Reparations: Should Liberia Pay Siblings Of True Whig Party Officials Executed On April 22, 1980?

By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
Sept 15, 2007


The demand for reparations by some siblings of former and current members of the True Whip Party has gone beyond the corridors of power in Liberia into the offices of Liberia’s international partners. Their desire has leapt from the call for an apology (The Perspective, April 5, 2005) to the call for reparations from Liberians (i.e., Liberia’s coffer). The request does disregard the intent of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has yet to delve into verifying documented allegations that culprits other than the military men orchestrated, financed and executed the April 12, 1980 coup. Apparently, in reaction to the call by his opponents, the late Gabriel B. Matthews, who died on September 7, 2007, may his soul rest in peace, also called for reparations for hundreds of poor demonstrators who were killed by government representatives on April 14, 1979. (The Perspective Web Site).

What is reparation? The idea of reparation is for villains to compensate victims for the loss of their inalienable rights such as just compensation for labor, freedom of speech, life, property, etc. The German government and German companies compensating Jewish people who suffered during World War II is an example of reparation. In the United States of America, African Americans are seeking reparations for black-slavery in America.

Would siblings of patriots who protested unfair taxation such as the seven chiefs who were buried alive in Kolahun District, Lofa County in the 1900s also demand reparations? What would be the fate of families of other chiefs who were killed by government soldiers during the Sasstown and Grebo wars? Would siblings of Liberians who President Chares D. B. King sent to the Fernando Po as slaves demand reparations? Or would presidential visits to the burial sites of other indigenous chiefs who were killed by the settlers suffice in lieu of reparations? Interim President Guyde Bryant visited the burial site of the Kolahun’s chiefs in 2005. Or would the appointment of a daughter or grand daughter of President King as Foreign Minister assuage the pains of the Fernando Po slaves’ descendants?

However, the Monrovia-based Liberia’s international partners’ rejection of the siblings’ demand to receive reparations did not end the drive to get reparations, critics of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have argued. Critics assert, rightly or wrongly, that the Sirleaf' government has begun paying cash and non-cash assets to families of the defunct True Whig Party government in lieu of Court ordered reparations. For instance the Sirleaf government is offering lucrative positions in government to former members of the True Whip Party (i.e., a group that represents 5% of the population) as compared to other ethnic groupings in Liberia. Another form of reparation, critics argue, were the relief of tax liabilities owed by Monrovia-landlords and payment in arrears of rent to them.

Amazingly, many siblings and some members of the True Whig Party continue to state publicly, that the military personnel, with assistance from the 70s advocates, executed the April 12, 1980 coup. One wonders why they are making conclusive statement ahead of the investigation of the TRC. Were the events of Aril 12, 1980 possible if the True Whip Party had conducted a free and fair election for the office of Mayor of Monrovia, and provide paramilitary escort for the demonstrators on April 14, 1979? Or why are the siblings not considering the contrary views of experts and testimonies from their kinsmen, including Mrs. Victoria David Tolbert, a widow of the principal target on April 12, 1980? Understandably, one understands why uninformed Liberians would share different views than the actual events of April 12, 1980.

But, it becomes questionable for politicians such as Charles Brumskine, a corporate lawyer who served profiteers in Liberia, a former legal advisor to President Charles Taylor, former Liberian senator of Grand Bassa in the Legislature, and a presidential candidate during the 2005 general elections in Liberia, to conclude that the 70s advocates were responsible for the chaos in Liberia. Following the same logic, I guess that honorable Brumskine also holds the thinking held by some supporters of Samuel Doe that senator Prince Johnson, breakaway rebel leader of Charles Taylor NPFL, was persuasive in luring his archrival, President Samuel Doe to his captured and death. Does he believe that the rebel leader had the resources to have airlifted his fighters, military equipments and hardware from the forest in Nimba County or Bong County to the suburbs of Monrovia, Capital City of Liberia?

Is the call for reparation justified, even if one were to accept such uncollaborative argument that the military men planned, financed and executed the April 12, 1980 coup? Are the proponents of reparation cherry-picking the victims of history? Why not argue for reparations for citizens who died of drinking water from rivers polluted by residues of Firestone latex, or LAMCO iron oil or other citizens who were killed by trucks carrying logs of logging companies, etc?

Well some Liberians believe that failed policies did not only breed violence, but that they killed many Liberians. For example, unlike candidate Brumskine, H.E. Milton Nathaniel Barnes, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Liberia to the United Nations during the Liberian 160 Independence Day Celebration held by the Staten Island Liberian Community Association stated that members of the True Whig Party promoted illiteracy, poverty, and inhumanity through acts of tyranny, impunity, and practice of lies, deceit, injustice, corruption, and ineptness.

Surely, President Sirleaf and her kinsmen acknowledge that failed policies killed more people in Liberia. They are also aware that it is not the absence of resources, but rather the mismanagement of Liberia's natural resources such as gold, diamonds and iron ore as well as an extensive exploitation of tropical timber, etc that made the events of anarchy and the civil war inevitable in the first place.

So why are President Sirleaf and her kinsmen asking for reparations on behalf of former leaders who created the environment that contributed to the violence in Liberia? Politically, calling for reparations does not only reward their constituents, but it also rallies the political base. Additionally, if only honest leaders speak the truth, especially if such truths were already uttered by their opponents, would it not be politically suicidal for President Sirleaf and her kinsmen to state the truths of the root causes of our problems? As we say "well done" and good by to comrade Matthews, let us also appreciate him for bringing to light the issue of reparation, although politics and greed might necessitate its reappearance.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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