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Liberia Without April 12, 1980

In April 2014, a thought popped up in my head wondering as to where Liberia could have been without  the events of April 12, 1980. I wrote on the Liberian listservs and asked,

"Where could Liberia have been without April 14 and its brain child April 12? What will Liberia look like today if those two events had not occurred?" Below are the responses I got:

Dempster Yalah
Inkster, MI

Liberia would have had a flourishing multi-party democracy by now as a by-product of the trajectory of events just preceding April 14, and April 12. UPP had registered as the first opposition party to the TWP dynasty in a century. LPP was on the verge of registering next and others were surely bound to follow this trend, but far and wide from the multitude of personal ambitions masked as political parties we have today.

The TWP recognized the impending "danger" and started making "quick-fixes" by recruiting young elements and people of indigenous stock to diffuse the discrepancies, but the strategy was just too obvious and simply too late. The citizens were now conscious of the "nakedness" of the "emperor"/TWP, courtesy of the prevailing transformative forces at work at the time.

In respect to the guideline for this "brief," I regard "April 14," as a catalyst or precursor to the democratic wave that was now in motion, versus "April 12" which hijacked that transformative process and introduced mayhem and brutality in the political milieu, which consequence we grapple with today.

One would hope the Liberian people are now astute in deciphering political chaffs from the real kernels as in patriots and rascals, as they present themselves for leadership considerations.

 ...That's how I see this.

Lawrence Zumo, MD
Baltimore, MD

Liberia would still be ruled by a rigid class structure with majority still at the bottom, many essentially “happily poor” and super-religious. We would not have acutely 250,000 plus dead (more so like a cumulative 75, 000 max). How and why so? Here is what I think: President Tolbert wanted for a real change for the better of Liberia but what kind of change and at what cost?

Here is where it gets murky. Tolbert believed in the dignity of labor. He had his farm and was rumored to be selling charcoal. He encouraged local production of rice for local consumption but he met fierce resistance from his own ranks on this and many other issues. He was against the total degenerate laziness (and some may say moral turpitude) of public officials. He would go to ministries unannounced and was reported to have fired several ministers (this is where and how Dr. Edward Kesselly got his nickname “football of the cabinet” because he was serially replacing many of these ministers who was fired).

Tolbert’s own family did not make things better for him especially the excesses of Steven Tolbert and the unending callous arrogance of Frank Tolbert who behaved more like the real president than William Tolbert himself. These things did not go well with his inner elite class. They felt threatened-especially when he too frequently allowed the “natives into the kitchen”. They were ready for a palace coup and were all too willing (in cahoot with any pleasant foreign hands) to put his head on the silver platter if that was what was necessary to get him off their backs. However, with the mass dismissals at LAMCO, the PL-480 rice saga, his personal wading into the gboyo issue in Maryland and having several people face the death penalty (after approving the execution of Justin Obi in Liberia on a separate matter), the odds were stacking against him.

His moves on the international scene for Liberia to be more non-aligned (in the manner and method of Josef Broz Tito), inviting then South African Prime Minister Voerster to Liberia (at the behest of Chief Buthelezi) etc were interpreted to mean different things to different people, his inner circle and outer circle opponents included (interestingly many of these still have a firm grip on the “trajectory of power” in Liberia, contrary to popular belief.

While this was going on, there was popular dissent and impatience rising among the students and the soldiers. They found a common hope in the revolutionaries of the day. Realizing that if this aspiration of the people was not arrested, those foreign hands with serious economic interests in Liberia would have to leave Liberia and the other kids coming on the block- Chinese and Russians then allowed back in the country would be have a total free hand on the natural resources of Liberia. This would not be.

So the palace coup scenario was fast-forwarded to now have the military kill two birds with one stone-quell the popular clamor and then put the revolutionaries on hold (as Panama’s Omar Torrijos’s initial moves elsewhere as well as that of Jaime Roldos of Ecuador were making the “owners” of Liberia quite nervous and they did not want same to be started in Liberia). This ruse was not appreciated initially but when it was realized, it was too late. Sgt Doe being fed the usual paranoia that has been used to run Liberia since time immemorial turned on all, leading to the now famous series of events till 2003, Then when money of the foreign hands were running short they started a sympathy tour to usher in a political peace process (half baked, as we can see, that is for those who can see thru the fog of propaganda).

In short, after April 14, April 12 was the expedited version (from palace coup to military coup) of what was to come.

In all this though something has become clearer and easily discernible. On the achievement and the “era of enlightenment” scene, without April 14 and April 12, the unique” reversed {achievement gap}’ in Liberia would have remained hush-hush and taboo to talk about as it was pre April 14. However, due to the forced dispersion of many to different lands as a consequence of the Liberian wars and its sequelae, based on the performance of especially  the diaspora young ones, this “reversed achievement gap” is clearly highlighted-thanks to the law of unintended consequences.

