By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
In his article, entitled Natives are not perfect too: Let’s stop the divisive politics and elect a qualified Liberian (Capitol Times, June 7, 2017),Mr. Varney Teah makes the case against the “Natives” or Indigenous, Liberian Citizens in the following manner:
1. “It is a reality that we can’t ignore the historical facts of the ‘Congau Suppression’, being a child of indigenous parents . . . I am aware. However, since the coup d’état on April 12, 1980, Natives (Indigenous citizens) have been at the fulcrum of governance in Liberia”. Although “the late President Tolbert invested in many Liberian Natives educationally before the coup, some of those same Natives led the Rice Riot in 1979 and subsequently aligned with the PRC government . . . “.
2. “From 1980, Liberia has been under 37 years of Natives dominance in government. What has been the impact? Nothing. The Samuel Doe government was one of the most corrupt government in Liberia . . . After 10 years in power, the impact? Zero. We had transitional governments during the wartime that were headed by natives. What did they do”?
3. Madam Sirleaf (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) appointments in government have favored Natives to a very large extent . . . the Legislature since 2005 elections have been dominated by natives. We have had rotational native Speakers of the House of Representatives as well as the Pro-Tempores of the Senate. We have had a Native Vice President for twelve years. What has been the impact? Zero!”
4. “Ninety percent of corruption indictments and allegations since 2005 and the ones stemming from the Doe era is associated with the Natives. Even the so-called young natives of recent who were given opportunities to study abroad and go back home to make a change have alluded to the status quo . . . they are more corrupt and unconcerned about their fellow natives’ plight more than the Congaus were during the True Whig Party Era. They form organizations and associations and only allow members of certain status and class”.
Indeed, we admit that many of us, indigenous Liberians, who fled from our home towns and villages of Rural Liberia, mainly, to the Capital City of Monrovia for the purpose of education, economic betterment, personal growth and development in preparation for service - public or private - have become unmindful of that responsibility after achievement of education, joined the traditionalists, the African-American, immigrant-settlers or Americo-Liberian Rulers, in exploitation of the citizens, the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population for socio-cultural, economic and political gain. But they were not allowed national policy-making power and authority, only emerged/emerging political, indigenous class.
It is absolutely untrue that the Natives or Indigenous Liberian Citizens held and exercised absolute political power for 37 years from 1980 or from any other year in the history of our country. Even, the military rule which resulted from the 1980 coup d’état was characterized by several destabilization attempts, including introduction and offers of bribes, capital flight, rivalry and jealousy based on ethnic/tribal bigotry exacerbated by the illegal insurgency, several coup attempts, with the last illegal invasion of Liberia conceived, planned, financed and led by Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf with her appointed agents - NPFL/INPFL.
They captured, tortured alive by cutting off ears, private parts and, eventually, murdered the President on September 9, 1990, just 10 years and approximately 6 months’ rule as Head of Government, as compared to the Republican/True Whig Parties which ruled for 133 years up to 1980 and continues to this day.
Liberian History 1847-1980
Liberian History for this period was, and is, the story dominated by the social, cultural, economic and political activities of the ruling African-American, Immigrant-Settlers or Americo-Liberians and their co-rulers, the Congos or Congaus.
The Tragedy of the prevailing condition is the absence due to consciously planned or willful neglect/refusal to apply knowledge of Liberian History, particularly, the period of 1847-1980, 133 years of Republican and True Whig Parties’ miss-rule and thereafter, on the part of the nation’s historical rulers or the apparent absence due to ignorance of knowledge of Liberian History or application thereof, on the part of our young academics/intellectuals, the future leaders in whose hands rests the future of our Nation. This tragedy of the prevailing condition is crucial, critical and profound, relevant problem. For, knowledge of the past does not only provide answers to the “whys” of the mistakes of history, but also the “hows”, necessary in planning for the present and future and avoiding repetition of the mistakes of history.
Moreover, the Visioning Process, necessary for presentation, exchange and competition of ideas in the founding and future of the new nation included no indigenous inhabitants. The nation was founded and created by and for only the socio-cultural, economic and political benefits and interests of the African-American Settlers-immigrants and the Congos or Congaus. For examples:
a. Upon declaration of political independence on July 26, 1847, the established nation was only the four Settlements or Counties of Grand Cape Mount, Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Sinoe, with Maryland admitted ten years later in 1857, homes of the immigrant-settlers. This Liberian Nation was demarcated 40 miles inland from the West Atlantic seacoast, with the larger, rest of the country, home of the overwhelming majority of new nation’s population and land area was designated as “provinces” or colonial territories of the leading founders, the African-American, immigrant-settlers. The indigenous inhabitants were not citizens of the new nation and, therefore, had no socio-political rights thereof.
b. “An Act of Legislature passed in early 1905 for governing districts within the Republic or colonized territories inhabited by Aborigines” provided that “. . . each territory inhabited, exclusively, by aborigines would be regarded as townships with native courts in such areas with appeals to the District Commissioner”.
