We Are Thankful to the Liberian Prodigal Son’s Father

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"Going Libya" (Illustration: David K. Golayah)

James T. Weleyon, an entrepreneur in Ganta, Nimba County, recently received with open arms his 23-year old son, Bill M. Weleyon, who suffered grievous maltreatment when he attempted to join hundreds of thousands of other Africans seeking to enter Europe through Libya and the Mediterranean Sea.

Hein de Hass, Director of the International Migration Institute of England’s Oxford University, was quoted in yesterday’s Daily Observer as saying that between the years 2000 and 2005, about 440,000 African emigrants have embarked on a perilous (death-defying) voyage to Europe, seeking greener pastures.

We all know from the world news what has been happening to so many of them. Traveling dangerously on tattered, overloaded boats, they have been drowning by the hundreds, if not thousands, in the Mediterranean.

The global television news network CNN, based in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America, via video footage, has been reporting of how these African migrants have been terribly mistreated in North Africa, particularly in Libya and Algeria. In Libya many of them have been sold into slavery, causing a most tragic reversal of the Atlantic Slave Trade that occurred between the 15th and 19th centuries. During that period, some 12.8 million Africans were captured by European slave traders, of course, with the complicity of African kings and chiefs who sold their own people into slavery, and transported in chains to Europe, the Caribbean and the United States to become the beasts of burden on cotton and sugarcane plantations.

This has been recorded as one of the very worst cases of man’s inhumanity to man.

The slave trade ended in 1807 with the intervention of a group of British people, led by William Wilberforce, who after over 20 years of struggle, succeeded in spearheading the passage of an Act of Parliament abolishing the slave trade.

But slavery in its worst form was practiced in the United States. It took a civil war, declared by President Abraham Lincoln in reaction to the secession by 11 pro-slavery southern states from the Union, to end slavery in that country. That very bloody civil war lasted from April 12, 1861 to May 13, 1865. In the middle of the war, President Lincoln, on January 1, 1863, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all American slaves.

Here are we now, a little over 150 years later, and Africans are dying to get to Europe, the same continent that started the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. In the process, they are now being enslaved by their own African brothers, people of a lighter hue (complexion), who consider themselves more Middle Eastern than African—in particular Libyans and Algerians.

Several weeks ago we published an Editorial calling on African governments to do all they can to practice better governance that would cater to the needs of our teeming masses of young people. This will prevent Liberians from attempting, even at great risk of drowning, seeking greener pastures in Europe.

In that same Editorial, we were pleased to indicate that so far Liberian youth were not among the African youth fleeing Africa for Europe. Little did we know that yes, there were a few Liberians who had decided to embark on that dangerous journey.

Fortunately, we know of at least one such Liberian who has returned home, a classic example of the Biblical prodigal son.

Why do we say that? Because his own father called him that; and just as happened in the Bible, this father, James T. Weleyon, stretched out his arms to welcome back home his estranged son, Bill Weleyon.

The young man did not blame his father for neglect. Indeed, Bill was a student of the African American Episcopal University (AMEU), where he was fully supported by his beloved entrepreneurial father, a Ganta businessman.

So what fooled Bill to take that perilous voyage to North Africa and end up in a far worse situation than the Biblical prodigal son—slavery? One day our reporter, Joaquin Sendolo, who broke the story of Bill’s return, will interview him and ask why he eloped to North Africa.

We hope that this story will touch President-elect Weah, Vice President-elect Jewel Howard Taylor and their team, who are about to take over the government. The story should remind them of the onerous (burdensome, heavy) responsibilities they are about to undertake.

Should President Weah succeed in his mission to “transform the Liberian masses,” then truly our people will be spared the perilous journey to Libya and beyond; for they will find, in this rich country of ours, greener pastures right here at home.

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