At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
By Alhaji G.V. Kromah
August 11, 2008
Mr. Chairman and Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We first give thanks and pay homage to the Almighty God for his great patience with this country and its people, for the privileges of natural wealth in diamond, gold, iron ore and the rich soil, none of which we have come to fully appreciate; and for the numerous second chances He has given us, which we have constantly misused and abused. We ask God the Almighty to give Liberians another chance, particularly through these TRC activities, so that we can correct our grave mistakes, change our ugly ways, including our proclivity to blossom in hypocrisy, hate, envy, discrimination, and stealing. We pray that the people and the government will feel sorry for each other and that after the TRC closes its activities, there will be more peace for Liberia and no reason to engage in another war. God, please give the Commissioners and their colleagues at the TRC, the wisdom to realize that they are the drivers in this process and we the rest of the Liberian people are the passengers, and that though we may not necessarily like each other as individuals and groups in this country, we have one destination; we are one nation, and we must get along in order to survive and attain prosperity. May God Bless us and show the way, Ameen.
Members of the Commission, Ladies and Gentlemen. Having already submitted nearly one hundred pages of interview to the Inquiry Unit of the TRC in the past several months, I come here today in response to your invitation to discuss with you, like others have done these few days, about what has happened to our country. We congratulate you the commissioners for your bold resolve to face the task before you. No doubt, posterity will judge you as to whether you will contribute to the securing of a cohesive, peaceful and prosperous Liberia or whether your role was divisive and contrapositive to the greatly needed unity of our people. We pray and believe that you will suppress your individual biases as normal human beings, and make a collective contribution for peaceful co-existence in Liberia.
My recollection and reflections here today are done partly within the framework of my humble and very limited academic exposure in Liberia and the United States, through the obtaining of a bachelor degree in economics, a bachelor degree in law, a Master Degree of Law in Intentional Legal Studies, a Doctor of Juridical Science Candidacy, a Master Degree in Journalism and Public Affairs, and the pending conferral of a Master Degree in International Relations. My recollection and reflection shall also be done on the basis of my professional, political, economic, cultural, military and personal activities over the past several decades. I shall endeavor to share with you the results of my research and analysis of early Liberian history, tracking down the mindset that destroyed us, the sources of our national financial mismanagement, the disrespect, disdain and exploitation of our labor force, and how we stopped being a nation of self-sufficiency in rice and ushered in a population politically imprisoned by rice. I shall tell you, by the Grace of God, what I saw as a youth during the Tubman Administration, and what I observed and did or did not do during the Administrations of Presidents William R. Tolbert, Jr. and Samuel K. Doe, Sr. I will narrate what I also saw during the administrations of the various interim governments. Rest assured I shall share with you information on my role during the war, along with the role of ULIMO, other factions, ECOMOG, the UN Missions, specific African and non-African leaders and other stakeholders. You will also hear from me specifically based on my experiences in normal and critical moments, when I served, one time or the other, as Minister of Information, Vice Chairman of the Council of State or the Collective Presidency, Director General of the Liberia Broadcasting System, Assistant Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Information, Press Secretary to the Vice President Liberia, as professor of communication and international law at the University of Liberia up to the present; and in the private sector as Director General of the Liberia Institute for Strategic Studies, Representative of the European Union’s Center for the Development of Industry; Consultant to the National Bank now Central Bank, and as a United Nations Development Program consultant during my refugee period in the Republic of Guinea. You will also hear from me on how as President of the National Soccer Champions Mighty Barrolle I learned how sports can bring about unity and reconciliation. I shall let you know what I learned as President of the Lofa County Citizens Association of Washington DC, as President of the Lofa University Student Association at the University of Liberia, and as Chairman of the Student Unification Party at the University of Liberia, where we once led students in the fight for the reinstatement of summarily dismissed faculty members.
At this time, let me salute those who have appeared before the commission and told the truth, in some cases confessing serious wrongdoing. They have appeared, knowing or not knowing the protection of the Constitution of Liberia as well as the tenets of due process provided for under the principles of international law. Article 21 of the Constitution of Liberia prohibits anyone from furnishing evidence against him. The subpoena power given the TRC requires everyone cited to come forth, and by legal extension, refrain from saying anything that is not the truth. The subpoena power has the effect of demanding appearance and then compliance with presenting the truth. Where therefore, someone came before the TRC and admitted a serious wrongdoing, as in the case of one of the past witnesses, and that individual demonstrates repentance and asks for forgiveness in the name of reconciliation, that individual has accordingly disavowed impunity; for impunity is having no sense of remorse and not willing to adjust one’s life and character. It must be presumed, by operation of substantive law, that the confessor relied on the genuiness of the surety that the confession was aimed at truthful reconciliation, and nothing entrapping.
Like those who have appeared before me in recent days, I come here today realizing that the purpose of the gathering is to tell and hear the truth about the events that have given the type of nation-state we have today. I recognize the need to honestly evaluate our history, truthfully narrate and present my experiences and my views on what should be the next step in the history of our nation that will be coterminous with functional democracy and durable peace. If you hear your name or the name of your family in my presentation in an unfavorable way, please accept my regrets, for it is not personal nor is it based on hate. These are just factual historical accounts.
Let me now move on with some brief encounter with early Liberian history where we have identified factors of psycho-socio dis-equilibrium, a serious disconnect between the mindset and the society, as the most important root cause of the problems Liberia faces today.
Our Early History
The escape from racial subjugation in the United States and the subsequent constitutional caveat that helped to prevent white people from ruling Liberia, was an achievement of those Liberians who came from overseas. Unfortunately, this early victory did not translate into the preservation of African values in Liberia nor did it see the unrestricted application of the tenets of democracy that we should have experienced in the United States. The freed Black people, who organized the first African Republic in the midst of the European scramble for Africa, ironically elected to pursue an attitude of skin-color, cultural and religious discrimination. They excluded whites from citizenship, which was understandable under the circumstances, but then confined the benefits of a democratic constitution to only a few. The perimeters of the settlers’ universe for citizenship simply excluded the indigenes.
We should have followed the vision of Reconciliation and population integration propounded by founding fathers like King Sao Boso, otherwise known as Chief Boatswain, Chief Zangar erroneously called Chief Bob Gray, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Benjamin J.K. Anderson. Yes, Firestone in Liberia, for example, could have been a robust base for transforming our vast indigenous manpower into skilled participants of manufacturing, only if we had followed the patriotic stance of men like Edwin Barclay and Louis Arthur Grimes, who legally questioned the leasing of one million acres of Liberian land for the exploitation of cheap raw material and labor without a caveat for the production of rubber products.
Sao Boso was leader of the Condo Confederacy, which covered northern and Western Liberia before the arrival of the settlers. The King, who was Mandingo and Muslim, was the leader that came from his capital of Bopolu to Monrovia to reconcile the settlers and the indigenous people in the area, telling them to consider each other as members of one African heritage. Sao Boso earlier led a combined army of Mandingo, Lorma and Gbandi warriors from upper Lofa to establish a safe security corridor for traders and travelers along the highway between Lofa and the coastal areas by way of present day Gbarpolu County. When the truth and reconciliation conference was held in what is today Vai Town in Monrovia, dealing with the conflict between the settlers and the Dei/Bassa people, the various representatives no doubt drew on the moral teachings of their religious background; Sao Boso being a Muslim, the settlers being Christians, and the Mamba and Bassa people belonging to their African spiritual religion. At that conference, a convergence of the principles of three religions and the philosophy of peaceful coexistence certainly made paved the way for the founding of the Republic of Liberia. Whether the principles of these three religions have translated into a clean system of governance with equal rights can be determined by our presence here today.
Sao Boso’s ability to put together a confederate type administration of autonomous chieftancies spanning the vast territory from the then Tuma River to the Coast, and from the Lofa River in the West to the St. Paul River in the East, showed that it was possible for mutual respect and cooperation to exist among rivals. Sao Boso brought together his rivals in one administration, including Chief Zuwulo of Fuama, grandfather of the late Senator Botoe Barclay of Bong County. The accomplishments and peace efforts of the King were distinctly recognized about 150 years later when a descendant of the Settlers, President William R. Tolbert, renamed Front Street in Monrovia as King Sao Boso Street. I was told that another prominent descendant of the settlers at the top of Front Street refused to accept the name, Sao Boso Street.
Yes indeed, if we had taken practical lessons of mutual assimilation from the Bassa Chief Zangar who preached the ideals of unity and integration between the settlers and the indigenes, we would have had a different Liberia today. Besides being erroneously called Bob Gray by the settlers, he was disrespected in some history books in which he was illustrated carrying a bucket of water on his head, though he was referred to as "chief" of the Bassa people.
Edward Wilmot Blyden was perhaps the most ardent intellectual advocate for the assimilation of the rich African culture among the settlers. He traveled widely and wrote profusely about the virtues and advantages of Black people from everywhere respecting their African roots, and how Liberia stood to be a great nation if its leaders would listen.
Benjamin J. K. Anderson, a middle level official in the government of President James Spriggs Payne, believed in the expansion of Liberia by the connecting of the interior people with the coastal settlers. With guidance from King Sao Boso’s son, Sao Momolu, B.J. K. Anderson traveled to the Western Mandingoes in Musardu, where the Mandingo Chief, Vabulaye Dulleh expressed enthusiasm in becoming part of the emerging Liberia. Anderson was indeed embarrassed on his second trip to Musardu, as he had gotten no serious response from the Administration of President Payne in Monrovia about the message of interior integration. As a result, the entire Guinea Forestaire region was taken over by the French when they eventually colonized the territory of Guinea. Imagine the population and the resources that could have been added to Liberia then, not speaking of the expanded territory.
In yet another historical development, Liberia probably missed a chance to embark on an ambitious mission of integrating not only the settlers and the so called "country people," but also promoting Pan Africanism and attracting manufacturing entrepreneurship.
Followers of Marcus Garvey, the New York-based Jamaican pan-African activist, said while the Americo-Liberian administration was giving Firestone one million acres of land, they were preventing Garvey from obtaining land to use as a base for the propagation of Pan-Africanism. Garvey founded the 1916 United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that canvassed for massive migration of blacks back to Africa as part of the process of liberating the continent from colonial hold. The campaign did not go down well with France and Britain, leading to their complaint to the United States and Liberian governments. Garvey chose Monrovia, capital of the continent’s only republic in 1920 as the ideal place for the UNIA headquarters. He was preparing to carry at least 25,000 members of his organization, mostly black Americans. Garvey told the Liberian government he would raise up to $2 million to liquidate the country’s troubling debt to the West, in exchange for the establishment of the UNIA base. The Government of President Charles D.B. King banned Garvey from coming to Liberia, accusing the UNIA of preaching racial hatred. Marcus Garvey in turn accused the Americo-Liberian leadership of treating the majority indigenous population as slaves on their own soil.
Recognition of the Interior Population
When the settlers government attempted to focus on the usefulness of the interior population, it had already taken some 80 years since independence in 1847. And yet, that recognition had nothing to do with citizenship or democracy. The Firestone Corporation of the United States had arrived.
Rubber plantation is labor intensive, and if the cost of the workforce is cheap, that’s a core motive for the choice of the investor who goes to a developing country. With the right and privilege to cultivate up to one million acres "anywhere" in a country, the concessionaire had to have worries about the problems of finding and recruiting labor and then deal with the rights of the inhabitants of the land that is to be cultivated; that is if there were a legal system based on the rule of law and adhered to international law.
The labor requirements of Firestone and later the scandalous Fernando Po labor contract laid at the bottom of the new interest in the interior population. Firestone fought for and got the agreement to require the Liberian government to "encourage, support and assist the company to secure and maintain an adequate labor supply."
The Liberian government appeared confident in executing this phase of the contract, relying on the indigenous population. The British replacement with an American Commander of the Liberian Frontier Force could not have come at a better time. The Liberian Frontier Force (national army) was unsparingly used to not only quell ethnic uprising under the British Commander but was also used to exact taxes out of the rural population. The new American commander had proven he could mimic his British predecessor in wielding excessive power in Liberia, but with absolute loyalty to America. Besides using the LFF, the previous administration of President Arthur Barclay already had recruitment system in place.
Despite the armed conflicts between the government and the indigenes, and the external criticism of the policy toward the rural people, Arthur Barclay had initiated an elaborate interior administration in an attempt to regulate the inhabitants. That was 1912, about a decade before the advent of Firestone. At the top of Barclay’s interior structure was the district commissioner who was officially responsible to maintain law and order and protect the chiefs against exploitation by the foreign traders.
The commissioners, interestingly too, were supposed to "encourage" farming, though there was no incentive given for production. Perhaps the catch in this reality was that the chiefs were obligated to provide labor for a variety of activities, besides the monthly sacks of rice and tins of palm oil they had to give the commissioner, a direct representative of the President. Villagers and townsmen without pay were instructed to be available for the construction of homes, barracks, and the homes of the district commissioners. They also worked on government farms, which in effect were farms of the commissioners.
Few indigenous Liberians lived outside of their community setting. Besides the coastal tribes, some of whose members had become career seafarers, the bulk of the people remained dependent on subsistent farming and rural life, loyal to their families and the chieftaincy. Barclay used this chieftaincy network in his attempt to establish and maintain some control.
