When Fools Become Critics: The Platitudes of Ike Coleman
By H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr.
August 29, 2002
The recent verbiage spewed by one Ike Coleman in a very disjointed, illogical and simplistic piece of political ranting says much about his ignorance and mind-set as of the hypocrisy of the journalist who published that foolish diatribe under the pretext of upholding journalistic objectivity. The piece by Ike Coleman entitled "Presidency First, Contributions Later" is so elementary and hackneyed that most people will feel it is a waste of time to even deal with its ridiculous arguments. However, there must be a reason why a journalist who often pontificates with righteous indignation on almost every subject concerning Liberia would want to convey such garbage to the reading public. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Ike Coleman, in his dogmatic ignorance, insults certain individuals whose politics the journalist disagrees with and thus uses the veneer of objectivity to let loose his own prejudices.
Ideas are weapons in a struggle and the conveyance of backward and reactionary ideas places one in a particular camp. We cannot pretend anymore that we do not understand the rage of this journalist when it comes to the politics of certain individuals in our society. The fact of the matter is that he belongs to a particular camp that accepts the rubbish by Ike Coleman as valid. This camp, in its political stupidity sees the malady in Liberia as a consequence of the activism of Tipoteh, Sawyer, Matthews and others. It situates crisis and contradictions in the history of Liberia at a certain point in time - beginning with the agitation of revolutionary patriots in the seventies. The objective of this camp is to elicit a feeling of guilt on the part of revolutionary patriots and thereby exonerate those who with their shortsightedness and arrogance conjured up the social forces that shattered their make-believe world of classes, inequality, social injustice and national indignity. This camp, in its twisted logic as so amply demonstrated by Ike Coleman, provides the justification for that reactionary terror unleashed by Taylor and his cohorts. What this camp condemns is not brutality but the lack of refinement of this brutality that has alerted the world to the barbarism now taking place in Liberia. Have we forgotten so soon that elements in this camp were calling for the destruction of Monrovia in their bid for power? There were hundreds of thousands of people taking refuge in Monrovia at that time, but the historical necessity of retaking power in the eyes of these elements justified the perpetration of crude barbarism.
It is obvious that in a situation where elements of the camp of backwardness, reaction and arrogance have to choose between social transformation and barbarism, they will opt for the latter. This is clear to us; for it is obvious that a minority backward group can only uphold its privilege, arrogance and domination by brute force. The lesson of history is that this brute force is internalized by the downtrodden majority by a process of bastardization, brainwashing and inculcation with social taboos that range from the occult to the religious. The end result is self-contempt and denigration. Thus the downtrodden majority will go on supporting with their ignorance and poverty a retrograde social caste that uses taboos, jargons and simple lies to conceal its brutal exercise of power. And in this cauldron of lies, mysticism and political mumbo-jumbo will come the fools as critics and the journalists with their biases and crude prejudices masquerading as objective observers. And they expect us to pretend that we do not understand their motives in castigating some and exonerating others!
In all aspects of life, nothing is so irritating as to confront an ignorant man or woman who conveys hearsays and gossips with dogmatic arrogance. Apart from the fact that Ike Coleman does not have an elementary understanding of the workings of public finance in a capitalist economy, he foolishly assumes that all patterns of economic development that negate the dominance of private capital are invariably command economic of the "Soviet" type. It is obvious that this charlatan has not even read John Maynard Keynes whose economic theories shaped the post war world and established the foundation for the tremendous growth and development in the Western capitalist democracies. Coleman has the mind-set of a petty trader and thus his understanding of capitalism has to do with the workings of small capital. He does not even understand the United States of America and the role of the military-industrial complex in the allocation of public finance and the generation of employment, growth and income. One does not need to be a manager of a super market chain in America to understand basic economic laws. The women in Markolo market in Accra, the Ibo traders in Onitsha and Port Harcourt, the Fulah and Mandingo traders in Freetown and Conakry understand the workings of small capital in a free market situation better than this wiseacre called Ike Coleman and more to the point, they understand their limitations when it comes to political and social philosophies and do not make stupid comments on the functioning of the polity.
