By A. Bombo Kiadii
When the red-letter day of a stalwart of progressive values, an excellent human to the hilt, and an epitome of treasured values comes, a tsunami of people takes the time to weigh in and express how happy they are with the fantastic personality for the immaculate examples such person displays and does regularly. They trot a range of superlatives out to mark the ritual of the day. These appreciations, especially for a person who has displayed the highest qualities of human excellence, is a badge of honor given that in the society from which such person originates what passes as awesome or as great is wretched, degenerate and downright bankrupt, where accolades have taken the status of a fictitious commodity and are given only to the moneyed elements and to those who think awards compensate for their shortcomings. Here organized religion, the academic fraternity, and civil society are all guilty of such sordid conduct!
For the Diva Doyen Miatta Fahnbulleh, it is different and special. She remains a tour de force of inspiration, progress, and transformation in a Liberia where political opportunism is the trend, and where it is difficult to see a person who has lived to a ripe old age without a shred of scandal. In her human existence, she has welded herself to progressive causes, using her voice to rail against social crises and putting her hands on deck to change the character and texture of her society. Whether it is through humanitarian work, performing musical renditions about peace and social justice, or journeying across borders during the heady days of the civil bloodletting in Liberia to get international support to end the conflict. All she has done with humility and never lost her human compassion.
Miatta Fahnbulleh found her niche in life at a very tender age during the very heady days of the ancien regime of the True Whig Party. For her defiance, she paid a very heavy price by tasting the dingy prison, when she could have renounced her sacred values and joined the sordid enterprise. She refused. The enemies thought it would break her; she came back from prison as a comandante, relentlessly going to war with the political establishment. Her orientation in politics came through her understanding of the contradictions in Liberia, Africa, and the Third world. Her righteous indignation against the vices that retard the progress of the Third World threw her into the vortex of political activism, using music as a weapon to advance her critique of society and as an instrument to promote her worldview based on egalitarianism, compassion, and social solidarity.
Using music and art in popular culture to coalesce the oppressed layers around emancipatory themes has always been one mode of mobilization that artists and activists have used in the Third World. Whether it was Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Mariam Makeba, Haile Masekela Victor Jara, Pablo Neruda, Otto Von Castillo—these personalities used their voices, pens, and poetry to speak against social diseases and put forward popular itineraries for the liberation of the people. They used their guitars, instruments, and saxophones to prosecute the case for the working people and the ordinary masses. For the oppressed music serves as a therapy that eases their distress, a tool for consciousness-raising, and a sound for mobilization and preparation to do battle against the oddities in the society.
Well, I am running ahead of my time, and I am dancing around the main point: It is with a great ecstasy that I have learned today is the birthday of the Diva Doyen. Hence, it gladdens my heart to, with every fiber of my being, extend heartfelt felicitation to you on this very auspicious occasion, marking your birth anniversary. And you are a voice of virtue, a decent human being, and an inspirational artist. Discipline is your personality, by conquering that streak of personal aggrandizement that is a fetter on human progress you have attained the status of immortality. Never have you been a slave to self-interest. You have never set out to scheme to hit the pinnacle of personal advancement, nor have you abused your status in life, nor have you treated the masses with utter contempt.
In you, the people have an exemplar of courage, a symbol of excellence, a highly respected figure, and an iconic Diva Doyen. Throughout the decades, you have never toyed with the ideas of amassing wealth at the expense of the disadvantaged masses of the people. Wealth without work or through exploitation has never been your fixation. Rather, you have used your meager money to educate people who you didn’t know and perhaps got no business in helping. But as a patriot who beams with that everlasting radiant of compassion, you do so without even mentioning it. Although some of those whom you helped to nurture and made your home a refuge for the hungry and sick, have abused your trust. Some of whom today make very mean comments about you. Notwithstanding, Miatta Fahnbulleh has never lost her appetite for social justice, compassion, and solidarity.
