KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY KENNETH Y. BEST TO THE RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY IN LIBERIA AT THE HONORING OF LIBERIAN RELIGIOUS ADVOCATES

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Vice President & Mrs. Boakai
Archbishops,
Bishops
The Chairman and Secretary General, Inter-Faith Religious Council of Liberia
Prelates
Mother Mary Brownell
Sister Mary Laurene Browne
Other Members of the Liberian Clergy
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
Friends:

Let me first extend to you, Archbishops, Bishops, the Clergy in general and Officers and Members of the Consolidated Human Rights Advocacy Movement immense thanks for what I consider the high honor accorded me in inviting me to address you today on this auspicious occasion of the National Religious Advocates Memorial Program.

I do not know why you chose me, a mere layman, to deal with so challenging and critical a subject. But I promise to do my best.

Let me also commend you all for your decision to honor and memorialize these fallen Heroes of Faith. They include United Methodist Bishop S. Trowen Nagbe, Mother Wilhelmina Dukuly, former Episcopal Bishop George D. Browne, former Lutheran Bishop Roland J. Payne and former Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis.

Others are the Rev. Dr. William Nah Dixon of the Don Steward Christ Pentecostal Church, Rev. Dr. Walter D. Richards, former President, Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention and Sheik Kafumba Konneh, former Chairman, National Muslim Council of Liberia.

These gallant men and woman of God played well their parts in not only preaching the Word of God, but many of them engaged courageously in the prophetic ministry, a ministry that is hard to find in Liberia these days.

I would, if I may, add four other names to this list—Edward Wilmot Blyden, the eminent Liberian scholar and author; the Rev. Toimu Reeves, former Pastor of Providence Baptist Church, the Rev. Canon Burgess Carr of Trinity Cathedral and Albert Porte, the legendary constitutional analyst, pamphleteer and school teacher.

Rev. Reeves was not only a powerful preacher, but one who also had a portion of the gift of prophecy. Remember, it was he who predicted, almost exactly to the date, the death of one of most wealthy and powerful men in Liberia.

Almost to the date that Rev. Reeves predicted, this man died in a plane crash, taking along with him several innocent and talented young people.

Yes, God gave to a chosen few the gift of prophecy. Remember God took Isaiah from a very young age and made him the greatest of all prophets. It was Isaiah who at least 700 years before Christ, prophesized the virgin birth through Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who, again as Isaiah prophesized, became the Savior of world.

Another great prophet was Jeremiah, whom God told, “I knew you while you were yet in your mother’s womb.” Jeremiah, known also as “the weeping prophet,” on many occasions warned the Israelites to change their wicked ways. If they did not, Israel would be taken over by another country, and the cream of Israel, the most highly educated and learned, would be taken into captivity. The Israelites ignored him, and even threatened to kill him. But sure enough, Israel was later attacked by Babylon and its intelligentsia and aristocracy taken into captivity where they remained for 70 years!

Liberia, too, was blessed with prophets. One of the earliest was Edward Wilmot Blyden, the eminent Liberian author, diplomat, politician, scholar and statesman. Blyden was not of ecclesiastical cutting, but he was a social and cultural prophet. It was he who, as early as the 1860s, was concerned that the objective of education in Liberia was religious rather than civic; and that education attempted to impart Christian teachings and to ‘civilize,’ that is, to transfer such aspects of the ‘superior’ preponderance (dominance) of Western civilization.

In his book, Cultural Policy in Liberia, published by UNESCO in 1974, Kenneth Y. Best said Blyden “felt that Liberian education should become more suited to our needs and should make Liberians more African and less Western. As a professor and one-time President of Liberia College (now University of Liberia), Blyden proposed the following curriculum for the college: (a) the study of the classics—Greek and Latin languages, literature and mathematics; (b) the study of Arabic and Latin languages, (c) the study of the songs, traditions, mysterious events and achievements of the tribes of Liberia. But, Mr. Best recalled, “These views were not taken seriously until much later . . .”

That “much later” came almost a century later—90 years to be exact—in 1952 during the Tubman Administration, when an Act creating the Bureau of Folkways in the Interior Department was approved on March 10 of that year.

