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The True Face of Rev. Jackson's Liberian Heroes

By Tom Kamara, The Perspective (Smyrna, Georgia),
7 June 2000

Atlanta - Since Rev. Jesse Jackson reminded Liberians of the evils haunting them because of their overthrow of arguably Africa's longest serving oligarchic political dynasty - the True Whig Party - a party of freed slaves who ruled Liberia from 1822 to 1980 now back in a disguise designed by Charles Taylor, my ears have been deafened by the cries of my ancestors.

I have had troubled dreams since then, although my brother, Tarty Teh, consoled me by explaining the terrible nightmares I have had in his masterful work Liberia Is Being P.U.S.H.ed by Rev. Jackson. There is very little one can add to such work.

But the voices of my ancestors, wailing in the rain forest of Foya, now Taylor's base for destabilizing West Africa, keep reminding me of their ordeals, horrors meted on them by the Liberian state, a state that Rev. Jackson, a man who makes his living by preaching civil rights, so admires, so glorifies, so defends. For justice, let us listen to Rev. Jackson who, at the American embassy in Monrovia recently, declared that because The democratic government [the settler regime] was violently overthrown the country has not recovered from its nightmare. He decried the fact that (according to the Liberian News Agency) so many good and so much talents have been lost in a flash of maimers [sic].

With this verdict, confusion reigned through my head; anger filled my heart, intensifying each night I slept and heard the voices of my ancestors, many of them forced laborers for the Americo-Liberians. Their bones are scattered in the forests, among the 250,000 shot in cold blood in a ruthless campaign of elimination organized and implemented by Rev. Jackson's heroes - his good people, as they regained the power they lost in 1980. But not relying on my ancestors' protests and cries, their unending stories told to me as a child about the cruelties and inhumanities of the Liberian state, I enlisted some witnesses to present my case to the humane world, hoping that such would make Rev. Jackson, and his likes, to stop spreading falsehood, deceit and outright lies. My witnesses are individuals with experience and solid knowledge of my people's ordeals and humiliation under the Liberian State. Let me begin with the British historian, the irreplaceable Basil Davidson:

Convinced of this (the lowliness of natives in what became Liberia) generations of Americo-Liberians proceeded to rule their 'degraded subjects' by a contemptuous tyranny presented to the outside world, whenever that might seem useful, as a right and proper anteroom of manhood suffrage and representative democracy. But the anteroom was found to lead to no such results. Democracy was not encountered. What finally emerged in 1980, at the culmination of many miseries, was the master sergeant who made himself President Samuel Doe. Not convinced, I went back into history, to listen to another British writer and journalist of earlier time, the venerable Graham Greene: A case was also reported to me from several sources of a man who had been wounded close to Sasstown (during the Sasstown War) and wished to surrender. Although unarmed and pleading for mercy he was shot down in cold blood by soldiers in the presence of Captain Cole.

Greene continued: The soldiers crept into the banana plantations, which surround all native villages, and poured volleys into huts. One woman who had that day been delivered of twins was shot in bed, and the infants perished in the flames when the village was fired by the troops. In one village the charred remains of six children were found after the departure of the troops. In this connection, it may be mentioned that a man who had been a political prisoner at New Sasstown stated that he heard soldiers boasting of having cut children down with cutlasses and thrown them into the burning huts. The commander of these troops, Graham tells us, was a Col. Davis, an Americo.

Still searching for evidence, I asked Dr. Stephen Ellis, in his recent book The Mask of Anarchy for which Taylor has launched a libel law suit because Dr. Ellis - using eyewitness testimonies and documents - informed the world that the warlord actually ate his victims and drank their blood to augment his powers.

In the many parts of the country, throughout its history the Liberian system of indirect rule bore the stamp of military means used to establish it in the early twentieth century. It was first established in the Liberian Army, which had a reputation of brutality and for looting, since troops largely lived off the land. In 1910 some chiefs in the south-east of the country complained of the activities of the Liberian Frontier Force, which they termed 'this execrable force', and was 'entirely mobilized,' and wherever they had been sent throughout the country - whether to Rivercess or in the hinterland - their custom has been to plunder the towns through which they pass and rape the women, Ellis quotes a letter from King Gyude and chiefs of the Grebo to the American Colonization Society.

