Loyal Opposition and Social Change in Liberia: A Historical Perspective
Speech Delivered
By  Syrulwa Somah, PhD
Executive Director, Liberian History, Education and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE) Greensboro, NC
Associate Professor, Environmental Health and Occupational Safety & Health
NC A&T State University, Greensboro, NC
delivered at
The “1st Inaugural Ceremonies of the United Bassa (Liberia) Organization in the Americas-Maryland Chapter –A MOH BEDO Inc”
Baltimore Washington, Maryland, MD, USA on April 18, 2009

Mr. Emmanuel Garmondyu Smith, President–Elect; Mr. Roberta M. Clarke, Vice President–Elect; Other distinguished officers-elect; members of the Board of Directors; Mr. Alfred Dousuah, President of UNIBOA; Representatives of Liberian and non-Liberian organizations; Fellow Bassa; Distinguished quests, ladies & gentlemen.
It is a unique privilege and honor for me to speak before this august gathering at this moment. I have been very busy lately with the job, the passing of a family member, my grandson, and planning of the upcoming 2009 5th LIHEDE Jubilee Conference that I almost had a second thought about being here today. But, then, I felt a sudden urge and obligation to be here when I read your letter of invitation on this specific point, which I quote: “we recognize the need to be active participants in the development of our homeland and maintain our cultural and historical ties with our people.” This quote made my heart laughed and anything that makes my heart to laugh also makes my heart healthy. I know each and every one of you has a favorite "moment" that makes your heart to laugh and want to respond to a request. Your invitation did that for me. And I can tell you that I consider your invitation and your organization as a genuine effort to maintain our cultural ties with our people and it gives me the sense that you already know that our history matters.
History doesn’t exist in a vacuum. History is an experience and a tapestry that is waving and unfolding right now before our very eyes. Each one of us at this historical junction is a part of the eking, weaving visible threads of history in the fabric of our community and in the pattern of our lives. So as we shape our history, history will in turn shape us. That is to say that no one, no organization, no nation can, effectuate any meaningful change and national development in society in the absence of historical roots. Let me just state that my organization, LIHEDE, considers it an honor and a privilege to be the drum major of history. We at LIHEDE do not intent to live in a nation whose history is written and interpreted by people of different countries and cultures whose worldview is quite different from ours. I think you do not either. Our history should not, and cannot, wait to be told to the current generation of Liberians without the background, so they can in turn tell our history to next generation. And my hope is that the next generation will arise, embrace, and declare our history to the next generation after their generation.
We at LIHEDE are convinced that oral history, legends, linguistic links, documents, spirituality, cultures, words, voices, groves, buildings, oracles, and sacred places of the past should be preserved because they are the lifeblood of peace and stability. These historic resources can tell us time and again….. by our own definition, who we are, where we came from, and how we got here as Bassa people, as Liberians, as Americans. Therefore, I want first of all to  convey to you warm greetings from the members and officers of LIHEDE, especially members of the 2009 Jubilee National Planning Committee who are working very hard to implement the 5th Anniversary Program activities of LIHEDE.  As you may know, in October 2008, LIHEDE announced that in celebration of its 5th founding anniversary in 2009, LIHEDE will host on August 21-22, 2009 in Greensboro, North Carolina, a Jubilee on the history of the nation and people of Liberia, with the goal of uncovering the ethnic and linguistic links of Liberians, in order to understand how these links can be harnessed to manifest lasting peace, unity, reconciliation, and development in Liberia. I would like to see each and every one of you in this audience in Greensboro in August for the LHEDE Jubilee, so you are all invited, and please try to be there.
Fellow Bassa and friends of the Bassa people, in 2004 I made two appearances before the largest U.S.-based Bassa organization, UNIBOA, to speak first on  Nonprofit Organizational Development, Leadership and Responsibility, and to speak second on The Role of the Bassa in Reshaping Liberia. I won’t bore you with the details of those two appearances, but I can assure you that in both instances I spoke about peace, unity, and cooperation among the Bassa people residing in the U.S. and in Liberia. I did believe then, as I believe now, that the essence and hallmark of leadership involves cultivating cordial relationship with people within a group setting and building TRUST and confidence amongst members to act in ways that benefit the group. No one can therefore succeed as a "leader" if the people he or she claimed to lead do not "trust" him or her as a leader.  For this reason, trust is the key ingredient, if not the ultimate quality, of leadership in any organization or society. People generally will not choose you or regard you as their leader under normal circumstances unless they believe they can trust you. I should also state that leadership means more than power, control, and self-enrichment. Leadership is about service. Leadership implies a willingness and commitment on our part to effect positive changes in society for the betterment of all. And there are certain qualities and characteristics that all leaders share, which include honesty, shepherding, commitment to duty, positive thinking and planning, and the ability to inspire others to action in the best interest of the community or the national organization one leads. 
