A reflection on the ULAA Debacle

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 16, 2009


For quite sometime I have refrained from commenting on the exchanges on this listserve regarding ULAA because more often than not, they have bordered on sheer recklessness. It has not been about ideas and visions. Far from that!

But despite the frustration of being inundated with these comical exchanges that have been heavy on substance-free photo-ups, and incendiary gusto peddling, I will dare to make a few observations at the risk of getting insulted like many others who have cared to comment, because I believe ULAA the institution, should and can endure in spite of any of us, our ambitions and our pointless loyalties. ULAA can not and must not be beholden to any individual or group quest; and it certainly can not and must not be held hostage by any group of self-absorbed individuals at the detriment of those it should be serving.

I am convinced that many of us are aware of the root causes of the problem and the possible acrid solution, but have chosen to pretend that a solution can be imposed through might or banditry by any one side without a serious and honest reflection on previous and ongoing breaches and seething grievances. We know that a resolution is possible if we can muster the resolve to get over ourselves and realize that the institution is bigger than our different sects, our ambitions, our personal differences and; stop making other people enemies our enemies out of sheer inanity. We have arrived at this junction because many amongst us lack character, integrity and honesty and appeared sworn to sycophancy and outright idiocy. A solution that ignores greed and unrefined ambition and projects the good of the institution is not out of our reach; but we are too timid, to shrill and too weak, to speak truth to our friends and family members because we lack the moral fiber and perhaps, intellectual grounding, to be independent-minded; and for God sake, sane, if only temporarily. We have instead joined our “idols” in walloping in senseless bluster.

We are unwilling to put forth a framework that could lead to a possible resolution because no side is likely to get all they have been rather foolishly posturing for on this internet and in various Liberian communities; many of which are also blighted by the same blindness that is made possible by the lack of men and women of character who will stand up and do right. The few who have stood up for some measure of objectivity have been insulted and silenced by surrogates who seem compelled to make other people enemies theirs. I hope the ambassador’s effort will not attract the same care-free and self- glorifying response in the usual “my way or no way” fashion -- though such pomposity have so far failed to move the ball.

But what amazes me most is that we carelessly pretend that a forward march is possible without honest and critical discussions of the current state; and that by banditry, we can bend our adversaries to our wishes. Frankly, this kind of thinking can not be too far from a warped concoction. How long and what will it take us to realize that this is not working and will not work? Who amongst us, short of legal sanctions, assuming that is doable, can force a single chapter or any individual to be a part of ULAA or to recognize their particular “leadership”? Nobody - because the law of the jungle does not apply here; and the internet insults have not worked either. ULAA is a loose coalition of willing state associations, without which, ULAA is a paper tiger. If ULAA continues on this path of self-destruction then someone will have to tell me just how it can seem relevant to many Liberians who are now watching in utter disgust as the institution slowly implodes.

There is a catalog of constitutional abrasions between the Larsah board and Wettee administration that resulted in the Board leadership issuing advices and directives that were ignored by Mr. Wettee’s administration. I guess the former president had his reasons, justified or not, for choosing the course he travelled. I have no interest in recounting the drama or passing judgment because all the principal players know exactly what transpired and the basement schemes (basement meetings, teleconferences and phone calls) that hatched it. They all know how we got here. Some small measure of humility and honesty would allow us to begin our own renewal, but I am not betting my salary on it. No one amongst us is so indispensible so as to possess a special leadership talent or skill that ULAA is so wanting of, such that it must self-destruct just to have. This kind of thinking exists only in the little minds of surrogates who often come through as pathetic scum-bags wanting of some form of jolting in order to regain sanity.

Massaging rules to suit our whims and taking people for stupid: Who amongst us, by his recent deportment, can claim to be a sage? I guess there are many who claim to have monopoly over wisdom on the one hand and banditry on the other - working in their own interest on the assumption that the rest of us are simply dumb or some kind of mechanical instruments to be programmed like their surrogates. Certainly, judging from the daily verbal queasiness that take place on this listserve, some of us truly are, but not all of us. As Mr. Gbessage can say, “sometimes we are too smart for our own good.” Two Liberians can read the same article in a constitution and come away with different interpretations for purely selfish reasons. Our smarts even compel us to ascribe the drafters’ intent to very clear constitutional clauses, where our wisdom tells us clarity is needed for the benefit of the morons that oppose us – all to suit our purposes, off course.

We are also fond of selecting segments of by-laws and constitutions to justify our cause, even when a separate clause undercuts the very argument we are propounding or gives others preeminence over the issue. But why not! We are the smarter and better researcher, so we do not expect the “idiots” who disagree with us to figure out the contradictions in our argument. I guess by now you are saying what else is new. Nothing is new but this dance is old – and annoying too.

