By Gedebbo Sie [a.k.a. Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh Jr.]
This Article was written by Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh under banning orders from exile in Sierra Leone, and smuggled into Liberia in 1986. It was sent under the nom de plume of Gedebbo Sie.
The charade has long since ended. What grumblings there remain are the reflexes of frustrated politicians who helped orchestrate the farce, but were themselves duped in the end by more unscrupulous political tricksters. The tragedy of this whole affair is that the people, in their determination to oust the racketeers who now rule their country, are willing and ready to sacrifice their lives in defense of the domestic opposition, without realising that those who now lead this opposition are the very people who through cunning and stealth imposed Sergeant Samuel Doe and his band of thieves on them in the first place.
Many commentators have treated the Liberian situation as the creation of Sergeant Doe, but this ahistorical interpretation introduces myths into human affairs and confuses the people about existing reality. It is obvious that the focus on Sergeant Doe is meant to obscure the role of the social forces which are determined to deprive the Liberian people of the victory which is within their reach after years of heroic and bloody struggle against a selfish clique. The fact that Sergeant Doe is an irresponsible mediocrity who has survived through cunning, lies and ruthlessness is indisputable. The fact that he and his cabal have plundered incomparably the resources of the Liberian nation is irrefutable. It is obvious that at no time in the 140 years history of the Republic has a despicable buccaneer and his debased satraps exercised such control over the Liberian people. All these are incontestable proofs that the Liberian nation is going through its ”dark ages.” This is the point at which some would have us remai
ned–a fixation on the tragedy of the nation at this point in time which is simply an amplification of the Doe factor.
We must however look beyond the present tragedy and try to decipher the impending doom and catastrophe, which lurk in the future of the nation, if those who now lead the domestic opposition to Sergeant Doe, were to inherit power. Since April 1980, it has been their intention to recapture power and terminate decisively the experiment in social mobilization. By themselves, they are impotent. But behind the people–duped and manipulated–they can recapture power and impose a reign of terror. Poverty-stricken masses care less for human rights than for the satisfaction of their basic needs. A right-wing civilian regime with financial support from the international community could get away with ghastly atrocities as long as the dollar flows, salaries are paid on time and the bars on the street corners dish out club beer–the staple diet of Liberia’s lost generation, seeking leisure and happiness, no matter how ephemeral.
The coup of April 1980 was propitious. The Tolbert regime, nervous at the mobilization of the people and the defiance they were showing, even after the massacre perpetrated upon them during the rice riot of April 1979, decided to apply the solution of all tyrannies throughout history: the selective elimination of the potential leaders of the people. It was reported in many quarters in 1980 that the late Chief Justice James Pierre (he was executed after the coup of 1980) remarked that the solution to the clamoring of the people was the elimination of all their potential leaders in one fell swoop, and that the world would forget the whole episode in six months time as history had shown that the memory of the world was short. It was obvious from the reaction of the Tolbert government that plans were being made in early 1980 to put Chief Justice Pierre’s suggestion into operation.
In February 1980, the entire leadership of the Progressive People’s Party of Baccus Matthews (he became Foreign Minister after the coup of 1980) was arrested. Many of the Party’s supporters in the rural areas were tortured. The killing of several leading Party activists in the Monrovia area signaled the prelude to the scheme of selective elimination. This whole episode took place against a background of rising tension as the Progressive People’s Party demanded more democratization in the country and pushed its demand for general elections. In a frantic effort to curtail the agitation from the Progressive People’s Party, the Tolbert regime arrested several of the Party’s rank and file members. This led Baccus Matthews to lead a mid-night march to the Executive Mansion which subsequently led to his arrest and imprisonment. The leadership of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) was next in line for imprisonment, but was given temporary respite by the hurried pronouncement of its leader Togba Tipoteh (he bec
ame Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs after the coup of 1980) that MOJA dissociated itself from Matthews’ ”infantile behavior.” What was ”infantile” about Matthews demanding the release from prison of his supporters, regardless of the fact that he did so in a mid-night march, Togba Tipoteh did not say. This undoubtedly was the basis of the rift between the two groups opposing the Tolbert regime in 1980.
