Lost in the Very First Sentence
By James W. Harris
August 22, 2002
A couple of years ago when I decided to contribute my articles "exclusively" to The Perspective newsmagazine, it was because of one main reason - its boldness as well as willingness to make the rather sinking voices of all Liberians to be heard, regardless of their ethnicity, religious background, social status, etc. No doubt, the newsmagazine has risen up to the challenge of providing a "space" for everyone, therefore, its current status as a highly reputable Internet newsmagazine.
It is because of this kind of "fair and sensible policy" (to make everyone inclusive) that the magazine has always welcomed articles from various sources and subsequently published them, in some cases, when they had not even met the minimum standards necessary for publication. But it publishes them anyway - and that's very commendable in an age where many Liberians seem to lack the courage to stand up for what they strongly believe!
That much said, I'd now like to turn my attention (however reluctantly) to an article - a "rejoinder", its author calls it - which was in reaction to a two-part article that I had written a few weeks ago. As my editor knows so well, doing "rejoinder" is not one of my favorite pastimes, as I've always preferred being 'original' as much as possible in all of my work.
From the outset, I must make it quite clear here that I surely don't intend to foolishly dwell on the badly misinformed author's attacks on my person, particularly, my professional ability as a journalist since my work stand up for themselves, individually or collectively. To react to his grossly misguided view of me would be only to succumb to the depth of desperation to which he has obviously sunk in defense of his apparent idol, "warlord" Alhaji Kromah and other "unprincipled" members of the opposition.
But for the sake of posterity, I'd really like to deal with some of the pressing issues that were raised in my friend's, Mr. Abdullah Tombekai Kiatamba's, severely disjointed piece (http://www.theperspective.org/kiatamba.html), even though, I'm not clear at all whether or not we're talking about the same issues of - legitimacy, authority, etc. - specifically as they relate to "democracy", a preferable form of government for our now literally dead country that all of us are yearning for, I hope.
Obviously, the first disagreement between Mr. Kiatamba and I can be found immediately in his introductory sentence or paragraph, which states (and I am quoting him correctly): "The need to critically examine the fundamental questions that are unique to the Liberian tragedy HAS NEVER [emphasis mine] been important". Oh, Really? Then why is he discussing them now, I wonder? Or, did he really mean: "The need to critically examine the fundamental questions that are unique to the Liberian tragedy HAS ALWAYS been important." It is clear from the above example that the author is either confused (as the result of his reading of "philosophy" as he boasts) or simply doesn't know the difference between "HAS NEVER" and "HAS ALWAYS".
You know, in this business (journalism) or let's say, of writing, generally, there's a simple rule that every good writer tries to follow - he or she tries frantically to grasp the attention of the audience in the very first sentence or paragraph, because, as it is said so often, if you lost them there, then it's very likely that they won't have the interest to continue reading your work to the very end. How sad!
For example, because Abdullah failed to capture my interest in his first sentence when he stated confidently that "...examining the Liberian tragedy HAS NEVER been important", I definitely wouldn't have bothered, like many others probably would, to waste my valuable time to go any further, except for the fact that I had to respond to his assault in some way. Contrary to his (Kiatamba's) stated position, and as far as many other Liberians and I are concerned, the need to critically examine the ongoing Liberian "nightmare" HAS ALWAYS and WILL ALWAYS be very important!
Besides this major disagreement that would have prevented me otherwise from reading his "meandering" piece, which, from all intent and purposes was basically meant to publicly defend his "hero", Mr. Kromah, as well as other "questionable" figures in the present opposition, Mr. Kiatamba's work seriously lack substance. Moreover, it certainly does not help Alhaji's or anyone else's cause since they cannot shun indefinitely their RESPONSIBILITIES as so-called "stakeholders" in the carnage that has been visited upon our country for the past twelve years or so.
And so, Abdullah can call me anything he wants, because, you know what, he too should be heard in spite of his confused mental state. For example, how he arrived at the very wrong conclusion that I'm some kind of nursing assistant at an old folks home in the state of Georgia, is as ignorant and arrogant as one can get! Apparently, he has chosen to ignore the bare facts that's well documented and also known to so many - that yes indeed, Alhaji Kromah (your man) does bear some responsibilities, just like others in the opposition and in the sitting repressive government of their stooge, Charles Taylor, for Liberia's total destruction today. How can he deny this? Strange, eh, isn't it!
