The Question of Congo or Native Leadership


By Timothy A. Lorkolon

I am attracted and have taken interest in the ongoing Congo-Native debate that has become a matter of side-attraction in our Liberian society as the October 10 Presidential and Legislative elections draw closer. This debate, which has drawn a wide-range of public attention, particularly from political actors, has also drawn my attention and would risk delving into the issue. The debate was initiated by some indigents. According to them, in this new political dispensation in which democracy is being nourished, it is time for the government to be headed by an indigenous president and NOT a Congo. They insist that lucrative positions in Congo dominated governments since Liberia’s independence have been allotted to members and affiliates of the elite Congo group, while the country remain in a dungeons of poverty. They strongly believe that the country would have been developed by now if its resources were managed by a Natives-dominated government. They further argue that successive dominated Congo governments ignored several factors that would have improved the livelihoods of the ordinary people and are therefore responsible for the low-level development of the nation, and are seeking a recourse of action towards the welfare of the Natives and the country as a whole.

But contrary views, especially in favor of the Congo, say the advocacy for a Native presidency is divisive and serves as a variable for conflict; something they emphasize undermines the stability of the state. They maintain that in this era, peaceful co-existence is necessary and that everybody is a Liberian and should not be called by names that are likely to segregate and sectionalize the population. Nevertheless, while I do not envisage digging into the past or delving into the nitty-gritty of the issue I would endeavor to share my thoughts on the matter. Even though the original contents of Liberian history have been altered by some present day historians for ulterior motives or something to satisfy present day conditions, there are antiquity indications that prove the existence of Congoes and Natives in Liberia, especially the exclusive names, Congo Town, Edina, Royseville and other durable abstracts of the past that belonged to the settlers or Congoes, and the remains of dilapidated wooden infrastructures of the Natives.

Personally, the debate should be encouraged by all Liberians irrespective of which side you belong, because whatever piece of land that we now call Liberia was secured by both the Pioneers and the Natives. For reflection, when Northern and Southern Liberia were under attack and encroached upon by invading foreign forces from Great Britain, France and Portugal in the early 1800s, the Natives stood firm in defense of the land, while the South was secured by the Pioneers for freed slaves believed to be of African descendants under the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS). So, we must appreciate the two groups (the Natives and the Congos) for preserving the territories that now form Liberia. One cannot be exclusively discussed without the other.

The pre-independence period witnessed repeated foreign invasions but the land was protected by both the Settlers and Natives. But what seems to be dividing the two groups have underlying causes ranging from political arrangements to economic as well as social inequalities. Politically, prior to the formation of the Commonwealth Government by the Pioneers, the Natives had established a political system of governance. But when the Commonwealth Government was formed by the Pioneers exclusive of the aborigines or natives, instead of forming an inclusive government, the Pioneers marginalized the natives and some high ranking officials of the Commonwealth Government are said to have termed the Natives as inferior and incapable of self-governance; and therefore, cannot form part of their government. This allusion annoyed the Native Government and blamed their compatriots who lived along the coastlines for allowing a group of recalcitrants to occupy their land beyond the demarcated territory offered the ACS. Continuous encroachment of the territories that belonged to the natives by the settlers met persistent resistance that led to repeated battles between the two groups.

Economically, for over one hundred and thirty years, the majority of the Natives lived in abject poverty and unbearable conditions while the resources of the country were squandered by the elite ruling class without any tangible benefits to the nation and the population. They waited but in vain for their substandard living condition to be improved but for the period mentioned above, the majority begged for a piece of the pie (wealth) but their so-called masters ignored the shed tears. During this period, the Natives impatiently lived among them, but hated their inhumane treatment and the introduction and implementation of a class system. From that time up to the day a semi-Native, William V.S. Tubman, was elected President of Liberia, the country was divided. When President Tubman saw the widespread division between the groups, which served as an obstacle to his leadership, he envisioned the essential need to mitigate the dissection and tension that existed among the Natives-Congos and rival tribal groups, and in his wisdom of an open-door policy, called a Peace Conference to defuse the tension and encourage harmony among the opposing sides. Whatever the outcomes of that conference, he erected a Peace Monument in Lofa County to serve as a symbol of unity. Today, the monument is visible in Voinjama, Lofa County. But the aftermath of the conference proved opposite as the tenets of the Congo indoctrinated successive governments of class system, segregation and marginalization continued even after President Tubman, until the angers of the natives erupted into violent action on April 12, 1980 when they staged a Coup d’état that halted the rule of the dominated Congo governments. But what is most ironical is that despite the coup, successive governments continue to be dominated by the indoctrinated Congos, and the vicious circles of class system as well as divide-and-rule continue, thereby leaving the people divided while Liberia remains down the ladder of development and rated high among the poorest nations of the world with a citizen living on only $1.25 per day. So, if in 2017, some group of Natives embark on a drive to ensure the election of a Native President whom they strongly believe would consciously oversee the governance of the country after 130 years of elite-dominated rule, what is wrong and what divisive message does it portray?

To conclude, those who see this issue as something to sideline the Congos are not appreciative to the Congos because besides preserving the land, the Pioneers, whose offspring are the Congos, laid the foundation of Liberia; this we MUST highlight! Obviously, if sincerity takes preeminence over selfishness, the two groups that fought to preserve Liberia must equally be given the right to lead the nation especially when the smaller group has ruled the country for more than a century, and the larger group at this point say, ‘look, give us a chance to take over the leadership’; why be the one to lead a thorny road by insinuating hatred and negatively expounding on the good intent of the solemn call?