The scheme to eliminate the ”potential leaders” of the people was hatched and nurtured in a regime which included many of those who now lead the domestic opposition and are clamoring for the democratic right to oppose the corrupt and brutal Sergeant. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is today a leading member of the Liberia Action Party, was under Tolbert the Minister of Finance and presided over the wastage of millions of dollars for the OAU jamboree at a time when the Liberian people were struggling for basic health care. Jackson Doe, who is today the leader of the Liberia Action Party, was Vice Chairman of Tolbert’s True Whig Party. Edward Kesseley, who is today leader of the Unity Party, was Minister of Post and Telecommunications under Tolbert. Byron Tarr, who is today Secretary General of the Liberia Action Party, was Director-General of Public Corporations and one of the young technocrats servicing the governmental machinery under the True Whig Party. These are the leaders of the political parties which are o
pposing Sergeant Samuel Doe’s National Democratic Party of Liberia. Ironically, many of their erstwhile colleagues of the True Whig Party who helped to devise the scheme to eliminate the ”potential leaders” of the people are today in Sergeant Doe’s Party, refurbishing the scheme to eliminate all and sundry.
The coup of 1980 only displaced the True Whig Party temporarily. After the execution of thirteen members of the Party–which can be attributed to nervous reaction on the part of inexperienced soldiers–many members of the Party were released from prison. No sooner were they released then they found protectors from their tribal groups who were influential in the new military government. The radical but inexperienced members of the Progressive People’s Party and the Movement for Justice in Africa who were serving in the new government were over-burdened by the sluggish and corrupt bureaucracy and hampered by personal rivalries and did not pay attention to the creeping menace of the True Whig Party. In the turbulence of the time, foreign businessmen who had good connections in the past became nervous and took their dollars out of the country. Foreign companies abandoned their plantations and factories. Many of them had thrived on the corruption of the Tolbert era and were now frightened by the radical pronouncemen
ts of some of the members of the new government.
In this atmosphere of fear, insecurity and uncertainty, the released True Whig Party members decided to play havoc with the inexperienced and frightened military leaders. Exploiting their tribal connections in a country where tribal loyalties emerged after the coup as the safest insurance against harassment, intimidation and imprisonment, the True Whig Party members purveyed the fable that their foreign business friends were leaving because there were socialists in the new government.
For the new military leaders, socialism was what the late Tolbert and his cohorts had said it was: a system that takes away from you everything you have. Next, the True Whig Party members impressed upon the military leaders that if only they could be brought back into government, they would check on the socialists and convince their foreign business friends to return to the country.
The new military leaders were from the downtrodden of society–that humiliated and degraded mass for whom money means everything–and they fell for this. A more heinous deceit was the impression they made on the military leaders that they were all”native sons” who had been despised by the”Americo-Liberians.” This streak of opportunism was profoundly callous when one considers that the military leaders had executed one of the most successful ”native sons,” 34 year old John Sherman–Minister of Commerce, Industry and Transportation under Tolbert–mistaking him for an Americo-Liberian because of his refined disposition. In their frenzy and fear, the military leaders were determined to execute all top officials of the True Whig Party who came from the Americo-Liberian group and the callous indifference of some of the ”native sons” allowed the initial butchery to take place. It was carnage on a ghastly scale made all the more shocking by the public spectacle of the executions. Thus, in order to save their skins, the ”native sons” of the True Whig Party were willing to sacrifice their Americo-Liberian colleagues with whom they had grown up and worked with for several decades.
The first casualties of the sinister designs of members of the True Whig Party were not the radical members of the Progressive People’s Party and the Movement for Justice in Africa, whom they had branded as ”rabid socialists,” but those members of the military leadership who had come under the influence of the radical civilian members of the government. In order to eliminate the radical civilians, they had to first purge those on the ruling People’s Redemption Council who could protect the radical civilians. In August 1981, Sergeant Doe announced that he had uncovered a plot to assassinate him. He averred that this plot had the backing of certain socialist elements in the country and the Libyan leader Colonel Maomer Qhadafi. Within a few hours of his announcement, five leading members of the People’s Redemption Council were arrested, together with one of the radical civilian ministers belonging to the Progressive People’s Party–Oscar Quiah. The arrest of Quiah removed from the cabinet the radical civilian member who was most vocal in his condemnation of the released True Whig Party members. He was uncompromising in his attitude toward them and wanted them kept out of the new government by all means.
