The Liberian Crisis - When Did It Begin?

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted May 29, 2002

I remember watching the CBS evening news shortly after the coup d' etat that toppled the Tolbert government and ushered in the PRC, headed by Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, when I learned the horrible news of the execution of thirteen former cabinet members and officials of the deposed government. According to the news story, they had been charged, tried, found guilty and executed in such a rapid fashion that many were convinced that justice was not served.

What was particularly amazing and shocking was the names on that list - it read like a "who's who" of the Liberian society. Many Liberians, including myself were shocked over the turn of events in our beloved country, Liberia. I was convinced then and now that the PRC made a "tactical" error in the way the issue was handled.

The Western press had a field day denouncing the actions of the military government and labeling the PRC as barbaric and inhumane. I think they were right. Such incidents damaged the image of the country, Liberia. I was shocked and embarrassed as people continually attempted to identify me in relation to the PRC government simply because I was a Liberian.

Recently I read an editorial by the Liberian journalist, Tom Kamara., who took to task Judge Luvenia Ash-Thompson . The judge apparently inferred or explicitly stated in a paper that the 1980 crisis was the beginning of the Liberian crisis. She felt a great "evil" was committed when thirteen "Americo Liberians" were executed by an indigenous led -government. According to my understanding of the argument, the judge now supports the Taylor administration and its late and present police directors, Joe Tate and Paul Mulbah.

Upon some inquiry, I received and read the full text of the judge's statement. I do not know Judge Ash-Thompson and do not intend to malign her in any way. I know it takes a great deal of intellect, not to mention dedication, to acquire such scholastic accolades as the judge has under her belt. But integrity is another matter. Anyone who is in a "high profile" position must be careful not to give the public a reason to question his or her integrity.

The judge's paper is a long and incoherent piece which, although its main aim is to defend Police Director Mulbah and the National Police Force, goes on rambling and establishing an autobiographical position on her judiciary and political philosophy as well as her accomplishment.

This judge, apparently blinded by her desire to gain political favors from the present administration defends that demoralized regime with such vehemence. She tactlessly attacks anyone or organization that holds a critical view of the administration. She attacks all Human Rights organizations, Liberian, West African or international. She attacks operators (owners) of orphanages as well as suspected deserting parents. She also shamelessly attacks some of the so-called orphans. She calls them "illegal imposters". Yet she calls herself a "Human Rights Activist".

She finally writes: "We cannot deny the fact that for the past two decades since the 1980 coup when thirteen 'innocent' citizens were executed without the due process of law, Liberia has been accused of Human Rights violation..." Is this to imply that the 1980 public execution was the genesis of the Liberian crisis? Is one to be naïve enough to believe such a fragile analysis?

I had hoped the good journalist somehow drew the wrong conclusions about the learned jurist. After all, it takes some serious intellect to acquire that degree of education attributed to the judge. One would hope that she was not running around making flimsy statements to undermine her own intellectual position and thereby, her integrity. But there it was in black and white. In my opinion, anyone who has the audacity and proclivity to praise Charles Taylor, Paul Mulbah and the late Joe Tate needs to be further scrutinized.

After reading the editorial by Mr. Kamara, I read another article by one Mr. Rod Lewis (published in The Perspective) in which he stated that "On April 22, 1980, thirteen former government officials were executed without due process because they were "Americo- Liberians", and thereby guilty of exploiting "indigenous" Liberians for more than "one hundred and thirty years". The "Americo-Liberians" are descendents of African slaves who left America in the 1820's for the shores of Africa."

Mr. Lewis further writes: "If one does not suffer from selective amnesia, one would recognize that there is something missing in this story. If the "Americo-Liberians" are descendents of slaves, then their ancestors must have been sold by "indigenous" Africans to European slave traders to be exploited for more than "four hundred years" in the cotton fields of the Americas."

