A Rejoinder to "The Need to be Truthful"

By Tiawan S. Gongloe



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 25, 2005

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Ordinarily, I would not have responded to the article: The Need to be Truthful, by Theophillus Totee Bettie, because, largely the content of the article is a summary of his opinion of me, Dr. Sawyer and his candidate, Charles Walker Brumskine. I don’t think I can do anything to change the settled opinion of Mr. Bettie about any of us mentioned in his article, particularly his candidate. The object of this rejoinder, therefore, is to make clarifications on some of the issues he raised and to provide additional information for my critical view of his presidential candidate.

Mr. Bettie writes: “Instead of ensuring that this political season be dominated by a national conversation that compels a public policy debate over the future of our nation, some of us are determined to steer this dialogue into the direction of verbal attacks against a particular candidate sole based upon our personal dislike for said individual.” The first clarification I must make here is that Mr. Brumskine’s public discourse has not been dominated by public policy issues. It has been centered on who Brumskine is as a person and what he has done, or is doing for the Liberian people and because of these reasons, the Liberian people should elect him president of the nation. His recent interviews by the Washington Post and the Liberian Observer were very thin on policy issues. One of the issues that was raised in those stories is what Mr. Bettie alluded to in his article, the fact that Brunskine is philanthropist, who has been seeking “…the wellbeing of the suffering Liberian masses.”

Brumskine has, also on many occasions said that he is a born again Christian and that his decision to run for the big office and to go to Liberia were all decisions that came from God. In fact in the Washington Post story, “The Man who Would be President”, Brumskine is quoted as saying that he was already president of Liberia through the eyes of faith. Brumskine was also quoted in the Liberian Observer as saying that his contribution to democracy in Liberia remains unbeaten by any Liberian for the past fifty years. In that same interview he claimed that, although he served in the worst government in the history of Liberia, the Taylor government, he came out clean. On this same issue, he is quoted in the Washington Post story earlier referred to as saying that the best thing that happened to him, in his political life, was to serve in the Taylor government because he was in the position where he could have ordered the killing of anyone (italics are mine) and it would have been done but he did not; he come out of the government looking better than when he first entered it.

Brumskine has said that he stood up for the Liberian people while in government and by going to Liberia while Taylor was in power and that he would have considered himself an opportunist had he not done so. By implication, all his opponents who only declared their intentions after Taylor left power are opportunists. Mr. Brumskine is not an opportunist, yet he is quoted in the Washington Post as saying that he supported Taylor because he wanted to be in government and in his calculation it was clear that Taylor would have won the election. What is the difference between Mr. Brumskine’s statement and that of the Late veteran Liberian politician, Kekura Bayo Kpoto, who was known for saying, “As for me, I hang my clothes where the sun shines?” Now in the midst of these kinds of assertions by Mr. Brumskine, how can one examine him based on public policy issues? It would have been helpful to me and the reading public for the author of the article under consideration to mention the public policy issues that his candidate has raised in his effort to convince us to make him president. Let me make it clear to Mr. Bettie that I do not dislike Brumskine and have no personal reason to do so. In fact I have no hatred for those who tortured me in 2002 in Liberia or their master, Charles Taylor. I made this point in the New Liberian newspaper before I left Liberia in 2002. My opposition to Taylor, for example, was and is based on what he did and continues to do to Liberia its people. It is important for those who want to participate in public discourse on the future of our battered country to avoid the use of romantic words such as like, love, hate etc. In today’s world, I don’t want to be judged by whether I like or dislike another man, for obvious reasons.

The next issue that Mr. Bettie raised is that I have become “an internet politician” and that my chat room participation is “riddled with unsubstantiated innuendos” which he finds “very disheartening.” However, Mr. Bettie chooses to view my participation in the on-going debate by Liberians on the future of Liberia, is something that I have no control over. Consequently, I am not going to spend any effort in changing his perception. What I can say with regards to my participation in political discourse on the internet is that by nature, I always express my mind on any subject about Liberia, irrespective of the forum.

Those who were my contemporaries at the University of Liberia in the 1970s and those who lived through the Liberian civil conflict until I left Liberia in 2002, will recall that I was always active under the mango trees or the palava hut while still a university student and during the civil conflict, at the various hatire center, participating in discussions about Liberia. For Mr. Bettie to say that he finds it disheartening to see me “ degenerate into an internet politician” suggests to me that he does not hold the participants of internet discourses on Liberia, in high esteem and the that my participation in such discourse is carrying myself to a lower level, in his estimation. I do not harbor such arrogance that any Liberian or group of Liberians is below me in any respect. I think those discussions on the internet are very healthy for the building of democracy and the attainment of lasting peace and progress in our country and I hold all participants in those discourses in very high esteem, irrespective of my disagreements with many of the arguments. In fact I have learned a lot about Liberia in these exchanges than I knew. I invite Mr. Bettie and other Liberians who hold a deem view of Liberians who participate in these discussions to come on board and add more to their knowledge about Liberia, as I have done. This is why I will never move myself from the Ulibsaaforum. How else would I have known that Bettie had written the article under review about me, if I had not seen it posted on the listserv by Nat. Gbassagee and Zack Sharpe, since I do not often visit the Liberian Connection and Liberia Forum websites? Certainly, I find the listserv as a vital source of information on contemporary Liberian issues.