A leader who is seen as honest, committed, and caring enhances his or her credibility and integrity by winning the trust of the people.  And the people will gladly and actively participate in whatever programs such a leader proposes. In other words, trust or good character is primary quality of a leader. For we all know that there are people in our respective communities and organizations who  are clearly competent in their professions, and who are personable and dynamic and inspirational speakers, but we dare not put them in leadership positions because they are generally not seen as trustworthy persons. This is why you must guard your character with your own life because that is all you have. Character is unlike an algebraic equation; it cannot be proven, and one cannot sew it back together when it is torn apart. People must believe you have good character and react to you in a positive way because of that good character. I hope and trust that the newly elected administrative officers and Board members of A MOH BEDO will each endeavor to maintain good character and win the trust of the members you lead in A MOH BEDO. And I know if this was in the church—okay we Bassa like the church—I will now hear Amen from all the officers and members of A MOH BEDO.
Let me make one more short point about who we are as a Bassa people before I get to my main topic for today, which is “Loyal Opposition and Social Change in Liberia: A Historical Perspective.”  You should always be proud of your Bassa heritage no matter which part of the world you live in, or which station you find yourself in life. Once a Bassa by birth or by parental linkage, you will always be a Bassa whether you like it or not. Neither you nor your parents asked to be born into the Bassa ethnic group, so you have got nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t ever deny your Bassa heritage or your Liberian heritage, even if you were born outside Liberia, or you decided to naturalize in other countries as a result of circumstances unique to you. Those circumstances may have been necessary to improve your growth and development, but those circumstances did not change your Bassa heritage or your Liberian heritage. You will always be a Bassa man, woman, or child, and you will always be a Liberian man, woman or child. I only want to remind you that regardless of whatever you become in this world, the place you were born and the heritage to which you belong will always be part and parcel of your makeup. When you take the oath of office, let it therefore be known that you will never leave the House Bassa. So help you Gedephoh.
My brothers and sisters, we the Bassa people have a leadership philosophy, which is humanism (servanthood). A child born within the Bassa culture gets the collective attention of all members of the culture. The Bassa gbo hwidiin hwodo-dyua or worldview, like almost all traditional societies, is that ‘leaders are born and not made’ with campaign money or soft-money. The cultural values dearest to the “House of Bassa”—those spiritual practices that sustain us—must be continued and never wavered. Tomorrow, when our ways of life continue to prove to be the right ways, then we will always be able to make the right choices at short notice, and remake the world through our own prisms. It is, therefore, within this framework that children are raised to respect and honor the College of Elders of the village, town, or chiefdom. The children who would be called to national leadership are taught from youth the responsibilities of servanthood and manhood, such as providing for their family’s livelihood and hold allegiance to their kingdom. The children are given the opportunity to fend for themselves and to learn how to make independent decisions on their own. As age and seniority play an integral part in Bassa culture, learning and rehearsing such independence often give the children the impetus to take on leadership role in the affairs of the community if they were called to leadership. The message here is that in Bassa culture, leadership must be cultivated, nurtured, and maintained on the basis of mutual respect, trust, and humility. Election to a national leadership did not depend on polls and political consultants. Selecting a running mate based on geography in an election was not part of Bassa culture. Becoming a leader in Bassa culture was predicated on impeccable records of achievement, experience, education, and public services documented in the memory of the Bassa people. In a sense, the Bassa try to avoid the theatricality or primetime drama that characterizes western electoral processes.
Fellow Bassa, our people knew about democracy or government! A person has to work his way through six steps of the leadership ladder before becoming a ‘Bodo Bai’ (leader of their world). The national leaders are “Bodo Bai” for male and “Bodo Deh” for female. When the Bassa elect a leader, the person becomes the one the nation hangs on for leadership. When a person is appointed to be father of the nation, he becomes ‘Bodoba, ‘or sectional father. In other words, the “Bodobai” is the father or elder of the Bassa nation, while the “Bodoba” is more like the administrator. In Bassa government, both leaders ‘Bodobai’ and ‘Bodoba’ served their ways into leadership and not necessarily by age. Many responsibilities rested upon the ‘Bodo-bai’ or “Bodo Deh” such as being the chief custodian and Chancellor of the Poro and Sande Universities.
