By Nat Galarea Gbessagee
Long before publication of former Liberian foreign minister H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr.’s latest article, “Before the Setting of the Sun,” (Liberian Orbit, October 2003), the Liberian chat room was blazing with questions by avid admirers wondering why he had not commented on the present changing military and political tides in Liberia. So given the brilliant rhetorician and astute politician he is, Mr. Fahnbulleh delivered a masterfully crafted rhetorical prose that dabbled in the historical and psychological imperatives for the last two civil wars and associated political and social uprisings in Liberia, to the keen delight of the thirsting souls that laid in wait of his quenching words of wisdom, to devour it with their varying interpretations. But crushed below Mr. Fahnbulleh’s psychoanalysis of a bleeding Liberia is the dialectical underpinnings of the various insurrections the country had experienced, which bespeak more of a people highly determined to cause each other grievous mental and physical harm at opportune times with arguably bizarre explanations and justifications, than a people truly committed to the building of a pluralistic society respecting of equal rights, equal opportunities, justice, fairplay, and rule of law.
I am the lest impressed about the growing propositions of plausible remedies to the Liberian crises by persons who seemingly mean well, but whose vision and urgency about creating the necessary social, economic, and political conditions for social justice, fairplay, rule of law, and democracy in Liberia were, and perhaps still are, somehow buried in ideological and military adventurisms to supposedly correct the wrongs in society. I had insisted in numerous articles that Liberian politicians and “intellectuals” missed numerous glorious opportunities in 1980, 1985, 1990 and 1997 to lead the Liberian nation and people out of their so-called “intractable political immaturity and bewilderment, and educational and social backwardness,” to a new and prosperous life in the psychoanalytical promised land of democracy and rule of law, that any belated saber rattling can only undermine the new quests and urgency to start anew and build from scratch what our astute politicians and intellectuals had failed to do.
The folly of men and women of letter who have managed through their rhetorical and intellectual skills to cultivate a clan of cult followers, is to continue to advocate rapid and grandeur schemes of total liberation that defied the reality of our times. I believe that the last few decades of civil unrests and fraternal political breeding and un-insightful intellectual discourse in Liberia have made more pressing the need for Liberians to cultivate new tactics and approaches to peace, unity, reconciliation and democracy in Liberia that are more in sync with the objective realities of the social, economic, and political developments of the Liberian nation and people, than of any utopian concepts.
For if mere psychoanalysis prevails over the dialecticism of the Liberian problem, we may have to tighten our boots for the long walk ahead, as poster Nyan Wotor succinctly articulated in count one of his five-count analysis of Mr. Fahnbulleh’s article in an AfricaOnline chat-room post October 29: “Point One: Conscious Political Actors Please Stand Up. Here, Fahnbulleh says that the two phases of our long civil war, coupled with Taylor’s reign, have caused mass violence, immorality and hustling to become more deeply ingrained than ever, in our culture. To him, this can be changed only by “social transformation” and the intervention of “conscious political actors.” Fahnbulleh describes “conscious political actors” as those who not only critically examine society, but those who participate in struggle in order to “actualize the results of [their] critical examination.” This theory of “praxis” is not new, but it bears repeating as often as possible until some of us get it and get involved.”
Here, it may not be far-fetched that Mr. Nyan Wotor understood Mr. Fahnbulleh’s calls for “conscious political actors” in Liberia to mean, and perhaps countless other Liberians share similar meaning, that it behooves Liberians to not only critically examine prevailing socio-economic, political and cultural ills in the Liberian society, but to take appropriate actions to “actualize the results of (their) critical examination.” Of course, it is hard to tell if the contextual use of “actualize” connotes violent or peaceful methods to attain one’s aim, but it seems to me that the message was clear even before it was written, given the anxieties and inquiries preceding the Fahnbulleh article, and Mr. Fahnbulleh’s own admissions in previous writings that he was at the forefront of the 1985 failed coup by former army commanding general Thomas Quiwonkpa, which tacitly laid the foundation for the 1989 military invasion by the NPFL.
And that 1989 military invasion of Liberia mushroomed into a catastrophic extermination of over 200,000 Liberians, and an epical 14-year nightmare that rendered Liberians as hopeless refugees and squalors in displacement camps in Liberia and mainly across West Africa, and totaled the country’s political, economic, social, and cultural institutions, and related general infrastructural developments. Even the unpredictability of the current confluent of politically motivated and ideologically separated Liberians, tucked together under a power-sharing transitional government at the behest of international mediators in the hope of restoring peace to the war-ravaged country, owes both its genesis and testimonial to the 1989 military invasion.
