Understanding the Case for Reparations and Other Claims

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
Sept 18, 2007


I want to thank Comrade J. Yanqui Zaza for many of his past articles presented in this forum and elsewhere. Many of his writings have been thought-provoking, forcing many of us to view issues through a different set of lenses. That is good for those of us who advocate for pluralism and inclusiveness in the new Liberia. However, in his latest article on reparations, Mr. Zaza raises more questions than he answers. He leaves the reader befuddled by applying ambiguous terminology and making dubious claims.

In his title and opening sentence, Mr. Zaza uses the word “siblings” in a rather perplexing way. The American Heritage Dictionary defines sibling as: “one of two or more individuals having one or both parents in common; a brother or sister.” Webster’s gives a similar definition. But it seems as though Mr. Zaza uses the term interchangeably with the word “descendant”. Are they, in fact, synonyms? Does the word sibling refer to one’s child or offspring, as opposed to one’s brother or sister?

The distinction is quite necessary for the sake of clarity. The Tolbert brothers, Willie and Frank were killed in the incident described. Their other sibling, Steve, predeceased them. According to records, to my knowledge, they have no surviving siblings. I also doubt if Messrs. Richard Henries, J. A. A. Pierre, or J. Chesson and others had surviving siblings. That may be the case. But is it the siblings or descendants of these men who are now making the case for reparations?

In his opening paragraph, Mr. Zaza writes: “The demand for reparations by siblings of former and current members of the True Whip (sic) Party has gone beyond the corridors of power in Liberia into the offices of Liberia’s international partners…”

What exactly does the preceding mean? Is it a fact that a group of Liberians has made an official case for reparations beyond the Liberian government to international entities? If so, doesn’t Mr. Zaza have a responsibility to inform his readers about the source or specifics of this alleged claim? How and when were such claims made and to whom? How does the reader authenticate this assertion? Obviously, it is not common knowledge to all.

Mr. Zaza writes further: “… 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.”

Who are these critics to whom Mr. Zaza tacitly refers? When and where did they make these crucial allegations against the government and what is the basis to draw such conclusions? Is the government actually “paying cash and non-cash assets to families of the defunct True Whig Party government”? Is this indeed a fact? According to Mr. Zaza, “the Sirleaf government is offering lucrative positions in government to former members of the TWP.” Is this considered reparations? Can this charge be substantiated or is it one of those wild claims made without justification? If so, does this not call into question Mr. Zaza’s political motive, or even his integrity?

Let’s further analyze what Mr. Zaza writes: He refers to the TWP as a “group that represents 5% of the population, as compared to other ethnic groupings in Liberia…” Does the TWP actually represent 5% of Liberia’s population? And why is there a need to compare the TWP to “other ethnic groupings”? Is the TWP an ethnic group? Was it ever?

One must agree with Zaza when he states some obvious facts: The TWP bears a lot of responsibility for Liberia’s downtrodden plight. He agrees with Ambassador Barnes who purportedly said that, “The TWP promoted illiteracy, poverty, and inhumanity through acts of tyranny, impunity, and practices of lies, deceit, injustice, corruption, and ineptness.” Yes, the TWP is a chief culprit of the Liberian tragedy, but that doesn’t make the TWP an ethnic group. The TWP was a political party that had its grips and fangs on the Liberian people from the coast to the hinterland. Many of its stewards and patrons were indigenous (ethnic) people, without whom the party would have collapsed much earlier; to now refer to the TWP as an ethnic grouping is an absolutely falsehood.

Mr. Zaza ends his article by asking: “So why are President Sirleaf and her kinsmen asking for reparations on behalf of leaders who created the environment that contributed to the violence in Liberia?” Again, the term “kinsmen” is misleading --- it implies some relationship through blood, marriage or ethnicity. To look at the present administration as a continuing dynasty is counter-intuitive to reality.

Lastly, I must ask again: How does Mr. Zaza draw the conclusion that Mrs. Sirleaf is “asking for reparations”? Is it fair to make such a serious charge without any basis? What is the source of this revelation? Upon what is it based? Is this something that Mr. Zaza knows and expects his readers to know?

I must commend my colleague here for his numerous contributions to the ongoing dialogue on Liberia. I consider him a champion on many causes. This time, I think he allowed himself to be a bit clouded on this very important issue, probably based on differing partisan perspectives. If Mr. Zaza is willing to clarify some of the inconsistencies and ambiguities to which I’ve pointed, he will be doing himself and the public a great favor and, I will be willing to reconsider his position. Until then, thank you, my friend.

© 2007 by The Perspective
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