On the other hand, the veteran African America actor, Ossie Davis wrote of the experience he had with the Americo-Liberians while he was stationed in Liberia (Robertsfield) as an American GI from 1942-1945, in the book he co-authored with his wife Ruby Dee: With Ossie and Ruby - In This Life Together (pp. 126-132). According to him:

The Americo-Liberians were descendants of the repatriated slaves, and though they spoke with a lilt that sounded like West Indian calypso, they looked so much like us, it was amazing. They were now the ruling class, and that was disconcerting. They had nice homes and were wealthy but their servants, drawn mostly from the other indigenous tribes, were by and large poor and could not vote. The Americo-Liberians behaved toward them as any other ruling class, obviously forgetting what it had meant to be slave. That bothered me a great deal. I felt proud to be there among my people, in a double sense of the word, but I also felt ashamed.

The Americo-Liberians, black though they were, tended to live like Europeans or Americans, and that surprised me. They had new cars; they regularly sent their children off to Europe or America to college, and they fraternized with their peers at Firestone. They seldom mixed with the natives, with whom I had already bonded, who were authentic Africans and much more fun. I was not only uneasy with the class conflict I felt was brewing in Liberia, I was disturbed by it. But most of the soldiers on the post were not. They, too, quite easily, took to treating all the natives, not as brothers and comrades, but like servants, in much the same way white folks treated black folks down in Georgia.

This arrogance disturbed me, too, and I began to entertain a horrible suspicion. For most of my life, I had believed that black folks were in many ways morally superior to white folks, especially in our dealings with each other. I was profoundly disappointed that the Americo-Liberians, the children of slaves themselves, would come to Africa and behave as if they themselves were the slaveholders now.

- From In This Life Together by Actor Ossie Davis and wife Ruby Dee (pp. 126-132)

Here we are with just a few examples of the deeds of Rev. Jackson's good people and democrats whose loss must continue to haunt Liberia, one of the least developed, least organized, pathetic countries in Africa despite its place as the continent's oldest republic.

As a child in Western Province (now Lofa County) bordering Sierra Leone, I heard stories of how my people unsuccessfully tried to join British Sierra Leone and leave the Liberian State. Taxation without representation, the looting of their properties, and forced labor were practiced as late as the 1960s. One case in point was the effrontery of some Kissi men to challenge this fascist state by suing their chief, Tamba Tailor, on claims of forced labor.

Tamba Tailor was a good ally of then Vice President William Tolbert, an alliance solidified by Tamba Tailor's giving his son, Elijah Tailor, to be assimilated into civilized Americo culture. For this and other reasons, Kissi men were forcibly sent on Tolbert's farm where they worked under difficult and humiliating conditions without pay yet required to feed themselves. Many never returned, and their fate remained unknown. This chief also ensured a periodic, compulsory collection of food and supplies from the Kissis sent to Tolbert to buttress the ties and presumably to buy his political protection since all loyal natives needed Americo godfathers to survive.

The Kissis in Monrovia sought redress under the law and hired a lawyer to plead their case. The answer: they were all arrested and jailed after being charged with treason. But although the Kissi people failed to get a judicial victory, their daring act was sufficient embarrassment to the central government and led ultimately to the abolition of the forced labor camps for fear of drawing international attention to slavery in Liberia as had happened earlier. This happened just a few miles outside Monrovia. Such are the talents for democracy and development to which Rev. Jackson hopes to re-introduce in Liberia.

These are some of the factors that led my people to opt for British rule and to dream of severing the ties with the more oppressive Liberia. This is not to say that the Sierra Leoneans were completely happy with the British rule. The level of development of the two neighboring countries gives clear indications of why their citizens wished for something different, and why others left home.

So this is not a good testimony for either the British colonialists or our black founders in Liberia who call themselves Americos. But Liberia and Sierra Leone also have freed slaves in common, because freed slaves also settled in Sierra Leone. At independence, despite their protestation of not wanting to be ruled by natives, democracy prevailed in some form.

The British acted pretty much then as they are acting now. They wanted to save Sierra Leone from the tentacles of the Americos in colonial Liberia as they are now fighting to keep another Americo - Charles Taylor - from plundering Sierra Leone's diamond fields. Unlike Liberia, however, the first Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, Sr. Milton Margai, was a native African (Mende) not a Creole, Sierra Leone's equivalent of Liberia's Americo. The natives have thus dominated the politics of Sierra Leone, since independence, precisely because democracy reflects numbers. But there was another, perhaps better, reason: the British, assisted by the Church, encouraged education in Sierra Leone.