But as I had promised earlier, I'll definitely try very hard not to react to most of Mr. Kiatamba's insinuations, for the simple reason that those who know me on a personal basis, know exactly the kind of work that I currently do on a daily basis just to make an "HONEST" living. In fact, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a nursing assistant or aide in an old forks home here in the US as long as I'm not stealing and misusing the Liberian people's money!
While I must admit that I've done many odd jobs in this country to provide ably for my family and me without EVER relying on welfare that's so widely abused by some, being a nursing home assistant was not one of them.
As the matter of fact, let me detour for a moment just to share with my audience a very personal experience. You know, when I first came to the US some years back and landed at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport in New York, one of the first sights that I noticed after clearing the immigration authorities was of a "white man" (please note that I'm using the word without any negative connotation) busy scrubbing the floors.
Do you know what I first thought to myself? I thought, gee, if a white man in this country, America, was scrubbing the floors, then what were the black folks and other minorities going to do (not to mention "poor" me that had just come from good-ole mother Africa). I'm not mentioning this to put us (black folks) down in anyway, shape or form, but to bring home the daily reality that is evident in this country, America - people have to work or do whatever they have to in order to pay their bills, feed their families, etc.
And naturally, if it even means cleaning the disgustingly nasty toilets, so be it! Again, that's the truth. I've since learned, though, that no one really has to mop floors, serve as a nursing assistant, "bus boy", etc., if they didn't want to - there's so much better opportunities here in the US; opportunities that we hope Liberians will be afforded someday.
Now if you don't mind, I'd like to go back to some of the issues that were raised by my friend, Mr. Kiatamba, in his "whining" article, which, by the way, was highly incoherent at best, regardless of how one looks at it!
For example, he says that I'm a "supposedly learned journalist". But again, I'd leave that judgment up to you, the audience, for obvious reasons because I really don't have to defend the "quality" of any of my work - I really don't. Each of my articles stands on its own merit!
In his own words (I hope), he said: "The supposedly learned journalist contends that the involvement of the present breed of national leaders in the search of [for] peace in Liberia is potentially dangerous in and of itself..." blah, blah, blah. Yes, Abdullah (or could I call you Abdul, please), I still feel that way today based "solely" on their dismal past record - a record that's in fact known to so many Liberians as well as members of the international community.
Also, in his self-serving piece, Mr. Kiatamba stated that: "Brother Harris misleads his audience by giving the impression that he has in his possession the authoritative and exclusive panacea to the Liberian tragedy." Well, guess what, I could never claim to have the "authoritative and exclusive panacea" to the MESS that your "role models" (Alhaji), Taylor, Boley (Dr. George), Woewiyu (Tom), et al. have forced upon us, but I surely have a good idea how to finally move our country forward - put the "old guards" aside and immediately replace them with a new corps of "relatively" young leaders with thoroughly "fresh" ideas, especially, those that are making every efforts to keep in touch with the suffering Liberian masses, whether at home, in the Diaspora or in refugee camps. And there are a lot of them, my friend, Abdul, that are just waiting in the wings for the ripe opportunity to seize the moment and lead the badly crippled nation towards a brighter future! Do you disagree? Hope not, although the only problem is that you all don't want to give them the chance!
Before Mr. Kiatamba accuses me falsely (again) of bigotry, I'd like to assure him that in the new Liberia - the one that's envisioned by many Liberians - there would definitely be room for all conscientious, "smart working" (realizing that "hard work" alone doesn't necessarily pay off), HONEST and patriotic Liberians, who would want to work towards the total resuscitation of their internationally sanctioned country. Again, yes, there'll also be room for the "old guards". But here's the catch - each of them would have to come completely clean regarding their respective roles in the ongoing Liberian disaster. And then, they must take "FULL RESPONSIBILITY" for their actions. I mean, our country badly needs to move beyond the "hell" that it's presently in - do you disagree, Abdul?
In his evidently faulty analysis (let's just say comments) of my article, he continued: "The blanket accusations and charges that defined his [my] vulgar rage ranged from 'Sawyer serving as a praise singer for Blaise Campoare' to the questioning of the collective motive of key opposition figures in those [Bethesda and Ouagadougou] discussions." Give me a break, please!