We are all one people, ever indivisible. With God above all, not Congo, not Native, we shall prevail. As we go through the electioneering processes leading to the day of elections, I urge all Liberians to be peaceful as they queue for the Decider. However, may God choose the President but from the larger group. GOD BLESSES LIBERIA!!!!

The author can be reached on 0886472834/0775953440


  1. Good piece but I think it must also be mentioned that Native rulers and institutions ostracized Settlers also. For example settlers were not allowed to join Poro or Sande societies. Their descendants only gained acceptance in the mid 1900s I believe. The segregation was a two way street and more of a cultural phenomenon on both sides. The Settler’s incarnation of rule became more dominant because they adopted a modern society with all of its trappings. The natives who opted to join them integrated and progressed with a great deal of success (i.e. Wesleys, Fahnbullehs, etc), those that didn’t were left to the devices of their traditional systems until the more powerful and formal Government of Liberia asserted full control of all territories. At that point these people, who were in the majority, now had to start from the bottom of the new society they were joining. Its a very simple story that has been convoluted and twisted in order to serve certain agendas.

  2. As long as the descendants of the ex-slaves now known as Congo people continue to rule Liberia, the vast majority of the Liberian people will continue to live in poverty. Congo rule is evil, and agitating it is not being divisive.

    • How do you explain Doe’s presidency then? He received more money than all the previous administrations combined (half a billion from the United States alone) yet the economy got worse and Liberians got poorer. Doe’s “leadership” also led to the deaths of more Liberians than any of his predecessors. This had nothing to do with him being “native” it simply had everything to do with him being ignorant and evil like you.

  3. Emmanuel Saingbe is what one can label as an “anti-Diasprite” (like an anti-Semite). Anti-Diasprism is simply hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against people of the African diaspora.

    • Opi, I do support Emmanuel’s assertion, because democracy should be about the will of the people (majority); the indigenous constitute the majority, and they were deprived of leadership for more than a century. Is it divisive for the majority to demand power through a constitutional means? What sins have they committed? Why are you elevating our Congau brethens to the level of royalty? Are you inferring that we indigenous have no right to express our opinions freely? Are you attempting to repeat what Tubman and others did to Didwo Twe, Tuan Wreh, and others in the past? We are simply informing our fellow Liberians that we are tired with Congau leadership, Period. Haven’t you heard the opposition shouting in the streets about their intention change the Unity Party-led Gov’t? Who’s crying foul? Nobody, because that’s their right. In like manner, we have decided to vigorously campaign against Congau leadership, so why are you branding us? I heard you make reference to Wesley, and Fahnbulleh….. Are you asserting that we should reduce ourselves to servants of the elites (Congaus), in order to benefit from the resources of our nation? We have now decided to change roles, ie we will rather assume role of “The Chief”, while they accept the humble role of the “Indian”. That’s the plan……

  4. Really? Ok, lets entertain this obvious deflection and illogical rant for a second just for fun.

    “Is it divisive for the majority to demand power through a constitutional means?” Where did this come from? Where did I say it was?! The answer of course is No. However, I DID IMPLY or INFER that it is divisive to engage in “anti-Diasporic” rhetoric.

    “What sins have they committed?” Where did I infer or imply “they” (as any collective group) committed sins? Absolutely nowhere is the answer. Generalizations are for the ignorant and simple minded…hence why certain individuals like Saingbe make generalizations about whomever he feels should be labeled “congo” people.

    “Why are you elevating our Congau brethens to the level of royalty?” Please point out where this was done. They deserve equal rights and respect just as any other Liberian. They are Liberians before they are “congo”.

    “Are you inferring that we indigenous have no right to express our opinions freely?” Why would you ask this when you know the answer is no. Please point out where I made any such inference.

    Define “congau ledadership”, then define “native leadership”. We have three branches of Government..SEPARATE BUT EQUAL there are more so called “native” people in every single branch. I don’t have time to enlighten you with a civics lesson if you are of the belief that the Executive Branch is the end all and be all of leadership in a Constitutional Republic. Unfortunately, this does seem to be a widespread mentality among a good number Liberians. Perhaps this mentality is why we end of having imperial Presidents or “rulers” and a reflection of some of our people still failing to comprehend how the Government is supposed to work?

    Your response is typical of a person who is on the defensive because you don’t like to hear the truth. There is nothing in my statements that is close to anything of which you are accusing. Instead of addressing the issues I raised you opted to deflect. I addressed the statements of Sainbge directly. Why not do the same? This is not Sainbe’s first time spewing hate speech against people of “diasporic” origin.

    • Well I’m with you on this one Opi, I think the heart of the problem is the assumption that a Congua president will favor Congua and Native president will favor Natives, if that assumption is correct the case of the Nativists is fair and sensible. If it is an incorrect assumption their case is not so good. Personally I think for Liberia to move forward the emphasis must be on developing the potential of rural industries and bringing the education, health and living standards up to those in more urban areas, policies that would on the whole be more beneficial to the “native” population, but I think in the long term better for the entire population.

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