What is the achievement gap?- Essentially it is the observed and measurable persistent disparity of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by socioeconomic status (ie. academic performance of high income, high class vs low income, low class students) as well as by ethnicity and gender, etc.  (Reason for this in Liberia are numerous but a main cause is attributed to the notion that the ruling elites never went through a period of enlightenment since the statehood of Liberia was achieved in 1847- that is no single original contribution in literature, science, manufacture, arts, technology that can be uniquely branded Liberian originated, so not much academic could be passed on to their offspring nor the indigenous majority whom they met there in 1820).

The “reversed achievement gap” then is essentially those with more (ie the ruling class) , doing much, much less while those with less (the “ruled” class), doing much much more when an opportunity/proving ground is provided, found  or grabbed.  Many are based on my personal recollection of teaching on both sides of the Atlantic for nearly 40 years now).

In summary, then, Liberia would have seen more repression from the ancient regime, more dissent (but appeased at every turn), less violent deaths but more deaths from depravity and disease (as highlighted in Graham Greene’s Journey without Maps) and far less exponential economic growth beside this mere arithmetic growth that was beginning to take hold after domestic food production drives began.

That is my perspective. Thanks again for forcing us to stare into Liberia’s past for sake of its future. (The sum total of what I wrote is a mix from personal recollection, conjecture and from foreign sources).

Augustus Dee Roberts
District Heights, MD

"When Negroes looked for the second phase, the realization of equality, they found that many of their white allies had quietly disappeared," MLK Jr.

April 14 was an opportunity for Liberia to unshackle itself from a dehumanizing condition but the opportunity was fumbled when planted sponsored agents took over the gains.
The deliberate inheritance of a struggle they were not part of or far from, put the non-progressives in the driver's seat of a car without a direction. Quiah's apology is meaningless today.
Out of the confusion, the conscious masses thought the awaited Messiah had descended, hence they joined the bandwagon. 
April 12 was a correction of April 14 sponsored by 
$$$@---who feared that Liberia was ripe enough to look the other way. The masses had discovered themselves. The popular support of an armed uprising led by the lest known Charles Taylor underscored the preparedness of our society to struggle for freedom.
All the above incidents circumvented a mass movement that could have ushered in a social transition. 
But is it late, are we there yet?
The answers will vary based on age, interest and circumstances. And there is nothing abstract about this.
April 14, April 12, December 25th- like it or loathe it, there is always a backlash when hope diminishes!!!

Nvasekie N. Konneh
Philadephia, PA

There is a saying that "Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent change inevitable." Could democratic change come to Liberia without the April 14 or April 12? I doubt it. Both were the desires of the people to bring about change but there were lot of people with outdated conservative ideology who were resistant to change in any peaceful way thereby making the violent change inevitable. Of course a lot has gone wrong with the changes that took place and many people are blaming the progressives for such. But if we must be fair, though the change was championed and inspired by the progressives agitators but the change was eventually executed and taken over by people who didn't have the true revolutionary ideological understanding of the change the people desired. The progressives were not fortunate to be in the driver seat of the change they inspired. In my review of Prof. Sankawulo's book, “Sundown At Dawn, Liberian Odyssey,” in 2005, here is what I wrote: In the book, no direct reference is made to the Radical 70s or the 1980 coup in which the 127 year rule of the apartheid-like Americo-Liberian regime is overthrown, but it speaks of an imminent native rebellion against the “system” as far back as the 50s. In their prison cell in Belle Yallah, Dougba and his fellow cellmates often talk about this rebellion as the only way to end the Americos’ dominance of the natives. Taking that into consideration, it’s fair to say that the 1980 coup was a long time coming. It was something that was bound to happen given the ways things were. Even though it may be argued that beginning with President Tubman through President Tolbert, the Americo-native divide were being bridged, it could also be argued that however good President Tolbert tried to right the wrongs, it wasn’t enough to neutralize the anger and resentment that had been built over the years as a result of more than hundred years of an oppressive minority rule. We may then say that President Tolbert was killed more for the sins of the past.

 Arthur Weah Doe
Gaithersburg, MD

 Edward Wilmot Blyden, a man who was widely known as the father of Pan-Africanism, and who was refused admission into the Rutger's Theological College in New Jersey because of the color (black) of his skin, after vehemently opposing mullato dominance in Liberia, later called and challenged black and mullato elites in Liberia not to monopolize power.  At least Blyden was pessimistic that blacks would never be accepted as wholly equals in America. However, because of his stance against mullato dominance, he was forced to exile in Sierra Leone, where he met his untimely death. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Edward_Wilmot_Blyden.aspx

 Dhidwo Twe, former Representative of Montserrado County and a pioneer fought against the decadent ruling party during the presidencies of King, Barclay and Tubman for forced labor in Liberia and rampant corruption. In Wreh's The Love of Liberty (as cited in Nyanseor, 2005), Twe and others accused King and his administration  for forced labor and called on the League of Nations to investigate King, and the results forced King and his Vice President Yancy to resign.  Twe continued his advocacy against Barclay who continued King's term and agenda of incarceration of "trouble makers", a term used to pursue Twe. Tubman, on the other hand, who once enjoyed Twe's support, turned against Twe with more masked behavior. The rest is history. http://dukpa.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/hon-didwho-twe-liberia%E2%80%99s-first-african-liberian-presidential-candidate/  

