Do Not Throw the Baby Away With the Bathing Water: On Dr. Emmanuel Dolo's Critique of a National Conference in Liberia

William E. Allen, Ph.D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 13, 2005


As a signatory of the recent petition for a national conference to be held in Liberia, I am reluctantly writing this rejoinder. My reluctance stems from the recognition that by signing the petition, I had an opportunity to express my views on the topic; others must now be given the platform to do likewise. However, a critique written by Dr. Emmanuel Dolo (, June 6, 2005) raises a number of points that tend to confuse the issues and, if left unaddressed, may spawn apathy for a national conference in Liberia. Dr. Dolo's analysis, which is couched in highly inflammatory rhetoric, contains unproved assumptions, faulty generalizations, innuendoes, and several contradictions. His critique reminds me of a common saying that cautions the impulsive mother not to throw the baby away with the dirty bathing water.

I agreed to the idea of a national conference to be held in Monrovia (I strongly advocate that it be held in the various county headquarters as well) before the October elections because I believe it is critically important. Primarily, it will help to foster national unity by giving the majority in Liberia (literate and non-literate, urban and rural) the platform to articulate their pain, their hope and their fears. This platform was basically what the two recent conferences in the United States attempted to accomplish. In Liberia, our elders in the villages, for instance, can give us their perspectives on how we arrived at this sad state of national destruction in our history and what can we do to prevent a reoccurrence. Moreover, a national conference is an opportunity for the vast majority of our people in Liberia, who were unable to find refuge in the United States and Europe, to partake in the debate on critical national issues like abuse of power, education, social equality, and a war crimes tribunal. Again, these were some of the very topics that the two recent conferences in the United States addressed. A national conference in Monrovia, Gbarnga, Buchanan, Sanniquellie, etc., gives the same opportunity to the majority in Liberia to freely express themselves like their fellow countrymen and countrywomen did in the United States. The Liberian conference will complement those that were held here, not compete with them. Lest we forget, it was the majority (who did not attend the conference in the United States) that remained in Liberia throughout this terrible ordeal. They were the ones who physically endured the rape, the murder, the hunger, and the sorrow. And they, like us living abroad, have a right to tell their story. Because there is no indication that such a conference is being organized in Liberia prior to the October elections, I agreed to sign the petition for a national conference in Liberia. Let me now address Dr. Dolo's critique.

Dr. Dolo characterized the call for a conference as egotistical "selfishness" (p.2). In fact, his main contention is that those who called for the conference are motivated by self-interest: the sub-title of his article is "Dictatorship of Self-Importance." Yet, in his nearly four-page tirade, Dr. Dolo did not give a shred of evidence to prove his incendiary charges. He failed to show, for example, how calling for a national conference makes us absolute rulers or a "dictatorship;" how advocating for the conference makes us "selfish;" how the conference would confer prestige on us; or how a national conference will personally benefit the signatories. On page 3, he accuses those calling for a national conference of having "ulterior motive," but did not provide any proof, not a jot to support this brazen charge. For Dr. Dolo, it was simply sufficient to use innuendoes and unproved assumptions to impugn our intentions. The logic of his main argument that the signatories' call for a national conference in Liberia is a selfish one is puzzling: "They have no capacity to host this conference or ensure that its results are implemented," he writes on page 3. But the signatories themselves conceded that they have no authority to hold the conference. Essentially then, they are asking any neutral group with the credibility, the resources, and the wherewithal, to host the conference (e.g., UN and the European Union). Where is the "selfishness," the "dictatorship," and the "self-importance" on the part of those calling for the conference? Some of the signatories may choose to attend a national conference in Liberia, which is not sufficient reason to insinuate that they are selfish. I certainly will not attend due to obligations here and the high cost of going to Liberia.

There are many contradictions in Dr. Dolo's argument. He wonders "what objective would a national conference serve this late into the elections." The petition clearly states that the goal is to "avail our people the opportunity to speak their mind on the national crisis in light of past experience and future aspirations" (the letter is posted on, June 6, 2005). What objective did the conferences in the United States serve, the conferences that Dr. Dolo suggests were a success? Is it not selfishness on our part to claim (after holding our national conferences in the US) that the majority of Liberians do not deserve to have a conference also? There is ample time to organize one. In another section, Dr. Dolo indicates that because "societal problems are complex" attempts to resolve them must be "inclusive, holistic, and equitable" (p.1). And yet he condemns the effort to organize a conference in Liberia that will include the majority of the population (the very "inclusive, holistic and equitable" approach he advocates above).

Dr. Dolo makes it very clear that he and some of the signatories have different views on national politics and policies (p. 2). This is perfectly acceptable. I certainly do not share some of the views that other signatories hold on national issues, and they may not agree with some of mine. Nonetheless, I hope we can consider each situation on its own merit and not on past actions that may have no relevance to the current problem. My concern was how a national conference would empower the majority of our people who have always been disenfranchised. In my mind, it would foster national unity, give the majority a sense of national direction, and for the first time, make them actual stakeholders in the political process. They can then cast their ballots in October with confidence and hope. Therefore, whatever policy or political disagreement I have with Dr. Elwood Dunn or the other signatories is beside the point. What matters the most is the merit of the proposal and its usefulness to Liberian unity. To refuse to consider the merits for a proposed national conference because of personal differences with those who proposed it is tantamount to the mother, who sneers at the dirty water her baby is bathing with, and decides to throw both the baby and the water away.

About the author: Dr. William E. Allen teaches history at Georgia Perimeter College, Atlanta. He can be reached at