It would have never occurred to me that my generation-those born in the 60’s in Liberia will come to be face with such surmountable challenge as having to be placed in Diaspora and absolutely no place to call home. A sanctuary that should have provided a shared memory of our childhood years-weather growing up in the beautiful seaside community of Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County and or in Cape Palmas, Maryland County, and all of the cities, towns and villages in between. For this generation we had been blissfully unaware of the many regional, international, bilateral and multilateral relations that our country had forged and the implications that would have followed in decades to come-PLACING IMENSE IMPACT ON OUR LIVES.
William R. Tolbert, Jr. and the Liberian Youths
In July of 1971, Liberia was awakened to a new sense of dynamism-the era of one of her finest sons- Dr William R. Tolbert, Jr. assumed the Presidency after the death of President William V.S. Tubman-unlike Tubman, President Tolbert was moving to make Liberia’s promise of opportunity a reality to all of its citizens.-particularly for my generation . And it was this generation that President Tolbert coined the phrase, “THE LIBERIAN YOUTHS ARE MY PRECIOUS JEWEL.” In every area of his administration‘s policies, he understood fully the value of education not just as an end in itself but primarily as the vehicle to take his country’s youths through the dramatically, challenging and evolving changing world, one in which a vibrant human resource capacity would be of critical importance in almost every occupation.
During President Tolbert’s 8-plus years of leadership, his administration struggled with formulating a new course (Non Alliance) for Liberia’s Foreign Policy-as the shift between East-West relations were heightening and taken on new meaning- Western Democracies were demanding more ‘openness and accountability’ from the Eastern Bloc Countries (Communist Regimes), so too, was this new administration struggling with the ‘political divide’ within Liberian society. This political division stems from 1822, when freed slaves from the United States of America were settled in Liberia. The newly arriving slaves soon established dominance in society, even though they were small in number. Twenty-five years later, as the country gained her independence, these freed slaves now commonly referred to by the natives as ‘Congos’, controlled every aspect of the newly formed government, thereby inserting a rigid ‘Class System’, somewhat similar in nature to the slavery and segregation that they experienced while in the United States and those of South Africa’s Apartheid that denied the original inhabitants of socio-economic benefits, as well as basic fundamental human rights. The full implication of this discovery only became clearer with time, as my generation joined forces with the ‘Progressives’ in demanding a change in Liberia’s Domestic Policy-one that will address social and economic needs: educational access to all, better living conditions, healthcare and fair distribution of the country’s wealth.
Struggling with the degree of political division within the Liberian society, demands by Liberian Youths and Progressives- to me, and President Tolbert’s decision to adapt a ‘Non- Alliance Foreign Policy’, all the more made the shift in the Administration achieving its ‘Domestic’ Agenda in creating a comfortable environment for its citizens. Moreover, the Progressives claimed that the country’s development issues could be traced to “a crisis of Governance”, citing illegitimate leadership, abuse of authority, lack of official accountability, the control of information, and a failure to respect the rule of law and human rights. This break from the past, caused newly formed political movements: Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) and Student Activism across University and College Campuses, as well as High School Campuses all across Liberia to moved to transformed the old regime of the True Whig Party and to reinforce the institutions that made government accountable to its citizens.
All across Liberia, political openness encouraged citizen’s demands for accountability and the move toward a free market economy underscored the need to established legal guidelines and well defined standards in order to secure international and private investments. However, government was slow to act towards these sweeping challenges and changes. Since independence in 1847, the country has been notorious for its one party system-and having to transition to a multi-party system, became a difficult and daunting task. The call for political change in the Liberian capital- Monrovia, thus involves more than simply adopting standard operating procedures and other tools of rational-legal bureaucracies. In the first place, many of these institutions were difficult to transform. Bureaucracies, courts, the military, and so forth, were deeply rooted in a local culture that had reached a level of complexity and inefficiency that made them completely unable to support effective state action. But even more fundamentally, institutions of democracy were absence. As a result of the absence of functioning political institutions, the transitions to a vibrant democracy became a challenging and a very difficult process especially for a developing country like Liberia. Political unrest, forceful suppression of human rights, and wrongful imprisonment became common in our society.
For President Tolbert, he no longer enjoyed the support of the True Whig Party (TWP) Leadership and so too, for my generation for which he has championed a CAUSE his support among us began to erode. In my view, the President found himself somehow isolated-and-a felling of tremendous dislocation. And for my generation, each policy change, we felt perplexed by the seeming illogic of the process; yet none of these changes brought about the internal resolution that we sought. For the most part, my generation beliefs were greatly influence by members of the various Progressive Movements: Dr. Amos Sawyer, Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., Oscar Quiah, Dew Mason, and the late Gabriel Baccus Matthew these Progressives did not make good on their ‘DEEDS’ to Liberia-and let me add, starting as far back as 1980 coup d’tat, all of these Progressives were in government and leading up to the many Transitional Governments in Liberia-they too, were a DISMAL FAILURE to my generation.
