By Alfred P. B. Kiadii
Throughout history positive societal changes are ushered in by men and women that subscribed to noble causes, who do not allow themselves to be pulled down by the stasis of society they want to change. On the other hand, the conservatives or beneficiary of the status quo will fight to their demise to stop this change in the short run, but insofar the change is reflective of the collectivity of the people, their success at truncating it will only be a respite. Whether they keep it in its tract, like volcano eruption, it is bound to happen.
As we seek to explain the objective history of our people, we will be confronted with elements who are bent on providing revisionist perspective t based on their class interest. They tend to rewrite historical happening and vilify those who have always placed the interest of the people at the epicenter of their polity. Class enemies, the world over, have always sought to vilify those who stand with the people in their struggle but venerate individuals who have used the people to attain personal aggrandizement.
For the reactionaries, their understanding of a state borders on exploiting, marginalizing and duping the people. They do not believe in the quintessential fundamental reason for the establishment of a state. All they think is a state should be made up of a class that dominates the other class in every aspect of life. The former class should be the owner of the land, the leaders of the nation, the richest people in the country, while the latter class should be made of laborer, the ordinary workers on the mine, the honest civil servants. And the contradiction here is the former class is a clique, while the latter class is the composition of all peoples of a nation.
But it is this contradiction and misinterpretation of the essence of a nation that will usher in social movement to shift the paradigm of the society in which they live. Karl Marx gets it right when he argues it is a class struggle. The upper class, a cliquish minority, enjoys the leadership of the state along with all its trappings, while the lower class does all the work in the country but are pay paltry sum. This disequilibrium in social cohabitation, in essence, will lead to decay of the system, thereby giving rise to the formation of groups that will challenge it. It is the challenge of this wretched system that will lead to change in the structure of the society.
In the part I of this topic, Brother Moses Uneh Yahmia provided the background from which the “Progressives forces” emerged in the polity of our country. He provided the historical outlook of the society they struggled to transform, thus the driving force behind their advocacy.
In this part, we have elected to deal with the misrepresentation of the advocacy of the Progressives. They ideas they represent and while they decided to call for a change in the system, which later yielded serious fruits and reduced to nothing those who taught they were superior human beings, while the ordinary people were inferior to them.
Who are the Progressives?
The progressives are group of people who want to leave from a stage of backwardness to one of enlightenment and progress. Suffice this to mean anyone who wants society’s social organization to undergo transformation geared at benefitting the generality of its members, rather than a cliquish few.
During the 1970s and 80s, the progressives were not only the leaders of MOJA and PAL. They were also students from the two universities in Liberia at the time—University of Liberia and Cuttington College. Even market women, civil servants, chiefs, elders, church leaders and all those who were cognizant of the bankruptcy of the system and spoke against it.
Like their counterparts in Latin America, church leaders in Liberia during the height of the struggle were preaching “liberation theology.” Bishop George Brown and others were raising the red flag against the decay of the status quo, social injustice, and the conservatism of the ruling class.
Politics of the progressives
Having come back from the diaspora, young Liberians amalgamated themselves under the banners of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) and the Progressives Alliance of Liberia (PAL), in order to advocate against injustices of the society that strangulated the broader masses of the people in the abyss of destitution.
These young men were very cognizant of the change taking place in Latin America and Africa and could no longer settle for the mediocrity at governance unleashed by the wretched oligarchy. So, they began to interpret the condition in the country to the masses of the people, who were somehow not totally cognizant of the duplicity of the True Whig party’s regime.
It is important, however, to point out that MOJA concentrated on the struggle in Africa and the political education of the people in terms of the bankruptcy of the then status quo. While PAL focused also on the radical mobilization of the people in terms of confronting the oligarchy. So, the two groups fought for the emancipation of the people from varying perspectives. The former group looked at contradiction from the struggle in Africa and drew a parallel with the happening in Liberia, while the latter looked at contradiction from a more domestic vantage point.
Prior to the emergence of MOJA and PAL, there were other patriotic Liberians exposing the Ponzi scheme at governance of the true Whig Party. The likes of D. Twe was expelled from the house of representative in 1923 simply because he introduced a bill to end force labor in Liberia. Albert Porte, the pamphleteer, also was writing and speaking against the excesses of the status quo. Yet, the status quo refused to change its policies. Instead of mobilizing the people behind a national agenda, it continuously excluded the people from the governance of the state.
