Remembering A Forgotten Hero!- Tribute to Dr. Harry Fomba Moniba on his birthday (October 22)
Founded in 1847 by free slaves, Liberia has recorded some of the worst forms of political and democratic records. This can be traced to the underdevelopment of the minds of citizens. In so far as social record is concerned, ordinary Liberian citizens, especially current generation have demonstrated hate for people or leaders with impeccable characters. Most times, they prefer celebrating those who steal and give them “chicken change” of the stolen money in the name of love for country and fellow citizens. In their mischiefs and love for bad people, they have gone to the extent of claiming that educated people have failed Liberia.
Hence, they have often used such negative and misleading perceptions to vote against well-educated and experienced candidates with proven track records of success, integrity and humility for rebel leaders, financial vampires and loudmouth crook politicians who, rather than improving their lives increase their suffering to the extent they want everyone to join them in burning down the country for a decision they took without duress and guns at their throats.
Despite such mentality of backwardness, there are others like this writer who believe people with good characters should be celebrated over killers and corrupt leaders. In similar fashion, we have chosen to deliberately remember a fallen legend, an educator, a Statesman and Diplomat whose contribution to the motherland in his capacity as Vice President will not easily be forgotten. Indeed, Vice President Harry Fomba Moniba was an integrity icon who should not be forgotten but rather remember by all Liberians.
Childhood and village life
“No one knows what the future holds, except the one who holds the future!”- Eric Mexatas
The day started rather normal like every other day in Ngahilma and everyone were very busy with their daily chores bursting with energy as the planting season was just upon the people of Bolahun as it was with the rest of the entire Lofa County; noted for its massive food production. Interestingly however, few elderly women and Makorpo Moniba had to stay home as she was already a week behind schedule of her delivery and so her large extended family had selected few traditional birth attendants, whose help had been enlisted to ensure a safe and successful delivery.
For Makorpo Moniba, a young lady in her early 20s and with no prior experience of neither pregnancy nor delivery, she had absolutely little or no clue as to what birthing a child entails except for the sharp back pain that had been teasing her all week. And so when the moment dawned on her, the only thing she vividly recalled was her yelling and calling the traditional birth attendant(s) to come quickly to her room. Following the obvious two hours of intense activities in the women’s quarter of the small village of Ngahilma, the traditional midwives and few women who had gathered in the centre of the Moniba’s yard heard the cry of a young baby boy on Friday, October 22, 1937, who would be Liberia’s 20th Vice President, Dr. Harry Fomba Moniba.
To be precise, young Harry Moniba, fondly called “Fomba” by almost everyone who grew up with him was actually born in a small town called Ngahilma; a little village about 40 minutes’ walk away from Bolahun, where he began schooling as a toddler at the then famous Episcopal Mission established in 1922.
It is absolutely necessary to clearly state here that the love young Moniba reciprocated in his later years towards his mother began from the very beginning of his life when his mother, despite her many struggles and challenging, did not hold back catering for his needs and education no matter what. Makorpo could cut contract, do daily hire in the form of “Kuu” just to provide for the young but very bright Moniba. In the end and aside being his mother, she became his first true love and the most important figure in his entire universe; with his ultimate desire being to make her the happiest mother by taking life very seriously, overcoming all obstacles that life threw at him and excelling academically. He eventually bettered himself for the unknown future that lie ahead!
As stated interalia, his mother, Makorpo did not hold back despite herself not being lettered and became her son’s key sponsor. Life in the village was difficult. The family lived by farming, palm cutting, setting traps, sugar cane farming, etc. Thus, one can then safely surmise, Dr. Harry Fomba Moniba hailed from a poor and unlettered family background, yet that did not have any serious bearing on who he eventually became.
Going through childhood stages of life can be quite tough if one is not born with silver spoon; an experience most Liberians shared in their formative years; with the golden submission that “it takes an entire village to rear a childhood” featuring prominently in daily communal life. Young Moniba was a beneficiary of such communal arrangement.
Overcoming illiteracy and embracing education
His mother was his sponsor, as life in the village was difficult. Living by farming, palm cutting, setting traps, sugar cane farming, etc. Poor and illiterate family background. “Fomba Moniba cut palm to provide oil for his poor mother and bought school materials. He wore one long black pant for years. He would wash the trouser, spread it in the sun, sit beside it until it gets dry, then wear it and come to town”, a former school mate (dropout) of Dr. Moniba narrated.
Fomba like many of his age mates had to go the extra mile in overcoming everyday challenges just to ensure that they stay in school while doing other life-sustaining jobs to make ends meet. Yet in spite of this, the brilliant Moniba did not lose his academic steam as year in, year out, he regularly came first while transitioning from one class to the other with ease as far as academic lessons were concerned.
