Liberia And Biblical Oracles: The Devastation Of The Locusts (Part One)
By Theodore T. Hodge
November 29, 2002
An Old Testament prophet named Joel uttered some words in the days of old that echo Liberia’s tribulations - relevant to our present-day crises as they were at the time spoken. According to biblical scholars (King James Version), there are two major themes in the book of Joel. "First the plaque of the locusts, signifying the thick devouring darkness that overcame the land parallels the gross ignorance and unavoidable consequences of man’s actions today." It is on this first theme that I wish to base my commentary. Those ancient oracles and the story of modern Liberia bear some striking similarities.
According to an Old Testament commentary, “Joel was the son of Pethual. He uttered the oracles preempting the future and final chastisement of the enemies of Israel. These nations were void of the knowledge and understanding of the truth (Word of God) and the subsequent blessings of Judah and Jerusalem.” This is partly what he said:
“Hear this, O elders,
And listen, all inhabitants of the land.
Has anything like this happened in your days
Or in your fathers’ days?
Tell your sons about it,
And let your sons tell their sons,
And their sons the next generation.
What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten;
And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten;
And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten…
For a nation has invaded my land,
Mighty and without number;
Its teeth are the teeth of a lion,
And it has the fangs of a lioness”.
In reading the book of Joel, the passages cited above have touched me particularly. In reading and studying the story of Liberia (and Africa), the passages have profound meaning in an eerie sort of way. I shall endeavor to convey my comparisons and analyses, thus:
The Coming of the Gnawing Locusts
The first phase of modern Liberia’s unfortunate saga began with the invasion of the Portuguese who traded for slaves (or more appropriately hunted for slaves) as early as the fifteenth century. To be exact, it was before our homeland took on the name Liberia - they named it the Grain Coast. But it was the British and French invasion in the mid 1600’s that threw the slave trade into full gear. They came and took over the entire West African coast. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the words of a fellow European, John W. July who wrote:
“In West Africa British and French mercantile activity took the form of national trading monopolies like the Royal African Company chartered by Charles II in 1660 or the French West Indies Company created by Colbert in 1664. These interlopers, who were quickly joined by commercial interests representing Sweden, Denmark and Brandenburg, successfully challenged the Dutch in West Africa and by the opening of the eighteenth century had taken over much of the slaving on the West African coast, exclusive of the Portuguese in Angola”, the author writes in his book, “A History of the African People”.
This period, the coming of the Europeans (mainly the French and British) I refer to as the coming of the gnawing locusts. And did they gnaw! I am convinced that these were the parasites spoken of in the Scripture that first brought the "dark clouds" to hang over us for so long. They were the creatures whose lack of humanity plunged us into utter devastation - from which we have yet to recover.
The Coming of the Swarming Locusts
“The Scramble for Africa is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in history. In 1880 most of the continent was still ruled by its inhabitants and was largely unexplored… Suddenly, in half a generation, the Scramble gave Europe virtually the whole continent including thirty new colonies and protectorates, 10 million square miles of new territory and 110 million dazed new subjects, acquired by one method or another. Africa was sliced up, like a cake, the pieces were swallowed by five rival nations - Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Britain- (with Spain taking some scraps) - and Britain and France were at each other’s throats’, writes Thomas Pakenham, in his masterpiece, “The Scramble for Africa”.
We are told how this unfortunate madness - (massive display of greed and inhumanity) - ironically sprang from the dying wishes of missionary-explorer David Livingstone who “exposed the horrors of the African slave trade then in progress. Livingstone had called for Africa to be redeemed by the “three C’s” - Commerce, Christianity and Civilization. His intention was to touch the conscience of the ‘civilized’ world - obviously a gross and unfortunate miscalculation. His countrymen and neighbors had lost their conscience, assuming they ever had any to begin with.
Again the author Thomas Pakenham tells us in a forthright manner: “As the Scramble gathered momentum, a fourth “C” rather than trade or the Cross, became the symbol of the age. In many colonies atrocities were commonplace and Africans were treated no better than animals”.
While this madness permeated the entire African continent, Liberia was doubly whammed. Not only were we subject to this very inhumanity, hostility and indignity spewed by the Europeans whenever they chose, we also had a unique breed of colonizers and slave masters. This breed had been earlier abducted (at the height of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade) from various locales and under some agonizing circumstances, trained by American slaveholders mostly in the Southern states. There is little dispute that the brand of slavery practiced in the American South was the most vicious and inhumane ever known to mankind.