As a Bassa people, you should know that we have the capacity to lead, fire vision, make thing happen by tapping into our forefathers’ spiritual resources – our faiths, our oneness -- to promote peace. But we cannot continue to be effective leaders unless we are servant leaders, empower others, united and know when we made our first baby steps outbound. I mean our history because change is the product of history. You cannot just get up and start making changes if nothing happened in the past and the present that caused you a pain in the flesh.  Most importantly, change follows the law of recency (when last); it requires persistence, redundancy or synchronization. It requires not changing for anyone just to fit in a group for the day or just for your “pot to boil”. In other words, you are not going to be an agent of change if you cannot stand resistance, opposition, lies, curse, and ridicules of those who want to keep the status quo for their comfort. 
Change begins with a baby step or an idea. It is a window of possibility! Take action to effect change, and then develop the tenacity to stay the course. Work night and day like the tropical black ants. Do not worry who gets or gives you credit, even when ordinary and powerful people take over your idea. This is what you want to happen in the first place. Change the world for the common good of humanity but do not try to own or corrupt it. Nothing we own, even the carbon or stardust of our bodies are simply loaned from the sacred womb of nature. None of our belongings is truly, entirely ours. So let your small discovery be added to by another and another until one ordinary day, the world’s attention is attracted in an extraordinary way. Remember, do not try to own or corrupt the world as you lead.
The call to leadership or servanthood is the call to do many things so keep your eyes open and be willing to help change the world one life at a time. Equally so, be ready to treat your current opponents as possible future functionaries or followers. Once you impact your current opponent’s life in a positive way, you will find that you have fired inspiration to that person to make a difference in the life of another. That is why most people need to hear a new idea countless times before they support it. They will first perceive it as somebody else’s idea, but the second or third time they may begin to take ownership of it as if as it was their original idea, so learn to synchronize your message or vision.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want at this time to shift focus to my main topic on “Loyal Opposition and Social Change in Liberia: A Historical Perspective.” I want to talk about leadership in our homeland of Liberia. I want to speak about the role and interactions of leaders of the ruling party and the leaders of the opposition parties. I want to state that the ruling party always has the power and authority to set national policy—at least the direction the country should take in local affairs and international affairs. The ruling party is responsible to decide how many new schools to build, how many new health centers to build, how many roads to repair or build, and how many farms to make. The ruling party is responsible for national security, electricity, safe-drinking water, job creation, and everything and anything that Liberia will need to be a unified and prosperous nation. These are the jobs of the ruling party or the government in power at any given time in Liberia.
The job of the opposition parties is very simple—that is to hold the ruling party accountable for whatever it said it wanted to do for the Liberian people. For example, if the government of the ruling party says it will build schools in Liberia, it becomes the job of the opposition party to make sure that the government doesn’t only build schools in the counties of government leaders and leave the other counties out. If the government is giving scholarship for people to study abroad, it is the job of the opposition party to make sure that the scholarships are not given to the children and family members of the government officials in power only. Mind you, if the opposition parties have the time and money, they too can build schools, clinics, roads, grant scholarship to students, and undertake other developments in Liberia, but it is not their job. The opposition parties’ main role is to bring about transparency, accountability, and rule of law in the national public service—government service. Above all, the opposition parties cannot be like seasonal mushrooms or politicians who only grow after the farm is burned. The opposition must be visible from the time the election ends to the next election, and so on. 
You see, we human beings are greedy by nature, and we always want what is good for ourselves and our families and friends. And there is nothing that stops government officials, including the president and cabinet ministers, from looking out for themselves and their immediate families and friends. That is natural thing to do, except that Liberia is not the personal property of particular officials of government. Liberia is the property of every Liberian, including those in government service and those outside government service. But not everyone can criticize government because not everyone knows what goes on in government. Not everyone knows how much money the government is bringing in and how much money the government is giving out. But the leaders of the opposition parties always have access to this kind of information, so they are always in a better position to tell the rest of the country what the ruling party or the government in power is doing or not doing with the Liberian people’s money. It is therefore the role and obligation of the opposition parties to alert the Liberian people to waste and other abuses in government service to ensure transparency and public accountability. This kind of role of opposition politicians or parties in society is what is often refereed to as “loyal opposition.” This means that the opposition should not only point out what the government is doing wrong, but it should also point out what the government is doing right. The opposition is very important for check and balance in any democratic system. The opposition is particularly important in Liberia to inform the public about how state resources are expended by the government, given the history of an imperial presidency in Liberia.
