By Jimmy Shilue|
Times, political contexts and social realities are rapidly changing and obviously Liberia’s geographical political landscape as well as the electorates are obliged to come to term with these dynamics as remaining oblivious to current realities will only accelerate backwardness; fuel myopic political xenophobia and ‘primordial sentiments’.
The attack on opposition leaders, Alex Cummings and Yekeh Kolubah by some youth in Grand Gedeh County is not only embarrassing but a bad precedence that opens a Pandora box on the county. When something of this nature happens, there are two fundamental ways to probe the underlying reasons- one is by asking why did it happen and the next is who did this to destroy the county’s hospitable image? The formal question helps to elicit plausible underlying reasons beyond the euphoria generated while the latter facilitates a much broader probe to identify the perpetuators and their real motives. This is why I am wondering whose agenda are these youth pushing? As a native of the county, I am shocked and utterly embarrassed by such behavior, which threatens Liberia’s fragile peace. It should be noted that anti-democratic behavior of this kind undermines development and threatens stability.
Historically, Grand Gedeh County came to the spotlight of Liberia’s politics in the 1980s,’ when a son of the county, Master Sargent Samuel K. Doe, led a group of junior officers and overthrew President Tolbert’s government. The pains and resentments linked to the violent removal and public execution of former government officials still linger in the hearts and minds of some Liberians. Resentments toward Grand Gedeh County and people even intensified during and
after the Liberian civil war such that the name Grand Gedeh County in the eyes of some is synonymous to violence and war.
While these perceptions are grossly misleading, it should be acknowledged that the role played by some of my kinsmen contributed to the negative image of the county. On the other hand, Grand Gedeans also suffered inhume treatments from others because of their identity as Krahns. In other words, Grand Gedeans paid high price for the actions by few because of the ‘Politics of ethnicity’, which unfortunately comes with ‘collective guilts’ and bad consequences in Liberia, whenever the tie turns.
Depending on who one speaks to, today different narratives abound about the atrocities committed by folks from various ethnic groups. There is no ethnic group that is without guilt as far as the Liberian crisis is concerned but the Mandingos, Krahns, Gio and Mano are often spoken about. These ethnic groups are always seen as warlike and violent folks. Ethnic and political polarization as a result of the crisis created undue hostility and animosity thereby necessitating alliances of convenience. Consequently, primordial sentiments increased among Grand Gedeans not because everybody from the county sanctioned the atrocities committed by some of their kinsmen but due to the politics of collective guilts and associated consequences. Thus, no one wants a repeat of such painful history, hence we have to condemn the recent action by some misguided youth who seem to not learn from the civil war.
Anti-democratic action by zealot youthful protesters in Grand Gedeh County only re-enforces the perception of a warlike folks and brings the county name to spotlight for the wrong reason. I have always been proud of the level of tolerance in the county, whenever I visit. There are annotated
evidence that the third largest ethnic group in the county are folks from Nimba County. Moreover, while conducting an assignment years back for an international organization on public participation in concessions and natural resource governance, I was intrigued to notice that unlike other counties where the youth vociferously advocated for their kinsmen to be given priority, when it comes to awarding jobs, in Grand Gedeh, there was relative openness and high level of tolerance to non-locals. I even spoke to a senior judiciary official who hailed from another county and he said “ this is my second county and I do not want to take assignment anywhere else but here”.
Grand Gedeans are indeed tolerant, forgiving and very hospitable so one wonders where does such disgruntle behavior against Mr. Cummings and Representative Kolubah came from? The widely held narrative for the action is President George Weah is the ‘play son’ of the late President Samuel K. Doe and therefore anybody who openly hates President Weah will not be allowed in the county. The irony however is Grand Gedeh County has not made any significant progress since the civil crisis ended largely due to such irrational thinking. For twelfth conservative years, the county suffered unnecessary marginalization under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration because folks from the county perceived the former president as an enemy to the late president Doe. The sad reality is other counties that even perceived former president Sirleaf through such negative prism played their ‘cards’ wisely by not placing all their eggs in one baskets but navigated the political landscape scrupulously in the interest of their counties. Furthermore, President Weah in whose behalf the youth seemed to base their action, admitted that he has very good relationship with former President Sirleaf. Some even believe that Madam Sirleaf has major influence on President Weah, when it comes to making national
decisions and appointments in government. So, one can even infer that Grand Gedeh County is not out of the woods, if the dislike for Madam Sirleaf was a secondary driving force for overwhelmingly voting for Weah’s CDC. Also, considering the fact that nothing has changed in the county since the inception of the Weah’s government, what is the rationale for such uncouth attitude? In whose interest are our young future leaders fighting?
In post war Liberia, previous and current presidents always appoint leaders for Grand Gedeh County who lack vision to transform the county. Social contract theory requires elected and appointed politicians to ably represent the collective interest of their folks and constituents but in the case of Grand Gedeh, national leadership imposes their cronies who are only committed to ensure that the county remains in abeyance. The action by the youth seems to be orchestrated by opportunist politicians who want to demonstrate that Grand Gedeh loves President Weah and the CDC more than any county. Granted for the sake of the argument, however politics is about interest but I do not see any trade off. While I strongly dislike Representative Yekeh Kolubah continuous outburst and invectives against the president and the presidency of our country, the ‘Country giant’ knows how to handle Representative Kolubah better than Grand Gedeh youth to damage the image of the county under the disguise of showing love. Grand Gedeans will no more be subjected to collective guilts and attendant consequences because of the action of few misguided people. This is why I applaud Samuel K. Doe jr. for condemning the youth in the county. I also appreciate the statement made by Grand Gedeh Caucus but would suggest that the Caucus recommends the dismissal of the superintendent. His utterances does not show good stewardship. Besides his implicit support for the action taken by protesting youth,
the fact that he asked Cummings and Kolubah, both of whom are Liberians to leave the county, is a violation of the Liberian constitution.
The youth in Grand Gedeh should know that for too long they have been used by politicians for the wrong reasons. It is time to soberly transfer their energy for positive cause, for example by demanding better education, good health infrastructure in the county as well as the pavement of Tappitta Zwedru high way. These actions will certainly improve their living standards. Rather than circumventing the Constitution of Liberia that allows Liberians to freely travel to and from any county, the youth should be asking their political leaders to account for how the County Social and Development Funds are used.
Just before the rainy season started recently, the ministry of finance and development planning announced that funds were disbursed to work on the road between Tappitta and Grand Gedeh County. Sadly, the road remains terrible as ever before. This is a commendable cause for protesting youth to engage in by using their energy and time to advocate for better roads and accountability. Also, Grand Gedeh authorities should look next door to Nimba community college, which has recently been granted permission to offer bachelor degrees. Moreover, prior to this development, students from Nimba community college who want to transfer to couple of universities in Monrovia are free to do so because their grade point credits are accepted. What is Grand Gedeh Community College doing in this direction? The youth in the county need civic education and they need to learn the constitution of Liberia. Local CSOs, especially ‘ Amuwlu’ ( we will talk) forum needs to embark upon a number of civic activities, including ‘critical thinking’, civic education lesson and teaching local folks about Liberia’s constitution. Disappointingly, Zwedru city is not only filthy but unlike the 1980’s when schools used to carry out ‘cleaning
campaigns’ to give the county ‘face lift’, today erosion is destroying the beautiful city landscape. The price of basic commodities are very high because of bad roads connectivity. New population of illiterates are on the horizon in several gold camps because there are no schools for children. Undoubtedly, the youth have so much work to do in the county than to engage into turf battle, which will not make any meaningful change in their living condition but only cause more hardship, collective guilts and inhume actions, when president Weah’s time is over