By Alaric Tokpa
Counter-hegemonic Discourse and the Crisis of the Liberian State
The above framing of subject heading is in no way intended to suggest that counter-hegemonic discourse preceded the crisis of the state in Liberia. In fact, it was the crisis of the state that generated and gave fertile grounds to militant activism which, in turn, provided greater public exposure to the crisis of the state and induced popular opposition. Taking advantage of the space thus created by the unrepentant failure of the state, several mass organizations and social movements (now historically classed as the progressive movement in Liberia) emerged in the 1970s. Notable among national political organizations in the struggle for change then were the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) and the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL). [x] Backed by radical university and high school students together with unemployed youth and the dispossessed in the larger society, MOJA and PAL took the lead in defining the issues and language of political discourse in the 1970s. While a clear cut, unambiguous articulation of political ideology and alternative program of governance was not evident in the period, two things are clear by now. One, the rhetoric of the period succeeded to discredit and de-popularize the settler dominated government of William R. Tolbert. And two, mass desire for a change of the status quo was widespread. Hence, the settler-controlled government could no longer continue to ignore the public sentiments reflected in opposition politics and lay exclusive claim to state control with confidence.
Not focused on the prediction of and preparation for how and when the settler dominated government would fall, the attention of the mass organizations was directed more toward the description and discussion of the weaknesses and shortcomings of the non-democratic, neo-colonial state than toward a discussion of the ideological orientation and social and economic programs of the new type of state that activists envisaged. There was no clearly articulated vision and ideology of the replacement state. However, based on assumptions about individual leadership orientation, exposure to revolutionary literature, political developments around the world, contacts with the activities of militant movements and organizations in other countries, several different ideological tendencies developed and could be detected in the ranks of the progressive movement. But as long as the common denominator remained opposition to the authoritarian state, attention was hardly paid to the concrete differences of ideological persuasions and the alternative program of a possible replacement state. Nevertheless, the rapid frequency with which mass support was generated for the progressive organizations of the 1970s threatened the settler dominated government.
Almost immediately, a stalemate in which neither the government nor the progressive opposition was able to dismiss the other ensued. Taking advantage of the mass social anger and the national mood, the military struck on April 12, 1980, and succeeded to erect a dictatorship after a bloody coup in which President Tolbert and other top government officials were killed. Despite their early accommodation in the army run government, progressive activists were never able to positively influence the direction of the militarily administered state. In fact, the leaders of progressive activism in the period are in admission that the coup caught them unaware.
Despite the disassociation of the progressive movements with the organization, planning or execution of the 1980 coup and the fourteen year civil war, propaganda is entrenched among conservatives and significant sections of the ill-informed and unsuspecting public that the “progressives destroyed Liberia”. Unable to substantiate with convincing evidence this allegation, critics of progressive politics (of the 1970s and early 1980s) in Liberia signal the contention that it was essentially the progressive agitation for political change and democratic participation that set into motion the chain of events that have given Liberia its late 20th century and early new millennium political experience. What such critics hesitate to say, but which is implied in their disagreement with the need to struggle for political change, is that there is the need to maintain the status quo because the authoritarian state model is the best to which Liberia can aspire. What is clear, therefore, is that the failure of these critics to articulate a new, practicable vision of state formation quite unlike (and in justification of their opposition to) the democratic change of government that the progressives earlier proposed project them as conservatives who embrace the exploitative and oppressive nature of the authoritarian state whose stubborn hold on power bear major responsibility for the destruction of Liberia.
To be sure, it is possible to contend that the lack of unity and ideological clarity among the leaders of the progressive organizations negatively played out in the military controlled government that came to power after the overthrow of the settler administration on April 12, 1980, and contributed to the declining influence of progressive forces on the political scene. But what is also clear is that the progressive organizations gained popularity when their political activism coincided with the interest of the popular masses, namely, the need to recognize the political and economic rights of indigenous Liberians. For a moment, the achievement of this objective seemed to have been attained with the success of the coup which coincided with the discontinuation of mass interest in the traditional political activities of the progressive organizations.
Violent Intervention and the Antecedents of State Disintegration
There are remote and recent causes for the recurrent collapse of the authoritarian state in Liberia. The remote causes are to be found in the political order, economic arrangement, philosophical system and legal principles upon which the Liberian state was erected and the social anger that was thus set on fire overtime. So far, much has been said about this in the above discussion. The recent cause is to be located in the massive introduction of violence as principle mechanism for political transition. In the latter case, the April 1980 coup d’etat is a significant point of departure.