Historical Perspective of leadership and Party Politics in Liberia
To put history in proper perspective, it is fair to suggest that from its inception in Colonial times to the present, Liberia has operated like a master weaver spider using a single thread interwoven into several challenges to plant the seed of division still continuing in Liberia today. A one-party system was instituted at the early stages of Liberia’s independence that brought about so many social, cultural, political, and moral malaise (crab mentality) that is so pervasive in public and private life in Liberia today. In other words, Liberia created a "political niche" that destroyed any notion of a “loyal opposition” in Liberia, where "loyal opposition" means the commitment of the national population to keep honest the government of the day without subverting the entire socio-political system. Yes, “loyal opposition” refers to politicians in the political parties, but the citizens will have to act in order for the opposition to be strong. For it makes no sense opposition politicians to challenge the government if the people will not support and encourage the opposition to dig deeper and make public any misuse of authority on the part of government leaders. Today, the lack of a “loyal opposition” in Liberia has created a political landscape that is detriment to the promotion of nationalism, patriotism, development, peace, national unity, accountability, transparency, and rule of law. And the current small, small talks, political infightings, character assassinations, fragmented community and national organizations, lawlessness, rigged elections, ethnic conflicts, military invasions and bloody coups started at a historical junction in Liberia when loyal opposition was frown upon.
As a result, every Liberian child has grown up believing that lying on and killing fellow Liberians in the name of “freedom" is the right thing to do.  Here is the gist of this argument that everything has a historical beginning. Joseph J. Roberts, the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia and the first President of Liberia at independence in 1847, was the most prominent member of the ‘Pro-Administration Party.’ He was elected under the “Pro-Administration Party (PAP)” (referred to as members of the Colonial Council or Assembly of the 1840 election). That is to say the first 25 years of Liberia’s existence were under colonial administration or "Colonial Assembly."
The Colonial Assembly was not only in-charge of everything but was also the executive branch of the government of the settlement. For example, one of the first significant governors was Jehudi Ashmum who was a member of the Colonial Assembly. As such, the Governor was the chief justice of Liberia Colony, at the same time that he was commander of the Colony and had control over the Colony’s economic supplies and everything pertaining to the Colony. In addition to the Colonial Assembly, there were the dark-skinned settlers who didn’t hold allegiance to the Colonial Assembly and the light-skinned settlers who held allegiance to the Colonial Assembly. In other words, the light-skinned or mulattoes were the indisputable leaders that controlled everything in early Liberia based on skin color and did not readily share power with the darker skin people. This sort of division based on skin color was a great source of conflict early Liberia, and a major source of conflict throughout Liberian history. This sort of conflict also resulted in very strong and powerful Executive Branch of government that created an all-powerful imperial presidency, where the president of Liberia exercised unrestrained power over the Liberian people and the other two branches of the Liberian government, the judicial and the legislative branches.
A Methodist cleric, Rev. John Seys, founder of the Anti-Administration Party, is considered the father of partisan politics in Liberia.  Rev. Seys protested and challenged the decision of Governor Roberts for missionaries to import duty free goods in colonial Liberia. The resultant conflict between Rev. Seys and Roberts would eventually lead to the birth of the kind of party politics that would haunt Liberia and its people for more than 160 years. During the conflict with Rev. Seys, Roberts rallied enough supporters to defeat Seys ally Saul Benedict’s proposed amendments. Benedict  went on to challenge Roberts in our Liberia’s first presidential election as the standard bearer of the Anti-Administration Party, only to abandon the Anti-Administration Party and President Roberts’  Pro-Administration Party to form a new party called True Liberian Party, which later became the Republican Party in Liberia.  This political collaboration between Roberts and Benedict foreclosed any prospects for a loyal opposition in early Liberia, as the political status quo created by whoever was the president in power became the order of the day that everyone had to obey. And no one exploited the cult of the imperial presidency more than President Williams V. S. Tubman, the longest-serving Liberian president from 1944 to 1971 on the banner of the True Whig Party.
First, Edward James Roye (1870-1871), Liberia’s first dark skinned president, founder the True Whig Party and successfully wrestled power away from the light-skinned Roberts, Benedict, and others to be elected to power as president on January 3, 1870. But the light-skinned Roberts and others would retaliate and President Roye was removed from power on October 26, 1871, assassinated, and dragged in the streets of Monrovia for misusing public funds. There is another side to the story as to why President Roye was killed, but that is a story not for today.  The Reginald Sherman Committee, however, ruled Liberia briefly from October 28, 1871 to November 4, 1871. After the death of President Roye, followed by Roye’s Vice President, James S. Smith, who served as Interim President of Liberia from November 4, 1871 to January 1, 1872. Immediately after Smith, J.J. Roberts became president again for the second time from 1872 to 1876. At this time, of course, Liberia was subdivided into three categories of people—mulatto, dark skin, and Natives. 
