The 10th Year Syndrome:  A Curse On Liberian Presidents

By James Thomas-Queh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 15, 2015



In a reflection dated March 2014, I first mentioned the effect of the “10th Year Syndrome”   which, in my view, has been the detonator overthrowing all our presidents since William R. Tolbert, jr (1971-1980).  But mind you, when  this idea was being crystallized (nothing empirical, I beg) , I did not foresee the Ebola virus in the equation, but only  the other endemic socio-political viruses embedded into the DNA of this government (corruption, rampant unemployment, impunity, bad governance, incompetence, etc).

So, now that the Ebola horror has cut the wings off our current regime in its 9th year, this paper is meant mainly for the attention of the aspirant political leaders of the post-Sirleaf era. I want to remind them – as visually and illustrative as possible - that the “10th Year Syndrome” is a real curse on Liberian Presidents; and it will be a miscalculation to ignore or underestimate its permanent menace.

The “10th Year Syndrome” is the effect of continuous, unresolved generational social discontents or conflicts which, at a cumulative point, constitute a sort of a spark plug capable of igniting a primitive-like social violence. This fatal point of violent eruption may be anywhere from the 5th  year onwards to the 10th year of a regime.

Why have generational social discontents/conflicts wrecked havoc on our  regimes from the 5th year and onwards to the 10th ?
Let us first examine keenly the Table below. It shows the generations (regimes) beginning from Tubman (1944-1971) to the present; their DNA and years of incubation, and how most of these regimes ended abruptly. This is a social and political construct of Liberia in a nutshell; and very revealing to see that a nation of 168 years, has wasted 71 (1944 to 2015) of those years - not to building or developing  sustainable state institutions, but instead created mainly extreme toxic generations. That is, from one government to another, the general welfare of the majority of the people is forgotten; and as the situation endures, it also becomes chronic and transforms into a worst form.

Another revelation that catches one’s attention are the 26 years of complete uncontrolled social eruption (1979-2005) – almost a 1/3 of those 71 years of DNA incubation. But most important, that  those children born within this period have never had a peaceful, stable national life (at least not in Liberia); and whereas those adults born before that time saw their future and dreams suddenly broken and vanished.


DNA or Characteristics

DNA Incubation Years

Regimes Fate

Tubman Generation

Solid education, disciplined, passive, dependent, non-innovative, diehard conservative, oppressed, patriotic, good timer, imperial presidency, personality cult, single political party, family/party ties, state patronage, growth without development, increased rural exodus, political sycophancy

1944 - 1971

Died in office – natural death

Tolbert Generation

Restless, progressive, populist, nationalistic, entrepreneur, innovative, nepotism, single political party, reformer, political tolerance, meritocracy, nascent middle class/technocrats,     mass urban  youth proletariat         

1971 - 1980

Assassinated in office –  military coup d’état

Doe Generation

Militarised gun, violent culture; summary executions, brutal, tribalism, indiscipline, nascent indigenous bourgeoisie and multi-party democracy, pillage/plundering/new rich, mass urban youth proletariat         

1980 - 1990

Tortured to death in office –civil war

Interim Generation
(Dr. Amos Sawyer)

Re-new hope and sense of order, re-established democratic values, birth de-facto nation divided,  multi-national military(ECOWAS) security/influence, re-organized state institutions, justice,  mass proletariat youth, rebels

1990 - 1994

Power transferred under pressure from both  sides of the divide to avoid  re-new civil war and make way for genuine democratic elections to unite the divided nation

LNTGs Generation (Prof. David Kpormakpor, Prof. Wilton Sankawulo and Madam Ruth Perry)

Confusion, uncertainty, fear, multi-national military(ECOWAS) dominance/influence,  mass youth rebel proletariat, tendency to apportion jobs to rebel factions, mass unemployment combatants, youth

1994 - 1997

Spate of power transfers, manipulated by all sides, but more beneficiary to Taylor’s conquest to the Presidency- ending in a confiscated democratic transition

