Al-Hajj Mory D. Kaba, Chairman Muslim Congress of Liberia: An Appreciation
By Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D.
When, in the early 1960s members of the Muslim community of Monrovia decided to amalgamate their various Islamic organizations into the Muslim Congress of Liberia, the late Al-Hajj Mory D. Kaba (née Diakity) was one of its key founders among other prominent Liberian Muslims. Through their efforts, the Muslim Congress of Liberia was enacted by an Act of the Liberian Legislature in 1966. He died in Monrovia on March 7, 2003, following a protracted illness. Although he was a prominent Liberian businessman and philanthropist, not many Liberians, outside of the Liberian Islamic community knew of his history and work in Liberia.
On Sunday, May 25, his son, Liberia's former Ambassador to Egypt, Dr. Brahima D. Kaba, will join his family, relatives, friends and well-wishers at a prayer and memorial service in his honor at the Muslim Community Center Mosque in Silver Spring, MD.
The late Al-Hajj Mory D. Kaba was born in 1914, at the onset of World War I, in Wassulun, French Guinea. His parents were Broma Diakity and Djeneba Diakity. As a youth, he worked in Guinean gold mines acquiring the necessary funds to take care of his parents and get married.
At age 21, he migrated to Liberia, where, he was told, African people enjoyed freedom and liberty. He had undergone a stint in the tumultuous resistance to French colonialism and exploitation of his native Guinea. Paradoxically, Liberia was emerging from five years of devastating international pressure regarding allegations of slavery and forced labor. The country was also experiencing hard times with the world economic depression in full force. That did not deter the youthful Mory. In 1938, he traveled to Liberia via French Côte d'Ivoire, which was then the most convenient route to Liberia. On the eve of World War II, he settled in Zwedru, a town in Liberia's Eastern Province, which later became the capital of Grand Gedeh County.
Old Man Karonka Keita (also known as Ketter) hosted the young Kaba. As a member of Zwedru's City Council, Keita represented the immigrants from the newly established French colonies of Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, many of whom had escaped the French forced recruitment of indigenous people for work on colonial plantations, rail road tracks, and highway constructions for the colonial army. Other prominent members of the immigrant population of Zwedru at that time included the late Al-hajj N'Faly Cisse (or Sessay), the maternal grand uncle of Mr. Aly Syllah of Philadelphia and the late Al-hajj Mohamed Kebe (or Kerbay). Mr. Kebe gained notoriety for providing his compound in Zwedru for an Islamic School. The school's prominent students included Dr. Brahima D. Kaba, son of Al-Hajj Mory D. Kaba. Under the tutelage of Old Man Ketter, Mr Kaba became a Liberian citizen. He quickly established himself as a prominent business trader in the main cities of Liberia and Sierra Leone. He eventually decided to settle in Monrovia in 1955.
He became the Chairman of the Muslim Congress of Liberia in 1979. Under his leadership, the Congress expanded and diversified its educational activities. The then, W. V. S. Tubman Muslim Elementary School was expanded with the addition of the Muslim Congress Junior and High School, and the construction of the New Port Street Mosque, as an additional innovation.
The evolution of the school was now at its golden moment, starting from its humble beginning in the early sixties with the Karan Ta (or learning place), an indigenous, afternoon school then located at "K. K. Yard," in the PHP Section of Monrovia's South Beach. K. K. represented the initials of Karamo Kaba, the wealthy Liberian entrepreneur, who provided the basement of his huge compound for the Karan Ta.
Karan Ta, under the leadership of the erudite Karamoh Saynkun, was not merely an Islamic institution; it was also a concept of complimentary education that addressed children's developmental needs and nurture. All of its students, including this writer, attended morning schools at some of Monrovia's prominent elementary schools: St. Patrick's Elementary School (SPSS), Daniel E. Howard, Monrovia Demonstration School, and C.D. B. King. The curriculum included Arabic literacy and numeracy, knowledge and translation of the Holy Qur'an and the sayings and works of the Prophet Muhammad (May the Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him), the Five Pillars of Islam, poetry, songs and physical education. Students were encouraged to undertake extracurricular activities, to which many in my generation responded by joining the Boy Scouts of Liberia, a central leadership training institution in 1960s Liberia. Others joined the Liberian National Youth Organization (LNYO).
Al-Hajj Mory D. Kaba became the Islamic Development Bank's (IDB's) special representative, and chair of its Scholarship Committee in Liberia in 1984. His co-chairs included the late Al-Hajj Rashid Sherif, then Chairman of the Congress School System Committee, and the late Al-Hajj Souleymane Syllah as treasurer. The Islamic Development Bank also included in its program activity in Liberia funding for the establishment of an Islamic University under the administration of the Muslim Congress of Liberia. The project was suspended in the aftermath of the 1989 Liberian civil war.
In the mid 1980s, the late Kaba helped establish the National Muslim Council of Liberia, a federation of four main Islamic organizations in the country (Muslim Congress, Muslim Salafia, Muslim Community and Muslim Union from Nimba). Al-Hajj Kaba also very actively organized the annual Muslim Pilgrimage for Liberian Muslims. He organized nine pilgrimages to Mecca between 1970 and 1988.
He also helped to promote education in the Nko language. Many community groups were actively studying this language in Monrovia in the late 1990s. Just before the April 6, 1996 War in Monrovia, I had been approached by members of one of the study groups, to introduce it to the authorities at the University of Liberia. Suleyman Kante created the Nko alphabet in 1949. Nko is a Maninka literary language complete with unique syntactical, morphological, and lexical elements and structures. Many new books have been written and published in Nko, including the translation of the Holy Qur'an, which the Nko Study Group showed me in Monrovia in 1996.
Al-Hajj Mory D. Kaba believed in both secular and Islamic education of his children, especially his daughters. Consequently, three of his daughters have obtained advanced degrees, in the fields of electrical engineering (Mrs. Mariame D. K. Marshall), Economics and Sociology (Asta D. Kaba), and Economics (Aminata D. Kaba). Two of his grand daughters also recently obtained advanced degrees: one of them graduated Cum Laude, from the University of Liberia, with a B.Sc. degree in Mathematics, while the other graduated from the University of Bridgeport with a double major in business and computer science. Al-Hadja Aminata D. K. Toure, his oldest daughter, is currently a prominent business leader in the Liberian businesswomen organizations.
Ambassador Brahima D. Kaba of Silver Spring, MD, Judge Yussuf D. Kaba of Monrovia, Ms Asta D. Kaba of New York, and 11 other children, 3 Wives, 33 Grand Children and 14 Great-Grand Children, are his survivors. May God Almighty bless him and grant him bliss.