On April 6 we published a Commentary by our Editor Omari Jackson entitled, “April Again, A Month We Should not Overlook.” In it, he recalled the horrendous events that occurred in Liberia on April 14, 1979, known as the Rice Riots, followed two days shy of the exact date, by the bloody coup d’état, April 12, 1980. Editor Jackson warned that we Liberians should not take lightly this horrible month, for no one wants history to repeat itself. Indeed, we all know what this led to—a horrible civil war that claimed nearly 300,000 lives, devastated the country’s already fragile infrastructure and sent most of the population into internal and external exile.
All of this was due to the fact that the ruling True Whig Party (TWP), which had dominated Liberian politics for over a century, from 1878 to 1980, had become too comfortable with power. The TWP wielded absolute power, and many of us remember what Britain’s Lord Acton said: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Editor Jackson did not explain why he felt the need to sound the timely warning, Don’t play with April.
We recall how Shakespeare put it in his epic tragedy, Julius Caesar, when soothsayers warned Rome’s most powerful emperor, “Beware the ides of March,” which meant March 15 on the Roman calendar. But Caesar ignored the warning, and even that of his wife, and this resulted in his assassination at the hands of his most trusted friends. Mark Anthony, in his historic oration at Caesar’s funeral, told the audience that Brutus, another of the “most trusted friends,” said “Caesar was ambitious.”
Was the True Whig Party ambitious—so ambitious that it insisted on running a perpetual oligarchy (government by the few)? Was Samuel Doe ambitious—turning the governance of Liberia into an ethnic clique? Was Charles Taylor ambitious—ruling Liberia as a dictator, who spent the country’s money and other resources at will, with absolutely no accountability?
Is there anything on Liberia’s national landscape today that speaks of overweening (presumptuously arrogant, excessive) ambition?
Does the bankruptcy of our National Oil Company (NOCAL) under the watch of the President’s son Robert ring a bell about ambitiousness?
And what of the so-called Code of Conduct that seeks to deny conscientious, accomplished, intelligent and well-meaning Liberians that have absolutely no criminal record the chance to seek elective office?
Where in the Liberian Constitution can we find justification for a “Code of Conduct?” How did it go through the Legislature? How did it possibly win approval by the Supreme Court? Is there perhaps a semblance of “ambitiousness” on the part of anyone here? Who? And for what?
What of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s apparent flirtation with other political parties—Charles Brumskine’s Liberty Party especially—even to the detriment (disadvantage, harm) of her own ruling party standard bearer, Vice President Joseph N. Boakai? This is a move that is unprecedented in Liberian history. How so and why?
All of this is pitted dangerously against a looming shutdown of commercial activities in the country as early as today, two days before April 12—the determined threat by a group known as Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL) to shut down the country commercially. PATEL, comprising various sub-groups, already accomplished a three-day shutdown of Monrovia recently. Now they have selected the ominous (portending evil or harm) month of April to stage their renewed shutdown.
In the case of April 14, 1979, we recall that President William R. Tolbert, Jr. and his Justice Minister Oliver Bright decided to confront a peaceful protest with deadly force, leading, just as Albert Porte told him, to a disastrous ending, with an even more deadly denouement (aftermath)—the coup and civil war.
How will the government of President Ellen Johnson
Sirleaf handle this one?
We make three suggestions: first, that she and some of the critical heads in her administration, including Finance Minister Boima Kamara, Central Bank Executive Governor Milton Weeks and Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) Commissioner General Elfrieda Tamba should today invite PATEL leaders for a constructive conversation leading to some substantive compromises.
Second, Ellen and company should back off from this Code of Conduct thing which most people agree is a totally unnecessary distraction from the all-important political process that will determine the immediate and long-term political future of the country. Do not give anyone any excuse for causing confusion or trouble. PATEL, the dismal state of the economy and continuing rancor within the ruling party are enough distractions. The people cannot bear anymore.
Third, Ellen should do what she alone can to heal the rancor within her ruling party caused by her own political double dealing, real or imagined. The last thing she wants to be accused of being too ambitious. Never forget President Edwin Barclay’s admonition that those who do not learn from History end up garnering to themselves “legacies of pain.”