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REMEMBERING LIBERIA’S BRAVE, LEGENDARY NATIONALISTS: THE ADOCATES FOR SOCIO-POLITICAL CHANGE & REFORMS

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Introduction

Today and these days of international watchdog activities (Global Witness, for example) with documented, validated reports of excessive, profound moral decadence in both of our private corporate board rooms and our public government executive offices, thousands of patriotic, poor and powerless citizens recall and pay homage to the memory as well as mourn the loss, to the great beyond, of the Nation’s great and honorable nationalists – men and women of Letters, others unlettered, but all naturally-endowed socio-political animals, with skill and commitment for betterment of the “human condition”.

They were great men and women of unusual dedication and commitment, courage, bravery, the “political will” and, indeed, the “guts” to “tell it like it was or should and must be”, at the peril of their liberty and loss of their very lives.

Some of these nationalists pleaded, advised and advocated for peaceful change and reforms in the interest of the people, consistent with Liberia’s planned and verbally-professed democracy. They were a few men, a handful of non-street demonstrators who threw no stones, no clenched fists. For, some of the actors were philosophical, non-violent, peaceful protesters, mindful of the traditional wisdom that the pen and written word “are mightier than the sword”. Their actions/activities, though in demand for the same Cause took place in different places, at different points in time and under different conditions and circumstances, but in collective response to government‘s historic repression, denial of basic civil and political liberties, with deadly armed hostilities against un-armed village citizens.

The Legendary, Patriotic Nationalist
One of the widely-known, legendary combatants and leaders of the non-violent, peaceful protest mode was the Pamphleteer, School Teacher, the Late Mr. Albert Porte of Crozerville (just outside the powerful City of Bentol, home of the late President, William R. Tolbert) in Montserrado County. Relatively poor and a rural village dweller, but armed with a college degree, Editor/Publisher of the Crozerville Observer and periodic, hard-hitting political pamphlets with the “pen and written words”, Albert Porte, the political visionary in the fashion of classical democratic thought and politics, became a thorn in the flesh of politicians in his day. This included the great and powerful President of Liberia, William V. S. Tubman and his 19-year Vice President, William R. Tolbert, who became President upon the death of President Tubman in 1971, and several other leading politicians of the day.

With no political organization nor physical force but the Crozerville Observer, his pamphlets and pen, Mr. Porte took on and challenged the all-powerful President Tubman at the time and period when it was unsafe to do so. The high point of the confrontation was about the purchase of the Presidential Yacht by the President. On this purchase, Mr. wrote to the President the short but powerful, following letter, dated August 25, 1951:

Dear Mr. President:
Ever since I read a copy of the Listener in which you published your message to the Legislature convoking the special session, I have been thinking and trying not to think, and feel urged to let you know some of the thoughts that have been passing through my mind, sincerely hoping and believing that it will be taken in the real democratic spirit, realizing fully, as I know you do, that ultimate success or failure in a democracy rests not only upon the President, but upon each citizen as well.(highlight mine)

Liberia is classified among the undeveloped countries of the world. She lacks some of the basic minimum requirements, and needs much more than she can muster at the present time for her internal development. And although this is so, we are undertaking to spend $150,000 for the purchase of a yacht for the use of the President. In addition to this, it will require a tidy sum for its upkeep. It is my humble opinion that at the present stage of the country’s development, this amount could be more profitably used towards real development with more permanent results. Yes, other countries have these things and in time as our country is developed we too will have some of them, but I think we should concentrate upon fundamentals.

Unfortunately, the citizens of this country do not feel free to express themselves upon vital questions affecting them, but sit by and grumble “the people don’t mean anything”. I am afraid that even in the Legislature there is a great reluctance if not the absence of the free expression of thoughts and opinion, especially where the President is concerned. To tell the truth, it has required a huge effort on my part to have expressed my thought here. So I have no justification in condemning the reluctance in others.

This only brings to face to face with great responsibility weighing so heavily upon the President, which could be lightened if the people felt free to express themselves and their views were taken in the right spirit. (Highlights mine).

Very sincerely yours,
Albert Porte
Hereunder, for the information of the readers, is the President’s edited, lengthy response. .