The Preamble of the Act, said Mr. Best, “was an eloquent statement of the attitude of the Liberian authorities toward culture. The Act,” Mr. Best further stated “recalled that the greatest obstacle to full integration and national unity lay in the absence of a synthesis of the two great streams of culture—Western and African.”

Here, then, is the reason we consider Blyden one of Liberia’s prophets that were ignored—and because of that, we missed the opportunity to create a synthesis between two great cultures—Western and African, as only Liberia could have done, since Liberia’s sovereignty, the first as an African Republic, was born out of the belly of Western culture from America, united with the rich African culture that the colonists met here on The Grain Coast.

Alas! Because we failed to create earlier on this synthesis, we paid a bitter price, did we not? The clash of cultures suddenly erupted in the 1980 coup d’état with its horrendous aftermath. That, I submit, is why I call Edward Wilmot Blyden a prophet—not a religious but a cultural, social and even a political prophet who, just as the prophets of Israel, was ignored, and we paid a painful price for it.

Another Liberian prophet was Albert Porte who, from the tender age of 23, during the administration of President Charles D.B. King, began writing critical pieces urging the Liberians to run a better government. Again, like Blyden, Mr. Porte was not a clergyman but only a lay reader in his mother church, Christ Episcopal of Crozierville, Montserrado County. Yet, as early as the 1930s he became a pamphleteer because no newspaper would dare publish his pieces, which were hotly and courageously critical of the powers that were, beginning with the King administration. So Mr. Porte published and singlehandedly sold his pamphlets, up until 1986 when he died. One of the epic pamphlets he produced was entitled “Liberianization, or Gobbling Business,” in which he criticized the ruthless business practices of the powerful Finance Minister Steve Tolbert, brother of President William R. Tolbert. Mr. Porte was critical of Steve’s business practices, in which he sought to use his position as Finance Minister to edge many Liberians and others out of business and take them over for himself. Steve Tolbert, whose father-in-law was Chief Justice of Liberia, sued Mr. Porte for libel and won the case in the Liberian courts, with US$275,000 in damages hanging over him. Mr. Porte could not pay that money but the charges were never pressed against him. Meanwhile, in April 1975 the Finance Minister unfortunately died in a plane crash in Greenville, Sinoe County and that was the end of the case.

But successive Liberian administrations totally ignored Mr. Porte’s pleadings for the running of a better government, until April 12, 1980 when the Tolbert government was overthrown.

The government of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), which had staged the coup d’état, hailed Mr. Porte as the “father of the revolution” and later named a gun boat in his honor. The other two gun boats, donated by the United States government to the PRC government, were named for Head of State Samuel K. Doe and the Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Thomas Quiwonkpa. So we can see that Mr. Porte was in good company—at least at the time.

Master Sergeant Doe offered Mr. Porte a job as Political Advisor to the Head of State, with a salary of over US$600 per month. As a classroom teacher in government elementary schools since the 1920s, especially in Crozierville, his home town, Mr. Porte had for decades received not more than US$33.33. When he retired in the late 1970s, his salary had never exceeded US$225 per month. So US$600 was far more money than he had ever hoped to receive. But Mr. Porte respectfully declined the appointment, pleading to remain a private citizen in order to continue his independent writing.

Alas, when in 1983 Mr. Porte learned that Samuel Doe was planning to run for president of Liberia, Porte wrote him a letter advising him not to run, otherwise were he (Doe) ever elected, it would lead the country to disaster.

It was at that point that Doe summoned Mr. Porte to his 4th floor office at the Executive Mansion and blasted him, warning him that the next time Mr. Porte wrote him a letter like that, he (Doe) would have Mr. Porte imprisoned in the Post Stockade indefinitely!

Such is the fate of prophets.

The Trinity Cathedral’s Canon Burgess Carr, too, became respected as a prophetic preacher. In 1964 he preached a sermon entitled, “With a Plumb Line, I Will Test My People,” in which he was highly critical of the Tubman administration.

In 1968 he preached another sermon on the occasion of the President’s birthday. In that sermon, Canon Carr commended President Tubman for some of the development he had undertaken, then made this statement: “I believe, and I will continually to believe, that the golden age of Liberia is in the future.”

