Leadership in the Liberian Community: Who are Our Leaders?

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 7, 2005


Professor Elwood Dunn and an impressive list of signatories have presented an open letter to Chairman Gyude Bryant and other official stakeholders of the Liberian peace process. Their seemingly noble goals are clearly stated in eloquent fashion and extra care is taken to convey the impression that this group is pursuing selfless, national interests. No one can deny the fact that the issues raised in this letter are of most paramount concerns to us all as this crucial national period unfolds. But there is a troubling aspect that this communiqué raises: The issue of leadership.

In the open letter under scrutiny here, Professor Dunn, in reference to this stellar group, writes: “We, the undersigned, representing an important sampling of Liberian opinion leaders…” That is where I sense some troubles setting in. It is undoubtedly true that this group may represent “opinion leaders”, but does that make them genuine community leaders? They may even be potential community leaders, as some undoubtedly are, but were they chosen by their fellow countrymen and women? The answer is clearly no. This idea of assuming leadership because of one’s perceived importance in the community is dangerous and raises suspicion; in the least, it is undemocratic and rarely produces any positive results no matter the honorable intent.

The point I’m stressing here is the process through which this list of “opinion leaders” was compiled. This list clearly consists of well-known and capable people in the various Liberian communities – coming well equipped with impressive accomplishments in various disciplines. I’m quite sure, if given the opportunity, these same folks could easily be selected as leaders. But why wasn’t that done? Is it too much to ask to confer with and discuss your plans with your constituents? The failure to do so, as this group did, sends a message of arrogance: ‘We are your leaders – we are, because we know better’. In this day and age, such attitude is guaranteed to create resistance and cause suspicion – suspicion, because others have previously used such a platform for self-aggrandizement, as the records will show.

I am on record disagreeing with those folks who readily attribute our problems to the “intellectuals”. I think it s is unfair and irresponsible to blame the “book people”, as they are referred to, for waking us up to the injustices existing in our society in the seventies. It is true that some of them promised too much and delivered too little when given the opportunity. Some even shamelessly enriched themselves, further victimizing their fans and followers. Still, I argue that’s no reason to distrust the entire class and dismiss them as we engage in crucial national conversations.

Although I argue for the intellectuals, I do not mean to dismiss as trivial the concerns of less academically endowed fellow citizens. Intellectuals do have tremendous responsibilities and must live up to certain standards, a test which some fail miserably. An intellectual giant, Professor Noam Chomsky, wrote a seminal article titled, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”. In it, he said, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies”. Has our intellectual community been actively involved in community affairs, thereby earning the credit and trust they deserve? For some, yes, while for many, the answer is, no; they have pursued exclusive personal benefits at the expense of community affairs – that’s not a recipe for leadership in action.

Writing in a previous article under the title: “Liberians and Their Intellectuals: Playing the Blame Game”, this is what I said: “Again, what we need to ensure is that our so-called intellectuals should not take the general public for granted. Our so-called leaders must not become self-appointed, in other words, they must not assume that getting a certain degree of education automatically earns them a leadership role or the role of a spokesperson. Our intellectuals must associate with the masses and demonstrate leadership on a continuous basis. They must devote and contribute valuable services to their communities in a selfless way. The public must perceive their services as tangible and relatively useful to the masses…” I shall end on that note again.