Albert Porte, in his August 25, 1951 letter to President Tubman wrote: Ever since I read a copy of the Listener in which you published your message to the Legislature convoking the special session, I have been thinking and trying not to think, and feel urged to let you know some of the thoughts that have been passing through my mind, sincerely hoping and believing that it will be taken in the real democratic spirit, realizing fully, as I know you do, that ultimate success or failure in a democracy rests not only upon the President, but upon each citizen as well.
 In 1968, H. Boima Fahnbulleh Sr., former Liberian Ambassador, questioned the status quo as to why there aren't more tribal people appointed in the cabinet. This statement got Fahnbulleh Sr. in trouble. In the TRC's Final Report (as cited in Teh, 2009, August 31), Tubman Attorney General said, “There are … 14 cabinet ministers [in the government], five have tribal backgrounds … In some countries in the world today [1968], the original inhabitants have been almost totally exterminated; and you, Fahnbulleh, have been an ambassador ….  Have you ever stopped to think why?  But you haven’t had the decency or gratitude to thank your benefactors.” http://www.publicagendanews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1286:1968-the-people-vs-henry-boima-fahnbulleh-sr&catid=35:commentary&Itemid=53  
In 1973, Liberian students residing abroad felt disenfranchised and cut off from their native Liberia by the status quo. They organized themselves and advocated for socio-economic and political reforms in their native land. Under the name Union of Liberian Association in the Americas (ULAA), their mission was and still is to advance the just causes of Liberians and Liberia at home and abroad. The ULAA's general principles were to promote and encourage national reconciliation, integration and unification; preserve and protect Liberian culture, history and traditions; uphold and defend fundamental rights, including the human rights and civil liberties of Liberians everywhere; cultivate and harness the energies and resources of Liberians to improve the quality of life of all Liberians abroad; and advocate and advance the cause of constitutional democracy and sustainable national development in the Republic of Liberia. Tambakai A. Jangabai was its first President. http://ulaalib.org/pages/history

 Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, President of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), while serving as Budget Advisor to President William R. Tolbert expressed serious concerns about government waste and advocated for public management reforms. During a speech in 1979 at a MOJA event, Tipoteh said, "When poor people become members of MOJA, they will learn how to put an end peacefully to “monkey work baboon draw.” When poor people become members of MOJA, they will be in one great unity with power to put an end peacefully to ““monkey work baboon draw.” Though MOJA, the power of the poor to make other people better off will be used to make poor people better off. The rest is history! http://www.publicagendanews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=435:dr-togba-nah-tipotehs-message-to-the-people-of-liberia&catid=35:commentary&Itemid=53

G. Baccus Matthews, in his letter to President Tolbert in 1979 after the Rice Riot, unlike his colleagues who challenged the status quo, wrote: I appreciate the fact that the authorities permitted me to write you this letter. Sir, permit me to express regrets on behalf of myself and my collaborators and to note the dilemma which we, young people face. Your thoughts and actions, Sir, based upon experience of things as they have been, as they are and, therefore, as they can possible be. We, unfortunately, know only the present; we are the new generation – but being young people, our minds are fertile for visions. We want things as we think they ought to be, but we lack the experience of the process by which they have reached this far. This is our problem. Yes, the costly lesson we have learned tells us that we are going nowhere for nothing unless we can rely on the experience and wisdom of men such as you. http://allafricawrite.com/Public_Vault_files/G.%20Baccus%20Matthews'%20Letter%20of%20Appeal%20to%20Pres.%20Tolbert.pdf

Well, Mr. Jah and my anxious reading publics, to answer the subject under discussion, I wouldn't want to pay lip service to what led to these two events, in the first place, and so I attempted to briefly submit some of the powerful people who started the struggle to end the one party rule in our nation state. Then the question will be, what would have happened if Blyden, Twe, Fahnbulleh and Porte remained silent? Certainly, there wouln't be April 14 and April 12. We would have still been under one party rule, and maybe, still getting the chicken change with slow development. Edmund Burke said, "if good men sit and do nothing, evil will always triumph."
 Our history abounds and our quest for better Liberia is more serious than ever before. The struggle that began ever since still continues, even in the wake of native dominance in the current National Legislature. Why? I don't know. But maybe, if the illiteracy rate is reduced, and a strong middle class is formed, there wouldn't be a repeat of April 14 and April 12.
 Therefore, Liberia would have still been on a pace of slow development, increased illiteracy rate, poverty driven country, while the elite native and Americo-Liberians enjoy the best of bonanzas.

Won-Ldy Paye
Hartford, CT

April 14 & 12 represented to me the trunk of a drowning elephant seen from the horizon above the water. If those who are sinking the trunk could only move back, we all will get there safely.


Rev. Pennoh Ross
Winston-Salem, NC

April 14 awakened the consciousness of the masses, whereas, April 12 unleashed a bloody coup that traumatized a many of us.   An experience that will live eternally in our collective physic! 

Now, we must seek ways for complete healing....