So when Mr. Fahnbulleh opines that “The logic of history evolves along its own path, incomprehensive to the ordinary eyes and to the simplistic mind…,” he is probably right, given the tendency of most Liberians to permit their respect and admiration for persons of power or authoritative figures in their lives, to dictate their evaluations of pertinent issues before them. And I know from whence I speak because when I wrote “Countering Political Rhetorical and Intellectual Misrepresentation in Liberia’ (New Democrat, October 2003), a self-declared defender of one of the political commentators I had mentioned in the article was quick to accuse me of attacking a “classy guy” without “provocation,” who usually presents the “truth”, and demanded that I apologize to the “classy guy” for my critical analysis of his article. “He was simply attempting to bring the public some thoughtful analyses on the Liberian story as he has done honestly for so long…. I think he deserves an apology. (Commentator’s name withheld)) is the epitome of “class”. Can we say the same for you, Mr. Gbessagee?” the poster asked. And when I said I would clarify any issues he had with my analysis, he added.”Good luck with any plausible reasons you plan to use to justify your bad analyses. Like I said, if you had any class, you’d simply apologize and move on.” Here, the substance of what I wrote was less important to the love, respect, and admiration the poster had for the commentator in question.
And it is that kind of mindset that immunizes us (most Liberians) from questioning the sincerity and truthfulness of the statements and actions of our friends and relatives, and emboldens us to dismiss outright as the working of a “primitive mind,” a fair warning from our “peasant” brethren that “Liberians are their own worst enemies.” For it is a tasteless social courtesy to not inquire of the speaker what he or she meant by such a bold statement, but how else does a peasant’s viewpoint matter than to be dismissed outright? Yet we proceed to rejoice in our vainglory and self-pride until the ripples of our indiscretion come full circles that we begin to look for scapegoats. And here we are once more presented with another golden opportunity to trace our steps backward from where we now stand, to ascertain if we needlessly stepped on a green grass that has withered, when we could have continued our journey without much harm to the grass. And perhaps, we could be humbled at last to repent of our mistakes and take a new direct path on which we will be in no position to wither the grass anew. But we are so self-centered in our tracks that we think our statements and actions were “justified,” and that statements and actions by others were “unjustified.” And that is the crux of the problem with peace and reconciliation in Liberia today.
But, apparently, Mr. Fahnbulleh is well aware of the strength in the simplicity of diagnosing the Liberian crises in such limited manner for his cult followers, and so he insists with much audacity and adroitness, “There are those who blame many of us for what they consider the ‘destruction of their society.’ If I may ask: which society are they talking about? Is it the one that established tribal Bantustans in the Capital—New Kru Town, Bassa Community, Vai Town, Buzzi Quarters—horrible slums where peasants drifted to after the confiscation of their land for the use of plantation owners? Can they be talking about the society where the Masonic Craft and the established Churches hoodwinked the people politically in acquiescing in their own oppression and exploitation? …What society are these people talking about for which they hold us culpable in its destruction? And how did we destroy this society? By explaining to the people the causes of their backwardness and underdevelopment and the paralysis of the nation? But tell me, what kind of society deserves to survive if a handful of illiterate peasants in uniform could overthrow it with such ease?”
Here, of course, it is highly unlikely that such rambling discourse and myopic attempts at self-exoneration through defiance and put down can appeal to anyone of reason, except, perhaps to cult followers. For a society must exist in order for one to seek its ”social transformation.” But if one who presupposes and assigns to himself the intellectual and leadership capability to lead such a social transformation also recognizes not the existence of the society he is to transform, how can such a person be a credible choice to lead the social transformation? And I am even dumfounded that an erudite and learned person who ascribes to others the sarcastic indignity of “handful of illiterate peasants,” would seek to take marching orders from the same “handful of illiterate peasants” in the capacity of foreign minister and education minister, and as a battlefield warrior in a failed coup. But such is the sad state that is Liberia!
Fahnbulleh is equally adamant that he holds philosophical sway over most Liberians in regard to the direction Liberia should take, to the extent that he self-assuringly pontificates, “The tradition we follow is one of critical analysis of our society and the courageous and revolutionary involvement to actualize the results of our critical examination. This is unlike those who have never participated in political struggles and think that because they have not sullied themselves with hatred, blame and aspersion, they will constitute the new corps of leaders who will be snatched up by certain international circles and imposed on the Liberian people. Such fantasy is the dream of starry-eyed novices. Political capital comes from grueling battles and not from taking the moral high grounds in situations of relative comfort.”
But Fahnbulleh soon bungles in irony. At one point he dismisses calls for changes to the Liberian constitution and says, “No matter which Constitution is given or adopted, nothing will change because the human material in this society is a highly combustible one without the discipline and consciousness needed to build a progressive democratic society. Where is the factor of accountability in a system where unenlightened peasants and destitute slum dwellers line up once in six years to select one of several wealthy candidates?…Maybe instead of changing the Constitution, we need to hire psychiatrists to examine the men and women who vie for power in our country! We may yet stumble on interesting disclosures where mad men and women, junkies and spineless cretins, hallucinating in their demented fantasy, delude themselves that they are historical figures. The debate over the Constitution is sterile and uninteresting…“
Then, at another point, he seems to recognize the constitutionality of the scheduled 2005 general elections, and advises, “We have to fight this election as if our very existence depended on it. The victory of the popular forces will usher in the new dawn of social justice, popular participation and democratic devolution, but defeat will signal the emergence of that clique for whom the nation and its people are cannon fodder in a grand scheme of atavistic nostalgia and political arrogance. The popular forces must unite and take state power before the sun sets on the battered dreams and flickering aspirations of that multitude which dared to hope for an alternative during the heroic confrontation of the 70s. This struggle must not only be fought! It must be won!!”
