Poor No Friend: Life is ALL About “GOOD” Relationship

A Speech Delivered by

Siahyonkron Nyanseor


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 28, 2006


Editor's Note: Mr. Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor, Chairman of the Liberian Democratic Future, publisher of The Perspective, served as the keynote speaker at the 2nd Inaugural Program of the Liberian Women Association of Kentuckiana (LWAK). The occasion was held on Saturday, April 22, 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky. The officers installed were: Grace Musu Jackson, President, Anna Adibuah, Vice President, Jacqueline Wilson, Treasurer, Susie Karneh, Social Chair, Arthurine Mentee, Coordinator, Barnnie Marchione, Financial Chair and Neole Siah Tarr.

First, let me give thanks to the Almighty God for His grace and mercy; for it is He who has made this day possible for us to get together to celebrate this august occasion. Secondly, l extend special thanks and appreciation to the officers-elect and the members of Liberian Women Association of Kentuckiana (LWAK) for organizing this association that supports youth in Liberia, and to have considered me worthy of the honor to serve as your keynote speaker – for this, I am immensely appreciative, and as we say in Liberia – “I thank you all plenty!”

In addition, it is with a sense of deep humility and sincere appreciation; I stand before you to share with you my thoughts regarding the future of our beloved country. For this occasion, I have chosen to converse with you on the topic: “Poor No Friend: Life is ALL About ‘GOOD’ Relationship”. Our conversation will cover the following areas: 1) What constitutes a Good Relationship, 2) How the lack of Good Relationship contributed to the anarchy we experienced in recent years in Liberia; 3) What Liberians in general and the Liberian Women Association of Kentuckiana must do together to find a lasting resolution to the palava that has continue to divide us throughout our existence as a nation, and 4), I will make some practical suggestions for the leadership of LWAK to use in pursuing its current humanitarian work at home and right here in Kentucky/Indiana.

Let me share with you my perspective regarding the unique qualities of the gender called FEMALE (Woman). You see, the power of a woman cannot be measured in terms of physical strengths; and that men are no equals to what is known as “mother wit”. As a matter of fact, there is no man dead or alive who can ever match “mother wit”. I make these resounding statements based on my life experience and personal relationship with my mother and wife. For example in the household I grew up in, my mother was the “power broker” or if I may say, the one that had the ultimate power. And this is true of most households, but some men may not agree with me on this issue. Nevertheless, I am of the belief that a sizeable amount will do. In the case of my family, while it was my father who made the public pronouncement of decisions taken by the family, the actual decision was made in the boardroom (bedroom) before it was made public by the messenger – the man, a role most men play so well.

Most Liberian women of my mother’s era, were God-fearing first, honest, disciplined, reserved, visionary, and compassionate. Based on these qualities, I am of the belief that if women were given major roles to play in world affairs, we might not have had all of the problems confronting humanity today. I honestly believe this to be true! Therefore, I am not surprise that Liberia has become the first, once again, to elect the first woman president in Africa. In fact, Liberia has had many powerful women leaders. For example, Madam Suacoco after whom Suacoco is named was not only a community organizer, but also a skilled politician. Then there is – Ambassador Angie Brooks, the first female president of the UN General Assembly. Ambassador Brooks was elected with 113 votes out of the 118 ballots cast to become the president of the 24th session of the UN General Assembly in 1969. A job she performed so well that her aides made the following remarks about her; “Angie Brooks is tough, resilient, patient and unfailing good-humored”; while another aide said, “She is very nice, but she is no push-over, believe me!” (Louise Crane, Ms. Africa: Profiles of Modern African Women, 1973)

Ladies and Gentlemen, leadership is nothing new for Liberian women. In fact, it is a tradition to place our women on a pedal stool. For example, a Ghanaian proverb states that, “A woman is a flower in a garden; her husband is the fence around it". And to fully understand and appreciate proverbs attributed to African women, the individual does not have to be a part of the African culture but rather the individual must not see other people’s culture from his/her blurred cultural lenses since culture, according to Ali A. Mazrui “… is the medium of communication…Culture provides a basis of stratification, a pecking order in society. Status, rank and class are partly the outcome of a cultural order”. (Ali A. Mazrui, The African Condition, 1980)
Regarding the African woman’s role in the African setting, John Mbiti had this to say, “Women are extremely valuable in African society. Not only do they bear life, but also they nurse, cherish, give warmth, and care for life since all human life passes through their own bodies. The following proverbs bring these points to bear.

"’A woman must not be killed’. She is the mother of life, and to kill the woman is to kill children, to kill humanity itself. The woman should be handled with respect and not be treated as if she were a slave. So another proverb asks the husband: ‘Did you buy me with elephant tusks?’ if the husband is ill-treating her. She reminds him that he really cannot buy her; she is not a commodity for sale like elephant tusks or slaves. Even an aged woman is a blessing to men. So another proverb says: ‘It is better to be married to an old lady than to remain unmarried’.

