Former Senator Blamoh Nelson Looks Back: What Happened in Liberia During The 48 Years Era

Former Kru County Senator, Blamo Nelson

Former Kru County Senator, and former Minister of Internal Affairs, Blamo Nelson has chronologically been speaking to students of the B.W. Harris Episcopal High School during the school’s commencement convocation held on August 3rd, 2017.

Senator Nelson an executive of Liberia’s oldest grassroot political party, the United People’s Party (UPP) lectured the students in his hour-long address outlined some of the reasons that plunged Liberia into countless number of crisis.

Below is the full text of Senator Nelson’s speech to the student:

There were few of us, but we were definitely reasonably more educated and exposed. Our parents were taught using the old format: Primer-1 and Primer-2. So it was, that, I and my compatriots started off with repetitive learning – it was the British technique: that is what the old folks knew best. And, our teachers, O, they loved it; we, too, enjoyed the rhymes and the rhythms of it all:

A, B, C; 1, 2, 3; A fat cat sat on a mat; Capital A, Small A; Capital-B, Small-B; SO, so; GO, go; LO, lo; NO, no.

But, I tell you, the one I love so much was this: I am In, Go On; Is He to Go In, No! He is to Go On, On, On, We Go!

You see, my dear young people; today, I reminiscence. Looking up at these ceilings, I see that this hall has remained an eternal faithful friend – the story of 1969 is engrained in the walls. That is why, as I reflect now, and travel through time, my spirit is recompensed; I am entangled and bewildered. I feel a refreshing sense of great admiration and, at the same time, a debilitating sadness.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my young friends, we must pay a special tribute to the teachers and staff of this institution.  We must celebrate, even in these times of extreme adversities, their demonstration of the finest hour of human perseverance and tenacity.  The teachers and staff of B. W. Harris, and all schools in this Republic, have shown the highest level of nationalism beyond doubt. They have demonstrated the fine spirit of the true Spartans – keeping alive this, my alma mater.

To you, our teachers and staff, I say thank you. Yes, the parents did give your students life, but you played the lead role in cultivating a sense of direction and giving them knowledge to fulfill their lives. They have not diamond, gold, nor silver to give you in appreciation. But, as they sail away from you into the uncertain distance, no one knows what each will become – some will be great and others may not so be.  One thing for sure is that none will forget you. For, you have allowed your light to so shine before man, who now see your good works. Your efforts will not be in in vain. The Almighty God will be glorified.

Now, please bear with me; I bow in memory of all my teachers and my classmates who have departed this life and have gone ahead to rest eternally.

”Progress the more, B. W. Harris School, Forward, and Forward March We Go; to victory, B. W. Harris School, thy praise we sing for evermore.”  Ladies and Gentlemen:  I am a Spartan!

In 1969, exactly forty-eight years ago, this year, I walked up to the stage in the auditorium, and received my Diploma, from the B. W. Harris Episcopal High School.  In that year, the mothers and fathers, without exception, of all the young people who have now completed their high school studies here, were either not yet born, or if any of them was born, he or she was a small child at the level of kindergarten school.

No doubt, it has been a long time – four decades and eight.  A great deal has happened in Liberia and, dare I say also, in my life, during the past 48 years since I graduated from this noble institution.

I want to tell you something; it is a complicated story. But I hope you will understand.

William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman (November 29, 1895 – July 23, 1971) was a Liberian politician. He was the 18th President of Liberia, serving from his election in 1944 until his death in 1971.

In 1971, just two years after my graduation, President William V. S. Tubman who started ruling Liberia in 1944, six years before I was born, died after 27 years in the Presidency.  His Vice President for 19 years, Dr. William Richard Tolbert, Jr., took over the Presidency.  By the time of President Tubman’s death, those of us who were born in the fifties were in our 20s.

