The deadly Ebola outbreak which began in Guinea, north of her border with Liberia, brought to light not only a fracturable nation that is barely picking up the pieces from decades of serious internal hostility but a forsaken society perforated by a century of poverty, disease, illiteracy and culture of breach of trust in Government.
The former Grain Coast, renamed Liberia after her founding and independence –from the Latin word that means freedom, was sponsored in the early 19th century by a band of white American humanitarians. The images of torments and afflictions of African descendants enslaved in America appeared unbearable to them. In their view, the family of humanity that binds every human race had been dishonored. In response to such humanitarian shame, came a rescue mission to help Diasporas who wanted to return to their ancestors’ homeland.
If their raw ambition was the courage that propelled these freed people of color to make the long journey back to Africa, the reasons that justified this pilgrimage appeared even more compelling. In their statement of belief, for instance, they explained that what they went through in the New World was compared to the hell in the spirit world. And that although some of them were blessed to be free in hell, while still in hell, their dream for equality and true freedom could not be fully exercised or realized in the land of enslavement.
Thanks to President Lincoln who not only brought an end to the disease for human chattel by another human in the New World but who also himself earlier realized the uncertain future for black people even in post slavery era. In one of his brain-storming debates, Lincoln appeared to recommend an uncompelled resettlement of all African Americans back to Africa where he reasoned, they would enjoy an uninterrupted equality in their ancestors’ homeland without the fear of being devalued.
The noble quest for the formation of the first black civilization in West Africa was well underway precisely half a century before Lincoln’s emancipation for all slaves was realized in the Union. In Liberia’s Independence Declaration, she presented herself as a free society that had met the basic demands to be deserved the right to statehood, including the recognition and respect that came with it.
Britain, the fading colonial hegemony at the time was quick to extend a hand of warm welcome to Liberia into the community of free nations. But the United States, an emerging hegemony, under whose bosom Liberia came to being, readily declined open support or recognition. The United States’ uninvolved or astringed relation with Liberia was a 19th century mindset held by European Americans and the rest of the colonial world that black humans were incapable of self determination. What gave them such an idea was evident from how Africans lived in pre-historic Africa and what they discovered and saw, developed the concept of human possession, thereafter. But the central reasons that had caused Liberia to fall behind in every aspect of national progress, derived from her founders.
After 1847, no importance was given to the concept of integration of all tribal communities under which the founders had curved out for themselves. This error became the first deadly virus that was planted in the foundation of Liberia. In Captivity, the founding fathers explained about the opprobrium inflicted to their existence in America. In freedom, they had not learned a lesson from a state of working under extreme duress. If they didn’t learn the blessing of compassion in captivity, it was difficult how they were in wait to share the blessing of their enlightenment amongst “uncultured” tribal countrymen. By the same token, physical and mental detention by force in America didn’t allow them the privilege to toy with the sense of self-reliance or self determination. The result was setting themselves up for failure –an inherent pitfall that led to three major outcries for change in Liberia –civil disobedience demonstration of 1979, Coup d’ tat in 1980 and a bloody Civil War, starting from 1989.
The Americo-Liberians’, as they are passionately referred to in Liberia, ran aground the dreams and aspirations of a successful statehood. It literally collapsed under the preference for class discrimination in Liberia. They failed to guarantee social justice and equality for all Liberians. The once lost African race that had traveled thousands of miles to regain its rightful homeland had returned to become the masters.
For nearly over a century and a half, the settlers in Liberia exploited their indigenous Liberians. They conspired with foreign investors to exploit and explore the abundant natural wealth of Liberia and ignored even the very basic human necessities –education, shelter, and a good health delivery system that is currently at the center of this Ebola outbreak. Greater infrastructural development never had the chance to beautify the great former Grain Coast.
Instead, the country’s ruling class established fat foreign bank accounts abroad, in particular, America where they banked almost all their savings they had embezzled from the public coffer. They sent their relatives and associates to the United States and Great Britain for better education and left their nation’s scholarly and cultural sectors literally underfunded. Our founders saw the former Grain Coast, the land that nurtured them back to human restoration, only as a vacation hangout, and America as their loyal homeland. This is why Liberia is still underdeveloped, undernourished and poverty-stricken after a century and a half. They never outlived their infatuation about America because they had already been programmed to act and be American.
Their reunion with their ancestors’ homeland had become meaningless. Between Liberia and America, African Americans in Liberia were neither here, nor there. They, indeed, had developed the problem of identity. Can history blame them? The answer is no, because of what our people went through in America for centuries. But if history seeks to exonerate them, then the reasons that inspired some of our lost race in America to make such historic voyage back to Africa was in vain.
As Liberians hope for the best in their time of national tragedy and prepare for the worst in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, America and the world are watching with concern once again. But behind that concern is an injured society and people being paraded on the world stage in shame as infected patients and death from the Ebola epidemic take their toll weekly –including scenery in Monrovia of public squalors and tenement housing of the worst type, displayed on the world news in America, Europe and Asia Thanks largely to the Americans in Liberia who were there when the virus broke out.
What is different this time as Liberians jostled for cover from this most recent national tragedy is that the contagious nature of this virus and the speed at which it is spreading, has alarmed not only the world of an Ebola ravaged Liberia but has embarrassed the privileged few and officials who often flee for cover in the face of national emergency. This time around, this segment of society is forced to remain and bear the nightmare with average Liberians who are often the victims of national humiliation throughout history. If a century and half of government by a few, a decade of government by militarism, a decade of a vile cruel civil war and an Ebola ravaged Liberia are not enough, what will it take to inspire a sense of national pride and citizenship in Liberians everywhere?
Andrew Kofi Robinson is a Liberian political writer residing in the United States and author of “Republican Bigotry Towards Obama in America.” he can be reached at [email protected] or 706 267 4053.