Monrovia- When the men of twelve signed Liberia’s declaration of Independence in 1847, their mission was simple- to create a free black nation on the face of Africa. Hopefully, they had wished that the emergence of a state preserved for Negroes or persons of Negro descent would preclude their fear of racism, sectionalism, and other forms of inhumane experiences they had endured on the slave plantations. More than a century after that promise seems to be elusive.
From the get to, the descendants of freed American slaves who had settled on the Graincoast, and the aborigines- so called the ‘natives’ became embroiled in a series of conflicts over land occupation, tenure, broken promises, etc. There were many wars fought, including the infamous ‘Battle of Crown Hill’ that brewed a tension between the settlers and the initial inhabitants of the land.
By 1869, the settlers had instituted a one party rule-the True Whig Party that largely excluded participation of the natives from the governance structure. The natives were effectively secluded to the interior parts of the nation, thus breeding a sense of exclusion, denial and resentment. The prolonged years of rule by a tiny minority of settler elites mimicked the reign of slavery on US plantations where blacks were effectively engines for the growth of Industries. It became apparent that a slavery mentality was, perhaps, imported by the settlers thus affecting the dream of building a nation for men of color.
History points to a decaying fact of in fights between the light-skinned settlers known as the mulattoos and the dark skinned over the right to supremacy and rule. Perhaps, the dangers of the awareness of color, repeatedly drilled into the minds of slaves, had affected the psyche of the black man. The feud between the light skinned mulattoes class verses the darkskinned settlers was an initial contradiction in the rationale of the founding of the nation, and a dent in the promise of a land that supposedly embraced liberty.
History is replete with the excesses of the True Whig Party from institutionalized repression of dissenting views, anti democratic tenets, and the iron-fisted rule of one of its longest serving leaders, the strongman — Tubman. These, I believe, were not the visions of the signers of the declaration of Independence when they spilled the ink.
Several years on, the veil of division continued on several fronts, and an unconscious effort to assimilate and belong were characterized by the growth of mediocrity, greed, cronyism, etc. Indigenous Liberians with education and exposure disguised themselves as descendants of settlers in a bid to belong. The authenticity of identities was seconded to self-conceived perceptions, peripheral realities and limitations. It is worth noting that both those who considered themselves natives and descendants of the settlers are two faces of a coin.
After more than a century rule, the walls of the True Whig Party came crashing in a rather bizarre way by the most unusual group of non political actors — the soldiers — whose profile included illiterate peasants. This was the beginning of another era of perpetual conflict, infightings, misrule, trial and error syndromes, the emergence of ethnicity in the governance sphere, where a bunch of ‘natives’ became self aware of the polarization of their makeup. This self awareness of dangerous mind identity bred mutual suspicion, envy, greed, self aggrandizement and set the tiny West African nation, once regarded as one of the most stable nations in the region, on a path to self destruction. A dispute over the results of the elections held in 1985, widely rumored to have been rigged, led to mass harassment of suspected opponents, intimidation and summary executions. By 1989, the nation was on a brink of imminent collapse — rebels had invaded!
The period between 1990 to 1997 witnessed the darkest chapters in the nations’ history, with stories of child soldiers, rape, mass executions, dismemberment of the economy, and criminalization of institutions, kleptocracy, and massacres. A scaring example is the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church massacre. By 1997, what appeared as a false start to democracy saw the election of Former warlord Charles Taylor as President. By 2003, everything had broken down and Taylor was forced to exile.
Down memory lane, we see the reemergence of diversities that continue to stab the hopes and shred the stripes in the flag that bind us together, ethnicity, greed, diaspora-local divide, urban-rural divide, illiterate-literate, haves and have-nots, etc.
A striking truth is that no nation can survive without respect for diversity. The rule of thumb is tolerance. The sooner we realize this, the road to the promise of 1847 would be clearer.
About the Author:
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a poet, writer, cultural activist and collector of traditional short stories. He can be reached at [email protected]