Welley Wilson Mulbah
Atanta, GA

"During the coup, Quiah, Baccus Matthews and other organizers of the April 14, 1979 Rice Riots were awaiting presidential decision on their fate following a guilty verdict which blamed responsibility for the violent protest on them." ~Oscar J. Quiah~

"Doe informed us that they were not happy with the government's decision to execute us so they staged the coup to release us" ~Cllr. Chea Cheapoo~  

Free born Liberia, Free born citizen.
Free born Liberia to be freed and be freed
Before I be a slave, I will lie down in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.

Today, I must first of all salute those Liberians who lost their lives as a result of April 14, 1979 and April 12, 1980. Their deaths shall not be in vain. 

When one group of human beings, who ascend to power through mere opportunity, decide to humiliate and enslave others, then the stage for a revolution has set itself.  This was the case that necessitated April 14, 1979.  I do not think it was solely because of the price of a bag of rice.  Rice, being the staple food in Liberia, would attract more support from the Liberian masses, so in my view, the organizers of April 14, 1979 used the escalating price of rice to foster the plan of a long awaited change that was necessary to find an equilibrium.  It was a response to the humiliation against the indigents which characterized the True Whig Party Regime.  Also, April 12, 1980 happened to save the lives of leaders of the Progressives who were found guilty for organizing the Rice Riot (trcofliberia.org/press_releases/119).  Had April 12, 1980 not happened, the lives of some of the Progressives, who conscientized majority of the Liberian people about the unseen shackles, would have probably been lost.  One can only imagine the reprisal that would follow on the national scene or in every household where indigenous children lived under inhumane conditions as servants. Liberia could not afford to lost these brilliant sons and daughters, for they were our light in darkness. These two events were necessary.

 Some Liberians consider April 14, 1979 and April 12, 1980 as an attack on the late President William Richard Tolbert.  But if we carefully exam the facts that led to those events, we will all agree that the two events targeted the systems of repression, humiliation, corruption, mass poverty, slavery, and less or no opportunity for majority of the Liberian people. Sadly, Tolbert, as good as his  intentions might have been after becoming President, stayed mute when he served as Vice President to some of those regimes that orchestrated and perpetuated these injustices. Every indigenous Liberian over the age of 75 still remembers the evil rules of dictators like President Barclay and others within the True Whig Party.  Before what some people consider to be the Tolbert's reformation, Liberia had already reached the point of saturation, and no amount of prayer or witchery would have prevented April 14, 1979 and April 12, 1980.

To me,  April 14, 1979 led by armless civilians and masterminded by the Progressives, and April 12, 1980 led by armed personnel complemented each other.  In other words, those who participated in these events had one common aim - to free the masses of the Liberian people from slavery.  However, the methods used in effecting the change were different. In every event, there are always people who do not understand or who misinterpret the objectives. There is no doubt that there were elements among the coup makers who lost sight of the main objectives for the change by fostering violence, and refusing to listen to those who initiated the struggle for change in Liberia. This does not mean that  April 14, 1979 and April 12, 1980 were not necessary.

 Where would Liberia be at this time had the change not happened?   I think Liberia would have made a resounding progress had Charles Taylor not come to revenge the killings of the 13 people who were put on firing squad after the coup. His intransigence, even after the brutal murder of President Doe in 1990, severely destroyed Liberia. Nevertheless, the war brought with it some opportunities. With Taylor's forceful departure from Liberia, we saw the return of free speech and multi-party democracy. However, corruption, which continues to promote mass poverty, still flourishes in the Liberian society.

Where do we go from here?  It is left with us to sustain the progress made by those men and women, who refused to be cowards, when our people were in chain. They risked, and some sacrificed their lives so we could enjoy multi-party democracy, equal representation, and free speech. However,  the work is not yet finished.  Liberians at home and abroad must continue to educate their people about the importance of having a good representation in the legislature. It is through good representation that we can all work to achieve the goal of reduced poverty, one of the reasons that led to the events of April 14, 1979 and April 12, 1980. When tough anti-corruption laws are passed, and violators are punished, Liberia will be on the way to achieving the goal of poverty reduction. 

 Those who selflessly brought this change have played their part. Non-violent freedom fighting is not limited to the Progressives.  They taught us how to stand up for ourselves.  They opened our eyes to see the colors of suppression, humiliation, and slavery that no one saw for one hundred and thirty two years, and they taught all Liberians - indigenous Liberians and descendants of free slaves from the United States (including those who were rescued along the coastal lines) to live together as brothers and sisters. These events also taught us to respect each other regardless of our origins, opportunities or economic statuses. 

 It took decades for the Israelites to reach the "Promise Land", and this task was not limited to Moses. There was Aaron who took over when Moses failed to reach the "Promise Land." To achieve the goal of reaching the Promised Land (elimination of corruption and poverty) in Liberia, it is our responsibilities to pick up the torch to lead our people in making wise decisions during elections. The challenge now is ours, and not the makers of April 14, 1979 and April 12, 1980. These events have served their purposes.

