Surfing the internet on the evening of September 7, 2012, I came across this headline, “Bowier, Gbala, to Remember Samuel Doe”, by the New Dawn newspaper, with a story indicating that “Two ex-officials of the erstwhile Doe regime, Emmanuel Bowier and Bai Gbala, are expected to address a one-day, intellectual discourse in honor of the slain President, Samuel Kanyon Doe”.
Instantly, I recalled that while in Free Town, Sierra Leone, on assignment for the first Peace Conference with the NPFL, President Samuel Kanyon Doe was tortured to death on September 9, 1990.
Unfortunately, no one informed nor invited me to this “intellectual discourse” in honor of our departed leader who was not only president of our nation, but also a prominent son of our county, Grand Gedeh County. It is, therefore, befitting as well as an opportunity and privilege (for me) that I recall some of the highlights of Dr. Doe’s historic, socio-economic and political achievements – His major, meaningful legacy – the “firsts” as the “first” indigene to be elected president of the Republic, and the manner of man that Samuel Kanyon Doe was.
Young Samuel K. Doe was fiercely patriotic, dedicated and committed to this nation and people. Born in a village, of parents who were illiterate and subsistence farmers, young “Sammie” saw and experienced the indignity of unjust, single-party, single-group rule – forced, hard, unpaid labor, taxation and periodic “collections” without representation, etc., etc. to which his parents, relatives and others of the district were subjected. Therefore, he became concerned and determined to “learn book” and be “quee”, to lead and secure a better life for himself and his “people”. He joined the Armed Forces of Liberia, received excellent, military training, took private lessons and, basically, self-taught.
Young Samuel Doe was intelligent and well-informed, amazingly, on almost all issues – social, economic and political. He was courageous, fair and firm and, being a military man, Samuel Doe “died with his boots on”.
Unfortunately, ECOWAS Heads of State & Government conspiracy, led by and through the Ghanian General Quanu, Head of ECOMOG/Liberia, lured our President to the Free Port of Monrovia and delivered him to the rebels, who, without an inch of humanity, tortured, brutalized and butchered the President to his untimely death. We have “forgiven but not forgotten”; for, it is said that those who ignore the mistakes of history are likely to repeat them.
The past, social, economic and political history of our country was characterized by a painful culture of impunity; systematic abuse of human, civil, political rights and violence; and public policy confusion and contradictions. For more than a century of our existence as an independent nation, our founding fathers did not only arrogate to themselves all political, economic and administrative power, tightly and rigidly centralized here in Monrovia, and denied political participation to the indigenous peoples on the basis of ethnic/tribal, gender and socio-economic Exclusivity, but also refused to recognize, as full-fledged citizens, the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population of rural Liberia, for some 57 years after political independence.
These conditions gave rise to the Event of April 12, 1980 (an accident of history) by 17, non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), led by young Samuel Kanyon Doe. Although tragic, because of the loss of many lives, pain and sorrow brought upon families of the victims and the entire nation, but the Event was and is consistent, also, with and in response to humankind’s enduring, historic quest for respect and dignity of the human person; for freedom, justice, equality of treatment; and for national unity and recognition of the majority of the nation’s population as full-fledged, tax-paying citizens under the rule of law.
Regarding this Event, we wrote elsewhere that “Let it be recalled, lest we forget that these AFL men, all young, average age of twenty-something years, were trained in the rigorous, extremely regimented, military science and culture of ‘obey, obey, obey and duty-before-complaint’. Absent from their training were the required, democratic (political) notions of educated discourse – rational debate, compromise, disagree-to-agree, policy consensus, etc. Because of the absence of (these) . . . socio-political culture and . . . leadership qualities, there were many mistakes, with policy contradictions, given our, Liberian, socio-cultural, economic and political traditions, then prevailing. However, we believe (and are convinced) that the soldiers performed phenomenally well. Here are the facts of our recent, political history . . . :”
First and foremost, Samuel Kanyon Doe, as President of Liberia, introduced a challenging, new Era or an Epoch into Liberia’s socio-political thought and practice, based upon and as close as possible, to classical, democratic principles, by the Constitution of 1986. Though not perfect, but among the many, real meaningful, political “firsts” were the competitive, multiparty (we went to polls with four political parties), pluralistic, peaceful, electoral, political process that produced a tenured-president in Liberia, on the African continent then notorious for one-party states and life-time presidents.
Second, Although tragic, the 1980 Event (by Samuel Kanyon Doe and Colleagues) awakened the nation’s social, economic and political consciousness from more than a century of slumber; more importantly, the Event brought out and crystallized a new horizon of and for political, leadership challenges for change.
Third, the impact of this historic change upon the present and future of our country is and will be felt not only by the socio-economic and political emancipation of the indigenous, rural citizens, an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population, but also the socio-economic and political redemption/emancipation of some of the similarly poor, uneducated, disadvantaged elements of the so-called Americo-Liberians, our founding fathers and former, ruling class. Due to this historic change, ethnic/tribal and gender inclusion or diversity has become a national policy, based on merit.
Indeed, it has been and being argued, reasonably so, that almost all of our social, economic and political ills of the past, including the devastating, civil war, and the current, “failed-state” designation of our country are traceable to the past, irrational policy of ethnic/tribal and gender exclusivity.
Fourth, the rights of freedom of movement and association and the independent, aggressive, free, fair and impartial, newspaper reporting in the effort to inform, educate and entertain, all necessary preconditions for a functioning democracy, have now become the rule, rather than the exception, in our country, due to and encouraged by the Doe Era.
Fifth, There is now a marked, vibrant increase in socio-political advocacy/activism for socio-political and economic change, particularly protection of human rights with determination, courage and enthusiasm that originated and grew from and given direction by the activities/encouragement of the Samuel Doe government/era. For example, powerful, political figures who were once regarded as “untouchables” in the past are now subjects for serious challenges regarding dishonest and questionable, socio-political activities.
Sixth, there is, also, an encouraging number of young, determined, energetic, dedicated, patriotic and idealistic Liberians who have acquired and are acquiring the necessary education, training and experience in preparation to challenge the remaining elements or vestiges of the old order and seek to perfect and transform our young, democratic process.
Seventh, and finally, Samuel Kanyon Doe was an intelligent, energetic, idealistic, highly patriotic and dedicated young man; he was extremely committed to the development of the nation; some examples:
· Cancelled several, questionable, rental contracts between the Government of Liberia (GOL) and some high officials of government for buildings and other properties built and developed with stolen government funds and for which rents were being paid to the same officials.
· Planned to build a new Ministry of Justice; renovate and expand the Ministry of Lands & Mines; commenced building the Ministries of National Defense and Health & Social Welfare in Congo Town.
· The Green Revolution for maximum, food production/security, with local farm-to-market roads, and Highways linking all county capitals to each other and to the nation’s capital, the City of Monrovia.
· Planned and commenced funding negotiations for major, East-West & North-South, all-weather, national Highway system, beginning with Ganta-Harper; the Atlantic Highway along the coast from the city of Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County linking the Cities of Monrovia, Montserrado County; Buchanan, Grand Bassa County; Cestos City, River Cess County; Greenville, Sinoe County; Barclayville, Grand Kru County; and Harper, Maryland County.
· Organized and established the National Insurance Corporation of Liberia (NICOL) for health, life and death benefits coverage for all employees of government, particularly, the military, paramilitary and diplomatic as well as all government properties.