Like the Tolbert years, my generation-has been opportune to have witness some of the greatest triumphs for freedom, multi-party system and the rise of native-born sons and daughters to prominence in government in our country’s history. Some of us gave support to these different groups and even led the struggle to end the one party system, crush the brutal military regime of Samuel Kanyon Doe and yet, removed another tyrant, Charles Taylor from power. Most of us witnessed the marathons of Peace Conferences across Africa designed to restore Liberia among the comity of nations, after many, many Transitional Governments had failed us as a nation and as a people. So too, we are slowly witnessing the Progressives return to power in Liberia-and in their attempt to impede Liberia’s progress, many of them are strongly advocating against the establishment of US Military Command (AFRICOM) in Liberia. For AFRICOM’s presence in Liberia, tend to stand in their way of further exploiting and emptying out the already little revenue generated thus far with the help of GEMAP.
All of us have observed the tremendous deterioration of our country- our Institutions of Government, Schools, and Healthcare facilities- over the past 14-years-and as the rise of global terrorism, couple with the looming belief that perhaps Liberia may become a ‘Failed State’, we must accept the proposition that Liberia will benefit substantially as a HOST NATION to US AFRICOM. For my generation, there were primarily two distinct experiences with our country: the first been that we championed Africa’s Freedom-for this is true-however, why telling this epic story in riveting and eye-opening detail, Liberia returned to the African consciousness a magnificent lost.-for us too, democracy became a ‘TEST’ of WILL’, and secondly, those Institutions of government that were designed to support effective State actions were ineffective at best. While the fight for ‘Freedom and Independence’ across Africa became a tremendous reinforcement of our values, at the same time it did present a difficult challenge to our own willingness to support democratic principles at home.
Today, my generation long time fascination with politics and public service-particularly, our long standing relations with United States are reflected in the ongoing debate over the Bush Administration decision to create a military command on the African Continent, similar to those of Central and European Commands. Unlike Central and European Commands that are far removed from the African Shores and required tremendous Logistics and Mobilization efforts to position US Forces in response to any given contingency on the Continent, , US Military (AFRICOM) will become ‘The Tip of the Spear’ in projecting US Military capabilities in response to humanitarian crisis, strengthening of African Union Troops Training capacities (Liberia being a Host Nation, our Armed Forces will reap tremendous benefits, in terms of training and level of professionalism), and further enhancing the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) among its allies on the Continent-a Force Multiplier. This new Bush administration approach has certainly sent a chill down the spins of the slowly reemerging Progressives in Liberia, as well as those African leaders who do not ascribed to the tenets of democracy-one-man-one vote concept, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
As this debate unfolds, we as a nation and people must focus closely not only on colonialism in the past, but how as a country, we can strike a ‘Strategic Balance ‘in our relationship with the United States of America-one from ‘Colonialism to Corporation’, which as a country should harness every last tenet of our ‘strategic brilliance and energy’ if we must see Liberia move forward with reconstruction to lasting peace and stability. Now Liberia must transmute the state of despair that has long lingered-despite the misguided steps over the past 160 years of our country existence, I will argue that US Military (AFRICOM) presence in Liberia, will served to strengthen our Institutions of government and bring democracy in the streets of our municipalities in ways that are unprecedented and helped solidified the foundation of newly found democracy.
LIBERIA: Cultivating New US Relations
Liberia has always sought America for financial reasons-not primarily for strategic reasons-when all of the indicators were visible during World War II (Siahyonkron Nyanseor. The Perspective. September 17, 2007, Robertsfield and Robertsport were used as American Bases). These were not only places that won the war in Europe for America and her allies. Also across Lake Piso, in the historic Township of Tallah was a US Military Air Base-then, Liberia should have capitalized on this ‘Strategic Position’ to have negotiated for a permanent military base, or simply an airport to support this part of the country-somehow we did not make good on this opportunity.
In cultivating this new relationship, Liberia must preserve a measure of independence in her dealings with the United States. While Liberia served in the past as a ‘Satellite Station’ for the US, we again failed to capitalized on this all important initiative-we did not even have telephone service throughout our country-again we failed to strike a ‘Strategic Balance’ between our two nations. Rather Liberia accepted little cash contribution to her national budget and development programs, at the expense of a dying people.
Finally, I am genuinely alarmed by the tenor of the debate-when most that I have read, insist on not just having AFRICOM in Liberia, but not wanting it on the African Continent as a whole-I certainly differ with the skeptics and critics who see AFRICOM as a treat to stability and also a potential terrorist target in its adopted state. It is important to note, that AFRICOM stands for democracy-and that Liberia and Africa at large, need to realign it priorities in terms of adhering to democratic ideas and principles. LIBERIA AND AFRICA MUST WELCOME THIS NEW PARTNERSHIP.
About the Author:
Masu Fahnbulleh holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and served for over 11-years in the US Armed Forces as a Paratrooper and participated in numerous Combat and World Wide Contingency Operations. In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he worked as a Logistics Coordinator on Defense Contract with KBR-a Halliburton Company in Iraq and respective with CSA, Ltd. in Kuwait. He can be reach at email@example.com
© 2007 by The Perspective
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