Before proceeding to deal with other issues raised by Mr. Bettie, let me now deal with the issue of my email to Dr. Sawyer that was inadvertently posted on the ulisaaforum. His concerns are that by saying that Kai was a founding member of the LPP but joined the NDPL being a Sapo, when the party started experiencing problems, I am being tribalistic and owe the Sapo people and apology and that he wants to know that I am not above personal loyalty like any other Liberian. On his last concern, I have never claimed neutrality and will never do so in matters of my country. Neutrality is not a virtue when it comes to demonstration of love for ones country. As far as the issue of my friend and brother Kai, is concerned, all Liberians will recall that Doe and his top lieutenants were not very kind to members of the Khran and Sapo ethnic groups who did not support him or were perceived as opposed to him. The case of the late Ambassador Peter Johnson is the first that comes to mind on this issue. During the 1985 Quiwonkpa failed attempt to remove Samuel Doe, Ambassador Johnson was maltreated and his home ransacked because he advised Doe not to run for the presidency and when Doe did not listen to him, he associated with other Liberians to form the Liberian Action Party, LAP, instead of joining the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) as many persons similarly situated thought was the right thing to do. Then there is the case of Benson Barr, a very committed medical doctor who hails from Nyambo Town, the birthplace of Mrs. Nancy B. Doe. Because Dr. Barr was a founding member of the Liberian Peoples Party (LPP) instead of joining the NDPL, he too suffered in 1985, following the failed attempt by Quiwonkpa to remove Doe. The case of PRC members Nelson Toe and Harry Johnson, both of the Khran ethnic group who were executed along with the Vice Chairman of the PRC, Thomas Wehnsyen (a Sapo) is clear indications the Doe had no compassion for those of the Khran and Sapo group who did not demonstrate loyalty to him.

Now, Kai, as Mr. Bettie, may recall was a self-supporting student at the University of Liberia, an experience that many of us from rural Liberia who went to Monrovia to attend the university had. Kai was a cadet at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications under bosses who were fiercely loyal to Doe and the only source of support that he had was his cadet job. The party that he helped to form had been banned and its leaders detained. The de facto political leader of the Sapo people at the time, Oscar J. Quiah, had himself, been pressured to join the NDPL after his name had been published as secretary-general of then newly formed United Peoples Party. Kai joined the NDPL as a survival strategy rather as a free political choice. It is in this historical context that I used the expression, being a Sapo in my personal email to Dr. Sawyer. Kai understands this very much. When I say that Kai is one of us, I am talking about the fact that Kai still identifies with the critical dream that inspired the formation of LPP, building a society based on the rule of law and respect for human rights and putting the interest of Liberia first in the politics of the country. Kai was an active member of a Catholic lay apostolate group called the YCS which was involved in raising the consciousness of young people about their community. I was once a president of this organization and believe that Kai has not departed from the core values of these organizations that he freely joined in his formative years as a young man. These are explanations that were not necessary in a personal email.

The fact that I was an aid of Dr. Sawyer is not new information. It is matter of national and international knowledge; hence, I will say nothing more about that. When it comes to the purchase of Dr. Sawyer’s house in Maryland, nobody has countered the argument that it was acquired by mortgage and said mortgage is still being paid, like many Liberians are doing in the US. Even Mr. Slewion who wrote this article has, now, lived in the US long enough to know that there are many less accomplished Liberians who own better and bigger houses than the one that Sawyer has, once they can afford the mortgage. Yet Mr. Bettie believes that a man, who had worked for more than a quarter of a century of his life as a professor and consultant before acquiring this property, could not afford such mortgage without public funds. He says, “It should be noted that one of the issues that continue to tarnish Dr. Sawyer’s legacy is the accusation that he converted public funds to his personal use by securing a private mansion in Germantown, Maryland (USA)”.

In whose view Sawyer’s legacy is tarnished, Mr. Bettie did not say. I don’t think he could be referring to Liberians who lived under IGNU, the transitional governments before the 1997 elections, the rule of Taylor (In Brumskine’s words the worst government in Liberia’s history) and those who now live under the Bryant led transitional government (described by Bettie as a kleptocracy). Those Liberians are in the position to compare Sawyer’s government with all succeeding ones and would, certainly, not make such judgment. I any case the best way to clear this issue is to audit all admininistrations of Liberia beginning with IGNU and ending with the current transitional government. I don’t also think that he is referring to the international community when the United Nations in fact asked Sawyer to lead a team of African professors to do some consultancy work on good governance in Africa, and when international non-governmental organizations have invited him to perform one function or the other, all of these after the famous house purchase story was published. How could Dr. Sawyer be employed by a leading American University to teach graduate students and co-direct a political science workshop that focuses on improvement in governance at national and local levels, if he was held in such low esteem as Bettie wants others to join him in believing. Bettie continues, “what is especially disturbing about said allegation is that such flamboyant purchase is alleged to have been executed not only by a man who prides himself as being a liberator of the masses, but also at a time of abject poverty in Liberia.”

