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Opinion

Who Wants the ‘Government Bone’?

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Cllr. Winston Tubman, Standard Bearer [for the time being] of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) embodies a number of ideological contradictions and identity crises. His view on current and historical political issues, his nationality and social identity and his political affiliations leave no doubt in the mind of anyone watching from a distance that this is a man who is attempting to resurrect an antiquated dynasty that has long been cast in the dustbin of history and the dungeon of popular opinion.

While a much deeper research will be required to adequately unmask the actual Winston Tubman, there are nevertheless lingering questions that have continually dogged the paths of the would-be President, questions that he has, thus far, evaded or failed to answer successfully. What I intend to do in this article is to restate, or rephrase those unanswered questions in the context of the political arguments coming from Cllr. Tubman and other politicians during this election season.

Crisis of Origin

The first of Cllr. Tubman’s unanswered questions is his roots and origin. In 2005, William VS Tubman, Jr. [aka Baby Shad], who is supposed to be a cousin of the Counselor, was the first to raise serious doubt about Winston’s connection to the Tubman clan. In our common parlance, If the house does not sell you, the street will not buy. That Cllr. Winston Tubman was born of a Togolese national in the employ of the Tubman family was only consigned to the realms of gossips, speculations and unsubstantiated notions until Baby Shad broke the egg, so to speak, by declaring that he is not aware that Winston was the son of his uncle.

Unfortunately for us Liberians, Cllr. Tubman has not come out clearly to debunk the allegations from his “cousin” who, as the most direct heir to the Tubman dynasty, should have no reason to cast doubt on any member of his family who is attempting to restore the lost glory of the family. Of more serious concern is the fact that very few persons of conscience have been bold enough to challenge Cllr. Tubman to clarify, once and for all, his identity.

Let everyone, including Cllr. Tubman and his supporters, get this clear: the fact that he was born in Liberia means there is no doubt about his nationality. He is a Liberian unless he proves to the contrary through words or deeds. But it is a duty of honor for him to tell us who he really is, the son of a Tubman or a Togolese national working for the Tubmans. One way to do so, if I may suggest, is for him to face his “cousin” Baby Shad head on and identify which branch of the Tubman family tree he descends from. Not to do so would leave Liberians in doubt about who their prospective President truly is.

Crisis of Social Identity

In one of his latest gaffe, Cllr. Tubman was straining to identify himself as a grassroots politician. Nothing can be more disingenuous than a Tubman calling himself a grassrooter in the Liberian socio-economic context. To sharpen this contradiction more clearly, let me refer to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition of 2005: grass roots 1: the very foundation or source 2: the basic level of society or of an organization… as viewed in relation to higher or more centralized position of power.

To be objective I would first use the above definition as the sole basis to debunk Cllr. Tubman’s grassroots pretensions before extending the argument to other contexts. The definition throws up two critical dimensions of a grassrooter: the social dimension which refers to terms like source, basic level of society or organization, and a political dimension that speaks of higher or more centralized position of power. To qualify as a grassroots member of society, a person must belong to a group or groups that comprise the very foundation or represent the predominant characteristics of that society. In the case of Liberia, the predominant characteristics of the people are defined by sixteen ethnic groups, mainly rural dwellers living by subsistence agriculture urban wage earners who largely belong to the lower income bracket. In short, the grassroots constitute the mass, the proletariat and lumpen proletariat. These terms are being applied to provide clarity and emphasis and should not be construed in the context of classical ideological debate.

Winston Tubman, whether by family origin or social status, does not belong to that basic component of the Liberian populace, i.e., the tribal groups. He is neither a product of a poor rural subsistence farmer or urban civil servant or daily hire (day-boy as they say). This man was born into the tailcoat society of the 1930s and 1940s. He was born into the epicenter, the power base of the elite; into the class that paid little or no tax but enjoyed all the benefits that taxes provide.

