By: Moses Uneh Yahmia
This series is part of our honest efforts to provide a proper and sincere interpretation of the political history of Liberia, specifically with the involvement of the progressive forces. Part I of the series will provide a historical background of Liberia, and as well expose to the reading audience the underlying factors that led to the self-sacrificing struggle of the progressive forces. Part II of the series will make our audience understand why he are convinced and became influenced by the altruistic drive of a group of people by providing an honest appreciation of the progressives’ struggle in Liberia. In Part II, we will also provide some salient rebuttals to the lopsided arguments usually proffered by elements from a backward camp that mutilate and distort the history of our country for selfish gain. We will elaborate on the legacy of the progressives, and as well state the trajectory on which the present generation can trend to establish a better Liberia for future generations.
After slavery was abolished in the 19th Century, Freed African American slaves were given two options: repatriate to Africa, or stay in America and suffer the brutality and bankruptcy of discrimination. Many chose to stay in America and fight for their freedom; because they had no idea of their ancestry in Africa. Few took the option of repatriation due to their aspiration to experience total freedom after centuries of languishing in the cesspool of captivity. They chose coming back to their land of origin in order to establish a land of freedom where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would be inalienable rights.
Thus, Liberia emerged in 1822 and became an independent political entity in the year 1847. The territory was established to settle or find a new home for repatriated African American slaves after slavery’s abolition. This process was sponsored by the American Colonization Society (ACS) - an organization which was founded in 1816 in the United States of America with the aim of assisting the repatriation of free slaves from America. From 1822-1839, Liberia was a colony headed by an agent who was chosen by the ACS. Liberia also existed as a Commonwealth headed by a governor from 1839-1847, and finally gained independence and established itself as a sovereign nation on July 26, 1847.
Unlike other African settlements (South Africa, Gold Coast, Rhodesia, etc.) which were referred to as colonies and controlled dominantly by Europeans, the Liberian state was principally controlled by two groups of people: freed slaves from America (Americo-Liberians), and rescued black Africans from Slave ships (Congoes). These two groups, along with the indigenous masses, became the inhabitants of the space call Liberia. The settler slaves, specifically the African American slaves alias Americo-Liberians dominated the state politically and economically from 1847-1980. This political and economic control was initially captained by two political parties (The Republican Party and the True Whig Party) from 1847-1870. The Republican Party which consisted of light-skinned or mixed race Americo-Liberians, who were called mullato at the time, experienced an early demise in the political history of Liberia. Their time on the political scene came to an end in the year 1870. The True Whig Party, a political organization which consisted of dark-skinned Americo-Liberians and the assimilated Congoes became the chief architect of a One-party state which lasted from 1870-1980.
During the settlers’ (Republican Party and True Whig Party combined) One Hundred Thirty- three years (133yrs) of political and economic control of Liberia, the culture, aims, and aspirations of the indigenous masses which up to present makes up the majority segment of the society, were disregarded. Culturally, the masses of the people opted to preserve their traditional African heritage which is illustrated in their dress code, daily meal, language, as well as social norms and values. They aimed to tap on the perceived sophistication of the settlers in order to establish a nation where everyone will be given equal opportunity regardless of one’s social, economic, political, or religious origin. Building a nation that will appreciate the labor of the people and bringing forth men and women who will manage the resources which were held communally for the benefit of all were also the indigenous masses’ aspirations.
Unfortunately, the settler slaves refused to coexist with the masses of our people. They continued what Dr. J. Mamadee Ghorpu-Dolo Woah-Tee, Sr. termed in his book “America & Liberia: A Mother/Stepchild Relationship Betrayed as “The once oppressed becoming the oppressor”. A group of people who were once denied social, economic, and political accommodation in the United States of America chose to replicate the agony and misery of their misfortune at the expense of the indigenous masses of the people. They ridiculed and vilified the tradition and culture of the indigenous masses. How the masses of the people danced, ate, spoke, and wore clothes became mockeries to an elite group (settler slaves) who suffered severely from identity crisis, and who were also casualties of the sad part of the American history.
As a result, involuntary culturally assimilation took the center-fold of Liberia’s history. Members of the indigenous masses who were hungry and thirsty for educational and economic opportunities but lack access to these due to their indigenous background had to adopt the undefined practices and beliefs of the settler slaves, thus letting go their unique traditional culture. Their dream of occupying a space where everyone would hope together, and collectively move forward was sabotaged by a clique who created for Liberia a history of conquest. The majority of indigenous masses were relegated to the rural area and deprived from benefiting from opportunities in a land left behind by their ancestors. If one was not a member or attached to the elite family, the church (Methodist & Baptist), or the Free Mason (Fraternity), acquiring education, a decent living, and a space in the Liberian society were impossibilities.
The people’s aspiration to have a prudent and efficient management of the resources which were collectively owned and meant to benefit all and sundry was sent to utopia by a gluttonous elite who prided themselves as superior because they had come from America. The labor of the native indigenous Liberians was abused at the various plantations, mining pits, public and private construction sites, and the homes of members of the settler slaves. Liberian natives were even shipped as slaves to the Fernanda Po and Sao Tome to work on huge plantations in the 1920s and 1930s, specifically under the presidency of Charles D. B. King. These acts of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man led to the space we occupy today to be void of all characteristics of a nation that exists with one people, and one destiny.
The True Whig Party, which was by 1870 the most powerful political party in Liberia, and had monopolized power, operated a government that was not democratic in practice, but rather oligarchical. This is evidenced by the Liberian indigenous masses being bereft of participating in the governance of the state. In fact their representatives were chosen from Monrovia without their knowledge and involvement. This isolation of the majority segment of the space call Liberia was justified by the administration of the 1847 Constitution which disallowed the native population from attaining citizenship until the early 1900s during the regime of Arthur Barclay. Even when they attained citizenship, it was de jure. Hut taxes, introduced by Arthur Barclay in 1910 were imposed and collected by coercion which usually resulted to resistance, brutality and death. The Kru war of 1915 shows the gallantry and fortitude of tribesmen of the motherland against social injustices such as the hut taxation.
|Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh|
These callous and barbaric treatments of our people by a minority segment of the Liberian state persisted ingloriously until some young men returned from school in America in the 1970s. They came back to the motherland not with a manipulated mind. Acquiring tertiary education from a western land did not out root their African heritage. They came back with a dream of agitating for a space that will take into consideration all of the people, their culture, historical experiences, and the establishment of a political entity (nation) of equal partners, irrespective of one’s social, religious, or tribal background.
These men were regarded as the “Progressive forces” which consisted of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), and the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL). In their quest to establish an egalitarian society, where everyone will be given the opportunity to develop and exhibit his/her talents and skills, they were aided by the radical leftist students’ movement which included mainly of the Liberia National Students Union (LINSU), the University of Liberia’s campus-based Vanguard Students Unification Party (SUP), and students from the Cuttington University . The students became influenced by the altruistic struggle of the progressive forces, and helped in providing ideological justifications throughout the republic. This set the pace for an all-encompassing revolutionary agenda that was aimed at attaining social, political, and economic justice for all in a land that had been directed and controlled by a pillaging oligarchy (True Whig Party).
To be continued…………..
Author's Statement: Moses Uneh Yahmia is a senior student of the University of Liberia. He studies Political Science major, Economics minor, and with emphasis in International Relations. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/mosesunehyahmia, +231776355802/+231886944248.