It is clear to most Liberians that President William V.S. Tubman’s most important contribution was his Unification Policy, which brought empowerment to the Indigenous Majority, most of whom lived up country. That policy brought President Tubman closer to the people because they strongly felt that he, probably more than any of his predecessors, was on their side. There were, of course, other intangibles (untouchables) that seriously contributed to the people’s trust in Tubman. The first was what the people considered to have been Tubman’s generosity (kindness, openhandedness).
One serious example is what happened at the beginning of each annual Executive Council that President Tubman regularly convened in various parts of the country. Three things happened before the actual business commenced. First, the Opening Prayer, by a leading local clergyman; second, the welcome remarks, led by Interior Secretary Jacob (Jake) Samuel Melton, followed by the Provincial and District Commissioners and the leading Paramount Chiefs; and third, the presentation of gifts. At this point, scores of people lined up to present gifts to the President and his wife, First Lady Antoinette Tubman.
The first gift was the highly symbolic white kola nuts, by which the people presented their “white hearts” to the President and his accompanying guests. Then came the multiplicity of gifts to the President—from chickens to vegetables, rice, to kinjas of cassava, eddo, potato, etc.; to country cloth, chickens, goats, sheep and cattle. One of the moments the people never forgot was what President Tubman did after each presentation, however small. After quickly assessing the approximate value of each gift item, he called his faithful and ever present butler, Jimmy Barrolle, and whispered to him to go and get some money, in crisp, brand new United States dollars.
In his whisper to Jimmy, President Tubman would tell him to bring at least four to six times the value of each gift—sometimes more. For example, for the small pan of white kola nuts, worth not more than US$10-US$20 because of their high symbolic value, Jimmy would bring US$150 to US$200. For a sheep or goat, US$100-US$150; for a bundle of country cloth, US$300 or more; and for a cow, nothing less than a thousand US dollars! This master stroke of psychology endeared the people to their President, so they always wanted Tubman to be with them. There was one more thing. Tubman had an extraordinary memory. When anyone was introduced to him, he would immediately narrate stories about that person’s father or grandfather and details of Tubman’s encounter with him.
That caused many to be in awe, even in fear of President Tubman; it deepened their admiration and respect for him. Any wonder, then, why after each inauguration, the people flooded him with demonstrations to succeed himself “for another term of office”? We must never forget, however, that Tubman himself loved power so much that he, along with his key supporters, orchestrated these political demonstrations. But the bond had already been firmly established between him and the people. Since Tubman, each succeeding President has developed his/her own style of relationship with the people.
But none of them surpassed Tubman’s. Indeed, we believe that Tubman’s immediate successor, President William R. Tolbert, Jr., shortcut his own tenure because he did not follow the Unification Policy to its logical conclusion—empowering the indigenous majority. True, Tolbert expanded educational opportunities to many throughout the country; and undertook rural development projects upcountry. But did he share real power? God gave President Tolbert two opportunities to choose a Vice President. But on both occasions Tolbert chose a Veep from the coast—first, Senator James Greene from Sinoe County; and second, when Greene died of cancer in 1975, Tolbert looked within his own county—coastal Montserrado—and within his own District—Careysburg—to choose a Vice President—United Methodist Bishop Bennie D. Warner.
How does a President chose a running mate not only from his own county, but even from his own District? Tolbert ignored advice from many quarters to choose Nimba County’s Jackson F. Doe, then probably the most prominent political son from up country, to be Tolbert’s running mate. There are many who strongly believe that had Jackson F. Doe been the Vice President of Liberia, the 1980 coup would never have taken place. After choosing Bennie Warner for Veep in 1976, the die was cast: Tolbert remained in power for four more years only—until 1980, when he was brutally overthrown, spelling the end of the True Whig Party’s century-old hegemony.
President George Weah is himself a son of rural Liberia—River Cess County. But so was Samuel K. Doe—Grand Gedeh County. This is a clear demonstration that while it is important where a leader comes from, that is not a sine qua non (indispensable action) for presidential success. President Weah seems, however, to be on the right track in at least one of his development projects—the project connecting county capitals with paved roads. This project, called “Coastal Corridor,” is bound to affect people through many parts of the country.
The project will include the Buchanan, Grand Bassa County to Barclayville, Grand Kru County; Barclayville to Sasstown, Grand Kru County; Barclayville to Pleebo, Maryland County; Medina to Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County; and Tubmanburg, Bomi County to Bopolu, Gbarpolu County. While the Coastal Corridor project will not yet be touching all the counties from Grand Cape Mount to Maryland counties, what we see on the diagram is a good beginning. We pray that after this project is completed, the government will contact our Chinese friends, who first proposed building coastal highway from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas, and persuade them to do it.
Indeed, unification is not only a product of political endearment, but more so of infrastructural development. We look forward, too, one day to the building of a railroad to connecting all parts of Liberia that will bring the Liberian people together by making travel easier throughout the country.