After all of the Hala-Hala & Hoopla for and against Rejections/denunciations and demonstrations/celebrations of the Rice Riot (April 14, 1979) and the historic coup d’etat (April 12, 1980), these two days and dates (April 12, & 14) came and gone with the Capital City and the Nation sailed through peacefully, without violence or confrontation. Choice of which side of the perennial debate one is on is immaterial; for, the place in the political history of our country which these two days occupy or have, and will have, in terms of the activities that took place on those days are distinguished, memorable and all-time; the CHANGE that they represent is profound in socio-economic and political terms. Indeed, these two days will remain an indelible mark of permanent, socio-political Change in the ways of dynamic politics henceforth, in Liberia.
Reflections of a Student of Political Thought & Practice
I pen these reflections in the hope for rational, healthy, cordial, civil political debate, the presentation, critiques and exchange of ideas and ideals regarding the merits and demerits of the April 12, 1980 Event, recalling some of the past and recurring rejections/denunciations and memorials/celebrations, with some thoughts of my own.
In his denial/rejection of the April 12, 1980 Event, Mr. Augustine Kollie wrote, in April 2010 that “the 1980 coup had no purpose. It was borne out of falsehood . . .” Similarly, since the death of the former president and leader of the non-commission officers of the AFL who undertook the April 12, 1980 coup d’etat, there have been, and are, denunciations of the Event, up to this day. Recently, just on April 13, 2013, a Mr. Shannon Wea directed his venom of denunciations/demonizations of the April 12, 1980 Event at the Krahn People for his alleged political transgressions committed by Samuel K. Doe. Talk about “guilt-by-association”? If, for the sake of Mr. Wea’s argument, we agree that Samuel k. Doe did commit the political transgressions as alleged, but that does not lend credibility or admit truth of the validity of Mr. Wea’s premise and conclusion; for, although Samuel Doe is an ethnic Krahn, he (Samuel Doe) and the Krahn People/Tribe are not one and the same.
In response to Mr. Kollie, I held then and hold now, that “the abiding quest for human dignity, respect, freedom and justice throughout history and the continuing, human desire and commitment (with sacrifices) to perfect the democratic process, particularly in the case of the majority of the population of our nation, Liberia, ignores the critical facts of human history and, therefore, denial/rejection of the validity and significance of the event of April 12, 1980, is woefully unreasonable, without foundation, though mournful and regrettable, in terms of the loss of precious, human lives”.
“That throughout history”, I continued, “the desire to secure, protect and maintain human dignity, respect for the human person, freedom and justice – a desire epitomized by the founding of these United States of America in 1776; the bloody French Revolution of 1789; the very founding of the Republic of Liberia in 1822; the Czarist, Russian Revolution of 1905 in which millions, including the Czars, were killed; and the Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution of October, 1917, during which Vladimir Lenin died in exile in Switzerland – testify passionately, reasonably and convincingly of the righteous validity and significance of April 12, 1980, including several, other modern coup d’etats and the prevailing Pro-Democracy, world movement”.
Samuel Kanyon Doe, 21st President of Liberia
The 165-year, turbulent history of the founding and governance of our country, Liberia, is particularly relevant for an insight into and the analysis, understanding and interpretation of the facts and issues leading up to and the appreciation of the events of April 12, 1980. It is in this respect that I find Mr. Augustine Kollie’s ‘analysis, denial/rejection’ and continuing denunciations to be miserably lacking, in terms of the critical lessons of history.
Though the April 12, 1980 Event was a national tragedy (an illegal “accident of history” that became legal because successful) because it resulted in the loss of many lives and, thus, brought pain and sorrow upon our nation and people. However, this event, also, awakened our social, economic and political consciousness from more than a century of slumber; more importantly, the tragedy brought out and crystallized a new, exciting horizon of leadership challenges for Change – change in our conception of a Nation and State in the context of the developing, democratic worldview, worldwide.