Tubman got terribly angry with Canon Carr, and at the Executive Pavilion reception that followed, blasted him, telling him that theology was about the future and “we are dealing with the present—the here and now.” The canon was fortunate that Tubman did not put him in jail.

On the occasion of President’s second Inauguration in 1976, Canon Carr preached another powerful sermon that remained on the lips and in the thoughts of Liberians for a long time. It was entitled, “To Restore the Years That the Locusts Have Eaten.” He recounted the many missed opportunities which Liberia had experienced, leading to her continued underdevelopment and backwardness, even as she continually boasted of being Africa’s oldest independent Republic. But in typical fashion, no one took Canon Carr seriously and the government and Liberians themselves went along with business as usual. It was only four years later that the Tolbert government was overthrown.

As General Secretary of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), Canon Carr, at the opening of the AACC Assembly in Lusaka, Zambia, May, 1974, predicted that Angola, Mozambique and the other African nations under Portuguese racist colonial rule would soon be freed. While the Assembly was yet in session, a military coup occurred in Portugal, overthrowing the tyrannical Catano regime, and the following year Angola and Mozambique got their independence.

In that same speech at the Lusaka Assembly, Canon Carr predicted that by 1980 Zimbabwe would be free, and it was, on April 18 of that year. He finally prophesized that by the early 1990s, the big one, South Africa, would be liberated. It was in 1990 that the racist and brutal South African apartheid regime freed Nelson Mandela from 27 years of imprisonment! In 1994 his political and military movement, the African National Congress (ANC), won a landslide victory in the country’s first free, fair and inclusive elections. Black majority rule was finally achieved!

Another prominent Liberian prophet was Mother Wilhelmina Dukuly, Pastor of the Faith Healing Temple of Jesus Christ, who was gifted with seeing into the future. She could tell an expectant mother the sex of her unborn child.
Many of us have heard of Mother Dukuly’s ultimate prophesy. She preached against the evils in society—the greed, corruption in government, widespread injustice in the society at large and the deviant sexual behavior prevalent in the nation.

One day she went to see President William R. Tolbert and told him, “Mr. President, I see blood all over this Mansion. This was after the April 14 Rice Riots, when Monrovia was partially destroyed and the government almost lost control. She suggested that the President resign and turn over power to someone else, in order to save the country.

But the President told her, “God speaks to me, too.”

We all know what happened a few months later—the April 12 coup, in which the President was killed, and a week later, several of his topmost officials.

Nor did Mother Dukuly spare Tolbert’s successor, Samuel K. Doe, with her prophesies. In her Sunday broadcasts over the state radio, ELBC, she frequently criticized the widespread corruption, mismanagement and wickedness in government and society, and warned of the coming judgment.

But like President Tolbert, Doe did not listen. Instead, he his regime became even more murderous. Mother Dukuly was already four years dead when, in the heat of civil war that had erupted (remember Albert Porte’s prediction), Doe’s death squad invaded the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia and massacred over 600 men, women and children who had taken refuge there.

It was not only to Mother Dukuly that Samuel Doe failed to listen. Another prelate who frequently warned him was Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia. He often spoke against the widespread mismanagement and wickedness of the regime and warned that God would not permit this to continue. Doe was so angry with the Archbishop that the Head of State launched an arson attack on the Catholic Radio Station near the Catholic Mission on Ashmun Street, Snapper Hill. That paralyzed the station for over a year.

And when two of Doe’s closest associates, Postal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly and Liberian Broadcasting System Managing Director Alhaji Kromah, who had both been educated at the Roman Catholic St. Patrick’s High School, failed to intervene, saying their parents had “paid their schools at St. Patrick’s,” Archbishop Francis closed the school and turned its Capitol Hill premises over to the Roman Catholic-run Stella Maris. What these two young fellows did not realize is that ALL education, especially the quality education we all received from Catholic schools, has always been and continues to be HEAVILY SUBSIDIZED.

The Rev. Dr. Walter D. Richards, a Baptist prelate, was also heavily critical of the Doe regime. Rev. Richards, at the funeral of one Mrs. Parker, whose body was found near the double bridge on Somalia Drive, preached a powerful sermon against widespread injustice in the nation.

