By Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor
The leader of Rwanda, President Kagame, once said: “African countries need a new kind of leadership – one that has a vision for the country and a passion and commitment for its rapid development, as well as the wellbeing of its people.”
Some African scholars have expressed that “despite Liberia’s reputed gains in political and socioeconomic renewal in the past 12 years, when Weah takes over from Sirleaf, he will be inheriting high levels of unemployment and domestic debt, a depreciated currency, donor aid fatigue, growth projections of 4 percent (before the Ebola epidemic the country recorded an average growth rate of 7.5 percent), corruption with impunity – including a secret tax waiver for logging companies – and declining human development indices” (Robtel Neajai Pailey & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor ,19 Jan 2018).
Robtel Neajai Pailey & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor pointed out in their article that the initial thing that President George Weah needs to do is to ensure that 25 percent of government contracts go to successful Liberian-owned enterprises through competitive bidding. Because the country imports more than 80 percent of its food – including the staple, rice – preference should be given to Liberian agrobusinesses operating at scale.
They emphasized that the Weah Administration needs to cancel contracts with poor performers, renegotiate agreements that may be violating Liberian national laws and international human rights standards in the oil and gas, oil palm, rubber and iron ore industries. The revised agreements should generate improvements in tax collection, value-addition, employment, and corporate social responsibility obligations to affected communities.
I was impressed when these young scholars suggested that President Weah would have to build an industrial base in Liberia by insisting that foreign companies work with the Liberian Government to establish wood, rubber, palm oil, and steel rod processing plants in regional hubs throughout the country. Extra revenue generated from these activities should be invested in road reconstruction, electricity expansion, water and sanitation services’ (Robtel Neajai Pailey & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, 19 Jan 2018).
Since President Weah belongs to one of Liberia’s ethnic groupings – the Kru or Klao – it is important to draw inspiration from some of the forebearers that preceded him. These were individuals who struggled politically against the Americo-Liberian hegemony.
Understanding Liberia’s history, for example, will help us, especially the new administration of President Weah, to rebuild our socioeconomic and political institutions, and as may well be necessary, to change those behaviors that are not congruent to nation building. What we have become today in Liberia is the result of the seeds that were planted by Liberia’s founding fathers, many, many years ago; founding fathers that failed to heed the advice and wisdom of previous visionary personalities.
There were individuals who paved the path for each one of us, especially for President Weah. It is important to reflect on some of their contributions. The election of President Weah is not accidental, but years of determination, struggle and persistent democratic forces that helped to usher in our present political realities in Liberia. Some people have the impression that the underdevelopment in Liberia, especially within the southeastern region, is not accidental. It was a calculated by the power players in Liberia, from 1847 to 1980. The bravery by Klaos (Kru) have been documented in the world, especially in West Africa.
Even European writers have reported about the determination of this tribe. One wrote: “The Kru (Klao) people are an African tribe of coastal southeastern Liberia and neighboring Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The tribe is known for sailing. Many of the Kru people also migrated to neighboring areas such as Sierra Leone to look for work as fishermen and dockworkers. The Kru along with the Grebo, resisted Americo-Liberians, especially Maryland settlers’ efforts to control their trade. They were also infamous among early European enslavers as being especially opposed to capture (https://blackthen.com/kru-people-an-african-tribe-that-refused-to-be-captured-into-enslavement/).
History, according to Robert Penn Warren (a poet, novelist, and literary critic), cannot give us a program for the future but it can give us full understanding of ourselves and our common humanity, so that we can better face the future. Professor J. Corfield also pointed out in her article that revisiting a country’s history helps us to understand the linkages between her past and present. Understanding a nation’s history is not just ‘useful’, it is essential (royalholloway.ac.uk).
Notable personality, is Didwho Twe…. (pronounced Dee-Woo). An African scholar pointed out that this great African “was born in Monrovia on April 14, 1879 to Klao (Kru) parents. He was light in complexion, with a cicatrice on his forehead, a mark that distinguished people of Klao ethnic group from other indigenous tribes. Welleh Didwho Twe received his early education from the American Methodist and Trinity Episcopal institutions, as well as Patsy Barclay Private School. Also, he graduated from Cuttington Collegiate and Divinity School in Cape Palmas, Maryland (Liberia). In 1894, a US Congressman by the name of William Grout assisted Twe to travel to the United States to further his studies. During his stay in the United States, Twe attended several institutions, which included, St. Johnbury Academy in Vermont, Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island University, where he received his Master’s degree, and later studied agriculture at Columbia and Harvard universities” (Taken from Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Liberian History Archive).
