"Our People Want Peace;" A Conversation with Dr. Tipoteh
Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh
The Perspective: In June 1996, a group of Liberians gathered in Smyrna, Georgia, to launch the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF). The goal of the LDF is to collect and disseminate news about Liberia, since news organs in the US rarely carry articles that highlight our plight. The Liberian Democratic Future is the publisher of The Perspective newsmagazine. I believe that you have heard about us and read some of our publications. We have decided to speak to you after having heard that you are in our town. Welcome to Atlanta, welcome to The Perspective!
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Thank you very much. I want to commend all of you for the fast-breaking relevant work you have continued to do. [Such] responsibilities as yours [force] ourselves to remain knowledgeable about the reality facing our people and motivate each other to working together to solve our problems - especially the longstanding ones.
The Perspective: As the 2003 elections approach, there is speculation that you are preparing to seek your party nomination for [President] of the Republic of Liberia. The question that some Liberians are asking is: why should Liberians entrust you with leadership when you have apparently failed to demonstrate leadership within your own party by failing to reconcile with those partisans that were expelled from the party?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, first let me try to correct some points: One is that in December of last year I declared my candidacy - I have already announced that I am running for the presidency within the context of going to the National Congress of the Liberia People's Party (LPP). So there's no speculation about that. One important aspect of leadership is the capacity to be a unifying factor. I would want to say that by and large, the Liberian People's Party remains a united party and we are going from strength to strength. But having said that, we will regret the loss of any one member. No member is more important than the other. So we certainly regret the fact that we have to go through the agony of losing some members. Nineteen- ninety-seven (1997), as you may recall, some members left by themselves before the Congress took the decision to expel them. I will not go into detail. But just suffice to say that, subsequently they well expelled - but they have already left to identify themselves with other parties. The point that you are making remains relevant. The whole point of the role of a leader in being the unifying factor - being the force for unity. Well, I like to inform you that during the course of last year, Liberian People's Party, through the National Executive Committee sent out an olive branch to everybody: Everybody who was expelled, who have been inactive to become active and get back into the full swing of party's activities. Beyond that olive branch, a reconciliation committee was set up. That committee met on yesterday [Feb 2] in Liberia. But the meeting on yesterday was basically to put icing on the cake, because there is now firm understanding among all those concerned and the reconciliation committee that all is now well with respect to members expelled, members inactive getting on board... Statement made to that effect, in a few days, will be available to Liberians and friends of Liberia where ever they are in the world at large.
The Perspective: Some of these members who left the party claim that you agreed to be part of the 1997 Alliance and because you were not elected as the candidate for the Alliance, you decided to break away from the Alliance while they opted to be with the Alliance. Why did you break away from the Alliance?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Again, this provides an opportunity to correct some of these things. The alliance you speak about was an Alliance of seven political parties. Not an Alliance of individuals, it was alliance of parties. So the question of Tipoteh breaking away from the alliance does not arise, because Tipoteh was not the member of the Alliance. The Liberian People's Party was a member of the Alliance. And so then the Liberian People's Party upon observing concretely that large sums of money were changing hands..., we sounded the alarm. And secondly, the record will now show that the ordering of the voting had changed - sometime the ballot box was closed at the time Liberian People's Party was voting so that many votes in the interest of the Liberian People's Party were found on the floor, the generator had gone out, it was dark at a certain time. But the two points are (1) large sums of money were brought in illegally and  then the box was close at the time of [our] voting which was not done for others.
