The international community and the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led administration have made some tremendous efforts to maintain peace and stability in Liberia since it graduated from war in 2003. People are now free to move in and out of Liberia at will and live in any part of the country as provided for by the constitution. The current peaceful environment we have now has also led Liberia to hold two successive presidential and legislative elections.
However, one thing still undermines the effort being exerted to sustain peace here is the politics characterized by tribalism and sectionalism – ills that the Constitution of Liberia strongly instructs the national government to eliminate.
In Chapter II Article 5 (c) of the Liberian Constitution under General Principles of National Policy, it states: “The Republic shall take steps, by appropriate legislation and executive orders, to eliminate sectionalism and tribalism, and such abuses of power as the misuse of government resources, nepotism and all other corrupt practices.”
The preaching of ethnic and sectional politics is becoming rampant in recent days. Just last week, Nimba County Senior Senator, Prince Y. Johnson, having taken Central Bank Governor, Mills Jones to Ganta for dedication of a market building there, warned people of the county to stop preaching divisive politics.
According to Senator Johnson, a small group of people during the visit stood out in the street with placards chanting that he (Johnson) had taken a Congor man there to impose on Nimbaians to vote him in 2017.
Reacting to this naïve statement, Senator Johnson said, “Was it not this same Congor man that provided micro-finance for you here and were empowered? Look, please stop this divisive politics; for it will not help us in this country.”
The protesters had gathered to sensitize people – as coached by some of their politicians – to prioritize “native” aspirants in the coming elections, though they are all aware that many of the very natives occupying the Legislature have massively failed, as alluded to by Rivercess County Senator Daniel Gweh recently.
It may also be recalled that on May 1, 2011, the political leader of the Liberty Party, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, said, “Bassa people, if you want development in this country, then vote a Bassa man and the Liberty Party.”
This statement has the propensity not only to make Bassa people feel that Brumskine becoming a President will give them the advantage over the resources of the country, but could also fuel a superiority complex among the Bassa tribe as we saw in the 1980s, when Samuel K. Doe made Krahn to be a superior spoken language in Liberia.
There is currently tension between Senator J. Milton Teahjay and Representative Matthew Zarzar, both of Sinoe County. Teahjay accuses Zarzar of being tribally sentimental with the intent of dividing Sinoe so that the Sarpoes – an aggrieved, minority group – can have a county and constituency of their own.
Similar issue rose between the Manos and Gios of Nimba County in 2011 after the presidential and legislative elections. Some Mano people contended that Nimba be divided into two, separating the Gios from them because the Gios were dominating in the Legislature. The Gios, too, considering their strength in population have decided to always support their kinsmen in election to dominate the Legislature without regard for competence or experience.
At the dedication of the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital in Tappita on July 23, 2010, a woman of the Gio tribe gave this advice to her friend who works at the Ganta Hospital: “Leave the Mano people settlement and come here to work at our own hospital. We have our own hospital now, and we will not allow any Mano man or woman to work here.”
However, Gios and Manos on the one hand and Mandingos on the other hand, still have differences that emerged during the war and have remained skeptical of each other. The Manos and Gios feel displeased now to have the Mandingos live with them or share in common as they should be.
They have always referred to them as “Mandingo people” and not Liberian. The Mandingos too use religious and tribal sentiments to discriminate against the other tribes, referring to them as “Kafir.”
One event that manifested high sense of tribalism in recent days was the September 30 incident in Ganta, Nimba County. While many of better judgment would condemn the uncivilized act carried out by Liberians in that county, it was altogether presented to the world as if people of the Gio and Mano tribes were the only groups that participated in the riot.
There are five tribes in the county with others from other counties largely living in Ganta. Interestingly during the incident, critics pointed only at Gio and Mano people to be the trouble makers. There was no Mandingo, Krahn, Bassa or even Kpelle man to point at for the trouble in the county, but only the Saye, Guonkarnue, Dahn and other names associated with Gios and Manos.
This approach taken by Liberians to make the entire issue tribally sensational left me to wonder whether the county was only for the two tribes, or for all Liberians as indicated in Chapter III Article 13 (b) of the Liberian Constitution under Fundamental Rights. Furthermore, why are the rest of the tribes in the county separated from the prejudice in times of trouble when they are all stakeholders therein?
Meanwhile, the question of “Which tribe you belong to?” or “What class of people you belong?” is a common talk in almost in every part of Liberia. On November 18, 2015 there was a heavy commotion at a well in the People United Community when some children who had gone to fetch water said, “Your teeth are pointing out like Gio people teeth. Gio people are making money out of us for water business in this place, and they will really get bag of rice from our LD$20.00 we pay.”
Amid all these, what is the role of the government in ensuring that tribalism and sectionalism are discouraged as mandated by the 1986 Constitution?
Tribalism was the main cause of Rwanda going into war that brought about the worst genocide in the history of Africa.
Following the genocide, President Paul Kagame in his many reforms made tribalism a state offense that anyone calling a person Hutu or Tutsi instead of a Rwandan faces justice. While in Kigali in May 2014, a Rwandan named Alex Kwazera told me, “There is no Tutsi or Hutus in this country now but Rwandan. We have developed a local language from the two local languages that every Rwandan can speak along with English.
While such reforms have made Rwanda one of the most attractive countries in terms of peace, economic growth and environmental cleanliness, it remains to be seen how President Kagame’s bid for a third term would affect the nation’s democratic structure in terms of societal cohesion and his own commitment to peace.
Among the many challenges with the propensity to stir up conflict are tribalism and sectionalism, social ills that discriminate and deprive others of their basic rights as humans in any society. They perpetuate inequality and make others feel inferior, and in return the affected parties in most instances resolve by engaging in violence. This is what US Psychologist Albert Bandura’s calls the theory of “Reciprocal Determinism”, which states that when behavior of a person inflicts pains on another, the affected person returns with revenge against the perpetrator and the entire environment becomes chaotic.
With the increasing sentiments of tribalism and sectionalism in the country, it is about time that government acts to discourage the menace in order to avoid the recurrence of the anarchy that Liberia experienced for fourteen years.