Politically, Cllr. Tubman again does not qualify as a grassrooter because in the historical political divide, he belongs to what Webster defines as “higher or more centralized form of power”. It is a blatant irony and a cheeky proposition for him to call himself a grassroot politician. Was he a social and political rights advocate like Albert Porte?

Was he ever a sympathizer or supporter of opposition mass movements such as Didho Tweh’s United People’s Party, Movement for Justice in Africa or Progressive Alliance of Liberia? Did he affiliate with the Union of Liberians in the Americas during his time of studies in the USA? Was he ever whipped or jailed for criticizing the excesses of his generation and his ruling class? In fact, did he take part, or has he ever taken part, in any demonstration of the masses against the evils of society?

If nothing else defines Cllr. Tubman politically, the fact that he has no history of advocacy for social, economic and political justice for the masses of Liberians clearly marks him out as an elitist and apologist of dictatorships. I say this because one does not have to be a Congo or Native to be labeled an elite or grassrooter. To be a grassrooter is, besides, being of the social, economic and political lower class, a statement of opinion on your stance on the critical issues of society. For instance, Albert Porte was a Congo man. But today we remember him as a grassrooter because he was a champion of the rights of the common people. On the other hand, Bob Gray was a native who betrayed his own people in land transactions with settlers.

Yes, Cllr. Winston Tubman comes up with fairy tales about how he used to break wood in Pleebo. Yes, he can indulge in historical revisionism by saying he moved into the Executive Mansion on pure merit and not because of family connections. Yes, he can afford to buy a grassroots political movement. But no, he cannot fool anybody about the fact that he was wining and dining in the corridors of power while people were being cast in dark prison cells and thrown into mass graves. No, he cannot undo the fact that all his education, social stature and whatever possession he inherited, was earned on the backs of the parents and grandparents of those whose votes he is canvassing for. For these and other reasons, he has no moral credential to call himself a grassroots politician. Instead, he is a political grasshopper as I shall explain shortly.

Crisis of Political Identity

Among the many questions people have been asking of late is the question of where does Winston Tubman really fit, or where he thinks he fits in the Liberian political chessboard. Before 1980 he was member of the True Whig Party as was expected of any self-respecting Tubman. After 1985 he joined in National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) because it was though as the easier option for getting government appointment. He went on to become Minister of Justice. In 2006, he bought the Liberia National Union (LINU) founded by Doe’s Vice President Harry Moniba. Tubman was banking on the Lofa County vote when he moved to LINU. As head of LINU, he entered an ill-fated alliance with the Congress for Democratic Change, hoping to ride on the back of George Weah’s popularity from the 2005 elections. In 2009, after being openly rebuffed and ridiculed by Weah and his supporters, Cllr. Tubman followed the popular saying that one does not eat crabs with shame and joined the CDC. 

In the African context, especially Liberia, grasshoppering from one party to another is not out of order. What is unacceptable, however, is the grasshopper is jumping from place to place in search of the easiest route to power, and because he does not want to organize, build and nurture institutions but simply wants to take a free ride to victory. Of the old TWP politicians, Cllr. Tubman should be among those striving to revive the oldest political party in Liberia. He owes it to his family, which enjoyed 27 (twenty-five percent) of the 110 years that the TWP ruled the country. He also owes it to the TWP as the political institution that created the atmosphere (though not conducive) for him to get a Harvard degree.

Instead of keeping faith with his true political heritage, Cllr. Tubman has shunned the TWP, probably for the stigma attached to it, and sought refuge in other parties that are synonymous with other political personalities.  The NDPL is a political identity of the late President Samuel K. Doe. LINU is a brainchild of the late VP Moniba. CDC is an identity element of George Oppong Weah. Cllr. Tubman has no political institution that he can identify as his home – either as founder, founding member, leading ideologue or chief financier.

It is this lack of institutional identity that led political commentators to describe him as a government bone a derisive term used by soccer playing kids in those days to refer to the odd man out when they divided themselves into teams. Not wanting to be left out, the government bone would choose to play as a spoiler against the two opposing teams on the field, often creating mischief by stopping a ball going into the goal or fouling any player in possession. As a result he was kicked about by everybody and the referee would not call for foul. Winston Tubman has been tossed about by various political parties and the Liberian people – the political referee – don’t give a fig about him.