Firestone began, with government guidance and active cooperation, dealing with the powerful chiefs, who were reluctant to permanently relinquish their able-bodied men. Except for the coastal seafarers, the more interior tribes generally remained in their localities even if they had fulfilled their ‘obligations’ to the district commissioners. Firestone set up a compensation scheme for the chiefs, giving each of them 15 cents per month for every worker recruited during the rice-growing season from January to June, and ten cents from July to December. That summed up to $1.50 per man per year.
The Plantation Company, with the full backing of the government, gave quotas to the chiefs to produce workers. With the chiefs being paid per head, they had to produce the required number of workers. A Firestone agent would be sent out to the villages to enforce the quota. This process bordered on force labor under the ILO convention signed by the United States and Liberia in 1931.
In less than a decade of the 1926 signing, Firestone had become the nation’s highest employer with about 10,000 employees. That number increased to 25,000 from an estimated national population of 2.5 million inhabitants of the country in 1946. The number remained steady hovering around 20,000 in the 1950’s.
Insufficiency of Rice Production
The net effect of forced and voluntary labor transfer to Firestone and Fernando Po dramatically reduced the production of rice, the nation’s staple food, especially among the indigenes at the time. The Liberian hinterland no longer had the manpower, even if subsistent, to produce rice in quantities that would prevent importation. The problem became grave as more indigenous inhabitants moved into the wage sector comprising of other rubber concessions, and later American-European concessions that mined the nations iron ore. Firestone was importing rice and supplying it to its employees at subsidized price, further attracting labor. By 1947-55, Liberia had become absolutely ceased to be self-sufficient in rice.
The planting process had covered 200,000 acres in 1939, and that meant also a massive displacement of tribal communities away from their land. The planting agreement referred to only reserved tribal land that should be spared, otherwise, it must be assumed that the tribal inhabitants were driven away, though there is no evidence of any unrest arising out of the interaction.
Land was acquired within tribal tradition by a) conquest, b) voluntary submission to a superior lord, c) donation, d) abandonment or negligence, or e) by purchase, which was a comparatively new custom. No record is available that any of these methods of acquisition transpired between the government and the chiefs.
The Fernando Po Scandal
Firestone’s enthusiasm over the abundance of labor was justified by the Liberian government’s guarantee that it would be directly involved in securing workers. What the government officials did not tell their business guests was that there was already in place a lucrative labor trade where top politicians with the backing of President C.D. B. King were exporting Liberian indigenes to Spanish cocoa plantations at Fernando Po, off the Central African coast. Despite the financial incentive package Firestone had arranged for indigenous chiefs to disengage their able bodied men, the tribal communities were also the pool that had to feed the Fernando Po trade.
The reality was that the chiefs now had to cater to three categories of labor demand: the government in its Fernando Po operations; Firestone in its plantation activities; and the local needs for road construction and farm activities for district commissioner. In all of these activities, the average recruit was not making a voluntary decision to leave. The inequities obtaining were passionately described by an English visitor, when she said the Liberian government had "without giving any notice, pounced upon the tribal chiefs for hut and other axes; they having had no time to prepare payment for these claims in kind, the officials sent up, under escort of a detachment of the Liberian Frontier Force, not only confiscated their cattle, grain…but brought down as hostages numbers of their boys who were relegated to work, for no payment, on the coffee estates for some time, then shipped to Fernando Po, for which the Liberian government received five British pound sterling per head from the Spanish government. And this became the concern of a Harvard University professor in the United States, leading to worries at the US State Department.
Professor Raymond Leslie Buell said Harvey Firestone was bound to run into demographic impossibilities from his statement that labor was ‘inexhaustible’ in Liberia and that it would take 350,000 men to satisfy his plantation requirements. Buell estimated that there were between three hundred to four hundred thousand able bodied male in Liberia, and it was difficult to believe that Firestone would have been capable of placing Liberia entire adult male population under its control.
The validity of Buell’s questioning the company’s capability to satisfy its plantation labor needs became evident in quiet Firestone complaints that Liberian government officials had begun to undermine its recruitment activities. The Fernando Po affair posed effective competition to the rubber company.
The US State Department rightfully expressed concern that Buell’s campaign would open the US government to criticism that it was supporting forced labor to help an American investment at the expense of the indigenous victims of an inhumane system of governance in Liberia. The State Department communication to the King government on the labor mal-practices was therefore intended to also demonstrate to the world that the United States was not a party and could not condone such conduct.
The Americans also had to get out of defensive mode over the labor crisis when President King’s defeated opponent in the 1927 elections published in a Baltimore newspaper that the King government was involved in slavery and forced labor. Thomas Faulkner reported in a newspaper in the United States that top officials of the government were particularly shipping Liberians against their will to Fernando Po. With this local revelation, Washington intensified efforts for an international investigation. The result was that the League of Nations set up a Commission of Inquiry headed by a British, Cuthbert Christy, and included President Arthur Barclay for the Liberian government, and a Black American Charles Johnson for the United States.
The 1930 commission reported that slavery did not exist in Liberia as defined by the Anti-Slavery Convention, but the compulsory method of recruiting people for dispatch to the Fernando Po plantations was associated with slavery. The commission said President King, his Vice President Allen Yancy and other officials were receiving $45 for each of the indigenous "boys" exported to Fernando Po, and the soldiers of the LFF were used to "catch" these boys. The Christy report concluded further that Liberian government officials abused their office in using the Liberian army, the LFF, to recruit workers and that the government was using forced labor practices to recruit workers for the Firestone Plantation Company.
The Christy commission recommended that the Liberian government immediately eradicate the system of pawning human beings and domestic slavery and stop the export of labor to Fernando Po or any other place. A controversial issue, bordering on sovereignty, was the proposal that Americans be sent to Liberia to serve as District Commissioners and other administrative officers in the hinterland. That plus the proposal on encouraging Black Americans to Liberia raised concerns among the Americo-Liberians.
The Liberian Frontier Force heavy-handed involvement was also investigated. The LFF, under British or American commanders, had not only been used to brutally put down tribal uprisings, but also intimidate and coerce the rural people into a permanent structure of unquestionable loyalty. The Christy report requested that the administration should impose a code of stringent discipline among the officers and soldiers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, We have intentionally used the Firestone agreement and its relevant issues as a case study not aimed at presenting Firestone as a demon, but explaining how at various times, our Liberian elitist policy of class and cultural subjugation can suffocate the entirety of the population without discrimination.
The Era of Tubmanism
Under the superstructure of the grand politics of the Grand Old True Whig Party and its opponents and the deeds of William V.S. Tubman, Sr., 18th President of the Republic Liberia, described by some as the Benevolent Dictator, I must do my analysis within the setting of my childhood and youth.
Like many others today on the Liberian political scene, I was born in the Tubman administration, precisely on February 11, 1953. That date over the years has accumulated some symbolism of some sort, the value of which is left with the mind explorer. . Besides its being Armed Forces Day, a national holiday in Liberia when the gruesome Liberian Frontier Force was transformed into the Armed Forces of Liberia bringing comparable relief to many, that day signifies a more significant moment of African freedom. It is the day Nelson Mandela saw Freedom after 26 years of hard labor in South African jails. Since 1991 when he was freed, I have always focused on the exploits and suffering of Mandela, every time my birthday has come.
That day also constantly reminds me of the decision of my parents to send their first three sons to Lofa County, our paternal home. Though I did not understand the motive at the time when people were sending their children to Monrovia from the rural areas, and my father was doing the reverse, I would later realize that it would be the root of my preparation to meet the grave challenges of the life ahead. Varmuyan Kromah, my father, wanted to expose his children to the land of his nativity, to the culture that guided his lineage and heritage. He had come to Monrovia himself from the Quardu Gboni Mandingo Chiefdom, now a district, in Lofa County. Elders, led by Clan Chief Moi Binyan Fofana, a few years ago presented to me a historical account of Tusue, my father’s hometown, built some 420 years ago. The Elders also included in their presentation the history of the Kromah family in Tusue, descending from Fakoly Kumba Fakoly Daba, Jamajan Kollie, Doumboya, who was part of the administration of the ancient West African Empire of Songhay. The chiefs explained that my father’s grandfather, Oldman Lansanah was a leading resistance warrior that constantly moved along the Makona River in northern Lofa, leading protective forces against suspecting encroachers from the French controlled Guinea Territory at the time.
The Kromah’s were not the only Mandingoes involved in the preservation of northern Lofa. They were led by Great Mandingo Chiefs like Varfley Kollie Kamara and Bongor-Moigbeh Kamara, who along with the famous Lorma Chief, Degei Korvah, placed northern Lofa under the administrative Jurisdiction of the Monrovia government in 1916 at a conference also attended by the French. President Daniel Howard decorated the three chiefs with the silver medal of honor and commissioned them the first Paramount chiefs of the Republic of Liberia.
From this background of my father’s home, I could understand why the late Liberian prolific historian and Attorney General of Liberia, C. Abayomi Karnga, took special interest in him and took him to live at his Camp Johnson Road residence in Monrovia. Karnga, who wrote a great deal about traditional life in Liberia, was a so-called Congo man, and not Americo Liberian. The Congo people where those who were rescued from slave ships heading from the Congo region in Central Africa and subsequently brought to Liberia as freed people. They assimilated over a period of time into Americo Liberian culture, and today, the two references are synonymous. Karnga, like Edward Wilmot Blyden, actively advocated for the integration of all sectors of the Liberian population. The background of this young Mandingo, Muslim friend, Varmuyan Kromah, appeared to have been relevant in the continuous research Abayomi Karnga conducted into the customs and mores of indigenous Liberia, including the rich Lofa hinterland.
By the time my brothers and I returned to Monrovia from the Mandingo town of Kuluka in the Voinjama District and Sevelahun in the Gbandi Kolahun Distinct in the early 1960’s, our father had obtained a scholarship and gone to the Republic of Egypt to pursue a degree in Linguistics and International Studies. Our initiation into Mandingo and Gbandi culture exposed us to the disciplines of farming, hunting and the culture of respect for elders and peers. Before and after my father’s visit to Egypt, he had always insisted that we speak to him in Mandingo and not English, no matter how hard the topic was.
My mother, Manyuan Saybah, which is the female name for Siryon, spoke Bopolu Kpelle in the home along with Vai and Lorma when she wanted to keep things confidential. Her mother and maternal grandparents, Koiboi and Korpo, were Lorma people who had migrated from Lofa to the vicinity of Clay Ashland in Montserrado County, where they found the village of Koboi Town. A number of Manyuan Saybah’s aunts were from Cape Mount County while she hailed directly from Bomi County. Her father, my Grandfather, Abdulai Siryon, was an infinite source of Liberia history before he died in 1976 at the age of 116. His ancestor was Kumazii Siryon, the religious Companion and cousin of King Sao Boso we discussed earlier.
This background, I believe, inspired my mother to become an untiring market woman in Monrovia, along with Mamie Baker, struggling to provide for her children when my father was in Egypt. Every morning, when we were on vacation from school, I accompanied her to sell her rice and later on slippers, lappas and towels. We developed the discipline of hard work and self-sufficiency as my brothers, sister and I branched off into selling cold water or boiled eggs on the streets of Monrovia, and kerosene or wood at the house. That early entrepreneurship helped us survive independently.
Then came the big shock in my early teenage which would impact my adult character and resolve. Following his college graduation and some period of Work in Egypt, my father dispatched a letter to my mother in Monrovia that by the Grace of God, he would soon take up the position of Liberia’s ambassador to Egypt. That means we all had to move to Egypt. I remember my brothers and sister and I danced the whole week off. At CDB King Elementary School in Monrovia our teachers and Principal Mrs. Collins, Mrs. Russel, the mother of Willard Russell, Mrs. Tidi Spear Stewart, Mr. Robert Stewart, Mr. Jacob Kolenky and Mrs. Verdier quickly noticed our drop in the studies.
The euphoria was short-lived. For my mother soon received a confidential letter from my father in Egypt that President Tubman was no longer considering him to serve as ambassador because someone at the Embassy had written Tubman to say my father was a so-called countryman and had strong links with the socialist cadres of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. It is from there that all of what I had learned from my cultural expedition in Lofa, plus more, had to come into play for me to understand the basis of this big disappointment in my young life. What is this countryman and socialist business? My mother went to the late Counsellor McDonald Perry a friend of my father’s and Former Secretary of State Momolu Dukuly, her cousin, to find out about these issues. Nothing else ever happened until the return of my father to Monrovia several years later. President Tubman hired him in the language department along with the late Kekura Kpoto. Our father of course went on to do other things as a teacher, an apprenticeship lawyer. But important, he was now faced with explaining to his children, particularly me, what was this countryman labeling all about. As I grew up in junior and Senior high school, my father simply told me to look around, compare and contrast people’s behavior and read any and everything that comes your way. Read the books written by Counsellor Abayomi Karnga and all other books on Liberian history. Read about capitalism, socialism, communism, the biographies and autobiographies of world leaders. Read the entire Quaran and the Bible, read about the seven major religions of the world, and read the writings of philosophies of Thomas Acquinas, Voltaire Voltaire, and Omar Karyan.
I tried following the Oldman’s advice and realized the impact of the history I have endeavored to narrate earlier here today. I looked up and saw Tubman and remembered that he did not appoint my father as ambassador for a certain reason. Was there really a division among the people? My father said, look at the list of officials from the founding of the Republic to this Tubman period. Besides Momolu Dukuly who once served as Secretary of State and was quickly replaced with J. Rudolph Grimes, what other name you see that does not sound like a Western name?
