His Excellency, President George M. Weah
Republic of Liberia
Dear Mr. President,
I want to personally congratulate you on becoming president of our “Land of Glorious Liberty.” It is no doubt you love the country and it seems you have a vision to transform it for the better. Your presidency gives hope, especially to the young people, many of whom are disadvantaged in various ways. Your struggles and successes at home and abroad make you a good role model. I can identify with you to some extent. I was born in a village in Grand Bassa County and grew up in Buzzy Quarters and Capitol Hill in Monrovia. I used to play soccer bare-footed like you did growing up, but you surpassed me. I never made it to any team beyond Capitol Hill. I too have been blessed as a minister. I will keep you and your family in my prayers for good health and prosperity. I really want you to succeed. That is why I am writing this letter to you.
Your inaugural speech on January 22, 2018 was great. You addressed some of the core issues the country faces. Just prior to the speech, you raised your hand before God and the people and solemnly swore to “Uphold and Defend” the constitution of the Republic of Liberia. Then within few days, on January 29th, in your annual message at the Capital you condemned the same constitution you promised to “Uphold and Defend.” You labeled it as RACIST all because of a clause that allows citizenship to people of Negro descent only. It is that early departure from the oath you took that prompted the writing of this letter. I thought you went too far, Mr. President. Here are my reasons:
RACISM has everything to do with hatred and degradation of another human being primarily because of the color of his or her skin. Its aim is to dehumanize and degrade another race on the assumption that they are not real human beings. In the Americas black people were called the inferior race, hapless, and wretched creatures. It was that belief that got black people into slavery in the Americas for centuries.
Apartheid South Africa was a recent example of “RACISM” in Africa. There white people thought themselves to be superior and black people inferior. A black man was not allowed to sit at the same table where a white man sat. Blacks were forced to drink from dirty fountains while white people drink from clean fountains. White people trained their children to shoot black people as targets in the streets. Black lives did not matter at all and no laws protected them—all because of their skin color. They were slaves in their own country. That is RACISM, to say the least.
So, Mr. President, when did Liberian people ever come close to treating non-Negros like that? When did a Liberian man or woman refuse to shake a white man’s hand because of the color of his skin. To the contrary, don’t we respect white people more in Libera? Look around and compare where non-Negros live and where Liberian people live—who is getting the best part of the country? Aren’t we, as a nation most hospitable to foreigners than to our own? Don’t they currently enjoy the best part of our economy?
In this modern world, “RACISM” is a curse that undermines any civil institution. Therefore, by labeling the constitution RACIST you undermined the very principle for which the nation was established. Here’s why:
The Necessity of the Negro-Only clause
The “Negro-only” clause was placed in the constitution not primarily to serve a political or economic function; neither was it meant to show that Negros are superior and other people are inferior. The clause was meant to be a monument that speaks to the root of Negro history that brought Liberia into existence. Prior to 1847, Negro men and women were violently removed from Africa to serve as beasts of burden in the fields and plantations of white people in the Americas. With the help of certain white philanthropists some Negros got freed but were denied opportunity for growth and success in the Americas. A statement attributed to Lott Carey makes the point:
“We are Africans, and in the United States, however meritorious our conduct, or respectable our character, we cannot receive the credit due to either. Therefore, we wish to dwell in a country where we shall be estimated by our merit, and not by our complexion.”
Therefore, the American Colonization Society was formed to take free black people away from America back to Africa.
The detractors argued that Negros are inferior humans and are not capable of providing good governance to manage a wholesome and thriving society. Some non-Negros still hold that view today. They predicted that a Negro nation (Liberia) will eventually fail and bow to non-Negros. Since that time the detractors continue to do everything to undermine the prosperity of the republic.
Those who supported the repatriation to Africa argued that the Negros will prove to the world that they can provide good governance and will create a wholesome and functioning society. Therefore, while the rest of Africa struggled under the yoke of colonialism, Liberia was founded as an experiment to showcase that the Negro can create and maintain a nation. Our forebears and framers of the constitution prayed for their goal to be realized and for the nation to succeed. They spent not only their sweat, but their blood on that belief.
Therefore the “Negro only” clause was placed in the constitution as a philosophy of faith, hope and belief in the resilience of black people. It was a strategy to protect that belief and the people. It was that dream that inspired our founders to fight for the freedom and independence of other African nations.
Therefore, when we repeal that clause under the guise of attracting non-Negros to help develop and strengthen our nation, we would have proven the detractions right. We will send the message that we have failed to manage the affairs of the state (Your administration will be saying to the watching world that you are not able to withstand the tests of time, to walk where your predecessors walked, and to protect the integrity of Negro history). We will affirm to our own shame that the Negro race does not have the know-how to manage a functioning society. Our ancestors will scream in their graves with shame and regrets that their struggles were in vain. Their souls would cry out, “It would have been better if we had remained in slavery,” all because the Negro republic has failed.
