“We Are Still Our Brother’s and Sister’s Keepers”

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Celebrating July 26th, 2021

By Justin V. Kollie

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female; He created them…” Genesis Chapter 1, verses 1 & 27.

All of planet earth’s inhabitants are upper deck passengers travelling through the universe at a speed of 1.3 million miles per hour. They can neither slow down earth’s velocity, change the direction of its rotation nor steer it away from collisions against other celestial bodies. Humankind’s common destiny, therefore, lies in the hands of God Almighty, who created and set the cosmos in motion

In Willie Schulze’s “A New Geography of Liberia” published in 1973, we read that between 1000 and 1820 AD, African families from North and Central Africa, fleeing religious expansionism and political repression arrived into the present area of Liberia, formerly known as the Grain Coast.

They included the Mel (Gola & Kissi) the Kwa (Dei, Bassa, Kru, Krahn, Sapo & Grebo) the Mande-Fu (Kpelle, Gio, Mano & Loma), the Mande-Tan (Vai & Mende) and former African slaves from the Americas returning to the land of their forebears also in search of freedom and nationhood.

While Britain, France, Spain and Portugal, successfully invaded different parts of the world employing the principle of divide and conquer to establish colonial rule, our ancestors, with a “can’t touch this” philosophy, fought vehemently to ensure that the Grain Coast remained a haven for people of color seeking refuge from political exploitation and social degradation.

Like a beacon of hope or a statute of liberty the inhabitants of the Grain Coast must have called out: “…Give us your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

It was this yearning for freedom and nationhood, which led to Liberia’s founding, thus blazing the trail for Africa’s liberation from colonial rule. Today, because we have collectively inhabited this land, formerly called the Grain Coast, since 1000 AD, we can proudly celebrate our 800th year as the “Grain Coast” and our 174th year as the Republic of Liberia.

Now there may be some Liberian cynics, who would ask the following question: 

“If we inhabited and governed this land for eight hundred years before Liberia was declared independent in 1847, why was there a lack of technical & social infrastructure like potable water, electricity, highways, bridges, elementary, middle & high schools, vocational schools, poly-technical colleges & universities, hospitals and health care facilities up to that point?”

Our answer would be to acknowledge the absence of social and technical infrastructure, but to praise our ancestors who, in the first 800 years of our existence kept the Grain Coast out of the realm of British and French West Africa, thereby paving the way for an independent Liberia whose inhabitants can proudly boast today of never to have been a European colony.

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Liberia, as the first independent nation on the continent, established by people of color, shares a similar history with the nation of Haiti, which is the first independent nation on the continent of the Americas, established by people of color.

In the midst of the French revolution of 1789-1799, slaves and free people of color, lead by the Toussaint Louverture launched the Haitian Revolution from 1791–1804, during which Napoleon’s forces were defeated, thereby  leading to the Haitian declaration of independence in  1804; the first country to abolish slavery and the only state in the Americas established by a successful slave revolt.

Inspired by the success of the Haitian revolution, Nat Turner, a slave born in Virginia, USA, decided to put an end to the southern myth that “slaves were either contented with their lot or too timid to mount an armed revolt” by launching a campaign to capture Jerusalem’s Armory and mount a black  liberation movement against slavery. Although unsuccessful, Turner’s bold move., together with the successful Haitian revolution inadvertently led to America’s quest for the repatriation of former slaves to the West Coast of Africa with the intention of establishing a colony controlled by the USA.

However, according to a renowned 20th Century American human rights activists, there were two kinds of slaves in the USA at the time: The house slave and the field slave. The house slave lived next to his master, in the attic or the basement, ate good food, which the master’s left, wore good clothes and indentified with his master so that if the master’s got sick he’d ask “what happened boss, we sick? And he prayed that his master got well. If anyone asked that house slave to separate from his master he’d say, man you’re crazy. What do you mean by separate? Where can I get better food than here; where can I wear better clothes than here? That was the mind set of the house slave.

Now out there in the fields was the field slave. He caught hell. He lived in the barns next to the animals, worked in the field from sun up until sun set and was beaten. He hated his master. When his master got sick, he prayed that he died. If his master’s house caught fire, he prayed for a wind to fan the flames. If anyone asked the field slave to separate, he’d say yes, any place is better then here. That was the mind set of the field slave.