The five military men arrested were:
1. The Vice Head of State, Thomas Weh Syen, who had demonstrated on numerous occasions his irritation at the re-employment in the government of key members of the True Whig Party–both ”native sons” and ”Americo-Liberians.” He had publicly condemned the employment of former security agents in the Executive Mansion, the official residence and work place of the Head of the People’s Redemption Council. He had denounced the closure of the Libyan People’s Bureau in Monrovia by Sergeant Doe as an American inspired design. Thomas Weh Syen was a personal friend of Oscar Quiah who at the time of his arrest was minister of Internal Affairs. Weh Syen also had good relations with another member of the Progressive People’s Party, Chea Cheapoo who was minister of Justice. The last of Weh Syen’s personal friends among the radical civilians in the new government was Dew Mayson, a member of the Movement for Justice in Africa who was at the time Chairman of the National Investment Commission.
2. Nelson Toe, the youngest member of the People’s Redemption Council and a close friend of Togba Tipoteh, leader of the Movement for Justice in Africa, and of Baccus Matthews, leader of the Progressive People’s Party.
3. Henry Zuu, the most charismatic and unassuming member of the People’s Redemption Council. He was attending night classes in order to get his high school diploma and go on to university. He was a close friend of Baccus Matthews and Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., the Minister of Education and a member of the Movement for Justice in Africa. Zuu was very critical of the alliance between Sergeant Doe and members of the True Whig Party.
4. Robert Sumo, one of the most intelligent members of the People’s Redemption Council. He was a close friend of Amos Sawyer, the Chairman of the Constitutional Commission and also a member of the Movement for Justice in Africa.
5. Harry Johnson, soft spoken and unassuming. He was a friend of Baccus Matthews and Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr.
The days following their arrest saw the most invidious propaganda by the members of the True Whig Party. They planted stories in the widely circulated newspaper, The Daily Observer, where some of the journalists from the banned True Whig Party newspaper were sheltering, condemning Weh Syen as ambitious, ruthless and reckless; and who had come under the influence of radical socialists in the government.
The radical civilian members of the Progressive People’s Party and the Movement for Justice in Africa serving in the government were placed under surveillance. Inferences were being drawn that the arrest of Oscar Quiah showed the link of Matthews and Cheapoo to the Weh Syen plot. Members of the Movement for Justice in Africa were also seen as being involved because of the fact that they too had friends on the People’s Redemption Council who had been arrested. The alleged Libyan involvement was a clever ruse by members of the True Whig Party to portray the radical civilians as fanatics who wanted to curtail United States’ influence in Liberia. This attempt to portray the radical civilians as anti-American was meant to influence the U.S. embassy in Monrovia to adopt policies which would be damaging to the radical civilians.
Within a few days of the arrest, the five military men were executed at the Barclay Training Center. Oscar Quiah was saved through some hard bargaining by Baccus Matthews. No other radical civilian minister was arrested. Togba Tipoteh was out of the country and a few days after the execution, he sent his letter of resignation to Sergeant Doe with a farsighted analysis of the intrigues of members of the True Whig Party. The death of Weh Syen and the other four military men removed from the People’s Redemption Council were those with visceral hatred of the True Whig Party.
Subsequently, key members of the defunct True Whig Party were thrust into positions of authority.
Byron Tarr was appointed Minister of Planning and Economic affairs to replace Togba Tipoteh. John Rancy, who was detested by Weh Syen as an unscrupulous schemer and had been dismissed by him from the Liberian American Mining Company (LAMCO), was appointed as Deputy Minister for Presidential Affairs at the Executive Mansion. Jackson Doe was appointed Advisor to Sergeant Doe on Domestic and International Affairs. Edward Kesseley was appointed Vice President of the Mesurado Group of Companies (one of Tolbert’s businesses which had been taken over by the new government). Two of Tolbert’s notorious security men were re-appointed to key positions in the security apparatus: Patrick Minikon was appointed chief security advisor to Sergeant Doe and Edward Massaquoi was appointed chief of the Joint Security Forces. The new Director of Police appointed after the Weh Syen episode was none other than Wilfred Clark, Tolbert’s former Director of the Special Security Service.
In major ministries and parastatals, the members of the True Whig Party emerged as key advisors, directors and managers. They also moved into the offices of their tribesmen in the military and the People’s Redemption Council as senior advisors. They offered the military a return to the old order minus Tolbert and other prominent members of the Americo-Liberian group. The argument of the True Whig Party members was that there was nothing wrong with the socio-economic system. For them, the only defect was in the political order where the minority group of Americo-Liberians ruled for 135 years until the coup of 1980. As if this absurdity was not enough, they opined that they had only sided with the late Tolbert because of the socialist threat from the Progressive People’s Party and the Movement for Justice in Africa.