During this period when your nation has degenerated, and the government has become the rotten preserve of riffraff, scoundrels, and street urchins, your ideas about building an equal society, against inequality, creating gender parity, and caring for the vulnerable and oppressed are the winning ideas. To the indiscipline running amok in our society, the steeped increase in maternal mortality, and the cancerous menaces that impede human flourishing, Miatta Fahnbulleh’s answers are the answers. And because for you all human beings are equal, this is the height of your humanity.
I can pen words about your ordeal; your saga in life, and the many sacrifices you have made and done. I can also talk about your exhortation to us to strive for excellence, while we maintain our integrity and dignity. Also, I could talk about your passion to help the oppressed and vulnerable. Your constant consternation at injustice. I could write a whole book in your honor dealing with social categories and intersectionalities. I could write about the role of music in popular culture and social struggles. And how your music has contributed to the culture of the homeland. I will have the time to reflect on them someday, and they will be interesting things to talk about or write about. I can assure you that when I am done those who have misunderstood your struggles will come begging you for forgiveness. But I want to address myself to a recurring question. This nagging question which many have misinterpreted, which many defined in a skewed way, and for which they have gone all out to achieve. That is, who is a winner, hero or heroine.
Our understanding about who is a winner or hero or heroine is not based on the fact that one plunges himself/herself in primitive accumulation, or the one who purchases accolades even when they don’t deserve it, or the ones who jockey and jostle for political power even pander to occultic escapades to ensure they are a senator or representative; or the one who has an ambition that far exceeds his/her potential; or the one who uses political intrigues to land big positions at the international financial institutions as junior partners in the imperialist cog. Neither are they winners nor do they impress us. Instead, our idea about who a winner or a hero or heroine is somebody who sacrifices himself/herself or happiness for righteous or superior causes. They are human beings who have freed themselves from the proclivities for wealth, the obsession with gentrification, and the appetite for looting the commons. Hence Miatta Fahnbulleh, you are a heroine extraordinaire, the best of Liberia, and the best of humanity!
Today, we see these political pygmies have turned our country into a battered whore, reduced the society to the worst form of social Darwinism, where the people live akin to a brutish jungle. Survival for many remains a huge challenge. Young people are brutalized by the depravities and poverty. Young girls violently exploited. The nation is in topsy-turvy, the nation is dying. While these are happening, we build consciousness and enlighten our people and prepare for the great reckoning. When that time reaches, we will reclaim our nation, redeem the destiny of the population and build a just society for all and by all. While the reactionary elements exude an air of arrogance, they can mark our word that tomorrow the story will be different: the forces of social justice and revolution will come out swinging. It is when we will build a progressive nation that reflects progressive values. Yes, we can see them falling as their government has ruined itself into a contradiction galore. We can see them drowning under the weight of their own contradictions. Thus, history will have its last laugh on them!
For over a century,
Our nation is in ruins, its bodily sanctity
violated by madmen and women.
Now the story is no different.
Its bruised soul is getting a cruel beating.
Once again we have another historical obligation
To rid the nation of human debris playing at being leaders.
Despair we cannot, frustrated, we cannot be.
Energize ourselves for the last fight,
the mother of all fights.
The fight that ends all fights!
We, the Liberian masses, can build a new nation
Out of the rubble and debris of the old.
And when we accomplish that,
Never will we allow such historical reversal.
Never will we go back to Egypt.
And then we will make a common pledge.
Never again will we retreat to our baser instinct.
Thus, with hearts and hands, we build that future.
With the labor of the working people and the masses and our resources,
We will change that wasteland into a new civilization.
It is when we shall have had a social revolution.
Let us fight; let us resist.
Let us have a revolution to change the conditions of our people.
It is not yet Uhuru, not yet Nirvana!
Uhuru can happen, Nirvana will come!
Struggle or perish — there is no third way!
Mian Photo: Cde Miatta Fahnbulleh, Bush Chicken