Maternal Grandfather Abdulai Siryon, who had been living since the 1860’s, clarified a lot the written history I carried to him, many times giving me first hand account of events, that included the David Coleman episode, the Barclay Tubman rivalry, and what happened to Billy Horace and others.
The Tolbert Administration
The liberation of Africa and Apartheid in South Africa was a daily reading preoccupation of my father, and that habit became infectious. That’s how I found out in my senior year at the St. Patrick’s High School here in Monrovia that Liberian registered tankers were carrying chrome from the then Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, in violation of United Nations Sanction against the Ian Smith white minority regime.
It was now the administration of President William R. Tolbert, who had succeeded Tubman, following the latter’s death in 1971. Tolbert, I thought, was indeed active and vocal against the remaining vestiges of colonialism and minority rule in Africa. The President was playing host to liberation leaders nearly every month. It therefore appeared as a contradiction that the same Tolbert was condoning the violation of UN sanctions on Rhodesia, whose minority white leadership was challenging the international system. I decided that the matter had to be dealt with publicly.
The venue was the University of Liberia auditorium, the occasion, installation of officers of the YMCA Monrovia Hi-Y Council, and the Installation Officer, Kenneth Y. Best. In my speech as the newly installed President of the organization, I questioned the sincerity and integrity of the Tolbert administration in its commitment to the liberation of Africa. I detailed the Rhodesia chrome affair and challenged the government to justify its position. It became clear to me in subsequent days that the Government actually was unaware of the transaction, showing how ineffectively Liberia’s maritime affairs was being managed. The statement was carried as banner headline in the popular Star newspaper, courtesy of the late ace journalist Rufus Darpoh, a graduate of St. Patrick’s. That was 1973, the month of August. Darpoh usually published articles from the St. Patrick’s student magazine the Echoes, edited by Morris Dukuly. In a few weeks after my liberation violation speech, Dukuly and I were called to the Ministry of Information and hired the same day. I went to the Press Bureau, now the Liberia News Agency, under Johnny McClain, and Dukuly went to Public Affairs.
With the proximity of St. Patrick’s to the University of Liberia, I was regularly on the campus, from 1971, when students from rural Liberia began contemplating a student political party at the University. By the end of the year, Frederick Goberwole from Lofa County had been unanimously elected as the first President of the Student Unification Party, almost entirely consisting of indigenous Liberians. The rival Student Democratic People’s Party emerged, also largely consisting of Americo-Liberians. With my late and cherished brother Lasanah serving as Vice President of the Student Council on the SUP ticket, I was virtually participating in University of Liberia Campus politics before my enrollment in 1974.
By the time Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh and his colleagues were endeavoring to penetrate the ranks of the Student Unification Party, recruiting membership for the Movement of Justice in Africa, MOJA, I was on my way out. Before than we were focused as a group on campus politics, the rights of student groups, as well as certain professors, who were becoming endangered species.
When the University administration summarily dismissed key faculty Members for what was described as teaching foreign ideology and inciting students against the government, the SUP led Student Council delegation headed by Council President Joseph Dahnquan issued a demand for the reinstatement of Professors Tipoteh, Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman and others. As students got increasingly restless on Campus, Tolbert sent the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Speaker Richard Henries, to meet with us. The Board was a Who’s who listing of the Liberian government. It included Vice President James Green, Senator Frank Tolbert, and former Treasury Secretary William E. Dennis, Sr. They quickly told us President Tolbert could not accept an ultimatum from students and that we were not party to the Faculty Contract, which they said had been violated by the professors. As spokesman of the group, I consulted and later told Speaker Henries that though we did not sign the faculty contract, we were necessarily relevant as students. Then I asked which one of the Board members had any of their children at the University. There was complete silence, and the meeting was quickly adjourned. President Tolbert, we learned later, was disappointed with the handling of the crisis and in turn issued his own ultimatum to the Board members to quickly resolve the issue. And that’s how the matter came to a close with the reinstatement of the professors except for those who had allegedly collected their severance pay. Shortly after that, I went underground with my writing on political and other issues with the pen name, Pro Bono Publico. My fellow student Emmanuel Bowier, who was privy to my hidden identity, cautioned me to be careful, an advice I was to realize the value later on. The Ministry of Information, my employer as a cadet, strangely never discovered the author behind the articles.
Meanwhile, the drama of expectations soon erupted under Tolbert, whose smooth assumption of office gave evidently false impressions of political stability. A politician, businessman and Baptist preacher, Tolbert introduced some changes in the political modus vivendi upon assuming office as President. He sent signals that although he was a prominent member of the country’s minority class, which had, ruled since independence in 1847, he was prepared to respond to the yearning for reform. He attempted loosening the grip of the ruling True Whig Party, threw away the cassock, tail coat and top hat, dislodged the elitist Masonic craft from politics, and preached a doctrine of self-reliance and democracy. His presidential aircraft donned the inscription: "Speedy One," with himself being called "Speedy, " supposedly for his impatience in achieving his reform programs.
Vice President Bennie Warner, a regular listener to my periodic radio commentaries on ELBC requested that I worked with him as Press Secretary and Research Attaché to the Vice President. As Bishop of the Methodist Church of Liberia, Warner was known as a critic of bad government policies and ills of the society. Tolbert said he had a dream following the death of his first Vice President James Greene, and God instructed him to select Bennie Warner, who promised to "oust the crooks" out of government in a speech at his inauguration. As his stance got mitigated with time in the government, I became weary and requested that I search for secondment at the Liberia Broadcasting System News Department. The Managing Director of LBS, the late Temynors Kla Williams got panicky and demanded that I bring what he called, " a letter of clearance" before he could employ me. This was shocking to me; a letter of clearance as if I had committed a crime. I instead dispatched a written communication to President Tolbert accusing him of suppressing my civil liberties and the right to livelihood. . I was surprised when he quickly invited me to identify the instance of violation of my rights. I told him the clearance story, and he sent for Mr. Williams to let him know that his government was not in the business of requesting for clearance. That’s how I became Director of News and Public Affairs, which led to another series of problems.
At LBS, I presented television commentary after the news, in which I thought it was an opportunity to try giving an independent perspective on issues. My last commentary was the one given on the outcome of the 1979 summit conference of Heads of State of the Organization of African Unity.
The Tolbert government’s account of how nearly $200 million was used to host the l979 OAU conference became a matter of public debate. Foreign Minister Cecil Dennis, chairman of the conference implementation committee, was having difficulty explaining how the money was used amidst widespread rumors that the money was a victim of corruption. From workers on the site to a cross-section of the population, there were complaints about how the money was used, threatening to undermine the government’s plan to exploit the super-political leadership of Africa. Finance Minister James Philips and his staff became subject of a financial scandal hovering over a leased hotel boat brought in to accommodate OAU guests. The boat contract was officially put at $2.2 million, an amount said to have been inflated by the government officials. Philips resigned later, denying any wrongdoing but wanted to maintain his integrity.
Though President Tolbert took on the prestigious mantle of Current Chairman of the OAU, the event left a bitter taste over accusations of mass corruption among the Liberian government organizers. After commenting on the political success of the occasion in my commentary that evening, I called for the setting up of a financial committee that would audit the OAU committee headed by Foreign Minister Cecil Dennis and including Finance Minister James T. Philips and other officials.
At the end of the broadcast that evening, as I tried getting into my vehicle, a uniformed officer of the Special Security Service of the Executive Mansion who said I was needed to pick up a news item at the Executive Mansion invited me. We used his vehicle. He headed directly to the rear of the Mansion to a decrepit building, which turned out to be a temporary detention center for security officers at the Mansion. He called on two soldiers in the dark, whispered something to them, and then they unlocked the building and shoved me inside.
That is the night I met the man without knowing he would have led the group that would overthrow President Tolbert. As I stood in the cell of about ten persons dumbfounded, I asked for the toilet, and all the other inmates started laughing. You have to pay for your magarine cup my man, I heard someone say. Magarine cup for what, I responded. Another surprise, I heard the voice of a friend, Dexter Tahyor, who asked whether that was Alhaji Kromah. He then identified himself to my utter surprise, explaining to me he had been jailed for losing his pistol assigned by the SSS. As I explained my circumstances, Dexter expressed surprise and said he didn’t believe I would spend the night. I then got close to the cracked door trying to avoid the smell of the stench in the Executive Mansion cell. Then I overheard at least three passersby, two of them speaking Lorma. I then called on them to come at which time I explained my plight, still behind the cracked door. They spoke English and said they had no authority to release me. Then the third soldier quickly intervened and said he knew me from television newscasting. I was released, a few minutes past midnight. I never got to know who ordered my incarceration nor the soldier who pleaded for my release. At least not until I was called to the Executive Mansion one morning two years later to meet the leader of the coup along with other members of the People’s Redemption Council. Doe quickly reminded me about that night and said he was the soldier that had me released.
By the end of 1979, I had been transferred to the Ministry of Information and appointed Assistant Minister for Public Affairs, following the incident behind the Mansion. I came to the conclusion that my regular access to television was not in the interest of the administration, at least not in the eyes of those who surrounded President Tolbert. And that is when I again realized that the political system was still infested with zealots of the Old Order, despite the apparent moves by Tolbert to introduce reforms. Let me give you an anecdote to illustrate my point.
(The story about how a top Tolbert official asked me to change my name "Alhaji" as it was "embarrassing.")
Indeed, it was now 1980, and the high-energy crusade for reform had President Tolbert in more trouble than when he started. He was caught between the demands of the conservative diehards he inherited and half-heartedly encouraged, and the rebellious intellectuals and street politicians he involuntarily motivated. The latter wanted power in the name of the people, while the others felt the minority hegemony was fading. In the process, the nation was left in economic hodgepodge, general insecurity, and repulsive social practices. The citizenry was now stranded in a vehicle without brakes. In the early morning hours of April 12, while imprisoned opponents faced threats of physical elimination, a group of 17 young soldiers climactically stepped in, and Tolbert was left a fatal victim. The nation had indeed begun a rough course of rebirth in its old age.
Toppling the Regime
The uncertainty that swallowed up the nation on the eve of the military takeover had an ironic twist. People confusingly speculated some sort of coup was in the making, but the military was hardly the focus. The Police Force had become notoriously powerful from their brusque behavior during the l979 rice riots. Their 'morale' was high, and they appeared unconquerable. Justice Minister Joseph Chesson was out on radio assuring President Tolbert that everything was under control and the President should "sleep."
The hesitant stance of the army in the protest painted them powerless and untrustworthy in the sight of the establishment. The public was understandably swayed by that portrayal not realizing the refusal of the soldiers to stop the crowd on that day was more an act of solidarity with the rioters, and not weakness. Besides, Tolbert seemed to have galvanized his control over the Armed Forces by placing his aviator cousin, Lt. Gen. Franklin Smith, as Chief of Staff. When the soldiers finally struck on the night of April 12, l980, few could honestly claim they knew that the enlisted men could have actually tried and succeeded.
The military surprised the public when the names of several Tolbert Ministers were announced among the new officials. The new regime retained Tolbert’s Public Works Minister Gabriel Tucker, Health Minister Kate Bryant, and Minister Loseni Donzo of the Action for Development & Progress (later renamed Ministry of Rural Development.) The soldiers admired these officials, particularly Tucker, who they said was only concerned about national development and was not corrupt.
Dismissal of the 'Strongman'
Quiwonkpa and Doe were at odds for several months over the latter's political ambivalence. The CG was upset and made that known to everyone who came in touch with him at his BTC residence. On that memorable Saturday morning, October 15, l983, I was already in the living room of the general at 7:30 sharp. He had overnight sent out private invitations to a few young government officials, apparently staggered our individual meetings with him on Saturday. I did not see any other official when I arrived. He came out of his bathroom with a rather stern face, obviously upset over something. He remained standing and began saying he wanted some of us to know he was unhappy about continued Doe insistence against returning to the barracks as all the PRC members had agreed. He said it was betrayal of the revolution, and he was not going to encourage it. He gave me a verbal message to deliver to Doe the next day.
Sunday came, and I decided to visit Doe in the afternoon. As I was arriving, I saw Quiwonkpa getting in his car with the gloomiest face I had ever seen the "Strongman of the Revolution" display. Fire was clearly in the hole. When I inquired from the security in charge whether I could see the Head of State, he nervously told me, "the Chief say he ain't seeing anybody." I left to pursue Quiwonkpa to the Barracks, and he too had ordered his men to stop all visitors. I learned from the Mansion that a special PRC meeting had convened for more than three hours, and some critical decisions had been taken.
I rushed to the ELBC radio station to find out if my colleagues there knew anything new. I came in time. An SSS officer from the Mansion brought in a press release announcing the appointment of Brig. Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa as the new Secretary General of the PRC. The awkward title of Deputy Vice Head of State was created for Abraham Kollie, to render the Secretary-General post vacant. Insider information revealed that that during the PRC meeting, Quiwonkpa bluntly told Doe to abandon his bid for the presidency. Doe first argued out the advantage of his presidency to all of the PRC and military. When the plea was getting nowhere with the General, Doe told him he was a citizen with the right to vie for any public office. Doe then revealed that he wanted to make some changes in the Council to bring more discipline, and that it was timely that Quiwonkpa be appointed Secretary General of the PRC. The CG was surprised at the revelation but did not reject the position. . The general had always made clear to his colleagues that the Head of State had the authority to appoint or dismiss anyone in the government. It would have been contradictory for the same fine soldier to reject their leader's decision. Doe disclosed later in a press release that Quiwonkpa had in fact recommended a successor, Morris Zeze.
