By Rev. Dr. Samuel E. Vanisea
President Tubman’s Open-Door Policy brought enormous economic growth: For example, the budget rose from $750,000.00 in 1943 to $50 million in 1963 (Liberia’s Open-Door Policy by Lawrence A. Marinelli, 1964). But where did the money go? In this section, we will follow the money. We will focus on education which is the important aspect of development—human resources. But first, a word on his Integration and Unification Policy and how it evolved.
When President Tubman proposed to create a society of mutual respect and equal opportunity for all, many felt it was another empty rhetoric to be soon forgotten. But he took it religiously. He turned to Israel for guidance and support. Almost all the development projects that Israel sponsored in Liberia were meant to enhance Tubman’s Unification Policy. One Israeli historian wrote, “However, the primary assistance which Israel could offer to Liberia related to Tubman’s Unification project.” (Israel and Liberia by Yekutiel Gershoni).
Tubman and the Natives
Historians applauded Tubman’s outreach to the natives. Geneva C. Turner wrote in the Negro History Bulletin in 1962 that Tubman was the first president who showed respect and benevolence toward the natives. He elevated natives to high offices in government and had an advisory council among them. On the corner of McDonald Street and Camp Johnson Road once stood the Native Mansion where native chiefs visiting Monrovia were lodged and treated like dignitaries.
The conservative wing of his own True Whig Party resented his growing popularity with the natives. Natives in high offices created a sense of unease in the party and they would do anything to undermine them. For example, in 1954 former President Edwin Barclay and defectors from the party launched the Independent True Whig Party to oppose Tubman (Historical Dictionary of Liberia by D. Elwood Dunn, Amos J. Beyan, & Carl P. Burrowes, 2001). Their purpose was to reverse Tubman’s policies and keep the natives at bay. Of course, Tubman crushed them. He won back some, but the relationship was by no means normal because he would not abandon the natives. Tubman continued to emphasize unification and integration.
Tubman and Mass Education
The conservatives were relentless still to undermine the natives, so the president needed another strategy to enhance his Unification Policy. That was why and when he pivoted and began to emphasize mass education in the 1950s. He reasoned it was a great idea to appoint natives to high offices, but that would be short-lived if the masses of them remained illiterate. He believed education will empower indigenous people to eventually advocate for themselves in a society where they were economically and politically marginalized.
Mr. Nathaniel Varney Massaquoi, Tubman’s Secretary of Public Education in 1957-1962, explained it like this, “Within the framework of an organized education program, they (the natives) will be able to improve their condition and to develop their own initiative” (The Unification Question and Education in Liberia by Nathaniel V. Massaquoi, 1960).
When Tubman upgraded the former Liberia College to University of Liberia in 1951, he hired Dr. J. Max Bond as president. Dr. Bond was former Educational Advisor for the Republic of Haiti. The president and Dr. Bond made plans to recruit more indigenous students to the university. As a result, in 1952, a Negro History Bulletin commentary on the university stated that, “… the student body is made up not only of sons and daughters of the original settlers … but in fact, the largest portions of students are representatives of all the different tribal groups.”
Researchers viewed Tubman’s mass education program as revolutionary. Emmanuel Boone Waydon, Lui Ying, and Barbara L. Ketter jointly wrote that, “Following economic growth and Tubman’s inclusive policy, schooling in Liberia revolutionized and extension of education for indigenous Liberians ensured” (Free and Compulsory Primary Education Policy in Liberia: Gap Between Promise and Actual Performance, 2016). Mass education would be an expensive undertaking, but the president was resolute, and he dedicated a large portion of his budget to education (The Problem of Mass Education in Liberia by O’Hara Lanier, 1961).
Analysts were stunned that Tubman pumped so much money in education. Before he became president, there were 251 schools (mostly missionary schools), 19,000 students, 500 teachers, and a total budget of $50,000 up to 1944. Under Tubman, the increase was astronomical. By 1967, there were 1,092 schools (mostly government schools), 120,741 students, 3,874 teachers, and an education budget of over $5 million (Liberia: The Dynamics of Continuity by Thomas P. Wrubel, 1971). That amount did not include textbooks and scholarships.
A report in the Journal of Modern Africa (1973) found that from 1966 to 1971, education alone consumed the highest budget expenditure of $30.1 million (over $6 million per year) compared to the total of all other government spending of $26 million for the same period.
Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS)
MCSS was President Tubman’s signature project. There was no structured education program in Liberia till Tubman became president. Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) he reached out to San Francisco State College (SFSC) in California in 1961 to create a school infrastructure and instructional program for Liberia. The goal for the 10-year project can be summarized into four categories: 1. To do away with schools held in private buildings not suited for instruction; 2. To build a school infrastructure and instructional program that meet international standard; 3. To create a school system that has its own secretariat (for less political control); and 4. To meet the need of the growing population of school-age children in Monrovia. For example, Tubman High, G. W. Gibson, and New Port Junior High schools, when they were initially built, they matched most schools currently in the USA. I first entered a well-equipped science laboratory in G. W. Gibson School when I was in the 4th grade. There I first used a microscope. We had a school nurse on campus. Kindergarten to 1st grade received free writing pads, pencils, and books. When I attended Gas School in Bassa Community (K to 3rd grade) we had free meals of buckwheat/rice and gravy or cornbread and Klim milk at least twice a week. Weeks before school began, we went to the Public Health Clinics for full medical checkup and to be vaccinated. All free.
When completed, the MCSS model would be adapted in every county, whereby each county will control its own education system and customize it to its needs.
USAID provided the initial funds over $5 million for the infrastructure and the Liberian government covered operational costs of more than $4 million initially. Additional government spending for MCSS doubled from $494,000.00 in 1963 to $977,000.00 in 1970. Government also set aside extra money for Liberian technicians to be able to replicate the MCSS-style project in other counties without delay. A World Bank report said in 1970, the year before he died, President Tubman’s education expenditure exceeded $13 million (International Funding of Educational Development: …The Case of Liberia, by Joanne Nagel and Conrad W. Snyder, Jr., 1989). Data on MCSS may be accessed through the archives of San Francisco State College in California, USA.
Unfortunately, Tubman died the year MCSS project was to be completed. Disappointingly, under succeeding administrations education budget began to diminish by the millions. MCSS seems to be a lost treasure in Liberia’s education.
We do not have space to discuss healthcare, but it followed the same pattern as education. As a result, by 1971 Liberia was deemed the healthiest country with the lowest death rate of 1.6 percent compared to the rest of West Africa (The Development of Liberia by Louis P. Beleky, 1973). Beginning in 1950 Tubman allocated more than 15% of each year’s budget to healthcare (The Liberian Foundation: Aims and Methods, by Stanley J. Leland).
Growth With Development
In 1960, the Tubman government, through USAID, invited economists Robert W. Clower, George Dalton, Mitchell Harwitz, and Alan. A. Walters to evaluate Liberia’s economy. The survey was done from January 1961 to August 1962 and published in 1966 by Northwestern University Press. The title is “Growth Without Development.” That book has been touted by Tubman’s critics as an indictment. They claim it reveals that Tubman’s economy was selfishly motivated and it did not impact the country in any meaningful way.
I cannot critique the book, just few observations: First, the survey was completed in 1962, nine years before Tubman’s regime ended in 1971. Thus, it is fair to say that the book did not reflect the entire Tubman era. Second, the book has had several peer reviews and almost all of them disavow its conclusion about Liberia. For example, one reviewer concluded, “Another serious fault of Growth without Development is that it is badly out of date. Since all the material in the book dates from 1962 or earlier …” (Growth without Development: An Economic Survey of Liberia. A Review by Paul B. Huber. Published by American Economic Association, 1967).
On the other hand, a comprehensive study of the entire Tubman regime was conducted for The Journal of Modern African Studies in 1973 and published by Cambridge University Press. The title is “The Development of Liberia” by Louis P. Beleky. Here is an excerpt of the conclusion:
“Yet today Liberia is placed by the UN Committee for Planned Development ahead of 25 ‘hard-core’ least-development nations, which include 16 in Africa … In probably every developed country, development began subtly for decades, if not generations, before it accelerated to a rate rapid enough to identify. It can, therefore, be safely said that Liberia has not only been growing but also developing.”
Doubtless, there were missteps during Tubman’s administration. But all things considered, objective data point to “Growth with Development.” Millions of dollars poured into the country, and correspondingly, government buildings and institutions sprung up; roads and hospitals were built and extended to the interior, and jobs were plentiful. Electricity and water systems were put in place and a greater part of the budget was dedicated to education. All that, plus more, was happening for the first time in a 100-year-old nation.
Tubman inherited crippling loans and deficits, plus a city that mirrored plantation-style architecture of the old American South, and a nation drained by internal conflicts. Within two decades he turned all that around and Liberia ascended as a competitive international trade partnership, profiting from the vast expanse of capitalism that pervaded at the time.
He created wealth for the country, and just the same, he spent the wealth on the country. He inherited $1.5 million from his predecessor, and dying, he left over $100 million for his successor. Sadly, many misunderstood him because, according to those who observed his personality, he did not wear his successes and feelings on his face. He kept a balance between power and humility.
St. Paul says one person plants and the other waters. So, the path to Liberia’s future rests squarely on the shoulders of succeeding administrations—how they manage the wealth entrusted to them.
Rev. Dr. Samuel Vansiea is pastor of Joy World Universal Church in Minnesota, USA (though his writings here do not represent the church’s opinion). His email: [email protected]