Mr. Bettie makes all these unsubstantiated allegations against Sawyer who is not standing for public office and yet not only accuse me of engaging in innuendoes and making unsubstantiated allegations against Brumskine, a presidential candidate, but also arrogate unto himself the role of a legal counsel who feels obliged to advise me on the consequences of what he refers to as maligning another person, simply because of my critical examination of Brumskine’s public pronouncements, as a candidate.

Let Mr. Bettie know that all pronouncements of candidates in the ensuing Liberian elections will be subjected to very serious scrutiny. The purpose of such exercise is not only to find out whether such statements are true but, also to determine, based on the candidates past record, whether he or she has the capacity and the will to deliver on promises made in such public pronouncements. Why do I think that this approach is important in the coming elections? I am guided by the immediate past elections held in Liberia. During the campaign, one of the statements that Taylor made was “Elect me because I have no excuse when it comes to the reconstruction of this country. I destroy it; therefore, I will have no excuse when it comes to reconstructing. If you elect any other Liberia, she or he will give you excuse that the country was not destroyed by her or him, hence, you should be patient.” Many of us told the Liberian people that while it is true that Taylor destroyed the country, he had no track record of building and therefore they should not listen to him. The Liberian people believed Taylor and voted him into office.

As soon as Taylor got into office, his first agenda became having total control over national security and building a network of security forces for tightening his grip over Liberia and meeting his larger political agenda of establishing puppet regimes within the countries in the neighborhood of Liberia: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia and perhaps beyond. He than began to deal with what he regarded as internal threat to his control of power. In November 1997, less than four months after he assumed power, he killed Samuel Saye Dokie, along with Dokie’s wife, his sister, and cousin. Benjamin Yeaten publicly said he gave the orders for the arrest of Dokie.Yet he was never brought to justice. Subsequently, Taylor attempted to kill Roosevelt Johnson and ended up killing hundreds of innocent civilians on Camp Johnson Road. He then destroyed the Barclay Training Center, in order to prevent it from being used to overthrow him (The official reason for breaking down all dwellings in the barracks was to build a children’s village). It was only when Taylor was doing these things that Liberians began to murmur in the corners that he did not mean well for the country. It should also be noted that in addition to Taylor’s campaign promise of building a better Liberia than the one he destroyed, his platform was the best, in terms of form and substance. And gullible Liberians were attracted by it. Yet it was clear to many of us that Taylor had no intention to deliver on any of the plans contained in his platform. This is why I fully agree with Bettie when he says, “Our people have been deceived enough and deserve nothing less.” LET him put on a more critical lens and join me and others to critically examine those who want to be our president or to hold other public offices through the coming elections in Liberia. In order to do justice to the electoral process, let him save his examination of me and Sawyer until we decide to run for public office. Perhaps at that time he will have a lot more to say and write about. But for now the focus of all Liberians are those who are putting themselves forward to lead our country.

Let me now provide some clarifications on my position that I find it difficult to believe that Brumskine left Liberia because Taylor wanted to kill him. In the first place, Brumskine himself has provided two reasons for leaving Liberia. In one interview, he said he left Taylor’s government because the government was bad. Yet the truth is that he left because he involuntarily resigned from his position as President Pro Tempore and could not accept being just non-ranking member of the senate representing the people of Grand Bassa County. Having lost his prestigious position as the presiding officer in the Senate, in the absence of the vice president, Brumskine could not stand the humiliation of being an ordinary member of the senate. He left Liberia, abandoning the very Bassa people that he relies on today as a strong base for his presidential bid. To support his belief that in deed Brumskine left Liberia because Taylor wanted to kill him, Bettie raises the issue of my departure and that of Dr. Sawyer to make the point that the fact that the two of us, whose lives were almost taken away by Taylor could use the same Roberts International Airport (RIA) gives me no standing to doubt Brumskine, when he says Taylor wanted to kill him, simply because Brumskine ran away from Taylor via the RIA. This is a typical argument of someone who did not live through the Liberian civil war and has no idea of what Brumskine and others conspired with Taylor to put the Liberian people through. Taylor had his most trusted men and women at the airport, headed by, then, feared General Martina Johnson at the time that Brumskine passed through RIA. There is no way that Brumskine could have gone through that airport, if Taylor did not want him to leave or better put if he was running away from Taylor. Taylor’s loyal men and women did not only act against Taylor’s known enemies, but his perceived enemies (an expression made popular by the late Teah Facarthy, then one of the leading propagandist for Taylor). Sawyer and I could not have left Liberia if Taylor had not wanted us to leave. Whether he did so against his best judgment is another thing. After Sawyer was maltreated by Taylor’s men, he traveled to Niger, returned and stayed in Liberia for a while before traveling to the US. He did not run from the country as Bettie is suggesting in his article. One thing that is certain is that whenever Sawyer appeared at that airport, Taylor was informed that he was traveling and if Taylor wanted to stop him, he could have easily done so. So it is logical to conclude that Sawyer left Liberia because Taylor wanted him to leave. I say this based on my own personal experience.

