There is an intensive, increasingly widening political debate arising from the reported massive, political support, in cash and kind, by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Cllr. Brumskine, leader of an opposition political party and declared candidate for President of Liberia.
The debate began as an inter-party (Unity) infraction of party rules of support and loyalty, especially, by the most senior executive of the party, the Flag Bearer, who stood for and won the Presidency on the party ticket and benefited, immensely, therefrom, but decides to abort and turn against the party and its new leadership, having beenforced to retire because of ineligibility to stand for a third term.
But, in all of this, the most explosive and simmering, national political issue is that Cllr. Brumskine is not only leader of an opposition political party to President Sirleaf’s Unity party, but also, that he (Cllr. Brumskine) is of the Settler-, Americo-Liberian heritage and ruling class; the class that ruled Liberia (a one party, True Whig Party-state) for 133 years and continuing, while Vice President Boakai and the Unity Party that he, now, leads are of indigenous, Liberian heritage.
Thus, during and in the midst or cente of Liberian people’s rightful demand for Changefrom the avalanche of dishonesty and corruption comes the submerged, butdeeply-held and burning, classic, historic struggle for democratic rule – Indigenous “country” Liberians VERSUS Settler-, Americo-Liberians has now become the nation’s “gathering storms”, a critical and crucial decision- making centrepiece for the up-coming general elections.
This historic struggle motivated and explains the April 12, 1980 Event, the military coup d’état.
Although there has been, and is, also, reported conflicting statements of denials regarding the reported support by the President of Cllr. Brumskine, this article takes a look at the facts of history and of Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s rise and use of political power.
Liberia’s Centennial Celebration, 1847-1947
In his book (Liberia: A Century of Survival, 1847-1947) published on the 100th birth anniversary of the founding of the Liberian State, Raymond Leslie Buel held, in a classic, prophetic observation, that “It seems only a matter of time when the preponderance of the ‘civilized Natives’ (indigenous Liberians) over the Americo-Liberians will become overwhelming. Once awakened to western ideas of democracy and freedom”, he wrote, “the educated Natives will demand the right to participate in government . . . But whether the struggle (for political participation, equality and justice) becomes violent or whether the transition of power to the Natives is gradual (and peaceful, for benefit of all citizens) depends on the wisdom of the present, governing class (of Americo-Liberians) . . . Undoubtedly”, he continued, “some membersof the Americo-Liberian oligarchy do not wish to open up and develop the hinterland . . .”(Buell, 1947).
The Open-Door and National Unification Policies
Upon becoming President of Liberia in 1944, Dr. William V. S. Tubman announced and launched the Open Door Policy (Wreh, 1976) and later, the Unification Policy in a speech in the city of Voinjama, Lofa County. These efforts were in response to the realization that economic development and unity are critical ingredients for total development of the nation. Therefore, the President created the first four, new counties in the hinterland, rural Liberia – Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong and Lofa counties in 1964. With creation of the counties came the inevitable, senate and house representations, then vehemently opposed and denied (Smith, 1964).
The effort of the Open Door Policy was designed as a public policy instrument which would or could provide economic benefits, with political benefits of participation by legislative representation of hinterland citizens in rural Liberia. But, Gus Liebenow describes, graphically, that the “. . . appearance of reform being far greater than reality . . . the Tubman engine ran out of steam . . . It was clear that the overwhelming thrust of integration . . . of the First Republic was still in the direction of accepting settler (African-American, founding fathers) rather than tribal norms of behavior. . . Detracting from the benefits to be derived from the extension to the tribal hinterland of suffrage and representation in the Legislature”, he wrote, “was the fact that elections had actually become almost meaningless exercises within the single-party state”.
Continuing, he concluded that “real power had gravitated even more effectively from the legislature to the president and those influential Americo-Liberians who surrounded him. Although education provided more bureaucratic jobs for tribal youth and lower-income Americo-Liberians, the really significant executive, legislative, judicial and ambassadorial positions were retained by the leading families at the core of the Americo-Liberian elite” (Liebenow, 1987).
Put bluntly, although President Tubman’s vision of liberalism and national unification,as critical pre-condition for national, economic development were recognized, appreciated and rewarded by the Liberian people with a 27-year reign as president, butthe oppressive marginalization and denial of basic, civil and political rights of the people, by someLiberians (Americo-Liberians), still continues a shocking reality.
Ellen Johnson is the product of the City of Monrovia (of the 1940s & 1950s) dominated by the settler-, Americo-Liberians’ socio-cultural, economic and political hegemony, although her paternal grandfather was an indigenous Gola tribesman, while her maternal grandmother was, also, an indigenous woman of the Sapo or Kru tribe. Her mother was the daughter of a German businessman, “A fair-skinned child with long wavy hair, she could almost pass for white . . .” .
Ellen’s father, son of the Gola tribesman and tribal chief, became ward of a prominent settler-, Americo-Liberian family in Monrovia. They changed his Gola first name, Karnleyto westernized Carney and gave him the family name of Johnson,after a former president of Liberia. The re-naming process symbolized the socio-cultural baptism for complete socio-cultural transformation. The new Carney Johnson and family prospered and became member of the Liberian national Legislature, given its “Americo-Liberian” transformation. Young, Miss Ellen Johnson married young Doc Sirleaf, a mixed indigenous (Mandingo) and settler, Americo-Liberian (Coopers) heritage (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 2010).
Education, life-style, attire (until lately, after the April, 1980 Event), mannerism, deportment and body language convey the reality that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was, and is, socio-culturally European, American, Americo-Liberian, while she is bio-physically indigenous African-Liberian.
Rise to Political Power
Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleafbegan her political career as Ideological foot-solder of the settler-, Americo-Liberian True Whig Party of Liberia and, eventually, became the nation’s Minister of Finance.
Choice of Cllr. Brumskine
Psychologists/socialogists hold and teach that the socio-cultural, economic and political belief systems, tradition and, indeed, worldview of an individual are learned or acquired from the society in which such individual was born, raised or educated. Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was born, raised and educated within the socio-cultural, economic and political belief systems of the Americo-Liberians. Therefore, socio-culturally, economically and politically, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Americo-Liberian, although she is bio-physically indigenous Liberian.
Hence, the motivation of Mrs. Ellen John-Sirleaf’s support of Americo-Liberian, Cllr. Brumskine, although leader of an opposition political party (Liberty Party) to Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her ruling, Indigenous Political Party (Unity) founded by indigenous citizens and of which she was Flag Bearer, but now led by Vice President Boakai, an Indigenous citizen.
Buel, Ramond Leslie, Liberia: A Century of Survival, 1847-1947, African Handbook #7, University of Pennsylvania.
Liebenow, Gus,The Quest for Democracy, Indiana University Press, 1987.
Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson-,This Child will be Great, HarperCollins, 2010.
Smith,Robert A., The Emancipation of the (Liberian) Hinterland, The Star Magazine &AdvertisingServices, Monrovia, 1964
Wreh, Tuan, The Love of Liberty, C. Hurst & Co., London, 1976.