Taylor Generation

Rebel, lawlessness, extra judicial killings, fast money making/gangster, undemocratic, impunity, renew autocratic/imperial rule, mass proletariat youth, ex-combatants

1997 - 2003

Forced from power in a renew civil war and serving a 50-year sentence in a British prison for war crimes

LNTG Generation
(Gyude Bryant)

Last rush pillage/plundering/ outright stealing; disorganized, shameless, no self/national honour, unpatriotic, impunity, power-hungry, renew apportion jobs to factions, mass unemployment youth, ex-combatants

2003 - 2006

Power transferred democratically in accordance with the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Generation

Jet-set, arrogance, corrupt, professional international beggars/highly dependent, incompetent, big money making, dual nationality kids, less nationalism/tribalism; bad governance, nepotism, cronyism, impunity, stingy, urban elitism, false grandeur, multi-national military (UN) dominance, retains democratic virtues, visionless, massive unemployment ex-combatants,  youth

2006 - present

Ebola virus – to date

TOTAL:  Generation DNA incubation period (1944-2015)

71 Years


TOTAL: Years of complete social eruption (1979-2005)

26 Years



And third,  scanning  through the DNA attributed to the current government (and forgive me for any exaggeration) - it manifests simply the extend of our disappointment in this administration. Yes, we knew the task of national reconstruction was monumental, but never expected to end up with an Ebola trauma and stigma.  So, no one can blame us for this great deception, and especially taking into account the President’s age (76 years) - not only was she educated and fully moulded (at about age 32 in 1971) by the entire Tubman generation DNA, but also she has been a ‘Pasionaria’  within those 71 years of the total generation DNA period in this study (see Table).  But amazingly, the average  age of her officials is put at 30 years (and I accept to be corrected, nor have I any qualm of the younger generation being in government). The significance, however, is that most of these officials were born in the 1980s – a period corresponding precisely to those 26 years of complete uncontrolled social eruption that created the most toxic generations ever known in our national history.

And the puzzle continues. I have been pondering why a national leader who has lived and participated relentlessly in the re-writing of the country’s history for almost a century, could not have attracted the most into her government the same experiences of her calibre. Because such personalities, at least, would have been seconded by this younger generation which needs every tutoring and guidance in statecraft. This oversight, whether voluntary or not, has helped to make her generation to possess a DNA which absolutely undermines her stature. But thank God that the virtues of democracy are retained –a safeguard, probably, to a sustainable peace, stability and national reconciliation.

But back to our Table - the Tubman generation was the first to contract into its DNA the mass exodus of the rural population into the urban areas – a period sadly referred to as ‘Growth Without Development.’   Suddenly, this situation was inherited by the Tolbert regime and soon would be transformed into a massive poverty-stricken proletariat - sitting in the midst of a privileged minority ruling oligarchy. Worst, from that period and to this date, no administration has looked in-dept into the problem and come up with a real constructive national plan to enable a long-term remedy. As a result, the more we break down, get up and move on with a blind eye on this social reality, the more the problem is transformed into a highly majority toxic waste.

More bluntly,  for the longest that we have been changing regimes, only a very minute privileged minority  has been replacing one after another; and while the vast majority is left in the increasing shanty towns, rain, cold, etc to become the new stateless class, so to speak. But their patience has a limit – a breaking-point –at which time it explodes.  
The  mechanism that sparks the social explosion
The propensity of the breaking-point to spark violence is activated through a process which I term the ‘generational interactions or pressures.’ For example, let us take any of the highly toxic majority downtrodden, stateless population in one of the generation DNA established in the Table and sample that huge group at four age levels (assuming at the beginning of each regime): age 25, age 20, age 15 and age 5.  
What would be the transformation of these ages at the 5th and 10th year in a presidential mandate? Well, in the firs category -  age 25 becomes 30; age 20 turns 25; age 15 reaches 20, and age 5 gets to 10; and while in the second  -  age 25 becomes 35; age 20 turns 30; age 15 reaches 20, and age 5 gets to 15. Then imagine the probability that at this critical age of a man or womanhood these generations are 100% unemployed, unable to care for a family (but having children as a last resort to existence), a minimum or no education at all and no attachment whatsoever. And the most tragic, the generation of age 15 becomes a part of the massive troupe of exploited child vendors or juvenile delinquents who would later be found among the increasing rate of hardcore criminals.