Cooper Kweme
Germantown, MD

I will answer this from a personal point of view:

1. Work: I had just graduated from LU and was employed with Firestone. Had there been no April 12, I might have retired by now and enjoying a normal retirement. America would be a place where I would only come to spend two weeks or a month of vacation, buying personal effects and going back to LIB, as was the trend.

2. Political SituationMany of us had no idea what was going on behind the scene. We learned later that President Tolbert had asked those who wanted a two-party system to come and join the government and try to change things from within. Had they done that, a multi-party system would be in Liberia without 250,000 or more people sacrificing their lives in order to have what they have today. If Uncle Sam was deeply involved in the coup of April 12, 1980, just for a change of the leadership, as is being suggested, why wasn't a five-year plan put in place to get the military out, making way for a multi-party democratic system?

3. Development: Things were happening. By 1980 the road from Totota to the Epos in Ganta had been paved. The road from Ganta to Zwedru and onward to Kru Coast Territory was being surveyed for rehabilitation and pavement.

4. Education: No previous President (I stand corrected immediately) called the children of Liberia his Precious Jewels. I paid my first $75 per semester to enter LU during the Tolbert administration. I had a stipend and my books were paid for. How much could I have asked for.

There are many other things I could talk about. Had there been no April 12, 1980, Liberia would be better off today, politically and economically. If April 12, 1980 was meant to wipe the slate clean and start anew... from scratch, it did not happen and it has not happened.

You don't light a candle in a lit room. The change that some may boast of (like the multi-party system) has not done much to keep Liberians out of darkness. The sacrifice was too much and too great for the change they sought and craved. The country's illiteracy rate has skyrocketed because of the result of the change they sought. Corruption and the many isms that they thought they could eliminate are now an uncontrollable hydra that is sucking the life out the country and its people.

If April 14 really triggered the incident of April 12, 1980, they brought more pain and suffering to the masses of the Liberian people than anytime in the history of the country. My father said in 1991: "The Liberia I used to know is not the Liberia I see today."

My father has never been wrong!

Dortu-Siboe Doe

Having made a point of correction that the United Peoples Party registered as a political party on December 24th 1979, nine months AFTER the event of April 14, 1979 and NOT BEFORE April 14 1979 as one respondent posted, we now respond to the two questions supra viz the two political and historical milestones - April 14 & April 12!!!

First of all, political history reminds us that considering the anti-constitutional, undemocratic, segrative, and semi-apartheid, undertones within the country amid the fearless confrontations of the people against the  the tyranny, even if there had not been these particular or identical milestones - April 14 & April 12, these unacceptable undertones were bound to explode (as they did on the two dates, and not very long apart from these dates) and who knows...even with a more unstoppable force for the birth of multi-party democracy in Liberia!

 We must not forget about March 1, 1979 when the people descended or converged at the Monrovia City Hall and other parts of the country with the slogan - Our eyes are open! The time of the people time has come!

Thus, the only way or means via which Liberia would have been without an April 14 or April 12 would have been an eventuality where the tyranny would have disembarked from its racists, undemocratic, and semi-apartheid laws and policies. But no tyranny let go power easily!

 Therefore, it is intellectually fair to underscore or respond to the above question that rather than the questions: "Where could Liberia have been without April 14 and its brain child April 12, and what will Liberia look like today if those two events had not occurred", the question should be:

Where could Liberia have been without THE SPIRIT of April 14 and what will Liberia look like today if those two spirits - THE SPIRITS of April 14 & 12 had not come?
 And the answer is the spirit of April 14 and that of April 12 were bound to come!
  For both ecclesiastical and political histories have taught that it is only after a persevering but unsuccessful quest for justice, peace, and freedom, that a people would seek a path of an invincible force; and then with vitality, they fight to attain their God-given rights and dignity as a people!
 And this is exactly what THE SPIRIT of April 14 and THE SPIRIT of April 12 did to retain the God-given rights and dignity of Liberians in toto as made evident via and through the multi-party democracy Liberia enjoys today!!!
Dave Toh Jah
Philadephia, PA

In my view, if the Tolbert's government had not responded violently to the April 14's peaceful gathering, there would have been no April 12. And without April 12, Liberia would have remained under the domination of the minority rule of the Americo-Liberians and their adopted natives and those they have imported from countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, etc. to beef up their numbers. The interior of Liberia would have remained isolated and destitute because an expansion into those areas would have meant providing opportunities to the natives thus giving them economic and academic powers. 

 Without April 12, indigenous cultures, values, and practices (dance, music, languages, names, etc) would have disappeared by now. Without April 12, we may never have had the athletic greatness of a George Weah, a Salinsa Debah among others. Succeeding TWP governments would have continued to pay lip services and use such talents for the mere purpose of entertaining themselves. Without April 12, Fatu Gayflor would have never become a national and international icon.

Without April 12, we just needed to look back 100 years prior to April 12, a deprived nation and people. Then let's look at the governing tactics of other leaders of the Americo-Liberians descent after April 12. There primary approach to governance is the complete control of political and economic powers by the president thus ensuring that the rule of the minority is preserved. 