In the initial declaration that pronounced the bloody coup d’etat, the military justified the intervention by accusing the settler administration of rampant corruption, misuse of power and abuse of public office.xi The said pronouncement captured the spirit of the political moment then in Liberia and induced popular acceptance and support for the coup. But almost immediately following the mass euphoria that welcomed the change of government, the military started to display deep affection for rampant corruption, misuse of power and abuse of public office. The excesses of the military continued for a decade, until its overthrow through the rebellion of an irregular army.
The crux of the matter is that the military intervention of 1980 succeeded because of the entanglement of the settler state in a crisis from which it could not extricate itself. However, contrary to popular expectation, the military dictatorship adopted the undemocratic tendencies and insensitivities of the authoritarian government that it overthrew and replaced. The violence and barracks regulation associated with the deepening of authoritarianism under military dictatorship quickly undermined the legitimacy of the military government. Thus emerged general agreement among Liberians at home and abroad that there was a need for the military to vacate the center stage of politics.
In sum, while promising constitutional reform, the military dictatorship ultimately manipulated the process of formulating a new constitution by guaranteeing itself more political space and impunity. While promising social and economic improvement, military rule heightened the suffering of the people. Similarly, the military raised high expectations about a possible disengagement from politics and the organization of democratic elections; but the military rigged the elections of 1985 and further superimposed itself on the society.
As it finally turned out, the interest of the army was not really to change the old order, but to make the old order accept within its midst those previously kept out.xii Obviously then, the military adopted the authoritarian tendencies of the settler state it replaced. The undemocratic character of the politics was thus reflected in the deterioration of the economy and social circumstances of the Liberian people.xiii In addition, the repressive nature of the military regime rendered normal democratic opposition impossible. This was the perfect pretext which the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) used to launch the first civil war against the military regime. The first phase of the civil war in Liberia lasted from late 1989 to mid 1996.
Civil War, State Breakdown and Drawbacks of State Reconstitution
Attempts at resolving the crisis of the Liberian state have been associated with mere restoration of government authority rather than critical reflection, rethinking and the progressive transformation of state. By analogy, this is a process that can be described as recoiling along the trajectory of intense confrontation and devastating crisis. For instance, after the military coup in 1980, attention turned to constitutional reform and democratic elections. But the constitution of the second republic guaranteed enormous powers for the president; while the military hesitated to disengage from politics and manipulated the elections of October 1985 to justify its continuous hold on power. The need to restructure social and economic relations in the country was totally ignored. For the military leaders, central to the political process was their right to claim privileges once preserved for the settler elite without question.
So, after the election of October 1985, attention turned away from political transition through electoral democracy to violent replacement of the military dictatorship. Thus, on November 12, 1985, there was a real attempt to overthrow the government of Samuel Kanyon Doe. The said attack was launched from the neighbouring country of Sierra Leone and led by Thomas Quiwonkpa, the former commanding general of the Peoples Redemption Council (the military junta that emerged after the 1980 coup). The attempt failed, and Quiwonkpa was killed. Due to the reprisal that followed against Quiwonkpa’s kinsmen (Gios and Manos) mainly from Nimba County by Krahn supporters of Samuel Doe mainly from Grand Gedeh County, it became easier to recruit and train fighters from Nimba for a future rebel army. In late December 1989, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) started a civil war. By 1996, six other warring factions (the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, INPFL, headed by Prince Y. Johnson; the Johnson-led faction of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy, ULIMO-J, headed by Roosevelt Johnson; the Kromah-led faction of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy, ULIMO-K, headed by Alhaji Kromah; the Liberia Peace Council, LPC, headed by George Boley; the Lofa Defense
Force, LDF, headed by Francois Massaquoi; and the Central Revolutionary Council of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, NPFL-CRC, sponsored by breakaway associates and former confidants of Charles Taylor, Tom Woewiyu, Lavela Supuwood and Sam Dokie) and the formal national army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), had actively participated in the war and the transitional governments that were set up to help bring end to the civil war. The professed aim of the war was to remove the military government and build a democratic order. The intensity of the war led to the collapse of the Liberian state in the early 1990s. After numerous failed attempts and ceasefire violations, a ceasefire was finally reached in 1996, as a result of which election was held in July 1997. But the greed and oppressive tendencies of the Taylor government that emerged out of the July 1997 election was used as pretext to launch a second phase of the civil war. Two (twin) warring factions featured prominently in the latter war, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL. Similarly thus, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2003 that led to the election of 2005 was preceded by the LURD-MODEL war that promised to replace the Taylor administration and build a democratic order.
