By Welley Mulbah
“…a callow semi-illiterate leader of a group of drugged and inebriated foot soldiers who barely completed primary education as indicated by the inability of many of them to pronounce their own western names….” Augustine Kollie
April 12, 1980 came as a result of the built-up of tension resulting from injustice, cruelty, and deprivation that the True Whig Party and its associates melted against indigenous Liberians over a protracted period. For over hundred years, indigenous Liberians paid taxes without representation. They were denied voting rights, education, and self-respect. Conditions of the indigenous Liberians, who plotted the coup as described by Mr. Kollie in the above paragraph, were the reality of harsh conditions that most indigenous Liberians had to endure under the True Whig Party governments. Hope Mr. Kollie will now understand what necessitated the bloody coup of April 12, 1980.
Shortly before his death, Mr. Pah told me that a technique called “Saklifee” was used to collect taxes from the indigents. He explained that the soldiers who collected the taxes would place one long iron over the tibia (Liberians say “crazy bone”) and the other against the fibula and press the two irons together. Indigents caught in this situation would make any offer, just anything available to the soldiers only to be released. He said it was the most inhumane treatment he had ever experienced in his life. The soldiers often did that each time they wanted chickens, goats, rice, and other things for food besides the taxes. Indigents were responsible to transport government officials in hammocks on their bare shoulders/heads. They were used as donkeys.
The gallant men and….(were there women?) who overthrew the totalitarian government of the True Whig Party felt more than what Mr. Pah tried to explain to me. No, they were not drugged inebriated foot soldiers, and illiterate by choice. No, they did not choose the western names by themselves. They were made to feel less human! The coup was a glass of water spilled over! President Tolbert could have been “a good man”, but the explosion of a volcano has no perfect time. To me, the story of most blacks in America before January 31, 1865 was the story of most indigents in Liberia before April 12, 1980.
President Doe, though a tyranny, was not a coward. He was a brave soldier who died for a cause. At that crucial time, maybe Doe could have agreed to hand power over to a Kollie or Wlatee, but the coup that initially served as liberation for all indigenous Liberians would have happened in vain had he given power to Charles Taylor, a man whose forefathers’ inhumanity brought about the coup. He knew Taylor would revenge. Wasn’t he right? Hope we are being fair enough.
It is unfortunate that Liberia does not have a reliable history. Most of our best historical accounts have been oral, which we barely explore for fear of “opening old wounds.” “Let’s by-gone be by-gone” is all we hear each time we attempt to explore our history. Aren’t we learning anything from the American history? Americans have recorded everything from war to slavery…especiall y, slavery, the most embarrassing chapter in America’s past. History helps us to understand how far we have come as a people.
“Their (the so-called progressives) intractable hunger for power undermined democracy and rendered the country a pariah status…… ..” Where was the democracy, Mr. Kollie? For 131 years, the True Whig Party was the only party. I wish Mr. Kollie could explain to his audience what his definition of democracy is. Mr. William V.S. Tubman served as President of Liberia for 27 (twenty-seven) years, and the late President William R. Tolbert served as his VP during some of those years. Yet, Mr. Kollie is preaching democracy.
Liberia has a very rich history. We can use this history as a torch to show us the way. It should be our guide towards the future, and not as a weapon for revenge. Liberians should use this history wisely; it has a great lesson to be learned: If most freed slaves, who had already experienced inhumanity and deprivation in the USA, had not shown the same awful behaviors to indigenous Liberians, if previous governments headed by freed slaves were more inclusive, if indigenous Liberians who took power in 1980 had not continued a killing spreed, if only Taylor had not planned a revenge and totally ruined Liberia after Doe was killed, probably, Liberia would have been far ahead of other developing nations by now.
To me, the coup of April 12, 1980, has achieved its goal. We have a multi-party democracy. There are many indigenous Liberians in governments than they were in the past. There are many educated indigents than they were prior to April 12, 1980. No indigent is being used as a camel or donkey to transport government officials as was done in the past. Pres. Doe abolished taxing unemployed indigents, a policy from which they nearly perished during the 100+ years of rule of the True Whig Party. Indigenous Liberians will always be grateful to the late Pres. Doe for relieving them of those taxes. Indigents have voting powers, and can elect their representatives! All these changes happened because of April 12, 1980.
The coup was not intended to eliminate congau people or the True Whig Party; it was probably intended to eradicate those policies that mostly dehumanized indigenous Liberians. It does not matter whether we have a congau president or indigenous president at this time. One thing is certain: the harsh policies of the True Whig Party against indigenous Liberians will be dead forever. Also, no Liberian, or group of Liberians will think less of the other, because we all do remember quite vividly too, what happened in the past, and where we are at present.
It is time now for Liberians to unite and choose great leaders. We need leaders who will extend equal opportunities to all Liberians, and treat the Liberian people with decency. It is time to heal our country, because what matters most is Liberia, our beloved country.
Mrs. A.W. Mulbah