Without April 12, the Liberian native would have remained a perpetual pawn, a prey of a ruling class that has never admitted its pitfalls. Without April 12, Taylor, the anointed redeemer of the Americo-Liberians, would have not launched a war of revenge. Maybe my father would have still being alive. 

But for now April 12 has become meaningless because the very problems it attempted to solve have resurfaced hundredfold. 

Moses Saylee Nyenpan
Trenton, NJ

Liberians, in my opinion, I think April 14, 1979 and April 12, 1980 were the best things that ever happened in Liberia for Liberians. Who knows whether without these incidents (as ugly they were presented) there would have been this much level of tolerance in the country today. Though, there were enormous good things these two incidents forwarded in the search of identity and social belonging from the villages to the towns and bigger cities were born citizens of Liberia were literally buried with the mindset that they could not have been what they are today. One thing I believe since birth is "Predestination." I also agreed that at certain time something could have happened to bring Liberians together and know each other’s worth. 

What would have happened if these two incidents mentioned above had not happened? I guess the True Whig party (TWP) would have still been in power with the "Congau oligarchy." Practically, the country would have continued to remain a one-party state and the same rulers continue to oppress the majority of the people, while the very majority look up to them for crumbs of the nation's wealth. As it is practically impossible to divorce the (TWP) regime with the present regime, Liberians are now noticing new form of sexual oppression which is seriously creeping in within the Liberian culture. With vast of the population fetching for employment in order to empower themselves we are now hearing of many roadblocks such as sex for employment. Despite, there has been little progress on the determination of the vast of the people to self-reliance and self-determination. Liberians can now uphold the political progress made thus far and continue to chat with the path to development. 

Edward Farley

First, let me use this opportunity to set the record straight and correct the myths that have been running for too long in our political corridor like a street without a "dead-end".  It is widely believed in some quarters that the March 3, 1980 mid-night mass rally of some members of the Progressive People's Party (PPP) and other concerned citizens which took place in front of the Executive Mansion was an attempt by the PPP to topple the government of President Tolbert and form a new government.  Certainly, this account is far from the truth!   The purpose of that mass rally was to prevent the overthrow of President Tolbert in a palace coup by the "right wing" group within the True Whig Party (TWP) headed by the Minister of Justice, Honorable Joseph Jenkins Chesson. 

On March 3, 1980, President Tolbert made a trip to Saclepea, Nimba County to inspect some "farm to market road projects" constructed by his government under the "Rally Time" program; one of the many policy initiatives he announced when he became President in 1971.  The President as we were made to understand by government official bulletin was due back to the Capitol on March 4 as the trip was a two-day official working visit.  But around 12 mid-night on March 3, information reached the Headquarters of the Progressive People's Party (PPP) from the Executive Mansion security corridor that Justice Minister, Honorable Joseph Jenkins and some high-ranking officials of the government were gathering in the Conference Room of the Executive Mansion to stage what appeared to be a "Palace coup" against President Tolbert. 

The plan by Minister Chesson and his coterie of friends, according to the information received was to order the secret arrest and summary execution of PPP leaders and other citizens that night, which would ultimately in their strategies, spark tensions in Monrovia and its environs.  Amidst the chaos in Monrovia and its environs, President Tolbert would be advised in a telegram from the Mansion to immediately cross over to the Ivory Coast "not to be caught" in a situation in Nimba County, a predominantly PPP base.   Following the successful arrival of President Tolbert in the Ivory Coast, Minister Chesson would announce the overthrow of the Tolbert government with him as Head of state and the formation of a new government as it was done in the case of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. This was the second attempt by the TWP to scamper President Tolbert into exile unsuccessfully. 

However, no sooner upon the receipt of the information by the Headquarters of the most popular political institution (PPP) in the country, over five hundred people including men and women were mobilized that night in the shortest possible time to sit in front of the Executive Mansion in order to prevent what would have been the worse political catastrophe ever in the history of our esteemed country.  

However, sensing the leakage of the plan as evidenced by the mass gathering in front of the Executive Mansion that night Minister Chesson and his cohorts were quick to abandon the evil plan; and subsequently extended an invitation to PPP leaders who were also present on the ground of the Executive Mansion to explain the motives of the assembly. Prepared to do just that, the leadership of the PPP in the persons of Honorable Gabriel Baccus Matthews, Chairman, Honourable Oscar Jaryee Quiah, Secretary-General and Honourable Chea Chea Cheapoo, Legal Counsel met with Minister Chesson and his group to explain why they were on the ground of the Executive Mansion.  Not to give the impression that TWP plan was leaked, the PPP leaders ostensibly informed Minister Chesson and his partners that they (PPP) had obtained information that President Tolbert was expected back in the Capitol from Nimba County that night and; as opposition leaders, it was befitting as a matter of protocol to form a part of the welcoming party.

