Tuesday, October 10, 2017 promises to be a great day in Liberian history—the day on which Liberia will have its second post-war democratic transition from one administration to another. But how great will that day be?
Remember we have had so many elections since 1847, when Joseph Jenkins Robert became our first President. That and all subsequent elections have produced many Presidents, few of whom we can truly call significant or great. President Roberts’ election set our nation on its course, saving its territory from being colonized by the imperial powers.
He opened Liberia’s diplomatic relations, beginning with Queen Victoria’s Great Britain in 1848. He also founded and became the first president of our first institution of higher learning, Liberia College, now University of Liberia (UL). President Roberts also left all his money and real property to the Methodist Church to fund the education of Liberian youth.
The second was Steven Allen Benson; third, President Daniel Bashiel Warner, who wrote the words to the Liberian National Anthem and invited people from Barbados, West Indies, to immigrate to Liberia. They settled in Crozierville, but a few of the families, notably the Barclays,
Grimes and Wiles, remained in Monrovia and joined the political class. Two of their descendants, Arthur and Edwin Barclay, became Presidents of Liberia; and another, Louis Arthur Grimes, became a renowned Chief Justice. His son Rudolph became one of our longest serving Secretary of State; and another Barbadian descendant, Rocheforte L. Weeks, became the first Liberian UL President. Another descendant, Albert Porte, became the conscience of the nation and through his writings that spanned nearly 60 years, tried to save Liberia from bad governance.
One of the most popularly elected Presidents was the 11th, Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, son of Elijah Johnson, because Hilary was nominated by the two main political parties—the Republican and True Whig parties (TWP). He chose his Cabinet from both parties. That spelled the end of the Republican Party.
The long TWP hegemony continued, starting in 1878 with President Anthony W. Gardiner, and dominated Liberian politics for over a century. It continued through Arthur Barclay, the first immigrant from Barbados to become President (1904-1912). He created the Liberia Frontier Force (now Armed Forces of Liberia). After President Daniel E. Howard came President C.D.B. King, who brought in the first major concession, Firestone, and our first vocational and technical school, the Booker Washington Institute (BWI). Along came President Edwin Barclay who, along with his Secretary of State Louis Arthur Grimes, saved Liberia from colonization by a European power following President King’s Fernando Po crisis (1930). President Barclay forcibly relieved Liberia of the Firestone loan’s bankruptcy tentacles.
President William V.S. Tubman came next, remembered for six primary things. First, through his local and foreign scholarship program, he trained the first cadre of Liberian professionals; and in so doing, brought Liberia into the modern age. Part of this was his founding, in 1951, of UL.
Second, he introduced the Open Door Policy, which attracted many foreign investments. But this policy seriously marginalized Liberian entrepreneurs, leading quickly to foreign domination of the Liberian economy and the continuation of mass poverty. Tubman’s third and most important contribution was his Unification Policy, through which he won the approval of all Liberian Paramount and Clan Chiefs to forget their differences, unite and join with their “Settler” brothers and sisters in the building of one united Liberia.
Fourth was his role in the liberation of Africa from colonial rule and white racist domination in Southern Africa. He gave personal encouragement to Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Sam Nujoma of Namibia and many other leaders of liberation struggles in Africa. Fifth was the key role he played, along with Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea’s Sekou Toure and others, in fostering African unity and creating the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU). Its Charter came from the Liberian Draft. Tubman is noted, sixth, for becoming our longest serving President—27 years.
Enter President William R. Tolbert Jr. (1971 to 1980). He founded the National Bank of Liberia (now Central Bank), built multilateral high schools in several counties, started building the first housing estates, boosted Liberia’s coffee and cocoa production and rescued Bong County’s Phebe Hospital from bankruptcy.
There came Samuel K. Doe, our first indigenous Head of State. He built a few highways, including the S.K.D. Boulevard linking Congo Town to Gardnersville and the paved road to the Liberia-Sierra Leone border at Bo Waterside.
After Doe came President Charles Taylor whose National Patriotic Front invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast in December 1989, igniting the 14-year civil war. Taylor was followed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who slowly began rebuilding the infrastructure devastated by the war.
She rebuilt Liberia’s international relations, redeemed Liberia from its US$4 billion debt burden and initiated road reconstruction in Monrovia, highways to Buchanan and the Guinea border, and reconstruction of the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Dam. Several other projects are in the pipeline.
Following her two-term presidency, Liberia is set to elect its 24th President. Will that be Liberia’s D-Day?
First, what was D-Day? It was the landing, on June 6, 1944, of the Allied Forces at Normandy, France, commanded by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, which led to the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. That, in addition to America’s atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, spelled the end of World War II.
Will Liberians elect a President who will, at last, liberate us from many decades of misrule and lead us to economic independence and true development?
Fellow Liberians, let us closely watch, study, and learn about the true character and history of each legislative and presidential candidate and determine who will lead us to D-Day. Are they the ones to deliver Liberia, at long last, from economic dependency and slavery in our own country, and empower us educationally, agriculturally, economically and culturally to create the great nation God has destined us to be?