A few years ago, my dear friend Kenneth Best, publisher of the Daily Observer, asked me to write a weekly column for this paper. At the time, I told him that I was not ready. A week ago, I told him I was now ready.
This column will appear every Wednesday, on this same page. It will deal with topical issues. It will be provocative. It may even offend some people. If it does, I apologize in advance. That is not my intent. But I do not believe in writing politically correct prose. I am a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) kinda guy. I call it as I see it. Beating about the bush is not my forte. In a sense, I am following in the footsteps of my illustrious father-in-law, G. Henry Andrews. For many years, he penned a column entitled, "From Where I Sit".
Speaking my mind once got me into a heap of trouble. The year was 1983. At the time, I was a prodigious letter writer. In one of my letters to the editor, I suggested that Head of State Samuel Doe should apologize to Mr. Hilary Dennis for trying to sully his name. Mr. Hilary Dennis, I continued, was a national hero. President William R. Tolbert's younger brother, Steve Tolbert, as finance minister had given Mr. Dennis $1 million to start the National Housing & Savings Bank. Within six years, Mr. Dennis had catapulted NHSB into ranking as the largest bank in the country, bigger than the Liberian branches of Citibank and Chase Manhattan Bank. NHSB was the first bank to fully computerize its operations. It even opened Liberia's first ATM machine at its Duala branch in the 1980s. Mr. Dennis built the bank on deposits from market women, and it was giving out mortgage loans, something that was unheard of at the time.
I knew my letter would get me into trouble. But I felt so strongly about the stain that Doe had tried (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to inflict on Mr. Dennis's character that I felt I had say something and damn the consequences. Predictably, CIC Doe swung into action. When his security men came to pick me up from Clave's Pharmacy on Carey St., I was ready. They knew why they had come and I knew why they had come. There was no lecture. The car door was opened and I climbed inside. Not a word was spoken. I was taken to what was then the maximum military prison, the Post Stockade in the Barclay Training Center (BTC). There was no charge sheet to document that I was being committed to prison and why I was being committed to prison. The government never in fact admitted that it had ever incarcerated me.
Then the public outcry began. My friend and brother, John T. Richardson, wrote a letter asking where I was. The US embassy even got involved. For his part, Kenneth Best wrote an impassioned editorial in the Observer entitled "Let Harry Go!" Doe caved in. After two weeks, I was released as unceremoniously as I had been imprisoned. I was taken from my cell and whisked off to the Ministry of Justice on Ashmun St. There I met my nephew, Cllr Winston Tubman, in his military fatigues (Doe had insisted that his cabinet ministers wear military uniform). After scolding me for the benefit of the cameras and sycophants in the room, as soon as we were alone, Winston shook my hand and said, "That was a damn good letter."
My first substantive piece, next week, will be about my favourite topic, my passion: electricity. I will tell you why solving the electricity problem is crucial to development of our country. I will suggest ways in which the problem can be solved using existing models that we have successfully used elsewhere. And I will tell you how this can be done without the Government of Liberia having to commit funds that it does not have or borrowing millions upon millions of dollars.
The writer is a businessman. He can be reached at <[email protected]>.