So, the first stage of the progressives’ struggle was to educate the masses based on the happening in the country. They outlined the subjectivity of the status quo in terms of whooping infant mortality, the lack of proper electioneering mechanism, the lack of popular participation in the governance of the state, the exclusion of the people from the governance of the state, lack of academic and political freedom in the country, and the refusal of the status quo to uphold basic rights guaranteed in the then constitution.
The first stage of the struggle was to mobilize the people behind a single cause, in terms of liberating them from the shackle of despair that has long imprisoned and subjected them to the position of nothingness in the land of their nativity. When the political rights are been giving through universal suffrage, popular participation, the enthronement of a proper democracy in the land, than economic emancipation would have been the next on the itinerary.
It is a truism that economic emancipation of a political space is achieved firstly by getting political freedom. The latter can set the basis for the attainment of the former, thereby leading to the total emancipation of the people. Instead of the broad masses of the people being consigned to the bottomless pit of poverty, they now become the owners of the land, the executives of corporate intuitions, and the drivers of the economies.
Political freedom alone in a democratic space do not guarantee the total emancipation of the people unless they obtain economic breakthrough. The second leg of the struggle would have been achieved by analyzing the economic model that the republic experimented for ages that has not yielded any meaningful result. Rather it has further increased the poverty of the people.
So, in order to address the structural challenges which have resulted to the obtainment of growth without development, they were poised to break with the old efficient market hypothesis that has not worked in Third War countries. Cognizant of the disaster that that economic hypothesis placed to other emerging economies in Africa, the progressives knew the best thing to do was to truncate it, thus introduce an economic model that will place the people at the fulcrum of it.
They were cognizant of the transformation that was taking root in Tanzania under the leadership of Julius Nyerere. Theirs was replicating African socialism which was the basis for economic growth in Tanzania. With this model, collective work through the opening of cooperative, the incentivisation of smallholder farmers, the intervention of the state in strategic sectors of the economy. Because without taken those serious and cautious steps, Liberia’s economic emancipation would become a mere illusion.
The rice riot of 1979 is one of the turning points in the history of our country for obvious reasons. Interestingly, there accounts of the rice riot have been distorted by certain elements of the then status quo to vilify the sons and daughters of the people who taught to exercise their democratic rights guaranteed in the constitution of the land. Various accounts from compromised individuals want us to believe that those who were peacefully exercising their democratic rights were responsible for the implosion of the state. They laud the government but are fast to chastise those who were victimized by the government.
Historical issue should be placed in context in order to get an understanding of it. We were taught to always be objective in our account of history, but revisionists have refused to oblige to this simple caution. They live in this illusion of wanting to rewrite history so as to paint the leaders of the people with negative tag, while they distinguish themselves as heroes/heroines.
However, distortion of history will never be allowed to permeate our society without correction, regardless of who says or writes it. The demonstration against the increment in the price of rice must be understood in two context—one the exercise of civil liberties and the exposure of the economic duplicity of the system.
The “Progressives forces” taught to test the de-jure freedom guaranteed in the constitution. Secondly, they realized that the increment in the price of rice who have only benefited President Tolbert and his family. They realized that to address the issue of Liberia’s staple was the sole responsibility of the government, not the people. Because their analysis informed them that increment in the price of rice would have increased the poverty of the already poverty-stricken masses of our people.
Having said that, let’s deal with the question of who is responsible for the violence that occur on that day. Many writers have given their accounts of this situation in our history. We taught to make sense of the situation by putting it in true context, thereby putting historical rights where it belongs.
Nowhere in the study of containing peaceful demonstration, have security officers been told to use live bullet on peaceful citizens who are demanding their rights to be heard. But the Tolbert government of the day change the rule of engagement by shooting approximately 150 or 250 peaceful citizens who were protesting against the system. Our people were shot in cold blood and later buried in mass grave. Mothers’ children were slaughters on the street of Monrovia and fathers loss their sons and daughters.
Demonstrations in other countries are quelled by the use of tear gas and other crowd containment mechanisms. But the government of the day taught to use live bullet on peaceful citizens as a way of teaching the “Progressives forces” a lesson. Their conservatism and nervousness at the mobilization of the people imploded the country into the violence that occurred on April 14, 1979.