The major tragedy for the radical civilian members of the government was their inability to save their friends on the People’s Redemption Council. They could have forced a confrontation and demanded that their military friends be spared. With their popular base, it would have been a gamble worth taking. Instead, they looked on passively as those who had prevented the True Whig Party from returning were eliminated. Probably, they did not understand the unfolding political dynamics at the time. No matter what the reason, there was no excuse for their passivity in a situation fraught with uncertainties. It was obvious by 1981 that the military was going to be decisive in the shifting balance of forces. The fact that the True Whig Party members understood this and jumped on the bandwagon had more to do with opportunism than with sound political calculations. They would have sided with anybody who had power. Their political predisposition was towards sycophancy and self-aggrandisement and not nationalism and nation building.
The students had provided the ideological justification for the confrontation with the Tolbert regime. They were to become the next target of the True Whig Party. In mid-1981, the military government banned all political activities on school and college campuses. The leadership of the Liberian National Student Union (LINSU) petitioned the People’s Redemption Council to rescind the ban as it was contrary to the military’s professed intention to build a bridge for dialogue with the students of Liberia. In responding to the students’ petition, the military government accused them of contravening the decree banning politics; arrested the five top leaders of LINSU and charged them with treason. They were given a perfunctory trial and sentenced to death. The sentence was not carried out because of the massive solidarity shown with the students by workers, market women, the unemployed and their fellow students. Unlike the arrest and execution of the five military men which witnessed a timid passivity, the trial of the students served as a rallying point for the people to demonstrate their demand for justice.
The students had incurred the wrath of the True Whig Party during the Tolbert era because of their vitriolic condemnation of corruption. With the return of the True Whig Party after the coup, the students began to warn the military of the possible degeneration of revolutionary morality in cohabiting with members of the True Whig Party. In their attempt to deal ruthlessly with the students, members of the True Whig Party turned to those members on the People’s Redemption Council who were corrupt and vain. One such member was the newly appointed Vice Head of State, J. Nicholas Podier. It was on him that the True Whig Party members placed the responsibility for crushing the students’ resistance to the endemic corruption of members of the True Whig Party. Podier demanded that the execution of the students be carried out. True Whig Party members averred that the military had to set an example of the students in order to create stability which would ensure economic recovery.
The fact that the military decided against the execution of the students showed that some of Sergeant Doe’s advisors–who had links with the True Whig Party–were aware of the impending catastrophe if the students were executed. Unlike the older members of the True Whig Party who had accumulated enough during the Tolbert era and wanted to wreak vengeance on the students for helping to destroy their regime, the advisors were men who had only started to amass wealth and needed time to accumulate sufficiently. One of these advisors was Willie Givens, Deputy Minister of State for Presidential Affairs.
It was his admonition to Sergeant Doe that awakened the military leader to the reality of popular support for the students.
Their failure to have the student leaders executed did not deter the members of the True Whig Party from their scheme to destroy the radical civilian members of the government. Stories were circulated by members of the True Whig Party that the radical civilian members of the government had spurred the students on to confront the military but that when the students were arrested, these radical civilians went into hiding. This was a ruse to discredit the radical civilians as cowards as was done in 1979 during the rice riot. After the slaughter of hundreds of Liberians by the Tolbert regime during the rice riot, the True Whig Party sought to separate the people from the progressive forces in the society, thereby making it easy for the progressive forces to be isolated and eliminated. Stories were circulated that the leaders of the progressive forces had gone into hiding while their supporters were being massacred on the streets.
The True Whig Party controlled radio and newspapers churned out gossips that certain progressive individuals were seen in embassies. The fact of the matter was that the cowardice attributed to the progressive forces was personal, not collective. A few progressive leaders were absent, but the majority demonstrated supreme courage and heroism on the day of the rice riot. Baccus Matthews and Oscar Quiah were at home on the morning of the rice riot awaiting the commencement of the march which was scheduled for 3p.m. D. Kahn Carlor, a brilliant organiser of the Progressive People’s Party, was seen at the headquarters of the Party chatting with Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. at about 6: 30 a.m. It was believed at the time that Fahnbulleh, Jr. had gone over to inquire about the itinerary of the proposed march scheduled for that afternoon of April 14.
