Tomorrow, November 29 will be observed as national holiday in memory of the late President William V.S. Tubman, thus far the longest serving President of this country. The day was set aside by an Act of the 3rd Session of the 42nd National Legislature, declaring November 29 each year as a national holiday to pay homage to the late Tubman. As the nation observes this day, there would be many reflections on the life of this former leader of this country. Usually on this day, the younger generation in Monrovia, observed it with beach-parties. Unfortunately, because of the Ebola epidemic, the government has banned all beach parties or activities, on health reasons since the virus is also spread through body contact.
Meanwhile, in keeping with protocol, President Sirleaf has declared tomorrow as a national holiday. A Proclamation issued on Wednesday said it is in recognition of his productive and meaningful services and policies, including the Open Door Policy, the National Unification and Integration Policy, the granting of suffrage to Liberian women as well as the policies on social and economic development nationwide and his contributions to the emancipation of African Colonial territories into self-governing statehood.
Furthermore, the Proclamation declared that the celebration is in consideration of the numerous contributions, profound changes and lasting accomplishments made by President Tubman during his administration as the 18th President of the Republic of Liberia. In this light, the people, desirous of showing their deep appreciation, esteem and approval for his outstanding, noble and remarkable leadership, did petition and request the National Legislature of the Nation to issue permanent record of their sentiments in honor of his birth for posterity.
Indeed, as the nation and its people reflect on the life of this man, there would be many issues that would be subject for discussion. Some may look at his weaknesses as President of this country for a protracted period, while others may view his life from some of the positive contributions, such as the National Unification Policy, which was designed to integrate the country, the women suffrage, which has afforded women the opportunity to vote and be elected, as well as his Open Door Policy to attract foreign investments for African oldest independence country. Others may look at his role in the independence of other African countries.
Today, as the nation remembers its former leader, I am particularly interested in his role in the formation of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU), which is today referred to as African Union (AU). I take particular interest in this because it was one of the greatest achievements of the late Tubman, who conceived the idea of African unity.
To accentuate this idea, the late President convened what is historically known as the Sanniquellie Conference which was attended by the then President of neighboring Guinea, Sekou Toure, who drove from his country to Liberia and the late Prime Minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. The President, according to research, organized the Sanniquellie conference, few months after attending a conference on African unity held in Accra, Ghana in April 1958, during which time he was the only head of state who attended the eight-nation Conference of Independence African States.
At the Conference, the late President, sensing the importance of African Unity, reiterated these ideas in his opening statement when he, among other things said, “Through hardship and humiliation we, as Africans have demonstrated the qualities of patience, perseverance and endurance. I believe that through the admission of such qualities we are destined to assume a new role in world affairs. However, we cannot fulfill our mission, nor can we expect to receive the admiration and respect of others, if the people of this continent are divided, suspicious, envious of one another and insincere in their dealings.”
Being imbued with this idea of African Unity, it is said that upon returning to Liberia, the late President issued an Official Gazette on January 26, 1959, which advanced three points:
-That a single Convention which would provide for a permanent organization to be known as The Association States of Africa, be concluded among the independent African nations and those which have fixed dates upon which they shall achieve independence, with the understanding that other non-independent countries of Africa shall have the right to join the organization upon attaining independence.
-That the Associated States of Africa provide for continuing consultation on problems of common interest and for the peaceful solution of all disputes which may arise among its members.
-That, within the said organization, Regional Associations be recognized where they already exist, or be organized to develop closer unity and provide uniform and common solutions to specific problems in certain areas.
Concluding, the Gazette said, “The Liberian Government feels that these political, social, cultural and economic actions should be achieved in consonance with the aims of its endeavors to achieve peace and raise the level of living of the inhabitants of the earth.”
With the Gazette, the late President began setting the stage for the holding of this historic conference in Sanniquellie, the provincial capital of Nimba County, where the three leaders – Toure, Nkrumah and the host Tubman, met from July 15 to 19, 1959.
According to the book, “President Tubman On African Unity,” it was at that meeting that the late President Tubman announced his idea of the “Community of Independent African States, within whose framework African countries could cooperate socially, culturally, economically and educationally without any state surrendering its sovereignty to other members of the Community.”