Wasn't it your idol, Kromah, who wrote critically that: "Given all the circumstances, it is clear to me [Alhaji] that the Ouagadougou conference [was] intended [basically] not only to unduly reward the staunchest and still committed ally of Charles Taylor in [his ongoing] suppression and exploitation of the Liberian nation and the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Guinea, but [was] also aimed at improving [Blaise] Campoare's diminished global standing." Do you recall this statement, Mr. Kiatamba, or have you been like an ostrich with your head buried deeply in the sand?
Your "role model" also said this, Abdul: "I [therefore] consider the Ouagadougou meeting as a forerunner and having a number of the same objectives of the one [that's] being planned by the [brutal] Charles Taylor government in July, 2002 - just bring a large number of people together in the name of reconciliation, even if the very meeting only sows more seeds of discord, and even if many of the relevant [?] parties are absent."
Now what! Do you disagree with your idol or not? What "blanket accusations" were you talking about?
Or, better yet, do you want to know the source of the above statements? I can tell you up front! Just go to your man's (Alhaji Kromah's) website, the www.liberiaorbit.org, in the left hand column, and look under the title "Ellen, Alhaji and Ouaga", okay. Do you want to deny that too?
Now, please permit me to address some of the other issues that you "tried" (in consideration of your "foggy" reasoning) very hard to raise. After struggling laboriously to explain his concept of legitimacy (as far as it relates to Liberian leadership and democracy) - an issue that I quite often bring up in my writings - Abdul flatly ended up rather childishly asking: "How come it is wrong for our national leaders to make decision [s] without the endorsement of refugees and other Liberians, and you are here making grand proclamations in isolation of the very refugees you purport to speak for. [?]" I must quickly point out here that this particular statement should have ended with a question mark, but again, he chose to use a period, probably due to his inattentiveness. But truly, I can live with that!
Coming to think about it, what is he really trying to ask? Is he trying to ask the following questions: (1) "Why is it that you're [in reference to me] here making grand proclamations in isolation of the very refugees you purport to speak for?" and (2) "How come [that] it is WRONG [emphasis mine] for our [so-called] national leaders to make decisions". without also getting the endorsement of Liberian refugees…?” If these are the questions that he had intended to ask, then he should have just asked them outright instead of beating around the bush! Doesn't it seem like my friend is highly confused - pray tell me!
But, I mean, he should know that no one could speak for the refugees but themselves. What I was simply doing in his referenced article, though, was to say to our so-called leaders, look you guys, you have to get the Liberians that are scattered all over the place, particularly, those that are in "relatively" safe areas, like, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and lately, Sierra Leone, for example, directly involved in determining the destiny or fate of our war-ravaged country. Again, frankly, I was in no way attempting to speak for or on behalf of my compatriots unfortunately in refugee camps - I'd be stupid to even assume that, but I'm certainly not. All that I'm saying is - involve them as much as possible, simple as that! How my friend, Abdul, could take that out of context doesn't surprise me at all, taking into account that he's too busy "reading" philosophy and completely divorced from the reality that is Liberia's. I mean, how could Abdul have missed that?
Let me make it as clear as it can ever get! Mr. Kiatamba, in a "real" democracy - the system of government that I strongly advocate for our now fallen nation, Liberia - the people ULTIMATELY determine who their genuine leaders are. Under such a system, the PEOPLE also have the right and power to change their leaders whenever they renege on their various campaign promises (their contract with the people), even if they were elected overwhelmingly by popular vote. The big advantage here, Abdul, is that such changes would hopefully occur through the law (CONSTITUTION) by peaceful means, and most certainly, not by way of the deliberate use of needless violence as we are presently witnessing in our country. Are you with me so far? I hope so!
Abdul, so you see, we really are very far apart in our concepts about leadership, legitimacy and authority, especially in the context of democracy (and most certainly not the example that you give involving the medical doctor and nursing assistant). It may please you to know that I surely weren't referring to your twisted concepts, which normally hold true in the case of ordinary organizational structures, but not necessarily a "functioning" democracy. The main difference, my friend, is that in the former, those in leadership, authority, or what have you, are "directly" accountable to the people at the bottom, while in the later context (an organization), the leadership or what have you are accountable "exclusively" to those at the top. Now, do you understand what I'm talking about! If you still haven't gotten it by now, then, I'm afraid, we need not go any further with this discussion - seriously!