Amos Sawyer, a leader of the Movement for Justice in Africa, was at the Movement’s headquarters working as usual. During the course of the riot he was seen at various points in Monrovia together with Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. talking to workers, students and market women about the necessity to refrain from violence. The attack on the headquarters of the Progressive People’s Party on the morning of the 14th of April coincided with the attempt by D. Kahn Carlor to persuade the hundreds of people who had gathered at the headquarters from resorting to violence. He, Sawyer and Fahnbulleh, Jr. were lucky to have escaped injuries on that day as they were conspicuous among the people.
The events surrounding the arrest of the students in 1982 pushed the radical civilians in the government to new heights of militancy. They sensed the popular mood in the country against the destruction of the student movement and decided to gear up for a showdown with the military. The day announced for the execution of the students saw the full mobilization of the progressive forces in and around the Capital. Baccus Matthews–who had been dismissed as Foreign Minister through rumor-mongering, vilification and unfounded allegations by members of the True Whig Party–was seen before his residence surrounded by supporters of his Progressive People’s Party.
Many believed that the Party had arms and would use them if pushed against the wall. Marcus Bobeh, another member of the Party who was still in the government, was mobilizing the few remaining sympathetic members of the People’s Redemption Council at the Capitol Building where they had their offices. D. Kahn Carlor was coordinating activities between the Capitol Building and the campus of the University of Liberia. Dew Mayson was at the National Investment Commission surrounded by youthful supporters of the Movement for Justice in Africa. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. was seen going into the Foreign Ministry–where he was working as Foreign Minister after replacing Matthews–with two machine guns. He was followed closely by radical students from the University of Liberia.
The students in and around Monrovia had devised plans to sabotage key installations in the city. A student group from the University of Liberia had assigned a squad to kidnap Sergeant Doe’s father and hold him as ransom for the student leaders. Another group was standing by the Sprigg Payne airfield in Monrovia to hijack one of the Air Liberia planes and demand that the student leaders be taken to the airport and flown to Sekou Toure’s Guinea. This was the scenario when Sergeant Doe made a mid-day broadcast praising the heroic exploits of Liberian students over the years and granting pardon to the five student leaders. The scenes of jubilation throughout the city indicated how much the people had involved themselves in the ordeal of the students. Songs were hurriedly composed by the people praising the decision to pardon the students and condemning Nicholas Podier as a wretched killer who wanted to sacrifice the students to please his patrons.
The True Whig Party members were not deterred by their failure to undermine popular support for the progressive forces. They sought to use the constitutional process to thwart the participation of the radical civilians in the return to civilian rule. The military government, faced with popular demand for constitutional rule because of the impatience of the people with the True Whig Party styled corruption which was evident in the lifestyle of the military leaders, appointed a Constitutional Commission in April 1981, comprising of twenty-five members with Amos Sawyer as Chairman and D.K. Wonseley of the Progressive People’s Party as Vice Chairman.
After two years of arduous labor, the Sawyer-Wonseley Commission which had such luminaries as J. Rudolph Grimes (former Secretary of State under Tubman), Albert Porte (veteran political analyst), Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Sr. (former Ambassador under Tubman), Augustus Caine (former Minister under Tubman and Senator during the rule of Tolbert), Abraham James (Academic, lawyer and Chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Liberia), and Dr. Patrick Seyon (Vice President of the University of Liberia) among others, presented a modern Constitution with all the guarantees for individual liberties and democratic freedom.
The True Whig Party members were not pleased with the Sawyer-Wonseley Constitution as they had the nagging fear that the democratic liberties outlined in the Constitution would allow the progressive forces to mobilize the people and win all elections. The inclination of the True Whig Party had always been towards political intrigues rather than popular democracy.
They had neither the political credentials nor the aptitude for mass politics which is the hallmark of democracy with popular participation. Called upon by the military to review the Sawyer-Wonseley Constitution and present it to the people for approval in a referendum, the True Whig Party members decided to subvert the process of democracy in Liberia. Meeting in a Constitutional Advisory Assembly under the chairmanship of Edward Kesseley (Minister under Tolbert) and including such key True Whig Party members as Charles Williams, Pearl Brown-Bull (Head of the Women Wing of the True Whig Party), R. Francis Okai, Jr., Samuel Hill (Minister under Tolbert), Harry Bayou, Patrick Biddle, James Gbarbea and Keikura Kpoto among others, a political amputation of the Sawyer-Wonseley Constitution was carried out.
In the revised Constitution presented to the people by the True Whig Party, a new and ominous clause was inserted which circumscribed the people’s right to choose their leaders. The True Whig Party’s clause asserted that in standing for the position of President of Liberia, an individual must be”resident in the Republic ten years prior to his election . . .” The scheme was glaring and devious. The Clause automatically prohibited most of the radical civilians from contesting the presidential elections.