“There are areas of human life, which only the woman can fulfill. The Maasai use proverb to explain that a successful life needs ‘a wife, a cow, a sheep, a goat, and a donkey’. This means that even if one is rich, one is not successful as long as one lacks a wife”. (John Mbiti, “The Role of Women in African Traditional Religion”)

Qualities of Good Relationship

I contend that having good relationship with others makes life worth living. With good relationship, anything is possible. The Sermon on the Mount contains Jesus' best-known advice on having a healthy relationship with God and people.
According to Jesus:
· Treat others the way you want to be treated
· Don’t judge and you won’t be judged
· Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned
· Forgive and you will be forgiven
· Give and you will receive
Embedded in Jesus’ teaching is the belief that we are our brothers and sisters’ keeper. This universal tenet can be found in every human society, which at other times is referred to as L – O – V – E.
While all relationships have some adjustment periods, abusing and hurting others are not part of any good relationship. Relationships have such qualities as a support system, willingness to communicate, desire to compromise, open and honest. When you do not have these good qualities in a relationship, that relationship isn't likely to grow, and will not become something that you desire.

Open and honest communication is one of the most desirable qualities needed in a relationship. While you may not like everything about the other person you are in a relationship with, honesty should be the centerpiece of the relationship. Both individuals need to be open and honest on issues, because a relationship based upon false truths is not likely to be successful.

There are many qualities that make relationships good. Support, compromise, and open and honest communication are some of the qualities that one may desire in a relationship. These qualities will help a person nurture and develop a deeper relationship.

Carl R. Rogers, the American psychologist who made significant contributions to understanding psychotherapeutic relationships maintained that these three qualities, Genuineness, Caring, and Understanding must be present in a therapeutic relationship if positive change is to occur in a client. He went further to say, if genuineness, caring, and understanding are absent in a therapeutic relationship, enduring positive change is not likely to occur in a person, regardless of the therapeutic method used, the fame of the therapist, or the time and money spent in the treatment.

Roger described his first quality Genuineness, as a condition in which therapists are being themselves as fully as possible in the therapeutic relationship. This means that the therapist is continually aware of what is happening within his or her own organism, especially attitudes and feelings that arise in the course of the relationship with the client. It involves, further, the ability to communicate this awareness to the client when it is appropriate to do so, particularly if the same attitudes and feelings persist in the course of their relationship. Genuineness in a therapist means, quite simply, being real with oneself and one's client.

The second quality, Caring is defined as prizing or valuing clients in all their uniqueness, with all their strengths and weaknesses, placing no conditions that they must fulfill to merit the therapist's esteem. Caring also implies respect for the differences. Rogers believed that the New Testament agape best expresses what is meant by caring.

The third quality, Understanding is the therapist's ability to see life as the client sees it, from his or her own internal frame of reference, to understand accurately and sensitively the experiences and feelings of the client and the meanings he or she attaches to them. Empathic understanding enables the therapist "to get inside the skin" of a client and "to walk in his or her own shoes for a while." (Carl Rogers, Client-centered Therapy, 1951)

Rogers insisted that when Genuineness, Caring, and Understanding are not present in a relationship, enduring positive change is not likely to occur.

I am in agreement with Rogers regarding the principle of Genuineness, Caring, and Understanding, even though some researchers suggest that techniques don't matter nearly as much as the therapist's personality.

For the purpose of our conversation, let’s make Liberia our therapist. Based on historical evidence, Liberia as the therapist represents a political system in which the people (the clients), i.e., the various ethnic groupings have not existed amicably. Conflict has existed between them because the government has been unable to address their palava with Genuineness, Caring, and Understanding. As a result, the system became dysfunctional with no plan in place to help resolve the conflict.

Then, it is safe to conclude that the conflict that ensues between the settlers and the indigenous were over incompatible goals. It became reconcilable because the leadership wanted the aggrieved party – the indigenous to be the one to give in or make the adjustment in the relationship. This scenario can be categorized as the basis of the Liberian experience, which according to Dr. D. Elwood Dunn:

“Liberia's national purpose evolves from the circumstances that attended its founding almost two hundred years ago. Yes, the original idea of Liberia developed from the need to locate a place of refuge for the free people of color of the United States in the early 1800s. With the attention of post-slave-trade philanthropists focused on rehabilitation of those areas that had been devastated by the inhumanities of slavery and the slave trade, the idea of introducing to the West African coast Christian civilization soon became a controlling purpose. The planting of the Liberian entity was thus accompanied by the introduction of purposes having to do with civilizing and christianizing”. From the Speech (“The Challenge of Our National Purpose and the Agenda for National Self-fulfillment)

The founding of Liberia

It was this mindset that the settlers from North America came to Africa with. From the very beginning of the founding of Liberia, relations between the settlers and the indigenous inhabitants of present day Liberia were marked with conflict. The Americo-Liberian settlers had their minds made-up to civilize and Christianize their so-called uncivilized and heathenistic brethrens with Western cultural beliefs, and their way of life they considered superior to African values, practices and institutions. Their contempt for the indigenous culture was demonstrated in their careless efforts to convert the indigenous inhabitants by enacting such ordinances as, no washing clothes on Sunday, public nudity (aimed at indigenous women, some of whom went about topless), and private land ownership as opposed to the indigenous land ownership based on need.