So the record shows, of course, from the reporting at the Alliance that we then, as a party [filed] a formal protest signed by the chairman and made this representation that called for a reconsideration of what had transpired. We then went into a session, we meaning the political leaders - were called to session at the St. Theresa Convent under the auspices of the then Inter-Faith Council now the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia). At that sitting, it was concluded that yes there was some foul playing as it was important for the results not to be announced officially until there were some reconciliation of what had transpired. In the meantime, the chairman of the conference of the elections proceedings in the person of the now senator, Bayouga Junius, had announced publicly [that], “well, yes large sum of money did come in illegally, but this is Liberian way - part of Liberian politics.” That exacerbated the situation for us because we felt that as we are going into a process presumably to work together to build sustainable democracy in Liberia, we (ourselves) must be seen to be operating in a democratic way - in a way that is conducive for holding free and fair elections. You can't have free and fair elections when the playing field is not level, when money becomes a factor; the transfer of money becomes a factor, and when violence becomes a factor. Although, in our case, there was no violence, but you have this money factor, and some cheating, which I mentioned before. So, it is the Liberian People's Party that made this decision. I hope I have made the point clear!
The Perspective: Some members of your party (LPP), who have broken away, claim that if you are not the leader of any organization you associate with, you do not become part of that organization. What's your comment?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, the latest count of organizations that I've been associated with, in the past and currently, the numbers are somewhere around 117. Out of the 117 organizations, I have only headed three. I am a member of the choir in my church; I am not the head of the choir. In fact, I am not even an officer in my choir. I am a member of my village organization; I am not an officer at all!
Interestingly enough, there are foreigners who practically run our economy right out of Monrovia, there are heads of nearly thirty organizations that are controlling our economy and politics of our country; we don't find people making noise about it. There are Liberians too, who are in the same situation, you don't find people making fuss about it. Usually, this kind of point comes out... [when] some people find it difficult to acquire substantive reason to approach issues, to approach individuals, in the absence of or the capacity to develop substantive reason then they come in some form of demagoguery. Then of course, we find ourselves in this situation. But the evidence is there - the vast majority of the organizations I am in and continue to play significant role are organizations I hold no positions at all.
The Perspective: There has been a rift in here; at one point, there were two groups - two chairmen of LPP/USA. One of the groups is alleged to be loyal to you, and the other group not loyal to you. Some even considered the rift to be between what they call the "Lorma and the Kru factions" of LPP. I think you might have heard about the rift! While you are here in the US, will there be any effort on your part to heal the party before leaving for Liberia?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Again, you provided me the opportunity to correct some points you are advancing. One thing is that there is no such thing as loyalty to an individual; we have loyalty to our country, loyalty to institutions, so the whole question of loyalty to the individual doesn't arise... this has to do with blind determination about the course of events, and I will be the first to be against anyone who will want to follow anybody on the basis of loyalty. So, the question of loyalty is out. Having said that, I want to indicate that my style of leadership provides evidence of unifying my own party, and that's why the Liberian People's Party is unified in the sense that nearly all members of the party are committed to working together. But as I said earlier, if we loose one person, we'll regret that, and we will attempt to get them back - by way of trying to fix the palaver. We can't say well since the vast majority of our members are united, we don't care if these people leave. That's not the posture we have. We will continue to reach out for them - be it one or two persons. It is the same mode wherever I go; I'll be looking forward to it.
The next point has to do with the ethnic aspect you just mentioned. Well, you should know, the ethnic aspect shows a lack of awareness as to what the case may be. There are some differences of view with respect to the leadership situation among members here in the United States, and I will continue to play the role where we will discuss these things openly; people will differ, but we should do it in an environment in which the differences can be brought out in a nonviolent way, with the intent to solve problems - by bringing the differences out for the problems to be discussed, and at the end of the day, the problems are solved, and majority prevail. Because we can't say unless everybody agrees on one thing, nothing will happen. This is certainly against the democratic tradition. The democratic tradition is that we encourage one another to work in a nonviolent way, but those in the majority will prevail, while respecting the rights of the minority.
Now, there is an induction of the leadership of the Liberian People's Party taking place in Philadelphia, February 8. The incoming Chair is a gentleman by the name of John Josiah; you seem to know him! Are you aware that he is not from the Klao (Kru) ethnic group? So, you tell them he is not from the Klao speaking group. While people do have the right to say whatever they want to say, we too have the right to point out to them that what they say happened are false and that they are not true.