The fact that this was the only position for which the ten years residency was required demonstrated the political trickery of the True Whig Party dominated Advisory Assembly. In defending this obnoxious Clause in an interview with the Footprints magazine, Kesseley averred that the reason why ten years residency was required for the presidency was because it would be unfair for those who were away to return and take the presidency while those who were in the country were deprived of this privilege. Nothing was said of the fact that ten years out of the country did not make one less of a Liberian. Again, this shameless posturing to defend untenable political precepts ignored the reality that in a democracy, it is the people who make the final decision as to those who are capable of leading them. But again, the True Whig Party was never disposed towards democracy. Over a quarter of a century (from 1955), it had impregnated the Liberian body polity with legerdemain, deception and hypocrisy. Its political creed was nothing but sterile equivocation. It’s economic doctrine nothing but claptrap of crude and childish banalities.
With the referendum and the approval of the True Whig Party revised Constitution, members of the Party returned to their habitual vocation of self-debasement before the leader. In the Advisory Assembly, they had decided that Sergeant Doe should be the first president of the second Republic and that the radical civilians should be excluded. On this there was a consensus. By the end of 1983, the True Whig Party had orchestrated effectively the exclusion of the radical civilians from the government and the process of excluding them from the democratic experiment was on course.
Matthews, Quiah and Cheapoo of the Progressive People’s Party had all been dismissed on flimsy grounds. D. Kahn Carlor of the Party was chased into exile. Marcus Bobeh was relegated to an insignificant position at the Capitol Building. Togba Tipoteh of the Movement for Justice in Africa was in exile. Dew Mayson of the Movement was accused of improprieties at the National Investment Commission. He took the ambassadorship to Paris. Sawyer had handed over his Constitution to the True Whig Party for amputation.
Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. was asked out of the cabinet after questioning Sergeant Doe’s hurried pronouncement of the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel without any consultation with the Foreign Ministry. It was rumored at the time that Fahnbulleh Jr. had questioned the resumption of ties with Israel because he realized that Sergeant Doe wanted to use the Israeli connection to get the Americans to support his bid for the presidency. Doe was further advised to increase his condemnation of socialism and demonstrate his willingness to follow the American line. This political ruse was naive. The Americans wanted to be credited with introducing multi-party civilian democracy in Liberia and not discredited for endorsing an incompetent and corrupt military-civilian clique.
The True Whig Party felt satisfied that it had taken the necessary precaution to abort any challenge from the progressive forces. Where members of the True Whig Party deferred was on the pecking order. Who would be next to Sergeant Doe? Some wanted Edward Kesseley, but others felt he was too ambitious and couldn’t be trusted to protect their interests. Two groups of the True Whig Party subsequently emerged from the Assembly. The first group represented those who felt that they had to support whosoever Sergeant Doe selected as his running mate as they were themselves colorless individuals with no political future on their own.
The second group represented those who felt that since they had been in the forefront of orchestrating the elimination of the progressive forces, they deserved to be consulted on senior positions in Sergeant Doe’s government. Furthermore, they were better educated and demanded more influence in shaping the future of the nation which had been destroyed by the ignorant display of power since the coup of 1980. The two groups found Sergeant Doe an avid listener to their invectives against each other. The first group argued that politics was trickery to be played by those who had no moral qualms. The second group argued that the world was watching and therefore there had to be some finesse in the political orchestration which could only be supervised by the educated with their many international connections. In the end, the first group won as Sergeant Doe was inclined to their trickery as he had no training for the debates, persuasion and discussions which are attributes of a multi-party democracy.
There was still another factor to contend with in the race for the presidency: the Amos Sawyer factor. He was the only progressive individual who met the residency requirement. Also, he was a respected professor and Head of the largest faculty at the University of Liberia. Most importantly, he was chairman of the Commission which drafted the original Constitution. When Sawyer announced the formation of his Liberia People’s Party, the True Whig Party saw a defect in their political machination. When Sawyer intimated that Sergeant Doe should live up to his pronouncement that all interested politicians should resign from their official positions by setting an example, the True Whig Party–this time in the persons of Bernard Blamo and Ernest Eastman, Minister and Ambassador respectively under Tolbert, and both ministers under Doe–asked Doe to return home from Germany where he had gone for medical checkup as there was a plot to topple the government.