Details of the PRC meeting were soon out in the street as usual. People knew the chaos a split between Doe and Quiwonkpa was likely to cause. Doe was Head of State and CIC and had several key areas in the military manned by Krahn officers. Quiwonkpa had emerged as a national hero, popular among the "masses" and the enlisted soldiers as well. In the press release from the Mansion, Doe said in his new position, Quiwonkpa would be useful in the national development program. He said the General would also be able to deal with unruly behavior in the PRC at first hand. To show he meant business, Head of State simultaneously appointed Col. Morris Zeze of Lofa County to replace Quiwonkpa as AFL Commanding General. A respected officer of more than 20-year experience in the army, Zeze was quickly commissioned, closing any immediate possibility of Quiwonkpa's return to the post. Zeze's appointment was critical as a significant number of the AFL soldiers were from Lofa. Any abrasive move by Quiwonkpa could have been interpreted to mean an affront to his successor's people. Also from Lofa County, Abraham Kollie in the same stroke had been elevated, at least in title, to the position of Deputy Vice Head of State.
What happened in the one week following the appointments was difficult to know. I tried seeing the Brigadier to no avail. He was only seeing few selected personal friends. He stayed away during officials functions and never took the Secretary General position. The Quiwonkpa appointment as secretary general meant he would have had to work at the Capitol Building physically and relinquish what was seen as housing rights belonging to the Commanding General. His supporters said the transfer was intended to undercut his relations with the foot soldier. They said once that was done, it was anybody's guess what would happen to him next, using the Weh Syen incident as hindsight. On the Doe side, insiders told us that people were pushing Quiwonkpa to turn against the Head of State. They said the friendship between the two men should not be reason for the commanding General to defy the Commander in Chief, and "embarrass" him publicly.
Quiwonkpa eventually sent a message to Doe that he would take up the new appointment only if all PRC members, including Doe, return to the barracks after elections. Doe was already decided on the matter, and decided to sack the Commanding General and discharge him from the army as well. Doe said Quiwonkpa's refusal to take up his appointment was an act of indiscipline and could not be allowed to take root in the Armed Forces. Doe striped his colleague of all military benefits officially due a retired soldier.
Another Gio from Nimba and original coup maker, Col. David Kameh, was appointed as Secretary general. Since the coup, the colonel had been serving as commander of the Executive Mansion Battalion in charge of security for the Head of State. In order to present the matter as a non-issue, Doe traveled to Europe for a donor meeting. But the problem was not one to evaporate. Doe would return to face a nation of tension.
The small circle of politicians and friends of the two coup figures retreated into small opposing garrisons, spewing out bargaining conditions that only heightened public fears. As a compromise, some of Brigadier Quiwonkpa's supporters proposed he be promoted to a Lieutenant General (three stars) and made Defense Minister. The proposal died when others argued that the Defense portfolio was relatively nominal, and would have still removed the General away from the soldiers.
Elders and traditional chiefs attending the ceremonies for the presentation of the draft constitution at the Unity Conference Center, appealed to the Head of State to reinstate Quiwonkpa in the AFL and the PRC. Doe converted the mammoth gathering to an occasion for reporting on what had transpired between him and his colleague, and asked for free comments from the chiefs. Quiwonkpa was not present. The elders clearly reechoed the nervousness of the nation. Chief Zanga of Grand Bassa County added new meaning to the old adage that "when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." Doe insisted that Quiwonkpa should submit a formal letter of apology acknowledging that he made mistakes by refusing to accept his appointment. Quiwonkpa rejected the demand, and Doe ordered him to leave the Barracks.
The former commanding General took the advice of moderates and moved to an aunt on Carey Street, a Monrovia thoroughfare. Moving to downtown Monrovia removed the military barrier that always stopped large civilian visitation to the General. Carey Street became a rallying ground for grass roots supporters, besides the multitude of soldiers that were now parading the house in muftis of all colors. The Nimba Gio and Mano political community in Monrovia was all too cognizant of the protection Quiwonkpa provided for them in the government, and they too joined the stream on Carey Street. That drew in the wrath of an already fidgety Doe. The Head of State came out with an order banning officials, civil servants, and the military from visiting Quiwonkpa. Without saying whether violators would be put on trial, the Head of State warned that any official of government visiting the area would serve three years in jail, while military personnel would be sent to Belle Yella, the maximum security prison. He said foreign diplomats were also prohibited from seeing the General.
The influx of people to see Quiwonkpa did not only dramatize the popularity of the young soldier, but also provided a rally ground for some public action against Doe. Taxi drivers passed by honking and chanting supportive slogans. After the visit banning order, Doe attempted putting Quiwonkpa on the defensive by showing him as an arrogant officer who did not want to end the entire episode by writing the letter of apology.
Negotiations at all levels broke down, and the Head of State's meeting with the Chiefs did not bring any resolution. It was now difficult to predict exactly what would have happened, as Quiwonkpa, the "Strongman" had obeyed all of the orders from the Mansion. He was out of the barracks and government officials and soldiers had stopped visiting him at his Carey Street lodging. The area was an open and busy street, and the diplomatic community had an eagle's eye on the developments. It was a classic standoff. It was probably in the best interest of the population in Monrovia that Quiwonkpa slipped out. Albeit there was concealed sigh of relief in the capital, the escape baffled the government. It had maintained its own crowd of covert and overt security at the dismissed General's temporary residence. The government blamed the Catholic Church in Monrovia for smuggling Quiwonkpa out.
My Dismissal as Minister of Information in the PRC government
Three Incidents Involving me as an official in the Doe Government:
When I began making public remarks that as long as I was Minister of Information that the Ministry would not be used as a propaganda instrument for any political party, Hon. Kekura Kpoto invited me to a midnight private meeting. I found the residence in a place called Airfield Old Road, or simply, the "Transformer." Sitting on his physical therapy machine as part of his recovering effort from an accident, Kpoto advised that I should cooperate with Doe without hesitation. He confessed that he himself wanted to run for the Presidency, but could not do so with the interest Doe had shown. "The man has the leadership of the country right now; he has money; and he also has the guns. When he says he wants the Presidency, how can you stop him? We have to be realistic. Let him go the first round, and after that, we will know what to do." Kpoto said he was advising me because he and I were from Lofa County, and Doe had complained about my statements in his presence. He said as a friend of my father's, he was properly placed to admonish me. Another tacit Doe supporter from Lofa was Edward Kesselly, who broke away to form his own party when it became clear that Doe had drawn closer to Kpoto in preparation for his presidential project.
It was about the same time security interrogators sent to the Ministry of Information recordings of their interaction with Isaac Nyenplu. The election commissioner confessed that his cousin, Speaker Podier, informed him that Sawyer, Borteh and Jorwely wanted Podier to get involved in their plot to overthrow the government. Nyenplu said it began shortly after Doe left for Germany, Austria and Romania. The commissioner said he reported the matter to the security board, and expected that Speaker Podier would have done the same.
Within hours of Sawyer and Kieh's detention, students and faculty began a protest boycott of classes at the University of Liberia. Doe invited the President of the University, Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown-Sherman and Dr. James Tarpeh, Vice President for Academic Affairs. They came to the Mansion and waited for more than three hours, and Doe was still not ready to meet them. The Head of State this time had sent for me to be present when he met the University officials. I was also a part-time faculty member in the School of Communication, besides being Minister of Information. When I finally got into his office, I discovered that Doe had not been told about the presence of the two professors in the waiting room. It remained a mystery to me why the aides kept the invitees waiting for that long even though they had been "urgently" sent for by the Head of State himself.
When we finally met Doe together, he accused Brown-Sherman and Tarpeh of inciting the students. Commenting on a letter the University authorities had sent asking for the release of their colleagues, Doe said it was out of protocol to have made the letter public instead of sending it to him directly. He said he expected the University President to have asked about the details of the coup plan instead of jumping to conclusions about the innocence of Sawyer and pleading for his release. For her part, the university president said they came out with the position statement before the government disclosed the specific charges against Sawyer. The meeting ended with a strong warning from Doe that the university authorities do everything in calming the students. Doe seemed to have been convinced it was the end of the uncontrollable situation that was developing on campus, which was also located right across the street from both the Mansion and the Capitol Building. The meeting ended with the two academics, but another session reopened five hours later at 9:30 p.m. at the Mansion.
It had been an exhausting day, and there was nothing better for me then even a single pillow and my mattress. The phone rang again converting my bedtime hopes into a complete fantasy. Another meeting was taking place at the Mansion. I arrived and met James Tarpeh sitting in classic interrogation scenario in the office of the Minister of State. I entered and met Doe standing without his jacket, the tie loosened, and Tarpeh sitting about a foot away with his hands voluntarily clasped. Minister J. Bernard Blamo was in the office along with two other aides. My entry did not interrupt the INA President. He was expressing how disappointed he was in Tarpeh who he said allowed a female, Mrs. Antoinette Brown-Sherman to, "mislead" him. "How can an educated and respected indigenous man like you sit there and allow a woman, 'Congo' Woman, hold you by the nose and undermine the government," Doe went on. He told Tarpeh if the name 'Tarpeh' could not be found in the English dictionary, the professor 's behavior should be accordingly guided.
The matter on Sawyer's actual involvement in the coup plan apparently had been visited before my arrival. Doe saw the need to bring it out again; emphasizing the government had concrete evidence to show Sawyer was indeed culpable. Tarpeh's bravery was outstanding. In the Executive Mansion without any of his colleagues, nearing midnight, in the midst of a national security crisis, he was risking to put his "neck on chopping board" to prove that Sawyer could not have been involved in a coup plot. Doe told him his head would certainly be cut off because the evidence was overwhelming.
Doe at that point started looking around the room in support of his views, even though everybody in the room was not privy to the evidence he mentioned. I chose to comment on the responsibility of Tarpeh at the University. I indicated to the Head of State that he could not blame Tarpeh as he knew very well as a military man that there was a hierarchy which Tarpeh was not heading. His role as vice president for academic affairs at the university was subordinate to that of the President. Until Tarpeh was made President, he could not be expected to use an indigenous or any other background to take decisions outside of his authority. Albeit I did not say what Doe wanted to hear, we all seemed to have felt in the room that Doe was somehow relieved that something was said to redeem Tarpeh for the moment. Instead of getting angry, we saw Doe smiling, and told Tarpeh he should return and play his role in the student uprising. When the professor left, Doe laughed out and mocked how the "educated man was so stupid to put his neck on the chopping board on mere assumption of what he knew Sawyer to be." He said if Tarpeh were to see the documents he would never have given up his neck. In all, Tarpeh took the ultimate gamble on his life to protect the life of a friend in jail. That impressed everyone in the room, including Doe himself. If Sawyer had only one sincere friend on earth, James Teah Tarpeh was that one.
A week after regaining his freedom, Sawyer sent a message that he wanted to meet me discretely to discuss "things of interest." It was strange as the MOJA man and I had no political dealings, even though I had been linked to him by one of my deputies at the Ministry of Information. Sawyer arrived at my Duport Road residence east of Monrovia the following evening few minutes after ten. He was thoroughly camouflaged in a taxi, and I put the lights off around the house to help him out. After sitting down in a backroom, Sawyer said he was told in jail that I was doing everything to help out with the return of civilian government, and he thought it would be good for us to work together. Sawyer was clearly on a recruitment mission for his party. I had received a similar visit from William E. Dennis, Jr., Commerce Minister under Tolbert. He wanted me in a party he was associating with.
The Unequal Pledge to Doe: With the ban lifted and Liberians gleefully organizing and joining political parties, Doe felt the need to ensure that no one in government was involved in double deals. He summoned us to a cabinet meeting to disclose his decision to enter the presidential contest after he made the initial statement at Schieffelin. He said he was giving us one week to declare our choice of party, and if it were not the NDPL, we had to resign. The meeting produced an unusual drama that made Doe more doubtful. The CIC informed us about the military's support for his candidacy and said he had already organized the NDPL. Among us in the cabinet, only Gray Allison, Boley, and AFL Chief of Staff Dubar were privy to the organizing. The expected chorus began with the pledging of loyalty by each Cabinet member. I passed when my turn came, and made no further comment.
At the end of the pledges, Allison chose to remind the entire group that I had said nothing. Doe stared along with everyone else, anticipating some response from me. The officials had been pledging their "100 percent support" until it came to Allison, who said he was "behind" Doe "1000 percent." Allison was particularly trying to convince everyone that his loyalty to Doe was more entrenched than anybody could imagine. As a journalist observing what was happening with the concept of loyalty and sincerity since the beginning of the Tolbert Administration, I was unimpressed with the performance at the Doe meeting. I was also uncomfortable with the reality that despite my portfolio as Minister of Information and supposedly a friend of Doe, I knew nothing about the organizing of his party. And yet, he was demanding loyalty from all of us. I began by asking permission from Doe to physically illustrate a point. I then asked Doe if Minister Allison could stand up, and I stood behind and asked whether if someone to a shot from the front, anyone standing "behind" could be hit. Well, I indicated that if I decided on entering party politics in his favor, I would be on his "side" and not "behind" him as Minister Allison. I indicated it was easier to observe someone on your side than behind. It became necessary to point that out. For years, hypocrisy had become the hallmark of relationships in Liberian political society. Leaders have been led into misconduct and national decisions taken on the basis of what people thought were sincere advice. The coup was a collective derivative of this pattern. Strangely, CIC Doe openly declared that it made more sense to trust people on your side than those behind. That left Allison and those who used the word "behind" nervous.