After I was released from detention by Taylor, I was invited by the Carter Center (TCC) to observe the 2002 elections in Sierra Leone. I traveled to the RIA with Cllr. Frances Johnson Morris, then, director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), who was also invited by the TCC as an election observer. We checked in and were given boarding passes, but I could not make the trip because I was arrested and taken back to Monrovia and detained at the NSA. My brothers and others who had escorted me and were still awaiting the departure or the plan, said that there was an argument among the officers at the airport, with some maintaining that I should not be allowed to leave the country, and others maintaining that my name did not appear in the book of blacklisted persons at the RIA. A loyalist called Taylor and I was thereafter arrested. I did not make the trip to Freetown. I left the country only because a month after my last detention, a group of senior religious leaders led by Arch-Bishop Michael Francis and Sheikh Kafumba Konneh appealed to Taylor at a meeting he was having with them on the Liberian crisis, arguing that he should let me leave the country on humanitarian grounds to seek medical treatment, as I was suffering kidney injuries as a result of being tortured. According to the Arch-Bishop who informed me of Taylor’s decision to permit me to leave, Taylor said “I can listen to you my religious leaders but not anyone from Washington DC.” As I was told by Congressman Donald Payne later after my arrival in the US, they had put enormous pressure on Taylor to allow me leave the country. There was also enormous pressure from the human rights community in and out of Liberia for me to leave as well. And the local press in Liberia had kept my issue in the press, longer than, perhaps the government expected. When I subsequently arrived at RIA with my children, it was clear that the order had been given for me to leave. The same men that I arrested me were quite friendly and even helped me through the process of departure. Does Bettie stay want to believe that Brumskine could have run away from Taylor by using the RIA? I still maintain that Brumskine could not have left Liberia via the RIA if Taylor wanted to kill him, unless Taylor had changed his mind on such decision.

Bettie is outraged that I associated Brumskine with Taylor’s killing machine and suggested that Brumskine, Roland Massaquoi, and others should rather be seeking the forgiveness of the Liberian people, than campaigning to be president of Liberia. His outrage can only be explained by the poverty of information that he suffers as a result of his absence from Liberia during the 1990s and early 2000s and not having being able to obtain genuine information on what was happening in the country under Taylor. Brumskine was not a civil servant or a professional person hired to perform services for the government. Brumskine was an insider in Taylor’s government, until his lack of full understanding of the situation he had subjected himself to caused his involuntary displacement in Taylor’ s power structure.

Brumskine helped to make Taylor president of Liberia in many ways. For example, Brumskine led a team of lawyers, under the name Concerned Lawyers, to file an injunction against the use of the maritime funds by the transitional government led by Cllr.David Kpomakpor because Samuel Dokie, Tom Wowoyu, Zehyi Dekie and Cllr. J. Laveli Supuwood who had broken away from Taylor were on the government’s payroll. Judge Alexander Zoe who presided over that case and denied the injunction was immediately removed from office when Taylor came to power. This case was heard when Taylor was still in Gbarnga. When Taylor arrived in Monrovia in 1995, a major town hall meeting was organized by his supporters at the Monrovia City Hall. Brumskine was the moderator and everyone who attended that meeting will confirm that Brumskine was referring to Taylor as Mr. President, long before Taylor was elected President of Liberia ( perhaps he was referring to him as president of the rebel NPRG). Then there is the issue of the status of forces agreement which continues to hunt Brumskine, not as legal issue but a political issue in terms of the best interest of the Liberian people at the time. Nobody has argued that the issue of status of forces agreement is unlawful or unnecessary with regards to the presence of foreign forces. At the time that the issue of status of forces agreement was being raised, the only person who was not happy about the activities of the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group, ECOMOG was Charles Taylor. He wanted a very limited role for ECOMOG that would make it less effective in the protection of civilians from the warring factions. On the other hand the civilian population, especially members of the press, human rights activists, politicians and civil society leaders wanted a greater role for ECOMOG in all security matters until the police and army were transformed. The argument about the status of ECOMOG was being raised just after ECOMOG had saved people in Monrovia from the deadly attack by Taylor’s forces on Monrovia in October 1992 (known as the Octopus Attack). Thanks to Generals Adetunji Olorin and Victor Malu. After the Octopus Attack, Liberians developed the slogan, “Thank God for ECOMOG.” They were still chanting this slogan when the issue of status of forces agreement was raised by the Concerned Lawyers and others.