Joseph Jenkins Roberts, our first president, in his first inaugural address in 1847 reflected on that very subject and said if the state should thus fail, then “We should return to slavery, hug our chains, and become by-word and reproach among nations” because every belief and faith in the Negro race to lead a prosperous society would have been destroyed. All of that make the “Negro-only” clause to be necessary now as it was then.
Liberia Is A Unique Case
The American Colonization Society in its annual board meeting in January 1889 observed that Liberia “stands in interesting contrast to every other agency of Africa’s upbuilding.”
Most Black African countries that have non-Negro citizens were once colonial properties. We were not. The citizenship of white people in those countries represents the shadows of their once white colonial masters. Our founders had white masters as well, but not in Liberia. Though we, like other nations, rely on international partnership for growth and development, we should not do so at the expense of our historical and constitutional integrity.
You Are Not the First President to Attack the Constitution
You are not the first president to attack those ideals in the constitution. In 1904 President Arthur Barclay who originated from the West Indies was pressed with economic issues and desired to seek aids from Great Britain. He condemned the “Negro-Only” philosophy as “Selfish” and argued that the inclusion of non-Negros into government will strengthen the independence and development of Liberia.
In 1907, the president pushed to alter the constitution to allow non-Negros to serve in his government. The legislature approved his suggestions in 1908 and the Liberian Frontier Force was created (that evolved as Armed Forces of Liberia). The president was set to implement his reform. He appointed an English man, Major R. Mackay Cadell as the first commander of the Frontier Force. Major Cadell was assisted by British officers and Sierra Leoneans. The president went further and put Liberia’s custom services under the directorship of British officers. The British Consul accredited to Liberia at that time was Braithwaite Wallis.
By 1909 Cadell and Wallis had engineered a clandestine operation that brought Liberia very close to losing her independence and sovereignty to become a British Colony. Thank goodness for French and American operations in Liberia at the time that saved the day. Gordon Haliburton, quoting another writer, Mr. R. L. Buell (from American sources) said this about Major Cadell:
“That a munity of the Frontier Force took place on 1 February 1909, following the arrival of a British gunboat on 31 January. . . He plainly intimates that this mutiny was intended to overthrow the Liberian Government and lead to the proclamation of a British Protectorate.”
The incident was referred to as the “Cadell Incident” in Liberian history. There is no evidence the British government authorized or endorsed the action of the two British officers.
President Barclay was embarrassed by the crisis and blamed it on Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden and the Kru and Grebo people because they presented the strongest opposition against his policies. Notwithstanding, the president quietly ordered all British and non-Negros to withdraw from the Liberian government and leave the country. His orders were carried out.
President William V. S. Tubman came close to, though not exactly, a similar fate. His unfavorable land sale and business deals with the American con businessman Landsdell K. Christie drew sharp resentment from within and without his government. The president was accused of “selling the country” to foreigners. He fought back and condemned the “Negro-only” policy as a “narrow and selfish and strangulating policy.” But eventually he succumbed and renegotiated his contract with Christie. In 1955 the president cleverly campaigned on his “Open Door Policy” that would attract foreign businesses without infringing on the constitution.
You Can Make It
If non-Negros in and outside Liberia argue that they will not support your development initiatives unless you make them citizens, then they are selfish and have ulterior motives. They are taking your goodwill for granted and leading you to failure. People can invest in countries where they are not citizens. The solution to our problems is good governance, empowerment of citizens, etc. The Liberian people have faith in you and voted for you, believing you can accomplish those tasks. You can make it Mr. President. There is no need to deconstruct the constitution and destroy its historical significance.
We already have more complications that will take time to resolve, thus we cannot afford to add another one to it. Already in our own country we are poorer and they (non-Negros) are richer. We have lots of unresolved land cases. What will happen when wealthy non-Negros become citizens, purchase land, and maneuver their way into government? When that happens, our people will become poorer and homeless which will spark another major crisis down that road. Mr. President, you do not want that to be your legacy.
Rev. Dr. Samuel E. Vansiea
Dr. Samuel E. Vansiea has been a minister for over 30 years. He graduated from the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, CWA Junior College, Mano River Union Telecommunications Institute in Sierra Leone, and St. Patrick’s High School in Monrovia. He earned his graduate and post graduate degrees from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Bethel University in Minnesota USA. He was Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church on Tubman Boulevard, Monrovia. He is currently Senior Pastor of Joy World Universal Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He is married and has four children. Email: [email protected]