Sectarian Politics: Its Danger to Our Fledging Democracy


By: Josiah S. Hallie

Monrovia, Liberia

Distributed by

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted November 2, 2005


Liberia is today going through new political dispensation as the people continue to demonstrate their democratic rights in electing their leaders in the ongoing election. But be as it may there appears to be political venom: Congo-native sentiment that is rearing its ugly head in our political landscape by certain politicians.

Howbeit, the issue of ‘congo-native’ divide has been used again in our bodied politics in the form of “grassroots movement” by politicians who are finding their way into power at an enormous cost of ignorant Liberians, using that as a new political magic wine to convince the electorate. One would be tempted to ask as who is ‘congo and native’ in Liberia today judging by what we have experienced as Liberians for the past 24 years (1980-2004). It is not a fallacy that Liberia which we all owe allegiance to comprised of 16 tribes or more. Is it not also true that this country is a secular state guided by laws which is the constitution?
Like what a Liberian prolific singer, Miatta Fahnbulleh said, the major problem we have in our country is that we are quick to forgive and forget. She said it is good to forgive but not good to forget. According to her, forgetting quick means that you will not learn from the past mistakes. She was blunt for saying that they all made mistake for supporting the regime of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) Government led by M/Sgt. Samuel K. Doe because members of the Council could not adequately read and write and were thus alien to the art of statecraft. This situation, she said, created the barrier between Doe and few educated guys like Baccus Matthews, Drs. Togbah Nah-Tipoteh, H. Boimah Fahnbulleh and the rest which eventually made him to create an empire of his kinsmen to surround him.

Judging by what is obtaining from certain political circle, the crusade for preaching sectarian politics in the name of ‘grassroots people’ is gaining momentum among certain people and this is the only way they can ascend to power. But this style of politics for a country emerging from war is dangerous. Dangerous in the sense that democracy preached on divisive tendency is always shaky as the fundamental principles that suppose to guide the people in the art of governance are completely lacking.

One would think that Liberians irrespective of where they come from would have by now supplanted the feelings of regional or sectarian politics given the traumatic experience they have had as a people over the years. It is true that the indigenous Liberians experienced political marginalization from the past regimes headed by the so-called Americo Liberians as those who were in power one way of the other practiced politics of isolations for over 123 years of our existence as a nation but other good people who came after them were able to lead a legacy of good governance. It is sad to say that this legacy was thwarted by political maneuverings orchestrated by the so-called “progressives” who occupied strategic positions in a government predominantly led by the natives. But these political quacks misled the late Doe and later left him drowning for survival.

Notwithstanding, this cleverly designed political deception is widening because some of these educated indigenous political flunkies are ignorantly attributing past failures to the educated class dominated by the Americo Liberians, claiming that they can develop the country through riding on somebody’s popularity even if that person has the problem of competency and qualification. Very sad indeed! What these politicians fail to know is that the level of dishonesty among Liberians be it ‘country or congo’ is so pervasive in that no one can come up boldly and claim perfection. This is the problem that has robbed the country of its meaningful developments over the years not the educated ones because you still find competent people making great contributions to our country despite the odds they are grappled with. Frankly speaking, the native people too had their day in government when Tolbert was assassinated in the 1980. What did we do as indigenous? I left the answer with you.

If we are to be a bit objective, let us briefly periscope the administrations of William R. Tolbert and M/Sgt. Samuel K. Doe. These were people of two distinct classes – congo and native Liberians. Tolbert succeeded the late William V.S. Tubman in 1971 up to his demise in the military coup d’etat 1980. Tolbert did preach true patriotism, unity and development for all Liberians. His administration nevertheless saw some indigenous sons and daughters place in vital key government positions with competence and qualification being the hallmark.

For Tolbert, development both human and material was his priority. His development programs were not centralized but decentralized across the country. His philosophy of devolution of power gave him an accolade from ordinary Liberians. Tolbert’s development agenda in eight years of his ninth year government life span speaks for itself. He was a reformer who wanted to take Liberia from mats to mattresses in term of socio-economic development.

As one’s achievement is normally measured by the level his successful completion of a particular project in a given period of time, Tolbert’s achievements can exactly be catalogued in a better perspective. Take for instance, the educational institutions such as the relocation of the University of Liberia to Fendell, the construction of Voinjama and Zwedru Multilateral Schools in Lofa and Grand Gedeh Counties, Koindi Vocational School in Nimba, among others. Agricultural projects like the LCADP in Lofa, BCADP in Bong, NCRP in Nimba, etc. formed the bedrock of the man’s development programs. Beside these, Tolbert constructed low-cost housing estates for low income earners as well as good road network. Above all, the image of the country was as per excellent as no political opponent was executed.

Then came M/Sgt. Samuel Doe who broke the legacy of settlers being the only ones to occupy the seat of the Executive Mansion by seizing power through military coup in 1980. For Doe, he might have been thinking on preaching unity and reconciliation similar to Tolbert but the manner in which he came to power by executing certain people by way of firing squad made him to develop walls around himself for political safety. Like Tolbert, his administration too, saw many indigenous people holding key government positions which were somehow mixed with competence and ethnic connections. TO BE CONTINUED.

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