The Natives were the shortest end of the social structure. In particular, under President Charles D. B. King (1920-1930) who won 600,000 votes against his challenger Thomas J. Faulkner when Liberia only had 15,000 registered voters, the Natives were subjected to public humiliation in a tax collection scheme wherein the Natives were beaten at twenty-five lashes or more, rubbed with hot chilly and made to lie and stare at the burning sun, deprived of their farm produce, cattle, and poultry when they did not have the hut tax payment ready at the time the government needed it. Some of them still carry Tai-kpa or Kpe-kpe marks, sores from uneven hard wood poles or sticks that were manually pressed on their legs as corporal punishment if the taxes were not collected by the town chief prior to the tax collector's (soldiers') arrived.
Second, in my article on “Building New Bridges for Unity in Liberia,” I briefly stated how the sweepstakes of imperial presidency, single-party and seasonal politics continued to be the norm in the 1930s. During the 1927 election, things heated up between the challenger Thomas J.R. Faulkner and incumbent President Edwin Barclay. When Faulkner supposedly lost the election with 9,000 votes or 27.3%, he began his political hibernation so “loyal opposition” didn’t transcend beyond the election. To keep Faulkner voiceless, Edwin Barclay (1930-1944) who won the election pounded his “Unification of Liberia” philosophy that kept the opposition muted to avoid the “anti- unification” Name brand.  Interestingly, a “special legislation in 1935, confirmed by a referendum, extended Barclay's current term to eight years, bypassing the election scheduled for that year”.  He won re-election unopposed in 1939 without stating the number of votes.
Like the 1930s, the canker of imperial presidency, one-party dominant system, and the seasonal politics landed in the courtyard of William V. S. Tubman (1944-1971) in the 1940s when he won the election unopposed on May 4, 1943. Few experienced politicians, however, expected Tubman to be the broker for a cross-regional coalition that would unite either Liberia that had two laws: one for the “hinterland” and one for the “Monrovia government.” But soon he too did everything not to let the touch for “loyal opposition” ignite. For instance, he made it clear that if any person, civilized or uncivilized, oppressed the unification of Liberia, that person was an enemy of the State. During “Tubman’s Liberia” being labeled as an enemy of the State was an expensive proposition that made life afterwards an extremely intolerable venture. Tubman soon consolidated his powers by suppressing any potential opposition to his reign by making sweeping changes through the national legislature that benefited his political ego.
In 1951, for instance, President Tubman rammed through the True Whig Party-controlled Legislature, an amendment which removed the 1935 clause that limited the presidential term office to one eight-year term. The amended clause called for eight years for the first term, and four years for succeeding terms of office. However, such a radical change didn’t sit well with every prominent politician. Therefore, the political party that challenged this constitutional amendment was the Reformation Party, which Dihwo D. Twe (1879-1961), a Klao son headed. President Tubman sought to vilify and discredit Mr. Twe by labeling him: "man with premedieval mind", as an attempt to neutralize his supporters. Tubman didn’t stop there. To penalize the Klao people for their son Twe’s challenge, by declaring Old Kru Town, a public domain to facilitate the construction of the Free Port of Monrovia. In his book The Years the Locusts Have Eaten: Liberia 1816-2004, Mr. Joseph K. Tellewoyan cited a  source close to President Tubman quoted the President as saying regarding  the Klao people’s objection to confiscation of their land for port construction that "For having razed Kru Town, I have no apologies, explanation or excuse to make" (Tellewoyan, 2004).
During the 27 years that Tubman served as president of Liberia, he cleverly manipulated his opponent by using his trademark unification rhetoric to erase any threats to his leadership. Tubman seemly dismantled all political parties of Liberia and oppositions, beginning with the 1950 Reformation Party and then the Independent True Whig Party of former President Edwin Barclay. Tubman then turned his focus on the election of 1955 in which the ballots were taken out of polling stations to a private place for counting. This is another classic example of how Tubman succeeded in disarming “loyal opposition.” The final results of the 1955 elections were President Tubman, 244,873 votes and former President Barclay, 1,182 votes, which meant that President Tubman received 99.5 percent of the vote. The ITWP responded to the outcome by charging the True Whig Party with vote rigging, and lodged complaints with the True Whig party controlled Legislature. The charges were rejected and the end result was that Edwin Barclay lost the 1955 elections to Tubman, although it was suggested in some quarters that Barclay did win Tubman. President also manipulated the May 1959 election involving Independent presidential aspirant William O. Davis Bright in which he Tubman supposedly got 100% of the votes of 565,044 registered voters.