Furthermore, the settlers who were against the indigenous inhabitants’ secret societies such as the “Poro” (training schools for males) and the “Sande” (training schools for females), established exclusive social clubs and fraternities, i.e., the Saturday Afternoon Club (also known as Sac Tower), the Crowds, the United Brothers Friendship (UBF), the Odd Fellows, the Free Masons, and sororities such as, the House of Ruth, the Sisters of the Mysterious Ten, and Order of Eastern Stars, and when it suit their political interest, they sought membership into the very Poro society they condemned. (Donald A. Ranard, Editor, Liberians: An Introduction to their History and Culture, Culture Profile No. 19, April 2005)

Like most imperialist power, the settlers too, brought along with them a belief system and attitude, which made them to feel “superior” and to view the indigenous inhabitants as “inferior”. With this mindset, the settlers went on to rename everything they came in contact with – after names of places in North America, from where they were actually deported; names like Maryland, Virginia, Greenville, etc. They went so far to make it somewhat mandatory for indigenous children to acquire so-called “civilized” or “Christian names”.

Regarding this prevailing condition, Edward Wilmot Blyden made the following observation: “…the settlers’ religious and social theories that they brought from across the sea, were imposed on their brethren without any consideration”, to make them so-called civilized creatures, no matter how brutal and uncivilized the process.

Also, in 1923, the noted Liberian historian, Abayomi Karnga classified the status divisions among Liberians into four distinct cast systems. At the top were the Americo-Liberian officials, consisting largely of light-complexioned people of mixed Black and White ancestry. They were followed by darker skinned Americo-Liberians, consisting mostly of laborers and small farmers. Then the receptives, Africans who had been rescued by the U.S. Navy while aboard U.S. - bound slave ships and brought to Liberia (referred to as Congoes). The indigenous African Liberians were at the bottom of the hierarchy. These divisions led to de facto segregation amongst the various groups, specifically affected were the indigenous population. (Donald A Ranard, editor, Liberians: An Introduction to their History and Culture, Culture Profile No. 19, April 2005)

If history is any guide to understanding the genesis of a country’s vexed-palaver and how such major national concerns as ethnicity, reconciliation and national unity have been addressed, the Liberian experience leaves much to be desired or appreciated.

In Liberia, there were no genuine efforts or fundamental changes made by the leadership to resolve the age-old conflict between the two major groups; those who preferred to be called Americo-Liberians and the “Natives”. Yet, succeeding governments of Liberia, continue to repeat similar mistakes by enacting policies that benefit those who trace their ancestral roots to North America, some through receptive Africans, emigrants from the Caribbean, and other African countries, specifically, West Africa at the expense of the vast majority – the indigenous African Liberians. For example, William V.S. Tubman's policy of "Unification and Integration" was nothing more than an extension of the cult of the presidency and Monrovia rule and dominance over the hinterland. No real changes were made after the death of Tubman. William R. Tolbert continue Tubman’s policy but added his, such as "Total Involvement for Higher Heights" or "Mat-to-Mattress", which were mere window dressing, immersed more in rhetoric than in reality. Under Tolbert, the socio-economic gap widened. While he preached "Total Involvement", the country's wealth and power remained concentrated in the hands of a few families, friends, and the Americo-Liberian elite. Since the system did not undergo any major change, Samuel K. Doe came up with his version of the rhetoric, "In the cause of the people" by providing for his ethnic Krahn members with positions and power; while Taylor and Bryant followed the path of what in Liberian parlance, we refer to as “What Monkey see, Monkey do”; a tradition of accumulating power and wealth for personal use.

Even with the passage of time, the elites now consisting of some indigenous African Liberians failed to depart from Liberia’s ugly tradition - the master-servant relationship brought over from the antebellum south. As the result, several opportunities were missed to unite the settlers and the “native” population. This failure eventually led to the 1980 overthrowing of the True Whig Party oligarchy, which subsequently brought about the civil wars.

False Pride, Prejudice and Sectionalism

Liberia is a unique society! It evolved into a social, political and religious system that produced false pride and attitude, which infected both the assimilated African Liberians and their Americo-Liberians counterpart. This attitude developed into a unique system of prejudice. This Liberian attitude is as such that we see ourselves as being “better” than our West African neighbors. Although Liberians and her neighbors are situated along the same Atlantic Coast, we referred to our neighbors as “Coasters”, and many of us are quick to claim that we originated from abroad, meaning America.

Up to the present time, there are still many Liberians who are suffering from this psychosis of confused identification crisis. While recently, prominent African Americans traced their roots to Africa, and are proud of originating from Africa, this group continued to trace their ancestral roots from “the cotton plantations of North America; they rather to have originated from some other place than Africa, but thank God, DNA technology can now trace an individual’s ancestral roots to its point of origin.

