Lopsided Approach to the Episodic Aprils

The April 12, 1980 military takeover announcement brought huge crowds into the streets in celebration. This photo is the intersection of United Nations Drive and Camp Johnson Road at the foot of Capitol Hill, the very same spot where the April 14 demonstration turned into a riot one year earlier.  

.... A missed opportunity to reminisce Liberia’s lifelong nemesis

Simply Thinking Thoughts

In my Thinking Thoughts, I soon realized that April would soon fade away and Liberia as a nation-state had not yet observed a single national, political or educational event to commemorate the episodes that rendered “Aprils” Liberia’s lifelong nemesis. 

You see fellow Liberians, if the history of Liberia was re-rewritten, it would become glaring that events that were memorable turning points in our polity, stability, and existence as a nation-state occurred in the month of April, the events of April 14, 1979, April 12, 1980, and April 6, 1996, were all episodes that taught incredible lessons and left indelible marks on our perception of government, and appreciation of tradition. To this day, each time April approaches, Liberian people, pass through its 30 days with much fear and trepidation as it is their lifelong nemesis.

Liberia’s Nemesis

For the sake of the layman, nemesis is an opponent or rival whom a protagonist can't overcome. In the case of Liberia, each year the month of April looms as our nemesis for we pray each day that within those 30 days our patrimony will not return to the dark days of April 6, 12, and 14. 

I intuit, that were those episodes to occur in other countries they would be observed with much solemnity and reverence. Since the end of the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967, the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a day set aside to remember that dastardly episode; South Africa observes the death of its 616 soldiers caused by the sinking of a vessel in the First World War of 1917.  The USA has days set aside to remember its dark days as a thriving immigrant nation. 

Unfortunately, in Liberia, we have a proclivity to agree that we are the peculiarly backward species of people that the rest of the world has branded us to be. We always show signs that we are unresponsive, callous, and ignorant. We usually prefer the worst over the best; we appear to lack vision which has resulted in several missed opportunities for the development of our country.

Note that these events did not occur in isolation but rather as sequels, meaning, the occurrence of one, gave rise to the occurrence of the other. 

Missed Opportunity of April 14, 1979, Rice Riot for Politicians

The April 14 episode was not a single event but the result of a series of political activities that led to the showdown on the bright afternoon of April 14, 1979, when gunshots reverberated around the streets of Monrovia. The day was mistakenly branded the “Rice Riot” because the overt demand by our group was for President Tolbert’s Agriculture Minister to halt the increase in the price of rice on the one hand. On the other hand, there was the institution of a multi-party state void of “who know you” or “who is your pa?” situation.

Before April 14, we usually gathered at PAL’s (Progressive Alliance of Liberia) office between Gurley and Center streets (commonly referred to as Bad Habit Land) near the now gender Ministry to listen to our Comrades (G. Baccus Matthews, Oscar J. Quiah, et al.) as they spewed anti-government rhetoric.

At those gatherings, we were stirred up emotionally and incited to the extent that we were ready to move at any time the call came. I was a 12th-grade student at Tubman High at the time and on fire to make history. Some of the speeches sounded like this: 

Amanda! Karwaytu!! “Ladies and gentlemen, children of the struggling masses. We the down-trodden children of market women who sell bitter balls and pepper to survive; we the suppressed, repressed, and oppressed who are struggling daily to trek to acquire an education while children of the bourgeois are riding to school in fabulous vehicles or sent abroad to study. I bring you revolutionary greetings. Amanda! Karwaytu!!

I say to you today we are not alone in this struggle. We are not alone because we hear the wailing and cries of our brothers in Soweto crying for the release of Comrade Madiba Nelson Rholala Mandela from prison; we hear them mourning the death of patriot Steve Biko; we hear the freedom cry of comrade Augustino Neto of Angola, and we empathize with the struggle of Samora Machel of Mozambique. They are all saying to us that we must rise and free our land of the oppressors and repressors who have held us hostage since 1822 when Elizabeth the May Flower berthed on these ancestral shores.  Amanda! Kar-way-tu! 

Fellow Comrades ultimate struggle, today we have gathered in this Revolutionary Hall to say to our struggling brothers, that we hear their call to rise and demand our freedom. We have heard their call to join them in the struggle to perpetually rid Africa of demagogues. We hear them and we say with our minds, bodies, and souls, we cannot take this any longer. We must act and act now!” Amanda!!!!  Ka-way-tu!!

In some of the instances, we would be disbursed by police and we, who “were previously prepared to die for our rights”, took to our heels and ran off in all directions like headless chickens. I remember a certain police top brass, Joe Dalmeida, who was our nemesis as he was a no-nonsense policeman that usually led the tear gas group and attempted to arrest our leaders as we ran with our hungry student tails under our butts. Albeit, we did not relent in the “cat and mouse” play until that fatal day when we started the April 14, 1979 protest that became virulent with the first sound of guns heard and looting started. Of course, an unspecified number of people died. 

This day ought to have been commemorated by all politicians because it was the day our comrades sacrificed their lives to give birth to the current multi-party state we now enjoy. Had it not been for the April 14 so-called rice riot, we would not have the CPP, Rainbow Alliance, CDC, and all of the splinter groups which are now frantically contesting to dive into the nation’s coffers. The selection to allow April 14, to pass without an active reminisce is therefore a missed opportunity for current-day politicians. What a shame! 