It is noteworthy that in both the 1997 and 2005 post war elections, there emerged a preoccupation with the restoration of national government and the attainment of peace and stability. While no constitutional reform was attempted in the period, certain constitutional provisions were suspended and emphasis was placed on democratic elections as the basis for attaining peace and stability. A new addition to the electoral process in 1997, however, was a shift from the majoritarian (single member electoral district) system to proportional representation. Interestingly, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party took majority of the seats in the National Legislature. As was earlier noted, his blatant disregard for the concerns of his opponents, who had recently led their own irregular armies, his lack of attention to the social and economic crisis that had been exacerbated as a result of war, and the resort to the criminalization and privatization of the state created the pretext for another escalation of civil war.
Again, the negotiations that led to the end of the civil war in Accra in 2003 agreed on a power sharing arrangement, the reorganization of the army and security forces, and the organization of democratic elections in October 2005. As before, no considerations were given to the structure of the Liberian economy and the implications of economic organization for the crisis of the state. Of course, this is a matter that did not claim the attention of the centers of power and social forces that converged to negotiate the peace. Nor did it constitute the concern of peace-brokers from other African countries (who themselves were representatives of authoritarian governments) or representatives from the international community (who were adherents of the neoliberal tradition).
Beside the Taylor era, which exemplified the only attempt at reinstating a duly constituted national government in the interwar years, the period spanning the first and second phases of the civil war was punctuated with the installation of one transitional government after the other. From the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), which was headed by Dr. Amos Sawyer (1990-1994) to the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) which was headed by Gyude Bryant (2003-2005), the constant formula in the search for peace was preoccupation with the disarmament of combatants, power sharing between armed and unarmed politicians, insensitivity to incompetent government administration and corrupt practices by the representatives of the various competing groups, the amassing of wealth by various factions and participants in the power sharing arrangements, and the organization of elections. In fact, due to the tendency to provide appeasement for the largest faction and strongest of the belligerents, a major strategy of the warlords was to approve power sharing arrangements, participate in these arrangements, but find ways to weaken the transitional governments at the center, while at the same time strengthening themselves on the periphery of such arrangements in preparation for the next breakdown, negotiation and power sharing arrangement. This accounted for several intermittent periods of no war no peace scenarios and the manipulation of peace negotiations by the heads of warring factions in Liberia. In all of the above circumstances, at no point were concerns raised about the need to rethink the character of the state. No proposals were made for such consideration nor were public debates encouraged in said direction. The various warring factions and political interest groups were mainly concerned with acquiring more power in future governments and/or extending their influences in said arrangements.
Obviously then, it is the crisis of the state that has led to the intensification of political competition in Liberia, the introduction of violence in politics, and, specifically, the intervention by the formal military and irregular armies and the devastation of civil war. This crisis of the state has originated in the authoritarian nature of the state. The failure to resolve the said crisis could only main a vicious cycle of violence in Liberian politics; while a successful resolution of the crisis cannot call for a return to the past.
Roughly described, the trajectory that led to the eventual breakdown of the state move from disregard for fundamental constitutional rights, denial of popular participation in political and economic processes, government disinterest in public service delivery, government dysfunctionality and failure, lack of standards as well as the appropriate institutional and policy frameworks, mass disapproval of existing government administrations, violent challenge by non-state actors combined with disloyalty from certain state functionaries, and then the collapse of the state. Given this understanding, the post-war state reconstitution project must go beyond propaganda and mechanical reversal along the very same trajectory that seeks merely to reinsert Liberia into the general conditions of the immediate pre-war period, conditions that necessitated war anyway. The danger however is that, substantively, the pre-war domestic and foreign constraints on the Liberian state remain the same as in the post-war period. Incidentally, as long as the preconditions and institutional arrangements required for the acceptable functioning of Liberian governments in the contemporary global economy remain the same, the crisis of the state will continue to deepen.