Arguably, and maybe not so debatably, we were more educated – definitely more exposed, to the ideas of a changing world embroiled in the spirit of anti-disestablishmentarianism. Within the context of a global change dynamics, we raised questions about our country and how it was been governed.  The questions we raised needed answers, but the answers provided did not, and perhaps, could not, answer the questions we raised.  So, we were branded as trouble-makers; social deviants, radical agitators and confusion-makers.

At the time of my graduation from high school, almost everybody in Liberia wanted change. But the operating systems of the country and their supporting bureaucratic processes were stiff – too old to change.  They were managed, not by the will of those for whom they were established, and pretended to serve; they were controlled by the wimps and caprices of a few who benefited from the operation of such old and outdated bureaucratic structures.

At the time of my graduation, it seemed that the socio-political and economic systems of our country had become obsolete and unable to respond to the demand for change.  At the time of my graduation from high school, the systems, particularly, the governance system of Liberia, needed to adjust, either through deliberate reformed measures, or by radical means.

During, and not long after, high school, we witnessed the arrest and trial of Ambassador Henry B. Fahnbulleh Sr. for sedition, because he read a Red Book given to him by his colleague, the Chinese Ambassador accredited to Kenya.  Then, we saw the long and protracted arrest and trial of Prince Brown, William Kpadeh and others, for treason. Their crime was discussing the Government policy in public.

In 1975, my classmate Willard Russell, along with some of our other friends and brothers, Victor Weeks, Keith Best, were all arrested for printing and circulating the “Revelation”, a campus-based student newsletter at the University of Liberia.  Old man Albert Porte, a fearless advocate for social justice was arrested on many occasions for asking too many questions and publishing a pamphlet called “Gobbling Business.”  There were student protests.

Then, agitation and threat of a street demonstration to protest against a suggested increase in the price of rice created so much tension that the Government became confused and hysteric.   On April 14, 1979, security forces shot and killed more than 150 unarmed Liberians who were believed to be engaged in a demonstration that never really took place.  On that day, there was also massive looting of business houses in Monrovia.

The nightmare of the PRC Regime: the late Thomas G. Quiwonkpa and President Samuel Kanyon Doe

One year later, on April 12, 1980, a group of 17 enlisted men from the Armed Forces of Liberia, labeling themselves as the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), staged a coup d’état and brutally overthrew the Government headed by Dr. Tolbert. The PRC placed Liberia under martial law; suspended the Constitution; banned all democratic political activities, and ruled the country by Decrees for six years.

On July 26, 1984, the PRC lifted the ban on political activities.

Truly, the decades of the 1970s and 1980s were a very rough 20 years period for Liberia. Most everybody wanted change. The late Emmett Harmon once described an articulation of a query from us, the young people at the time, as “a beautifully arranged rhetorical pro, designed to deceive the people”.

But I think old man Harmon could have a borrowed a more precise line or two from the famous British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who said “Liberia is a conundrum wrapped in complexity and stuffed inside a paradox. Then again,” he concluded, “it was born that way.”

Elections were held October 10, 1985. The Head of the PRC, General Samuel Kenyon Doe was declared the winner.

General Thomas Quiwonkpa

On November 12, one month after the October 1985 election, General Thomas Quiwonkpa, was encouraged and convinced by some prominent Liberians, including Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr.; Mr. Thomas Woiweyou; Mr. Harry A. Greaves, Jr.; and Mr. James Holder, to lead a group of armed Liberians from across the Liberia-Sierra Leone border to remove Samuel Doe from power by force. Quiwonkpa had been a member of the PRC, but forced into exile in the United States.  The Quiwonkpa coup attempt failed leading to a blood bath that lasted for more than two months.

The PRC ruled Liberia for six years under martial law – from 1980-1986. But then, at the end of the Marshal Law era, Head of State Samuel Doe, who had led the overthrow of the Government in 1980, became the civilian President in 1986.  In the minds of many people, it was difficult to determine what had really changed.