Liberia’s Declaration of Independence of Liberia was inspired by field slaves who fought for  separation and self determination. The US government only recognized Liberia after 16 years of unsuccessful attempts to reverse the course of events; however, with the intention to divide and control, as successfully implemented by France, Britain, Portugal, Spain in the post-colonial socio-political & economic control. of their former colonies.

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While Liberia’s Declaration of Independence may have further cemented the stance of our ancestor to keep Liberia free from external colonial rule, today, Liberia is still plagued  internally from the institutionalized “politics of exclusion” practiced by a succession of governments, oblivious to the pressing needs of its people. It’s high time we realized that Liberia cannot eliminate divisions and foster peace with itself, while operating on less than 25% of its human resource potential.

  • Take a look into the eyes of that child on the back of its mother at a market stall in Duala, and you would see a Liberian precious jewel yearning to be in a daycare facility, while its mother earns a living selling groceries.
  • Take a look at the hand of that boy or girl selling cold water or kool-aid on the sidewalks and you would see a future Liberian leader yearning to be in a school with adequate library and science laboratory facilities to prepare him or her for a more responsible future.
  • Take a look at Liberian ladies selling fruits and vegetables on the sidewalks before expatriate supermarkets, and you would see Liberian entrepreneurs yearning for a government underwritten franchise to catapult them from the rainy sidewalks into a supermarket owned and operated by them.
  • Take a look at the hands of Liberians in search of scrap metal to smelt and form into utensils and you would see the signs of industrialists yearning for a space in a vocational school.
  • Take a look at the muscular statue of a fisherman in a dugout canoe, braving the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, fishing for barracudas and cavallas, and you would see a Liberian yearning for a government underwritten loan to purchase a motorboat to ensure a bigger catch and more capital for investing in his own cold-storage facilities.

We have the potential of transforming Liberia into a highly skilled and developed society if we replaced the “politics of exclusion” with the “politics of inclusion” and placed national interests above self aggrandizement thus,

  • lifting Liberia from poverty by streamlining government; believe in building; not wrecking; believing in bridging our differences; not deepening them.
  • decentralizing government and economic development through the creation of semi-autonomous political subdivisions, to be called “regions”, where local leaders are not appointed by the central government but rather elected by the residents of the respective regions.
  • committing ourselves to term limits in government i.e. 5-non-consecutive years for the president; 5 non-consecutive years for senators; 5 non-consecutive years for legislators and 4 non-consecutive years for superintendents and mayors giving all Liberians, once in their life time, the opportunity to become elected officials such as president, vice president, senator, legislator, superintendents and mayor by not having to run against incumbents
  • forging a new Liberia where Liberians shall no longer stand on the side lines and watch but rather actively participate in Liberia’s economic activities.
  • promoting a new Liberia in which economically empowered Liberian businessmen and women shall exclaim: “Our businesses are in Liberia; our bank accounts are in Liberia; and our hearts are in Liberia.”
  • reforming our educational system to adjust to the effects covid-19 is having on the world’s education sector by restructuring an antiquated system of 6 year primary, 2 year middle, 4 year high school and 4 year undergrad into a more avant garde  system of 3 year primary, 2 year middle, 3 year high school and 3 year undergrad thereby harnessing the superb skills of  today’s  youth propelled by instant internet access to knowledge , so that by age 17, young Liberian adults are equipped to take on meaningful challenges in this changed world.

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Even after 974 years, we have lots of catching up to do. It is therefore a disservice to our people when we are being deceived by some advisors “on the outside” to hold back on a lot of crucial projects under the deceptive tactics of conducting “feasibility” study after study, or what Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as the paralysis of analysis.”

Those advisors would do well if they had their home countries purchase finished products like school desks, chairs and baseball bats made of Liberian hard wood instead of giving us “hand outs” in the form of aid.  How about having clothing sewn in Liberia for export to US based Old Navy, the Gap, Sears, Macys, JC Penny and  H&M outlets  instead of  “donating” mosquito nets, blankets antiquated text books and mini generators? 