Thus, in 1976, Mr. Harry Fomba Moniba enrolled at the Episcopal run higher institution of learning at Cuttington University College situated in Bong County, right adjacent the Phebe Lutheran Hospital, about 15 minutes away from the county’s capital Gbarnga. Fomba excelled even more academically at the University. As if that were not enough, he exhibited such an outstanding character as well as consciousness that made it practically difficult if not impossible for him to have gone unnoticed on Campus. With his admirable open teeth, just as he had so exceptionally performed at the grade school level, so did he at CUC and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education (Cum Laude).
From there, Fomba Moniba briefly entered the job market with his eyes sets on the first hand real work experience as opposed to the pay it would bring. Such was the thought pattern of Fomba Moniba until he got a prestigious foreign scholarship; which landed him not only in the United States of America but at New York University. Here, he did and received his Masters of Science Degree in Secondary Education with a Minor in Nineteenth Century European Studies at New York University. Equally, he went ahead and received his post master’s degree in International Relations and European Studies at State University of New York, New Paltz.
Not being satisfied, Harrys as his American friends called him, earned his PhD in International Relations and African Studies at Michigan State University. Unlike most educated Liberians whose education are only exhibited through flowery speeches, Harry Fomba chose to set himself apart by joining the class of few to share their views as well as knowledge through writing, including but not limited to: “Liberian Politics Today, A Vision of the Future Some Personal Observations”. He is quoted as remarking in one of his works, “I attempted to tell my fellow Liberians some problems in national leadership from my vantage point as Vice President of Liberia from 1984 to 1990, and how Liberians can avoid future conflicts and dangerous pitfalls of blind partisanship and ethnicity in good governance. I also reviewed the different types of democratic forms of government as seen in the West and their general impact on national development, particularly in third world countries.”
In his Vision of the Future book, he advised Liberians about what needed to be done in post-war Liberia in order to ensure national unity, political stability in governance, and socio-economic development. Dr. Moniba stated, “I further emphasized the need for every Liberian to have a new vision of a Liberia based on social justice, respect for human rights and rule of law. I also admonished my countrymen to remember that what had happened to us during the civil war should be a lesson for everyone to learn from in our arduous task for national reconstruction, democracy and reconciliation.”
Choosing Career and God’s Choice of Direction
For Dr. Moniba, having acquired the desired level of education culminating into the acquisition of a doctor of philosophy in International Relations and African Studies from Michigan State University, he chose to dedicate and commit himself to public service from the onset. From the very beginning and deep down within his fibre, he had long decided to selflessly serve the generality of Liberians in whatever public position that came his way. That is why after his graduation from CUC, and prior to traveling abroad for studies, he was appointed as Director of Research at the Ministry of Education. He also held the post of Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Dr. Moniba likewise served as First Secretary & Consul to the Liberian Embassy accredited near Washington D.C. and Ottawa, Canada. Following these various public service appointments accompanied by enviable sterling performance, Dr. Moniba plummeted to the highest pinnacle of Liberian diplomacy and foreign policy, when he served as the country’s Ambassador Extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James, London, England, and the Sovereign Military Order Malta, Rome, Italy.
While all the above career related jobs were truly anticipated as per Dr. Moniba’s chosen career path, accompanied by solid education and guarded preparation, his becoming Vice President in 1986 should be seen and considered an act of Supreme Intervention of God’s own chosen path for his life. His selection by late President Samuel Doe came as a complete surprise and shocker, as Dr. Moniba neither dreamed nor had the slightest desire or contemplation of wanting to be vice president. Thus, Ambassador Harry Fomba Moniba, a highly rated and strategically positioned diplomat at one of the key countries in the world then and now, made the conscious decision to accept the offer from His Excellency Samuel Kanyon Doe as running mate before the 1985 Presidential and General elections. Together, the duo went ahead to lead Liberia, and the rest is history.
Vice President & role in government
At the beginning of their political journey in 1984 during the interim period leading to 1985 elections and subsequent inauguration on January 6, 1986, it became clear that things could get a bit complex for the first few months before settling down thereby indicating broadly, the type of relationship that would ensued given the two men of diverse backgrounds and respective orientations: one a military officer with combat style mentality on the one hand, and the other a highly educated and experienced diplomat as well as educationist with a world view au courant with trending global and international issues.
