Liberia’s Future Remains Uncertain Under Tribal and Religious Politics

By Jones Nhinson Williams

Jones Nhinson Williams

Some politicians and their supporters in Liberia have started playing a dirty game––the same thing that put Liberia in a mess some time ago.

Every civilized and well-informed person knows that tribalism and religious identities have no place in any rationale, serious and well-meaning political discourse, and of course, in any national development agenda.

But when some individuals and groups have no ability to analyze and think critically, or are not innovative enough, they easily fall back on what makes them relevant: an appeal to tribal and religious sentiments.

Of late, the standard–bearer of the United Peoples’ Party (UPP) brought us back to a very dark place: religious politics. According to him, Liberia should be a “Christian State” by law. And that he blames the country’s Christian religious leaders for not pushing for that.

Now, some in the UPP are taking that meagre thinking even further by arguing that “Congo people” caused the people of Grand Gedeh and Nimba counties to hate one another, and even led them to fight the 1990 civil war. So when their (UPP) presidential candidate with ties to Grand Gedeh picks a pastor with ties to Nimba then the “Congo people” become losers.  Really?

Is this where we have come now? Are these the kinds of people we want to lead our country beginning in an age of science, technology, engineering and math?

This gobbledygook that there are some Liberians who are ‘Congo’ people just blows my mind off. In this 21st century and after all these years of inter-marriages, we are still talking about this idiocy. Who are the ‘Congo’ in Liberia and what is their population ratio?

So, are we saying that UPP is now a Nimba County’s and Grand Gedeh County’s political party?

Every Liberian needs to grow beyond these divisive tactics if we sincerely mean business. We need to face the fact or the reality of the day.

There are good people in Grand Gedeh County and there are good people in Nimba County. And a similar thing applies to all other regions of Liberia.

Equally, there have been some unscrupulous people from both counties––Grand Gedeh and Nimba. The aversion and obliteration between both Grand Gedeans and Nimbaians was as a result of the behavior of the debauched elements in their midst. And for this reason prominent, decent and well-educated people from those two counties had to the face the brutality and abuses of the awful elements from either side.

It is undisputable that some of the most intelligent, honest and decent people one can find in Liberia are from Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties.  But sadly, they allowed the senseless in their midst to overshadow them politically. This is why today, the good ones from both counties are prepared to say no to such divisive tactics, and we must stand with them now and always.

If we truly want to address the curse and tribalism that have ruined Liberia since 1980, we should stop the pretense that some other people are responsible for our stupidity––this paranoia disorder syndrome that any and everything that happens to us, as Liberians, is always something that was engineered by other people, is unhelpful for national unity and for our future as a nation.

It was not ‘Congo’ people that told elements from Grand Gedeh County to treat Nimba County people very bad; neither was it so-called ‘Congo’ people that told some Nimba people to go and start attacking people from Grand Gedeh County.  It was the select power-hungry tribally-bent bigots from both counties that engineered the fracas.

This is why we must recognize that until the depraved elements from both major tribes from the two counties put aside tribalism and the overly ambitious tendencies, there can be no true reconciliation between them. Same applies to all other tribes in Liberia that allow the hypocrites in their midst to determine their faith and politics.

Every Liberian tribe has dangerous elements that want to use tribalism to advance their political stature, credibility and support. Our role should be to stop those milieus from succeeding.

President Samuel Doe and General Thomas Quinwonkpa were best of friends, and credible sources say, it was Quinwonkpa that really challenged his fellow 17 to 18 coup plotters, urging them that Doe, his best friend, became the head of state right after the bloody 1980 military coup.

But as soon as the prophets of tribalism showed their faces, heads and ambitious, they sowed seeds of division between the two best friends.

Some ruthless elements from Grand Gedeh County were lying to President Doe that his friends wanted to take his job to become Head of State; and some ruinous elements from Nimba County were lying to General Quinwonkpa (the Army Chief) that he was the most qualified and that President Doe was marginalizing his (General) tribal cluster and county.

So tension and infighting broke out, leading to widespread distrust and hate between the two men––a state of affairs which eventually spilled over to their innocent tribesmen and women who had no fish to fry in the fracas.  Besides, General Quinwonkpa was not the only senior PRC member that became a victim of the Grand Gedeh’s tribal elements’ attack under President Doe’s and the PRC’s government.