Ike Coleman belongs to that genre of Liberians who empty their little minds at the least opportunity and feel they have all the solutions without even a fundamental understanding of the complexity of our situation. They validate the aphorism that a little leaning is a dangerous thing. This reference to a little learning has nothing to do with a terminal degree. It has more to do with wisdom, experience and common sense. Whoever told Coleman that running a business enterprise, a corporation or an industry is the same as running a state? Where in the citadel of capitalism have we seen captains of industries making successful presidents? The American people know better and that is why Ross Perot stopped at being only a participant in an election! A nation is not an entity that deals with only profit and loss. It has to confront conflicting interests and resolve contradictions in a "zero-sum" way in order to strengthen the foundations of the polity on which unity, justice and equality are built. Thus, nations need leaders with vision, conviction and the spiritual zeal of crusaders. Political leaders are people who fire the imagination of others in such a way that they develop selfless attributes to sacrifice for the common good. This cannot be said for many of the captains of industries, CEOs of financial institutions and currency speculators - some of them good friends of some of our political leaders. If we need any reminder of this, we only have to look at Enron and WorldCom.
For anyone to argue that poverty should disqualify one from leadership of a nation is the most laughable platitude imaginable. Leaders must have spiritual and not material wealth. By spiritual wealth, we mean the characteristics of selflessness, dedication to an ideal, strong conviction of social justice, the stoicism to endure hardship, the willingness to sacrifice for one's principles and the courage and decisiveness to take action at the risk of one's life. One of the greatest presidents of the United States was a man of humble origins who was born in a log cabin and grew up without wealth. His name was Abraham Lincoln. In Africa, some of the best leaders have been poor men like Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Modibo Keita, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Agostihno Neto, Amilcar Cabral, Samore Machel and Thomas Sankara. They had vision, courage and conviction and invested in the consciousness of people. In Japan, India, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia, there are great and successful businessmen and captains of industries but they have not become political leaders. Maybe there are qualities of political leadership that they do not have and the people are aware of this fact. So much for this! Let us get back to Ike Coleman and his journalist friend who uses objectivity selectively.
Nowhere on [the New Democrat site] have we seen any scathing condemnation of the woman who presided over the fastest debt accumulation in Liberia's history with the OAU jamboree of 1979. There has never been any mention of the opinion expressed by this woman during the cabinet meeting called to debate the Brownell Report after the rice riot of 1979. In this cabinet meeting, she was one of the few ministers who called for the execution of the leaders of the rice riot to set an example. Again, we know of this woman's dealings with Samuel Doe, Thomas Quiwonkpa, Charles Taylor and the red-herring of socialism, which Coleman and other simpletons keep hammering on. In almost every article dealing with the opposition in exile, this woman is portrayed as the credible alternative to the tyranny. She is considered the only courageous one because she can "drop in" and out of Liberia. We are not told why this is possible and others like Samuel Dokie could not "drop in" and out. During the phony elections orchestrated by the Abacha dictatorship, we read in the New Democrat that there was no time for populist rhetoric because the new age of privatization, global control of capital markets and democratic selection of middle class politicians was in vogue. We were bombarded with the cliché of 'international connection' as if nations thrive on the backs of selective individuals. The shibboleth was given added momentum with the visit of the head of the Carter center to the woman's headquarters. But we saw the emptiness of this cliché after Abacha and the Libyans imposed their man and ignored the reservation of the Americans. At this time, the woman who claimed to have come second in an election where the Nigerians decided who got what could not lead a campaign of rejection of the orchestrated results. She and her supporters were frantically looking for a sacrificial lamb to take on this task.
There are many skeletons but we will never read about them on this website [the New Democrat site]. Instead we are given doses of anti-Amos Sawyer diatribe. On other occasions, invectives and crude propaganda are published against individuals with whom this journalist has political disagreement - all under the pretext of being objective. So why don't we see articles from allaboutliberia.com that are critical of this journalist published on this website [the New Democrat site] in order to convey objectivity and impartiality? Why are articles from morons given such publicity on this website? It is cowardice to hide behind simpletons to insult others with whom one disagrees. We can take the insults from renegades like Ike Coleman, not because of his ignorance but simply due to the fact that he has a mind-set that was formed in the dark ages of our people's existence. What we cannot accept is this deviousness of condemning others simply because you want to create the impression that the woman you support is God’s gift to Liberia. God is wiser than you think and history will prove the fallacy of your insinuations!