On July 27, 1944, Hon. Didwho Twe was Liberia’s Independence Day guest speaker in Monrovia. He spoke on the following topic: The Future in Liberia.
The highlight of his presentation is reflected below for the intellectual consumption of the reading public. Interestingly, some of the ‘challenged issues of Education, Agriculture and other essential attributes’ that he discussed, continue to take place in contemporary Liberia.
Independence Day Oration, July 26, 1944 At the Centennial Memorial Pavilion in Monrovia, 74 years ago)
“Fellow Citizens: I shall speak briefly on the subject: THE FUTURE IN LIBERIA
But since there is a great difference between the future of Liberia and the future in Liberia, I want it to be understood that I am not going to discuss the future of Liberia, because in the face of the rapid changes now taking place everywhere no one can undertake such a task without being forced to apologize for his conclusions.
EDUCATION—In considering the future in Liberia the first item that comes up one’s mind is education. The greatest indictment against the Republic today is that the governing classes have studiously prevented the education of the masses and have also kept them dependent; and that it is for this reason that ninety- nine and half percent of the people are illiterate. Whether this indictment is true or not, I cannot say, but it is the opinion of majority of our critics and they have to their opinion. All I have to say is, no nation has ever been able to establish and maintain a strong government with a poor ignorant population. Much of our progress in the future will depend upon the rapidity with which we mass educate our people now.
In spite of China’s struggle to survive under the heel of the conqueror, her mass education program is turning out one million students annually out of high schools. This report from ‘backward’ China should be an inspiration to us.
AGRICULTURE—The second and most vital point in the future in Liberia is agriculture. The nation is now facing conditions hardly distinguishable from famine, not for the lack of many agricultural products, but for one staple diet only—Rice.
The greatest question in the country today is—What is the basic cause for the shortage of rice? The answer to this question lies in the investigation of our population. During the past century someone conjectured that the population of Liberia was two and a half million. From that time up to the present we have tenaciously held on to this figure without investigation and without making allowance for increase or decrease. That is, the number of our population has been stationary for more than fifty years. This is incompatible with the law of population, unless the state of our agricultural development has reached the point of diminishing return.
The naked truth of the matter is Liberia does not possess the population she thinks she has. This fact was not revealing to the public till the passage of the law prohibiting the importation of rice into Liberia. This revelation renders necessary revision of our “Alien Residence Act” requiring the payment of $50.00 annually by every alien, to admit immigrants freely into the country to compensate for the shortage. The present population of Liberia is not much over one and a quarter million if at all. This statement is based on the number of actually inhabited towns in the whole of the Western Province, which was once considered the most populated part of our hinterland. Indeed the insufficiency of population is one of the knotty problems the present government must prepare to face at no distant date. The shortage of rice, if carefully analyzed, can be largely attributed to shortage of population in the interior plus other factors. But this is a question I cannot go into detail without reviewing our native policies from the administration of Arthur Barclay to that of Edwin Barclay inclusive and without digressing too far from my main purpose.
After years of traveling throughout the interior and the coast and after well-matured consideration of conditions everywhere, I am thoroughly convinced that the inauguration of a well-organized compulsory agricultural scheme, such as the herein suggested, is exactly similar to compulsory education which policy has been adopted by all advanced governments; the former is intended to free the individual from poverty and raise him to a state of economic independence for the benefit of himself and the state; the latter for the benefit of the state and of him whose mind is developed. But at all events, this compulsory agricultural policy must be a revolution by consent not by force.
INDUSTRY & CAPITAL—I come now to the third point—Industry and Capital. Though we may escape the ravages of this global conflict, yet we cannot escape the inevitable invasion for raw materials. This is the war that Liberia must prepare herself to face. It will be as aggressive as a war of cannon and bombs, for the world will no longer respect the right of any nation over vast raw materials which it cannot develop, but which it refused to release for the advancement of civilization.
Coupled with this is the fact that the development of our vast resources requires skill and capital, which we have not. We must therefore for the moment depend upon foreign capital for the development of our country. But in admitting foreign capital into the country for the exploitation of our resources, no monopoly should be granted to any one nation against the interest of other nations. Furthermore, capital, when once invested in the country for the economic betterment of the state and people, should be given hearty cooperation and adequate support with due regard to protect the interest of the masses.
