue to be made in the political and economic arena in Liberia.  (Ref. 1)

Put another way, the formation of the Liberian state was by the American Colonization Society (ACS) during the early nineteenth century, and ends in a colossal civil war in the 21st century. Why? Well, in their trepidation of a slave insurgency of Haitian proportion, and in their zeal to separate the races, the ACS created Liberia as a homeland for free African-Americans, under the guise of philanthropy. The leading proponents of this back-to-Africa movement included: Presidents Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, Jackson; Chief Justice John Marshall, and Francis Scott Key. These men were not only slaveholders who refused to manumit their slaves, but they were also steadfast segregationists. Although the legislative efforts of the ACS facilitated the eventual suppression of the slave trade, the grand design of creating a permanent homeland in Africa for all African-Americans triggered the death of thousands of innocent Americans, and initiated the creation of a banana republic. From 1822, when the Liberian state was created, to its collapse in 2003, Liberian leaders never made a cogent attempt to establish and maintain democratic institutions. The nation remained mired in a labyrinth of self-inflicted wounds, brought on by authoritarian rule, rampant corruption, ethnic hatred and intolerance, and anarchism. The political psychosis rose to a sadistic level by a bloody coup d’état in 1980, which claimed the lives of the top echelon of the government, and brought to power a brutal military dictatorship. A decade later, a series of full-blown civil wars from 1990 to 2003, inflicted fatality to over ten percent of the population, dislocated over three-quarters of the Liberian people as refugees, and wrecked the entire infrastructure of the country(Ref. 2)

From another angle of observation, Mr. Hugh Mason Browne, borne into an entrepreneurial Negro family went to assess the growth and development of Liberia after 88 ex-slaves were sent to Africa to found the nation called Liberia, “Land of the Free” embarking on their journey from a  New York harbor on one frigid morning in February 1820. . Mr. H. Mason Browne went to Liberia in 1883 on a professorship in moral and intellectual philosophy at the then Liberia College, set up only for the settler Liberians and their off springs.  There he learned abundantly about the challenges involved in the assimilation of the former slaves (settler Liberians) into an African setting and about the myriad problems and cultural differences affecting Liberia’s social, economic, and educational development. After 13 years of candid observation on the Liberia, the following is recalled from history. In 1896 Browne commented that the Americo-Liberian education and economic development was totally dependent on U.S. paternalism and goodwill and other foreign influences and based primarily on outside interest in the country’s natural resources. He pointed to the lack of effective Liberian leadership in developing the country’s own cultural, political, and economic infrastructure to address ongoing issues and concerns-prophetic statements which were borne out in that country during the twentieth century. Although Browne addressed these problems by developing a plan to reorganize educational and administrative systems, his candor created personal difficulties. Edward Wilmot Blyden, principal of the college, distrusted Browne after he publicly criticized Liberian culture, which added to existing problems with the Liberian government. As a result, Blyden restricted Browne’s academic freedom by preventing him from teaching. After two years he had to return to the USA to teach at different high schools and institution as well as other intellectual endeavors until his retirement in 1913.”

Specifically in his 1896 public observations, Mr Browne described what manner of man the Americo-Liberian was : "He was a man who, in every line of life, was a non- producer. All that he possessed came to him as a gift, either from another race, or from the wild products of nature. A man who had memorized higher education of another race, without ever realizing the fact that knowledge is power..."


Mr. Browne then pointed to the poignant economic inactivity which was prevalent in Liberia at the time-which continues to be the benchmark of Liberia’s economic development or lack thereof till today.
He advanced the following observation: "In my journey through Liberia I find a few iron implements used by civilized races, but I find no remains of an iron foundry or factory; and iron ore, though plentiful, rests undisturbed. I find some manufactured cotton wares, but I find no remains of a cotton gin or mill, and the cotton plant is only found in its wild state." Importantly, Mr. Browne added, "I do not find one article bearing the stamp of a Liberian manufacture."(3)
In a previous discourse, I attempted to link what this stagnation and morass means for Liberia’s progress, as well as its threat to regional and international peace. Excerpted below are observations from a previously penned article elsewhere ( ) which  attempts to demonstrate and establish this link.