Dear Mr. Porte.
Your letter of August 25th in which you informed me that you have been worried since you read the copy of the Listener which carried my Special Message to the Legislature and my reference to the purchase of a Yacht for the President of Liberia have been received. You state in your letter that One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars should be utilized for some other more beneficial purpose and not for the purchase of a yacht for the President of Liberia, and that some people are grumbling but that they do not come forward and state their dissatisfaction, even some Member of the Legislature you state.

I appreciate you candor in the matter, but I am in total disagreement with your views expressed and method of thinking on the subject. I take the liberty to tell you an experience that I had in 1939 at which I was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Legislature and the Supreme Court were to be opened and for two weeks they could not get a quorum. An American ship came in the Captain name was Mr. Bogden. He knew me personally and therefore agreed to bring me to Monrovia, but refused to take any other Member of the Legislature or Member of the Supreme Court. I pleaded with him to take the other Members but he insisted that he would not.

Finally, he asked me the following question: “Justice Tubman, do you mean to tell me that your Government has no means to by which she can get Members of the Legislature and the Supreme Court to the Seats of the Legislature and the Supreme Court except they are transported there by our ships or some foreign ships?” Although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. He then asked another question: “If your President desire to come to Cape Palmas, you mean to tell me that he could not come unless our ship or ships of some other line brought him?” Again, although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. He then came forth with the last question: “Then Justice Tubman, do you think you should have a President, a Legislature, or a Supreme Court if the Members of these bodies have had to be transported to the seats of the Legislature and the Court by foreign craft?” This question baffled me and I could not answer it. I narrate this experience of mine to show you the difference in the thinking of civilized people about the type of thing that you are objecting to.

On the other hand, you and the rest of the grumblers, although I do not know who they are but they seem to be known to you, make no contribution or make so little contribution to the resources of the country that you should be ashamed to talk about the public expenditure.
How much taxes have you or any of the grumblers paid into the public treasury from 1944, when I took office and met the net revenues at One Million Dollars, to the present? . . . How much taxes of any kind or financial contribution have you or the grumblers put into the revenue to cause this increase? Have you or any of you contributed towards the Income Tax, the Ticket Tax, the Injury Tax, the Sales Tax or the Profit tax? Have you paid your Real estate Taxes; if so in what amount? It might interest you to know that I paid Income tax of more than Two Thousand Dollars for the last year alone. Firestone paid nearly Three Million Dollars Income Tax. (the highlight mine) The people who pay taxes in the country and would be entitled to interpose objections are those up country, the foreigners and few of your element who really do pay taxes. The grumblers are the set who contribute nothing for the protection, right and benefit of citizenship which they enjoy. Now you just sit down and forget that it is you and begin to think what financial contribution do you or have you made to your country.

Your spirit appears to me to be anarchical I remember during the last Administration, you were critical and censorious of it. When it comes to the present Administration, you are occasionally censorious and critical of it. I have never known you to compliment any administration, but you always look for what you think to be weak spots in it. I think this is an evil spirit and an evil eye which will not do you or the country any good. Supposed every or most persons had the same spirit, what would happen to the country . . .

I will buy the yacht without regard to the grumbling of you grumblers. That yacht will be used for the recreation of the President from his onerous duties that have been increased by more than one thousand percent since 1944, and may invite you to accompany me on one of my cruises that you might get a benefit of some rest from your onerous duty as a school teacher and which may possibly broaden your vision.

Kind regards,
Sincerely yours,
W. V. S. Tubman
The Liberian Listener, of Saturday, January 26, 2013, observed pointedly, that the “Porte-Tubman (political) Combat is not surprising . . . one of the first major clashes . . . centered around monthly (salary) deductions . . . from his (Porte’s) meagre teacher-salary to support (Tubman’s) ruling True Whig Party”. Mr. Porte had declared, publicly, that “he would neither be a member nor supporter of the ruling and only political party permitted to operate . . . when everyone was presumed to be a partisan or too afraid to say otherwise”. This was expression of the “moral and intellectual courage of Porte’s posture (my highlights) . . . in articulating the almost non-existent opposition to Tubman’s autocratic rule”, when in fact and “In substance, the political activist (Porte) was setting the stage for his (Porte’s) crusade against the Tubman hegemony, crystallized by the Church, State and (political) Party, the triumvirate superstructure of Tubman’s 27-year dictatorship”. A men !!!