And when all the dust got settle that night without any incident, the President arrived March 4, 1980 which was the next day.  As expected the TWP twisted the story and misled the President in believing that Mass Rally by PPP members and other patriotic citizens was intended to unseat the government; and they had to do everything in their powers to prevent what they called a political "disaster". On the same day, March 4, 1980 PPP Chairman, Honorable Gabriel Baccus Matthews wrote a letter to President Tolbert requesting an audience with him to discuss matters of national importance.  Knowing who President Tolbert was in term of timely response to communications, particularly from Chairman Matthews, it was the belief of the PPP that something was wrong, particularly after two days without a reply. 

Pursuant to their determination to get President Tolbert to know their side of the story after they didn't get a reply from him, PPP leaders then decided to employ the services of Mr. Albert Porte and some well-respected religious leases to convince President Tolbert to agree to an audience between him and the PPP leadership. Every effort by these distinguished senior citizens of our beloved country to get to President Tolbert didn't yield any fruit as the TWP coup plotters sealed every possible loophole that might be used by outsiders to get to President Tolbert.   President Tolbert was completely barricaded dangerously! 

And after all attempts get the ears of President Tolbert through Mr. Porte and   religious leaders proved futile and,  sensing that the country was heading for a big political cataclysm with President Tolbert being  surrendered by enemies who were determined  to destroy him and the opposition at the same time and at all costs  - a destruction that may take our country another 100 more years of backwardness, the leadership of the PPP decided to brave the storm and call for the resignation of the entire TWP government on March 8, 1980 as the only alternative for a better and democratic Liberia.   


President Tolbert's problems in the TWP started when the "untouchable" Marylanders, the gurus of the TWP (Hon. James  Anderson, Jr. Former Superintendent of Maryland County and son of the National Chairman of TWP,  Hon. Allen Yancy, Former member of the House of Representatives and  son of the Former Vice President of Liberia) Hon. Francis Nyepan and Hon. Philip Seton) were arrested, tried, found guilty by the Supreme Court in connection to the ritual killing of Moses Tweh in Maryland County. The TWP applied every trick in the book and exerted every effort politically possible for President Tolbert to grant these TWP gurus clemency.  According to President Tolbert, the National Chairman of the TWP, Hon.  James Anderson, Sr, (father of the convicted Former Superintendent, James Anderson, Jr. ) approached him (Tolbert) in order to review the decision of the Supreme Court in an effort to free the convicts. However, President Tolbert refused to consider the request and said " I will never permit himself to be influenced in one way or the other by sentiments. I will do my duty when it is time to do my duty in the fear of God in keeping with the oath of the Office of President (The Liberian Age, January 12, 1979). And so on February 16, 1979 the convicted TWP members and former officials of the government were executed by hanging.  The refusal of President Tolbert despite persistent pleads for Clemency, infuriated the TWP so badly to the extent that 4 days after the execution, Hon. James Anderson, Sr, National Chairman of the TWP tendered in his resignation.  In his letter of resignation which was decorated with words of hate and revenge, he wrote "due to the machinations of wicked and cruel men, my eldest son, James Daniel was hanged for crime he didn't commit.".  Also in a private communication to another person in the TWP, he promised revenge.  Since that time, life for President in the TWP wasn't good as the Former Chairman of the TWP, Hon. James Anderson, Sr. was so a powerful and influential figure in the country.  

Moreover, President Tolbert became more than a bitter taste for the TWP when he granted political amnesty to jailed PAL members after the April 14, 1979  incident despite calls by the  TWP for their summary  execution for the death of those citizens killed on April 14, 1979 by Police Director, Varney Demspter and his police force. Worse, the subsequent granting of legal political party status to the same PAL group that had been trying to snatch power away from the TWP turned the entire world of President Tolbert outside down within the TWP.  These policy decisions made President Tolbert to appear like an "enemy" and "sell-out" rather than a colleague in the TWP.  And as such the battle to remove him as President and at the same time to destroy the opposition became uncompromising. 


What appeared to be the first attempt by the TWP to scamper President Tolbert into exile came to light when his National Defense Minister, Honorable Burleigh visited Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema  in the early part of 1980 .

The heat  in the TWP was building up to remove President, particularly after the granting of legal party status to the PPP and, the Minister of National Defense, Burleigh Holder, who happened to be the son-in-law to the President was also feeling the heat that anything was possible as the TWP was becoming more and more frustrated with President Tolbert   Minister Holder himself felt the same way like his TWP colleagues that the President was "messing up" politically but didn't want him be compromised in the process.   

Therefore, in an effort to get President Tolbert out of the TWP's "lions den" and to also make it easier for the TWP to take full control of the country once again as was in the days of President Tubman, Minister Holder went go to Togo purposely to request President Gnassingbe Eyadema to earnestly prevail on President Tolbert to leave Liberia for his own safety - a safety not from a danger from outside but from a danger from within.  Upon his return from Togo from the double-edged sword trip, Minister Holder tried very hard to impress upon President Tolbert that President Eyadema wanted him to leave the country immediately for his own safety.   President Tolbert brushed off message as he didn't see it credible.  In diplomatic protocols, messages of such magnitude are not delivered ordinarily but through Special Envoys, particularly from the sending Head of state to the receiving Head of state and, President Tolbert himself, being a statesman and diplomat didn't see the message credible.  But such was the situation President Tolbert found himself; working with people who harbored hatred but pretended to be friends. 