As for Mr. Kiatamba's charge that I was hiding behind the "authority" of Thomas Jefferson, I'll simply laugh it off, because, from the outset of the article under question, I had made it perfectly clear that I would quote Jefferson throughout. Why? Because I, like many others, do agree with a lot of his ideas, especially, when it comes to establishing a "working" democracy in which the PEOPLE would participate actively in deciding their ultimate destiny or fate - something the vast majority of Liberians have yet to experience. Do you disagree? I thought that all of us (Liberians) had agreed on this one point? Probably not, eh!
Said my friend: "Clearly, he wants us to believe that (just) because Jefferson said it, it is right or it can be directly applied to the Liberian situation." What a cowardly statement - a complete cop out! As the matter of fact, Abdul, you don't have to believe anything. But the larger question is, though, why not? Is it because you don't understand how a democracy works? Sorry Mr. Kiatamba, it's really not my fault!
Without wasting any more of my valuable time, which I could use to do something worthwhile, to answer all of his silly charges, I'd rather comm. For example, he asked: "Should we [who's we] abandon the search for peace because [most] participants [that were] at the meetings [an apparent reference to Bethesda and Ouagadougou] are all "stigmatized" with some sort of "skeletons in their closets"? My answer is an emphatic NO, Abdul!
However, due to our recent "historical" experiences, we would be nothing but fools to allow the same "failed politicians" [or "career opportunists" at best] to steer our ship of state during these very turbulent times. Most significantly, we have reached a point now where we have to start doing the proverbial thing of separating the "goats from the sheep". Do you disagree, my friend, or need I say more?
As for his charge that I did not provide a "shred of evidence" to support my work or that he personally has yet to see an example of, what he calls, "intellectual honesty" on my part, I wouldn't ever bother to respond for reasons clearly discussed in this article. I mean, what more evidence does he want when it's all over the place? All he has to do is descend from his "philosophical high" and come down to reality! Does he also dispute Mr. E. Sumo Jones' account about the atrocities that were allegedly committed by the ULIMO or ULIMO-K in Lofa County when it was then led by his "role model", Mr. Kromah? Does he dispute the accounts given continuously by other Liberians as being circulated unabated in our communities by people who experienced his wrath? How heartless!
No, I'm not playing the blame game here, Abdul. The fact is that we have to immediately face up to the truth as a people in order to avoid making the same mistakes as in the past. Do I hate Alhaji or any other members of the "miserable" opposition? Again, NO! It's just that I hold them equally responsible, as much as, President Taylor (unlike YOU, my friend), for our current plight. I truly hope that you take me for my word!
So, in effect, what Abdul's "rejoinder" boils down to is this - he "blindly" supports Alhaji Kromah just like many others, and there's nothing wrong with that. But please don't try to pick a fight that you certainly can't win, because history really isn't on your side. As I've always said, we can choose whatever side we may want, but above all, let us base our actions [today] on principles rather than personalities. In that way, we can never go wrong as a unified people. In fact, you [Abdul] could have registered your support for your idol, Alhaji, in two paragraphs at the most, without going through sleepless nights thinking about how to attack me personally in a thousand pages of "wandering" thoughts. That just wouldn't do, trust me!
Finally, to drive my point home safely, I'd just like to consider another empty statement that was made by Mr. Kiatamba. He said: "It does not matter that in addressing such issues [of legitimacy, etc.], one has to provide "working definition" to relevant concepts." This is, in fact, true, except that he didn't provide any when he spoke about "critically examining the fundamental questions" as mentioned in his introductory sentence.
Even that, I'm not quite sure whether or not our "fundamental questions" are the same regarding Liberia's current dilemma. Obviously, the "fundamental questions" that I want to address are these: "Would Liberians EVER be given their right to vote in peace in order to elect their "rightful leaders?" "Should we allow people, like, the Kromahs, Boleys, et al., who have directly contributed to our present terribly horrible situation, to continue to make crucial decisions on our behalf, without first taking full responsibilities for their actions?" "Should Liberians just say, okay, let by-gones be by-gones and move on?" These, to me, are THE fundamental questions [issues] that we'll have to address as a distinct people, now or in the not too distant future.