“….As we go along, we must also look at two concepts from a local Liberian compendium of indigenous knowledge systems: 1) “kpɛ” (bitter aftertaste) and 2)” kpɔ̃tɔ̃”(lingering residual of animosity). We have to find our own ways to understand and eliminate the bitter after taste of historical misunderstanding and thereafter how to effectively and adroitly get rid of that lingering residual of animosity arising out of centuries of mutual side by side existence in the same geographic local-e-a phenomenon often seen in many other parts of the world, which other too  had to deal with and solve. We too can do the same instead of going down the downward spiral and the abyss.
Now to the three meticulous historical documents by three fine American researchers that we should encapsulate in all this for the sake of our future and that of our children (We will leave the works of British researchers and law makers out for now because when the real time came to make a real difference, I guess Perfidious Albion or so set in and they got cold feet). For example, Sir John Simon of the British Foreign Office on May 29, 1934 wrote to his counterpart that: ‘it would be a dereliction of duty to civilization if the misgovernment of the native tribes of Liberia were to be allowed to continue.’ However when the real test of putting this to work came, the Brits were missing in action (for reasons best known to themselves but the historical archives are there for all to see).

1. George Schuyler who visited Liberia in the 1930s (the era's mistakes for which we are  paying for most  now and even beyond) and saw what he saw. As a journalist, he posted his message in a controversial fictional form, in the book, Slaves Today….Excerpts… “…..Having disposed of the noble young couple at the center of his novel, Schuyler hammers home a political point. In a rigged election (a forte of Liberian government as in King vs. Faulkner, Barclay vs. King; Doe vs. Doe and more recently in Sirleaf vs. Weah- a bête noire to lasting peace), Sidney Cooper Johnson, Edwin Barclay's alter ego, defeats Tom Saunders, a reform minded lawyer and tribute to the indigenous majority, whose character is based on that of Thomas Faulkner. Corruption triumphs; the administration continues; the traffic in human flesh continues unabated and peace becomes more elusive...
2. S. Raymond Buell, of the US Foreign Policy Association, visited Liberia and wrote extensively on Liberia and foresaw this mayhem coming and warned against it but substantial was done to break the chain cycle. Thirty five years after his warning, Liberians began their descent into the abyss. . For example, in this book,  Liberia:A Century of Survival, 1947, University of Penn Press, Raymond Buell wrote: “Unless something radical is done to narrow the growing gap between the governing oligarchy and the Liberian people, it is not impossible that within twenty five years ,fighting in Liberia will break out, as it has recently done in Java and Indo-China. Indeed, such fighting might have broken out except for the presence of American troops in Liberia…"

Prior to Mr. Buell’s warning, the historical archives showed  for example,: that the United States, having sounded its alarm in 1929 about the conditions of Liberia’s indigenes, had by the mid-1934 begun to wash its hands off of them (A.E. Yapp to Foreign Office, October 22, 1934, press clipping from West African Review, October 1934, FO, 371/18043).
3. Ibrahim K. Sundiata who visited Liberia right before the 1980 coup wrote extensively about  Liberia and its peculiar history,  including the following prescient commentary: 
 : The reform minded, unselfish Native intellectuals-men like Twe and Dr. F.W.M. Morias, etc-and the idea of a native republic received little support from any quarter (anywhere from the outside world). Yet it was here, the greatest possibility of change lay.  Had native home rule become successful, the 1930s would have seen a significant shifting of elites. An indigenous, Western educated elite with strong connections to the traditional rulers (eg. Senyo Juah Nimley) and political groupings could come to the fore. The political structure of Liberia would have come to resemble that of many African states in the postcolonial period. It is evident that, in the thirties, the idea of a West African Republic representing such a union of forces presented an anathema to a wide spectrum of outside opinion. Unfortunately, this attitude served to perpetuate a situation that eventuated in more than a decade of bloody civil war... (Ref.5))
From a historical-sociologic standpoint, Dr. Charles S. Johnson, of League of Nations investigative team fame, gave a rather moving historical-sociological account of the contradictions of Liberian society. What he saw when he visited Liberia was a nation conceived solely as a haven for freed American slaves to the detriment of the majority indigenes.(Ref. 4)
From a recent journalist account, James Ciment penned in his now classic book, examples of America’s ugly affair with slavery which produced an illegitimate yet potently abrasive  child named the Republic of Liberia, a nation-state with a very twisted approach and modus operandi which had freed slaves from America return to Africa on a freedom and civilizing mission but saw themselves rule over the natives for more than a century until they were ousted in a long and brutal uncivil war-- whose impact, challenges and reverberations continue to threaten regional, and by extension. International peace and economies. (Ref. 6)