The Post-Conflict Liberian State and Governance in the Neo-Liberal Context
Upon the assumption of power in January 2006, the post-war administration of Ellen Sirleaf committed itself to providing leadership for the democratic reconstitution of the Liberian state, but soon realized that it lacked the capacity to do so. At best, it succeeded to reinstate the authoritarian state structure with the assistance of the international community. Committed to the implementation of neoliberal agendaxiv (i.e. the reordering of public expenditure priorities, deregulation, privatization, market liberalization, liberalization of inward direct foreign investment, competitive exchange rates, free trade in an unequal world) from its very beginning, every institutional policy development, attempt at public sector reform, government program development and electoral process involved heavy reliance on foreign prescription, donor funding and external consultancy. Creativity in the independent development of national programs and the political will to drive and direct donor support into alignment with government program priorities was not evident. Due to the lack of commitment and the political will to implement most government policy pronouncements on good governance, job creation, public service delivery, poverty reduction, improved security, rule of law, better human rights standards, gender mainstreaming, anti-corruption measures, land reform, public sector reform, environmental protection and decentralization, it can be contended that government position on important national issues have been aimed at the mobilization of domestic legitimacy and the attraction of donor funding by appearing to be adherent of programs already highlighted by international agenda. Also, there is the need to improve accountability and transparency not only in relation to the public but also between the branches of government. For example, patterns in public expenditure and the actual outcome of public spending is unclear to the public. This has usually generated charges of corruption and misappropriation. And if the tendency of the executive branch to hide information from other branches of government is not improved, future governments and generations could encounter obligations that could further undermine the capacity of the state to function effectively.
By August 2011, even the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives, 52nd Legislature, Republic of Liberia had not seen the agreement on the American training offered the New Armed Forces of Liberia, while it is the constitutional responsibility of the legislature to raise and support the national army (see Article 34: sections b and c, Constitution of the Republic of Liberia). Studied closely, the present situation in Liberia signifies the continuous inclination toward the further privatization and criminalization of the decadent authoritarian state.
Despite the experience of war, it is clear that weak and vulnerable countries such as Liberia are in danger of continuously relinquishing control of their destinies in the contemporary international system. The relations between them, the INGO community and powerful imperial powers continue to cement the age old relations of domination and subordination. Through the expertise of well paid consultants, who have cast and continue to recast the contents of imperial agenda in attractive, irresistible and confusing terms for the consumption of intellectually lazy and impressionable African elite, neo-liberalism continues to thrive mainly in post-war countries like Liberia. Therefore, even if a full assessment of the impact of the first post-war government on the democratic reconstitution of the state is considered early, it is reasonable to assert that the emerging trend indicates full commitment by that government to the uncritical implementation of the neo-liberal agenda. This, in part, accounts for the inefficiency of the post-war government in Liberia. In order words, this means that In part, the state will become efficient when it protects its citizens against the risks and excesses of the free market, an action that will contrast sharply with the “incomplete” democratic politics of neoliberialism – a politics reduced to enhancing isolated individuals’ solitary competitiveness in a Darwinian struggle. [xv]
As a mockery of the democratic spirit, post-war politics in Liberia has shamelessly monetized the electoral process, overlooked the substantive relationship between politics and economics in good government management, downplayed the significance of work and education, completely ignored the role of the people as major stakeholders and agents of change but continued to glorify electoral democracy. This is a problem that is reflective of superficial commitment to abstract civil and political rights as divorced from social, economic and cultural rights. However, between democratic practices and other arrangements witnessed so far (political imposition by civilian or military elite), the consensus has emerged in Liberia that democratic mechanisms of power distribution and transfer is preferable.xvi But what form is this democracy to take in order to be meaningful and enduring. Between liberal democratic and social democratic principles and practices, the contention of this chapter is that the construction of a people-centred social democracy is the appropriate way forward.
Rethinking the Broken State in Liberia
At both the theoretical and practical levels, the two dominant possibilities, which have historically presented themselves to the African post-colony (capitalism and socialism), are unworkable in Liberia at the present moment. As is generally acknowledged, the authoritarian state model is the political correlate of peripheral capitalism. Ironically, the dominance of capitalism on a global scale notwithstanding, the historical disregard for structural violence and the general insecurity of the Liberian masses, as well as the insensitivity of peripheral capitalism to the needs, interests and concerns of the majority of underprivileged Liberians have made the authoritarian state vulnerable to mass discontent and violent opposition. Thus challenged, the authoritarian state has demonstrated weakness and the lack of capacity to survive. Hence, the authoritarian state has been rendered obsolete.
