Liberia's Ugly Past (Part I) By James D. Smith
The Perspective has provided a forum that we Liberians will take advantage of in expressing our differing views on the issues that unite or divide us and the historic root cause of the ills in the Liberian society. Our assessment of these issues should not be interpreted as disdain. Instead, Liberians should welcome this opportunity to express our differences in a public medium rather than settling our disagreements through the barrel of a gun.
The political struggles in Liberia dates back to the 1800s between conservative Americos who wanted to carry out their former slave masters' behavior and the enlightened Americos who wanted nothing to do with their former slave masters but neither wanted to unite with their African brothers to show the world that they had come to build a great nation on the African continent.
Ten years after the Americos declared Liberia independent, one of Liberia's bright minds, educator and journalist Edward Wilmot Blyden, in his independence day address in 1857 chided his fellow Americos "Prosperity is not real. The prosperity of a nation is real when the springs of that prosperity are contained within itself, when its existence depends on its resources." Mr. Blyden continued, "I am afraid that the conditions which obtain between the whites and the blacks in America are the same which obtain between us and our native brethren here. I am afraid too that as individual citizens we are throwing barriers in the way of assimilation and confederation which must necessarily take place between us and them (African - Liberians)", Mr. Blyden concluded.
As indicated above, the problem in our country began with the arrival the Americos in the early 1800s. Certainly, there were many other problems among the inhabitants prior the Americos' arrival - human nature requires such conflicts among any group of people. But the political problem of control, domination and exploitation which became part of Liberia's evolution started when the Americos first encountered the African owners of the land. But most of us either due to our ignorance of history or naivete of convenience tend to blame progressive forces by saying that Liberia was sweet and rosy until the trouble makers - Tipoteh, Matthews and others came on the Liberian scene in the 1970s.
In reality, the Liberian struggle of the 1970s was about rice and rights, justice and equality. It was a struggle against "black-on-black abomination or black imperialism" on the African continent. It was a struggle designed to seek solution to an array of neglected national problems. But the leadership, in the interest of its class and at the expense of the country, opted to crush the movement into oblivion. In other words, those within the top echelon of the political structure miscalculated when they made flawed decisions . Their actions of 1970s set the country on this destabilized course of self-destruction. They failed to provide national leadership.
The Americos represented only two percent of the total population of Liberia which is estimated at 2.6 million, yet they controlled the political and economic power in the country almost to exclusion of the majority of the citizens. Of Liberia's 19 presidents before 1980, none was African-Liberian. A clique of about three hundred Americo- Liberian families controlled all vital vehicles for political participation.
Fifteen years after their Declaration of Independence, in 1862, the Liberian Supreme Court ruled that the African-Liberians were only subjects of the state, to be ruled by the law of the land without citizenship because of the "peculiar situation of the Africans in their incapability to understand the working of civilized governments." Could this Supreme Court ruling be interpreted that the African -Liberians were property of the Americos? Certainly President Charles D. B. King understood it in that form when he and his vice president, Allen Yancy, embarked on selling indigenous Liberians as slaves to Fernando Po.
As a nation, we have failed to provide equitable solutions to our class problem, although we were forewarned that it could doom us. Many Liberian politicians recognized it as a potential time bomb waiting to explode, yet they failed to advance workable solutions which would have aborted the current carnage in our country today.
Realizing the danger of this issue, President Arthur Barclay warned his fellow Americos "There is often manifested amongst the civilized population an active, though secret, disloyalty especially in the matters affecting the African-Liberian tribes which have been very troublesome and embarrassing. The so-called Americo- Liberian citizen may do, and for the most part has done, the most harm in connection with the subject now considered by maintaining a contemptuous, ungracious and unjust attitude toward his African-Liberian brother by a want of politeness and of good feelings." Mr. Barclay further admonished his fellow elites that " a majority way they can promote national unity is through an expression of loyalty to the state by considering African-Liberians as equals; that in the absence of a physical demonstration of the concept of oneness, they were doomed for trouble in the future."
There are some Liberians who only see the country through amoral of corruption, laziness, no agendas and a gold mine for exploitation, I salute you but I strongly disagree with your characterization of Liberia. Let me assure that those of us who still have hope in the future of our country are going to set a democratic course for Liberia. Either you follow, lead or get out of the way because we are on the move.
Copyright © 1996 The Perspective
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