My dear young people, as I look back over the past 48 years, and read the journal of life, I have come to know that there is nothing done that is not recorded. Our actions, once recorded in the journal of life, cannot be erased. Every action has its weight and implication for your survival. As you move through the next forty-eight years, remember what Solomon wrote: you shall reap what you sow; and, always reflect on the words of the great English Poet, William Cowper who, in 1774, profoundly advised that the blind unbelief is sure to make errors; and scan the works of God in vain; but God, is His own interpreter, at His appointed time, He will make everything plain and clear.

All the things that happened from 1969, in particular on April 14, 1979; on April 12, 1980, and on November 12, 1985, set the stage for the Liberian blood bath that was to follow in the succeeding ten years.

Many Liberians left the country – some were forced, while others voluntarily went, into exile. The Liberians that went into exile included the cream of our country’s educated personalities. In the United States, Dr. Amos Sawyer; Dr. Byron Tarr; Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Cllr. Clarence Simpson; Dr. Patrick Sayon; Jr., Mr. Harry A. Greaves Jr.; and other eminent citizens organized the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL) for the sole purpose of raising money to buy guns and finance an operation that would remove the Samuel Doe regime from power by force.

Detained Charles Ghankay Taylor, former rebel leader of the defunct NPFL

On December 24, 1989, under the leadership of Mr. Charles Taylor, a group of 167 militarily well trained Liberians, including Prince Y. Johnson; Samuel Dokie; Elmer Glee Johnson; Cooper Tiah; Paul Nimely; Moses Doupu; and others, encouraged by the ACDL, with the overt backing of the Republics of Libya, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast, formed an army which they named the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and flung an incursion from the Ivory Coast into Liberia.  This was the beginning of one of the most brutal civil wars the world has ever known.

Gen. Prince Y. Johnson of the defunct NPFL

On September 9, 1990, nine months after the civil war started, President Samuel Doe was captured and killed by Prince Johnson.  At last, the objective of the ACDL had been accomplished – the Samuel Doe regime had been removed by force of arm. But the civil war continued. General Prince Johnson who killed President Doe insisted that “the gun that liberate should not rule.”

On July 19, 1997, seven years after the nation was plunged into chaos, we conducted an election using the proportional representation method instead of the first-past-the-post method which is provided for by our laws. Mr. Charles Taylor, head of the NPFL which, by then had transformed itself into the National Patriotic Party (NPP), won the elections. Again, the he who had caused the removal of a President from power by force, became President.

Gen. Sekou Damate Conneh, leader of defunct LURD rebel movement

Six months later Mr. Taylor took the Presidency, another group of well-armed Liberians under the leadership of Mr. Sekou Damate Conneh, along with Cheye  Doe, Charles Bennie, and others, organized the Liberians United for Reconstruction and Development (LURD), and with external support, launched yet a third incursion into the country: this time from across the Liberia-Guinea border. The objective was to remove Charles Taylor from power by force.  As the brutal war continue, Thomas Nimely Yayah, led yet, still, another armed group named and styled: Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).  The whole idea of removing presidents from power in Liberia by force had become senseless, useless and foolish.

The Liberian civil war lasted for 14 years (1989-2003).  It took more than 11 armed warring factions to prosecute. In 2003, we signed the Accra Comprehensive Accra Peace Accord (CPA) which ended the war.  But, by then, the process had resulted to the death of more than 250,000 Liberians, the displacement of over one million citizens into refugee camps; and the destruction of the nation’s social infrastructure, along with the national economy. My fellow young people, what has happened in this country since I graduated from high school 48 years ago is all history now.  The future must vindicate us.

My dear children and friends, it will do us well to look back on the past and say to ourselves and, to our posterity – you, the next generation – never again should Liberia be pushed to the extreme – never should we pass this road again!

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In 2005, we returned our country to constitutional civilian rule.  Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President.  Nine years into President Sirleaf’s Presidency, the deadly Ebola disease hit Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leon.  More than 4,000 Liberians died from the epidemic. It took an unprecedented one-year global health intervention to contain and end the Ebola crisis.

Mrs. Sirleaf has been in office for almost twelve years. She is now nearing the end of her second and final term as President. I believe from my account of events, you understand that Liberia has not been stable for 45 years.  We have been walking on bridges over many trouble waters.