Yet, according to those who were then closed to both men, it did not take long when the trend and direction of their relationship took a positive dimension despite their contrasting backgrounds. Thus, what started out as an odd couple bringing together a rough, drama-like, unpredictable and no nonsense army officer and a reserved, purpose-filled, humbled and matured intellectual ended up evolving into a surprisingly close friendship to the bewilderment of some political observers who had predicted incompatibility of both Statesmen.
So amidst the then complex political environment and some excesses resulting therefrom, Moniba succeeded in balancing his partnership with President Doe while executing his vice presidential duties and his decent as well as quiet rapport with the generality of the Liberian people. In most political jurisdictions especially in Africa, presidents and vice presidents are rarely enemies but friends, with the vice presidents being outright friends at all time. At the same time, there are others who start on almost a perfect note but only to grow apart at the end, as with our most recent past.
The relationship between Mr. Doe and Mr. Moniba, two personalities separated by temperament, orientation, world view, and age as well as experience did not end on a flowery note. Constitutionally, vice president of the Republic of Liberia is the second-highest executive official in Liberia, and one of only two elected executive officials along with the president. The vice president is elected on the same ticket with the president to a six-year term. In the event of the death, resignation or removal of the president, the vice president ascends to the presidency, which he or she holds for the remainder of his or her predecessor’s term. The vice president also serves as the president of the Senate and may cast a vote in the event of a tie.
That said, throughout an all-inclusive research including reading historical manuscripts and conversation with persons knowledgeable about vice president Moniba, it is crystal clear that as a man of peace he did execute his functions with high level of integrity and ethical standard as well as compassion. He presided over senate sessions and made sure deliberations took place under conducive and orderly conditions despite the floor fighting as often expected in parliamentary politics. Also, following their inauguration on Monday, January 6, 1986, the new administration under President Doe engaged in several peaceful overtures to ensure that peace, stability, tranquillity and unity took root.
It is an open secret that, it was Vice President Moniba who worked behind the scene to strengthen Liberia’s relations with foreign countries, especially the West given his career in International Relations and European Studies. In other words, it can be seen that it is his career in international diplomacy that kept the Doe Government a bit stable with the West until the relationship finally broke landing Doe into trouble with Uncle Sam over policy differences.
Apart from being quite difficult to distinguish or separate a vice president and President, regarding overall general principles and policies by which a given government operates, one can surmise that Vice President Harry Moniba made significant contributions to national development based on his nature, orientation, world view, personality, demeanour and qualification.
On good account, we are informed that regarding many of these reconciliatory efforts, Vice President Moniba played a pivotal role in proposing and formulating these peaceful approaches, for he was of the cogent view that in order for the new administration to succeed in its development drive, there needed to be peace, unity and stability all through the country; something that could not have happened in the midst of chaos characterized by boycott and other forms of violent disagreement.
However, two key fundamental disagreements that emerged during their tenure that are worth mentioning are: when Dr. Moniba beseeched his boss to relinquish power when the 1990 war had reached full blown uncontrollable state with catastrophic consequences in both human casualties and material losses. Vice President Moniba’s decision not to directly partake in the crisis on a personal level; which was in effect seen and interpreted by the President and his key handlers as serious betrayal saw him seek refuge in a secret place. “I had to go into hiding in Monrovia in July after I appealed to President Doe to resign. He refused and sent soldiers to kill me. I remained in hiding until September” Dr. Moniba said during a press conference in Freetown.
Harry Moniba served as interim vice president from 1984 to 1985 before serving as Liberia’s elected vice president from 6 January 1986 to September 1990. While as vice president, he was captured by dissident forces in 1985, put at gun point and ordered to turn in his resignation from government on national radio. Refusing to do so, he gave one of the speeches that he is most famous for, imploring all Liberians never to resort to violence to settle disputes. Such was the nature of this Liberian Hero; quiet, imbued with high level intelligence, deep sense of loyalty and love for his people as well as country.
Neutrality in the Conflict
From all available information searched by this Journalist, it is unequivocally proven that the late Statesman, Dr. Moniba did not play any role in the 1990 conflict up to the point of his untimely home going despite having upper hands than some of the warlords. Besides, all through the narrative, one can realize that vice president Moniba did espouse peace and tranquillity. That is why during the infamous General Quiwonkpa led invasion in 1985, he was released by the rebels following his capture along with several government officials including cabinet ministers, senior military and security officers of President Doe’s regime, who were taken to the BTC. Of course, the rebels had nothing against him and kept him alive till help finally arrived.
Like several diplomats, Dr. Moniba worked behind the scene on numerous occasions to advocate for dialogue and peace over the carnage and bloodletting that engulfed the country. If only Doe had listened to his vice President as opposed to his inner circle, probably, things could have ended differently and he would have still been alive today.