In fact, it is widely known that my work transcends ethnicity, transcends the Liberian borders. People need to record that I am one of the founders of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), where we have a Pan-African approach to national development; to improve the situation in Liberia, to improve the living standard in Liberia; we then worked concretely in Liberia. We got hooked up with other such groups around the African continent and elsewhere in the world. In fact today, I just left one of our longstanding co-workers from Zimbabwe who is attending this world summit of the United Methodist. We had a long embrace because we had not seen one another in about fifteen years. So that's the fact of the matter. We are making available to everybody - two volumes of the media presentation of the work we have been doing over the past few years since the 1997 Elections and that will show some concrete things about what I have just explained.
The Perspective: I understand that LPP, UP, LUP and the Action Party are involved in merger talks. This started somewhere in September or at the beginning of October 2002. But in the middle of the talks, you went on to declare your intention to run for the presidency. Don't you feel that this will have some impact on the result of the merger talks?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: First, I must correct the points you've advanced. Principally, the Liberian People's Party is not engage in any merger talks. We are engaged at several levels in talks about deeper collaboration. The record will show that as one of the presidential candidates from the 1997 Elections, I have elected to remain in the country since the elections. It was just within the last two weeks, we had other candidates who are coming in the country indicating that they are there now to stay until elections. At least this is the indication I got from Mr. Brumskine and Mr. Dahn. I haven't talked with others who are aspiring to find out whether they are coming to stay.
However, for over five years, as you are aware, I was the only political active opposition candidate from the 1997 Elections who remain in Liberia, and provided leadership in putting together the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) of Liberia. And it is the largest collaboration of political parties in the country. There are fourteen political parties that make up the CPP. The record will show that it was on African Liberation Day, May 25, 2000 at the headquarters of the Liberian People's Party that the CCP was launched; and I made the keynote remarks that day.
The Liberian People's Party is at the very forefront of unifying Liberia through unifying the political parties. That's one way to unifying a country through the political parties. It is not the only way; there are other ways, too. Then, during the course of the activities of CPP, with varying circumstances, it came up that some parties began to behave as if to say they were closer to the ruling party, and others began to behave differently. So then, some parties began to come together - while [I'm] not saying that CPP should not exist. So we've got two such developments; one about which you speak, the talks that has begun; the deeper collaboration talks that have begun with the Liberian Action Party, Liberian Unification Party, Unity Party, and the Liberian People's Party. All of that aspect of a deeper collaboration has come, a document from a technical committee. That document presents some ideas as to how a deeper collaboration can take place.
Now the document has to go to the highest decision making body of the Liberian People's Party, and that's our National Congress. It is nothing new, and that's what it is! There is also an alliance brewing, which involved eight political parties; the Liberian People's Party is not part of them. There are other political parties besides the four I just mentioned who are into that. It was chaired by Cllr. Rudolph Sherman. But then subsequently, the new chairman is now Representative David Korte of the House of Representative, Chairman of ALCOP. That's how the situation is. Cllr. Rudolph Sherman of the True Whig Party remains Chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties. So things are moving back and forth; these are aspects of the dynamics of the evolution of these political parties. Now, in the main time, I announced that I am a candidate, Brumskine of LUP has already announced, quite sometime ago, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf mentioned that she could defeat Taylor, or anybody could defeat Taylor. In effect, it was an announcement. So, there are other participants in these collaboration talks. There is every right to do so, and people take that to account, it doesn't mean that there is no commitment to these talks; it is a normal course of events. Some people may not be used to them. Suffice to say that it is a normal thing to do.
Mr. Taylor has been campaigning for the last five years. I have noted at least thirty-two campaign statements. So, one can put that into the debate but at least your question is focused on this particular part, and I hope I have responded to the question you raised.