On arrival in Monrovia, Sergeant Doe accused Sawyer of being involved in a”socialist plot” with the Vice Head of State–Podier–to seize power. Sawyer was arrested and the students of Liberia, sensing the absurdity of the whole affair, boycotted classes and demanded the release of Sawyer. They were supported in their heroic stance by the President of the University, Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman–a courageous, brilliant and unassuming academic. For her principled stance against the arrest of Sawyer, she was dismissed by the military leadership. Then followed a mammoth demonstration by the students which were crushed with ferocious savagery by the army under the command of the dull and mendacious minister of
Defense, Gray Allison. The True Whig Party had its revenge finally on the students of the University of Liberia.
With the progressive forces circumscribed, the rift in the True Whig Party widened when it became obvious that Sergeant Doe was relying heavily on the colorless individuals in the first group for political counseling as the game now was not democracy but crass political chicanery. In this group were such individuals as Keikura Kpoto, who was accused of drug smuggling during the rule of Tolbert; Emmett Harmon–a political Lazarus of the True Whig Party who had been deported from the United States in the 50s for forgery; John Rancy and Emmanuel Shaw (a Deputy Minister under Tolbert). The second group of the True Whig Party which demanded more influence opted for separation when it became obvious that neither Kesseley nor Jackson Doe would be selected by Sergeant Doe as his Vice Presidential running mate. Thus the birth of the Liberia Action Party under Jackson Doe and the Unity Party under Kesseley. Of the two parties, the Liberia Action Party was more formidable as it contained many of the technocrats of the Tolbert era. Byron Tarr, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others were in it. After the lackluster years of Sergeant Doe’s rule and with the economy completely paralyzed, this party would offer much attraction with its professed international connections.
As the elections approached, the True Whig Party was dominant in the political arena. With Sawyer’s Liberia People’s Party and Matthews’ United People’s Party proscribed by the True Whig Party controlled Interim National Assembly, it was going to be a three way race between three factions of the True Whig Party: the National Democratic Party of Sergeant Doe and the colorless individuals of the first group; the Liberia Action Party embracing the technocrats of the True Whig Party; and the Unity Party which embraced those members of the True Whig Party who had neither political perspective nor moral courage. Of the three, the Liberia Action Party was the most attractive in the light of the proscription of the two parties representing the progressive forces in the country.
During the election campaign, the economy was the key issue as the country was lurching towards bankruptcy. The congestion was the result of the backlog of mismanagement and corruption which had pervaded the system since the re-emergence of the True Whig Party.
Even with all the”socialists” out of the government, the economy showed no sign of recovery. The fact of the matter was that the True Whig Party had no solution for the economic crisis which they had helped bring about through greed and pillage. What the Liberian people heard from them during the campaign was that they were the ones who could improve the economy as they had friends in Washington, D.C. This fable was meant to impress the frustrated Liberian masses that had seen their dreams of a new order transformed into a nightmare of poverty, death and repression by Sergeant Doe and his unscrupulous advisors from the True Whig Party.
The reality of the situation was that the military government received more economic assistance from Washington, D.C. at the time when the radical civilians who were labelled as ”socialist” by the True Whig Party served in government. This underlines the fact that Washington was generous with its assistance in order to impress the radical civilians and thereby force them to moderate their scathing nationalistic pronouncements which were becoming manifestly anti-American. This shows that Washington will struggle to protect its interests in Liberia and it will become lavish with its aid if it perceives that radical civilians are in power that could harm U.S. extensive interests in the country.
No True Whig Party government was ever taken seriously by the Americans as it was known in Washington that the True Whig Party had a very narrow social base. Thus the True Whig Party members were prevaricating when they told the Liberian people that Washington wanted nothing to do with the radical civilians. Washington chooses its friends based on how well it thinks its interests will be protected. Under Sergeant Doe and the True Whig Party, Liberia will only be a social volcano waiting to erupt with unpredictable consequences.
The present confrontation in Liberia between the National Democratic Party and the other two factions of the True Whig Party has nothing to do with the struggle for democracy. The True Whig Party has no democratic credentials and its pretenses about democratic civilian rule are hollow gestures. It is the Liberian people who want a democratic revolution, but given the limited choices before them at the moment, they have settled for the lesser of two evils.