Military to Civilian Government in a Ten-year Rule
About the People’s Redemption Council (PRC, Military) and Civilian Governments led by young Samuel Doe for only 10 of our nation’s 165 years as an independent state, I observed elsewhere that during the past 133 years, “the past, social, economic and political history of our country was characterized by a painful culture of impunity, violence, systematic abuse of human, civil, political rights; and public policy confusion and contradictions. For more than a century of our existence as an independent nation, our founding fathers not only arrogated to themselves all political, economic and administrative power, tightly and rigidly centralized here in Monrovia, 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 in which seven-teen (17) non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), led by young Samuel Kanyon Doe, achieved a successful coup d’etat.
Regarding the April 12, 1980 Event, I wrote 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 this training . . . socio-political culture and . . . leadership qualities, there were many mistakes, such as policy contradictions and the ‘macho’ traditional notions of political power, all within our Liberian, socio-cultural, economic and political traditions, then prevailing, I . . . am, however, convinced that, on average and given these entrenched, prevailing, political traditions, the young soldiers performed phenomenally well. Here are the facts of our recent, political history . . . :”
First and foremost, the government (of Samuel Kanyon Doe, as President of Liberia that came to power as the result of the April 12, 1980 Event) introduced a challenging, new Era or an Epoch into Liberia’s socio-political thought and practice as shown 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, including Liberia, itself, as one-party state for 133 years, until the April 12, 1980 Event.
Second, although tragic, the April 12, 1980 Event 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 political, leadership challenges for change.
Third, the benefits of this historic Change – the socio-economic and political emancipation – will accrue not only to the poor, uneducated, disadvantaged indigenous, rural citizens, an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population, but also the redemption, from the shackles of totalitarianism of our forefathers, the ruling class of the so-called Americo-Liberians, including, also, the emancipation/redemption of some of the citizens of the Americo-Liberian group, similarly poor, uneducated, disadvantaged and unrepresented. Due to this historic Change, the unwritten but duly practiced policy of ethnic/tribal and gender exclusion has been abolished, such that today, ethnic/tribal and gender inclusion or diversity, based on merit, has become national policy 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, unwritten, irrational policy of ethnic/tribal and gender exclusivity.
Fourth, the rights of freedom of movement and association, and the independent, aggressive, free, fair, impartial and truthful 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 1980 Event.
Fifth, there is now a marked, vibrant increase in socio-political advocacy/activism for socio-political and economic change, with courage, dedication and enthusiasm, originated and grew from and given direction by the activities/encouragement of the 1980 Event 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. In fact, the problems of corruption and denial of civil/political liberties, an entrenched vice and a profound, political tyranny that plagued our nation and people, with impunity for more than a century, were brought out in the open and raised to national consciousness and anger as “Rampant Corruption” and “Abuse of Political Power” by the April 12, 1980 Event, such that this action gave rise to the formation and establishment of political activism, human rights organizations and the rise of human rights lawyers – Attorneys and Counselors-at-Law – in Liberia.
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 – under-graduate and graduate, several at the Ph.D level, with 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, the civilian government following the April 12, 1980 Event, in accordance and consistent with the Change, took the following actions:
- Cancelled several, questionable, rental contracts between the Government of Liberia and some high, prominent officials of government for buildings and other properties developed and built with stolen government funds and related resources for which rents were being paid to the same officials.
- Planned to commence building a new Ministry of Justice; renovate and expand the Ministry of Lands & Mines; commenced building of the Ministries of National Defense and Health & Social Welfare in Congo Town.
- The Green Revolution, the government’s signature program, 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.
- Introduced reforms to modernize the Civil Service System (fair, open recruitment and placement of qualified individuals) with emphasis on retirement pension for those citizens who spent their lives in service to the nation.
- Introduced the notion of Foreign Aid- or Donor-assisted, salary/wage system for high officials of government in the effort to control, minimize and, eventually, eradicate public dishonesty (corruption in government).
Now, Decentralization – Proclaimed National, Public Policy for CHANGE.
Advanced in a Paper (“Decentralization of Political Power in Liberia: A Framework for Regional Empowerment & Participation in National Decision-making”) presented at the National Conference 2024 on the future of Liberia, held at the Unity Conference Center on July 19, 1998 and now proclaimed as a national policy by government, Decentralization, as a national, public policy for Change, consistent with the spirit of the April 12, 1980 Event, draws attention to the development – socio-economic and political – of the regional, political subdivisions, with emphasis on rural Liberia, where the majority of the nation’s known endowment of natural resources are located, and the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population lives.