Based on the recent PBS special, DNA proved that the origin of humanity (human beings) is Africa, and that whites (Caucasians) have certain amount of African ancestral DNA, which means, African ancestral.

Mandingoes as Foreigners

The unique system of prejudice that I mentioned earlier evolved into a kind of sectionalism that is practiced in Liberia, today. One that readily comes to mind is the continued preoccupation of referring to the Mandingo ethnic group in Liberia as foreigners. Those who view them as foreigners are either ignorant of West African history or wish to remain blind to the historical realities of Africa.

The prejudice towards Mandingoes stamped from the fact that most Liberians profess to be Christians, while most Mandingoes are Moslems; and secondly, Liberia’s political sub divisions (counties) were and, are still apportioned on the basis of ethnicity; due to the fact that some of these counties bear names of specific ethnic groups, makes those whose names the counties bear tend to claim ownership of these counties; like for example, Grand Bassa and Grand Kru. In fact, prior to the arrival of the settlers from North America, Mandingoes were among the tribes that formed part of present day Liberia. Based on documented history, the Condo Confederation, which consisted of the Vai, Gola, Gbandi, Dei, Loma, Kpelle was organized under the leadership of the Malinke King Sao Boso, who was referred to as Chief Boatswain because he had previously worked on European vessels as boatswain; a practice that goes on today, to call an African by his profession. King Sao Boso is the last King of the Condo confederation. A case in point is the late Chief Tamba Lamin. “’Tailor’ was actually a nickname he acquired in his youth as a skillful tailor in his hometown Shello”, wrote Alhaji G.V. Kromah in the article, “Hail to the Chief (Tamba Lamin) Taylor & Legend”, LIBERIAN ORBIT, November 2, 2001. Perhaps, this is the tradition that is being practiced by Christianity, Islam to rename their converts, so-called Christian, Arabic or Civilize names.

Similar prejudice was directed at the Director-General of SUSUKUU, INC., Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh. At the time, SUSUKUU, INC., a non-profit service cooperation, whose goals and objectives were to help poor people in helping themselves, and to assure that more Liberians get to know about their rights under the laws of Liberia, had a project in Putu Chiefdom, Grand Gedeh County. The project was a part of the parent organization – the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) programs, which included farming, literacy, legal assistance, health, school construction, food processing, road construction, production of reading materials, installation of safe drinking water wells, and the construction of recreation facilities.

The money that was to be generated from the sales would have been used to build schools, clinics, roads, and small factories, mainly for the people in Putu. Instead applauding SUSUKUU and the people of Putu, they were attack by Government operatives.

When the project started in January 1978, former Justice Minister Oliver Bright, former Local Government Minister Samuel Hill, former True Whig Party General Secretary Robert Bright, Education Minister John Bernard Blamo, Grand Gedeh County Attorney David Swengbe, Grand Gedeh Senator Albert White, Grand Gedeh Representative Silas Rue and Grand Gedeh Superintendent John P. Beh, threatened, intimidated, harassed, and jailed some citizens of Putu with the intent of they abandoning their self-help development project; instead, the Putu Development Corporation (PUDECO) stood firmed and challenged the authorities.

Somehow, Superintendent John P. Beh ordered the closing down of the Putu project in November that year (1979). This act led the people of Putu in many parts of the country to protest as well as filed their grievances with the Zwedru Circuit Court to prevent Superintendent Beh and his supporters from interfering with their self-help project. And while the Putu case was still in the Zwedru Executive Council, where the investigation was taking place, members of the National Legislature made slanderous and prejudiced statements against the Executive Director of SUSUKUU, Dr. Tipoteh. Those Legislators indicated that Tipoteh is a Kru man; therefore, he must leave Grand Gedeh County and go work in Sinoe or Maryland (counties), where Kru people are plentiful. (Nya Kwiawon Taryor, Sr., Justice, Justice: A Cry Of My People, 1985)

Similar sentiments were displayed during the recent Legislative and presidential elections held in 2005. The electorates were divided along class and ethnicity.

In the twentieth century, many governments fought prejudice by legally guaranteeing the inviolable right to freedom, security, and equality of its citizens. Even today there are many constitutions or principal body of laws in of most countries with clauses and amendments designed to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their origin, race, gender, or religion. In Liberia too, we have these same guarantees in place, but they are not enforced to the letter. The very government that enacted them violates them at will.

But, there is the tendency by some apologists and benefactors of the system to apportion blame on individuals and groups in the past that advocated for fundamental change as, radical, socialist or even communist. In their effort to put the breakdown of law and order on these individuals or groups, they distort historical facts in their analysis. One glaring example is a book titled: Beneath the Cold War: The Death of a Nation, written by a husband and wife team, Sadie L. and Leonard T. Deshield. The book was published in 1999. In the book review conducted by J. Kpanneh Doe, published in The Perspective’s January/February/March 2000 print edition (Volume 4 No. 1); Doe wrote that the book is unique in so far as it offers a perspective from two individuals who were not only bystanders, but also participants in government. The authors devoted the first half of the book to prove that the “KGB and the CIA were the designers and executioners of their nation’s cold war policies”. The second half of the book, according to Doe is the crux of the book. It delved into personal account of the authors’ experiences of what happened on the night of April 12, 1980, which led to the overthrow of the Tolbert government by the military junta.