This is the cumulative point in the cocktail of the cyclical 5th or 10th year time-bomb of social violence. Because the older a man or a woman, the more he or she is conscious of his or her lot.  Thus the pressure (anger) of the unbearable difficulties to survive from the bottom of this generational ladder through to the top echelon (and believe me, it grows with a destructive power at each stage), suddenly crashes any visionless government.


I guess we should all know by now that this the breeding ground of the renew populist fever that we have been witnessing since the 2005 general elections; and which is also growing in strength as proven by the recent senatorial elections.  And no serious presidential candidate for 2017 should ignore or brush aside this phenomenon. What is more, the entire DNA inheritance from this current government will be too monumental to shoulder by even the most genius of the politicians; thus it will be in our national interest (put aside our high egos) to join into a genuine partnership with the real populist figures. The same advice goes too to the populist figures - populism frightens a society, and can also become a burden if it does not seek to attract level-headed people within its rank and file. Just a hint to the wise.

Can the ‘10th Year Syndrome’ be aborted?
Well, the most logical response to the question would be a quick and massive economic development agenda, but that would be only a wishful thinking. Because the pattern or DNA of this administration could definitely be the exact copycat of the next government. We must therefore fasten our seat belts for any eventual emergency landing.

Notwithstanding, a careful examination of the long stability period of Liberia in 97 years (1847-1944), and the presidential mandates of that same period - and comparing both to the last 61 years (1944-2005) of dictatorship, tyranny and chaos - I came to the conclusion that the adherence to democratic virtues (though the majority indigenous population was excluded) was also a major factor in prolonging the stability and at the same time cementing the ruling settler class hegemony.  The key element in this internal minority single-party democratic process, I think, was the short tenure of the presidency – 4 years, as in the United States. I ignore why the US presidential term is 4 years (maximum 8 years second term), but it certainly aborts the fatal incubation beginning period (5th year) of the ‘10th Year Syndrome."

You know, like a child acquiring all his principal characteristics in the first 5 years of his existence; so too a regime establishes its main DNA pattern in the first 2 to 3 years, and then the rest of the mandate is only to re-confirm and consolidate that pattern. In short, the 4- year presidential tenure permits the quick replacement of a disappointing leader; or simply the good leader is re-confirmed only for another 4 years in order to consolidate his or her established and implacable DNA pattern. Furthermore, this rapid democratic turnover permits other political parties not to stay too long or permanently in opposition – the bearers of new ideas and enthusiasm that ease social tensions.

On this small note. Most of us knew that after the first 3 years of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf government, there was nothing more new for the regime to offer the Liberian people. But we kept the hope - not so much for any miracle of betterment, but that as a seasoned politician, Madam would have refused the temptation of a second term. That was not the case, and now the result is not too enviable.

Should the Constitutional Commission still exist – then I recommend a constitutional amendment to drastically bring down and limit further the tenures of our elective officials (President, Senators, Representatives, Justices, etc). It is our national challenge or else these long, ridiculous tenures (recipe for dictatorship, condoning fiefdoms of corruption, impunity, incompetence, bad governance, etc) will also remain the additional, potential threat to our national stability.

And second, while I still contemplate a Part Two to this paper (should I ever get the courage and energy), I admonish young Liberians to take interest in the human and social sciences to do in-dept research studies on the Liberian society which,  I dare say, is unconscious of its very complex social evolution.


