The Challenge of Unification Today

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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.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. One of our National challenge: unification.

    Ever since Liberia was founded by ex-slaves from the Americas, one of its greatest challenge is unifying the people who came, with the people who they met on the land. It is interesting to know that those who came, had division, rifts and class struggle amongst them. They also had to struggle with incorporating the natives within their system. No wonder, Liberia remain a country of people of Negro descend, but our names and places of warships significantly defined our status in our own society.

    When settlers came in 1822, the ruling class at the time was the light-skinned or mixed breed stocks like Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Jehudhe Ashmun, etc..The dark-skinned ex-slaves, were deprived of their political amenities just because of their skin pigmentation. The ideal “lighter your skin, the better you are,” held by their ex- slaves masters, in America, was brought with them to Africa.
    It was a complete DE FACTO apartheid system. A dark skin-skinned , Edward James Roye, founded the True Whig Party (TWP). E J Roye contested the elections of 1869, and won with a landslide victory, due to the numerical advantage of the black-skinned settlers. The light- skinned officials of government, led by JJ Roberts, formed a clique and accused Roye of financial mis- management. Roye was forced out of office, this marking the first coupe in Liberian history in Feb. 1871.
    The division was glared within the political system in Liberia without even the participation of the indigenous.

    Roye’s party, the TWP survived. It will take 93 years, for anything regarding UNIFICATIONS will be mentioned. In 1964 under another president, William V.S Tubman, to talk about “unification”, at this time, more indigenous were now educated, but with settlers name, affiliations. However; not many of them will be in high government position. The few that are fortunate to find themselves in places of authorities are heavily associated with the ruling TWP. We can called this a ” COSMETIC UNIFICATION “.

    Any one in position of of authority, must be aware that appeasing the ‘norms’ of the ex-slaves, are the order of the day. No political descent, of any kind. Natives that wish to be educated, and made progress in society, names, customs, beliefs must be dropped, and accept the way of the settlers. This way, one can gained access to government sponsored programs.

    When William Tolbert came in 1971, he decided to lift the ‘lid’ off the system a bid: the acceptance of multiple political parties, increasing scholarships to all qualified Liberians to study abroad. Tolbert’s hope was to reform the systems for all Liberians. But he soon found himself caught between the old guys rank from where he came from and new young Progressives. His former colleagues labelled him traitor, while the rest of the country, along with the progressives were calling him a Marxists -Leninist business entrepreneur.

    Amongst all the True Whig Party presidents, William Tolbert was the most unifier of the nation. One cannot unify a group of people, if you cannot provide them opportunities, and alternative means of improving their lives. There can be no unification under a tyrant, autocratic regime.
    It was all hails, the Whigers…..

  2. “The challenge of Unification Today,” such a poignant title, only characterized by a skewed or paralysis of analysis. As hinted by Bah above, what seemed like likeness for Tubman by Liberians was actually emblematic of a Stockholm Syndrome, or capture-bonding. This is a psychological phenomenon wherein victims form bond and begin to have empathetic/sympathetic feelings toward their oppressors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. That this editorial piece would even equate such obvious slush funds by Tubman for loyalty and likability by the people as a semblance of unity, is blurry history. And to suggest that Tolbert’s 2nd VP choice factored in the cards that determined his fate amounts to yet another misinterpretation of Liberian history. Even those behind the advocacy for change during the Tolbert era, never fathom coup d’état in their arsenal of strategies in that regard. The coup was at the behest of not-so-invisible hands, which phenomenon caught all political actors by surprise, having nothing to do with who was VP or minister and their tribal affiliation. As for the formula for the future unification of the people of Liberia, it has to be based in mutuality of interest, aspiration, patriotism, social justice, rule of law and equal opportunities for all irregardless. The past can only serve as a guide in that regard, not a template.

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