The Missed Opportunities to Purge Liberia of its Lifelong Nemesis
By Mwalimu-Mkuu Blonkanjay Jackson (MsEd, EdM) (Author, Education Reform Advocate)
Simply Thinking Thoughts
In my Thinking Thoughts, I soon realized that the month of April would soon fade away and Liberia as a nation state had not yet observed a single national, political nor educational event to commemorate the episodes that rendered “Aprils” Liberia’s lifelong nemesis.
You see fellow Liberians, were the history of Liberia re-rewritten, it would become glaring that events which were memorable turning points in our polity, stability and existence as a nation state occurred in the month of April. For example, 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 governance, and appreciation of ethnicity. To this day, each time April approaches Liberian people usually exhibit an insensitive, uncaring, cold-hearted or what is referred to as callous approach as 30 days with much fear and trepidation at the feet of their lifelong nemesis. Albeit, they approach it callously.
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 were those episodes to occur in other countries they would be observed with much solemnity and reverence. Per example, since the end of the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967, the Federal Republic of Nigeria set aside a day 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 their dark days as a thriving immigrant nation bridled by racial and social episodes.
Unfortunately, in Liberia we have a proclivity to agree that we are the peculiarly backward specie of people which the rest of the world has branded us to be. We always show signs that we are unresponsive, ignorant and callous. We usually prefer the worst over the best; we appear to lack vision and resulting to myriad of missed opportunities for the development of our country.
Note that these events did not occur in isolation of one another 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 to Politicians
The April 14 episode was not a single event but the result of series of political activities that led to the final 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, the covert demand 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 senior 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 for freedom came. I was a 12th grade student at Tubman High at the time and on fire to make history as a founding member of the Student Uhuru movement. 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 daily to school to acquire a simple education while children of the bourgeois are riding to school in fabulous vehicles or sent abroad to study at top-notch institutes. I bring you revolutionary greetings. Amanda! Karwaytu!!
I say to you today, Comrades, 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 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 Liberia must rise up 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 due to the mandates of this ultimate struggle, we have gathered in this Revolutionary Hall today 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 minds, bodies and souls, we cannot take this any longer. We will act.” Amanda!!!! Ka-way-tu!!
In some of the instances, we would be viciously disbursed by police and we who were supposedly “prepared to die for our rights”, took to our heels and ran off in all directions. 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 protest and it became virulent with the first sound of gun heard and looting started. Of course, unspecified number of people died.
April 14 ought to have been commemorated by all politicians because it was the day common citizens laid down 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 had the CPP, Rainbow Alliance, CDC, and all of the splinter groups which are now frantically contesting to dive into the nation’s coffers. The callous behavior to allow April 14, to pass without an active reminisce is therefore a missed opportunity for current day politicians. What a shame, ye over-ambitious politicians!
Missed Opportunity of April 12, 1980 Bloody Coupe to Religious Leaders
As the nation state struggled with President Tolbert’s ambivalence whether to cooperate with us natives, or continue with the Grand Old True Whig Party legacy of “So say one so say all”, and “If Richard Henries signed, I sign”, several events including the imprisonment of PAL leaders served as sequel to the April 12, 1980 Bloody Military Coupe.
On April 12, 1980, were awakened by playing of the National Anthem followed by the very raw voice of a semi-literate non-commissioned soldier, Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe. Doe justified the killing of Rev. President Tolbert for rampant corruption and misuse of public office. He then released our jailed political leaders, ordered the arrest 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, he executed 13 of the government officials on the beach behind the Barclay Training Center (BTC) opposite President Tolbert’s Rally Time market. I still remember how the corpses of 12 of the slain officials slumped 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-Liberian clique, to a bunch of 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 dare touched God’s anointed, the ordained Baptist Reverend Tolbert who had won the globally coveted Golden Medallion.
It has always been a missed opportunity each time the religious sector of this country allows that day of abomination to go by without a single national pray time asking God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Missed Opportunity of the April 6, 1996 to BTC survivors
April 6, 1996 was the result of a standoff between War Lord General Roosevelt Johnson’s ULIMO-J, and the combined forces of General Alhaji G. V. Kromah of ULIMO-K and the vicious Charles Taylor NPFL rebels. Suspicion still lingers that placing Kromah on the Governing Council and excluding Roosevelt Johnson engendered the defiant and non-compliant posture Roosevelt Johnson adopted. The attempt to arrest Gen. Johnson therefore resulted to the April 6 bitter gun battle which entered the US Embassy near Monrovia. Roosevelt Johnson’s Krahn rebels and AFL soldiers motivated by Gen. Butt Naked they back “tooth and nail” until a truce was signed.
A turning point in the April 6 episode was when barrages of rockets were fired into the BTC where innocent civilians, Krahn rebels and AFL soldiers with their families had taken refuge. Those who survived that episode will attest that was their darkest days on earth as there was nowhere to run except the Atlantic Ocean as ULIMO–K and NPFL viciously and heartlessly bombarded the BTC barracks day and night.
As April 6, 2021 rolled by, one would think families of former ULIMO-J and AFL soldiers would hold a vigil in the BTC to commemorate the day God saved them from the hands of the wicked ULIMO-K and the heartless NPFL; the day God recused them from unjustifiable premature death. Since this was not done, I count it missed opportunity.
Missed Opportunities to 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.
That the Ministry of Information and Cultural and Tourism (MICAT) did not seize the opportunity display artifacts from those events to create tourists’ attractions via elaborate “April Nemesis” programs, was a missed opportunity. This program would have created some sense of awareness in our violent fragile society glutted with people who thrive on violence. A society where commercial motorcycle riders (pen-pen boys) are quick to set vehicles ablaze in retaliation to simple accidents; a society where police is quick to arrest or shoot tear gas to quell protests; a society where students have the audacity to burn down a whole school building down, where people have the knack to immolate themselves or lay prostrate under vehicles of Government Officials in demand of their entitlements.
Of course, the Government missed a glorious opportunity to declare and demonstrate that violence may be temporarily used to assuage situations but it does not help in the development of a nation.
May we Liberians one day realize that we have been grossly insensitive and callous towards the episodes of April. May we one day become aware that our callousness has led to missed opportunities that would have purged the nation-state of its nemesis. Now as we enter May 2021, may the Lord bless and keep Mama Liberia, may He may his face to shine upon her and gave her peace in Jesus’ name.