Tubman generally saw political oppositions as a foreign ideology that was not good for Liberia. In Tubman’s mind, anything that had the potential to divide the people was not good for Liberia.  These included the establishment of opposition political party and the reading books that were deemed suspicious (See Bioma Fhanbullah, Gabriel Fahngarlo et al trail for “planning to overthrow Tubman.”). To keep the population and the opposition in check, Tubman took Colonial Assembly legacy and its anti “loyal opposition” to an extreme echelon. He formed the Public Relations Office (PRO) which had no ethical standard for membership and operation. With a chain of PRO officers and cadres established across Liberia, Tubman was ready to reign in anyone who challenged his political authority or whoever he saw as a potential political rival. Tubman was always prepared to put to death a soldier, a politician, or anyone who would try to overthrow to his regime. Therefore, one of the primary intelligence organizations Tubman created to spy on opposition was the PRO.
The goal of the PRO was to ensure Tubman's longevity in the Executive Mansion even if Tubman was in the wrong. Let us provide a specific example. It is said that Tubman had an affairs with E. Tyson Wood’s sister, a family friend. When the man found out, he threw his wife out. Wood wanted for Tubman to be punished for “interfering with his sister legal marriage.” Being a big businessman and prominent man in Liberia with some muscle to cause Tubman the presidency, Wood found young and powerful Samuel David Coleman to talk on the issue with Tubman. Samuel David Coleman was the son of former President William D. Coleman. So Wood felt that he got the name recognition to defeat Tubman. It didn’t take two long for relationship between the two men to turn ugly.
It didn’t take too long for the PRO to let Tubman know that the Samuel David Coleman and his son Joseph Coleman, a civil engineer, planned to overthrow Tubman, although they were reportedly not in Monrovia on June 22, 1955 to have planned the so-called plot. But that did not matter as the PRO had created the 1954-1955 uprising and blamed the Colemans. Kpanneh Doe and Siahyonkron Nyanseor, quoting sources in their article “Coups & Building Tyranny” revealed another school of thought on the PRO maliciousness: “When President William V. S. Tubman was faced with a strong opposition in 1955, his supporters staged a "fake assassination plot". The alleged conspirators were former president Edwin J. Barclay, Nete Sie Brownell, Samuel David Coleman and Paul Dunbar of the Independent True Whig Party (ITWP), all political heavyweights viewed as alternatives to Tubman authoritarian and corrupt rule. Paul Dunbar was made the scapegoat in this alleged plot. In the process, Samuel David Coleman and his son, Joseph S. Othello Coleman were killed”.
After the Coleman, the PRO striked next at  Ambassador Henry Bioma “Duke” Fahnbulleh, Sr.., Second Secretary to the Liberian Embassy in Freetown who was named ambassador to Kenya. In Kenya, it was said that “Duke” supported Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (who helped to organize the 5th Pan-African Congress in Great Britain in 1945). It was also said that “Duke” had the picture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution Chairman Mao hanging on the wall of the Liberian Embassy. To make matter worse, there was no President Tubman of Liberia picture next to Chairman Mao. And during the latter parts of the 1950s and early 1960s, the PRO branded people as anti-Tubman and enemy of the Liberian State if they dared to mention the names of Fidel Castro who overthrew General Fulgencio Batista, the de facto leader of Cuba, in the Cuban Revolution and Mao Zedong who attempted to bring the government completely under his control. Therefore, the PRO had an easy case to make. Hence, it didn’t take too long for the news of the two incidents to reach Tubman. A surveillance team was dispatched unknown to Fhanbulleh. Under the disguise of “auditing” he was accused for embezzlement, a smokescreen that landed Fahnbulleh, Sr. in jail where he remained until Tolbert became president in 1979, freed him, and dismantled the PRO while rightfully describing them as a “bunch of lairs.”
The PRO implicated superintendents James Yarkpawolo Gbarbyee of Bong County; Robert H. Kennedy of Lofa County; Gabriel Fhangarlo of Nimba County, and  Rev. Joseph M.N. Gbadyu of Grand Bassa county in coup plots and related  anti-Tubman activities, as did they to others many people through Tubman’s 27 years in power. The PRO was a major part of Tubman's plan for longevity and helped to remove any potential opposition to Tubman, and to exterminate the opposition to advance the imperial presidency. Tubman created a fallacy in multi-partyism and exploited Non-partyism to carve his own niche in our nation’s political history. Tubman’s Open Door Policy which saw massive exploitation of Liberian natural resources by foreign investors benefited mostly Tubman and his supporters, as there was no loyal opposition to hold Tubman accountability in any sense. Today, Liberians have nothing to show in the way of meaningful development after years of operations in Liberia by LAMCO, Bong Mines, LMC, and other companies.