As I saw it, Doe executed no contract with any official that if he decided to run, those individuals would have to side with him or be dismissed. I considered his demand unfair, and therefore did not feel the need to commit myself nor plan to resign. Two months later I was dismissed but not for refusing to resign.
The Return of Quiwonkpa
As a broadcaster and sensitive as a freshly dismissed government official, I observed that the repeated radio announcement was most probably pre-recorded. It did not have any interfering noise in the background and the voice of the former Commanding General was normal and calm. From my calculations, it was unlikely that the work was done in ELBC studios. It must have been done from wherever the brigadier was coming from. The Quiwonkpa message was well written in select vocabulary that rang a bell. In the short recording, the brigadier said:
On the basis of wording and the superb sound recording, I concluded it was a prerecorded tape. I also concluded that the Quiwonkpa operation was far from over. The same announcement was now in its third hour of running without any interruption. While some neighbors must have come to the same conclusion and remained indoor, my Gio and Mano neighbors continued openly celebrating. I was in a "catch-22" situation. Tell them to stop celebrating and provoke their anger that I was unhappy with the coming of Quiwonkpa, or remain silent with a troubled conscience that you did not alert your neighbors of the risk. I could only tell those who came near me to return home and cautiously watch the situation.
Besides what was on radio, I had no other source of analyzing what was happening. I had cut off telephone lines out of rage, and the residence was removed from the main Duport community street. From neighbor Alonzo Thompson, whose house was adjacent to the main Duport Road, we could all see petit vehicles loaded with oversized government officials fleeing from Monrovia. The forest in our area was an ideal temporary sanctuary, about 28 miles away from central Monrovia. Alonzo and I counted more than a dozen-overloaded vehicles streaming down the far rear of the zone. I told the neighbor things were definitely unsettled. It was approaching 12:00 midday, and no other announcement had been heard except the first one still talking about "Doe in hiding."
There was another problem compounding my personal state of unease. The Quiwonkpa recording had named several AFL officers as part of the new structure. With things unsettled, my fear was that he was probably in the process of naming his cabinet. Having been recently dismissed and perceived as a Doe antagonist at the moment, I speculated my name could be called on radio prematurely among the next set of government officials. I was praying not to be given that honor at that time. One of my neighbors actually mentioned the possibility of such an appointment, further aggravating my worries. The more we kept glued to the radio sets, the greater the anxiety over the indefinite state of the coup operation. We were tuned in to both ELBC and the ELWA religious station, whose transmission coverage, unlike ELBC, spanned the entire nation and the neighboring countries.
From ELWA came not only the break in the monotony, but concrete evidence that Doe had not been overwhelmed. A few minutes after 12:00 Noon, one Jaja Massaquoi spoke as the first live communication to the Liberian public. He said Quiwonkpa was indeed in the country and was now in control of the government. Massaquoi's warning to apparently non-cooperating units of the AFL immediately exposed that the coup had run into serious trouble. In disjointed comments with his breathing heavier than the speech, Massaquoi said the invading forces had the situation under control on the ground, and they were on the sea and prepared to move in the sky. At the same time, he wanted for the AFL soldiers, whom he called "rebels," to surrender, telling them that they won't make it as the Quiwonkpa forces were in complete control. Monrovians were perplexed to hear the first live announcement from Jaja Massaquoi, who was well known in Monrovia as small-time operator of an eat-all-you-can restaurant. He had never been known to be a soldier, an activist or official of government. Here he was giving the first live command to resisting soldiers in inconsistent comments.
The airing of a senior commander of the Quiwonkpa forces, Col. John Nuahn, only confirmed in detail that the coup was not only in limbo, but the statement that Doe was in hiding was unreliable. The claim of being in control was indeed further jeopardized when Nuahn revealed through his radio orders that the elite Executive Mansion Battalion and the top-notch forces of the First Infantry Battalion in Schieffelin were standing in stiff resistance. Nuahn was also warning the forces to remain calm or his troops would invade these two battalion areas. Doe in hiding implied that the Executive Mansion, the official residence and offices of the Head of State had been taken over and Doe had fled. But Nuahn was still talking about forces attacking the Executive Mansion troops and Schiefellin. As we learned later, Doe was actually holding a press conference at the Executive Mansion at about the same time Nuahn was speaking on radio, some 28 miles away. The Quiwonkpa forces were based at the ELBC radio compound at the Liberia Broadcasting System in Paynesville, and in the BTC barracks near the Mansion. Doe was telling journalists who were fortunate and brave to find their way into the Mansion, that the coup had failed. He said since about 5:00 in the morning, his enemies had been trying to take over the Mansion, but could not. He also claimed that the rebels had been miserably defeated with at fatal casualties.
The odds were multiplying for the Quiwonkpa forces as soldiers in camps around the country begin to realize that Doe was still at the Mansion and a strong unit like the First Infantry Battalion was in fact putting up a fight. Nuahn changed to a version of April 12 tactics used to muster the loyalty of the common solider, but apparently it was too late. He called on soldiers not to take orders from their commanders, except the officers named in the Quiwonkpa tape. The command was ill timed and came as an afterthought in the face of losing the battle. The April 12 announcement was part of the initial message and did not point out a list of senior officers with ranks to be obeyed. While there were certainly advantages for naming his staff, Quiwonkpa had to face the consequences of excluding others by naming some. Worst still, there was no revision or addition during the day, a move that could have at least injected confusion among the government commanders.
Slightly more than hour after the Nuahn announcement, we realized government forces had made tremendous progress. They had taken over the powerful ELWA radio station, which was about five miles from the Quiwonkpa base at ELBC. The commander of the loyal forces from Schieffelin, Col. Moses T. Wright, took the microphone at ELWA to assure listeners that the station had been recaptured, and his next move was ELBC. He said they were out for peace. Wright, a cousin to the Head of State, countered the Nuahn announcement by calling on soldiers at the Executive Mansion to take orders from "Officer Doe," a reference to President-elect. Within an hour of the ELWA announcement, a captain Wilson declared on ELBC that the radio station was now in the hands of loyal government forces and the coup attempt had completely failed. From our Duport Road homes two miles away, we could still hear firing sound as Wilson spoke. All of the chanting in our area had long stopped with Jaja Massaquoi radio fiasco.
A Quiwonkpa supporter linked up with the BBC Focus on Africa program to say the coup had not failed, and the situation would be contained. The caller identified himself as Richard Williams, but our investigations showed he was Archie Williams, a one time Deputy Managing Director of the Roberts International Airport in Liberia. In response to a question on the Focus Program, Williams confirmed that Doe was still in the Mansion because the Patriotic Forces considered capturing the Mansion irrelevant. This was after Nuahn had already warned soldiers at the Mansion to give up.
The Liberian people for the first time since he morning ordeal heard the voice of Doe in an official broadcast at 7:00 in the evening. He repeated his commanders' declaration that Quiwonkpa had failed in his operation, and that he Doe was still the Commander Chief.
Induction of the Second Republic
January 6, 1986, Inauguration Day, should have been a happy occasion for 97 percent of the population, and even for some of the remaining 3 percent settler group. It was supposed to be a celebration of the first truly democratically elected leadership of the nation. It was supposed to begin a renaissance where Liberians would have the opportunity of freely fulfilling their individual and collective potentials. The nation was in want of genuine democracy and justice from 133 years of minority rule, and risky endeavors of change advocates ought to have been paying off now. And somehow, Inauguration Day reflected most of this outline. Samuel Kanyon Doe was to be inaugurated as the 20th President of Liberia, the first indigenous President, and the first President of the 2nd Republic. His legitimacy could not be questioned if compared to how all of his predecessors had been "elected." Real opposition political parties were now in existence, replacing the mono system.
For Doe’s opponents, the day was only another ...one... The nation was still in a rough transition. People were anguishing in and out of jail over what the opposition saw as the abortion of democracy.
Progress Under Doe
From the start, the drastic political change from civilian and minority rule to military and indigenous rule continued to be pervasively hectic. The post-True Whig Party journey had gone through so many waves; it made turbulence look normal and sometimes cynically anticipated. Several months without crisis seemed to be boring moments not only for the administration, but also for the trouble-prone citizenry. Concluding, however, that the Doe decade in power was nothing but decadence would be a deceitful distortion of history. Besides being the first indigenous to become Head of State and President of the century-old Republic, the grass-roots background of the young leader and his fellow new power holders automatically triggered a number of government activities that benefited the country. These were to have beneficial results not only in physical development of the country, but personally individual progress for young Liberians in human resource development and sports, among other areas.
The New "Middle Class"
It is expected that every new administration, whether in the public or private sector, will bring along new faces in the hierarchy. But when a political administration, whose official portfolio listing is nearly half of the civil servants, is dislodged, the filling of the huge vacuum has deep implications. In the case of the replacement of the True Whig Party by the indigenous and military regime, the entire government hierarchy was completely reconstituted. The civil service was additionally bloated to accommodate the new comers.
The new government consisted almost entirely of people from the lowest economic stratum. Their category represented more than 95 percent of the population. With the emergence of the Doe regime, a new middle class sprouted. The new class was politico-social, and had to productively validate its existence to qualify as a real economic middle class. As in the previous era, control of political power also meant supervision of the economic power structure. The purchasing power of the new government officials and their relatives increased. For the first time, the monopoly over government amenities had been broken and passed on to a completely new group. With the introduction of Liberia's first local monetary denomination in 75 years, the artificial middle class expanded under Doe. New homes sprouted all over Monrovia and personal mansions were constructed in many parts of the country.
In the ten years of the Doe military and civilian administrations, hundreds of indigenous citizens accessed economic opportunities, married or had outside-marriage children with female relatives of the deposed minority clan. The expanded income enabled them travel to the United States, Europe, Asia and other global business and social resorts. More indigenous people obtained scholarships to do undergraduate and graduate studies in the United States, Europe and Asia. The social and economic barriers haunting the nation substantially diminished...
The War Years
Before the Rebel Invasion
When Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe and his 16 colleagues stormed the Executive Mansion on April 12, l980, and left President William R. Tolbert dead, they seemed to have consummated a decade of unprecedented agitation for national reforms. The enlisted men coup also brought an end to a de facto one-party state administered by a minority class for more than a century, ushering in a rule by an indigene since Independence in 1847. From April 12 on, the internal indigenous power struggle ran full cycle, resulting into elimination or isolation. By l985, Doe seemed to have emerged sufficiently confident to have elections that transformed him into a civilian president. The elections were conducted amidst winding controversies that saw many opposition leaders jailed or their parties banned. While some considered the voting rigged, the US government endorsed the new administration as a start in democracy that should be encouraged. The international community generally accepted this.
The Kitchen Cabinet
When the cabinet met to deliberate on proposals for the withdrawal of government subsidy from the price of rice, the nation's staple food, as well as increase in gasoline price, the actual decisions had already been made. Despite opposition to the package by several ministers, the proposals were officially adopted. Hiking the price of rice was clearly a political gamble, besides the domino effect the rise in gasoline price would have on goods and services in an already frail economy. The secret package was intended to reap millions of dollars for the Minister and probably the President, some argued. ... Even with the academic progress and general exposure Doe had made, he could not match the machinations of some of his economic advisors.
The aftermath of the economic decision revived the dwindling public discontent that Doe was laboring to neutralize. People returned to their criticisms of Doe, and he was back to square one, broadening the way for the Charles Taylor rebel invasion. By the Christmas season in l989, Doe's popularity had severely dived. Everybody knew what could happen to any government that tampered with the price of the nation's staple food.
The l980 coup makers' arrest of A. B. Tolbert at the French Embassy in Monrovia and the subsequent death in mysterious conditions in prison of this popular son of President William Tolbert served as the most fundamentally external support base for the Charles Taylor rebel invasion in l989. The death of President Tolbert and particularly his son, AB, triggered an unending bitterness in President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of neighboring Ivory Coast. Boigny's foster daughter, Daisy, was AB's wife. ... Most of the Tolbert families and friends were among several hundred Liberians who had taken refuge in the Ivory Coast following April 12. The Nimba raid and the Quiwonkpa invasion increased the Gio and Mano exiles in the Ivory Coast, which runs along Liberia's Nimba County border.
President Doe made continuous attempts to pacify the Oldman in Abidjan, but usually ran into a stonewall. Besides, the Oldman was disdainful of the style of government in Monrovia. He simply considered Doe a mockery of the leadership legacy that had been established by the founding leaders of independent Africa; not to speak of the aristocratic arrogance that nearly isolated Boigny from his colleagues in the sub-region.
Liberian dissidents' decision to invade Liberia through the Ivory Coast constantly confirmed the Doe regime's fear of attempts to destabilize him from the country's eastern neighbor. Maj. Gen. Nicholas Podier, one time number two man in Doe's military government, was captured and killed along the Liberian Ivorian border while bringing forces to fight the government as well.