Thus, the support for the domestic opposition to Sergeant Doe’s government. The people want Sergeant Doe out because he aborted the democratic revolution which was in the offing at the time the military seized power. However, they ought to be reminded that those who are at the helm clamoring for democracy today were the very ones who condemned the struggle for democracy as subversive during the rule of Tolbert. They would have settled for Sergeant Doe had he been a more sensible and pliant stooge. It is obvious that the True Whig Party wants power but not democracy. The Liberian people must realize that the symptoms of nationalism being shown by these people are the last acts in a drama of deceit and hypocrisy. The rigging of the elections by Sergeant Doe and his cabal was retribution for the True Whig Party.
They eliminated the progressive forces with total disregard for the minimum standard of decency expected in a democracy. Their goal if they should ever return to power is to eliminate popular participation and rule through a refurbished army. Only this time, the politicians will be behind the desks in the offices and the army and security forces behind the guns and tanks in the streets. This time it will be the True Whig Party in power minus Tolbert and Sergeant Doe.
What is the solution to the present crisis? Sergeant Doe has lost his mandate and he must leave. The prolongation of his rule will discredit the Liberian army further and augment the seething tribal hostilities with dastardly consequences. With the economy in the doldrums, the aid givers will be important in seeing that he leaves. No amount of political deftness can save his tottering regime which reeks of corruption, inefficiency and nepotism. The question is not when he will go but how? The Liberian people long ago opted for socio-economic transformation.
He, being venal and unwilling to learn, perpetuated the old discredited system with the help of his True Whig Party cronies. His attempt to appoint an all”native” cabinet after the rigged elections in order to accentuate the Americo-Liberian–Native chasm and divert the people’s attention has not worked. The upsurge of protest and demonstrations shows that the people have never accepted the Americo-Liberian–Native dichotomy as the primary source of their deprivation. This dichotomy, which was amplified by the”native sons” of the True Whig Party after the coup served as the last refuge for all political tricksters.
How and when Sergeant Doe and his cronies will leave power will depend on the resiliency of the Liberian people and a sympathetic understanding of the plight of these people from Washington.
Already, the U.S. Congress is showing the kind of consideration for the efforts of the Liberian people which will be greatly appreciated by any future government. The defense of Sergeant Doe’s regime by certain individuals of the present Republican administration is testimony to the fact that this administration is out of step with international realities and that these individuals are on the margin of American public opinion. It is gratifying that the new correlation of forces in the U.S. Congress will isolate further the fringe elements in the present Republican administration who have not awakened sufficiently to the realities of contemporary developments.
The departure of Sergeant Doe would have to be followed by the setting up of a military-civilian council which must call elections within one year. There are many notable citizens in the army and the country who can serve on such a council. The first task of this council would have to be the disarming of all soldiers except those at the various border posts; and the confinement to barracks of all those not on special assignment. All soldiers not on special assignment who must venture out of barracks must be in mufti (civilian dress). The second task of the council should be the calling of the Bar Association to recommend names for the positions of Chief Justice, Associate Justices and Judges.
Justice has been the most abused under Sergeant Doe’s regime and the Bar Association must help to resurrect the Judiciary by recommending from among its ranks those with integrity and honor. Next must come the appointment of an entirely new Election Commission and an appeal made to the western democracies, the OAU and the UN for help in setting up an effective electoral system and to assist with elections at the appropriate time. The Sawyer-Wonseley Constitution must be accepted as the new constitution and the revised True Whig Party constitution thrown on the scrapheap where it belongs. Party politics must start six months after the setting up of the military-civilian council with the abolition of the ridiculous financial requirements for registration of parties. A Commission of Inquiry must be set up to account for all persons missing from the time of the rice riot of 1979 to the present.
With the military-civilian council in place and the various measures outlined above taken to ensure popular participation, Liberia will be on the way to initiating a democratic order for which the people have struggled since the dictatorship of the Tubman era. With the split in all the political parties that are the results of conflicting interests, the Liberian people will have ample choices before them. The issues will be debated freely. The people will listen and learn. They will then cast their votes based on their perception of who offers the best hope for the transformation of their lives.
They will then be responsible for the risk that is inherent in democratic voting: gambling on a candidate with the probability of future success or failure. This is the gamble that mature and responsible people take in a democracy to which the Liberian people want to subscribe. They must be given the opportunity. They know what is best for them. As the first black republic in Africa, Liberia has the duty to blaze the trail for democracy. She can do this with a little help from her friends. Tomorrow’s gratitude will be the seed of today’s assistance in expelling a brutal and corrupt dictatorship (HBF 1986).
Copyrighted © H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. – Fall 1986