Ike Coleman argues that Ruth Perry did great things for Liberia. He says: "More importantly, I was impressed by what Ruth Perry did in approximately nine months what so-called "men with balls" couldn't do for six years prior..." It is obvious from this assertion that it doesn't take much to impress Coleman. What did Ruth Perry do in nine months? Does anyone in his right mind believe that Madam Perry was responsible for the partial disarmament and subsequent charade called elections? It is truly said that where ignorance is bliss; tis folly to be wise. All Madam Perry did in nine months was hold prayer meetings at her house in Paynesville and at the Executive Mansion. Her selection as Chair of the Council of State was a scheme devised by the late Joe Tate and endorsed by Taylor. In other words, she was imposed by the NPFL. Nothing more! Nothing less!! Her role was simply to pretend to be neutral and allow the NPFL to dictate to the Council of State through her. The time-table for disarmament, demobilization and elections was drawn up by the Nigerians. Madam Perry's tenure was only tangential to the design of the Nigerians. Furthermore, the NPFL went along with the time-table because the Council of State was under its control with two members sympathetic to its position. And then there was the realization that Abacha was ready to concede to the demands of the Libyans and allow Taylor to take the presidency while keeping most of the weapons he got from them hidden! The fact of the matter was that as long as Taylor did not agree with the program, there was nothing that Amos Sawyer, David Kpormokpor and Wilton Sankawulo could do. If there was anyone who went the extra mile to accommodate Taylor's wishes for the sake of peace and disarmament, it was Amos Sawyer. I know this because I disagreed with him at the time on many of the concessions made to the NPFL. I wanted us to raise an army and confront the NPFL in the apt description of Citizen Theodore T. Hodge, "Fighting fire with fire," in his well written and brilliantly analytical article on the Perspective website entitled: "The War Next Time: Fighting Fire with Fire." Madam Ruth Perry did not do anything that the "men with balls" did not do. If the Nigerians had not decided to give the power to Taylor, Madam Perry would have ended the way of her predecessors!
Apart from the silly utterances that expose the barrenness of Coleman's arguments, he comes across as one of those half-witted individuals who are suffering from an historical time lag. In the section titled "Government can do it all," he argues: "Many of us are old enough to look back and recap the political nonsense of people like Tipoteh, Matthews, Fahnbulleh, Dahn, Sawyer, you know the rest, who sham-fed us with the notion that government can do it all... They forecasted and promised an egalitarian society, were they given the chance to be at the helm of operations. But strangely so, these were all people who had no proven track record of leadership and management with documented results, Amos Sawyer's poor performance as interim president is the prime of all examples of having a big mouth before given a chance to prove oneself. Equally so, like his big mouth buddy, they all thought Tolbert could play magic, until Sawyer was given the opportunity, only to make matter worse, even with a strong military force ready to move against a rebel group that still was very fragile." Let us leave aside the poor construction, faulty English and crude malapropism of this simple fool who wants to be a critic and try to decipher what he is struggling to convey. The argument that "government can do it all" is undoubtedly his understanding of socialism. This is his central theme! The idea that the modern state in developing countries should be the provider of capital for needy development is anathema to this oaf who does not understand the rudiments of primitive accumulation under capitalism.
The struggle for an egalitarian society has been the essence of all democratic transformations since the end of feudalism. The fight against absolute monarchy in Europe, the struggle for the popular will in America, the destruction of the colonial edifice in the Third World and the enthronement of popular representative governments around the world took as points of departure the building of societies based on equality, justice and brotherhood. From the French revolution of 1789 to the recent liberation of East Timor in 2002, the trajectory has followed the path of the search for an egalitarian society. The American Republic came into being with egalitarianism as its essence. Its leitmotif was that "all men are created equal; endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Thus, those patriots in Liberia who were agitating for an egalitarian society in the seventies came within a noble tradition. The fact that simple fools did not understand the historical necessity of changing an unjust social system for the betterment of the majority did not mean that the revolutionary patriots were wrong. The forces that altered and sabotaged their hopes, dreams and aspirations must be understood and placed in the correct historical context if we are to understand why our country never experienced democracy and popular participation.
Ike Coleman is either a foolish comedian or a numskull to aver that the revolutionary patriots of the seventies "were all people who had no proven track record of leadership and management with document results..." Leadership in politics is demonstrated when one is faced with crisis or a major policy decision. This can only be determined when one is in office. The silly argument that one needs management skill to run a society flies in the face of all historical evidence. This mechanical approach to governing society often times leads to failure and revolution. Again, society is not a corporation. A political leader needs compassion, rectitude and nobility of character to govern the polity. In the world today, there are leaders who have demonstrated exemplary stewardship. In Poland, the Czech Republic, Serbia, etc., men rose to leadership position after communism without any experience in politics. The strength of character they demonstrated came from their inner preparedness to give their best for the common good. On the other hand, in the world of commerce, there have been spectacular failures and bankruptcy as well as successes in mergers and takeovers. Here, even with management skills, the probability of failure looms large. So, what does this say of the managers? Societies, unlike corporations, do not endure failures and political bankruptcy without lasting effect on generations. It is to mitigate the fallout from bad leadership and save succeeding generations from the scourge of political blunders that men struggle for a better society today!