A war class display of his peaceful nature was seen, when a cleverly manipulated peace talk was held in Banjul, Gambia in November 1990 to elect an interim leader in the wake of Doe’s death. Scores of Liberian political actors, for reason best known to them disobeyed the Liberian constitution, Article 63 (b) under the canopy of special arrangement to organize a process that saw Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer emerged as Leader for the Interim Government of National Unity of Liberia (November 22, 1990 – March 7, 1994). In the event of death, resignation or removal of the president, the constitution gives the right to the vice president to complete the remaining term of his boss.
It was shocking to the world that Vice President Moniba accepted the selection result, while Charles Taylor, a party to the conflict rejected Dr. Sawyer’s leadership-using heavy-handed military reactions which killed thousands of Liberia. Ironically, in 1997 general and presidential elections, Liberians rejected Dr. Moniba who embraced peace for a man who killed their mothers and fathers-declaring through street marches captured by the world media: “You kill my pa, you kill my ma, I will vote for you”.
Unanticipated home going
For a man who was healthy, love life very much and bursting with endless energy, it came as a total shock when the unexpected suddenly happened! Such was the unfortunate occurrence that took place on that fateful Sunday, November 24, 2004 when he got killed in a two-car accident in Michigan, United States of America. This unfortunate and highly unanticipated drawback happened when the vehicle in which Vice President Moniba was riding collided with another, resulting into a fatal motor vehicle accident that took his life. Here was a man very passionate and committed to public service, and with the burning desire to still service his fellow compatriots, it came as a complete shocker that his life would be cut so soon to the frustration and shock of broader Liberian society and the international community.
Prior to his demise, he had planned to run in the 2005 Liberian presidential and general election. He was afforded one of the largest state funerals in Liberian history. He left behind his wife, mother Minita Moniba, and their five children. His burial site was contested with several groups of Liberians threatening violence were he not buried in his home county, while others advocated his burial on the grounds of the national gravesite.
But his family decided to place his remains in the compound of their suburban Monrovia home. Two funerals were held in honour of Dr. Moniba: one in the United States and one in his home country of Liberia. At the U.S. funeral, Dr. Moniba’s widow (Minita) was presented with the United States flag by Congressman Nick Smith. The flag had been flown at half-mast over the U.S Capitol, making him the only Liberian in history to receive such an honour. More to that, the Congressman stated, “Dr. Moniba loved his country, and worked tirelessly to establish peace and prosperity for Liberia. He understood well the true role of a politician in a democratic society.” A room was dedicated in Dr. Moniba’s honour at the Liberian Embassy in Washington D.C. in February 2007. He also has a primary school named in his honour in Monrovia, Liberia.
Continuing Legacy and keeping the dream alive
Continuing the legacy of Dr. Harry Fomba Moniba remains a major concern for several people, especially his family and citizens of his native Lofa County in the wake of high hope for a better Liberia. It is safe to publically declare that even though dead and gone, Dr. Moniba left behind several of his kinsmen who are equally and gradually stepping up to his level of integrity and leadership. Besides, the county he hailed from is being dubbed as county with humbled, brilliant, integrity and honest citizens in Liberia.
Hence, names like Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, Former Foreign and Finance Ministers, Representative Clarence Kortu Massaquoi, Dr. Benedict Kolee, Dr. Clarence K. Moniba (his son), etc., are names that are ringing bell in the ears of people who are witnessing political transitions within the context of continuing good legacies. There is no doubt that individuals listed above are among the best of young leaders of Lofa County and Liberia, who are capable of producing another Dr. Harry Fomba Moniba. Even though his son has neither said a word nor declare his intention for political position, his work of late is portraying to the world something close to political interest or keeping his father’s dream alive.
Like Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan and others, Dr. Clarence Moniba’s actions and speeches are being thoroughly analysed to mean that he is concerned about upholding his Father’s legacy. But however he intends to do that, he was last heard in a YouTube live video reflecting on his Dad’s legacy. “A VISION OF THE FUTURE: “The Liberian Dream, Our People, Our Pride, Politics & Power, The End of Corruption, Our Future, Liberia’s Women, Health & Education, Building the Liberian People, Roads, Energy, Water & Telecommunications, back to the Soil, and a new kind of Liberia-one that is filled with optimism for a brighter future; one devoid of the economic, political and cultural tensions that have persisted throughout the country’s history-with focus to bring lights to the potential greatness and possibility of tomorrow’s Liberia that all people should dream and strive for collectively”.
This article is written by Paul M. Kanneh–An Independent Journalist and writer; and edited by Jesefu M. Keita. Paulkanneh5@gmail.com