On the other hand, both objectively and subjectively, the construction of a socialist state does not register as an immediate possibility in Liberia. While this observation does not seek to challenge the relevance and possibility of socialism as an ideal for the African post-colony, it is necessary for the theorizing of a new state model in Liberia to evolve from the Liberian experience and global reality. Liberia today is conditioned and constrained by an unfavorable international environment, the hypocrisy that has characterized the historical relationship of the United States of America with Liberia, the rudimentary level of development of productive forces, the absence of a strong, nationalistic business class, the low level of consciousness among the working class and the peasantry, the politicization of ethnicity through which violent opposition has recently been expressed, the unrepentant reliance on political power as an instrument of economic exploitation by a majority of the political elite, the pervasive presence of enlightened opportunists in the political bureaucracy, the ascendancy of patron client relations in the peripheral capitalist framework as the hegemonic construct, and the hopeless dependence of the masses on procedural democracy within the liberal peripheral capitalist framework. Further complicating the matter, there are power greedy reactionaries who, well tolerated by international powers, have accumulated tremendous resources through corruption and kleptocracy. These have remained determined to constitute centers of power at all cost. To counter them will require advanced and comprehensive forms of organization solidly based in the revolutionary intelligentsia and the masses of the Liberian people and consistently backed by progressive international solidarity.
Away from the universality of theory, two approaches now intensely compete for public attention and the dominance of the state within the Liberian context. First, the hegemonic discourse splits into advocates for the maintenance of the status quo (the conservatives) and reformists, who appear to be adherents of liberal capitalist tenets. The conservatives reflect the attitude and opinion that a certain class of traditional politicians and their descendants should have perpetual entitlement to the political leadership of the country. This category comprises those who have been bred in the tradition of caucus politics and the co-optation of surrogates and sycophants. The limitation of the conservatives is that they seem oblivious to the changes occasioned by the passage of time and the dynamics of global developments. While they are not oblivious to the need for political inclusion once stability is assured under their rule, they remain insensitive to leadership responsibility for national economic development and the satisfaction of the aspirations and basic needs of the masses. Conservatism in Liberia would remain comfortable with presiding over a one party state or over a one party dominant state. Complementing this approach is the liberal petit bourgeois model, which desires superficial reform. While adhering to liberal democracy, they are threatened by political competition. For all intents and purposes, this group is inclined toward consensus leadership under the pretext of coalition politics that guarantees the distribution of jobs and privileges. Pressurized into democratic competition, their preference is for competition among the liberal elite core who, like the conservatives, have no agenda for progressive state transformation or substantive change in society. Given the opportunity to lead, both the conservatives and liberals may eventually achieve the same result. In varying degrees, they will move Liberia toward the regeneration of authoritarianism and strive to suffocate democratic politics, with horrendous consequences for the very survival of the state. As the Liberian experience in the late twentieth century demonstrates, their model of leadership will invite mass discontent and violent opposition.
What is interesting to note about the above categories is that their adherence to conservatism or inclination toward competitive elitism in the liberal democratic arena has mainly been based on their socialization, lack of political clarity and opportunism. It has not been based on the thorough understanding and adoption of political principles or ideologies. These categories have never concerned themselves with theoretical sophistication nor demonstrated the capacity for carefully worked out ideological positions by which their politics and programs would be guided and examined. Nevertheless, their flexible political intelligence, uncritical support for various regime types, and abilities to find accommodation in various governmental arrangements have been so amazing that it has earned them the appellation of ‘recycled politicians’ in Liberia. It is perhaps to these categories that Amos Sawyer refers when he observes that,
In every Liberian community, there appears to be a standard list of individuals who are perennially available as “leaders”. They are leaders for all seasons. If Liberia were declared a Marxist state, this group of “leaders” would present themselves as members of the central committee and presidium. And if the tide were to change and Liberia became a fascist theocracy, the same clique will constitute the “council of mullahs.” [xvii]
Not only is it impossible for genuine, transformational leadership to arise from these categories in Liberia, it is clear that their non-dedication to principles, heterogeneous nature, opportunism, lack of vision, and insensitivity to the aspirations of the masses of suffering Liberians have constituted the most effective threats that will eventually undermine their access to state power. Hence, the longevity of their political dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries and the early 21st century was based on their claim to juridical statehood, the weakness of the other constitutive elements of the peripheral capitalist state (i.e. the working class), the slow development of social movements in civil society, and the subtle, indirect protection provided by the United States of America, particularly during the cold war years.