Crisis of Political Positioning

Cllr. Tubman’s contradictions have not been confined to his institutional allegiances. His opinions on the issues of our times leave one to conclude that it would be better for him to keep quiet or allow others to speak on his behalf. There have been many gaffes by the CDC Standard Bearer, including his self-characterization as a grassrooter which I have dealt with earlier. What I want to throw the spotlight on is his recent call on Liberians to boycott the pending national referendum on several propositions to amend the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.  The naïve approach to this is to say that’s the man’s right to say what he pleases. But the issue of Liberians going to the polls is not a simple matter given the historical struggle for voting rights.

The political struggles of the 1950s to 1980s and the upheavals of the 1990s to early 2000s were premised on the fact that elections were not democratic. Because elections were undemocratic, the decisions about political and economic governance as determined by the winners of those undemocratic processes were not representative of the majority of Liberians. However, the last eight years have shown that Liberians, when given the unhindered opportunity to exercise their suffrage, can choose the political leaders whom they think can take decisions in their interests. And the outcomes of some recent party primaries are early signs of the people’s readiness to vote out those they elect into office if such officials fail to deliver.

Against this background, it is clearly a miscalculation if not a mischief for a leading politician to adopt a stance that contradicts the most important right granted to the people of Liberia by the Constitution. There are a number of rights guaranteed by the constitution, among them right to free speech, freedom of the press, right of access to basic social services, etc. However, these other rights are subject to some modulation or moderation by administrative regulations or resource constraints.

But the right to vote is meant be exercised undiluted, unfettered and unadulterated. Hence Cllr. Tubman’s call on CDC partisans and supporters to boycott the referendum is not only undemocratic but it is anti-constitutional. He has the right to tell his followers (if indeed it is him they are following) anything, including walking on all fours or walking on their heads, but he has got no right to tell any Liberian not to go to vote. Let’s get it right, going out to vote is one thing and the decision made by voting is another. Unfortunately Cllr. Tubman is unable to make this distinction because he never joined the ranks of those who fought for free, fair and democratic elections in Liberia.

Conclusion

I will end with a folktale about Spider who went to a strange town and proceeded, without consulting the townspeople, to make farm in the sacred forest.  On the first day while brushing, a bird came and sat right in front of Spider. Without hesitation he killed the bird and took it home to prepare his evening meal. As he went about cooking, the dead bird was singing, giving instructions about how to cook it, from plucking the feathers to cutting it into pieces all the way to the eating. The bird’s song ran like this:

When you come to town
Pay homage to the Zoe
Then the Zoe will pay homage to the Witch Doctor
Little tree and twigs, rise and stand again.

Spider, being who he is, did not pause a moment to marvel at the wonder that was unfolding: a dead bird singing cooking instructions to him, even after he has boiled it to 1000 centigrade.

On the second day, Mr. Spider was surprised at what he saw when he returned to his new farm. All the areas that were brushed the previous day have grown back into virgin forest. He had to re-brush. And so it went throughout that year’s farming season as Mr. Spider had to do undertake every stage of the farming cycle twice. To make a long story short, he did not harvest a grain because the entire farm, which was the greenest and freshest because he planted it in virgin soil, as it was completely wiped out by a band of monkeys, elephants and chimpanzees.

Cllr. Winston Tubman, the johnnie-just-come to Liberian politics has been running here and there looking for political relevance. He has made a number of statements that clearly shows that he is out of touch with today’s reality. The reason for this disconnect is because he is not grounded in the many decades of agitation and advocacy that brought us to this point. He is just like Spider who thinks the sacred forest is untouched because the people are lazy or do not know how to make farms. In the end, he will end up empty-handed because he does not speak the language of the struggle and he does not want to hang heads with those who fought for freedom and democracy.  Anyway, who expects a government bone to identify himself with anyone in particular?

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