The absence of a loyal opposition has been a great problem in Liberia, not just under Tubman and earlier governments of Liberia. The governments of President Tolbert, President Doe, President Taylor, Chairman Bryant, and Interim President Sawyer also lacked loyal opposition. But as Mr. William Nyanue, former President of grand Gedeh Association once said, it is obvious that for a nation like Liberia to have a functioning democracy it must have multi-party system of “loyal opposition”. Like Mr. Nyanue, Dr. Amos Beyan, an Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Western Michigan University sees the need for alternative employment that will not make the people to continued to rely heavily on government. He notes that “All the political parties have the same ideas about what they want to do in Liberia about education, employment, hospital, agriculture, etc. However, what they have not been able to articulate is how they are going to do it. Too many political parties but few members.” Another political scientist, Dr. Edwood Dunn of the University Sewanee supports the need for a “loyal opposition” in Liberia. He argues that it’s not only overdue but it will encourage coherent political parties that create a veneer of openness and democracy by maintaining two equal voices.  And Cllr. A. T. Jalloh, a young rising lawyer stresses the need for a loyal opposition in Liberia because “Liberia is a society of diverse views. So, by reason, any Liberian could serve as an opposition. In the field of politics, opposition is a necessary and healthy attribute of democracy. The political opposition serves as a public guard against the government. In performing its function as a public guard, I believe the opposition should have a firm commitment to the ideals of freedom and equality for all. It should review every questionable action of the government, ask the necessary questions, and offer viable alternatives to the people. It should work with respect and moderation, being mindful of how its words and actions could affect others. A key hallmark of democracy is gaining public support through the art of persuasion. Therefore, the political opposition must regularly keep the Liberian people informed.”  I believe these views summed up the need for a functional loyal opposition in Liberia to bring about transparency and public accountability in government or public service.
Teaching Democracy to our people
If you have not learned anything from this exchange or heard me, remember one thing.  If we must build a flourishing system of democracy in Liberia, then we must define not only what democracy means to us in Liberia, but we must also teach the fundamentals of democracy such as voting, political platform development, political party core values, political debate, electoral conflict resolution, accepting defeat at the polls, and public demonstration as our people did. I believe that if the Liberian people are educated about these basic fundamentals of democracy, then the ruling party and the opposition parties will not see and treat each other as enemies, and no public demonstrations will be held in Liberia to result in demonstrators breaking windows and the police beating demonstrators.
Now, the big question is: How do we teach democracy in Liberia to avoid unnecessary conflict? Mind you, I deliberately used the phrase “unnecessary conflict” to warn you that no democracy is free of conflicts, although conflict is not necessarily the preoccupation of peaceful demonstrations and elections in a democracy.  In fact, in the U.S. and other western democracies, public demonstrations are held regularly, and demonstrators are usually arrested by police and taken to court if they break the law in the process of demonstrating (i.e. fighting the police or destroying public or private property). But the police does not beat up and arrest demonstrators simply because they are carrying placards or making statements in public that the people in power do not like. And this is the point at which the system of democracy in Liberia has yet to develop. In other words, democracy imposes certain rights and responsibilities on both the Liberian government and Liberian citizens which both must take the time to learn if we are to develop the kind of pluralistic multiparty democracy we say we want in the new Liberia.
By the way, if we say we want multiparty democracy in Liberia, what does that mean? Do we develop our own system of Liberian democracy, or do we copy the American system of democracy? Okay, let us agree that we want to develop a Liberian democracy, then what should Liberian democracy look like? What should be the core values of Liberian democracy? What should be the rights and responsibilities of the Liberian government and people under a Liberian democracy? These are some of the pertinent questions that we must ask ourselves as Liberians interested in the practice of democracy in our homeland. We should not take for granted that democracy is democracy because democracy varies from country to country, as US democracy is different from British democracy, and French democracy is different from both British and American democracies. Therefore, Liberian Democracy, as we want it or see it, should be taught in Liberian schools, from grade school to college, with the commitment in  time, intensity, and sincerity with which we teach  French, English, geography, and science and other subjects in Liberian schools. Liberian democracy should not only be taught as an academic subject in Liberian schools, but also Liberian students should be encouraged to practice Liberian democracy through student council elections, issue debates, and community service.