We are also so consumed by our own puffed-up importance that we believe we can bulldozed our way into anything and everyone will just submit to our caprices. At the risk of looking dim-witted when it is not working, we still press on, banking on the canopy of stupidity occasioned by fanatical loyalists who often lack a mind of their own so much so that they become mechanical and predictable. When they pounce so often I sometimes wonder what’s in it for a grandfather, father, a mother, an aunt and an uncle and why do they opt to lose themselves for a person instead of a cause. What teachings do they expect their kids, nephews, nieces and others who look up to them to draw from their antics? Even the sisters have joined in on the verbal listserve boxing as they have gone personal and offensive in their exchanges. What exactly does that have to do with anything ULAA and why should I be bothered with purely personal matters? I have no idea. Just ask them!

Even with guns and bombs, Charles Taylor tried to kill and abuse a whole nation into submission and it didn’t work out quite as he and his gang had anticipated. When people felt pushed to the wall, resistance movements, all of which were equally abusive and carless with the lives and properties of Liberians, sprung up. Many became revenge movement and we all know how that turned out. That should have offered us a very good lesson on why we should not try to bully people into submission least they resist in unimaginable manners. Now we are trying to do so by keyboards and it appears to be working only in our perverse minds. Learn we have not.

Fake name users and other self-identified surrogates on all sides have been yelling “death” to Larsah, Mator, Kesselly and others, calling them names and butchering their characters. But just what has that amounted to – can somebody tell me? It has not forced anybody to worship our “gods,” abandon their cause -- to the extent that there’s one, and fall in line. So why is it so difficult for our dense minds to see the futility of our undertakings? No amount of trash talking by the very old, the old, the young and ‘religious’ have and will change anything. Enough already! Start thinking straight. You are not any smarter – if anything, you are sillier and it has reached a preposterous level already.

Even some ministers, pastors and evangelists have fallen prey to the machinations and have themselves become divisive loyalists; opining on matters they do not fully grasp and do not care to research. Sometimes I read their interventions and pity them. I do not get angry because we all have shortcomings as is evidenced by their often insensitive and unhelpful comments. If the men and women of the cloth will fall to the trickery of us sinners, then who will show us the light? I thought the calling came with the blessings of wisdom to decipher right from wrong and to dispense justice fairly. With the “calling,” can they just pray for wisdom to do that which is right? I have no idea. Is it because some are choosing ministry as an easy vocation and not a calling? How would a sinner like me know, anyway? I have never heard the calling so I can not be expected to how it is channeled. I only know how the biblical Samuel got his – and even he was confused. It took him two false starts before Eli advised him to respond to the third call by saying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” If Samuel, a special child of his mother Hannah was that confused, it is certainly not impossible for some folks to be hearing “things” instead of “the call”. I do not know this for a fact, so do not listen to me.

The legacy of old politicks and the need for new thinking: Sometimes I wonder how is it possible to live in the theater of the world greatest democracy and fail to learn anything, even as we bear witnesses to the good examples of leadership that is unfolding before our very eyes every day. .

Liberian politics has always been a zero sum game. You either win or loose. And if you loose, you are better off jumping ship to join the winning party or risk starvation, regardless of your professional abilities. This is still the case today. We recently heard about several “high profile” members of the opposition, including one Dr. Levi Zangai, abandoning their parties to join the ruling Unity party. I have no idea whether it was out of necessity and I am not qualified to pass judgment on those joining the bandwagon. But this is a setback to democratic progress. Cajoling critical talents in the opposition directly or indirectly is a means of decimating the opposition and setting the stage for an all-powerful party or a virtual one party state, which is anathema to the development of democracy in the country, particularly when government is the single largest employers – has been for years. A viable opposition is critical to any democracy, but our tradition has not prepared us to tolerate oppositions in our governments, even if they are technicians or civil servants of the highest caliber. So, many who must depend on government jobs, must cross carpet to survive. And in ULAA, if you disagree, you automatically become the ‘enemy’ not the ‘opponent.’ Sad, isn’t it? We just do not get he concept.

I have recounted this to draw an analogy between what is obtaining here. ULAA ‘politics’ is clearly patterned after this madness. The principal actors in Liberian politics and their students have not changed. In fact, the students are the ones occupying the top stratum of the politically active class (mind you, not the politically savvy class) and are more likely to contest political positions in ULAA and other Liberian associations. Majority of the more than 20 candidates who contested the last Liberian elections came from this class. It has often been more about class than tribe. Tribe has only been used to drive a wedge when it has been convenient. These folks are in 2009 with a pre 1990 mindset. Their politics which is often devoid of ideas and vision that are consistent with prevailing realities is frequently birthed out of the personal ambition and not any overriding driving interest of the people; and is based on a winner take all calculations that project the individuals into a cult like figure. There is no room for compromise, mending fences and building alliances because strategies often conflict with tactics particularly because they are not grounded in objective policy proposals and visions. They are totally oblivious of the bigger picture and have not mastered the act of civil engagement for the common good. It is all about their ambition only - so the end justifies the means regardless of the collateral damages.