Three classes of people are primarily and vitally concerned in the development of any country. namely: the workman or producer,–in Liberia the native man,–the capital and the Government. Without these three factors the equation is unbalanced. Government being a non-productive organization, depends wholly on the producer and the capitalist for its existence but with legislative and judicial powers in its hands, it can, at any time, create impossible conditions for both producer and capitalist. But Government cannot carry its coercive powers to the extreme in this direction without paralyzing the industry. Because of the lack of understanding of economic laws common among Statesmen, enactments detrimental to the life of industry are often hastily passed into law. It has becomes the business of producers and capitalists therefore, to protect themselves, to use their means and influence to prevent the passage of such laws. This legitimate struggle for existence on the part of capitalists has been interpreted as an attempt to control Government, hence the eternal conflict between governments and capitalists in highly industrialized countries. But these reactions are inevitable in the industrial development of any country.
Liberia democracy is in jail. We have placed all sorts of barriers around the Country to shut out capital and foreigners but shutting out capital and foreigners, in this way, we have imprisoned ourselves within; consequently our democracy is in prison and we ourselves have been in prison for nearly one hundred years. The result has been loss of manhood, illiteracy, poverty and the want of the worst kind. These barriers must be broken. We can no longer afford to keep this country forever closed to foreign capital. Liberia must be developed. It is impossible for us to advance to mass education and adequately feed our population without developing the country.
As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so the great revolutionary forces which have influenced the progress of mankind have always come from the east and marched westward, but never from west to east, nor from the north to the south. The ancient civilization of Africa marched from Egypt to the West. “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Said the three wise men. And from the east Christianity marched westward. When Mohammed lifted his sword he pointed it to the west and Mohammedism marched from the east to the west. The Pilgrim Fathers planted Anglo-Saxon civilization on the North American Continent not in the north, nor in the west, nor in the south but in the end from east. American civilization and American democracy marched westward. To fulfill her destiny, Liberia must turn her back to the east and march westward.
I thank you” (Taken from Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Liberian History Archive).
Indeed, I will conclude this article by reflecting on one of Hon. Didwho Twe’s quotes that shows that he was a man of vision and a deep spirit of nationalism…..
“Among mankind, whether in the lower or in the highest stages of development, the necessity for the protection of the interests of the state, that is, the interest of the masses who constitute the state, is always invariably translated into creed which admits of no questioning and no arguments whatever. It is the doctrine on which society and governments are built. On its strength governments become responsible for the life and happiness of every member of society, and therefore enact laws not only to direct and to control the actions of man to man so as to give freedom and equal justice to all but also to punish their violators. Thus the welfare of the masses become the supreme concern of all governments consequently irrespective of their underlying motive, except in extreme cases, courts do not generally pass upon the constitutionality of acts committed in the name of the state by the ruling classes within the nation, for the implicit confidence that every act of theirs is designed to safeguard the interests of the people who in the final resort constitute the state. But this confidence shall on no account be abused, and the people shall not suffer in the hands of their own government. This is the greatest of all the commandments “on which hang all the laws and the prophets.” There is no mercy on earth or in the heavens above for its violators, they are never allowed to go free. Governments and society are controlled not only by laws but mainly by public opinion. When public opinion comes, therefore to sum up the record of each administration success is not gauged by exceptions nor by rise of revenue, for every rise in the revenue increases the burden of the consumer; nor by erection of costly buildings, but rather by the results of its policies on the spirits of men: whether or not under its influence the people have advanced in industry, in knowledge and in wealth; or whether they have hopelessly declined in courage and manliness, those qualities which are necessary and requisite to produce a vigorous nation.”
Africa indeed needs visionary leaders. “Africa needs dreamers to lead it now – men and women with success mentality; who are dissatisfied with the status quo and averse to norm; men and women who could conceive, characterize and commence the process of change and lead the people into new experience. Africa doesn’t need leaders with low sensitivity to people’s distress. It needs leaders who won’t offer vindictive neo-colonial explanation for the continent’s woes; but will through faith and insight conceive of a picture of a developed Africa and wisely employ the continent’s resources to realize the vision” (MANDLA LIONEL ISAACS, 07 JUL 2016).
I encourage all Liberians, to support President George Mannah Weah. Indeed, he must succeed, for the sake of our forefathers! Indeed, as Liberians, we should always be guided by our history, for “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots” (Marcus Garvey).
Author: Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an educator. He is a graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia; Howard University, Washington, D.C.; and Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He is a former Deputy Managing Director of the National Port Authority of Liberia, NPA. He can be contacted at: [email protected]