In the course of the article Mr. Lewis quotes the bible extensively and quite rapidly, giving one the impression that he is quite familiar with the "good book". Maybe he is an authority on biblical issues. It is also noted in the footnotes that Mr. Lewis is an architect, and a member of the American Institute of Architects who has recently published his autobiography. All this is very impressive. Where Mr. Lewis seemingly proves inadequate is in the area of elementary logic. Why? Please read on.

Let's examine one simple sentence written by the "learned architect": "If the "Americo-Liberians" are descendents of slaves, then their ancestors must have been sold by "indigenous" Africans..." Mr. Lewis advances one premise and draws a major conclusion. Mr. Lewis offers no proof at all to support such a strong and seemingly sensitive conclusion. A logical mind wonders. Could there be alternative conclusions reached? Could it be that these people were not sold by their own kind but forced into captivity by these Europeans who had sophisticated weapons and other means to accomplish their goals? Could it also be that certain negotiations were arranged where these so-called captured slaves voluntarily left with these Europeans, maybe in search of economic gain and advancement?

Since we have no paper trails to determine the authenticity of what transpired, it is dangerous to draw any definitive conclusions. I personally think that the theory that Africans were sold by other Africans was advanced by Europeans (Westerners) to absolve themselves or at least diminish the blame or guilt the quite naturally feel. Again, for Mr. Lewis to claim that the slaves were sold by other Africans without offering any proof is ridiculous and preposterous.

Upon further reading of Mr. Lewis' article, one gets the impression that he thinks the war that was waged against the Liberian people that purportedly caused as many as two hundred thousand lives, was justified because an "indigenous" group was responsible for the killing of thirteen "Americo-Liberians".

Mr. Lewis also seemingly infers that the Taylor government should not be taken to task for its gross human rights abuses because a previous government was responsible for the killing of thirteen "innocent" people. He writes: "Now that our memories have been refreshed we can embrace the following statements: "If you live in a glass house you do not throw stones...' He who is without sin let him cast the first stone. One cannot safely drive forward if one is constantly looking into the rearview mirror."

Finally Mr. Lewis admonishes all Liberians to embrace each other in Christian fashion and forgive each other. He quotes the Bible. I personally doubt his sincerity. I am under the impression that he thinks one group of Liberians is better than others. He seems to manufacture reasons to blame powerless and oppressed people for the fate of the elite. These people had power for over a hundred years. They mismanaged the affairs of the country, enriched themselves and fell out of power. Now Mr. Lewis sees them as victims. Mr. Lewis may be well versed when it comes to biblical quotations and a brilliant architect but when it comes to logical reasoning, he falls flat on his face, as I have already pointed out. Another area where Mr. Lewis falls short is history. He seems to begin his analyses of Liberian history from the days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and immediately jumps to April 1980. Did anything happen in between? It is strange he uses the expression "selective amnesia". Is he a victim as well?

Mr. Lewis began his paper by inferring that indigenous Africans were guilty or responsible for selling their fellow Africans into slavery. I disputed the veracity of that assertion for lack of proof. Here, on the other hand is what we can prove: Long after the slave trade was declared illegal and unacceptable and some former slaves had been repatriated to Africa to settle in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Americo-Liberian ruling class and other settlers began a new round of slave trade. These former slaves and children of former slaves were selling indigenous Liberians to Fernando Po to work on plantations there. An international tripartite commission of inquiry consisting of members from the United States, Great Britain and Liberia found the charges credible. That scandal forced the resignation of President Charles D.B. King and Vice President Allen Nathaniel Yancy. That is a historical fact with plenty of proof.

So you see, the Liberian crisis did not begin in 1980. President E. J. Roye was deposed. He was literally chased from office and drowned in the Mesurado River. Anthony W. Gardner resigned amidst charges of massive corruption. And of course, President C.D.B. King and Vice President Allen N. Yancy were forced to resign for "condoning slavery, corruption and 'primitive' customs."

In conclusion, I do agree that the killing of those thirteen people was a calculated and horrendous act of brutality but so was the torture and killing of Samuel K. Doe. Does that mean we should stand by and watch Charles Taylor abuse the human rights of Liberians? I think not. We must continue to speak up. We must stand up!

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