On the issue of a conversion between Hon. Matthews and Hon. Fahnbulleh concerning April 14, 1979, I am sure the first time I believe Hon. Fahnbulleh had the privilege to hear about the proposed April 14, 1979 demonstration was on that Friday, March 21, 1979 when PAL Chairman, Hon. Gabriel Baccus Matthews appeared on the podium at the Sports Commission on Broad Street, Monrovia where MOJA was observing the 19th Anniversary of the   Sharpeville massacre, South Africa. 
I am not sure whether there was any conversion between Mr. Matthews and Dr. Fahnbulleh during or after that occasion anywhere. But what I am clear about is, Mr.  Fahnbulleh owes Mr.  Matthews in high esteem even more than many of his own colleagues as a non-violent political leader.  Mr. Matthews,  as the record speaks for itself,  was a non-violent political leader. Anyone who doesn't know this  about  Mr. Matthews then that person might be a different creature from another planet.  So, for us to hear today, that Mr. Fahnbulleh allegedly said Mr.  Matthews told him that he will "put and continue put defenseless people on the streets ", in the face of violence on April 14, is something far away from the truth. It is a known fact that political relationship between PAL and MOJA wasn't a good one as demonstrated by MOJA's  refusal to support PAL in its protest against the increase in the price of rice. So, it is understandable for one group to try to paint the other black.

Dougbeh Chris Nyan, MD
Germantown, MD

The April 14, 1979 Rights and Rice Demonstration and the April 12, 1980 military seizure of political in Liberia are two events that altered the course of Liberian political history. It dethroned the socio-politico-economic domination that one group had over the rest of the country. April 14 and April 12 ushered in a change that generations of oppressed people in Liberia collectively and individually fought for almost a century. Change eventually came, but was characterized by extreme greed, opportunism by some political elements; by corruption and brutality, and human rights abuses perpetrated by the military junta throughout the '80s; and, ultimately destroyed by the chaos and blood-shed of the '90s.

If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, probably the status quo would have still been entrenched, but more vulnerable today due to the present reconfiguration of international powers and the excesses of the uncontrolled media freedom.

If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, the Liberian democratic struggle would have continued its gradual evolution and culminated into a mature political opposition for a proper democratic takeover of the country.  President William R. Tolbert, I believe was a progressive with the inherent contradiction of managing a political superstructure he internally opposed and was gradually dismantling from the inside. From the outside, the progressive movements possibly misunderstood and also fell short of adequately comprehending his tactics.

If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, Liberia would have been the first African country to serve as "Secretary General of the United Nations" (an organization of which Liberia was a founding-member when almost all of Africa was still colonized). Liberia having served in major roles in the UN and as President of the General Assembly at some point in the past, no other African country would have had equal international diplomatic credentials.

If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, Liberia would have continue to build an enviable social democratic state on the African Continent based on its Eastern and European alliances/influences, and irrespective of having being a vestige of the US slave-system. This probably would have enticed the first black President of the United States, President Barack Obama to visit first Liberia his first African continental trip few years ago. Moreover, President Nelson Mandela would probably have paid his first visit (outside of South Africa) to Liberia, an ardent supporter of the liberation struggle of South Africa, Namibia, and the Frontline States.

If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, Science, Medicine, Agriculture, and Education would have advanced or exceeded the level of countries such as Singapore, Korea, and Malaysia, given the visionary far sight and national programs that were being laid out by President William R. Tolbert, Jr. ..... however, under the condition that whoever democratically or peacefully succeeded him would have built on and/or continued these national programs along the path of human and infrastructural development.

If April 14 and April 12 had not happened, perhaps, the Liberia Institute for Biomedical Research (LIBR) would have matured to the level of building Liberia's scientific and biomedical research capacity in infectious diseases control and research. Liberia would certainly have acquired a level of preparedness to manage disease outbreaks like the current Ebola epidemic that has hit the Mano-River Union states (of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia). 

Certainly, one cannot be overly idealistic to think that all would have been rosy and excellent had April 14 and April 12 not happened. Yet, as optimism and innovation are cardinal driving forces of human advancement, I am opined that Liberia would have advanced to the envy of the rest of Africa and the developing world as well as greatly admired by the developed countries.

Presently, one can see a Liberia that is navigating its way out of the self-inflicted destruction caused by the civil upheaval and blood-shed of the '90. This current trend seems rocky as there appears to be a lack of national consciousness and patriotism in some circles of the national and local leadership structures. Notwithstanding this drawback and looking positively into the future, I see a Liberia that will emerge from the present confusion and slumber and chart a well-defined national agenda for the socio-economic development of the country, but with a visionary leader who will harness the available human and natural resources (including the new-found oil) for ultimate purpose of national development.

Note and Acknowledgment: The author, Dougbeh Chris Nyan, M.D. can be contacted through the editor. This article was inspired by topical questions raised by Dennis Chewlae Jah on historical development about Liberia, West Africa.

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