It was against this background that the lawyers that were raising the issue, who had lived in Monrovia under ECOMOG’s protection were viewed by the public as betraying the force and the Liberian people by spearheading an issue that only Taylor was concerned about. Eventually, ECOMOG was pressured to leave the country, when Brumskine was still in the government. The first two issues that Brumskine raised as Senate Pro Tempore were reinstatement of sovereign authority in the Liberian government and the status of forces agreement with ECOWAS. Here is the interesting thing that happened on this issue. Not long after ECOMOG departed Liberia, Brumskine’s personal problem with Taylor intensified and without an ECOMOG base to run to as many of us did when ECOMOG was still in the country, Brumskine chose to leave the country, when he feared the consequences of his falling out of the inner circle of decision-making. If ECOMOG had been allowed to remain in Liberia, perhaps the war would not have come and Liberia would not have been in the state it finds itself in today. This is what narrow-minded interpretation of sovereignty, sometimes, does to a nation.

For those of us who made it our business to understand Taylor from a distance, it was clear to us that Brumskine would fall out of grace like Taylor’s special forces and all the other groups and individuals he used on his way to the Executive Mansion. Brumskine did not understand that the only person indispensable to Charles Taylor is Charles Taylor, no one else. Everyone else around Taylor has been a temporary tool for the attainment of a specific objective. How could Brumskine succeed where Momolu Sirleaf, Samuel Dokie, Laveli Supuwood and Tom Wowoyu had failed in making a difference? Joining Taylor at the time Brumskine did to my mind exposed him as a very politically naive person, lacking the ability to make critical analysis, and being calculative and predictive. Brumskine lost my respect then and has not done anything to restore it (This is not to say that my respect for him should mean anything to him or anyone or should be a basis for Brumskine’s evaluation; but it is to let Bettie know where I stand.) Has Bettie and others asked the question why Brumskine considered it necessary to support Taylor after the April 6, 1996 crisis? Is Bettie not bothered by Brumskine’s statement that joining Taylor was the best thing that happened to him, in view of the enormous suffering that the Liberian people endured under Taylor? When he says that Taylor’s Government was the worst in Liberia, yet he was happy to be in the top decision-making position in such a government. Are Bettie and other supporters of Brumskine, as an expression of concern for those who suffered under Taylor, not bothered by the lack of remorse in such statement by Brumskine, “the man who would be president of Liberia”? I wonder how many close associates of Idi Amin can convince the Ugandan people to vote for them to be president of Uganda and at the same time say that the best thing that happened to them politically was to be in Amin’s government.

I guess Brumskine does not care about what people think about what he says because it is God who told him to be president, his vision “is God’s vision” and “through the eyes of faith he is a president of Liberia in waiting” and that God will give him “the wherewithal” to lead Liberia. And because there are “prayer warriors” who have volunteered to pray for him for him twenty four hours everyday until elections are held in October, this year. But many of us care about everything about those who want to lead our “failed state”, from what they say and do and how they behave towards other Liberians. Now if Brumskine says that his vision for Liberia is the vision of God, does it not say that going against his vision is going against God’s vision? In this period of growing religious extremism, is it wrong to be critical of anyone who finds religious justification for political decisions and actions? Shouldn’t we Liberians be concerned that in the name of God, human rights could be violated under a President Brumskine and that those who dare raise issues with his government could be consider heretics and drastically dealt with? Many students of history will note that the concept of devine wisdom in politics have had deadly consequences on humankind. Besides, how comfortable will Muslims be under the rule of a “born again Christian” as Brumskine is quick to describe himself these days? Wouldn’t his extreme religious views generate Muslim and other religious extremism? As a Liberian who has seen people suffer under Taylor who said Christian prayers at every public occasion and in 2002 said that he had surrendered power to Jesus Christ, at the time that human suffering was on the rise in Liberia, I am concerned about the frequency of Brumskine’s use of the name of God in his campaign. Was it not the name of God that President William R. Tolbert use to change is his decision to appoint Jackson F. Doe, by instead appointing Methodist Bishop Bennie D. Warner, because God told him to do so? Given the way the name of God has been miss-used in Liberian politics, I am suspicious of the intent of anyone who tries following this path in seeking political office. Brumskine has to tell the Liberian people whether he is a prophet appointed by God to give direction to the Liberian people or a politician seeking the highest political office in Liberia.

When it comes to my statement that Brumskine could have been placed on the UN Travel Ban had Taylor not forced him to resign, I find it difficult to believe that Bettie is shocked by this statement. But then again, for his poverty of first hand information on Liberia, it is reasonable to understand his situation. Perhaps, Bettie does not know that when the ban was first imposed, almost all cabinet ministers and deputy ministers were included, in addition to those whose contribution to war crimes were clearly defined. The ban was at first nearly comprehensive, when it comes to the three branches of government. Overtime many persons have been removed from the list based on further scrutiny by the UN Sanction Committee. Does Bettie believe that a list that included Mertha Gibson, who was more on the periphery of Taylor’s power machine could have excluded Brumskine, who according to himself, had “power to order the death of any Liberian, but chose not to do so”? Reacting to criticisms of Brumskine reminds one of more issues than one can deal with in a rejoinder. However, I hope these few pages will help clear some of the doubts in Bettie’s mind.