The Revised Law or Administrative Rules & Regulations for the Hinterland entitled, “building on what existed or Hinterland Law of 1949, Article 29, also provided that “It is the policy government (of Liberia) to administer tribal affairs through tribal chiefs who shall govern freely and according to tribal customs and traditions”. This system of rural, hinterland governance, based on the Unitary Structure of Government enshrined in the 1847 and the 1986 Constitutions, with little modifications, is still in operation today.
c. Article 1 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides that “All power is inherent (vested in ) the people (citizens of the Republic)”; but, Article 50 says that “The Executive power (now so defined) of the Republic shall be vested (had been vested and is vested) in the President (of the Republic)”; that Article 54(a-f) provides that “The President shall nominate (had nominated and nominates up to this day) and with consent of the Senate, appoint and commission: cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers; ambassadors, ministers and consuls; and the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of subordinate courts; superintendents, other county officials and officials of other political sub-divisions; members of the military from the rank of lieutenant or its equivalent and above; and marshals, deputy marshals and sheriffs”.
d. Article 55 provides that “The President shall appoint and commission Notaries Public and Justices of the Peace who shall hold office for a term of two years but may be removed by the President for cause”; Article 56(a) says that “all ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, minsters and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the President”; Article 56(b) instructs that “There shall be elections of Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs by the registered voters in their respective localities, to serve for a term of six years. They may be re-elected and may be removed only by the President for proved misconduct. The Legislature shall enact laws to provide for their qualifications as may be required”.
These articles are apparent carry-overs from the abrogated, 1847 Constitution, intended to create, and created the prevailing Imperial Presidency by diligent enforcement, with holders being, had been and are, African-American, immigrant-settlers throughout the 170-year history of the Liberian nation with exception of the 10-year period of the military Rule which represents, approximately, only 6% of the 170–year period.
e. Article 3 of the 1986 Constitution, also, an apparent carry-over from the abrogated, 1847 Constitution because it provides that “Liberia shall be (had been and is) Unitary State”. This provision arrogated and continues to arrogate all power – administrative, economic and political – to the Settler community, represented by the Imperial President. Moreover, all of this all-embracing power had been, and is rigidly centralized in and dispensed from the Executive Mansion, Republic of Monrovia, Montserrado County, by the Imperial President with no input from the indigenous citizens of Rural Liberia.
From the foregoing citations of constitutional provisions and diligent enforcement concomitant with historical policy of Indigenous Exclusions, the reasonable conclusion follows that (1), Indigenous or Native ministers and top executives in government were mere “Country Boy Messengers” and (2), that other academic/intellectuals were, also, mere “book doctors”, rationalists and democratic “face” to the world community for support, both with no national policy-making power and authority, and that such power/authority had been, and is, reserved absolutely for Americo-Liberians and Congos or Congaus.
Notwithstanding the rigid application of socio-cultural, economic and political Class Divide, there were and are several Indigenous Liberians who “made it” through the Ward system or other reasons. About the Ward System in Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, notably, one of the most successful beneficiary of the system described it this way:
“It was President Johnson who encouraged Jahmale (Ellen’s grandfather) to send my father to the city (of Monrovia) as a ward. As with many aspects of Liberian society, the ward system, its history and legacy, is not simple to parse. Its origins seem to lie in a complex combination of tradition, expediency, and need; the motivations of its participants varied greatly, as did the way in which it was executed. In the simplest explanation, the ward system flourished in early Liberia because it met the settlers’ crucial need for cheap labor.
Those early transplanted families, not having enough children themselves, needed help with the heavy housework of the nineteenth century: hauling water, collecting firewood and coal, cooking, cleaning, and tending crops. At the same time, it was, in many villages, an African tradition for chiefs and wealthier villagers to have guardianship of children whose parents were either dead or too poor to care for them. The extended family system in Africa assumes that everyone is his brother’s keeper; it is one of our strengths. Likewise, it was common at the time for chiefs who formed alliances with other tribes or chiefs to offer women as wives and children as wards to validate the agreements”. My father, who was taken in by a family (Americo-Liberian) named McGrity, was given the last name of Johnson, after the (Liberian) president. His first name, Karnley, was westernized to Carney. At the age of fifteen or sixteen, Carney Johnson was born. In the name of (socio-cultural, economic & political) assimilation and to be accepted, he had to experience a rebirth (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 2010)”.