The Perspective: Is the collaboration between the four parties aiming at a merger?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Let me say that there might be, but each party has its own interest. What I do know is that these are talks about how to collaborate more deeply. Now, it might turn out... it might go into a merger. If that's what the parties want or it might go into something else. At this stage, we are committed to talking and I think where we will end up - if I may predict our Congress, without preempting anything because it is a matter of party policy that we will want to collaborate with well meaning parties; parties that are on the ground and parties that have the constituency. Because you can't collaborate on the basis of paper. We are thinking about putting together large numbers of people to win together. Therefore, it is important that we inspect the evidence. This dry season will provide us the opportunity to look at the evidence to see to what extent these parties are well grounded all around the country. We hope to do so before our National Congress.
As for the Liberian People's Party, we are not making any secret about out intention; even during the state of emergency, we had the largest mass rally in the country. In fact, there were no other political parties that were having these rallies. I would like to think that the reason why the government put a ban on mass political rally was due to the impact that the Liberian People's Party was making; especially, rallies in West Point and in the Borough of New Kru Town. In New Kru Town, there were thousands of people who came --- were well over 5,000 people that attended the rally.
As far as we were concerned, that was a small number for us. Because we have far larger numbers of members and the reason why those rallies were not attended by many was, in New Kru Town, there were some shooting by the security forces to scare people in the vicinity of the rally. Still we had people going there.
In West Point, the police went there in large numbers, drove around to intimidate the people. We were peaceful! The point here is LPP is trying to keep its focus; LPP is interested in working together with any party that is doing some serious work on the ground, and shows by example - evidence that they are able to bring large number of people to the table. With this we can work together in selecting a single slate of candidates. The ultimate goal is to win. For example if Party A is very strong, together we will be able to say, we will support your candidate in this area or that area, and the same could be done for Party B if similar qualities (strengths) are demonstrated. Now, whether it takes on a merger, will depend on the nature of the relationship.
The Perspective: Some Liberians feel that merger or allegiance talk is a waste of time - they feel that the egos of politicians who want to become president will not make room for a merger. What have you or other Liberian politicians learned from the Kenyan experience?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, let me tell you what I have learned, and what we are discussing in my party - I can't speak for other parties. I learned from the recent Kenyan experience, where Mr. Mwai Kibaki got elected president, that political parties, serious political parties, acting in good faith, based on experience, got together and so when they did go to the election that experience of acting in good faith prevailed. For the Kenyan experience, this was a good way to unite the Kenyan voters through the political parties.
Now, in some countries, the uniting of voters may not go that route - it may not be appropriate to go that route primarily because as you say, the egos may be there, the super egos may be there, parties may not operate in good faith, parties may be weak, parties may not be on the ground, party may not be working seriously, they may only want to operate at the level of rhetoric, at the level of paper - do a lot of papering. We find that such a situation will not achieve the positive results that were achieved in Kenya.
But there are other ways of uniting voters; one that I have in mind - in case you run in a situation of lack of good faith, as we saw in 1997. As we tried to work through political parties to unite the voters, we must bear in mind that there is another way - there are other ways but one way I want to bring to the fore now is - uniting voters through the unity of credible individuals, individuals that cannot be bought; as least the money to buy them is not known yet; the money to buy them is not known to us - human beings as yet. So when you see the getting together of these individuals as it is happening in Liberia now, you want to make sure we won't make the same mistakes that we made in 1997. When you hear of these names, then you can say, well, this can unite the voters - this name or that name can unite the voters. The same can be applied to parties - this party and that party getting together, yes, they can pull a lot of voters; [because] the objective at the end of the day is to unite voters to have a large numbers of voters moving in our interest - in the interest of those who are collaborating. We should not lose that point!
In the Kenyan situation, there was the getting together, and selection based on records - an element that made it a success. In our own situation, we are working hard on educating our people on the importance of records. This is why in my own situation, I now have two volumes of records as determined by media institutions, which are available to Liberians and to the world, copies of which will be made available to your institution here.