In their entire existence, never before have they seen the effective mobilization of the people behind a genuine cause. They have live in the illusion that the people are restive force in history. That the Liberian people were not sophisticated to discover their scheme at governance. So, the mobilization of the people on that faithful day cut them with their pants down; consequently, their thought of being the determiner of the people’s progress was contradicted with a landmark historical “rude awakening”. In that light, they responded by indiscriminately killing the sons and daughters of the people.
There was absolutely no need for the show of brutality on the part of the Tolbert government on April 14, 1979. In order words, there is no justification for the killing of approximately 150 compatriots. There was no need to respond with such force against peaceful citizens who were simply demanding their rights to be heard in the political discourse of the state. There was absolutely no need for the bloodshed that occurred on that day.
Arrogance has a way of making the oppressors feel that they have a title deed to a state, and anybody who tries to confront their rule is visited with violence. Like the apartheid regime purged the peaceful protest of students in 1976 which later became known as the Soweto uprising. So too did the true Whig party regime. Yet the enemies of the people want us to believe that the peaceful protest of citizens should be a taboo in a country of equal citizenship. Rather than bullying the oppressor, the anti-people forces put the blame squarely on the lap of the oppressed.
Although the report from the Brownell commission vindicated the progressives from wrongdoing regarding the rice riot, apologists of the then status quo still want us to blame the Progressives for the bloodshed that occurred on that day . Even Albert Porte gave a beautiful analysis of the Rice riot in his pamphlet entitled: “The day Monrovia Stood Still.” But remnant of the true Whig Party glossed over these credible reports but proffer arguments that border on tawdriness.
The Killing of the 13 men
Enemies of the people have always purveyed the myth that the progressives are squarely responsible for the killing of the 13 men after the coup of April 12th, 1980. Even though unbiased historical accounts have dismissed that theory, the remnants of the True Whig party have continuously pushed that point like a religious precept. The only reason for doing that is to tag the progressives and elevate themselves as heroes/heroines. Which from objective reasonableness, cannot suffice in the context of logic and truth-telling.
Assuming not admitting that the Progressives are responsible for the death of the 13 men. Why nobody is raising the issue about 150 compatriots that perished on April 14, 1979. Are we saying the lives of the 13 men are precious than the lives of the 150 persons who were shot on April 14, 1979? Should we be selective in terms of our analysis of historical unfolding?
In order to deal with the situation from a balance analysis one must first dwell on the killing of peaceful citizens who decided to exercise their democratic rights, instead of dwelling on the response of soldiers who taught to avenge the killing of their brothers and sisters. From all historical accounts available to us, there is no clear account to show whatsoever that the Progressives masterminded the killing of the 13 men.
Legacies of the Progressives
The struggle of the Progressives have yielded positive resulted in our country. Gone are the days that the civil liberties of the people will be suppressed. Gone are the days that property clause will be used as a criterion for one’s eligibility in an election. Gone are the days that the basic freedoms guaranteed in the constitution of this republic is not been held by the status quo. Indiscriminate shooting of peaceful citizens simply because they want their voices to be heard in the discourse of the state, is something of the past.
At least sons and daughters of the people are now elected to the national assembly, whether they are performing dismally is a separate debate. If they do not perform correctly, the people can democratically recall them from the national assembly. Of course, the people have a huge stake in the running of the country.
In a society such as ours where people who are beneficiaries of the struggle for the Progressive, yet seek to vilify these noble patriots in an attempt to tag them with wrong epithet, we will mount strong defense for these people. Liberia would have not been politically emancipated had these people not struggle against the moribund true Whig party.
Author's Statement:Alfred P. B. Kiadii is a student of the University of Liberia who studies Political Science and Public Administration. He is an ardent disciple and follower of the philosophical construct and the Pan-Africanist ideological construct of Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, Gamal abdel Nasser, Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden. Furthermore, he is the Director of the Bureau of Information, Press, Outreach and Mobilization of the Liberia National Students Union (LINSU). He is a convinced young men who believe in the potency of the people to make history. He can be reached on +231 770135042/888995870 or firstname.lastname@example.org