Instead of the book being “simply a narrative based on personal experiences”, the authors offer a passionate defense of the Tolbert government, the True Whig Party rule, and Americo-Liberian hegemony, and made a scathing critique and painted a bleak portrait of those who advocated for fundamental changes. Discussing MOJA and PPP, Sadie and Leonard Deshield state: “PPP and MOJA had promised their followers, especially the market element that they could bring rice into Liberia for less then $10.00 (US Dollars) a bag. The Tolbert government gave them the opportunity to do so but they quickly back away from their own lies”.

Doe reached the conclusion that, “there are three significant problems with the book. Firstly, there is no disputing the fact that the cold war played a significant role in undermining the progress and development of many African and Third World countries, but to apportion blame solely on the cold war without addressing the internal problems that prevailed in Liberia, which accelerated the political crisis, not only miss a crucial point, but display a lack of objectivity in their analysis of the root causes of the existing problem that has bedeviled the country”.

Rev. J. Samuel Reeves’ 1992 book, Liberia and the Civil War is another example of the practice of blaming the messenger. A passage in the book reads: “Many Liberians affected by the coup have not forgotten the role of Taylor as a leading member of the Union of Liberian Association[s] in the Americas (ULAA). It was this association that agitated vigorously against the Tolbert government in the 70’s and masterminded a demonstration against Dr. Tolbert at the United Nations in New York. The president’s embarrassing encounter came from his own countrymen when as chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU); he was addressing the General Assembly”.

What I am still having problem understanding since I read the book is – the point that Rev. Reeves was attempting to convey. It seems as an indictment of Liberians who protested against their leader with whom they had problem with; and to demonstrate against such a leader is wrong, especially when he is addressing the UN General Assembly as head of the OAU. What better place an aggrieved group of citizens could express their grievances than the United Nations; a world body that deals with such issues? It is these kinds of blame shifting that has kept Liberians divided – our failure to call a spade, a spade.
If the recent Liberian Legislative and Presidential elections are any prediction of the future, than we are in for a rude awakening. From what went on during these elections, it is safe to conclude that Liberia remains divided along class, ethnicity, education, religion, wealth, as well as what constitutes corruption and abuse. “…Our boys, full of potential, were forced to be child soldiers, to kill or be killed. Our girls, capable of being anything they could imagine, were made into sex slaves, gang-raped by men with guns, made mothers while still children themselves”, says President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. These young boys and, especially young girls ranging from age 12 to 14 years referred to as “iron taties” for their fulled and pointed breasts, were exploited and continued to be used as sex toy by well-to-do Liberian men, including peacekeepers.

Liberia is in a deplorable state; our people lack safe drinking water, proper sewer system, the weather is unbearable due to the deforestation policy practiced by the Taylor government; there is poor health service delivery, the government has failed to bring to justice individuals who steal with impunity the wealth of the Liberian people, and to persecute those who exploit young boys and girls for their sexual pleasure.

Fellow Liberians and friends of Liberia, our task has just begun. Civil wars have left deep scars on all of us here due to the indiscriminate and ruthless nature of the perpetrators. Therefore, as we are in the process of finding lasting solutions to the many problems we are faced with, we must do so with respect for diversity and tolerance. According to President Johnson-Sirleaf: “Our nation cannot afford to evade justice and protection of human rights throughout…That myths, mysteries, and the individualized arrogation of truth will serve no useful purpose; rather, it will reinforce divisions, suspicions, and smoldering anger”. (J. Yangui Zaza, “Tolbert and Doe, Different Assassins, But Same Architect”, The Perspective, March 16, 2006)
KUU & SUSU: Two Traditional Self-Help Institutions

To the leadership of LWAK, I say, what you have started here is in line with your indigenous Liberian tradition. In Liberia, we have two self-help institutions that are referred to as: SUSU and KUU. These institutions were organized to serve the needs of our people.

Kuu for example, represents human resources while Susu represents economic resources. In this arrangement, individuals work together to provide food and other necessities as their contributions for the common good of the community. Furthermore, all persons within the clan or community, work together in order to meet their societal and communal responsibilities. Moreover, their individual household production is not for the exclusive use of their household each working unit is obligated to contribute a portion of its production or labor to the clan and the remainder for the individual’s household.

The Kuu and Susu systems are set up in such a way that a brother or a sister of the clan is never abandoned. The clan is always ready to support and defend its members. Within both systems, the group, and not the individual is the main focus. The rationale is – in order for the individual to succeed in society, it will have to take the efforts of the entire village. It is out of this concept; the philosophy that “It takes a village to raise a child” is derived. In short, activities through performed by or emanating from an individual are never projected for the sole benefit of individual.