Bettie concludes his article by pointing to me and the reading public how Brumskine is catering to the well-being of the Liberian people and then raises the question, “Are these the characteristics of the demon that Mr. Gongloe would have us believe candidate Brumskine is?” What else is new? I am not concerned about whether or not Brumskine is a kind hearted man who is helping a lot of Liberians. This may be true; but it is not critical to the leadership that Liberia needs at this point. Haven’t Liberian people seen more of this before? William V. S Tubman raised his profile in Liberia as a philanthropist, jailing and torturing his political opponents and paying the tuition of their children, giving money to the poor on Saturdays etc, etc. Samuel Doe was giving gifts to political opponents, including bags of rice and talking about it in public. Charles Taylor is on record as the only Liberian President who gave very large monetary donations to individuals, churches and other groups, sometimes just for enjoying someone sing a song. He also paid the hospital bills of many, including some of his opponents like Roosevelt Johnson ( He offered to pay mine, through a message he sent to me through one of his trusted advisors; but I refused on grounds that it was not everyone in Liberia that had a price.) Taylor even institutionalized his humanitarian efforts by establishing the Charles Gankay Taylor Humanitarian Foundation, first headed by Madam D. Musulene Cooper and subsequently by Mrs. Serena Garlawolu. At best, giving gifts is always an attempt to shield dictatorship. This is what some analysts have described as benevolent dictatorship. Given this background I don’t think it is in Brumskine ‘s interest to be trumpeted by anyone as a do-gooder. At this point of Liberian history, we should be looking for someone who will institute policies that will fast track social, economic and infrastructural reconstruction while allowing more political space for every Liberian to impact the process of rebuilding or reformation of the Liberian state. Brumskine can be a philanthropist without being president of Liberia.

The coming election is crucial for two cardinal objectives: one, as an exit strategy from civil conflict to peace and two, as a means of resurrecting Liberia from collapse to an effectively functioning state on the basis of democratic principles and practices. Can Bumskine and many of the candidates in this presidential race meet the challenge of being the team leader in the attainment of these cardinal objectives? Perhaps, they can. However, Brumskine’s answer to a question posed by the Liberian Observer worries me as to his capacity to meet the critical challenge of leading the Liberian state on the basis of democratic principles and practices. When he was asked whether if he loses the presidency he will cooperate with whoever wins by playing any other role in the interest of the Liberian people, Brumskine answered that he will win the election, therefore he does not see himself playing any other role. This question was asked twice and Brumskine’s answer was the same. Here lies a major problem. One of the problems with building democracy in many developing countries is the failure of losers to accept defeat. Yet the cardinal test of being a democrat is accepting defeat and not celebration of victory.

In my view, by his answer, Brumskine has failed the test of being a leader who relies on democratic principles and practices. By his answer, it should be clear to us that Brumskine will not accept the result of the ensuing elections, if he is not elected President of Liberia. Is this not something to worry any peace-loving Liberian? Those who feel they must be president at all costs have been at the center of the Liberian conflict and have made the attainment of peace difficult.
George Weah, whom I respect very much for what he has done to put Liberian on the world sporting map, but whom I have no preference for in the current presidential race, beat my expectation in his answer to the same question which Brumskine failed to answer. When George was asked what he would do if he does not win, he said, he would cooperate with whoever wins and will accept any position that he is given because all he wants is to make his contribution to the Liberian people. On my personal score-sheet, George clearly beat Brumskine on this one with an A++. On this question alone, if Brumskine and Weah were the only two candidates for the presidency, he would get my vote. On the other hand, if I was looking for the leader of a theocratic state, I would vote for Brumskine over Weah and many of the other leading presidential contenders.

Let me now end this very long rejoinder with some concluding statements. One, Brumskine, a leading Liberian corporate lawyer openly joined Taylor and advocated for his presidency at the time that it was clear to every peace-loving Liberian that Taylor was the proximate cause of the destruction of Liberia and presented a clear and present danger to peace in Liberia and stability of the West African sub-region. He was not an unconscious participant in Taylor’s destructive machine, but a very conscious participant. The destruction machine of Taylor must not be restricted to his rebel faction, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Taylor’s government was a more effective and secured killing machine, than the NPFL. With the aura of legality, Taylor had greater access to the resources of Liberia, which he used for criminal ventures within and outside Liberia as has been carefully catalogued by the United Nations and the Coalition for International Justice. All efforts by Taylor in attaining state power was to privatize the Liberian state as a sole-proprietorship with him as the sole decision-maker. Many of the young people who support Brumskine at the highest level of the Friends of Brumskine understood this and at the slightest opportunity left Taylor and went to Monrovia to work for non-governmental organizations or the Interim Government of National Unity. Bettie should ask them for their experiences in Taylor’s greater Liberia (the area controlled by Taylor’s NPFL).