We’d like to see containers unloaded at Liberian ports of entry, being re-loaded with sawn lumber, such as 2 x 4’s, 2 x 6’s, and 2 x 12’s for home construction in the USA and Europe. When one accepts handouts, one does not create jobs here on the home front but if one traded in finished or semi-finished products, one would have added value to said exports,  created jobs and provided a decent living and finances for Liberians.

But if “traditional friends on the outside” insist on “aiding” Liberia, let it be in the form of “Restitution and Reparations” instead of “humiliating handouts”. In that regard, may these famous lines from Liberia’s declaration of independence in 1847 always remind us of  slavery’s inhumane conditions in the USA which led people of color to return to the land of their forebears on West Africa’ Grain Coast, in search of freedom and nationhood:

  • We were excluded from all participation in government.
  • We were taxed without our consent.
  • We were compelled to contribute to the resources of a country that gave us no protection.
  • We were made a separate and distinct class, and against us every avenue of improvement was effectively closed. Strangers from other lands, of a color different from ours, were preferred before us.
  • We uttered our complaints, but they were unattended to, or only met by alleging the peculiar institutions of the country.
  • All hope of a favorable change was thus wholly extinguished in our bosoms, and we looked with anxiety for some asylum from the deep degradation.
  • The western coast of Africa (the grain coast) was the place selected for our future home, where, removed beyond those influences which oppressed us…, it was hoped we would be enabled to enjoy those rights and privileges and exercise and improve those faculties which the God of nature has given us in common with the rest of mankind”

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Liberia must therefore petition the United States Government for Restitution and Reparations on behalf of the 20,000 former African American slaves, who returned to Africa between 1822 and 1847. Among them was Hannah Lewis, a thirty-three-year-old single mother and her seven children, ages 1 thru 13, fathered by her slave master, Adam Naustedler, whom she served while being held in captivity as a domestic slave in Petersburg, Virginia.

Although Adam Naustedler cannot be prosecuted for the atrocities committed against Hannah and her children, Liberia must hold the US government accountable and responsible for condoning institutionalized slavery and allowing such crimes against humanity on its soil.

In 1988, the one-hundredth congress of the United States passed into law the so-called” Wartime relocation Act”. In said act, each of the over 60,000 Japanese Americans wrongfully incarcerated by the U.S. Government during the second world war from, 1940 – 1945, is entitled to receive $20,000 (Twenty thousand U.S. Dollars) as restitution for this inhumane treatment of its citizens.  President Reagan in remarks during the signing of the bill said: ” Here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law”.

If Japanese-Americans are being compensated for “incarceration” then those 20,000 African Americans who worked without wages, from 1776 to 1847 as slaves/chattels in the fields and factories of the United States, from “can’t see” in the morning to “can’t see” in the evenings and later immigrated to the Grain Coast, West Africa in search of freedom and nationhood are also entitled to restitution and compensation from the government of the United States.

At the rate of $4,000 (Four thousand U.S. Dollars) per year (using the rate paid to Japanese Americans in the Wartime Relocation Act of 1988), each African American immigrant to Liberia is entitled to receive $284,000 (Two hundred and eightyfour thousand U.S. Dollars)  for the seventy one-years of unpaid labor from 1776 (US Declaration of Independence) to 1847 (Liberia’s declaration of Independence).

This means that the government of the United States owes the government of Liberia, on behalf of those 20,000 (twenty thousand) immigrants a total of $5,680,000,000 (Five billion, six hundred eighty million U.S. Dollars) .

With this amount of money in hand,  a third (1/3) should go to the families of African American immigrants, another third (1/3) to the families of African-African families who were victims of the “politics of exclusion” in Liberia from 1847 thru 1980,  and the final third (1/3) or $1,893,144,000 (One billion, eight hundred ninetythree million, one hundred fortyfour thousand U.S. Dollars) should be used by the Liberian government for extensive reconstruction and infrastructural development throughout this land, thus catapulting Liberia from a developing country into an emerging industrialized one.