On the contrary today, the development of a critical civil society (the human rights community, the media, the church, women organizations, the student movement, the teachers’ association, other non-governmental organizations and community based organizations), the pervasive appearance of active opposition in the political arena, and the introduction of violent opposition to non-democratic rule has made the survival of the authoritarian state an impossibility. In addition, the status quo has come under direct challenge on two grounds in the political arena. The limitations of the ideological constructs under which Liberia has heretofore been governed; and, on that basis, the inability of the old order to provide good and democratic governance, which is the requirement for the future survival of the Liberian state.
Alternatively thus, the upsurge of a counter-hegemonic discourse and contention is reflected in the recent advocacy for social democracy. This pressure from below might make it impossible for the conservative and liberal democratic approaches to dominate in the long run. Given the limitations of procedural democracy observed elsewhere, it is the ascendancy of a social democratic program that promises to address the problems of insecurity and structural violence. This is the possibility before Liberia, the possibility for the survival of the Liberian state. But if it will succeed at all, what is to be the character of such a social democratic state? Basically, the social democratic state will have to be based on the mixed economy, requiring collaboration between the public sector and a vibrant private sector. This will require regulatory policies to ensure that the private sector operate in parameters that will support national economic progress and political stability.
Second, the social democratic state will have to be based on the practice of substantive democracy. This will imply the need to forge an intimate link between national economic progress (characterized by distributive justice) and a politically democratic regime. It is the achievement of such a balance that challenged the efficacy of both capitalism and socialism in the twentieth century. While economic growth under liberal capitalism was characterized by structural violence, attention to distributive justice under socialism was characterized by bureaucratic imposition. In the case of the former, political freedom was constrained by economic injustice; in the case of the latter, economic progress was divorced from political freedom. In accordance with the above then, the social democratic state will need to emphasize multiparty competition and civil liberties, the social welfare and economic security of all groups, equal opportunity to all Liberians, and the conditions for Liberians to attain their highest potentials. If the social democratic state truly appears, succeeding governments will have to perform as much as or better than the social democratic state in order to guarantee the survival of other regime types or state forms. The assumption here is that the achievement of a social democratic state will ultimately make the recourse to authoritarianism an unacceptable path.
In achieving the mission of the social democratic state, people-centered democratic governance should succeed to address social issues (i.e. education, health, electricity, water, housing, communication services, general security). Second, equal opportunity for all could create the conditions for mitigating ethnic conflicts in a society where ethno-political contestations have not approximated ethno-nationalism or the quest for political autonomy on the part of any particular ethnic group. Similarly, policies of religious freedom should be pursued with no favor to any particular religious category. This would address the tendency on the part of some to politicize religion for selfish political gains.
Central to the thrust of the preceding discussion is the contention that irrespective the form it has assumed, the so-called developmental, military bureaucratic or liberal democratic state in post-colonial Africa has failed, while some like Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone experienced complete disintegration. Interestingly, despite its unique (American-like) colonial experience, the authoritarian character and behavior of the Liberian state typify the shortcomings of its West African neighbors who were victimized by French and British colonialism. What is even more chilling is the fact that, in a certain respect, the Liberian state almost demonstrates incapacity to learn from experience and make advances as an independent entity. Incidentally, unless there is a progressive reorientation of the state in theory and practice, sporadic chaos or anarchy will continue to be the main features of the intense competition over the control of power and resources in the Liberian political arena. In order to avert this scenario, the deliberate dismantling of the authoritarian state, the articulation of a vision and mission of state that is progressive and people-centered, and the conscious construction of a social democratic state is the way forward. Through commitment to public service delivery, mutually beneficial public-private sectors collaboration, effective organization of national production, efficient regulation of the economy, the promotion of social cohesion, devotion to the pursuit of harmony between diverse centers of power in the nation-state, and educated interaction with information and communication technology in the contemporary global environment, such a state would ensure development, political stability and lasting order.