Two, Brumskine overuse of his religious belief to advance his political career is not good for peace, reconciliation and national unity in Liberia and the building of a vibrant democracy that upholds the supremacy of the rule of law and human rights over beliefs in the process of governance. Based on what he has publicly said thus far in terms of his religious belief, I predict a president Brumskine who will ignore the best policy prescriptions, if “God” tells him something else. The more I read what Brumskine says, the more I am afraid of a leader who would be guided by the concept of devine wisdom more than then what the people want. Yet Liberia is a secular state.

Three, I am concerned with the overuse of the first person pronoun by Cllr. Brumskine. Even Mandela, the man who has done so much, not only for South Africa, but the world, shies away from using I am this and that.... or I did this and that...The stories of great men and women are told by others. In a conversation in Omonada in the Oromiya region of Ethiopia, recently, a friend said to me, if you have to remind the people of your village that you have done this and that for them in the past, then you have not done a thing. If you have done anything meaningful for them, then, they should be showing their appreciation for what you have done for them by naming those things. For example Brumskine’s wild claim that his contribution to democracy in Liberia is greater than any Liberian has done in the past fifty years is nothing but the product of imagination. It is similar to Taylor saying, while getting on the plane to depart for his asylum in Nigeria, history will be kind to him. Can he put his contribution over Albert Porte , Billy Horace, Sr., D. Twe, Henry B. Fahnbulleh, Sr., Tuan Wreh, unversity students like Patrick Burrows of the Revelation magazine, Conmany Wesseh, Dusty Wolokollie, the late Wuo Garpee Tappia of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU), Ezekiel Pajibo, Alaric Tokpa, Lucia Mansalay( the first known female political prisoner jailed in Camp Belleh Yallah), Dempster Yallah, Christian Herbert, James Fromayan and others of the student movement who were illegally detained in violation of their freedom of expression? What about members of the press from the late Rufus Darpoh, Roland McCullor(sp) and Tom Kamara who were members of the establishment press who suffered variously for publishing the truth? What about the late Jackson F. Doe, Gabriel Kpoleh and Edward Kesselly who challenged a brutal military regime in the promotion of democracy and suffered in Camp Belleh Yallah( the maximum security prison in Liberia) for standing up for democracy. What about Togba Nah Tipoteh, Amos Sawyer, H.Boima Fahnbulleh,jr. Oscar Quiah, Baccus Matthews, Nya Quiawon Taryor whose role in the building of democracy cannot be ignored, irrespective of what one may feel about them now? What about Brumskine’s opponent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who, is perhaps the only women politician that rejected the high post of Senator, won by her because she felt taking her seat would be legitimating fraud and undermining the building of democracy?

Why would Brumskine want to re-write Liberian history, by putting himself above everyone who has done so much in the last fifty years for the building of a democratic Liberia? Can he even match the record of his colleagues such as Cllrs. Supuwood, Garlawolu, Philip A. Z Banks, Joseph Patrick Henry Finley, Billy Horace, sr., C. Mabande and many other lawyers who risked their lives under the Doe military regime to represent various detainees? What is the basis of Brumskine’s claim? Is it because after helping to create a monster, he ran away fearing that the monster would eventually eat him up. Brumskine’s historical importance as the one Liberian who has contributed the most to the building of democracy can be nothing more than a figment of his imagination.

Four, Brumskine past record and pronouncement does not convince me that he is the best man for building democracy in Liberia. In addition to reasons given above, Brumskine is not a consensus builder as he refused to cooperate with the Bar Association of Liberia in its effort to ensure that more credible lawyers occupy judicial positions under the regime of Charles Taylor. He became President Pro tempore more by nepotistic permutation (by order from Taylor, who has publicly claimed to be a cousin of Brumskine) than by normal democratic process in the Liberian Senate ( in the same way that the Late John G. Ramsey became President Pro-tempore under Samuel Doe). Finally, in Mr. Brumskine’s own answer, it is clear that he will not concede defeat.

Five, I am bothered by Brumskine’s statement that Taylor’s government was the worst in Liberian history. The question is when did he realize this? Would he not have stayed in that government had, Taylor not made him to realize that he had no power, by causing his reduction to an ordinary member of the senate ? Brumskine reminds me of the late P. Clarence Parker, and others who, in order to save their lives following the 1980 coup told the military tribunal that they advised Tolbert but he did not listen to them. One of them even said the whole Tolbert family was crazy. Yet these men were faithful members of Tolbert’s government. Bettie is right, “ our people have been deceived enough and deserve nothing less!”