Issues at Bar

  1. Whether Liberia in its current form is sustainable without ultimately being a threat to world peace and/or world health and global security?
  2. Whether two centuries of stagnation, misrule and economic retrogression is palatable and acceptable to the nations of the world because Liberia is a “sovereign” nation?
  3. Whether given the serious historical missteps and continuing layers and layers of uncorrected injustices, Liberia should be brought back to the drawing board under a third , neutral body until the historical missteps are corrected?
  4. When it is then agreed by rational minds that Liberia should be reformulated, whether the United Nations or another neutral, honest-broker, international organization or nation should be the overseer of Liberia during this interim? If so what length of time and what criteria to be used for those who will lead Liberia during this interim? What length of time and under what circumstances.

As the Liberian civil war has shown how a conflict in Liberia spilled over to other countries and nearly destabilized many neighboring countries, I believe that Liberia after nearly two centuries remains precisely ungovernable even up to this date. We know that mighty nations with mighty armies have down played this cogent observation since the official cessation of Liberian hostilities in 2003 and with the subsequent semblance of relative peace due to the single fact that all actors and victims alike  in the Liberian quagmire have decided not to act thus far). However, in the presence of the current “Ebola metastasis” arising out of and exacerbated by continued misgovernance, unbridled corruption, misleadership and national incompetence because of a biased, preselected “election-selection” process of those who feel entitled to rule Liberia at will --whether competent or not (arising out of the aforementioned historical anomalies detailed supra), mighty nations with mighty armies have begun to take note belatedly. To make this a holistic long term effort and solution, Liberia’s history and its associated vagaries must not be ignored.

Out of this then, comes the notion from those of us who are direct victims of Liberia’s historical anomalies  are lost in a jungle of injustice with perceived international acquiescence and that we urgently need a compass for all in that tiny nation. That compass for many of us must be neotrusteeship within a time limit set by a neutral, credible, integritous third party. If because of international law, that third party must be the United Nations, then it must be a new United Nations (ie, a neo-UN) to administer this neotrusteeship, resembling what was done in East Timor under the UN Transitional Administration until full mandate was returned to the people of East Timor in 2012.

What of Liberia’s rights and privileges as sovereign nation, one may ask? I believe that this question while thought provoking and touching, it has been abundantly defeated and rendered irrelevant by Liberia’s own inability to act responsibly, integritously and without malice to all its citizens under the umbrella of equal justice, fairness and equal opportunities for all. The best predictor for the future is the past, it is often said.  However, Liberia’s past is “nothing much to write home about with pride”, unfortunately and more of the same is expected if no radical rethink of Liberia’s governance is instituted.

Liberia, as it stands, is a failed state, fair and square, even after the official cessation of hostilities since 2003. This should be clear and self evident to all students of history and public administration anywhere in the world. .  In this state of perpetual failure, any additional system perturbation whether by physical, menta, nuclearl or viral perturbation will make Liberia a greater threat to world peace and/or world health and global security as the Ebola virus disease has shown clearly. We hope there is no further reason to belabor this point.

Long term, formal intents of imperial annexations of other nations are less palatable than it was centuries ago.  However failed states like Liberia continue to pose a challenge to the world. Business as usual with these states can not go on forever because then the mightier nations of the world are just delaying the inevitable.  Historically, nineteenth century empire building was driven by national glory, hopes for profit, civilizing missions, and perhaps more fundamentally the fear that if other great powers acquired too much imperial territory, they would gain strength to shift the balance of power. Today successful world trading system and the possession of nuclear weapons by many nations make overt territorial conquest less palatable. (Ref. 7). However old systems of hegemony and former “spheres of influence and domain” continue to make covert territorial conquest still a viable option for mighty nations. This in itself continues to complicate quest for equal justice for smaller nations like Liberia.

