By James Thomas-Queh
From Roye to Tolbert
The Rise and Fall of True Whig Party
The fact that Cllr Taiwon Gongloe, a true progressive, was invited and accepted to deliver the key-note address at the 35th Convention of the True Whig Party (TWP) – exactly 35 years after this party was brutally thrown from power – could be yet another positive sign that Liberians are gradually beginning the process of a genuine national reconciliation. And as usual the Cllr’s speech was excellent – not only was it a résumé of the party’s history as entangled into our country’s past, but also his candid advices to all politicians and political parties as we race to 2017and beyond.
Undoubtedly, Cllr Gongloe is among our rare patriots, fervent democrat, frank, farsighted and independent. And if only our country had many more men and women of his mind, our road to national reconciliation would become less tedious and certain. So my hat off to him for this very laudable gesture.
The TWP Generations
The history of the TWP traced by Cllr Gongloe shows that this party ruled Liberia single handily for over a century (1878-1980) or 102 years that ended just when the country was barely 133 years old. And this absolute rule covered four generations that have governed the nation up to this date, and may even continue after 2017. Notwithstanding, in the subconscious of my generation, we thought this party was only an Establishment of a minority ruling class, but retrospectively, it was more than that; it was also an integral part of generations of Liberians. In essence, it was Liberia - inculcated in our minds, bodies and souls. In other words, the TWP was the family, and the family was the TWP; the TWP was the church and church was the TWP; the TWP was the Masonic and the Masonic was the TWP; the TWP was the government and the government was the TWP; the TWP was the national culture, and the national culture was the TWP; the national coffers were the TWP’s, and the TWP’s coffers were national coffers, and so on. Thus in the dishonourable burial of this party with the magic of a bloody military coup d’état, not only had we buried a very important portion of our national history, but also a part of ourselves.
Thus the re-emergence of the TWP, especially in this crucial democratic setting, must be considered a significant development. Because apart from the historical perspective and its impact already mentioned, it would also be a major psychological deliverance for all of us ( the remaining older generation of settler elites and that of the progressives). Bit by bit we seem to be getting the will to genuinely close our divided wounds and personal hate - thus permitting our innocent younger generations to move on in genuine unity, national reconciliation, peace and sustained stability.
I have in memory a speech made by Dr. Sawyer back in the early days of military coup d’état (1980), that Liberia was like a mosaic, and when you take out a piece the whole falls. Liberia felt, but cannot get up because we continuously insinuate as if one of its groups has no right to exist. And that is why I have always sent a reminder, that the absence or silence of the settler class from our national politics was an abnormal phenomenon and unhealthy for our national unity and reconciliation. So I heartily rejoice of their coming into the political fold under the umbrella of the TWP. It is better that we battle with ballots and pens than the guns and bullets. And for those sceptics who see the settler class (less than 10% of the population) as regrouping only to recuperate their land, they would need to ask what has the other groups (more than 90%) done in the last 35 five years. Or, they would need to find out why a party dormant for 35 years is now re-surfacing. Oh, what should make the NDPL (Doe’s) and NPP (Taylor’s) more legitimate than the TWP?
And this is what I think. The 10 years of gross bad governance and contradictions of this current regime (99% indigenous) have created formidable vacuums in the political arena. This fact (added to UNMIL departure) augments our anxieties and uncertainties as we approach 2017; and that if were we to salvage our country, diverse interests and gains – this is the moment or never for us to join hands in unity. But more, contrary to what we may think that some folks will just pack their bags and leave after 2017, we have come a long way to appreciate that there is nowhere better than home in an unpredictable changing world.
There is currently a battle between the Liberian Government and this TWP over the dilapidated structure
On the political vacuums, I have already written elsewhere on the populism fervour brought about by the mass poverty and youth unemployment. This political space is for now filled by the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). At the other extreme end of the social pendulum are those who have made it big time under this administration (real estate owners, land owners, new rich, etc – mostly the younger generation of the settler class). The strategy of this group in the past 35 years has been to stealthily support any regime to amass and secure their wealth, and while living very comfortably elsewhere. But this time the stakes are too high (big powers are tracing ill-gotten wealth); so a stable, prosperous and united country could be better for all of us. However, the problem is that all the living parties are unreliable and cannot be trusted. Worse, the ruling Unity Party has been in an indefinitely comma for the last five years; and while the ideological positioning or thinking of the Liberty party is highly intangible.