It is necessary to note that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - Daughter of Carney Johnson who was Ward of Americo-Liberian family, member of the Nation’s Legislature and the “poor man’s” successful Lawyer - was Foot-soldier, Ideological Under-Study and Minister of Finance of the dreaded, deposed True Whig Party Government. She was also, and is, the product of the 1940s-1950s City of Monrovia dominated by the socio-cultural, economic and political dynamics of the African-American, immigrant-settlers. Education, life-style, attire (until lately, after the April, 1980 Event), mannerism, deportment and body language convey the reality that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was, and is, socio-culturally European-German, American, Americo-Liberian, while she is bio-physically indigenous Liberian.
Vice President Boakai’s Dilemma, LAP, LUP & UP Merger
Regarding the allegation that “We have had a Native Vice President for twelve years. What has been the impact? Zero!”, we present, hereunder, Front Page Africa’sanalysis of Vice President Boakai’s Dilemma, given the merger of LAP, LUP & UP.
“For decades – since the resignation of President C.D.B. King and his Vice President Samuel Ross, the office of the Vice Presidency has always been limited, or strategically and politically set aside for someone who is expected to operate in the background. In typical Liberian fashion, political analysts say presidential aspirants and candidates have looked for someone considered ‘unassuming’ --- that was a highly desirable political quality for the occupant of the Vice Presidency”.
“There is a constitutional provision for the office of the Vice President: that is his first and foremost duty, to serve as the President of the Senate, and vote only when there is a tie; he is the presiding officer and a tie breaker, says Bishop Bennie D. Warner, the last Vice President of Liberia’s First Republic.
Warner, who served as Vice President to William R. Tolbert from 1977-1980, the year of the military coup d’état, says the Vice President does not participate in the debates on the issues before the Senate except to conduct the flow of the debates and/or discussions on the floor according to parliamentary procedures based on the rules of order established by the Senate and "Roberts Rules of Order. Here he is fully in charge as the President of the Senate and in his absence; the President pro-Tem conducts the affairs of the Senate. For many watchers of the Liberian political scene, whoever is awarded the Vice Presidency or is under consideration for it, has to be a person who could live in the deep shadow of the President; one who doesn’t need to walk in the political limelight, or on the red carpet of influence and state power”.
Vice President Boakai & President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
In an exclusive interview by the Front Page newspaper, Vice President Joseph Boakai left no stone unturned in making clear his personal and official relationship with Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as a friend; as President of the Nation; and as Head of their Unity Party, and he, as Deputy President of the Nation (Front Page Africa, March 1, 2017).
This, indeed, was true confession, unique in African politics. A sitting Vice President bared it all – his personal and official relationship with his boss, the President, concerning delicate social, economic and, of course, political issues in an election year, where the Vice President is candidate to succeed his boss who, under law, is ineligible to stand for a third term. This candid press interview was motivated by the President Sirleaf’s alleged, reported support, in cash and kind, of the opposition political Party and its Leader, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party.
Amid the concerns and jitters of some indigenous citizens who are, also, politicians, raised by this allegation or perception thereof, are that Cllr. Brumskine is not only leader of an opposition political party, but also, that he is of the settler-, Americo-Liberian elitist class heritage, the class which ruled Liberia (as one party-state, True Whig Party) with an iron hand for 133 years and continuing, while Vice President Boakai and the Unity Party that he now leads are of indigenous, Liberian heritage.
But to most of the Liberian people, desperate for change, a Boakai Presidency would mean continuation of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s profoundly failed regime, the administration considered to be arrogant, consciously ignored and ignoring rational advice, but drowned/drowning in the cesspool of public dishonesty and stealing of public resources. The people’s argument had been, and is, that Joseph Boakai has been the nation’s No.2 Chief Executive for 11 years, but could not, did not address the critical needs of the nation and people. But in response to this argument by the people, although reasonable, Vice President Boakai responded and presented a legal/political counter-argument, a reality:
Joe Boakai, the VP is not the President
That a Vice President, as the second-in-command, is objectively limited. “The role of the Vice President”, he said, “is very clear. I am not the President. I do not make appointments. I do not set the rules, the President is the President. Anytime a Vice President competes with the President, you know, there’s going to be problem. My role is to preside over the Senate without taking a vote; my role is to assist the President. Assist the President means that the President has a need and the President recognizes that the Vice President can fill those needs, she’ll ask the Vice President to do that”. But, according to Vice President Boakai, “since the two elections which brought Unity Party to power, President Sirleaf has never asked me to recommend to her any minister or any ministry. However, I recognized that it is the prerogative of the President and there was no need for me interfering, if not called upon. Do I have the right to go the President to ask that without people saying ‘You trying to fight the woman, that’s the woman’s right? I cannot do it. The President must invite me, she must see the need the same way she felt the need to have a Vice President, that’s my role. I am Vice President; the difference between me and the President may be the way we implement.”