The same is true with the project you started by providing 24 scholarships (2004-2005) to orphans and former child solders in Liberia; scholarships which include, tuition, uniform, school supplies, etc. I this regard, let me encourage you to continue the good work. “God will bless your plenty!”

Poor No Friend!
What is badly needed today, is for Liberians abroad and at home revive this cherished tradition of ours, which we sometime referred t as “poor no friends”. The meaning of this statement was captured in the Keynote Address of the 14th Annual General Conference of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) in Newark, Jersey, July 3-5, 1987. The titled of the Keynote Address that Father James Christopher Hickey of the Society of African Missions delivered was: “A Land Both Old and Young”. On that day, Father Hickey reminded us that:

"The Liberian people are heirs to a vibrant African culture of immense antiquity, of extraordinary intrinsic value and of remarkable inherent attractiveness and binding force. Its profundity strongly resists the shallow allurements of other cultures, with their emphasis on things rather than persons. There is a clear recognition that what one is as human being is the all-important criterion and not the possessions one might accumulate. Things are of value in so far as they promote the well-being and the purposes of the person and not the other way around. Family lineage and relationships are of extreme significance because they provide the precise location of the individual within the human group. And society, the human environment takes absolute precedent over the values of the physical environment. Thus there arises a most intricate web of interpersonal rights and obligations. The culture is mark with very precise rules of politeness, etiquette and protocol. Person-orientating obligations take priority over abstract and economically oriented duties. The individual dependence on and service to the community is clearly perceived, acknowledged and lived. For the Liberian as indeed for most African cultures the appropriate saying is not ‘poor, no money’ or ‘poor no job’, or ‘poor no car, or T.V.’, nor any other such thing. Rather, the African consciousness finds its spontaneous and most adequate expression in the phrase, ‘poor no friend.’ Likewise, a very strong condemnatory and rejecting attitude is expressed when one would say of another that ‘he is rude’ or ‘he does not know how to talk to people.’ There is here, an extraordinary appreciation of respect for the human person and human society”.

And that, “…Government on behalf of the people and for the people and for the common good runs through all the ethnic cultures of Liberia. The human rights exist and that any abridgment of them requires ‘palavers’ and/or some form of legal due process is also inherent in the cultures. It is also a part of the cultural tradition that the material resources are meant to serve the needs of all, in some equitable distribution. Government exists to ensure this and not to exploit the resources for the personal aggrandizement of the governors nor of a few. While these elements did not exist unflawed in the implicit theory and practice of the cultures, they are there so strongly, however, that the people recognised that the way forward was to strengthen those insights and to counteract the flaws. And no matter how flawed the practice was in extending autocratic rule to the chief, the native system never envisaged purely whimsical, arbitrary, irrational, emotional, vindictive decree – issuing. For the chief was always chosen on account of his sagacity, his prudence and common sense for profound insight and knowledge of and respect for traditions. In all serious matters he was obliged to hear the advice of a council – the Elders – and investigate all sides of a ‘palaver’”.

What I gathered from this tradition is, when we say “Poor No Friend”, we are in pursuit of amicable relationship. The task for us today is, to return to the Liberia that Father Hickey captured so eloquently.

In the Liberia of my youth, we greeted each other as: “My good friend, how do, or how do you do?” which implied that we were concerned with establishing relationships rather than making palava with each other. We did so in order to keep our relationship alive. Even when we were fussing, we still referred to each other as “My good friend.” Friendship and relationship in Liberia of our recent past formed an important part of our socialization. We placed friendship very high on the totem pole of things we cherished; wealth and health came second and third to friendship. In that Liberia, you were poor if you had no friend. “Poor no friend” was a reminder that we needed each other. Therefore, we made extra effort to get along; despite the problem we had with each other every now and then, over that “Country and Congo” thing; but somehow, the tradition we once cherished and held dear to heart were thrown out of the window because as Theodore T. Hodge said, “… the country was on a path of self-destruction for a long time by instituting colonial and apartheid-like conditions and policies in the country. There was a clear distinction between citizens who could trace their ancestry to the colonists and those of indigenous descent. The seeds of discontent were planted over a century ago; the miracle is that it took so long to explode”. As a result, we committed heinous crimes against each other, especially, against innocent children, women and the elderly. After all that have taken place, can we become friends again? My friends, this question hunts me on a daily basis!

Fellow Liberians and Friends, if we are to find lasting solutions to the problem that we as a people are faced with, we have to be honest about the root causes of our problem. To deny the facts will keep us apart, and prolong our misery.

As a people, we need what I called: “Affirmative Reconciliation”. A program whose aims and objectives would be for us to admit that there exists still a serious palava, which has kept us divided since the founding of our beloved country over 159 years ago. We should be honest with each other, instead of believing like many of our countrymen and women that April 12, 1980 starting the whole thing – the breakdown of law and order and the many calamities Liberians and their neighbors suffered.