...Relations with Sierra Leone and Guinea could best be described as lukewarm. The Quiwonkpa invasion from Sierra Leone had sowed seeds of distrust between the two governments. Doe considered President Conte of Guinea as harmless, but dormant in West African politics.
From the beginning of his leadership, Doe probably had psychological problems with Ghanaian leader Jerry Rawlings, who came to power as a low-ranking, youthful military officer. Doe was obsessed with being the youngest to have staged a coup in Africa (elaborated in previous chapters). He also saw Rawlings as a protégé of Libyan leader Mohamed Khadafi, the growing nemesis of everything Doe thought he stood for.
...The former master sergeant's desire to woo the friendship of the United States for the elections in l985 induced him to adopt an impulsively belligerent stance against Khadafi and his associates and went allot to befriend Israel (Previous chapters). In one instance at the l988 Non-Aligned Summit in Zimbabwe, Doe threatened to physically assault Khadafi if the latter included Liberia in his condemnation of countries that had started resuming diplomatic relations with Israel. The joke from the Harare conference was that Khadafi was bewildered by the presence of someone who was in all manifestations showing that he was "more aggressive" than the Libyan leader...
Doe had on the other hand picked up a number of idols among African leaders. Topping the list were Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria, Denise Sassou Ngueso of Congo Brazzaville, and King Hassan of Morocco. He was fond of talking about how he and Babangida would call each other IB and SK.
Outside Africa, relations with the United States in l989 was at its lowest in years. Doe cherished himself for writing his bachelor thesis on the exploits of the United Sates in international affairs. Actively critiquing US international domination became a daily chore for Doe. This growing anti-American posture did not go unnoticed by the Americans. In fact, I knew that much from Ambassador James Bishop who told me before my l988 reappointment into the government that he was only concerned about the Liberian people and not the government. It was however clear the Americans were not unanimously prepared to encourage a Libyan-backed Taylor takeover (other chapters), even though a few days before the invasion, Ambassador Bishop drove from Monrovia through Nimba to the Ivory Coast.
I saw a self-assuring Doe who felt that the United States was intimidating him. He felt he could develop Liberia without reference to the United States, and there was no need to look up to Washington for everything.
President Doe announced that the Liberian government had dismantled an attempt by dissident forces to overthrow the government. He said the insurgents had entered the Liberian town of Butuo on December 24 from the Ivory Coast and attacked the customs and immigration checkpoints, killing a Liberian army sergeant, Geoffrey Macarthy and injuring another sergeant, Thomas Corker. He said the rebels burned down several parts of Butuo, including the Customs office. They took down the Liberian flag and hoisted something else, which we came later to know was the NPFL flag, with an image of a sprawling black scorpion engraved on a red background.
President Doe said the dissidents dispatched another group to Monrovia to destabilize the government. He claimed that the dissidents were so impressed with the streetlights and the generally brisk outlook of the capital until they decided to "join the citizens to have a good time."
Doe was visibly angry, pointing fingers to the government of the Ivory Coast, which he said helped the dissidents launch their operation. He was therefore recalling from the Ivory Coast, Ambassador Harold Tarr, a Krahn and a relative of the first lady, Nancy Doe. The United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Economic Community of West African States would be immediately notified, Doe declared. It was then that I realized how grateful I was to Krahyee for the tip.
Confessions and the Man Charles Taylor
In his interview, Charles Taylor said his forces were in control of Butuo and several adjacent villages, and that he had ordered the operation as leader of a National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). He said the Patriotic Front was originally organized by the late Brigadier Quiwonkpa, "of which this is a continuation of the l985 situation," referring to the abortive coup led by the General. Taylor quickly released some statistics, professing that they entered with l05 men on December 25, and has since expanded the number to 600. He claimed that his forces had killed about 250 AFL soldiers, with NPFL losses he could not specify. Taylor said fierce fighting was going on, refuting Doe's assertion that everything was under control.
Then came the statement that was soon to be exposed as a reckless treatment of the truth. The rebel leader said he was not personally interested in becoming President of Liberia, and only interested in removing Doe. He said with the departure of Doe, democratic elections would be held after ninety days.
When the BBC interviewer suggested that Mr. Taylor was a discredited person who had stolen government money and fled, Taylor opted to tie himself with the United States and said he was a capitalist economist.
That Focus on Africa interview on New Year's Day was the beginning of a series that converted the focus on Africa program into a multiple instrument in the Liberian war. Taylor used it so effectively as his war propaganda machine until Liberians accused the BBC of fighting about forty percent of Taylor's war. Second, Liberians dispersed as refugees all over the sub-region used the program to keep in touch with the fluctuating events in their country. The international community monitored the Liberian situation mostly through Focus.
With that interview, everything was now in the open. People were now concerned, but not panicky. President Doe decided to emphasize the Ivorian and other external connections with what effectively became known as the "invasion." The NPFL men captured in Monrovia had confessed about their recruitment in the Ivory Coast, and their travel to Burkina Faso unto Libya for military training. Doe was determined to rally public and international support by convincing everyone that Taylor was just a tool in a wider scheme to dethrone the government and subjugate Liberia. Doe was contemplating on invoking the mutual defense pact with Guinea if it became necessary, using the invasion by foreign forces as a basis.
Several days later, Justice Minister Jenkins Scott sent videotape of three captives Doe mentioned in his speech. A joint security team interrogated the men. In the tapes, which were transmitted on national television, the three men identified themselves as Samuel Dahn, Augustine Gonkanu and George Nuahn, distinctively Gio and Mano names of Nimba County. They alluded to a massive insurgency plan to topple the Doe Government, and indicated that Charles Taylor, the former controversial Director General of the General Service Agency and confidante of Doe led their coterie. The linkage of Taylor was surprising to Monrovia residents, who remembered Taylor being locked up in a United States Prison since l985. He was imprisoned at the Plymouth House of Corrections in Boston, Massachusetts, in connection with the extradition suit filed by the Liberian government. Taylor was being sought to account for nearly one million US dollars he allegedly stole as head of the GSA. ...
The televised confession by Nuahn, Dahn and Gonkanu dwelled understandably only on the exploits of Taylor starting with his presence in Burkina Faso and how the plans had quietly prioritized Manos and Gios recruitment and mobilization. The men individually repeated how they and others were lured by special emissaries and Taylor himself by making repeated references to how the Gios and Manos were disenfranchised by the Doe government and the only way to return and live freely in Liberia was to get rid of Doe.
The captives revealed that simultaneous attacks were planned for Monrovia and Nimba County and they were part of the group that traveled to Monrovia. Their contacts in the AFL were to provide the necessary arms and ammunition, and join them for final action. Officers from the First Infantry Battalion in Schieffelin thirty-three miles south of Monrovia had been contacted, along with some from the Sixth Battalion in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, and 43 miles west of Monrovia.
This confusion and the delay in the arrivals of their Monrovia contacts at designated points undermined the execution of their mission. They wandered about suspiciously until government agents picked them up at various points in the city. The three men never gave account of what happened to the rest of their colleagues who came along to Monrovia from the Ivory Coast. The Justice Ministry said they escaped.
The nation's concentrated population in Monrovia had mixed reactions to the government pronouncements about the coup attempt. Some felt that the three men were coerced and coached into narrating the story about Libya and Burkina Faso. Others believed the confessions were genuine, and sighed that a potentially devastating war had been averted. Yet others actually wished that Doe would go.
The Gio-Mano Attraction
Associating his war endeavor with Quiwonkpa and the NPFL was a continuation of the strategy Taylor deployed in mobilizing many members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups of Nimba County. The scheme attracted Quiwonkpa's military companions such as Cooper Miller, the designated Taylor Vice President; and Prince Y. Johnson, who later broke away and organized the Independent National Patriotic Front. Others were Isaac Mehnsa (Musa) who later became Taylor's military chief.
The Taylor civilian team, which involved former labor minister Moses Duopu, another Gio named Secretary General of the NPFL, seemed to have convinced the two Nimba tribes that this was an opportunity to revenge against Doe. Taylor is said to have promised lucrative government jobs, and that upon entering Monrovia and unseating the government, they could takeover any private residence of their choice.
The Doe-Quiwonkpa animosity was the most important but not the only compartment of Taylor's grand design to exploit Doe's internal and external antagonists. Houphoet Boigny and the Ivory Coast had problems with Doe over the death of their son-in-law, A.B. Tolbert. Boigny had extended his influence over the Burkina Faso leadership, which had developed its own steep ties with Khadafi, a sworn enemy of Doe. The United States had become weary of Doe, a mood induced among other factors by anti-Doe Liberians in the United States. From all of this, Taylor became the point man.
Taylor concretized his West African and Libyan connections only after his escape from the Boston prison... All the US government could say about the jailbreak was that Taylor was wanted in connection with the felonious act, and he was being held in extradition proceedings for corrupt charges in Liberia. He had miraculously gotten out with two other inmates, and said to have found his way to Mexico and then out to an unspecified European country. He was again jailed along his African sojourn in Sierra Leone and Ghana, on suspicion of subversive activities. His "lady-friend," ... is said to have played a crucial role in his release from the Accra prison and handed to the Burkina government. She is said to have been shuttling between Abidjan and Ouagadougou and won the admiration of key people in the Burkina political hierarchy.
In Ouagadougou, Taylor quickly entrenched himself, and secured a soul mate in Blaise Campaore, Deputy to President Thomas Sankara. Many have described the ties with Campaore as the most fundamental in sustaining Taylor’s quest for the Executive Mansion. Some sources say Taylor and his men helped Campaore in taking power during which President Thomas Sankara was assassinated. Sankara was himself a protégé of Houphoet Boigny, but grew too "radical" and was dumped by the Old man. Doe was clearly the next to go at all cost, even if it meant destructively putting tribes and states at odds in the sub-region, one French-Speaking Diplomat intimated.
Gio and Mano officials had genuine concerns. Besides the intense aura of suspicion in Monrovia about their loyalty to the government, they could not be sure about an invasion that was led by a presumably reckless Charles Taylor from an Americo-Liberian settlement near Monrovia. The only Gio name of consequence disclosed as a part of the leadership of the NPFL at the time was Moses Duopo, former Labor Minister in the early days of the Doe government. He had fled Liberia and together with Quiwonkpa, founded the NPFL. Duopo spoke from Lagos, Nigeria on the radio, indicating he was secretary general of the NPFL, and insisted that Doe must go. The former labor minister was to meet his death when he went to Nimba to join Taylor.
President Doe knew the rift, which led to the death of Quiwonkpa, haunted him. And without genuine reconciliation, Nimba would remain his nemesis as long as he was President. Doe arranged a solidarity meeting in November, l987, with the largely Gio and Mano people of Nimba in their provincial capital of Sanniquellie, a historic city which hosted President Tubman, Seku Toure of Guinea and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The gathering attempted to sort out differences among the parties, which were essentially as Krahn and Gio and Manos. The ethnic groups concluded a peace agreement and returned to Monrovia in high spirit with celebrations that were supposed to mark a new beginning. Even when former Vice Head of State Nicholas Podier entered Nimba from the Ivory Coast allegedly on his way to overthrow the government in Monrovia, Nimba was not blamed.
The aftermath of the peace agreement helped in some ways to secure a check and balance in ethnic power politics that was devastating the Krahns and their Nimba cousins. When news of a plot emerged some time after the Sanniquellie meeting, some local chiefs felt it was unfair to carry on that scheme against Doe. Clan Chief Jerry Gonyhon alerted authorities in Monrovia about the plan, which was apparently the recruitment phase of the Taylor invasion. Doe instructed the Minister of Internal Affairs, Edward Kumo Sackor to investigate the complaint immediately. Sackor in turn ordered the Superintendent of the county, Stephen Daniels, to do the investigation. Near the end of the investigation, Minister Sackor himself traveled to Nimba. Sackor wielded lot of support in the county. His father was a prominent Mandingo Chief, widely respected in the area.
Superintendent Daniels and Sackor concluded in their report that Clan Chief Gonyhon had lied in alleging dissident activities in the county and that his aim was to besmear the image of the Gios and Manos again. I could understand the rationale in the Sackor ruling. He did not want to be seen as the Mandingo man with Gio connections who again invited the wrath of the Doe regime following a long struggle to bring peace. He may have sincerely believed that it was nothing but local wrangling for power and importance. Sackor chose to placate his people and let the President know that the allegations were coming from a miscreant bent on making trouble for the people. The clan chief was jailed.
It came to past that the words of the clan chief were proven with the insurrection of the NPFL forces. Doe promptly dismissed Minister Sackor after the New Year, but stopped short of arresting him. Sackor had been an otherwise faithful and loyal activist for Doe in mobilizing people throughout the country during the l985 elections. Sackor himself was elected as a Senator for Nimba on the President's National Democratic Party Ticket. Besides, Sackor's connection with two crucial tribes in the conflict could not be ignored nor could Doe forget that his Minister was once a very a senior officer when he served as Lt. Colonel and commander of the presidential honors guard in the Administration of the late President William Tolbert.
THE MANDINGO FACTOR
The involvement of Mandingoes as victims of the Taylor onslaught was a source of bewilderment for me, personally. I had heard some past accounts of conflicts among the tribes in Nimba, but that was neither peculiar to that county nor the tribes. Throughout Liberia, Africa, and outside the continent neighboring ethnic groups waged wars against each other. Reference to this type of history could not justify brutal killing of Mandingoes in Nimba, where a mutual peace treaty and oath has guided interactions for several generations between the Mandingoes on the one hand and the Gio and Mano on the other. Original indigenous configuration of Nimba consists of these three tribes, along with the Gbees (a Bassa subgroup) and the Krahns of Belehwallay.