However, while the development of intimate link between the theory and practice of social democracy will remain cardinal to that possibility, the efficient practice of social democracy will have to be informed by an appreciable understanding of the essential elements of that progressive type of politics and economics in West Africa. It would therefore require a blending of the politician and the academic. Ironically, the conceptualization, development and articulation of a cogent theory of social democracy (taking into consideration global inclinations, regional concerns and local reality) is an intellectual undertaking which the typical Liberian politician will hardly perceive as necessary or venture to undertake. On the other hand, the intellectual observer who may have the capacity to so theorize from reality might be unlikely to venture into taking social democratic theory into practice, due to the complicated and hostile nature of the Liberian political arena in which concepts and practices of the authoritarian legacy appear to have ossified and erroneously assume place as if they were the normal, and even the best, nature of Liberian politics which should therefore be expected to endure. Given these considerations, only a politics of constructive collaboration at the domestic level, responsible commitment to becoming better player and actual benefactor in the international system and ardent devotion to addressing public needs is likely to succeed.
In bringing it all together, it will be important for a combination of attention to increasing work opportunity, the construction of a reasonably just system of resource distribution and the best interest of the country (current and future) to constitute the heart of the conversation for collective progress. The negotiation of the form and substance of this type of politics is likely to succeed if the development of the design is conditioned to accommodate the perspectives, interests and concerns of all stakeholders, including well meaning politicians, the business class, women and youth, religious and traditional authorities, security forces, academics and other professionals, human rights advocates, civil society and the Liberian diaspora.
The above suggestion is not intended to be exhaustive, as essential criteria, for solving the crisis of the state in Liberia. Overtime, any workable prescription becomes better when adjusted and improved given the dynamics of the political domain. Rather thus, the discussion for the construction of a relevant, social democratic political order in Liberia is aim at constituting a new model of politics that has the potential to negate the non-democratic and disruptive contents of authoritarianism that have continued to undermine political stability in the country. To be successful however, any center of power that assumes control of government in the social democratic state should be required to conform to the obligation of attaining the objectives that will be circumscribed by the generally agreed goals of the state. Any attempt to allow the vagaries of elected authorities to exclusively determine the priorities and prerogatives of government would severely undermine the existence of the social democratic state in Liberia by relegating it to a transitory phenomenon. The following essay is drawn from Chapter 5 of Topka’s contribution to the book: Kieh and Agbese, Reconstructing the Authoritarian State in Africa (New York: Routledge, 2013)
x Both the United Peoples Party (UPP), from the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the
Liberian Peoples Party (LPP) from the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) succeeded to create political parties in the early 1980s. They formed political alliance, Action for Peace and Democracy (APD) to context the 2005 elections. After the joint pronouncement of support for the 2011 presidential candidacy of Ellen Sirleaf, the Alliance shattered over electoral policy disagreement. But UPP and LPP have since ceased to function as critical opposition.
xi After Monrovia city was awakened to sounds of gunfire on the morning of April 12, 1980, the public radio pronouncement that announced the coup accused the deposed government administration of “rampant corruption, misuse of power and abuse of public office”.
xii See Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o (ed.), Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa: Studies in African Political Economy (New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd., 1987), p. 130.
xiii Ibid, p. 19; In his Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa, Anyang’ Nyong’o asserts that “there is a definite correlation between the lack of democratic practices in African politics and the deteriorating socio-economic conditions” (for more discussion, see Nyong’o, Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa, p. 19 – 20.”
xiv See John Williamson, A Short History of the Washington Consensus, Paper commissioned by Fundación CIDOB for a conference “From the Washington Consensus towards a new Global Governance,” Barcelona, September 24–25, 2004. In 1999, Williamson outlined the prescriptions, known as the “Washington Consensus,” which reinforce capitalist economic practices in peripheral economies.
xv Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2007), p.11
xvi Popular Opinion on Democracy in Liberia, Afrobarometer Briefing Paper No. 73, October 2009, p. 1. “A majority (72 percent) of Liberians prefer democracy to any other kind of government; Liberians resoundingly disapprove of non-democratic forms of governance (i.e., one-man rule, 88 percent; one-party rule, 81 percent; and military rule, 77 percent)”. http://www.afrobarometer.org/index.php?searchword=liberia&ordering=&searchphrase=all&Itemid=37&option=com_search. Accessed July 7, 2012.
xvii Amos Sawyer, Effective Immediately: Dictatorship in Liberia, 1980-1986, Liberia Working Group, Paper No. 5, (Bremen, Germany: Liberian Working Group, 1987), p. 22.