Indeed, President Tubman’s evasive, accusative, threatening and attempted rationalization in a three-page letter, in response to Mr. Porte’s half-page letter which articulated of the prevailing, stark realities of social, economic, political and developmental conditions, revealing the political and democratic bankruptcy inherited from 1847 and continuing to this day.

Whereas, the Late Albert Porte, legendary, brave pamphleteer-school teacher and activist for democratic change, single-handedly took on and challenged the-then Liberian political Giant, President William V. S. Tubman, was a “Lone Ranger” and member of the settler, African-American settler-group, the Late Didwho Twe was an indigenous, African-African of the Kru Tribe. The Honorable Didwho Twe, like Albert Porte, was not only an academic, scholar and intellectual luminary, but also a committed socio-political activist for democratic change. D. Twe (as he was called and known) was born in the old “Kru Town” (then a City of Monrovia enclave community of Kru-Tribe fishermen, now the infamous slum community of “West Point”) of Kru parents who migrated from their home on the Kru Coast, Eastern Liberia, in search of socio-economic well-being, education for their off-springs and to escape uncontrolled harsh treatment of citizens by transplanted, political administrators.

D. Twe’s primary education was at the America Methodist and Trinity Episcopal institutions, and the Patsy Barclay Private School in Liberia. Later, he graduated from the Cuttington Collegiate & Divinity School in Cape Palmas, Maryland County. With assistance by a US Congressman, D. Twe travelled to the United States for further study, where he attended St. Johnbury Academy in Vermont, Cushing Academy in Ashburnham in Massachusetts and Rhode Island University from which he earned and obtained the Master’s degree. Later, he studied agriculture at Columbia and Harvard Universities, USA. Upon return to Liberia, President Daniel Howard appointed D. Twe in 1912 as head of a special commission on the Anglo-Liberian boundary dispute involving neighboring Sierra Leone. It is said that this position, and many others, introduced D. Twe to the undemocratic treatment of indigenous, Liberian citizens by settler, ruling elites.

Having served the government in various positions in government, D. Twe was elected to the House of Representatives by citizens of Montserrado County in 1927. As Member of the National Legislature and realizing the prevailing the socio-political conditions with, particular, respect to the treatment of indigenous citizens by the settler government, the Honorable D. Twe introduced several legislations to abolish, among others, the following illegal, undemocratic practices:

a) The “Pawn” system of individuals in the country;

b) Forced and unpaid labor practices for building-construction of compounds and residences for district commissioners, revenue agents and barracks for military detachments;

c) Forced collections of citizens as “porters” or carriers who transported officials in hammocks with luggage carried on heads from town-to-town or district-to-district without free choice and compensation; and

d) Thousands of rural, indigenous, able-bodied, male Liberians were forcibly recruited from towns and villages and contracted, without their consent, to Spanish cocoa and coffee plantations owners on the Island of Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea in Southwest Africa) to work without compensation under severe conditions of servitude (ICI, 1931, Guannue, 1934). For this contract, the government of Liberia was paid a generous fee, per person, by the plantations owners. Several of the indigenous citizens “recruited” from Southeast Liberia and “contracted” to Fernando Po died there in labor-camps.

For these lswful activities, the Honorable D. Twe was expelled from the Legislature on charges of “Sedition”. Henceforth, he was a marked man; harassed, chased and forced into exile. For, D. Twe was the sole intellectual rationalist and Monrovia-based supporter in addition to the on-ground resistance Leader, Seyon Juah Nimely, of the Kru Coast up-rising and protest action, during the period 1916-1930. It is said that D. Twe and Seyon Juah Nimely were the principal cause for the League of Nations’ investigation of forced labor practices in Liberia that involved the King-Yancy administration. This action led to the resignation of President C. D. B. King and Vice President Allen Yancy.

Consequently, Edwin James Barclay, the man who succeeded King as president of Liberia, saw D. Twe as one of the “Trouble makers” and a threat to settlers-superiority and control. According to Nyanseor (Nyamseor, 2014), President Barclay made the following threats to D. Twe on May 1, 1932, that “I will burn down the whole Kru Coast, if you don’t stop talking about white man, white man . . . you take it from me as an order and send word and tell your people that I say there will be only two months of peace on the Coast and no more . . . you damn civilized natives who ought to be leading your people properly are misleading them”.