This is the dilemma that has brought the TWP out of the trenches, I guess, to fill the vacuum of a clear right wing party (its former role- but without an opposition) to protect and promote the interests of the wealthy and reap the benefits from the sale of Liberia by this current government. And if my assumption is correct, this could re-energize the political atmosphere positively. First, because I believe for a democracy to be vibrant and develop a nation, there need to be a clear demarcation of the ideologies of the political parties and politicians. Truly, had we known the extreme liberal ideological penchant of our current president from the unset, I doubt whether any true progressive would have ever been on her bandwagon of supporters. And second, this development could put the backs of those “native heathens” of the petit urban apparatchik against the wall, who have abandoned their own people in the villages and shanty towns; or else they could be reduced to the future repressive DCs (District Commissioners) and concessions’ foremen to recruit and supervise Liberia’s next slave labour of their villagers. And I pray not to be around.
TWP and The Progressives of the 1970s
The wide spread belief among the settler class is that the progressives masterminded the fall of the TWP and decapitation of the ruling oligarchy. But when one reads keenly Cllr Gongloe, that assumption comes out as a mere fallacy – far from the truth. The TWP suffered from an unconscious and protracted self-destruction due to its inertia and inability to carry out or accept genuine democratic reforms. And addition to this was the infamous “personality cult” so perfected during Tubman’s 27 years of absolute reign (1944-1971). And much so that by the time of the party’s demise in 1980, the three branches of the government were mere empty shells, existed only in the names of their leading personalities.
As a result, the TWP was not only isolated from the majority of the population, but also from its own base of the younger generation of settler elites. Unfortunately, this 1980 TWP government has been reproduced on stage in its worst form in today’s Liberia. Because while the imperial president is on the perpetual world stage and a government only in name, the ruling UP is a mere phantom; and as for the Judiciary and Legislature, their public ratings have long plunged below zero.
So I dare to reaffirm my inherent conviction that the progressives of the 1970s - without any real ideological indoctrination –wanted only genuine democratic reforms and national development, but never anticipated or prepared for the fall of the TWP and the political system. It is like today that some of us are vehemently criticising the government – not for it to fall (God forbids), but for the leadership to hear, see and act promptly for the common good of the nation and people. But unfortunately and even in democracy, we all are still inhabited by the TWP. Hopefully, its re-birth could liberate our minds and re-open our eyes.
TWP and the Masonic Fraternity
While the TWP was founded in 1869, the Masonic was organized in Liberia in 1867(and on this note, the speech made by Mr. Benoni Urey on ‘ The Role of Free Masonry in the new Liberia’ makes a very interest reading – www.liberianobserver.com/commentaries/role-free-masonry-new-liberia) by the same settler group that founded our country. I doubt whether the two were founded with the same objectives in mind; but it is certain that later both (one a cultural entity, and the other political) were complimentary of each other to forge a settler class hegemony (as opposed to the majority indigenous population) and ruled uninterrupted until 1980.
Under the same token, today the Masonic has long been functioning at its fullest capacity before this advent of the TWP. But time has changed; I think we have come to accept our country as a rich multicultural society. So, if the TWP is to survive as a true democratic entity (and for that matter all our political parties), it must separate and distance itself from the Masonic fraternity. Our sacred fraternities (Poro, Sende, Freemason, etc) must remain our cultural safety nets because a nation falls and governments come and go, but the culture always remains as the re-starting block. These fraternities were vulgarised by some past presidents and were victimized as a result. Therefore we must now leave them to function independently in their straight cultural roles once their activities are legal. And of course any citizen could be a member (if requirements are met) and have the freedom to manifest his or her membership once it does not infringe on the rights of others, public order or an intent to frighten (as the regular 18th parades and rituals of Free Masonry through the streets of Monrovia).
Good luck TWP and welcome to democracy.