Here, the irony of Fahnbulleh’s brand of society lies not only in his bellicosity, but also in the very essence of the “social transformation” of a society in which “… we need to hire psychiatrists to examine the men and women who vie for power…” For if, in Fahnbulleh’s estimation, society is dominated by “unenlightened peasants and destitute slum dwellers,” and “enlightened” men and women who need psychiatric help to prove their worth, I sincerely doubt any persons would be left in society that will become “the popular forces” that “will usher in the new dawn of social justice, popular participation and democratic devolution.” But even such characterization contradicts Fahnbulleh’s earlier rhetorical statement and question, “There are those who blame many of us for what they consider the ‘destruction of their society.’ If I may ask: which society are they talking about?” But it is such rhetorical statements and questions that present both Mr. Fahnbulleh and the Liberian people with an awkward dilemma and the paradox as to how anyone thinks he should be taken serious in prescribing remedies to a society whose constitution and existence he doesn’t recognize!
But the key to peace and stability in Liberia lies collectively with all Liberians, and not with Fahnbulleh as a person. So the main issue is not what Fahnbulleh says or does, but whether those Liberians (“educated” and “uneducated”) mesmerized and spell bounded by the flowery political rhetoric of him and other Liberian political firebrands, will for once cease to be mere followers of intellectual intrigues and become independent thinkers capable of charting a national course for Liberia, in which sullying oneself with “hatred, blame and aspersion” will not be the capstone for greatness, and where power will not reside in the hands of “village peasants.” For such a proposition is more a fantasy than a reality in our modern world dominated by democratic and free market forces. And I even doubt if ever there was a time when power truly resided in the hands of “the people” or “ village peasants,” without powerful cliques running the whole show in the background in disguise. Therefore, Liberians must harness their political, economic, social, cultural, and human resources by living and working together in peace to build a pluralistic democratic society in which every Liberian will be treated fairly before the law, and given equal access to employment, educational, and leadership opportunities.
I have indicated throughout my writings that the Liberian crisis is more complex than we all care to admit. It is hard to believe by the level of atrocities committed by all sides during the last two civil war that Liberians were that cruel toward one another. And perhaps we didn’t know because we were either too young or not yet born, and did not witness the Sasstown and Grebo wars in the last century, which were as gruesome and brutal as the last two civil wars. But now that we know, the solution is not to justify one action over the other, but to collectively take steps so that such atrocities are never again repeated in our national history. And I do not think that solution is possible with prosecutions under a war crimes tribunal, unless we, Liberians, genuinely want “justice across the board”, and not a “victor’s justice,” for there are no victors in the Liberian crises. For Mr. Fahnbulleh, Jr., Gen. Quiwonkpa, and others committed a treasonous act under the Liberian constitution in their attempts to overthrow a sitting Liberian government in 1985, just as Mr. Charles Taylor and others in 1989, and Mr. George Dweh and others in 1999 committed a treasonous act each in their own attempts to overthrow a sitting Liberian government. Could each group have had valid reasons and justifications? Probably, “yes.” But none is exempt from committing treason under the provisions of the Liberian constitution. And none of these cases can be excluded from a wars crime tribunal prosecution if we, Liberians, truly desire justice. After all, each group took the guns over the courts, being fully aware of their repercussions of their actions regarding peace and stability in Liberia.
So when Mr. Fahnbulleh asks, “And how did we destroy this society? By explaining to the people the causes of their backwardness…” he is simply misstating the gravity of the case. For as much as his statement might be true in certain respects, his role in the 1985 failed coup can hardly be characterized as “explaining to the people the causes of their backwardness.” It was a calculated attempt to unseat a sitting government through the barrel of the gun and not through the ballot box, no matter what the justifications. And that failed coup attempt in 1985 accelerated the growing public distrust of the sitting government and caused a chain reaction that led to the 1989 military invasion, as well as the 1999 and 2003 military invasions. Hence, Mr. Fahnbulleh’s psychoanalysis about a bleeding Liberia needing a “social transformation” that he and his “popular forces” must lead by winning the 2005 elections at all cost, is nothing more than a misdiagnosis.
Liberians must, therefore, think long and hard as to whether it is in the interest of all Liberians to make amends and work together to create society in which all Liberians can live in relative peace in pursuit of life’s many treasures, or whether it is in the interest of all Liberians to help Mr. Fahnbulleh create a society in which “Political capital comes from grueling battles and not from taking the moral high grounds in situations of relative comfort.” For me, I am not for Fahnbulleh’s society of the “fittest.” I am for Liberians reconciling their differences, even through what some deemed as “appeasement,” to create a new society of equal rights and opportunities we all can be proud of. I know the task will not be easy but it can be done. And for that, I propose it is time to get beyond Fahnbulleh’s psychoanalysis of a bleeding Liberia. For I think all Liberians want to stop the bleeding of our country, but not with a mixture of hot pepper and vinegar!
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