Thus, at independence, there were enough educated native Sierra Leoneans confident and prepared to lead, something which disappointed and angered the Creoles who threatened a separate state just as the Afrikaners are now threatening in South Africa. It is such enlightenment that has prepared Sierra Leoneans to reject the so-called mediation schemes of Jesse Jackson by denying him entry into their country after he praised of Foday Sankoh as a Mandela, while some confused Liberians see a savior in him. The enlightenment deficit was created intentionally in Liberia. In Rev. Jackson's Liberia, it was a crime to teach natives how to read and write, a policy the settlers borrowed from their southern slave masters who saw a danger in an enlightened black person.

The Americos went several steps farther than their white masters ever imagined. They would perfect other forms of subjugation in this part of Africa they named Liberia.

Independence from the American Colonization Society came in 1847, and the result was a club of Americos, which held what they called elections amongst themselves to share their loot and cement their dictatorship over the natives. Since political participation was denied to the majority in this bastardized form of Apartheid, the only option left for us was to seize power by force. But as Tarty Teh correctly said, we did not conspire, collectively, to seize power.

Had we done so, the difference would have been the difference between day and night in terms of development and education - factors, which would have precluded native boys and girls from serving as foot soldiers for the Taylors, Goodridges, Ureys, etc. in cementing our backwardness.

But some individuals who were least prepared for political power - members of an intentionally ill-educated, ill-trained military - seized power without our consent. In the end, these semi-illiterate soldiers (themselves victims and pawns of the orchestrated ignorance that we see today in those natives who lined up behind their Americo masters) surrendered power back to the Americos.

This time, however, there was no pretense of good intentions. Charles Taylor became one of the biggest thieves among the coup makers of 1980, a fact that landed him in jail in the United States from where, we are told, he escaped to launch his campaign of native elimination.

The level of state-encouraged and institutionalized illiteracy, which continues to plague Liberia, was a big factor in the witch-hunt launched by the junta (not against the Americos, as Rev. Jackson tells us, but) against fellow native Liberians who were convinced that the soldiers and their Americo allies in theft and plunder were bound to push the country into chaos. Throughout the campaign of elimination erroneously called war, not a single known Americo was arrested at most of the notorious checkpoints and slaughtered. But the names of native politicians and opinion leaders, technocrats, university professors, who were ordered executed by Taylor, many of them also victims of the junta's repression, are infinite. Yet, Rev. Jackson distorts our history and spreads half-truths in his crusade against Africans. It makes you wonder where he stands in Liberia's ongoing catastrophe.

Coups as means of political change plagued Africa after the wave of independence, because political institutions borrowed from the colonial masters proved useless in African statecraft. There, of course, are exceptions. Besides Senegal, not a single West African country escaped the wrath of the soldiers, who are themselves largely inept and incompetent. In East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania are among the few exceptions, though not without other problems. It is still too early to pass judgment on southern Africa because it was only yesterday that full independence was proclaimed.

When all peaceful means for change are suffocated (as it was in Liberia from 1847 to 1980) violence remains an option. This has been the case in Africa, but Rev. Jackson has embarked on a crusade to distort history and spread lies. Throughout his tours around Africa as President Clinton's unfortunate democracy envoy, this man has never rebuked any other African country with a coup history. Liberia was among the last in the cycle of coups since its army - a dumping ground for misfits who were cooks and janitors for members of the Americo-Liberian establishment - sometimes forgot the difference between left and right.

Earlier coups were rougher. Nigeria was among the first in beheading a leader. Sir. Tafawa Bellewa was the first victim in a now familiar string of bloody coups. Rawlings executed many, including judges, to become a well-respected president in America's eyes. Musevini led a violent overthrow of a government to become one of the West's examples of good government in Africa.

The list is endless, and yet Rev. Jackson sees no wrongs here, except in Liberia where his cousins instituted a ruthless political machine of death and plunder to keep themselves in power for well over 130 years.

America has offered many of us the opportunity to see the world in its true colors. While studying there, the values many of us admired were those of the Democratic Party, and there were reasons. Wasn't John F. Kennedy a Democrat?

Didn't Robert Kennedy belong to the Democratic Party? For people in bondage, the Democratic Party became the natural institution to admire. But thanks to Democrats like Jesse Jackson, Donald Payne, Cynthia McKinney and many others who see democracy in a butchering and thieving warlord. One can now begin to see humanity in the Republican Party of men like Sen. Judd Gregg. This man, more than any Democrat in recent memory when dealing with Africa, indicates his deep sense of justice, fair play and morality in a world inundated with bigotry and opportunism. Were I an American, I would give my soul to the Republican Party of Sen. Gregg. After all, it was President George Bush, a Republican, who risked his political future by sending in white boys to die in the heat and squalor of Somalia. With the likes of Rev. Jackson as icons in the Democratic Party, only God knows.