Some practical suggestions for the leaders and members
To the officers-elect and members of the Liberian Women Association of Kentuckiana, I say, you must refrain from engaging in the “Cult of Leadership” that Liberians are so accustomed to; instead, you should follow the “Institutional Approach” in operating your organization. By this I mean, follow the purpose for which you were organized, which is to implement the goals and objectives of your organization, instead of blindly supporting a leader who happens to be your brother, sister or a friend, who since elected has not made significant and viable contribution to the organization.

By all means, the members of this organization should avoid giving unnecessary praises to their leader, and when her back is turn, only to say she did not do this or what she did was wrong. Furthermore, refrain from branding individuals you do not agree with as “troublemakers”. If you chose to let go your rights to critique a leader, remember that others have rights to do the exact opposite. Don't call them “troublemakers” because they choose to speak their minds, and you chose not to. This “Your leave the people’s thing alone” approach will retard your progress, and even dissolve an organization with good intention. Be open to new way of thinking, new ideas and new ways of doing things. Do not be content with the same old way of doing things. Be creative and experiment with new ideas. If you do, your organization will achieve a lot that are not only measurable but sustainable as well.

In this regard, permit me to suggest the following key points as your road map:

1. First, as a people, we need to learn to be civil towards one another – by this I mean, if we disagree, it must be on issues; and make our case on that particular issue rather than engage into a confrontation that will lead to sweeping and general acquisition such as “This is a new day in LWAK, the days of the old are over.” This statement suggests that the present leadership is better than the previous one. These kinds of statements tend to bring about disunity among the past and present leaders. Furthermore, it defeats the ultimate goals and objectives of the organization; therefore, it should be avoided at all cost.
2. On an annual basis, you should organize educational symposium or seminar to teach Liberian history and culture to your children (especially, those who were born in the Diaspora). The reason we should teach history is to save the present generation who know very little about the past, to learn from the past, in order to not to repeat past mistakes. This if I may say, is one of the reasons the Jewish people keep reminding the world about the holocaust. As a people, we too need to teach our children about slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, prejudice, oppression, corruption and undemocratic practices in Liberia. In other words, Culture and History are what make us unique and different; therefore, should be celebrated.
Also to be included in the symposium or seminar we plan should be the following subject areas: Constitution of LWAL; the roles of the membership, the elected officers, and the various committees; Communication Skills, the use of Criticism, Managing a Diverse Group, Assessing and Evaluating Performance, etc. This practice, I honestly believe will not only improve communication between leaders and the members but rather will make the organization much better.
Remember education and information are powerful tools; one becomes less powerful if he/she is without access to them. Moreover, the lack of knowledge is often the direct result of the choices we make, either by deciding not to obtain the knowledge needed to fight for what we believe in. In the final analysis, education allows us to make changes in our lives as well as help make the world we share with others, a healthy place to live.
3. Since members of your organization have to work and take care of other personal obligations, you should keep the number of times you meet physically to a minimum, and make use of available technologies - such as Teleconference or Conference Call.
4. You should not engage in the practice of rewriting your Constitution and Elections Rules – instead, amend those provisions that need improving. Avoid the practice of an incoming president initiating amendments to your constitution and by-laws. The purpose of rewriting constitution in most cases is to the benefit of the incoming leadership; this is a waste of precious time and resources.
5. In your future plans, incorporate having a permanent headquarter (office space), where for example, the organization’s records will be kept; in addition, change the leadership structure from the present – President to Executive Director for the fact that it is somewhat easy for funding sources to deal with an organization that is managed like a business. And with the projects that you have undertaken, you will need more resources than what you receive from your annual fundraising activities. Therefore, this administration should make these two suggestions top priorities. Make a determined effort to incorporate your organization and obtain a 501-C status. This will help you greatly when raising funds.
6. Promote the interests of your organization instead of serving or promoting the interests of your leaders. No person is an island; “MAN” as a social being needs to interact with others in other to receive knowledge as well as pass it on. You need to participate one way or the other in the activities of the in which you reside.
7. Make your leaders answerable to you – the membership, and hold your leaders responsible for their action and performance. Your organization must develop the type of leadership that is performance oriented. Your leaders must encourage equal participation by keeping the members inform of the affairs of the organization rather than "a select few" on the basis of friendship.
8. On an ongoing basis, the members should be prepared to critique and evaluate the leaders (constructive – with recommendations) as well as reward your leaders for doing a good job.
9. You should always be in the habit of self-examination. Self-examination will enable you to be in the position to judge others better, and not to be judgmental or engage in backbiting! Get to know why people think or do things the way they do. Learn to gather your facts first before you react, or try to understand another person’s position before you rush to conclusion or accuse them of wrongdoing and go on bad mouthing them; and if you find out you are wrong – apologize, and
10. Whenever the president or any of the officers of the organization is not functioning to the expectation of the organization, that individual should be dealt with, and when found incompetent, removed from office in accordance with the constitution and by-laws.

We’re in this Together!

My fellow Liberians, we are in this predicament together; in order to succeed, we must follow the piano keys analysis of Dr. Aggrey, the founder of the famous Achimota College in Ghana. Based on his analysis:

“You can play a tune of sorts on the white keys, and you can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, but for harmony, you must use both the black and the white”.