Other "fundamental questions/issues" I'd like to also examine critically are: "Can Moslem and Christian Liberians again live side by side and in peace in the "new" Liberian society, considering the present problem posed by the indiscriminate administration of the "sharia" laws in some Nigerian states as well as other African countries?"
And, "are Liberians ready to give the international community someone of high moral integrity, impeccable character and the leadership qualities that they could trust and work with?" Again, these are the issues that I'm interested in talking about as we go forward. As for you, Abdul, I still don't know what your "fundamental questions" are. But in any case, I hope that they're realistically close to mine!
On a more serious note, I'd like to admonish my newly-found friend, Mr. Kiatamba, and people like him that would abruptly jump to the defense of Mr. Kromah and others by trying desperately to attack THE PERSONALITY as opposed to the burning ISSUES that are continuously plaguing our besieged country, to just get off it - DENIAL - and instead, try to persuade people like those to step aside and give peace a chance.
Frankly, if you want "your man" to participate effectively in the nation's recovery process, you ought to urge him now to ask the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a group that he said he identifies with "in the air, on the ground, in the water" in a recent interview on the Voice of America (VOA), to end their war and stop making an already bad situation worse. I'm very sure that he could use his influence to get their attention, thereby, saving the lives (albeit harsh and miserable) of some of our severely traumatized people that are still fighting to hang on.
If you could only get Alhaji to do this, my friend - help to quickly bring this senseless war to an end - you would most definitely be helping him in a positive way, which could, in turn, hopefully lead to him being forgiven by all of those that he's offended. This could also lead to his future rehabilitation, who knows!
Before I part with my brother (Mr. Kiatamba), I'd really like to ask him one last thing - exactly what did you mean, Sir, by: "We need to put the apostles of bigotry out of career; we need [to] put the high priests of prejudice out of relevance; we need to put the peddlers of gloom and doom out of the way." I mean, what are you talking about? Is this a threat? Who are the "we"? I must hasten to say that I really take every threat seriously now a day, especially, following the memorable September 11 incident. And another thing, there's absolutely no need for that! I hope that you understand my concerns.
On the lighter side, I'd sincerely advise you to do two things, Abdul. (1) Please stop "reading" philosophy as it has already gotten you confused enough; and (2) Please try and put some time into figuring out how to put your inner thoughts on paper so that people won't be guessing as to what it is that you're trying to say, okay. Frankly, I'm not saying this just because I want to be revengeful or get back to you [that's not what I'm about], but so that we can be able to communicate CLEARLY as we strive to resolve our obvious differences in a respectable and civil way with no hard feelings left amongst us.
As for me, I'll continue to deal with the raw issues as they exist as opposed to attacking the person per se. In this connection, I can assure you that I'll continue to deal mainly with the issues and not personalities, except in cases where it would be absolutely necessary. I can also assure you that during my watch, no Liberian that are planning to ascend to the nation's leadership, particularly, the Presidency, would be given the usual easy ride - not one bit! They'll have to convince us (Liberians) why they deserve the position and our trust this time around.
Regarding your reference about me being a "spiteful propagandist inspired by prejudice and sustained by nefarious objects"' you could NOT have been further away from the truth! If you care to know, though, I can simply tell you this much - I'm just a plain old "principled" person who, like many other Liberians, want nothing more than to see our once proud country become peaceful, prosperous and stable again with everyone - not a few- sharing the spoils. Additionally, I would want to see the country in the safe hands of someone that all Liberians can trust so that they can sleep peacefully at night. And the only way this can happen is for us to remain vigilant and unswerving in taking our future leaders to task, irrespective of our personal relationships with them. Are you still with me, Abdul?
Oh! About your example on the "burning house" [remember] when you were trying frustratingly to explain the concept of "legitimacy" and "consent", the particular situation that you poorly described was one of JUDGMENT and not consent as you wrongly tried to imply. I just thought to bring that to your attention too!
Now, brother Kiatamba, what were YOU thinking about, honestly?