Since their kingdoms collapsed in northwestern Liberia in the mid l9th century, Mandingoes had become apolitical and concentrated only on commerce. Most non-Liberian reference books configured the country's population as l0-l5 percent Christian, l5-20 Percent Muslim, and the rest as "animists." But historically, Mandingo Muslims were isolated by the predominantly Christian Americo Liberian settlers, despite the decisive role of King Sao Boso in helping the settlers have peace, as I had earlier explained.
The new comers to the continent feared that the Mandingo King would ultimately extend his control over the disputed area and declare himself absolute ruler for all. The settlers soon began maneuvering to strengthen the nearby Kongba Gola King Zoga, a rival of King Sao Boso. The Golas were told that the Mandingoes had to be aliens, otherwise why would they persistently refuse to join the Poro society of the Golas. Though Sao Boso was never defeated until his death, the various warring factions incited by the African Americans kept him busy.
Mandingoes for a long time refrained from national politics. They sent few of their children to formal Liberian (English) schools The heavy presence of Mandingoes in Nimba and Bong Counties as part of the permanent tribes of those counties hardly changed the perception. Despite their confirmed genealogical roots in the original ethnology of these areas, Nimba was generally seen as the home of only Gio and Mano people, ignoring the Mandingoes, Gbee and Krahns. Similarly, Lofa County was seen by mostly Monrovia urbanites as land of the Lorma tribe, even though the county has eight of Liberia's l6 officially listed ethnic groups. Some Liberians are usually surprised to know there is an exclusively Mandingo Chiefdom in Lofa, where the Mandingoes and their Lorma and Gbandi cousins had cohabited for several hundred years. In their war and peace they intermarried and interacted with their ancestors from the great Mali and Songhay Empires. My mother comes from the Mandingo-Mecca Chiefdom in Bomi County where most of the direct descendants of King Sao Boso. The late husband of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Doc Sirleaf is one of the descendants of the Sao Boso cluster of Mandingo families that came from Lofa to fill the Bopolu, Bomi and Capemount corridors. I can be found. In Rivercess and Nimba itself, Mandingoes served as Paramount chiefs, the most prestigious and powerful authority in the hierarchy of officially recognized indigenous leadership.
Another contributor to the suspecting Mandingo citizenship in Liberia is that the country has a relatively small percentage of the overall Mandingo population of nearly ten Million in eleven of the l6 West African countries. Neighboring Guinea has the largest of about 2.6 million. Nevertheless, the flow of French speaking Mandingoes into Liberia from the Franco-phone Guinea and Ivory Coast was being overplayed more than the new and frequent arrivals into Liberia of Guinean Lormas and Kissis; Mano, Gio, Krahn, and Grebo from the Ivory Coast; and the Mande, Kissi and Vai from Sierra Leone. These are hardly referred to as Foreigners.
It was during the l985 multiparty era that Mandingoes again began actively developing interest in politics. A number of them joined Doe's NDPL party while the vast majority of them enlisted with the Unity Party of Dr. Edward Binyan Kesselly, a Christian Mandingo. Kesselly, a British, American and Swiss educated international relations expert, served in several ministerial positions under President William Tolbert. As an indigenous and son of the Commanding General of the Armed forces of Liberia, Kesselly stirred up emotions among the ruling class when he suggested the changing of Liberia's national motto: 'The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here." Kesselly said the motto as coined by the Americo-Liberians in l847 did not refer to the majority indigenous population. Brigadier General Binyan Kesselly was quickly retired from the AFL and his son Edward appointed Minister of Information. The Americo-Liberian elite was fearful of the implications of a well-educated radical indigenous whose father happened to control the fighting forces of the army. ...
When the Taylor rebels arrived, the Mandingoes had no compelling reason to take up arms massively against the Doe regime. Yes, Doe had jailed Kesselly along with other politicians before the elections. Mandingoes in the NDPL were angry but not enough to join a rebel war started by Charles Taylor.
Individuals who wanted particularly to target Mandingoes using the justification that the Mandingoes were exposing the Gios to the AFL soldiers got reactions. The Mandingoes said they did not have weapons to protect themselves against the rebels, who targeted some of them in the first place for reasons ranging from party affiliation to "betraying fellow Nimbaians". Where they suspected rebels planning to attack them, the Mandingoes had no alternative but to alert the AFL soldiers.
In less than two months of the NPFL invasion, hundreds of Mandingoes had been slaughtered in Nimba County. In the towns of Tiaplay and Bahn, the situation was particularly woeful. As the war continued, Mandingoes or anyone wearing a gown was presumed to be a Mandingo and could not survive the NPFL targeting. The story was the same everywhere in Liberia. When a Western reporter asked an NPFL commander in Kakata as to what happened to the Mandingoes there, the reply was: Those that could not run away were killed like chicken. In Monrovia, In Monrovia, when the NPFL arrived, the son of a prominent Muslim offered his life in exchange for the sparing of his father’s life, he was killed along with his father. So was the story in Barkedu and other places were scores of Mandingoes were killed. Even on the Suehn Mecca highway in Bomi, towns were burned down and people killed because they were Muslims and therefore had to be considered as Mandingoes.
In the days following President Doe's maiden statement on the insurgency, AFL Chief of Staff Henry Dubar and Justice Minister Scott continued to echo the Commander-in-chief's claims that the rebels had been thwarted, and the army was now carrying on 'mopping' up exercises. Jenkins Scott, who spent nearly a decade in the United States before returning to Monrovia with a law degree in l981, was the bastion of American style characterization that graphically illustrated the intensity of the speaker's opinion about his enemy. Scott described Taylor and his group as "two-bit swindlers and yellow belly-people who had taken to terrorist tactics."
The word 'mopping' was above all the magic wan that was supposed to allay public fears, but it ended up having the exact opposite effect. The public rapidly perceived the government assurance with jaundiced eyes. The security authorities used 'mopping' until it simply became ridiculous to mention it even to the shoeshine boys in downtown Monrovia.
...The illusive movements of the dissident fighters were a source of frustration for the government troops, who were practically unfamiliar with guerilla warfare. The 'mopping up' exercise evidently became meaningless, and news began to filter in Monrovia about AFL conduct in Nimba. Most who fled towards Monrovia feared being rebel targets, while those fearful of the government troops, fled mainly into the Ivory Coast. Having survived rebel cruelty, many of the displaced people coming to Monrovia were naturally unenthusiastic relaying AFL wrongdoing.
The Shape of Monrovia
Nimba certainly did not have the monopoly on fear. Unfolding events in Monrovia showed that Liberia was plunged into a nightmare. On the heels of the government's revelation of the border incident, Monrovia woke up to the knee-shaking news about the killing of a prominent businessman and budding politician, Robert Philips. His body was found at his Monrovia Sinkor residence. Rumors quickly circulated that it was the handiwork of government agents. The government vehemently countered.
Some argued that many Americo-Liberians at the funeral were concerned only because an Americo Liberian had been killed, and that the death that was being inflicted by Taylor, another Americo Liberian, meant nothing to them. Others responded that it was alarming for such a killing to be taking place at the seat of government, which was condemning the invasion and the destruction of innocent lives. Two other alleged mysterious killings occurred in the suburbs of Monrovia. The Justice Ministry announced the alleged murder of a Togolese national identified as David Opati and a sergeant of the Executive Guard Battalion, Peter Koleh, who was killed on the Saturday night President Doe revealed the coup on television.
President Doe thinly veiled his threat to push the war across the border in the Ivory Coast where the NPFL had come from. He warned that Liberia could exercise the right of hot pursuit under international law. "Liberia is prepared to protect its borders, and this country will not be used as a battle ground," he added, in contrast to the battle that was already spreading. Then the protest note went out to the Ivorians without any immediate reply.
The Liberian government sent messages to the Libyan and Burkina Faso government asking whether they knew about the NPFL. The government certainly did not expect an answer from Khadafi and Campaore incriminating them. Doe insisted that the two countries had to respond since they had been categorically mentioned as the recruitment and training centers for the rebels. Doe said Libya was anxious to endanger American interest and lives in Liberia, and that Taylor was prepared to kill any American on the orders of Khadafi. How these statements were to shape international policies towards the Doe administration and the war would have been seen later. The names of Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Libya from there on were the strategy Doe adopted in attracting international sympathy for the government, outrage against the NPFL.
The United States, Nigeria and Guinea were the key targets for the Doe outreach. Relations with the United States were not at their best when the rebels arrived, but Doe was confident the danger of a Khadafi-backed takeover was sufficient to attract Washington. But analysts could not help but wonder how Taylor had broken jail in the United States in the first place. US complicity was suspected, and with the tough stance of Ambassador James Bishops in his demand for proper government accountability in Monrovia, it was speculated in Monrovia that the Americans were behind the invasion.
...President Ibrahim Babangida, on the other hand, was a personal friend whom Doe felt he could rely on. They were regularly on the phone, calling each other SK ad IB. Though Nigeria was to play the most crucial role stopping the war in Liberia to pave the way for the elections of l997, Babangida was having his share of leadership strife. He had just carried out a major reshuffle in his military leadership that was threatening some dire security and political consequences. The number three man in the government, Lieutenant General Domkat Bali was unceremoniously dropped from his portfolio as Defense Minister/Chief of Defense Staff and given the Minister of Internal Affairs assignment. IBB himself took over the Defense Ministry in addition to his presidency. Bali cried down the move and threatened to resign, claiming the transfer was an "insult" to him.
President Conte of Guinea and Joseph Momoh of Sierra Leone showed immediate concern for good reasons. Besides their membership in the Mano River Union, grouping the three countries under customs arrangements, refugees had started flowing into Guinea. The two countries had much closer ethnic, commercial and political links with Liberia than the Ivory Coast. Relations between Monrovia and Freetown were at best lukewarm from the onset of the Doe administration, worsening with the Quiwonkpa invasion from Sierra Leone territory. With the latest problem, Momoh dispatched an envoy with a special message to Doe while Conte cautioned all dissidents that might have been residing in Guinea to vacate. In all of this, Doe remained evidently confident that the NPFL bush war was not really a serious threat. Thus the Commander-in-Chief himself decided it was time to visit the battlefront.
House of Representative member Mohamed Kromah, commonly known as 'Chicken Soup' by his colleagues for his amiable personality, left the crowd laughing in Ganta, Nimba when he innocently likened the Charles Taylor rebel movement to that of a goat. "You want to be like Billy goat want woman. You see, the woman goat does not have underclothes and the male is equally naked. But the whole day, the male is running behind the woman. Do you want woman or running around. Doe is in Monrovia and not in Nimba. If Taylor wants the government, let him go to Monrovia and stop running around in Nimba and destroying our people." Then the legislator turned to Doe and said, "No one will remove you unless the God that put you there." Indeed, God must have allowed Doe several months later to voluntarily go to his death at the port of Monrovia, when his enemies had failed to capture the Mansion where he was holed in for nine months.
Veteran politician Gabriel Baccus Matthews was quick to declare that his United People's Party (UPP) was against any effort to destabilize the country and "undermine the constitution" of Liberia. Baccus always prided himself with being a grassroots politician who remained on the ground to tackle problems, and despised rivals like Togba-Nah Tipoteh and Amos Sawyer, who he said should not stay abroad and fight at the time. He did not spare the opportunity to once again caution those in exile against "lawless ways to solve problems, and wait for the l991 general elections." He also called on the government to respect the rights of those captured.
Doe did not take too long to adopt Baccus and his UPP group as the opposition that was to be tolerated in the upcoming l991 elections. . Both Doe and Matthew appeared to have wanted the political space limited to a ruling NDPL and an opposition UPP. The constitutional clause of disqualifying presidential aspirants who did not live in Liberia for ten consecutive years stood as a waiting tool for the exiles. Gabriel Kpolleh's Liberia Unification Party and Edward Kesselly's Unity Party were part of the local recipe Doe decided to integrate in his NDPL menu. That plan evidently failed. Kpolleh was out there languishing in jail on the usual treason sedition charges Liberian governments have unsparingly used to decimate political opponents. Soon a weary Kpolleh would be released and the generous offer of cooperation would be made.
With Kesselly heavily depending on the Mandingo and Muslim constituencies, twenty percent of the Liberian population (CIA fact book), Doe calculated that my involvement with the NDPL would undercut UP. The only risk in this calculation was that I did not have an NDPL membership party card, even though I was a member of the Cabinet. I had not finished my consultations as to whether I should become a member of NDPL or any other political party.
...I left Buchanan later that afternoon with little assurance that the AFL was going to succeed. Interestingly, when I got out of Grand Bassa, along the route to Monrovia, I ran into a small convoy of AFL officers and soldiers led by Brig. Gen. Edward Smith, who had led the first government counterattacks in Nimba. General Smith asked where I was coming from, and I told him Buchanan. I remembered he was accompanied by the US military attaché in Monrovia. The attaché specifically asked me whether the rebels had not reached Buchanan. And the look on his face did not seem like somebody who was afraid of rebels entering the city. It was more of a curiosity and General Smith's men were heavily armed as if though they had already gotten information that the rebels were in Buchanan. So they were relieved when they saw me coming out of there as a civilian making no alarm. That was an interesting situation that left me wondering what was going on.
