By Michael C.G. George
Gabriel Baccus Matthews Father of Liberian Multi-party Democracy (1948-2007)
Gabriel Bacchus Matthews (May 8, 1948 – September 7, 2007) was a Liberian politician. He is considered one of the leaders in developing a multi-party system in Liberia, long dominated by the True Whig Party. He founded the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) in 1975, the first active opposition pressure group since the demise of the Republican Party.
It was succeeded by the Progressive People Party (PPP) and later the United People’s Party. Matthews twice served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia, under Samuel K. Doe(1980–1981) and later under Amos Sawyer (1990–93).
“One of the first actions of the coup makers was to order the release of all political prisoners. Upon daybreak, we were released, and I was invited to meet with them. I went accompanied by two other party leaders. We told them that we would cooperate in exchange for a commitment that they would help the Liberian people get a multiparty constitution.” This was the informal social contract entered into between Gabriel Baccus Matthews and the Military leaders who recognized Mr. Mr. Matthews’s vision and his political activities in Liberia immediately preceding and precipitating the 1980 coup.
As a young man, Matthews joined the dissident movement against President William R. Tolbert. He worked to create an opposition party, as the True Whig Party had been in power for more than 100 years. In 1975 he and many among the Liberian diaspora formed the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), then the Progressive People’s Party, the first legal opposition party to be recognized in decades.
After the April 1980 coup in which Tolbert was overthrown and Samuel K. Doe came to power, Matthews was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs for the first time. Matthews served as Foreign Minister until 1981. He later fell out of favor with Doe, who became increasingly dictatorial.
Matthews achieved reorganization of the party as the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) and legal recognition. Doe banned the party after becoming more authoritarian.
It reorganized again as United People’s Party (UPP). During the 1980s, Matthews was the main opposition politician in Liberia. Roland Trobeh described him as the father of multi-party democracy in the nation.
After Doe’s death, in 1990, Matthews again was appointed as Foreign Minister, serving under President Amos Sawyer. He was instrumental in bringing the ECOMOG Peacekeeping force to Liberia. He remained foreign minister until 1993, when he was replaced in a cabinet reshuffle.
Long before the 1980 military coup, Baccus had been incessantly consumed by the conviction of multiparty democracy for the Liberian nation and people. Born a product of the Liberian status quo at the time, Matthews in his early days conceived and subsequently embarked on a national mission focusing on the imperative that Liberia needed to be reconciled in a fashion that will induce social integration and political reconciliation, by bringing together the then minority ruling elite and the indigenous majority population as the basis for lasting peace and political stability in Liberia. Driven by the conviction for a society of equal opportunities, equality before the law, equal access to public services irrespective of class, creed and political orientation, Baccus quickly distinguished himself among many young Liberians who were yearning for peaceful change in their country by exposing himself among many young Liberians who were yearning for peaceful change in their country by exposing himself to countless and unthinkable security risks towards the realization of his political ideals and in pursuit to nationally beneficial objectives for constructive social change in the country.