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As we rebuild our nation, let us be cognizant of geopolitical/neocolonial roadblocks we must overcome.  Under the guise of fostering “democracy” multinational corporations make campaign contributions to all political parties and candidates running for offices, so that no matter which party wins,  multinationals determine “who goes to the white house and who stays in the dog house” .

These elected governments and officials, controlled by multinationals, may use their power to infiltrate our political system and install stooges (modern-day slave overseers} as leaders to continue the exploitation of our natural resources and abuse of our human resources,  reminiscent of colonial Africa.

Within our countries, external governments may recruit and use local news media executives, national legislature members, civil society executives, non-government organizations or NGO’s executives and members of the military (sworn to protect and defend our countries from foreign enemies)  to carry out an agenda which selfishly fills their pockets with money to the detriment of entire nations and their citizens..

Here are some 20th century victims of such diabolical foreign interference and internal betrayal:

  • African Nationalist Congo’s Patrice Lumumba (1960 overthrown, assassinated and replaced by Army General Joseph Mobutu)
  • African Nationalist Ghana’s Kwayme Nkrumah (1966 overthrown, exiled and replaced by Army General Joseph Ankra)
  • African Nationalist Nigeria’s Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1966 overthrown, assassinated and replaced by Army General  Yakubu Gowan)
  • African Nationalist South Africa’s Nelson Mandela (1967 arrested and jailed for 27 years)  
  • African Nationalist Liberia’s William R. Tolbert (1980 overthrown, assassinated and replaced by Army Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe)
  • African Nationalist Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara (1987 overthrown, assassinated and replaced by Blaise Compaore)

These modern-day overseers revise history by parroting and cherry-picking what their “facilitators”  want to hear, such as amplifying  Liberia’s 1930 labor crises and “politics of exclusion”, while glossing over atrocities like the 1885 – 1908 genocide (10 million murders) carried out  by Belgium’s King Leopold II against the Congolese people.

The 19th-20th century draconian limb severing acts committed by Belgium against  Congolese men, woman and children as a way of enforcing quotas,  bear a strange similarity to the limb severing methods employed by 20th-century blood diamond extractors, against Sierra Leonean men, women and children to enforce quotas for increased exports to Antwerp/Belgium, the center of worldwide diamond trading. Mindful of these overseers, we must be vigilant and expose their treachery together with their facilitators, the great pretenders, posing as  “friends with handouts” while covertly sowing the seeds of discord and conflict thru divisive rhetoric aimed at undermining and destroying our cultural fabric. We must reject these pretenders by embracing our diversity and celebrating ourselves as trailblazers of African liberation because “…we are still our brother’s and sister’s keepers.“

References

Referencing Liberian/Grain Coast Heritage:
Author Willi Schulze (1973)“A new Geography of Liberia”
Referencing Haitian Independence:Author Claudia Sutherland (1975)“Haitian Revolution” 
Referencing Restitution & Reparations:Public Law 100-383100th Congress of the United States (1988)(Americans of Japanese Ancestry Incarceration)
Referencing Belgium’s King Leopold II:Author Roger Anstey (1971) “The Congo Rubber Atrocities”African Historical Studies

Referencing Slavery in the USA:Autobiography of “El Hajj Malik Shabazz” (1965)

2 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Kollie,
    In my humble opinion, you did a pretty good research. The issues that have been raised in your research are complex, educational and somehow controversial.

    You’ve briefly written about the three major tribes of the Grain Coast and their derivatives. I am curious to know why the Mandingo tribe was not mentioned. Were the Mandingos not one of the inhabitants of the Grain Coast?

    In direct response to whether “we” are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, I think we are morally duty-bound to look after the affairs of the weak and poor amongst us. But in many ways, it seems that we (the leaders of the country) have abandoned the responsibility to help one another all because of selfishness and greed.

    In The Beginning:
    From 1847-1980, the Anerico-Liberians who governed Liberia were mean-spirited, racist and unpatriotic. For instance, whereas the Americo-Liberians were born in Liberia, they classified themselves as “non-natives”. (While visiting Chicago many years ago, a girl became abusive when she was referred to as a naive-born Liberian. She responded, “who you calling native, me? I beg you yah”.)

