By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
By this analysis, we argue that the facts of history of the Liberian political experience show, clearly, that the Republic of Liberia is still locked in the dangerous TRANSITION from DICTATORSHIP, seeking Liberal, Progressive DEMOCRACY, following the dissolution of the Republican Party (of the light-skinned African-American settlers, children of white slave owners) in 1876; the overthrow of the True Whig Party (of dark-skinned African-American settlers) in 1980; and the nightmare of the African-American settlers-led, planned and executed civil war of plunder, destruction, human suffering and death, with that TRANSITION STILL CONTINUING!!
The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, wrote and published the book, Liberia in World Politics in 1934. The book was the first formal statement of Liberia’s successful leadership and participation in “World Politics”. It led in introducing Liberia as one of Africa’s leaders of the Pan-Africanist Movement against European, racist Colonialism in Africa. From this came other, related issues of world reports about Liberia as follows:
Liberia and League of Nations (1930s)
Liberia as Member of the Axis Powers against German Third Reich
Liberia’s leading role in the founding of the United Nations
Liberia’s leading role in the founding of the OAU (Saniquellie Conference), now the AU, ECOWAS, etc., etc.
Liberia’s role in the Non-Aligned Movement, the Bandung Conference
Liberia’s lawsuit against the Republic of South Africa on behalf of the Republic of Namibia for Racist political rule.
National organization of the newly independent Republic of Liberia was only in the Five-county Coastal Region, home of the African-American settlers, then 3% of the Liberian Nation’s population, exclusive of Rural Liberia where the overwhelming majority (97%) of the population lived, lives, and about 75-80% of the nation’s land area is located. The new nation modeled, is still modeled, almost, all of its laws, socio-economic and political thought and practice on distinctly United States of America. Moreover, political organization was limited to two US-modeled and styled political parties – the Republican Party and the True Whig Party, both of the African-American settlers.
As a matter of fact, rural indigenous, ethnic/tribal inhabitants were not accepted nor recognized as citizens of Liberia until 1904, 57 years after political independence.
According to Wikipedia, the online, Free Encyclopedia, “Politics of Liberia takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, modeled on the government of the United States, whereby the President is the head of state and head of government; unlike the United States, however, Liberia is a unitary state as opposed to a federation and has a pluriform multi-party system rather than the two-party system that characterizes US politics . . . The political process from Liberia’s founding in 1847 was very stable until the end of the First Republic in 1980, despite widespread corruption”.
The World Community
The International Community, mostly developed, western powers, regarded Liberia as an extension of US power to and on the African Continent – power political, economic and administrative. The Community saw and supported Liberia as the necessary and suitable agent for education, progress and democracy on the “dark continent”, while dependent (still colonized in Africa and elsewhere on the none-white continents) and independent states (very few at the time) regarded Liberia as the-then 49th state of the United States for obvious reasons, manifested by Liberia’s socio-economic and political alignment with the USA.
The International Community’s unwavering Support of and Solidarity with the Republic of Liberia, sponsored and led by the United States, in cooperation with some developed, Western nations that the Republic enjoys today, began at a-then-unprecedented high point in 1944 during the administration of Dr. William V. S. Tubman as President of Liberia. In that, to the President’s Open Door Policy launched 97 years after political independence, the wealthy, nations of the World Community responded by massive, direct foreign investment in many areas of Liberia’s economy, mainly in the Iron Ore mining sector of the Republic.
The Start of a new Era
Thus began a new socio-economic and political Era for Liberia and Liberians. The direct foreign investment policy and programs began with the construction and opening of the Free Port of Monrovia and the Saint Paul Bridge in 1948 and 1949 respectively. The Port and Bridge were the necessary pre-conditions for transport of iron ore from Bomi Hills to the Port and thence, shipment to the world market.
The Liberia Mining Company (LMC) was the first of four iron ore companies which produced and shipped large quantities of iron ore during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1958 followed a concession agreement with the National Iron Ore Company (NIOC) for the exploitation of the Mano river iron ore deposits. Then followed LAMCO JV, the Liberian American Swedish Minerals Company Joint venture, which became operational in 1960/61. LAMCO-JV exploited the extremely rich Nimba mountains iron ore deposits. The investments in the LAMCO JV then were the largest Swedish investment abroad after 1945. The fourth mining company, Bong Mining Company (BMC), was created following a concession agreement with German investors in 1958. The mine opened in 1965. ‘Bong mine’ as the company was and still is colloquially called in Liberia, was then the largest German investment in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Thus, the production and shipment of iron ore was so successful that the Republic of Liberia became “Liberia, Africa’s Largest Iron Ore Exporter” in the world press. But this phenomenal success story caught the attention of economists, planners and academia. In an academic review, the analysts found that in ten years (1951-1961), Liberia’s economy grew at a rate almost unparalleled anywhere else in the world, as we shall see later.