THE Seeds of ULIMO
I had just returned to Monrovia from the United States via Dakar, Senegal. I was out there investigating whether we could find a mobile radio transmitter that would have the power of covering the entire nation and be imported to Liberia. On the flight home, I met with the former powerful director of police, Edwin Smythe, commonly known as 'Bob" in Monrovia. He was a well-lubricated scion of the Tubman elite era, but was strangely in good books with the ghetto communities in Monrovia. He seemed to have combined a symbolism of a tough police chief with a character that virtually made him a friend to small time offenders and hustlers of the Monrovia back streets.
On the flight, Bob looked visibly shaken and was naturally curious to know what he was returning to in Monrovia. He inquired from me about the latest development back home, but I could not assure him of safety, based on information I had. For sure, however, I told him I was definitely returning home. From there, I lost sight of Bob during our overnight transit in Dakar, Senegal. I learned Bob continued the journey home but shortly after went back to the United States before Monrovia erupted into battle flames. He died of natural causes a couple of years later.
When I met President Doe to report the outcome of the trip, the broadcast plan was no longer a priority. Perhaps the heat of the battle up country ironically undermined the President's sensitivity to the need to launch a counteroffensive media campaign against the advancing rebels. I was told to "wait yet." With all of that, I was not actually convinced that the rebels would have succeeded, or at least that was naturally my wishful desire. I knew that the most critical moment was still ahead in the war. The rebels seemed determined to capture Monrovia, and the government was poised to resist the collapse of the government at all cost.
I returned to Monrovia from the United States and....later went to Conakry, Guinea to sympathize with friends who had gone there following the death of an important dear one. .... I asked President Doe's permission to attend the ceremonies, and that became the beginning of the external elements that ultimately led to the formation of ULIMO.
In Guinea, I was shocked and sad to see that thousands of Liberians had poured into the Guinean capital. The majority of them were Liberian Mandingoes and their families from various other ethnic groups. Nevertheless the non-Mandingo configuration of the escapees was dramatically changing. At the Liberian Embassy ground, which became an instant shelter, I saw hundreds of Krahns and other groups that were continuously pouring in from Monrovia. The Guinean countryside, known as the "Forestiere" near the Liberian border, was already inundated with several hundred thousand Liberians.
It had a severe impact on me. For the first time, I saw the effect of the war outside of the country. The traditionally proud Liberians had instantly become homeless and beggars in a neighboring country, that they rarely visited. Leaving other relatives behind either missing or killed was even more unbearable. I quickly learned Sierra Leone, Liberia's neighbor to the west, had equally become an involuntary sanctuary for thousands of fleeing Liberians. The story was the same in the Ivory Coast.
...Ordinary Liberians became even more frantic in leaving Liberia. If officials were leaving in droves, it meant there was little hope for the populace, particularly in Monrovia. The regular Air Guinea flight became a multiple daily shuttle in pandemonium. There was only one aircraft with the capacity of about 75 to 100 passengers. Obtaining a seat on the flight degenerated into physical fights at the Spriggs Payne Airport just outside Monrovia. Flight safety was no longer an issue. Seats were actually removed and people sat on the floor of the plane to make the 45-minute flight to Conakry. The aircraft returned to Monrovia empty and brought back to Conakry, human and luggage all in a bundle.
The experience in Conakry narrowed and sharpened my vision of the options available in rescuing our country from total rebel takeover and the attendant establishment of a draconian bloody rule. I was curious about whether the Guinean government was preparing to intervene and stop the rebels. This help was implied several weeks earlier by Guinean President Lansana Conte's visit to Monrovia along with his Sierra Leone counterpart, Joseph Momo.
My presence in Conakry was private, and it was therefore difficult to access officials who could reliably indicate the precise government military disposition on the situation in Liberia. I visited Liberian Ambassador Marcus Koffa many times to inquire, but he could not ascertain any specific decision from the Guinean authorities.
The dilemma for me at that point was to rejoin the government in Monrovia, demonstrating that I did not abandon the government, and at the same time indicate to my refugee family members in Conakry that I was not abandoning them deliberately voluntarily exposing myself to death. I actually packed a small piece of luggage and started contemplating on how to approach the family on this matter. It was a shocking relief to me that Thursday morning, June 15, when my wife asked how I felt being in Conakry "when some of your colleagues are still in Monrovia and the government has not fallen." I had already bought a ticket, and with bag packed, I was at the Gbessia airport in no time. The pilots and crew of Air Guinea did not only think I was going crazy by returning to Monrovia, but they actually said it out loud to me. I was their only passenger when we arrived in Monrovia that morning to the amazement of the crowd waiting to begin their usual rush to get onboard the plane.
It was at the airport that I discovered that my name had been actively added to the list of officials who had abandoned the government and fled. Security officials and some of my fellow employees I met at the airport explained to me that even the President had begun to feel that I ran away. Close friends at the airport took me aside and quietly advised that I get back on the flight and return to Conakry, as there was no hope for the government.
The aura of Monrovia certainly spelt doom. There was talk that the rebels had taken over the important port city of Buchanan, the local capital of Grand Bassa County, and they had also virtually taken over the central Bong County. The fall of these strategic counties not far from Monrovia would mean the virtual collapse of the government. Without immediate foreign military intervention, the government would have had to come up with a miraculous plan to reverse the worsening military equation.
When I returned to work the next day, I was told that one of my two deputies could not be on the job that day because he was ill. The employees told me further that the Deputy actually was staying away because he was in the midst of the rumor mill that I was not coming back home. I felt that this and the nature of the reception the airport adequately prepared me to meet with President Doe that afternoon. But it was one of the bitter days of the war for the President.
The Liberian Ambassador to Sierra Leone, retired Major General Albert Karpeh, was waiting to see the President. As usual, top officials waiting to see the President sat in the office of the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, next door to the President. Karpeh and I were the only two scheduled to see the President at that moment. Karpeh was considered one of the country's highly trained army officers. Before being appointed as Minister of Defense in l982, Karpeh had undergone advanced training abroad, including one that qualified him as a military 'ranger' in the United States. . Karpeh had an uneasy relationship with Doe. During his tenure as Minister, Karpeh's brother was executed for alleged involvement in a coup against President Doe. In fact, it was widely believed that Doe appointed Karpeh Ambassador to keep him away from the army and home.
As in every Liberian setting at that time, the topic of our discussion was of course the war. And Karpeh was not happy with the tactics the Armed Forces of Liberia was deploying in the war. He felt the guerrilla combat methods of the insurgents had to be dealt with in a superior tactical approach and not through the conventional war approach the AFL was carrying on. From our talk, I was left with the impression that Karpeh was willing to assume the command of the war and wanted for Doe to give him that opportunity. I personally did not feel that it would have been a bad idea. Karpeh was ushered into the President's office, and spent less than thirty minutes. I did not have the chance for debriefing. I was immediately asked to meet with the President. The next time I saw Karpeh was in November when he came to visit me in Conakry from Sierra Leone.
The meeting with Doe was short. He seemed relieved to have seen me, as if my presence was somehow a renewed hope that the government would not fall. Otherwise, why would I come back to Monrovia knowing all the things I knew outside of the country? Our conversation concentrated on the need for possible external intervention to help the government. While in Conakry, I had managed to see President Conte just before I left. The Guinean leader told me that the Liberian government had not made any official request and that President Doe indicated that he could handle the situation. When I relayed this to Doe, he was visibly upset. "What did he want me to say. I beg you, come help us. It is clear that this is an invasion which calls for intervention from Guinea under the military agreement between our two countries," Doe exclaimed. I then suggested that an official request be made to the Guinean government outlining the circumstances of the war, and establishing the ground for invoking the military pact. Doe told me to draft the document immediately at the Mansion and prepare to take it to President Conte.
Two hours later, the "special message" was completed, with the help of the Mansion staff. Doe had left office and gone upstairs to his living quarters. I was instructed to meet him there. Upon arrival, I saw Doe keenly attentive to the BBC focus program again with Taylor swearing that he would never allow him to remain as President. "I will hold that boy's feet to the fire until he can get out of that Mansion. This is not one of those disorganized coup operations Doe is used to. We are coming," Taylor went on. Doe and I exchanged looks and it was indeed embarrassing to be seated with a President that was being insulted on international media by a former crony, and was left helpless to do anything about it. I felt sorry for all of us and wondered what would happen to us, especially people like me who qualified in three ways as the target of death: I was a government official, a Mandingo and a Muslim. I asked Doe whether the AFL could actually stop the rebels. He frankly told me that he was worried that the government soldiers were not accustomed to guerrilla warfare, and had not been involved in actual war. His only hope was to wait for the rebels in Monrovia, where he thought he would have the upper hand with the high concentration of men and military largesse. I then said old Doe that meant we the civilians targeted had no hope. : I told him we the civilians could not continue to die lying down.
The following day when I came to bid the President farewell on my way to deliver the special message to Conte, I could not meet him. The Executive Mansion was gripped with an ominous sense of grief and despair. The commander of the government contingent in Bassa, Col. Appleton, had been brutally killed by the rebels, and it was now confirmed that the rebels had taken over the whole of Grand Bassa County. They were now on their way to Monrovia, just 75 miles away. I met Joe Taye, a cousin and confidante of the President. And even he was told to go home, as the President did not want to see anyone. That was not the only problem for the President that day. Various civic groups had organized massive demonstrations in the streets of Monrovia with placards calling for dialogue and peace. The parade quickly turned into a clearly anti-Doe campaign, when a number of other groups joined and began shouting, "Monkey come down," a call for Doe to resign.
I left for Guinea via road through Cape Mount County and Sierra Leone. Air Guinea had just taken off in its last flight from Monrovia, in fear that the rebels would hit Monrovia anytime. My journey through the government roadblocks exposed the extent of the distrust, mistrust and anger the soldiers and security personnel had developed against government officials. I had to literally display the special message I was carrying in order to be allowed through the checkpoints. I had a copy of the message, which I had to read in some instances at some of the checkpoints. I told them that I was going for possible help, which could include air support. ... Throughout the trip on those seriously impaired roads in the Sierra Leone forest, I could not just understand that in just a few months Liberia had become international headlines for not only a war effort to unseat a government, but for inhumane and brutal acts against civilians. When would it stop? What were the responsibilities of individuals who had one time or the other been activists or intellectuals advocating the observance of human rights. I recalled my student days and scanned the rest of my life. Everything appeared meaningless, at least temporarily.
It was difficult to deliver the special message to President Conte. The Liberian Ambassador was told to wait as the President was on a brief rest vacation in Dubreka, his hometown some twenty miles from Conakry. A follow-up delegation from Monrovia, headed by Defense Minister Boima Barclay met me at the Embassy and expressed concern about the delay in my mission. When we finally met President Conte, it was too late. The rebels had actually taken over most of the country, and the Economic Community of West African States was now trying to organize a peacekeeping force that would also include Guinea. In the end, the military pact between Guinea and Liberia remained mute. The focus shifted to the role of ECOMOG, as the rebel spree now became indiscriminate and rampant..
Why did we organize ULIMO to enter Liberia?
The rebels of the RUF headed by Foday Sankoh soon entered Sierra Leone by way of Lofa County and began indiscriminate attacks, targeting just about anyone, including us the Liberian refugees. People were leaving the so-called Greater Liberia controlled by Charles Taylor, crossing into Guinea with horrible stories. ECOMOG was restricted to Monrovia. There was no protection for most Liberians, especially Mandingoes, Krahns and anyone looking like a Muslim.
That is when we decided to organize an anti-rebel and resistant movement to rescue our people and defeat the objective of the NPFL. We contacted the Guinean government through Commandant (Major) Facine Toure and asked him to deliver a to President Conte. The reply was cold and disappointing. Minister of the strategic Ministry of Public Works and Transport and a former foreign Minister, Toure was a powerful member of Guinea's ruling military Council. He was a fellow coup-maker and confidante of Conte. Toure (no relations to the late President Sekou Toure of Guinea) was officially put in charge of Liberian affairs, and he led delegations to see President Doe in the last days of the government. It was through Facine I was trying to obtain an appointment with the President. When the appointment could not be secured, I requested Facine Toure to relay our concerns to the President and help convince him to assist us in the development of a citizen militia as a supplement by the subregion to contain the NPFL violence. My colleagues and I had no doubt that Minister Toure had sufficient clout to convince President Conte. The Minister told us how he was concerned about the crisis in Liberia and narrated his personal experience when he went to Monrovia to deliver his government's final position to President Doe. The Minister said his government was actually conceding that it was too late for Doe to solve the problem militarily and therefore other options, including leaving the country, should be considered. Facine said Doe lit a cigarette, got up from his seat and paced briefly behind the seated Minister and returned to his seat, and slummed his head in meditation for a few seconds. Doe then raised his head and told Facine that it was not the question of remaining as President of Liberia. It was a question of whether what Taylor and his internal and external supporters were inflicting on Liberians would not have an effect on stability in the West African subregion. Facine said Doe's statement had a tremendous effect on him, and as a result, he decided to end his discussion with the President. Facine said he left Liberia with the distinct impression that Doe was a courageous man, prepared to give up his life for something he truly believes. ...
With that, the Minister assured us he would do everything to convey our request to his leader. We were therefore disheartened when Facine returned and said there was no possibility for help.
(PART II soon)