So, now that we have come this far, and you are about to begin your 48 years journey into the future, it is important to know what were some of the questions we asked at the beginning of our 48 year journey in 1969, that could not be answered, and on account of which, Liberia was plunged into uncontrollable chaos.

  • We wanted to know, who owned the land.
  • We wanted to know, why Liberia had only one political party when there was no law that another party could not be formed.
  • We wanted to know, why there was so much corruption in Government.
  • We wanted to know, how come there was no free and fair democratic elections for members of the Legislature, the Presidency, City Mayors and City Councilmen; and for Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs.
  • We wanted to know, how come Liberians were not in charge of the economy of the country.
  • We wanted to know, how come Liberians were so wretchedly poor when their country has so much natural wealth and resources.
  • We wanted to know, why was the illiteracy rate of Liberia so high
  • We wanted to know, why Liberian farmers were still using cutlasses and hoes to produce food to feed the country when others in other countries were using machines to produce food.
  • We wanted to know, why were most Liberians drinking from creeks, ponds and rivers
  • We wanted to know, how come the healthcare program of the country was so bad
  • We wanted to know, how come the road system of the country was so poor
  • We wanted to know, how come Liberia did not have sufficient electricity
  • We wanted to know, why the telecommunication system of the country was so poor.
  • And, we wanted to know, more!

As I look back, I understand now why the questions could not be answered and why things happened as they did. Let me share with you some of the things I have learned.  I am sure you will benefit from my reflection:

First, generally, we think that Liberia is part of the United States, and that somehow, America will take care of us.

Second, generally, we are always begging for something. We are poor because, we, of our own free will, have, in our Constitution, surrendered our wealth to the Government; which means, it is the Government that must have the wealth – it is the Government officials that will take care of us.

Third, our democracy is up-side down: Government is so centralized that we cannot think for ourselves or do anything in our communities without seeking approval from those at the top – those we elect as Lawmakers, the President, the Ministers and Heads of Government Agencies. Instead of us instructing them, they end up dictating to us.

Forth, generally, we are deceitful and morally corrupt.  Stealing from, and lying on each other, is not repugnant in our moral conscientiousness; and

Fifth, generally, there is a lack of an enabling environment to support personal actualization and growth.

Now, it will please you to know that, the struggle over the last 48 years have removed the barriers to get answers to the great questions of the day.  So, the struggle was all not for nothing or senseless.  The land has been fertilized; now you can plant your seed and watch it grow.

The Liberian society is now a multi-party democratic environment; it is open and pluralistic. Free, fair, transparent democratic elections have become the norm. There are laws to regulate the conduct of public officials and employees to ensure integrity in Government.  The Liberian press and civil society advocates are becoming stronger in playing the vital role of serving as societal watchdogs.

My dear young people, with the obstacles to socio-political and economic change removed through blood, sweat, and tears, the generation for the next 48 years – your generation — has no need to revert to violence in getting answers to the great questions of the day.

Although we will not be with you very long, but in the few years we have left, we will guide you so that there will be no need to revert to violence in getting answers. The next 48 years should be Liberia’s golden age. By the time you get to be as old as we are, you should look back and feel much better as you tell your children – our grandchildren — a more pleasant story than what I have told you today.

2017 is your starting year.  We did not have the opportunity to vote in our starting year in 1969, but you do. Read the Platforms of the political parties that want to contest this 2017 elections. It will be a travesty and an opportunity lost if you vote for a political party or an independent candidate who has no clearly written Platform – do not take it for granted. It is through their visions as articulated in their Platforms, that you will know their answers to the questions and where they want to carry you and the country.

Do not listen to those who might say, “That Platform we will eat”?  They are foolish people.  Take your queue: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God.

Now Go! My peace I give unto you; may God bless and keep you; may He makes His face to shine upon you, and may He open your path to a bright, happy, productive and prosperous future. Amen!

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About Cholo Brooks 16111 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.