Missed Opportunity of April 12, 1980, Bloody Coup to Religious Leaders

As the nation-state struggled with President Tolbert’s ambivalence about whether to cooperate with us the natives, or continue with the Grand Old True Whig Party’s “So say one so say all”, and “If Richard Henries signed, I sign” hegemony, several events including the imprisonment of PAL leaders served as a sequel to April 12, 1980, Military Coupe.

We were awakened by the Liberian National Anthem, followed by the very raw and unpolished voice of a functionally illiterate non-commissioned soldier, Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe. Doe justified the killing of Rev. President William Richard Tolbert for rampant corruption and misuse of public office. He then released our jailed political leaders, ordered the arrest of all government officials, and concluded with our political battle cry, “In the cause of the people, the struggle continues.”

MSGT. Samuel K. Doe, having secured the Executive Mansion and the Government, executed 13 True Whig Party (TWP) government officials on the beach behind the Barclay Training Center (BTC) opposite President Tolbert’s own Rally Time market. I still remember how the corpses of 12 of the slain officials slumbered after being shot but Foreign Minister C. Cecil Dennis’ corpse refused to fall and remained upright until it was physically brought down for the mass burial. For several days, there was jubilation in the streets of Monrovia as citizens sang, “Native woman born soldier, soldier killed Tolbert.” 

After several years, Doe’s regime began to crumble as he drifted away from the so-called progressives turned commissioned soldiers who initially served as Captains and Majors in his military junta, including Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, Baccus Matthews, Oscar Quiah, George Boley, etc.

On April 12, 1980, the nation changed hands from a highly elite and educated yet abrasive Americo-Liberia clique to a bunch of raw semi-literate soldiers. It was the day Liberia looked into God’s face and ignored his edict, “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm” (1 Chronicles 16:22).  It was the day a soldier dared touch God’s anointed, an ordained Baptist Reverend who had won the globally coveted Golden Medallion.   

It has always been a missed opportunity when the religious sector of our country allows the day of abomination to go by without a national prayer time asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness. 

Missed Opportunity of the April 6, 1996, War to warlords

April 6, 1996, was the result of a standoff between one warlord and the rest of the rebel leaders turned Councilmen. It befuddled the nation when General Alhaji G. V. Kromah of ULIMO-K of the Mandingo tribe was placed on the Ruling Council while Gen. Roosevelt Johnson of ULIMO-J of the Krahn and Sarpo tribes was left out.

Within this fragile arrangement, Roosevelt Johnson gradually became defiant and non-compliant, leading to an attempt to arrest him that resulted in the April 6 war. Johnson’s ULIMO-J entered a bitter gun battle with the veteran Charles Taylor’s NPFL and ULIMO-K Mandingo rebels. As the fighting raged and entered the US Embassy, the AFL and Krahn people locked themselves within the BTC and the suburbs of Monrovia; they fought back “tooth and nail” with the likes of the legendary Gen. Butt Naked until a truce was arranged.

One would think the old AFL and Krahn soldiers would have received a word from above and uttered a prayer in reminiscing of the dark days when rockets were falling into the BTC fence resulting in the loss of lives. One would think they would remember the dark days when an ECOMOG Mowah burst the walls of the BTC fence to allow rebels in, but soldiers within the BTC fought back with untold valor as they used wet cement mortar to rebuild the walls. That was a missed opportunity for the gallant AFL soldiers.

Missed Opportunities for the Government of Liberia

Fellow Liberians, I propose the fact that April 6, 12, and 14 just rolled by without adequate references is a missed opportunity for the nation-state of Liberia. In my opinion, Liberians who thrive on violence and lawlessness today may either not have been around for the April 6, 12, and 14 events or they have just lost their conscientiousness.

That the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) did not seize and display artifacts from those events to create a tourist attraction via an elaborate April nemesis program, was a missed opportunity.

For the pen-pen boys who are quick to set vehicles ablaze in retaliation to accidents, this was a fine opportunity for the GOL to create awareness. For those among us who thrive on violence and vicious activities, for those of you who are quick to shoot tear gas into protesting crowds, for those of you students who dare to burn a whole schoolhouse, and those of you who have the knack to advise your colleague to immolate himself on your behalf. 

Violence may temporarily assuage a situation but it does not pay at all; albeit, there is an adage among the people of Rivercess that when a dog becomes frustrated it licks its behind.

Goodbye, episodic April month, goodbye.

About the Author

The Rivercess man, CEO, and founder of the Diversified Educators Empowerment Project (DEEP), Mwalimu-Koh M. Blonkanjay Jackson holds a Master of Education from Harvard University, and a Master of Science in Mathematics Education from St. Joseph’s University; he is a Yale University Teachers Initiative Math Fellow and UPENN Teacher Institute Physics Fellow. He is a part-time lecturer at the UL Graduate School of Education. Mr. Jackson served the government of Liberia diligently for four years and returned to private practice as Development Specialist and Education Engineer. The Mwalimu-Koh can be reached at 0886681315.