By Worlea-Saywah Dunah
The Movement for Justice in Africa, popularly known as MOJA, turned forty-seventh last week, yet the only reminder was a tiny post with a picture of the well-known Taiwon Gongloe, its current chairman – the picture attracted more readers, even me. But forty years is a truly long time, however, the concatenation of outrageous fortunes that has landed the Movement for Justice in Africa and its coterie of once celebrated progressives a sad afterthought in Liberian politics.
It saddened my heart like David lamenting King Saul’s death: “Oh how the mighty has fallen”! Historically the Movement for Justice in Africa, MOJA, was founded in 1973 as both a national pro-democracy institution and a pan African thrust. Seven years after its birth at the height of its fame and appeal, the April 12, 1980 coup occurred and most of the leaders joined the junta government and were given ceremonial military ranks; and from that momentous event the rising tide ebbed into a whimper and it is now merely at best afterthought nostalgia of the days that never were.
MOJA was the young Liberian Turks movement; armed with proper education, led by a coterie of PhDs and imbued by the socialist revolutionary zeal, they awakened an old nation wallowing in the stagnation and oppression of nearly a century and a half of virtual apartheid, that rule over the indigenous majority by the descendants of its freed slaves founders. They [progressives] called each other comrade, their leader, one Rudolph Roberts changed his name to Togba Nah Tipoteh and his new last name became synonyms with sandals made from old tires which he popularized– it was terrible and put sores all over the feet – as it was deemed fit for the ‘masses’.
As MOJA spend long evenings in deep intellectual debates on igniting a new African renaissance and the push for democracy in Liberia, a more practical group with less educational laurels but strongly focused on bread and butter issues like the price of rice, voting rights catapulted itself as the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) led by a scion of the settlers, Baccus Mathews. PAL immediately launched nationwide membership and its slogan and motto was an instant rally call: ‘In the Cause of the People the Struggle Continues.’
Thus Liberia’s progressive awakening acquired the needed second strand and it became a competition on who gets the masses mobilized. Accordingly, the PAL scored first with the rice issue claiming they would bring the rice price down be ten dollars for a hundred pounds bag, from twenty dollars culminating in the first mass action known as April 14, 1979, Rice Riot.
MOJA’S Highest High – The Sawyer for Major of Monrovia Campaign
While MOJA was known in Monrovia amongst the urban dwellers, Baccus Matthews and PAL were national toast from the rice advocacy and their subsequent bold move in the transformation of PAL into a political party called the Progressive People’s Party(PPP) becoming the first opposition party in Liberia since President Tubman crushed his mentor, President Barclay, in 1955 and murdered the Colemans.
Fortunately for the MOJA group, the Statute that created the Commonwealth of Monrovia called for elections of the City Major every four years, then one of the leaders Dr. Amos Sawyer jumped at the chance and became the first man since 1955 to challenge the True Whig Party in an election as an independent candidate.
Inarguably MOJA finest and highest political moment arrived as the soft-spoken political science professor tabled his nomination as Dr. Amos Sawyer for Major of Monrovia Campaign. Dr. Sawyer’s symbol was a New Broom which was to sweep away the corruption and stagnation of Monrovia as the first step for the total battle in the pending 1982 Presidential race. Liberians got highly excited and intoxicated with the vintage of Sawyer’s campaign of change.
Monrovia fell in love and rightly captured by the diminutive bearded academic whose pictures with the broom inundated the capital as the masses printed it themselves (Oh, CDC, Monrovia has fallen in love before!) The PAL never fielded a candidate and the masses rallied around the broom symbol; interestingly they sang both MOJA and PAL slogans together and the vibration shook the ruling oligarchy to its core and wrecked political turmoil within the settlers ruling oligarchy.
Seeing the groundswell of support for Sawyer, the government changed its candidate; yet the Sawyer juggernaut, the sweeping broom, seemed marching inexorably to victory. The Tolbert government fearfully realized that despite their numerous squabbles the MOJA and PAL supporters were working together on the Sawyer Campaign; thus the elections were postponed and never held.
Some Liberians danced after the coup because the settlers’ hegemony has been cruel and oppressive. For the Dan/Gio whose fathers were denied a negotiated annexation but were militarily forced to fight and conquered, whose fathers and themselves have borne the hard heavy hammocked of the settlers officials on their heads, whose fathers as forced labors have built every statehouse in Monrovia, for some whose mothers were pawned to pay the oppressive hut tax and all the centuries of oppressions this was the day of liberation. Equally for the Bandi whose chiefs were executed on makeup charges, the Kru whose kinsmen were sold into Fernando Po to generate revenue for the settlers-government, for the Bassa whose land was forcibly declared as government land and many other tribes who were victims of the settlers oppressive apartheid this was also their night of relief.
Today the progressive renewal has become imperative, and sadly instead of gaudy programs and joyous speeches of gloried narratives and past, the path of our cause of the day and the birth of the awakening passed like a whimper; pity the road not taken would have been the path of glory.
*Worlea-Saywah Dunah is a new progressive leader of the post-conflict era, a founding executive of the New Deal Movement, the progressive party that resisted the Charles Taylor misrule; served twelve years in the House of Representatives from 2006 to 2018, rising to Chairman on Judiciary and Head of Delegation to the ACP –EU Parliamentary Assembly and currently a practicing lawyer and independent consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Main Photo: President of MOJA, Dr. Togbah Na Tipoteh, Photo Credit: Timothy Niven