Further elaborating his ideas on African unity, President Tubman, following the Sanniquellie conference, stated in a an Address to the nation on July 27, 1959, on the occasion of the celebration of Liberia’s 112th independence anniversary, pointed out that unity in Africa was “absolutely necessary for the total liberation of the continent.”
He then said to his African colleagues, “Freedom is finally in array in Africa and the entire continent is responding to its vibrations. If it is to be triumphant, if the remotest corner of this continent is to be liberated from the shackles of oppression, we must not be divided. We must unite behind its banner for victory, not by violence and bloodshed, but by relentless and persistent demands for the inherent and just rights of all men to be free and independent.”
“Or I would suggest as a slogan or watchword the declaration of the Prophet Nehemiah: “Not by might nor by power but by the spirit, saith the Lord.”
As the late President determinedly continued to preach this idea of African unity, others welcomed that, thus leading to the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on May 25, in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That body has now been metamorphosed into what is today known as the African Union (AU) to meet the changing trend in world affairs.
Its major objectives, according to Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu’s history book on Liberia, were “the total decolonization of Africa, promotion of economic and social development of the continent; fostering of cordial relations among African states and peoples and working toward the political unification of Africa. In short the decolonization of Africa was the primary objective of the OAU for which it put effective mechanisms in place”.
On this day which is the 119th birth anniversary of the President Tubman one of the legacies of the former President that we as a nation and people can vaingloriously brag about was his role in bringing about the OAU to unite the continent and ensure the independence of other countries. That dream and idea about an organization for the continent, continues to live on.
Being conversant of the role Tubman played in the formation of the OAU, when about two years ago I formed part of President’s delegation to the official opening of the new complex of the AU, constructed by the Chinese, one of my major concerns or focuses was to ascertain as to whether or not there would be any mention or photo of the initiator of African unity, President Tubman. To my utter surprise, there was no photo conspicuously displayed, as in the case of others in the lobby of the building, as was in the case of other African leaders.
It was that which prompted me to do the article, entitled, “AU Treatment Of Liberia: Was It A Mistake Or An Oversight?” In that piece, I expressed surprise that the photo of President Tubman was not seen among former African leaders as displayed in the lobby of the building. As I said before, before venturing into the building, I observed a golden-plated monument of former Ghanaian President, Kwame Nkrumah, who was then Prime Minister of Ghana when President Tubman conceived the idea of an African unity. As I entered the building, my eyes ran to the photos of some individuals and former leaders who contributed to the African struggle and the formation of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU), which has been replaced by the AU.
Disappointingly, as I was viewing those portraits of those leaders, I thought as a Liberian, that the portrait of the late William V.S. Tubman of Liberia, a man said to have played a major role in the formation of the OAU, would have also been there. But that was my greatest surprise. I saw the portraits of the former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela (now deceased), who was also former leader of the African National Congress (ANC); former Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrick Lumumba; former Prime Minister of Nigeria Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
The photo of President Tubman, who indisputably initiated what became the OAU, one of the main architects of the OAU, now AU, was only seen in a group photo of some leaders said to be ‘Founding Fathers of the OAU’. I was really saddened by that, considering the role of the “old man” in the African liberation struggle. It was based on this I asked in that article as to whether this was an “oversight” by the AU not to have included the late Tubman into the photos of these great former African leaders, as in the case of others, considering his role in forming the OAU.
Whether this has been corrected or not, on his 119th birth anniversary, I try to reflect or retrospect on this particular contribution by President Tubman because what he envisaged many years ago, has made progress, especially the decolonization of the country and that as the issue of unity in Africa continues to live on and remains firm. Besides, the issue of African unity, the AU has also established organs and institutions to ensure good governance and also to promote democratic tenets and values.
As I conclude this panegyric, let me say that if there is anything that we also can boast of as a people and nation, as we observe the late Tubman’s birthday, is the continued existence of the OAU, now AU. For this, we can pat ourselves on the back for the dream of WVST. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! “PAPAY.” REST IN PEACE!