Nyanyan Gohn-manan: History, Migration And Government of the Bassa
(Book Review)

By Pianapue Kept Early

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 10, 2003


In today's New Africa where wars and civil wars are the order of the day, Dr. Syrulwa Somah has provided a model that can end some of Africa's deadliest conflicts, if the leadership models put in place were applied in Africa. The model itself originates out of the Bassa cultural group, a Liberian ethnic group and that of the author. The book identifies other African nations where the Bassa people, a once nomadic cultural group, are concentrated.

In this Book, Dr. Somah has given us a book, which outlines Africa's solution through a traditional African system. The Bassa system of Government or leadership, depending on how you define both terms, is detailed in this originally authentic material, which now serves as a basis for leadership and governance. If implemented or initiated by African Governments or leaders, it will at least, help quell the tension and the conflict among Africans.

The basic argument of this classic material from Dr. Somah, a son of the soil, is that the European political systems have failed Africa. Democracy, since its inception in Africa, has never really worked, at least, as we see in many western European nations. The argument is that the Bassa system of Leadership as described by Somah, can help put an end to the carnage that has characterized African Democracy.

While some will argue that democracy, as practiced on the African continent, has been a great success, perhaps because of the Western styled schools, hospitals, or churches, the contrary is ever so true. In fact, some have classified African Religious systems as "witch craft", "Sorcery", "voodoo" and the like. In other words, the African systems have been downplayed, because of this new form of Democracy, which has been in Africa since the 1847, but became popular in the early and mid sixties.

The skeptics may have some basis for argument, but African traditions and customs are not bad at all. It is sad to say that our leaders are not bold or able to be who they are, unless they are sanctioned by the west. For example, African legal systems are not necessarily inferior to the common law system of Britain or the United States. Dr. Somah's response to the skeptics would be: "... Find it, revise and reintroduce it as our authentic history ... when a [person] man possesses his [her] own mind, he [she] cannot be nobody's slave..." (xix)

The other solution to Western style leadership problems from the author is in these words: "... The guiding principle of Western leadership in Africa is to confuse, divide, exploit and disrupt traditional leadership..." (xx) There is not a single country in Africa today that subscribes its political or social systems to the African system.

Some Africans today can care a lick about life or life systems in Africa. Sad, but that's the truth.

The Bassa concept of government as indicated in the Book is based on the idea of communalism, the idea from which Marx and Engles crafted Communism. Communalism as indicated in the book, is a system that encompasses political, economic, religious and philosophical patterns. The author clarifies that point in these words: "Bassa Philosophy ... is deeply rooted in the African concept that unless the human bonds are again infused with affection and the warmth of love and brother [sisterhood], humankind will never be able to taste the rich joys and pleasures of living together." (1) This concept supports the motto of the Bassa Students Association at the University of Liberia, which states: "An injury to one is an injury to all." This is what I call solidarity.

In its scholarly appeal, the book is a material that could be used to teach African history or government, African Religion, or African cultural heritage. Scholars will find enough information that would help young African scholars or students to come to grips with the challenge of maintaining their African "self" in a modern and diversified world.

Even though the Book makes use of inconsistent inclusive language, the author is not a male chauvinist.

The non-partyism of Bassa political system serves as a microcosm of how all of Africa political systems were similar. No political party as we know them today. The Book is a study that deserves further investigation because it will enlarge the horizons of understanding the complexities and simplicities of Bassa life.

That said, the author is concerned with solving, resolving and ending the many problems of African leadership that emerge out of a decision-making process which makes use of our traditional cultural heritage. It is clear throughout the book that there are positive values in being fully conscious of one's African heritage. The destiny of Africa rests solely on Africans. (121)

I personally recommend this book not just for those of the Bassa ethnic group or Liberians to read, but for the materials and arguments to be engaged in debates, research, and exercise, putting our way of life to practice, even in the midst of globalization. The act of restoring justice, equality, peace and tranquility in Africa is solely the responsibility of Africans at home and abroad.

Nyanyan Gohn-manan: History, Migration and Government of the Bassa, published by 1stbook Library, 2003, Greensboro, North Carolina (250 Pages). ISBN 1403333688 (pbk). Author: Dr. Syrulwa Somah.