By Dennis Jah
Ask me about the thing that drives everything that I do or say and I will be frank with you, that it is my faith is strong. Having been through many ups and downs and survived the barbaric Liberian civil war, it is this resolve that worked wonders for me yesterday and can do the same again and again. This has been my strength, my coping strategy, my survival technique, and defense mechanism often: exhaled in a song I learned in Sunday school years back.
These were the thoughts on my lips when rebels took me from a town in the Firestone area and forced me to carry their loads on the frontline near the highway of the Roberts International Airport where they were “cutting the supply lines of the enemies.” To and from the rebel destination, in my faith, I was persuaded that I was not going to perish in yet another difficult situation. I assured myself that I was covered by faith and would survive and therefore the devil and all his forces could not do me harm. The part that really wowed my own imagination was when a villager who lived near the Du River volunteered to put me across the river in a canoe for free. Canoeing across was the only means of transport and only rebels had the luxury of being transported for free. I contemplated on faking it as a combatant, to scare the villagers for—a free ride but my body language could not be faked. I was a scary civilian returning from hell, and it was my faith that saw me through. The villager perhaps thought I was a rebel returning from the war front, and therefore offered to transport me across at no charge, he must have misread my body language, I don’t know.
It was was the same faith on my lips when once or twice, as I found myself surrounded by armed robbers commonly known as ‘Bandits’ in Abidjan, La Cote d’Ivoire, and also when I found myself stopped by vigilante groups in Ogun State, Nigeria. In all those instances, miracles happened and my life was spared. At times when there was nothing to eat (not kidding-absolutely nothing to munch on,) only miracles came to my rescue. My faith has not waned.
Once upon a time, however, a group of Liberian intellectuals and political activists known as the progressives emerged. These young and energetic men and women became the voice of a downtrodden population of mainly poor Liberians whom the so-called leaders of the land— the ruling class did all to dispossessed— including their own poor citizens of rights and privileges. The efforts of these progressive leaders were steadfast and came to a peak in the late 1970s. Building on what their forerunners like David D. Coleman, Didhwo Twe, Nete Sieh Brownell, Tuan Wreh started—activists like Togba Nah Tipoteh, Gabriel Baccus Matthews, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. and others took up the load, popularizing the Progressive movement, which was responsible principally for bringing multi-party democracy to Liberia. Unfortunately, a coup came which put an exclamation point to their fight, toppling a “so-say-one, so-say-all” government headed by Mr. Tolbert, who was also a number two man in the Tubman oligarchy and hegemony. The efforts of the progressive class unmasked a century-long tyranny and oppression by a minority ruling class. The progressives’ class, having set the stage through their advocacies were asked by the so-called largely illiterate non-commission soldiers who overthrew the government to help served in its govt, including some of Mr. Tolbert official, the one family domination had come crumbling down, the song in the streets was “our eyes are open.”
But as anyone would expect, the honeymoon between the progressive class and the coup leaders soon ended. One by one, they left Samuel Doe or were forced out of the military dictatorship of the people’s Redemption Council [PRC]. The progressive class would not be quieted: they soon jumped back into familiar waters of championing the rights of the Liberian people, opposing once more the PRC regime, with all their might and whim. Sooner or later, they had succeeded in exposing the ills of the Samuel Doe government. The fact that Mr. Doe, the military leader turned politician stood in the elections and won (supposedly), made it even more suspicious but however marked the first multiparty elections after 133 years of political and constitutional domination and abuse. but sadly Samuel Doe rigged the elections, and little by little the tension began to build between the progressive class and Mr. Doe, but the worst was yet to come.
As the enemy of my enemy is my friend, others whose intentions might have been underestimated if not devious joined forces with the progressive class to work out a plan in “returning the country to democratic rule” —that the enlightened progressives class—long sought. Such plans took on many schemes to redeem the Liberian state from tyranny under the military dictatorship of Samuel Doe and his government, yet again the progressive intelligentsia was exiled and persecuted and prosecuted by the Liberian dictator.
