Root Out the Little Tyrants
Open Letter to Jacques Klein

By Aaron Ceehe Sleh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 26, 2003


The ongoing deconstruction of the repressive state structure left in place by the indicted and now departed Charles Taylor is a welcome development in the evolution of the democratic process in Liberia. Social forces like the youth and the student movements can now wage a conscientious struggle for democracy, and participate in the national political debate, without fear of life-threatening consequences.

People can now speak truth to power without becoming hostages of the judicial process like human rights defender Aloysius Toe and journalist Hassan Bility. They can resist the assault on freedom without being forced into exile like student leaders Urias Teh Pour and Alphonso Socrates Nimely. They can insist upon the full exercise of their democratic rights without going to prison like youth leader Momo Siafa Kpoto, or getting brutalized like human rights lawyer Tiawon Gongloe. People can do all these things now because the tyranny of Charles Taylor has crumbled. Liberians, in the mass, are grateful to the international system for helping to end this tyranny. But a note of caution: the collapse of the Taylor Tyranny is not the end of the tyranny in Liberia.

Democracy at the state level of politics would be short-lived if counter democratic practices and processes, which permeate sub-state level politics, were to go unchecked. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, tyranny at any level is a threat to democracy at every level.

While we welcome what we hope is the death of the Taylor Tyranny, and relish the breathing of new life into our long-strangulated democracy, we cannot ignore that there are petty tyrants in our midst who threaten our democracy.

These tiny tyrants have lodged themselves like parasites inside the vital organs of our various organizational bodies. You can find them in student unions and youth organizations; in marketing associations and transport federations. You can even find them in political parties.

They are the hypocrites who make grand gestures in public about democracy, but revert to tricks and chicanery to brutalize the same democracy in the torture chambers of their organizational politics. Contemptible political Pharisees!

You will hear them call for national elections. But in their own organizations, they find a dozen reasons to avoid elections. They run their institutions from briefcases, alienating their entire constituencies. Yet they are the first to condemn central government for not encouraging broader participation.

It is these little tyrants who grow into the type of monster that Charles Taylor became. If democracy is to be sustained in Liberia, we must root out these little tyrants from all institutions, which are vital in the process of consolidating our democracy.

I hereby appeal to you, Mr. Klein, and to the International Contact Group On Liberia (ICGL) to intervene directly in ensuring the full democratization of the following vital institutions:

Liberia National Students Union (LINSU)

Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY)

University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU)

Liberia Marketing Association (LMA)

Federation of Transport Union of Liberia (FTUL)

For too long, these institutions have not been the glowing examples of democracy that they ought to, thereby stripping them of the moral authority to struggle for democracy at the national level.

For democracy to last, it has to become a part of the social culture – not an aberration of national politics.