    From 1980 up to now….
    There’s a different kind of leadership in Liberia. It still seems that in many ways, the weak and poor are not being taken care of properly. In the fullest sense, we are not doing what needs to be done. Example, the lawmakers of Liberia earn exorbitant salaries, but public school students do not have their full set of textbooks.

    Hopefully, we will get there someday.
    No one will do it for us. The responsibility to take care of our brothers and sisters rests on our shoulders.

  2. Mr. Kollie,

    Thank you for your “carefully” researched contribution. From your concluding statement, “we are still our brothers and sisters’ keepers”, in the Liberian parlance, allow me to tell you that you have done your best.
    Are you sure we are still our brothers and sisters’ keepers? I hope it could be the case.

    Few observations on your essay

    1. The Grain Coast
    The Grain Coast was not birthed by people fleeing religious expansionism and political repression but by Portuguese Explorers who first named it the (Malagueta) Pepper Coast, then the Grain Coast before becoming Mesurado and today known as Liberia.
    The land was inhabited before the arrival of refugees from the various wars of the conquests and rules of the different empires (Songhai, Mali, Ghana, Benin, etc.) we have studied in African history.

    2. The House Slaves and the Field Slaves
    According to your essay hereof, the “House Slave” was obedient to his master and could not dare separate from the latter, while the “Field Slave” was eager to do so, by even bewitching his master bad omens for the treatment inflicted upon such slave. You conclude that the Declaration of Independence of Liberia was inspired by field slaves.
    What do you want me to retain from this conclusion? That the founders of Liberia will always wish evil or destruction for their slave masters (the USA)? If this is what you meant, it’s not really the case. They were rather making the indigenous people their slaves, and some do not still respect the indigenous people to date (in 2021).

    3. Restitution and Reparations
    The Europeans and Americans have started restituting some of our artifacts. There are thousands of them out there for African governments to recuperate, are they doing it? Our governments prefer those artifacts staying in Europe for people to visit them and then we get the money, why?

    You pay reparations to a people who would scientifically evaluate the damage suffered and then get paid to effectively make up for the damages caused. Who do you want the Americans to pay reparations to?
    – To the 20, 000 settlers? And those who were left orphans, single, as widow and widowers? Your proposal is selfish, and so you cannot even get any serious western government to evaluate the merits and demerits of your claims.
    – To the indigenous people? Can you quantified the damage done to them since 1822, when the slaves were disembarked on the Mesurado Coast?
    – To the government? Do you have trusted governments? Or would you like the Americans to come and invest such amount for you in your own economy (spoon feeding of babies)?

    My take
    Liberians should have the audacity to look around before pointing accusing fingers all the time. Ghana obtained independence in 1960, can you compare any hamlet or village or town or city in Ghana with Liberia? Can you do the same with Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, little Togo and Benin, Mali, Senegal, etc.? Did these countries get any reparations for the slaves that were taken from their coasts?
    Liberians were the first people to have access to the developed world (USA, Great Britain, Portugal, etc.), what did we do with such exposures?

    Liberians, we are our own enemies!
    Let’s try to reconcile ourselves with ourselves, then try to imitate young countries around us to do things like them.
    The USA can give $2 trillion to Liberia every year and for a period of 10 years, we will still not develop Liberia if we continue to think that you must be a football star to rule, or a strongman (the most ruthless killer) or the best rogue (the most corrupt) or a super macho (the one who wins over more women).
    If the USA can pay $2 trillion to Liberia every year, $1.99 will return to the same US treasury every year.

    The USA paid reparations to Japan because
    1. It wronged Japan;
    2. Japan contributes immensely to the world economy;
    3. The people of Japan are proud of their race and origin, and so they always return to where they belong;
    4. The Japanese work in the interests of their country and future generations.

    Dear Liberians, vote morally clean and educated people who will prioritize EDUCATION (from primary to university, not forgetting standard polytechnic and revamped vocational institutions), then develop love for yourselves as human beings created by God by going back to your hamlets, villages, towns and cities to start something sustainable for the rest of the family. Let our ‘word’ be our ‘bond’, Liberians have become killers, liars, rogues and hypocrites; these are NOT Christian values!

    I pray for all Liberians to objectively diagnose the plagues of the country and stop shifting blames!

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