D. Twe returned to Liberia in 1936 from exile upon a compromise by which he was pardoned, having been “convicted” of Sedition, a felony and expelled from Legislature. Although there was talk in official, government circles of arresting and/or restraining D. Twe from engaging in politics, though pardoned, but his lifetime of patriotic commitment to democratic, political order in Liberia against political tyranny dictated that he continue to speak out, unequivocally, against government abuse and paten violations of the rights of all citizens.

Accordingly, in 1950, D. Twe and supporters formed, organized and registered the United People’s Political Party, later re-named the Reformation Party, with D. Twe as the Party’s Flag Bearer and Candidate for President to oppose President Tubman in his bid for a second term. But, during the campaign, President Tubman described D. Twe as an “inherent traitor, a consummate liar, a senile visionary, a sophisticated bigot and intransigent egotist”. D. Twe’s life was, again, threatened and the welfare of his (Twe’s) supporters. It is needless to report that President Tubman, with enormous political power, defeated D. twe.

Other Legendary Nationalists
There were other brave and legendary Nationalists, though unlettered in the western tradition, but with equally, naturally-endowed skillful, democratic political leaders, including the Late Seyon Juah Nimely, the fabled, legendary Paramount Chief of Sasstown, the-then Kru Coast Territory and Resistance Leader of the Grebo-Kru Coast Up-rising, 1916s-1930s, extremely memorable. Also, memorable were and are the graphic account by the Resistance Leader, Chief Juah Nimely’s rejection of invitation to a peace conference by President Barclay, while armed resistance was already in an advanced stage, for fear that he would be treated like the rebel leaders of the 1915-1916 rebellion. Expressing this fear, Chief Nimely wrote to Lord Cecil of the League of Nations Liberia Commission on Liberia: “It is most certain that we will be arrested like the Nana Kru Chiefs who are now in custody in Sinoe, and in the end we may be killed like the 75 chiefs who were invited to a ‘peace conference’ at Sinoe but then seized and executed in 1916”.

Other brave and memorable leaders were Paramount Chief Bedda Beh of Grand Gedeh County, who told President Tubman, bravely and openly, during one of the President’s Executive Councils “to keep his (the President’s) hands out of the Krahn traditional, socio-cultural til”. In other words, do not meddle in the traditional, social, cultural norms and practices of the Krahn people, traditions that guided, protected and preserved the people throughout the ages.

Still others, according to oral history, were and was the old and crusty legendary warrior, politician and diplomat – Garleh Mea – founder of Meabloh, center of Kanneh ethnic/tribal politics, a village 5 miles south of Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. In the 1916s – 1930s during his advanced age, Garleh Mea, we were told, questioned the right of the settler government, in faraway Monrovia, to demand and collect taxes from villagers, taxes levied on the villagers’ own huts and collected by torture and force (the political theory of “taxation without representation”). The old man refused, we are told, to yield to the control (“sovereignty”) of the “government” in Monrovia under the-then prevailing condition of “force” and forcible exactions.

And finally, still others were the Late Paramount chiefs Gborzuo Toweh and Dahn Gborwein of Nimba County; and Paramount Chief Kpangbai of Bong County, who were brave, legendary leaders dedicated to political change and reforms.
Together, with their counterparts – Bedda Beh and Garleh Mea of Grand Gedeh County; Seyon Juah Nimely of Grand Kru County; and Albert Porte and D. Twe of Montserrado County – were the socio-cultural and political icons whose legendary courage, vision and advocacy for democratic change and reforms shaped the destiny of modern Liberia.

Refernces:
Best, Keith Neville Asumuyaya, Albert Porte of Crozerville, Sea Breeze Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writings, Vol. 5, Issue 1, May 2008

Holsoe, Svend E., (ed.): Davis, Ronald W., Ethnohistorical Studies on the Kru Coast, Liberian Studies Monograph Series, Number 5 (Newark, Delaware, 1976).

Nyanseor, Siahyonkron, Liberian History 101: The Man Called D. Twe, June 11, 2014.

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