The childish whine that "Amos Sawyer's poor performance as interim president is the prime of all examples of having a big mouth before given a chance to prove oneself..." only shows the idiocy that runs amok in the conveyance of prejudice. The interim government under Sawyer controlled only Monrovia and its environs. The only source of revenue worth mentioning came from the maritime fund. This amounted to two million dollars a month for a population that had swollen to nearly one million with the flight from areas under the control of the NPFL. With this paltry sum, salaries were paid to government employees, allowances were given to some units of the ECOMOG forces when their stipend did not come on time and funds were provided for the operation of the machinery of government. In the midst of the struggle to provide for the people of Monrovia, the interim government was saddled with the rivalry between the various contingents of ECOMOG with the Ghanaians threatening at one time to leave the Force. This no doubt had more to do with Ghanaian-Libyan relations than with hostility to Nigeria's dominance of the Force. Added to this was the politics within the Nigerian military that witnessed rapid shifting alliances and the abrupt termination of the tenure of some field commanders who were determined to neutralize the NPFL and their replacement by others who were openly sympathetic to the rebel group. Against this background of regional rivalry and international intrigues, how was it possible for Amos Sawyer to be effective in carrying out the functions of an interim president? As a matter of fact, even the national army (AFL) was hostile to the interim government as most of the senior officers saw members of the interim government as Liberians who were opposed to the regime of Samuel Doe. Before long, the AFL became a warring faction, changing alliances to suit the political appetite of some senior officers.
Amos Sawyer was the victim of the very attribute that had made it possible for him to ascend to the interim presidency. He was a bridge-builder with no predisposition to violence and cruelty. His effort to serve as a friend of all and sundry was abused by political schemers and opportunists. As a bridge-builder, he was predisposed to make compromises for the sake of peace; but under the circumstances prevailing and the ruthlessness of the leadership of the NPFL, this was seen as a weakness and exploited by those who were determined to resurrect the discredited oligarchy. Here was a clear case of a decent Christian gentleman trying to apply noble principles in the midst of evil men and women who were determined to win power through medieval barbarism. Those who know Amos Sawyer are aware that there is no streak of evil in this man. I remember Taiwon Gongloe asking him if he had the courage to sign the death warrant for Charles Julu and Amos Sawyer looked him in the face and said jokingly: "No, but I can sign it for you." I realized then that this man Amos Sawyer had no element of cruelty in him. This is his nature and one cannot blame him for being gentle. I have my differences with him but these are non-antagonistic and can be resolved within the framework of fraternal dialogue. I have known him for thirty years and regard his deeds as mischievous pranks without any element of evil. He told me in Accra in 1990 when I asked him to take on the responsibility of interim president that God did not make him to be a leader. My response then was that God did not make any man to be a leader and that it was history, which imposed obligation on individuals. Amos Sawyer is a brilliant social scientist who knows his limitations. This is a great asset when working with human beings!
For an ignorant pretender like Ike Coleman to condemn a man like Amos Sawyer and be given exposure by a journalist who should know better underline the tragic mishap of our recent history. Why this profanity against so-called "recycled politicians?" What are all these upstarts trying to prove? Do they feel that they can do better given the circumstances? Is condemning unreservedly men and women who fought against terrible odds their way of being politically relevant? In almost every society, people follow leaders who they see as exuding qualities of honour, decency and compassion. In Liberia, the primitive political culture undermines loyalty and gives rise to that brutal instinct for survival that is typical of unenlightened barbarians. In this context, the community means nothing; the individual everything! It is this habit of survival based on deception, disloyalty and intrigues that puts premium on wealth and power. Thus, one's relevance is measured by the amount of money one has and not by the decency of one's character. In this context it does not matter how the money is achieved. With this mind-set, we can understand the stupid assertion of Ike Coleman when he asked rhetorically: "How can you be as poor as a 'church rat' and want to deliver treasures to people in the same boat?" Yet this fool lives in a world that has produced Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Bishop Helder Camara, Albert Porte, Camilio Torres, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others whose poverty did not stop them from fighting for the liberation and dignity of the common people!