The mighty powers must worry about bad “externalities” that result from the combination of the byproducts of the scientific revolution, political disorder, economic collapse and anger in the third world where most of the today’s misery emanates from.(Ref 8)

Although the UN Trusteeship Council mandate has since expired and although Africa will continue to haunt the UN Division of Peacekeeping Operations ( DPKO) because of practices and questionable modus operandi of the UN DPKO since its first mission in the Congo in the 1960s,  the question of Liberia must be given a serious thought by rational minds everywhere- a nation which although small, its problems are immense and ultimately threatening. A reconstituted UN Transitional Administrative Body, as was broadly done in East Timor must be looked at and appealed to take over Liberia for a period of at most 5 to 10 years so Liberia and Liberians to get their house in order.  ‘During this time, it must be ensured that fresh minds and hands, not tainted by corruption, civil war planning and prosecution, government fraud, waste and abuse.. Those of the previous administrations must not be allowed to leave Liberia until fully audited and/or penalized by the transitional justice system. A vigorous program for asset recovery must be instituted. A mental hygiene/fitness & society reintegration program must be prescribed (and stringently adhered to) for all Liberians as they prepare for this new political dispensation.  Other restorative legal measures must be applied as was done for example in former East European countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union- to ensure that Liberia has the best restart and the best fighting chance.

Finally, Liberia as a failed state, continue to pose imminent dangers-some of which are alluded to supra. Responsible governments in the United Nations should not face this prospect without acting promptly to fix it- as the next anomaly out of Liberia promises to be more devastating than the current Ebola metastasis.  Neotrusteeship is not proposed as a substitute for self governance nor an overt violation of sovereignty but based squarely on the recognition of an escapable fact as a temporizing measure to fill a lingering vacuum in national governance and the search for justice for an aggrieved majority population in a demographically small nation. Trusteeship should not prejudice the character of the final political dispensation-instead it will establish the conditions of order and orderly transition to permanent peace, if we are to avert this continuing tragedy and travesty of justice.

We have had  nearly two hundred years of pseudoexistence (to many,  delusional sovereignty) of Liberia and I firmly believe that making this request is a valid  and a patriotic one- no matter how unpalatable it appears at present..

We have presented two views on this subject for your perusal-which in our view is an urgent SOS call to the well meaning and conscientious citizens and governments of the world.- in an attempt to broaden the length and breadth of the discourse concerning the vexing problems of Liberia.. Any and all comments pro and contra are warmly welcomed.

Jacob Massaquoi, MBA
Lawrence A. Zumo, MD


1)Zumo,L; The Nobody Manifesto, 2013 (Authorhouse), pp. 5-35
2) Tellowoyan, J; 2005: The Years the Locust Have Eaten,
3) Zumo, L: Why does peace continue to elude Liberia?
4) Johnson, Charles S. 1987 Bitter Canaan: The Story of the Negro Republic
5) Sundiata, Ibrahim  2003, Brothers and Strangers: Black Zion, Black Slavery, 1914-1940
6) Ciment, James, 2013, Another America: The Story of Liberia and the former slaves who ruled it
7) Cohen, Benjamin, The Question of Imperialism, 1973, New York: Basic Books
8)Fearon JD, Laitin, DD,Neotrusteeship and the Problem of the Weak States, International Security, vol, 28, No.4 (Spring, 2004), pp.5-43
9). Lake, David A. 2010a. “Building Legitimate States after Civil Wars.” In Strengthening Peace in Post-Civil War States: Transforming Spoilers into Stakeholders, ed. C.

Ansu Dualu
Bro Massaquoi's position is complete, convincing in its reasoning and worth every consideration. However, I don't agree with him entirely; I think what we need is an oversight that is transparent in its application and reports to an outside body with recommendations for 10 years. For example : have our courts, cash disbursing agencies,and govt contracts double checked by outside administrators. This in my view will be sufficient.
Ansu Dualu at 02:10PM, 2014/09/27.
Ansu Dualu
Ansu Dualu wrote:
Bro Massaquoi's position is complete, convincing in its reasoning and worth every consideration. However, I don't agree with him entirely; I think what we need is a partial oversight that is transparent in its application and reports to an outside body with recommendations for 10 years. For example : have our courts, cash disbursing agencies,and govt contracts double checked by outside administrators. This in my view will be sufficient.

Ansu Dualu at 02:19PM, 2014/09/27.
Ansu Dualu
Ansu Dualu wrote:
Ansu Dualu wrote:
Bro Massaquoi's position is complete, convincing in its reasoning and worth every consideration. However, I don't agree with him entirely; I think what we need is a partial oversight that is transparent in its application and reports to an outside body with recommendations for 10 years. For example : have our courts, cash disbursing agencies,and govt contracts double checked by outside administrators. This, in my view, will be sufficient.

Ansu Dualu at 04:18PM, 2014/09/27.

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