Liberia has suffered as a result of this mindset - many times. For example, in 1997 when the Alliance of political parties crumbled, it was haunted by this phenomenon. The PAL (UPP) and LPP (MOJA) groups failed to mend fences during the alliance’s elections as a result of alleged old disagreements and agreements that were not honored by one party or the other. A political neophyte, Cletus Wotorson, saw the opportunity and out-maneuvered the “political gurus” at their own game of manipulation. They failed to honor the result of that contest because it was their ambition, not Liberia’s future that ranked paramount. That election produced “President Taylor” after they all performed miserably going it alone. Perhaps Taylor would have still been declared president, but at the very least, the legislature wouldn’t have been the kind of rubber stamp body it was – always standing by to sing hail to their “chief,” never once acting independently with any sort of integrity. Some will blame it on the proportional representation system. But that alone wouldn’t have done the “political gurus” in as badly, if they had worked together.

When the common good has trumped personal ambition: Al Gore had a legitimate claim to the presidency in 2000 but could no longer drag the world’s greatest democracy through public scorn. He probably could have litigated to a successful end, but gave up his rights so America could go forth. He is more respected today as an elder statesman. He has won worldwide recognition for his work on climate change.

After a hard-fought primary contest, Hilary endorsed and campaigned for Obama, even if you believe she did so grudgingly. She may have brought all her 18 millions over, but what was important was for the Democratic Party to return to the Whitehouse, even if that democrat would not be Hilary. Obama has appointed her, his fiercest opponent, who once called him naïve, to head the department of state, the most important cabinet post. The rest of this is common knowledge.

Following Mr. Obama victory, he sought and got an audience with Senator McCain because he realized the more than 40% who did not vote for him had opinions and preferences that were different from his. He said to them on elections night “I will be your president too”. Both men made a joint public appearance during which the defeated McCain offered his support. It helped healed the chasm, if only temporarily, because McCain has since voted against Obama’s stimulus bill. A special dinner honoring Senator McCain came in order. I believe both men acted in the interest of the United States, even if deep down they are still hurting from the effect of the sharp rhetoric employed during the campaign.

Morgan Tvsangarai (SP) had an election allegedly stolen from him in Zimbabwe. Many persons, majority of them his supporters, lost their lives and properties in the post elections violence. When Mugabe in his characteristic intransigence wouldn’t flinch, Morgan lowered the temperature so his country could move on. He has joined a power-sharing government and was sworn in by Mugabe himself. He is certainly not oblivious of the difficult balancing act such marriage of convenience will require, but he has chosen to put his country and the people of Zimbabwe above his ambition; and will be working to initiate change from within to the extend possible. He certainly had an alternative, despite the pressure from SADC, but he chose not to pursue it. Who amongst us, regardless of his or her persuasion, can claim to be more victimized than Morgan? Not even close! But he has chosen his country over his ambition and rights, I may add.

After sneering and snarling meaninglessly for several months under the chimera of our own over-sized egos without moving the process an inch, we must now beckon for the humble pie as is being offered by the Ambassador. Since none of us has demonstrated the reasoning dexterity to move the parties closer to a resolution and have not moved ULAA forward on our own, we do not now have any kind of moral supremacy to impose unreasonable demands on the arbitration process. Recent evidence has shown that self-centered unreasonable demands can only beget an equal or more potent counter unreasonable demand in response, which will ultimately derail any ray of hope for a resolution.

I have my own concerns about the involvement of the embassy, but I also have my appreciation for what the embassy is trying to do since we have all acted like boys and girls instead of men and women of reason. We must swallow our stupid pride, sacrifice our insatiable desires for power, and create the future that will be conducive enough to enable us to again seek our coveted positions. Now is just not the time for raw ambition on the part of self-mythologizing individuals. For all the shame we have brought to this institution and the Liberian people by our actions and inactions, I suggest we embark on some form of pilgrimage of penance.

Unless we figure out, and quickly too, that ULAA is more important than the ambition of any single individual or group of individuals and summon our better angels, as Mr. Obama can say, we will remain stuck on this treadmill or circular stupidity. But when the day of attunement comes, those of us who have chosen to make other people enemies our enemies, make other people life long ambition our personal crusade, insult and denigrate individuals we are yet to meet and interacted with on behalf of our “gods”, will stand and account for our deeds.

Folks this emperor is naked. The damage is reaching a level that may take too much to repair. Give up your ambitions and allegiances and personal beefs to save ULAA, least we continue to wallop in abject despair and remain a diminished whole. Your choice!


Nyekeh Forkpa
401 477 4993
Providence, Rhode Island

© 2009 by The Perspective
E-mail: editor@theperspective.org

To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: http://www.theperspective.org/submittingarticles.html