Six, Brumskine needs to be truthful about his relationship with Taylor and his government and what happened to that relationship. It is not true that Brumskine left Taylor’s government because “ it was bad”. His power was reduced and he could not settle for less as he is not now prepared for less than the presidency. From my recollection, some of the officials of Taylor’s government that voluntarily left were Norwood Langley, deputy minister of Planning and Economic Affairs; Robert Neal, deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs and his wife Esther, deputy press secretary to Taylor; Francis Kaba, Minister of Commerce, among others. If the government was bad, did he not contribute to it. Did he not preside over the Senate in the presence of the Vice President, without his permission? Did he not create an unnecessary discussion in Liberia that because the Senate is the upper house, the president pro-tempore, should preside when both houses of the legislature meets in joint session? What about the rumor that Taylor had cancer, and that he would probably not survive on his medical trip to South Africa and the concern over who would succeed, despite the presence of Vice President Dogolea? What was the basis of Taylor being quoted as saying that the “neck cannot be longer than the head at a special weekend Executive meeting of the NPP in Gbarnga?”Was it not popular within the ranks of Taylor’s supporters that at the end of Taylor’s two terms in office, he would either be succeeded by Brumskine or Moni Captain (the son-in law of Grace Minor, Taylor’s confidant). An elder brother of FOB’s senior administrator in the US, once told me before, James Gbabea’s shop on Sinkor Old Road, “This thing is not leaving our hands now. Brumskine will succeed Taylor and he has the over-whelming support of Grand Bassa”. I told him that I could not see Brumskine going anywhere and he should be careful before he falls into trouble with Taylor. I told him that dictators do not think about succession and they should stop saying what they were saying about Brumskine. I also told him that I saw a composite picture of Brumskine and Taylor in a local paper, which I felt was not good for Brumskine. In a typical Liberian style, I said, “ my man tell Brumskine that dictators do not like any kind of image building competition with anyone. Tell your man to be careful.” When I saw him about a year later after, after Brumskine had left , near my law office in Monrovia and asked him “ where is President Brumskine” he was so scared to be identified with Brumskine. He said to me in a whisper, “ My man I don’t like that joke. This thing is serious.” Then I reminded him of our discussion on the Old Road. This story makes me to believe Grace Minor’s statement to the Washington Post that Brumskine made his ambition for the presidency of Liberia known too early to Taylor and this is what put him into trouble with Taylor.

The other statement of Brumskine that bothers me is his assertion that he did not know that Taylor was involved with the RUF in Sierra Leone until he attended a function in Washington DC, and was avoided by everyone because of Taylor’s connection to the Sierra Leonean rebel war. Is this really true? Even people who were not associated with Taylor knew of the presence of Foday Sankor in Gbarnga as a commander of the NPFL and subsequently in Monrovia where he frequented for consultations with Taylor. If Brumskine did not know, then, he was not paying keen attention within his political group. But this a matter that Bettie should take into consideration in assessing Brumskine’s appreciation of the truth.

The seventh and my final concern about Brumskine is his indescribable ambition for the presidency of Liberia. Let me inform Bettie about my encounter with Brumskine in Washington DC in 2003. Brumskine spoke at the International Republican Institute (IRI) about the Liberian peace process and the way forward. In his speech, Brumskine advanced that the transitional government should be for a very limited period of six months and an election be held so that the Liberian people can express their sovereign will about who they prefer to govern them. When in my intervention I told him, among other things that the timing was to short and that comprehensive disarmament and the resettlement of refugees and displaced people should take place before elections, he responded that it was a waste of time and that an elected government would have the mandate to disarm and do all the other things. (This was the same position that Taylor maintained during the ECOWAS Peace Process). He then further said to me in the audience, lets go to Monrovia to politic there and then concluded that the Liberian people were waiting to elect him president; hence, unlike other contenders he was not vying for the interim presidency. It is now almost two years since the transitional government was installed and that government is just consolidating its authority throughout the country. Did Brumskine really believe that six months were sufficient for a transitional government or he was over-taken by his popularity at the time? Does it not say something about the decision-making ability of the “man who would be president”?

In view of all the above, Mr. Bettie and others can go on to believe that Brumskine as President of Liberia will redeem Liberia from its current condition and bring happiness and prosperity to a greater majority of the people of Liberia. But as someone who has been both a participant and keen observer of political developments in Liberia and given my knowledge of Brumskine both in the court and on the political seen, I hold a different view. I feel obligated to express these views to Mr. Bettie and every Liberian who may not know these details and their implications for the future of Liberia in the same way I joined other Liberians in doing before the 1997 elections. Despite these clear warnings, if the Liberian people find Brumskine, Roland Massaquoi, Nathaniel Barnes, Milton Teahjay and others who aided Taylor one way or the other in his criminal governance of Liberia, I will respect the will of the Liberian people and live under the rule of that person as I did under Taylor. Until that happens, political make-overs will have it difficult with many of us who have had reasons to pay keen attention to contemporary political developments and actors in Liberian politics. Let me conclude by congratulating Mr. Theo. T. Bettie for keeping this debate alive rather than murmuring in the corner. I want Bettie and others to remember that it is often said that between a medical doctor and a politician, people should be more concerned about the mistake of a politician than that of a doctor, because a mistake by a doctor could lead to the death of an individual, but a mistake by a politician could lead to the death of millions of people. Therefore, let Bettie and others not get angry when their various candidates are critically examined.

About the Author: Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe is a citizen of Liberia. He can be reached at tsgon2002@yahoo.com.