The Daily Observer the following Monday made the sermon its lead story. That angered President Doe and a few months later he dispatched his death squad to Clay Ashland in search of Rev. Richards. But the soldiers did not know him and instead, asked for his better known older brother, R. Vahnjah Richards, Liberia’s leading sculptor, who was also Mayor of Clay Ashland. They found Vahnjah at home and immediately beheaded him and several others found in the home! Their headless bodies were dumped into the Po River on the Bomi Highway. Mr. Richards’ body was later recovered and buried in the family plot in Clay Ashland.

Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, the Muslim Leader in Liberia, Chairman of the nation’s Muslim Council, was also forthright in his criticisms of Charles Taylor and other warlords during the Liberian Civil Crisis. Sheikh Kafumba insisted on an end to the war and vigorously encouraged the quest for peace.

During his Memorial Service at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium last year, one speaker recalled how at one point during the crisis, the speaker said he had to cover personally his body over Sheikh Konneh, to protect him from violent intruders who did not want peace.

Archbishop Michael Francis was also highly critical of Charles G. Taylor, the warlord whose National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) started the Liberian civil war on December 24, 1989 in Buutuo, Nimba County. Taylor’s forces frequently seized trucks, filled with rice and other supplies en route to help war victims, and other vehicles of the Catholic Archdiocese. And there was nothing Archbishop Francis could do about it. But the archbishop continued his forthright criticism against the Taylor regime.

Taylor, however, like Doe, Tolbert and the kings of Israel, ignored these prophetic warnings. We all know what happened to them all. Unlike the first two, Taylor did not lose his life, but he almost has. He is spending his last days in a British jail, having been convicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands, of war crimes committed in Sierra Leone.

What today is the role of our bishops, pastors, imams and other prelates? Are there any prophets among you? We see you and hear you often, but we see no prophets. And as I have often said, most of our bishops and pastors “preach to the angels in Heaven, not to us depraved and spiritually hungry humans, who need to hear the word of God.

How many of you have spoken of the widespread corruption in government, and pointed a finger at those involved?

How many of you have spoken about the classic case of nepotism and corruption at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), under the watch of the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf, for which the President has said she takes “full responsibility”?

How many of you have spoken against the widespread corruption in the Legislature, including the imposing mansions built by former House Speaker Alex Tyler, only a few years ago a poor boy from Arthington? And against the huge sums of money the Ellen Administration, since it took office, has had to pay to both Houses of Legislature to ensure the passage of bills and the ratification of oil blocks and other concessions agreements?

When last have we heard any preaching against the pervasive injustices even in the judicial system—the courts of Liberia, which have even set free Lebanese men who raped and trafficked Liberian women to Lebanon? Against courts that have consistently held up legitimate tax payments to government by powerful and influential businesspeople?

When have we ever heard of our churches and mosques raising concern of the foreign dominance of the Liberian economy—the absence of Liberians in the lucrative business sector, leaving Liberians impoverished and powerless, peons and serfs in their own country serving other people daily, suffering constant abuse and even violence, such as took place at the Mamba Point Hotel few years ago? The Lebanese boy who brutalized a Liberian employee challenged him to “take me anywhere and nothing will come out of it. We have the Liberian government in our pockets!”

Is not this continuing poverty and powerlessness of the people— underpinned by the backing of persons close to power, a recipe for civil unrest and even war? What have the church, the mosque to say about these dangerous and heartrending practices?

How many of you have dealt forthrightly with the mysterious disappearance and murder of Harry Greaves, former Managing Director of NOCAL, and Counselor—Michael Allison? Events that gripped the nation last year and almost caused civil unrest?

What do the churches and mosques have to say about the continuing illiteracy among Liberians, after 169 years of national independence, or the continuing squalor in which our market women and their babies have to eke out a humiliating and painful existence?

What do you have to say about our children, from the ages of five or six, selling day and night on the streets when they should be in school or at home? Of the able-bodied young men and women who should be in school, on the farm or learning a trade, but are yet languishing on the streets selling chicklet, towels and other trivialities?

What of our farmers, most especially our women who, working in impoverished, back-breaking conditions, with hardly any help from government—not even agricultural extension agents—must produce most of our food? What of the glaring absence of government, and its refusal to reach out to our rice farmers who have produced thousands of metric tons of our staple, rice, and can find no markets? How long will we continue spending hundreds of millions of United States dollars annually importing rice?

