Remembering President Tubman: Few Positives from His Administration


Let us begin this Editorial by recalling what happened only a few weeks following President Tubman’s burial on July 29, 1971. A stream of delegations, over several days, found their way to the Centennial Memorial Pavilion to blast the fallen Liberian leader who had ruled Liberia for 27 unbroken years. And speaker after speaker quickly forgot all the highly positive adjectives they had only ninety days earlier heaped upon him, extolling him in the most glowing terms. Among the adjectives perennially used to describe this President were, “dynamic, farsighted, indefatigable and illustrious.” But this was all soon forgotten the minute breath left the President’s body on July 23, 1971 in the London Clinic.

They blasted Tubman and blamed him for all of Liberia’s development woes.

It is true that Tubman, given his immense popularity throughout the length and breadth of the Republic, could have done much more for Liberia. After all, the country was rich in mineral resources, abundant rainfall, vast acreage of arable land and most important, a small but intelligent and vibrant population. But the concessions agreements that practically gave away our iron ore, gold, diamonds and timber robbed the country of the great benefits that could have been derived from these God-given endowments.

On the other hand, Singapore and South Korea, which were in 1960 on par economically with Liberia, with our growth rate probably higher than theirs, soon surpassed Liberia in economic, social and industrial development.

What went wrong is a matter we leave to the economists and historians. The only other point we feel compelled to make here is that Liberia is still a vastly rich country with an even more vibrant population; and is, therefore, open and ready for future leaders to exploit. In other words, Liberia is still ripe for growth, development and prosperity. All we need is good, committed, patriotic, selfless leadership, and we are sure the people will follow.

Having said that, let us now recall what good President Tubman did for Liberia.

The first important thing he did was to initiate the Local and Foreign Scholarship Program that affected people from all over the country. Government paid for local scholarships for deserving and needy students in many schools across the country. The Foreign Scholarship Program awarded fellowships to Liberian students to travel to Europe, the United States and other parts of the world to engage in professional studies. This initiative produced the first cadre (group) of Liberian professionals—economists, mining engineers and geologists, scientists, educators in many fields, political scientists, medical doctors, civil servants, agriculturists, journalists and even secretarial scientists, etc.

President Tubman then transformed Liberia College, founded in 1862, into the University of Liberia (1951). Soon, UL opened the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, the College of Agriculture and Forestry, Teachers College, the Science College, and the Business College.

But even before UL was established there came the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts (TNIMA) that began training the nation’s nurses and paramedical personnel. Tubman also opened the Government Farm in Suacoco, now the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI). He also agreed with Episcopal Bishop Bravid W. Harris to transfer Old Cuttington from Tubman’s own home town, Cape Palmas, to Suacoco. In addition to the Liberal Arts education it provided, Cuttington started training agriculturists, scientists, many of whom went on to become medical doctors, ophthalmologists (eye doctors), surgeons and other specialists.

President Tubman also accomplished one great thing: during an official visit with President John F. Kennedy in Washington, Mr. Tubman appealed to his host for the building of a referral hospital in Liberia. President Kennedy agreed, and that is how we got the John F. Kennedy Medical Center which, before the 1980 coup d’état and the civil war, became the leading referral hospital in West Africa, staffed with scores of top medical specialists, most of them Liberian.

But perhaps President Tubman’s greatest accomplishment was his Unification Policy, which he established by convening all the chiefs from all ethnic groups and all parts of the country in Executive Councils, and convincing them to stop fighting among themselves and UNITE to build Liberia. The chiefs all wholeheartedly embraced the idea. Tubman did one thing more: to complete his idea of unification, he established the four new counties—Bong, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh. And each had its own indigenous Superintendent. In Bong, it was James Y. Gbarbea; in Lofa, Robert Kennedy; in Nimba, Gabriel Farngalo; and in Grand Gedeh, Moses Harris. And each new county had two Senators. This brought all the new counties on par with the five original counties—Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, Maryland and Grand Cape Mount.

Liberia’s indigenous population never forgot Tubman for this, and that was one of the reasons they kept him in power for 27 years, electing him for another four years (equaling 31), which death denied him from fulfilling.

We will stop here for now, by making one more point, which some may find highly controversial: it is our strong belief that President Tolbert, who was Tubman’s Vice President for 19 years and succeeded him as President, got into trouble partly because he (Tolbert) did not follow Tubman’s Unification Policy to its logical conclusion—substantive power sharing.

For example, Tolbert had two opportunities to choose a Vice President from up country, but instead, chose two from the coastal areas, Sinoe (James Greene) and Montserrado, from even the very Careysburg District from which Tolbert himself hailed.

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