Ironically, while these lost Africans were treated brutally and abused as slaves, they were also being trained to become slave masters. When all the manual labor required in building the infrastructure of America and turning it into a modern power was done, the American population, following the lead of their British counterparts, said, “enough is enough”. Suddenly slavery came to an abrupt end. The former slaves (now called freed men) were packaged and sent to Liberia (and Sierra Leone) to become new slave masters. Examining their track record, it is safe to say they had learned their lessons well, in some cases surpassing their ex-masters. I call them the swarming locusts.
This new and dangerous breed - Settlers, Americo-Liberians or Congoes - or whatever way you may choose to call them became the swarming locusts that were turned loose on the Liberian soil and against the indigenous people. Their job was to finish what their bosses had begun. They plundered and pillaged everything they could lay their hands on for close to two hundred years!
It may seem extraordinarily presumptuous and unfair to describe the governments of Liberia and the ruling class in such unflattering terms. But facts are facts. The settlers, about one hundred years after their arrival on the African soil did not only entrench themselves as local slave masters, they also became slave traders!
Yes, settler Liberians and very high government officials were accused of practicing forced labor (a nicer name for slavery). They were forcibly sending indigenous Liberians to work on plantations in Fernado Po. (Fernado Po, now called Bioko, is an island of Equatorial Guinea in the Gulf of Guinea and owned at the time by Spain. It was used as a sugar cane plantation).
The were investigated by the League of Nations, the United States government as well as Great Britain and other entities and found guilty. The evidence was credible enough to warrant the resignation of the entire administration of President C.D.B. King and Vice President Allen Nathaniel Yancy. Those are the facts, you be the judge.
Although like their ex-masters they came with the promise of Commerce, Christianity and Civilization, the only “C” that mattered to them was “Conquest”. We recently saw evidence exhibited in the recently released documentary, “Liberia, America’s Step Child, narrated by fellow Liberian Nancee Oku Bright.
In that documentary, what we already knew was re-emphasized: that the settlers considered themselves Americans (although it would be more correct to observe that they were only stooges of America). And they considered themselves superior to the natives and showed it; it was reflected in their speech, action and policies. They certainly created an ‘uneven playing field’, to apply an over-used analogy.
To emphasize this conqueror mentality, the cigar-smoking and whisky-drinking dictator, Tubman, who had a propensity for lavish living at the expense of his country said that if the people wanted ‘democracy’ or a ‘multi-party’ system, they had to fight for it. “We can’t just hand it to them”, he said.
He also said the first duty of the military was “obedience”, the second “obedience” and the third “obedience”. This demand of obedience and blind loyalty was carried to the extreme when military and other security thugs loyal to him rounded up and killed S. David Coleman and his son, John. Mr. Coleman’s only crime was to have the audacity to oppose him (Tubman) in the electoral process.
It is ironic that David Coleman himself was a settler, a man prominent among the ruling class. But when he crossed the dictator, he became history. Dictators only expect and accept blind loyalty and obedience - as was demonstrated by the old geezer.
Given no mention at all in the documentary and becoming obscure in Liberian history was the case of the indigenous Didwo Tweh. He also had the audacity to oppose the ugly dictator and his ruling True Whig Party, he declared himself a presidential candidate in an up-coming election. Whatever became of him remains unclear. Thugs remained in pursuit of him and punished people thought to be his sympathizers. He simply vanished into exile, as the story goes. Yes, making fellow citizens disappear is an act dictators tend to learn, master and use when threatened.
Eventually, though, nature does take its course - all must bow to her, including dictators. Tubman is said to have undergone surgery at a medical clinic in London. Although the operation was “successful”, he died a few hours later and ushered in to finish the reign and destruction of the swarming locusts was his hand picked successor, William R. Tolbert, a man who had practiced and mastered the political acts of obedience and blind loyalty mixed with slyness and a disguised ambition to rewrite history.
Yes, Liberian history was rewritten during the Tolbert regime but definitely not the way Tolbert would have preferred to leave his legacy. A new brand of parasites, “The Creeping Locusts”, crept into the mansion while he slept and ended his reign as well as his life. In part two of this article, we shall continue to examine Liberia’s unfortunate story under the creeping locusts as well as “The Stripping Locusts”, the present-day parasites running a government that can be aptly described as a kleptocracy.