Ike Coleman wants us to believe that he knows what Liberians need in terms of their progress. He condemns not because he understands but simply due to the fact that he is stupidly presumptuous. He says: "Fellow Liberians home and abroad, let us all reflect on the wasted time and the burden recycled Liberian politicians place on us. By that I mean can you imagine that your Tipoteh and gang, are growing frail without any measurable contributions to our country. For all the utopia they preached, they were people who neither owned nor created anything close to job opportunity for Liberians. So tell me, how can these people, poor as many of us are, deliver the goods?" By this twisted logic of Coleman, the people of the United States should not have selected Nixon over Nelson Rockefeller in the Republican convention. The citizens of the Czech Republic should not have elected Vaclav Havel. The people of Poland should not have elected Lech Walesa after the fall of communism. The people of Peru should not have elected Alejandro Toledo. The citizens of Senegal should not have selected Abdoulaye Wade. And finally the people of South Africa should not have elected Nelson Mandela. These were poor teachers, workers and activists. In Liberia, citizens Tipoteh, Sawyer, Matthews and others created something of immense value to human progress. They created a new consciousness that transformed obedient slaves into men and allowed the broad masses to put the issue of their progress on the agenda of human history! They, with their courage and dedication, challenged a parasitic oligarchy and gave the masses the direction to alter the course of Liberian history. The fact that the process of emancipation was usurped, derailed and undermined by backward social forces does not minimize the contribution of these patriots to the liberation of the minds of the Liberian people. If this is not contribution, then I do not know what is! Maybe Ike Coleman wants teachers to create employment in the context of our society! Now one can understand how easy it is to move from ignorance to stupidity!!
One thing I can say for Ike Coleman is that he does not hide his sentiments like our "objective" journalist. It is obvious where Coleman stands and that is on the quicksand of his delusion. He wants revolutionary patriots to write books like Doris Banks Henries. But they do not want to follow this pattern of elaborate historical hoax! They want to educate men in order for them to write with their effort and sweat the true history of a people. Coleman avers that: "Yes, it is all right to beat up on Charles Taylor because he, too, promised the goods, but sucks. But what foundation did any of those who want to replace Taylor lay that they can say Taylor destroyed. I mean let any of them come out now and say for example, that this policy or program that made this or that difference was my brainchild that Taylor destroyed." What about the collective patrimony? What about the hopes, aspirations and expectations of the people that have been dashed? What about the countless lives lost in this brigandage? How about the villages destroyed; the people's culture polluted; their shrines desecrated; their women violated; their men folks dehumanized; the future of the children mortgaged? Even on the level of the individual, there were sacrifices made by some of the revolutionary patriots to help the sons and daughters of the people. Do you in your arrogance know how many children of the peasants were educated through the efforts of Citizens Tipoteh, Sawyer and others? Are you aware that there are doctors, lawyers, geologists, lecturers and nurses who were educated through the sacrifices of these patriots you condemn with so much vitriol? If not for the likes of you, Charles Taylor and other members of your retrograde class, a solid foundation would have been created for building a dynamic society. But this is another story!
You revealed yourself more than you know Ike Coleman. You believe that Taylor is using "common sense - street sense to kick ass." Well, your fathers kicked "ass" during the rice riot of 1979 and we know what happened subsequently! Samuel Doe kicked "ass" after the abortive invasion of General Thomas Quiwonkpa in 1985. We know what followed a few years later. If we had kicked "ass" in 1980 as your Charles Taylor has done since 1989, remnant of your class would not have had the opportunity to engage in this merciless terror and brutality against the people today. But we are grateful to people like you, that pompous and stupid man called Rudolph Sherman, Ash-Thompson, Walter Richards, Grace Minor, and the other hoodlums who misconstrue our decency for weakness. Tomorrow it will be a different story. Mark my words: you cannot win. We are many and you are few! This is a temporary aberration, necessary for the historical winnowing. Look around you. See on whose back your privilege is built. Take a closer look! See who holds the gun. Now tremble with fear at the day of reckoning! The new dawn will see a new history - written of you and not by you. Your revelation is the end of our illusion. I close with that beautiful piece from Marx in "The Class Struggle in France, 1848-50." "What was overcome in these defeats was not the revolution. It was the pre-revolutionary, traditional appendages, the products of social relationships which had not yet developed to the point of sharp class antagonisms - persons, illusions, ideas and projects from which the revolutionary party was not free before the February revolution, from which it could be freed not by the February victory, but only by a series of defeats."