A Nation Divided but Under God — Reflections on April 12, 1980

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Yesterday, April 12, 2021 made it forty-one (41) years since that fateful day when President Tolbert was gunned down in a bloody military coup led by a ragtag bunch of 17 enlisted men (barely literate) of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

The coup took place at a time in history when most of the current generation were either toddlers or were not yet born. Unfortunately, the country’s history books still do not have accounts of those tragic events and the causal factors that precipitated the bloody coup d’etat.

Sadly, what has emerged as a result of this historical knowledge gap are false narratives that posit the view that everything was well and fine until the “Progressives” came along calling for change that resulted first in the Rice Riots of April 14, 1979 and the subsequent 1980 military coup d’état.

It is not uncommon nor unusual for members of any former ruling class to blame everyone else but themselves for their comeuppance when it finally does come. Such is the case of most members of the True Whig Party (TWP) former ruling class.

They have steadfastly refused to come to terms with the fact that the 1980 military coup d’état that overthrew the Tolbert government was hatched by the CIA acting in concert with members of the very same TWP ruling class.

In her memoirs, the wife of the slain President recounts that her husband had no friends, judging from the idle but wicked gossips his officials engaged in right within the corridors of the Executive Mansion, sometimes virtually within earshot of the President’s office.

More to that, former Presidential bodyguard , former Director of Police and Minister of National Security, Wilfred Clarke appearing at hearings before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that on the night of President Tolbert’s assassination, both he and Major William Jerbo were standing together near the east end of the Executive Mansion.

Mr. Clarke noted further that he was in VHF radio (walkie talkie) contact with the assassins up to the point where the contact went dead from the other side for unexplained reasons.

But Mother Victoria Tolbert in her memoirs (“Lifted”) provides some clues as to who her husband’s assassins were.

She recalls the voice… “mother please open the door, we will not harm you”, soft spoken but in perfect English pleading with her to open the door to the 6th floor Executive Mansion Presidential Suite.

And she would contrast that with the coarse voice.. “if you no be Vai woman we kill you here tonight” speaking in Liberian pidgin.

Oxford University Professor Dr. Niels Hahn concludes, based on research, that the 1980 coup and the events that followed were masterminded by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

According to him, President Tolbert appeared to be on a trajectory which found disfavor with Washington. And for this he was to pay the ultimate price. His foreign minister Cecil Dennis sought asylum at the US Embassy but his request was flatly rejected for unexplained reasons.

But President Tolbert had his faults as well and his attempts to engineer social change that in many ways posed a challenge to the existing social order based on privilege, also found disfavor with right wing TWP elements.

His opening up of the democratic space was not welcomed by the TWP old guard inherited from President Tubman. For 27 unbroken years, President Tubman ruled this country with an iron fist, silencing and even murdering his political opponents.

The torture chambers of Bella Yella, Bondiway, Putukeh, Barrobo and the Post Stockade still haunts the memories of survivors of that area. Stories of torture and human deprivation at Bella Yalla are still told.

The story of the murder of William David Coleman by President Tubman was told by his son and eyewitness to his murder, S. Othello Coleman (deceased), when he appeared at the TRC hearings.

This is the true history which revisionists are fighting tooth and nail to distort by false narratives based on warped and twisted interpretations of history.

Rather than face the fact that President Tolbert was betrayed by his own officials, they contrive false accounts about those who struggled to change an unjust social order.

They conveniently ignore the fact that the more than a century-old rule by a corrupt TWP oligarchy had created inherent contradictions which created conditions for its overthrow. In their eyes, the late veteran pamphleteer and crusader for justice, Albert Porte, was a troublemaker.

They make light of the courage and sacrifice of  the late Counselor Billy Horace, who spent nearly two decades in jail at the notorious Post Stockade for standing up to President Tubman’s excesses.

With such mindset, is it any wonder why reconciliation appears so difficult to achieve? Does it appear strange, therefore, that warlords and beneficiaries of the bloody civil conflict are claiming preeminence over their victims and presenting themselves as heroes and liberators?

But the true story of the struggle for freedom justice and  equality will be told and it has to be told by those who suffered the abuse, deprivation, marginalization and exclusion from real and meaningful participation in national political life.

April 12, 1980 means many things to many people, which is obvious. To some it is a painful reminder of a set of events that culminated in the public execution of their loved ones. To others,  it marks a historical date – the fall of the TWP.

And yet, to others, April 12, 1980 marks the date hope was born only to die. The mantra of the ruling CDC says Change for Hope but its critics say Hope is long since dead since the Change. Whatever the case, April 12, for us at the Daily Observer, remains a date for deep reflection and national introspection in view of the false historical narratives being purveyed and the false steps we appear to be taking that appear more likely then not to increase our woes as a nation divided but under God.

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