General Thomas Weh-Saye, General J. Nicolas Podier, Colonel Nelson Toe and others were affected, too. I guess the tribal preachers and their choirs will argue that it was the so-called ‘Congo’ people that told President Doe and the PRC leadership to kill General Weh-Saye from Sinoe County, General Podier from Grand Kru County, Nelson Toe from Sinoe County, and others. It was also the ‘Congo’ people that asked President Doe to sack his best friend General Quinwonkpa as Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia, and to launch the Nimba raid. I guess, it was the ‘Congo’ that unceasingly try to convince General Quinwonkpa that he should be at consistent odd with his best friend President Samuel Doe?

Here is what we, in hindsight, anticipated.  Both men (President Doe and General Quinwonkpa) would have resolved their differences if the obnoxious tribal-minded politicians and irrational activists left them alone.

Did President Samuel K. Doe want to attack his friends? Absolutely not. Believe it or not, Doe was a good man caught in the syndrome and web of tribalism. Besides, he had Liberia at heart and was development driven.  He was moving Liberia forward developmentally and the curse of corruption was not as excessive as we have it today. Unemployment was marginal and the living conditions of Liberians was fairly or moderately better.

Did General Quinwonkpa really want to go against his best friend President Doe? Absolutely not. He too was a good and smart man caught in the syndrome and web of tribalism. He was the gentleman––a real patriot and an honest man––-of the staged the bloody 1980 military coup that overthrown President William R. Tolbert.  General Quinwonkpa was a man who believed that the military had its place in a constitutional government, and that place was, in his thinking, was not to govern but to provide safety and security for the nation.

However, despite the personal differences between the two best friends (President Doe and General Quinwonkpa), the tension between them was largely instigated and fueled by their followers and supporters who sowed the seed of tribalism to get their way.

So there existed a vacuum built by hate and anger, and one that was largely powered by tribalism.  Charles Taylor, the notorious warlord and his whoever that supported him, saw that vacuum and exploited it.

When tribalism exists, and anywhere tribalism takes hold, there is always a vacuum. And there is always distrust, anger and hate, with a possibility for conflict. And that is what led our nation to a 14-years bloody civil war from which the architects and benefactors benefit, both with power and in wealth.

Now, instead of changing the political tone in Liberia so that we set aside what divided and destroyed the country some time ago, there are some who continue to take us back. This is not only bad politics, it is also a serious form of mental incapacitation––an obsession with irrationality.  This is why it must stop!

If political parties and would-be politicians and presidential candidates lack ideas to run on, let them be humbled and seek tutoring. After all, that is a commonsense thing to do!

In advanced democracies, candidates and serious, not fake, political campaigns turn to political and policy consultants to help them make their case as to why they should be voted for and why they are the best.

By the way, I have a solid and unquestionable education, and a degree in philosophy (with high honors) from one of the best Catholic seminaries in the world, and additional degrees in public policy and international management from some of the well-established American universities. My services are free for mentally feeble Liberian politicians and groups with no ideas, just so we have a better Liberia based on ideas, and not one based on tribalism and religious appeal. We need to stop this folly about tribe and religion as a way to be politically relevant and appealing. It does not help; has never helped, will not help, and will never help us.

It’s time we stop the poppycock and ensure that Liberian politicians learn and begin to talk about issues such as balance budgets, economic growth and social development, medical research, advanced manufacturing; science, technology, engineering and math education; food security and agricultural development; workforce training and development, and of course, job creation. It’s time we begin to talk about the rule of law, an independent and credible judiciary, revenue and taxes, national reconciliation and sustainable peace; and it’s time our politicians talk about how they can help to develop a robust private sector so that we can reduce the size of the Liberian government to a more functional establishment rather than continuing to make it an elephant meat with unreasonable political accommodations.

Together, we must say no to tribalism, and a big no to religious divisions.

About the Author:

Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian philosopher (born in Pleebo, Maryland County but hailed from River Gee County) firmly educated by the Catholic Church. He is an American trained public policy, labor market information, strategic management, and workforce development professional with accomplished global experience in job creation and institutional governance.

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About Cholo Brooks 17424 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.