In her first Inaugural Speech delivered on January 6, 2006, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as President of Liberia, demonstrated profound encouragement for the future of our country by the declaration that “. . . I pledge to bring the government closer to the people. The days of the imperial presidency . . . are over in Liberia . . . The Executive Mansion and ‘Monrovia’ will no longer be the only center of power . . . The people and their interests, as defined by them, will be at the very heart of our new dispensation of decentralization . . . of power (Vol. 1 No. 1, Governance Commission Decentralization Bulletin, March 31, 2011)”. Indeed, these pledges of encouragement are, in fact, two of the major themes of the Paper on Decentralization.
However, since the founding of this nation in 1847, some 165 years ago as an independent nation, political, economic and administrative power has been, and continues to be, rigidly concentrated in, controlled and dispensed from the Republic of Monrovia, consistent with the doctrine of Unitary-structured governance, with socio-economic development, such as education, trade and commerce (import/export), minor industrial development centralized, also, in Monrovia. Meanwhile, there has been little or no meaningful, socio-economic and political development – educational, agricultural, industrial, trade and commerce, and communication system of all-weather roads/highways, the most important and required “Multiplier effect” in national, economic development, for production and exchange of goods and services, both national and international – have been untaken in rural Liberia.
Moreover, the administration of counties – the national, constituent, political sub-divisions and their sub-structures are caught in vicious shackles of policy contradictions and confusions, due to policies made and dispensed by bureaucrats sitting in Monrovia, creating new sub-structures such as clan and paramount chiefdoms, townships, administrative and statutory districts in addition to existing sub-structures created by ancient, Liberia Law governing Hinterland Liberia, without the benefit of current, research information. As a matter of fact, in her most recent, Annual Message delivered on January 28, 2013, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said this about “. . . the challenges of the Decentralization Policy . . . the present local (in the counties) governance structures are bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe . . . 93 Administrative Districts; 251 paramount Paramount Chiefs; more than 689 Clan Chiefs; 1,410 General Town Chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners”, (indicating the creation of that number of townships). “Moreover”, the President continued, “the government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 TOWNS AND VILLAGES. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .”
The negative impact or consequences of these socio-economic and political, public policy confusions are numerous and devastating. They include, for example, the following:
- Impact of un-anticipated (without or lack of required planning), rapid population growth and urbanization
- Populations migrations with the rise of a “consumption generation
- Rural-to-urban migration, the case of the socio-economic and political constipation of the City of Monrovia, rendering the capital city congested, over-populated and ungovernable, and the city’s urban transport a nightmare
- There is the celebrated, uncontrollable, Monrovia Street-selling
- The 24-hour, Monrovia, bumper-to-bumper, traffic jam, arising from the phenomenal increase in the volume of vehicular/pedestrian (automobile & people) traffic in Monrovia with no roads/streets to ply. Apparently, all vehicles imported to Liberia are concentrated in the Monrovia area, because of the critical absence of or that there are no roads/highways in rural Liberia.
- Other county dwellers, especially rural, migrate to Monrovia to avail themselves of employment/economic, educational, and personal growth and developmental opportunities
In the light of these conditions, it is reasonable to conclude that the rational resolution of Liberia’s major socio-economic and political problems lies in the application of the most modern theory of democratic thought, Decentralization/Fedralism.
The Paper on Decentralization proposed the re-division/re-demarcation of the nation into four, major, regional, political sub-divisions, with the rights and authority of semi-autonomous, constituent governments, to elect their political leaders now appointed by “Monrovia”.
These sub-divisions are to be known as “provinces” – Eastern, North Central, South Central and Western Provinces, with the counties amalgamated into the demarcated provinces as they (counties) are presently defined and geographically located, on the basis of geography, socio-cultural commonality, etc., while federalism provides local self-determination. Although this concept and approach may not solve all of Liberia’s problems, but it will, certainly, go a long way in resolving the nation’s major, often contested issue of political power (with untold human and material sacrifices as we have already experienced), local self-rule or political participation, with the critical ability for political compromise, give-and-take, the CHANGE for which the April 12, 1980 Event took place.