The Socio-Economic, Political Impact
With the Open Door (economic development) Policy (Wreh, 1976) President Tubman, also, announced and launched the Unification Policy . These efforts were in response to public demand by protests against a repressive, oppressive, one-party rule and denial of civil and political rights.
Firstly, as already noted, the success of President Tubman’s Open Door Policy was not lost on Development Experts, Economists, Planners and Academia, in terms of the results or impact on the nation and people.
According to the review of the book, Growth without Development (Clower, 1966),an epic survey and detailed, critical study and analysis of the-then Liberian economy provided “that from 1951-1961 (just in ten years) the Liberian economy grew at a rate almost unparalleled anywhere else in the world (outstripped only, in fact, by Japan). But this growth rate did not lead to (corresponding) development; that is to structural economic change, absorbing larger members of Liberians in new productive activities and with advanced training and skills. On the contrary, the returns from Liberia’s economic growth, in so far as they accrue to Liberians, went almost exclusively to the ruling minority of Americo-Liberians, thus reinforcing their political and economic power, and the economic and social divisions between them and the country’s tribal majority”.
Secondly, President Tubman recognized the developed/developing realities of the day, in terms of persistent calls and demonstrations for “integration” and “unity, then code words for “democratic governance and recognition of and respect for the rights of rural citizens”. Therefore, he responded by abolishing the three (colonial) provinces in rural Liberia and created, instead, the first four, new counties in the hinterland – Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong and Lofa counties in 1964, 117 years after political independence. With creation of the counties came the inevitable, senate and house presentations, a demand which, until now, had been vigorously, persistently denied (Smith, 1964).
Apparently, this effort by President Tubman was designed to give (political)benefits by legislative representation in addition to the Open Door Policy, which could or would give (economic) benefits by direct, foreign investment in and to Rural Liberia. These policy measures were designed, moreover, to defuse and eventually eradicate the shocking, irrational, socio-economic and political inequalities inherent the differences between the settler/coastal and indigenous/hinterland communities and give due recognition/respect to and appreciation of the African culture of indigenous, rural Liberia.
About this approach, Liebenow (Liebenow, 1987) observed, eloquently and graphically, that the “. . . appearance of reform being far greater than reality . . . the Tubman engine ran out of steam . . . It was clear that the overwhelming thrust of integration . . . of the First Republic was still in the direction of accepting settler (Americo-Liberian) rather than tribal norms of behavior. . . Detracting from the benefits to be derived from the extension to the tribal hinterland of suffrage and representation in the Legislature”, he wrote, “was the fact that elections had actually become almost meaningless exercises within the single-party state. Real power had gravitated even more effectively from the legislature to the president and those influential Americo-Liberians who surrounded him. Although education provided more bureaucratic jobs for tribal youth and lower-income Americo-Liberians, the really significant executive, legislative, judicial and ambassadorial positions were retained by the leading families at the core of the Americo-Liberian elite”.
Bluntly put, although President Tubman’s vision of progressive liberalism, national economic development and national unification, the critical ingredients of the Democratic Process,was recognized, appreciated and rewarded by the Liberian people with a 27-year reign as President, but the oppressive marginalization and denial of basic, civil and political rights of the people still continued and remained a shocking, mind-boggling reality; in that, the foregoing issues continue to this day, as we will learn later.
The current, Liberian President
To the International Community, the current President of Liberia is the epitome of progress and democracy. She is in demand for world conferences on politics, long-range, sustainable economic development planning; for honorary doctorates, speeches, and statutes on college campuses. She is the recipient of the coveted Peace Prize with the world’s notables. Importantly, she had been able to convince the International Community and attract direct foreign investment to and in Liberia, including multi-billion dollars in loans, aid, grants and agreements for many development projects, and the world body for billions of US dollars in debt forgiveness for Liberia.
Although the President had been given, is being given the honor, phenomenal support by and solidarity with the International Community for democratic and economic contributions to the Republic, but the average Liberian and the rumor mills still hold that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf did not win the 2005 and 2011 elections as reported by the international community and that she cannot, now, be elected “dog-catcher” in Liberia, according to prevailing, political mood of the nation. The President, even, lost control of her ruling Unity Party which, apparently, is on its way to the death of dormancy, like all the other national, ruling parties, before Unity.
According to Dr. Mills Jones, former Governor of Liberia’s Central Bank “. . . the international, financial institutions, including insurance companies, are knocking on the doors of the CBL to explore the possibility of operation in Liberia; where there is positive engagement with the African Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), that economy is not about to collapse . . .” (New Democrat, December 9, 2013).
Meanwhile, official dishonesty – deceit, lies, thievery (graft, greed, etc.) or Corruption reigns supreme in the offices and executive suites of our government, as we shall see in Liberia in Liberian national Politics, Part 2.