Then hell finally came alive on earth in the country of Liberia when over a decade long uncivil war took the lives of an approximate quarter million of our own people broke out, because of Doe brutality and misrule—a war that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her friends began. The war was so brutal that people who once welcomed the PRC, and condemned the autocracy or the hegemony— began to miss the pre-Doe one-party state. As one pastor put it, “because of the suffering, they preferred Egypt to the promises of the Promised Land.” But the fact is that those who brought the war and turn the hearts of the Liberian people against them, would now launch a massive cheap propaganda political campaign—condemning the activism of the progressives class that has always stood with the people, calling the progressive ‘trouble maker for opposing Tubman, Tolbert, Taylor, Doe, and Sirleaf. However, some of the progressives, their cadres and militants have been divided as some took sides. But the progressive class is still united according to pundits and they must remain united because they have struggled together in the past it is in their best interests to stay together as a unit. Over the years their names were used as propaganda by the same people who brought the country down, as a trick to fool our poor people that: the progressive class was responsible for all our troubles when in fact all they have done is advocated for their peoples! This is a lie and a pile of rubbish that they have not adequately responded to, this must also change. The devil is truly the grandparent of all lies and deceit!
However, by the time the war ended, the morale of the progressives had somewhat waned. To make matter worse, the demography has changed, but the progressive class must now see the need for [self] re-introduction and engagement with the masses with whom they have always stood, the time is now. A man called Charles Taylor who had emerged as the so-called strongest warlord went on and won a landslide victory in the rush-rush election that followed, but he did so on the backs of threats and fears that he would go back to war if he didn’t win. The 1997 election also saw last-minute efforts by the progressives class to regroup themselves into an alliance against the largest rebel group, but it proved useless as such alliance did not hold. The youths, most of whom had been drugged to fight for Mr. Taylor and his NPFL knew no one except the banditry and warlordism of Mr. Taylor and cronies—whom they saw as their godfathers and therefore referred to him “pahpay.” That was the beginning of more disintegration of the state and the order of things as we knew them before, and as we know them today.
The reign of Charles Taylor’s terror pushed the country more and more towards the edges of disorder: Ruthlessness and criminality in the Liberian context have paid off: a legacy of the Taylor reign, banditry, and his war. Taylor would go on, and also muzzled the remaining progressive class that opposed him, as he bullied his neighbors, particularly Sierra Leone. He pinned the remnant of the progressives class to the ground, prosecuting them as he continued his wartime campaign against them, forcing many into exile and co-opting others.
The fragmentations continued through the 2005 elections, resulting in other smaller parties and the formation of other so-called neo-progressive movements. With the first democratically elected female president well-positioned to recoup a war-battered country through the 2005 election, which she destroyed, the Progressives were completely fooled by Ellen Sirleaf johnson, given her post-war and post-coup activism. They supported her and one by one they deserted her also, with Comrade Tiawon Gongloe’s departure and damning criticism of ellen Sirleaf the most stinging and prominent, perhaps!
To make matters more complicated, the birth of Mr. George Weah on the political scene is yet another issue. Will Weah embrace the progressive class and be infected with the same progressive diagnosis? So far most of the progressive class has stayed away from Mr. Weah, for example, Dr. Tipoteh refused to attend his called meeting of top political leaders in the country, and so as Comrade professor Alaric Tokpa been consistently vocal against him. Conversely, will the progressives class join the Weah yo-yo train as a possible fourth-quarter strategy? Or will these progressives who have grown to oppose the tyranny of the Liberia ruling class now begin fighting on two fronts?
But we know like the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel saw, these remnants of progressives are conspicuously scattered throughout the Liberian political landscape, with perhaps no skin on them or what seems to be no juice left in them, but don’t count them out just yet—we know the can fight back, and the trend and tide might be turning in their favor soon. As all hopes of a progressive comeback it seems is eminent. The song: “This same Jesus” who danced on my lips and ferried me across many hopeless and dangerous situations has returned.
I still believe in miracles even in this precarious times when all hope it seems is lost. With miracles, even this Progressive movement of Liberia which for now appears scattered and forgotten shall see its dry bones come alive again. And that is why I am not afraid to declare that my faith is strong!
These same progressives battered and tossed about
These same progressives dry, scattered and almost forgotten
These same progressives once showed us the way
I know these same progressives will still thrive again!
Main Photo: Dennis Jah