Ziggy Morgan

This makes absolutely no sense at all. The paper is better off not publishing at all than to publish such rubbish. What is the value to this tautology? Writing for writing sake? My gosh!!!!
Ziggy Morgan at 10:51AM, 2015/01/15.
Flahn Momoh Dualu
There is a lot to digest here. Your breakdown of the various regimes was concise and on point - you clearly summarized these administrations as they are/were. However, I wasn't quite sure what the article was trying to achieve.
Flahn Momoh Dualu at 09:12AM, 2015/01/16.
Ziggy Morgan
I summarized it as tautology. In other words, mumble jumble.
Ziggy Morgan at 11:47AM, 2015/01/16.
Sylvester Moses
We say thanks for an in - depth analytical tour de force of our continuous political dysfunction with its concomitant developmental stagnation, and pervasive hopeless and helplessness. Your cure is just what’s needed, but the Iron Lady is busy tinkering with the Senate and House leaderships. Of course, you’d remember how on taking over she locked up the late Interim President Gyude Bryant, and had some of his aides marched to court for corruption.

Well as the Americans say “The chickens have come home to roost”. She is fighting tooth and nail for a weak Speaker and Senate President Pro Temp, and will later plot to have her choice elected president so that the next government will not take her and her cabal to court for corruption. And it’s an overarching priority which makes the constitutional reform necessary to implement your recommendation a non - starter.

Without doubt, self - promotion and self - preservation have been among the primary motivations of politicians since the start of formal nation states, but in the hands of very greedy, selfish and unconscionable leaders like Mrs. Sirleaf they elevate to existential proportions. Seemingly, this lady cares less for the fact that over 200, 000 souls perished in her march to power, and a serious approach to national recovery would’ve been an apt epitaph to them.

Sylvester Moses at 02:43PM, 2015/01/17.
Ted Allison

And when did you have this sudden change of heart about the president, Mr. Moses? I remember just a few short months ago, you were fighting tooth and nail to convince dim-witted readers that Mrs. Sirleaf was the best thing to happen to Liberia since the beginning of civilization. You were willing to get in the ring and go rounds on end to fight for her.... Now she is corrupt? Oh, what a surprise!

It is my feeling that you are operating simply within the realm of expediency. That is, when certain things work in your favor, you hold on to one viewpoint. When things change, you switch 360 degrees. In the meantime, the word "FACTS" just becomes irrelevant. Isn't that right?

I know you will open your dictionary on me again and out will jump all the fancy words you can muster. But we know your type. Fortunately, you're on record here. Be advised. I'm standing by, sir.
Ted Allison at 09:47AM, 2015/01/18.
Sylvester Moses
Mr. Ted Allison,

I was also trained in literary criticisms which presupposes that my concern should be about the text, and its cumulative effect on me as an engaged reader. The author is incidental in this process. Unlike most perspectives with agendas, I don’t; in other words, my comments are reactions to the issues before me. Should President Sirleaf do something positive tomorrow that enhances reconciliation, stability and peace, I will be her praise - singer for that action: just like I’ve done in the past.
Sylvester Moses at 10:54AM, 2015/01/18.
Ted Allison
Well, Mr. Moses, I call it expediency... unprincipled. We can see through the game. Just challenge yourself and read your own comments a few months ago and read the comments you've just made.

It is illogical to have so profusely defended one subject on the issue of corruption and now levy the same charges on her. Are you serious to tell us that our president only got corrupt within the last few weeks? Her only corrupt act is try to strong-arm the national legislature now?

Let me break it down the way I see it. You were gunning for something that didn't come through, hence your disappointment. You are probably vested in one or two politicians you now see as victims in the nasty political fight. So now, you've turned your anger towards the president... the same president you were willing to defend on all grounds just a few short months (perhaps weeks) ago.

Give any flimsy excuse you choose. You are simply unprincipled. Your word is the record. Check it out before you respond.
Ted Allison at 07:12PM, 2015/01/18.

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