Mr. Dolleh is correct: Americo-Liberians became the ruling class upon Liberia’s independence. But being a very small portion of the general population, they had to boost their standings by forming a coalition of a privileged class --- this elite class extended far beyond the actual Americo-Liberian clan. The elite of the new Liberia thereby included people from the Caribbean, returned captives mainly from the Congo basin, and other emigrants from neighboring West African countries --- Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Sierra Leone, for example. But most significantly, this elite ruling class eventually included members of the indigenous tribes of Liberia, especially those of the coastal tribes, to whom assimilation seemed a safe alternative after brief skirmishes and outright hostility.
Yes, for political expediency, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the Americo-Liberian is the sole culprit in what is gone wrong with Liberia. In reality, that is a far cry from the truth. The fact is, a combination of factors has added up to lead us to this present juncture in history. Let us delve a little deeper.
Before 1980, it was a commonly held fallacy to observe that there were two only groups of people in Liberia --- the Americo-Liberians and the native/indigenous Liberians. One led and enjoyed all the privileges and the other was kept in subjugation. On the face of it, that fallacy seemed so true it was accepted without further analyses. But we’ve since come to realize how over-simplistic and misleading that theory was. Have we learned anything since April 12, 1980? In the name of intellectual honesty, shouldn’t we be discussing our real issues, instead of our perceived problems?
The group of enlisted officers that led the military coup that overthrew the elected government of William R. Tolbert came from various sub- groups of the Liberian indigene. The coup leaders declared one key mission: to correct all those deleterious conditions of the body politic Mr. Dolleh so meticulously recalls: “Subjugation, oppression, discrimination, corruption, nepotism and the inhumane treatment of the indigenous people with impunity…”
One has to be quiet naïve or totally dishonest to dismiss the reality that has occurred in Liberia since the fateful military coup of 1980. The indigenous soldiers that promised to lift the oppressed masses to redemption actually made matters worse; much worse. I shall not bore you with details we all already know but, things did fall apart. Our so-called redeemers, who called themselves “The People’s Redemption Council”, turned the country into Animal Farm a la George Orwell.
There was no redemption of anybody. As a matter of fact, the country went from one senseless civil war to another. By the time it was over, about 250,000 (according to popular estimates) died and tens of thousands became displaced. The country almost ceased to be a sovereign state, coming so close to absolute extinction.
Again, here is our reality check: The vast majority of those who killed and were killed were indigenous Liberians. The Krahns killed the Gios and vice versa; the Krahns killed the Mandingoes and vice versa; all others joined forces with these large, warring groups either in complete solidarity or for mere survival. Just ask the Grebo people of River Gee and Maryland who took the war and carnage to them and devastated their environment. Ask the Lormas of Zorzor who burned their city and destroyed precious lives. Ask the ordinary resident of Monrovia about his/her terrible war-time experience… They’ll tell you.
Since 1980 we have come to realize that Liberians are deeply ingrained with tribal and natural instincts which propel them to climb to upper rungs of the national ladder, even at the expense of their fellowman. Now to be told that all these tribal groups need to work in solidarity against their old nemesis (the Americo-Liberian) to achieve political control of the country is a bit unconvincing. After these last twenty-five years or so, have we learned anything at all? Or are we simply determined to overlook the reality of our times?
Mr. Dolleh quotes Momoh Dudu: “Well over 60% of her cabinet level positions are manned by the Americos who, according to our last census, make up only 5% of the population.” Upon closer scrutiny, some of those on the list actually hail from various sectors of the indigenous population; they cannot directly trace their ancestry to America. The gentleman is under the illusion that if one sports a Western surname, he/she must be an Americo-Liberia.
This proves my point: The Americo-Liberia clan has expanded into a social class, too expansive to ignore. Rightfully, its members should be welcome under the new Liberian leadership. It is unmeritorious for someone to acquire and hold a public position solely based on his name or social origin. It was wrong then, it is wrong now; discrimination is unfair, no matter who sponsors it. Being named Smith or Cooper should not give one an advantage over another individual named Mamadee or Kollie; but the reverse should not be true as well.
Mr. Dolleh, I’ll like to draw your attention to another fast-pacing sector of the Liberian population. Many Liberians now hold US citizenship but still fight hard to retain their Liberian identity. Many of these, including legal and illegal residents have children in these United States. By birth, the children born here are Americans, but being our children, they are Liberians as well. In short, the ranks of Americo-Liberians are growing rapidly.
But the crux of this article is not to paint a glowing picture of Americo-Liberians as good leaders or even good neighbors. And this certainly is not a testimony for the great leadership of President Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf. On the contrary, I do agree that some of the appointments made by Madam Sirleaf cause some great concerns. I agree that the president is picking from a rather narrow and selective pool to fill vacancies to run the government. I would conjecture that the prospective professional pool is much larger than she is using. The fault may be attributed to her narrow inner circle, but the ultimate responsibility is hers; I’m quite sure she’s aware of that.
Some of her appointees have long past their glory days and cannot help this administration to move forward because they lack the vision and the skills necessary to lead in today’s dynamic and challenging global atmosphere; some are simply miss-placed. In short, I too challenge the president’s vision on a number of positions taken in the recent past. I say in this public space, ‘I’m a bit disappointed by the turn of events.’ (I shall elaborate at the appropriate time).
In conclusion, I must most emphatically state that I disagree with your so-called “clarion call for solidarity among natives.” What we need are genuine, innovative leaders with the vision, ability and desire to lead the country in a wholesome way. It would be counter-productive to use ethnicity or name origin (Native or Western) as litmus test to determine leadership. Discrimination can never be justified and dignified. We need to continue to search for diverse teams of leaders who will bring different levels of expertise and track records. Above all, we need to continue to search for leaders whose utmost priority and vision will be to resurrect Liberia --- to make Liberia a pluralistic and inclusive society with justice, equality and liberty for all.
© 2007 by The Perspective
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