The nomenclature of “province” is a symbolic; in that, it is a known, readily recognized and accepted appellation of a political, semi-autonomous sub-division of an independent state. A county is a lower, sub-, sub-division of a semi-autonomous, political sub-division of an independent state. This nomenclature of “province” connotes maturity and the ability to perform the required functions of a constituent, semi-autonomous, political sub-division.
Amalgamation seeks to resolve the critical problem of the absence of human and natural resources. Some of the prevailing, county sub-divisions lack the population and the natural resources required to perform the responsibilities, effectively, efficiently and adequately, as required of a political sub-division. Hence, amalgamation of the counties into the demarcated provinces resolves this problem.
An indigenous, politically-liberal citizen, I have long reflected upon our troubling, national history of needless, destructive envy, fear, jealousy, rivalry, antagonism and hatred; all fueled, motivated and driven by the so-called ethnic/tribal nationalism (Country-, Congo- & Americo-Liberianism), a divisive, frivolous concept that is no longer valid in the 21st century Liberia of today. This condition has brought us and our nation face-to-face with near-total collapse. Unless we build bridges of unity, understanding, mutual respect and cooperation across ethnic/tribal divides, and unless we face today’s critical challenges with reason, commitment and resolve for positive, socio-political change, we stand to lose, ethnic/tribal origin and nationalism notwithstanding!!
This situation should not and need not arise, because our country is a small nation of less than 4 million people; it is endowed with, relatively, more than its share of natural and human resources – a reservoir of trained, experienced and trainable professionals: young, energetic, idealistic and patriotic; rich soil, abundant rain fall, forest with lush greenery, daily sunlight and energy. All of these are suitable for tropical agriculture. Organized and efficiently managed, agriculture (Liberia’s traditional economic activity), trade and commerce, and industrial development should, will and must provide and satisfy the needs for all Liberians.
Indeed, it is necessary that we move forward, benefit from the lessons of our past, turbulent history.
About Bai M. Gbala, Sr. (The question has been, always, asked, who is Bai Gbala?)
A life-long public servant, liberal politician and citizen of the Republic, Bai Mayson Gbala, Sr. was born many rice farms ago and raised in Menyea Town (about 5 miles south of Zwedru), Kanneh Clan, Tchien Chiefdom, Grand Gedeh County, southeastern Liberia, in the ethnic/tribal, Traditional Society of rural Liberia. Growing up during the formative years within the socio-cultural environment of the Traditional Society, his life and political beliefs and, therefore, worldview, were influenced and shaped by the socio-cultural environment.
For, he saw, lived and experienced it all – one-party, single socio-economic class rule; taxation without representation, forced collections of rice, palm oil, chickens, goats, cows, wild meat, etc. from the villages and towns; forced and unpaid labor in the construction of district compounds, military barracks, paths and “roads” with crude implements such as hoes, cutlasses, diggers, axes and shovels; individuals forced from the villages and towns who carried loads/luggage on heads and district officials in hammocks as “porters” or carriers; and many other such practices to which his parents, uncles and other relatives in the district, were subjected. The eldest of three brothers of a powerful tribal leader, the late, Honorable Kwiah Gbala, who rose from second-in-command to the legendary warrior/politician, Garleh Menyea (founder of our Village of Menyea Town), to first paramount chief of the-then Kanneh Chiefdom and political leader.
Political consciousness, courage, advocacy, activism and political leadership came to Bai M. Gbala, Sr. as a matter of family tradition. Politics (not politricks) is in the genes and runs in the blood. He (and his two brothers were) was introduced to western education at an early age on the Assemblies of God Mission, Boarding School in Zwedru, the County Capital. The socio-political indignities, to which his parents and people were subjected, and the introduction to western thought, somewhat modern enlightenment, at the Mission school ignited, reinforced and fed the passion to “learn and know book”, to be “quee” (“civilized”, whatever that means) in order to be an agent for change, reform and transformation. Hence, the journey from the village of Menyea Town to the Mission school in Zwedru, to faraway Monrovia, and finally, to the strange land, USA, due to and grounded in this passion for change. His entire life has been and is guided, consistently, by this passion and conviction.