The Daily Observer has often pleaded our churches to undertake its primary responsibility—to EVANGELIZE—in order to spread the light of Christianity into the Liberian heartland, to wipe out witchcraft that pervades the national landscape. What is the church’s response to this urgent call?

Do these patent injustices and the unconscionable ineptitude (incompetence, ineffectiveness) of our government mean nothing to you, all ye that pass by?

Do they mean nothing to you, all ye who, in your pompous robes and pretentious demeanor, mount the pulpits every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the churches and mosques? Preaching what, in whimsical (odd, strange) indifference to plight of the people, the miscarriage of justice, the unconscionable and widespread corruption, while in the land the people perish?

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Edward Blyden, Albert Porte, Mother Dukuly, Archbishop Francis—where are you?

We pray that you will return or that God will raise up others like yourselves who will, as James Montgomery’s immortal hymn, “Lord Pour Thy Spirit from on High,” commands,
“To watch and pray, and never faint;
By day and night, their guard to keep;
To warn the sinner, cheer the saint,
To feed thy lambs, and tend thy
sheep.”

That faint spirit is similar to what happened at Trinity Cathedral in April 1981. The Dean of the Cathedral had consented to a request by children of the 13 statesmen whom the PRC government had executed by firing squad in April 22, 1980, to hold a memorial service.

But when Samuel Doe heard of the memorial service, he sent for the Dean of the Cathedral, the Rev. Emmanuel Johnson, and threatened that should he dare hold that service, Doe would burn down the cathedral!

Apparently in a state of fear and panic, the Dean disappeared from the scene and no one, including the deeply distressed and grieved children of the 13 men, could reach him!

Two of the leaders of the group, Mrs. Carmenia Tolbert and Mrs. Clavenda Parker, who had grown up in the Cathedral, deeply disappointed and saddened by this painful and perplexing turn of events, left the cathedral and joined the Bethel World Outreach, which has richly benefitted from their considerable financial capacities.

Is it possible that the church is failing to be prophetic because of the church’s own internal problems of intolerance or ethical issues or even corruption within their own establishments that makes them fear to speak out?

Finally, permit me to leave with our churches and mosques this critical challenge as we face the all-important 2017 elections, when we are scheduled to elect a new leader for Liberia and new members of the House of Representatives.

I urge all of you to guide all your members, your followers, to take very seriously these elections, to be true and forthright to themselves and follow only their consciences and nothing else—not bags of rice, not money, not spurious promises—nothing but their own consciences in choosing their leaders in this election.

All of our pastors and imams should carefully guide their members in the decisions they make in these elections. Do your own research on and study all of the candidates and educate your members about them.
You heard this six-year-old boy, Chris Saydee who, during his and his fellow Rehab Community children’s remarkable performance here this afternoon, appeal to God to give Liberia “a Moses” to lead us.

I agree with this little boy that Liberia indeed needs a Moses this time—a leader who will have the supreme interest of the Liberian people at heart and look after these interests alone, and not after the interest of their family and close friends.

For we Liberians are tired of being continually behind other countries, even in Africa, which are far, far younger than we, the oldest independent Republic on the continent.

I challenge our churches and mosques to help guide us through these elections, so that we shall be sure to elect a Moses that will, at long last, lead Liberia forward and end our poverty and powerlessness in our own rich country. Let us elect someone who will enable us to enjoy Liberia’s riches, instead of surrendering them perpetually to foreigners.

I thank you.

Authors

2 COMMENTS

  1. Many religious leaders try to play God on Earth. They did not say anything that others did not say. With all the religion, where is the ethics in Africa. It is all laziness and hypocrisy.
    We need religion. But today, Africa needs ethics, science and technology more than anything else. Africa is failing, depending on prophets, miracles and magic that people depended on two thousand years ago. The people of Africa are suffering. They need perceptive leaders.

  2. Thanks my brother and friend, you could not have stated it any better; as the Good Book says, “Those who have ears, let them hear;” the writing is on the wall, we either read it and accept it and abide by it, or reject it and face the consequences. Dar a der oh.

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