As a people emerging from two brutal, bitter civil wars that pitted blood relatives against each other, we have no other choice, but to reconcile our differences, close ranks, and move forward towards a future full of promise. In other words, as advised by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Without forgiveness, there is no future”. The task of of rebuilding our lives and our country is enormous, indeed! And, in the words of the late US President Ronald Reagan, “There is no limit to what can be achieved, when no one cares who gets the credit”. Therefore, we should undertake the rebuilding our country with genuine reconciliation and lasting peace as our road map.

Officers and Members of LWAK, these are my honest suggestions, which I have made in good faith.

On this note, let me close with a poem I wrote, titled, Liberia, the Beautiful:


In search of freedom and liberty
the Settlers returned
United with their brethren
at Cape Montserrado
This glorious reunion
gave birth to Liberia
The land of diverse people
like its natural resources
So when we think of home
we think of Liberia
the beautiful.

Oh home, sweet home
of thee we sing these praises!
To the land both old and young
but yet indivisible
Where the love of liberty
will unite all of our people
For in complete unity
our progress is assured
For our land of beauty
and pride for which we long
Long live Liberia, the beautiful
forever and ever.

In spite of the many problems
that have hurt our national pride
we have finally resolved
never again to fight one another
Also, agreed to live together
under the Lone Star forever
United in purpose
to protect the land
that is God given
So when we talk about home
we talk about Liberia
the beautiful.

Oh home, sweet home
of thee we sing these praises!
To the land both old and young
but yet indivisible
Where the love of liberty
will unite all of our people
For in complete unity
our progress is assured
For our land of beauty
and pride for which we long
Long live Liberia, the beautiful
forever and ever.

Oh God Almighty
please forgive us
for our many misgivings
and restore our native land
to its intended grace and beauty
To let freedom ring
from Cape Mount, to Cape Palmas
and through Cape Montserrado
For the land so sacred
and dear to us
to be at peace forever
And to remain a national monument
for us to love, cherish
and protect.

Oh home, sweet home
of thee we sing these praises!
To the land both old and young
but yet indivisible
Where the love of liberty
will unite all of our people
For in complete unity
our progress is assured
For our land of beauty
and pride for which we long
Long live Liberia, the beautiful
forever and ever.

I thank you plenty and wish all of you the best of luck in your new positions.

Suggested Readings:
For you personal reading, I recommend: Dr. John Gray’s book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships. Using the metaphor to illustrate the commonly occurring conflicts between men and women, Dr. John Gray explains how these differences can come between the sexes and prohibits mutually fulfilling loving relationships. Based on his years of successful counseling of couples and individuals, he gives advice on how to counteract these differences in communication styles, emotional needs, and modes of behavior to promote a greater understanding between individual partners.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is an invaluable tool for developing deeper and more satisfying relationships.
Dr. John Gray’s book, Mars and Venus Together Forever: A Practical Guide to Creating Lasting Intimacy. In this book, Dr. Gray answered the questions our parents could not. It points us in a new direction. It promises and delivers the necessary information for the creating and sustaining loving and mutually fulfilling relationships as well. It offers a new seed that, when planted and watered will grow into a relationship that is not only loving but easy.

Leo Buscaglia, LOVE. LOVE is an examination of the delicate phenomenon of human love as the one unifying force of life. The author identifies barriers of love and suggests means of overcoming them. This book was inspired by Leo Buscaglia's ground-breaking Love Class at the University of Southern California.

Leo Buscaglia, Loving Each Others. The book deals with the dynamics of human relationships and our fears of commitment. He points out that society's flippant and suspicious attitudes toward tenderness, compassion, caring, sharing and love, has created detached, apathetic people. The book contains the results of an extensive relationship survey.

Donald A. Ranard, Editor, Liberians: An Introduction to their History and Culture, Culture Profile No. 19. This Culture Profile provides general information about Liberians – their history, culture, language, and resettlement experiences – as well as information about the new arrivals in particular. Profile is intended primarily for service providers who will be assisting the refugees in their new communities in the United States. And others may find it useful, too. Teachers may use it to educate students about a people whose history is closely intertwined with that of the United States. In addition, local government agencies – the courts, the police, and the housing and health departments – may use it to help their staff better understand, and thus better serve, the new arrivals.

Susan Schmidt, MSW, “Liberian Refugees: Cultural Considerations for Social Service Provider”, Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services (BRYCS), revised June 20, 2005.

Augustine Toure, “The Role of Civic Society in National Reconciliation and Peacebuilding in Liberia”, International Peace Academy, April 2002.

Alhaji G.V. Kromah, “Hail to the Chief (Tamba Lamin) Taylor & Legend”, LIBERIAN ORBIT, November 2, 2001. “’Tailor’ was actually a nickname he acquired in his youth as a skillful tailor in his hometown Shello”.
The Covenant with Black America, 1st Edition, Third World Press, 2002.