I should state that the primary enemy of every nation is its own people. We have become our own enemies and refused to be responsible citizens by not teaching those things that will unite us as a peolple. We need to ask ourselves in Liberia why more than 250,000 people can hold a peaceful public demonstration in a US city without much problem, but we in Liberia cannot hold a single demonstration of at least 100 people without trouble. Perhaps, the answer to the question is that Liberians are not educated in the practice of opposition politics enough to know their rights and responsibilities under individuals. Liberians need to be educated about loyal opposition and the whole business of peaceful public demonstration. I believe all of us in Liberia —students, teachers, labor unions, the police, and government security personnel—have to learn that peaceful public demonstration should not lead to destroying private and public properties or beating up people. Mob action, vandalism, or police brutality only appeals to individual or group emotions and inflames a pressing situation rather than ameliorate it. Hence, what we need in Liberia is thorough education in loyal opposition, as we can never settle our differences and disagreements through violence.
Fellow Bassa, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in order to improve our nation, we must critically look at our nation and face the fact that every nation has serious problems just like Liberia. Besides, if we must build a flourishing system of democracy in Liberia, then we must thoroughly define or create a blue print. We must not only define what democracy means to us in Liberia, but we must also teach the fundamentals of democracy such as voting, political platform development, loyal opposition, political party core values, political debate, electoral conflict resolution, accepting defeat at the polls, and public demonstration. I believe that if we design the government that fits our culture and educate our people about these basic fundamentals of democracy, then the ruling party and the opposition parties will have no need to see and treat each other as enemies.
To change the Liberia to what we want it to be, we must begin the inner effort that begins with oneself. Most of us have a very long way to go before we realize that we will hurt ourselves when we try to become other people than ourselves. We must realize that our past history shapes our present behaviors, that our parentage form of government is not inferior of any modern form of government, and all of us can make a real contribution to changing Liberia for the better by making every effort to correct our own faults, and by helping those around us with encouraging words, kind deeds, uplifting thoughts, oneness in post-Reconciliation Liberia. Every step along this path is a step towards a more peaceful and caring Liberia for all. 
May Gedephoh Bless the House of Bassa and Liberia.
1.  Beyan, Amos. (2005). Conversation
2.   Brown, George W., The Economic History of Liberia. Washington: Associated Publishers, Inc., 1941.
3. Dunn, D. Elwood. (2005). Conversation
4.  Jalloh, A. T. (2005). Conversation
5. Liebenow, J. Gus, Liberia: Evolution of Privilege. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1969.
6. Fox, Early Lee, The American Colonization Society, 1817 – 1840. Baltimore: 1919.
7.  Gbadyu, Joseph M.N.: Conversation, 2005
8. Mbiti, John S., Introduction to African Religion (Second Edition). New Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc., 1991.
9. Taryor, Sr., Nya Kwiawon, Justice, justice: A Cry of My People.  Illinois:  Strugglers’ Community Press, 1985.
10. Hayman, Arthur I., and Preece, Harold.  Lighting Up Liberia. New York: Creative Age Press, Inc., 1943.
11.  Richardson, Nathaniel R., Liberia’s Past and Present.  London: Diplomatic Press, 1959.
12.   Yancy, Ernest Jerome, The Republic of Liberia.  London: Allen and Unwin Press, 1959.
13. Liebenow, J. Gus, Liberia: Evolution of Privilege.  Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1969.
14. Liebenow, J. Gus, The Seeds of Discontent,” Part I - Liberia: The Dissolution of Privilege.  American University Field Staff Report.  Hanover, N.H., 1980.
15. Nelson, Harold D. Liberia: A Country Study: Washington, D.C.  American University Press, 1985.
16. The African Colonization Movement , 1961

17.  Smith, Robert A., Meet the President. Providence Publications: Monrovia, Liberia, 1968.
18.  William, Nyanue, Conversation, 2005
19. U.S. Commission to Liberia: Affairs in Liberia. Message from the President of the United States, Transmitting a Letter of the Secretary of States Submitting a Report of the Commissions which Visited Liberia in Pursuance of the Provisions of the Deficiency Act of March 4, 1904, "to investigate the interests of The United and its citizens in the Republic of Liberia.” Washington, DC. (61st Cong., 2d sess. Senate. Doc. 457).
20. Yancy, Ernest Jerome. (1934). Historical Lights of Liberia's Yesterday and Today: Ohio: Aldine Publishing Company.


National Curriculum for Liberian Studies (NCLS): Elementary through Ph.D.
A Presentation at the 41st Annual Conference of the Liberian Studies Association (LSA)

Syrulwa Somah, Ph. D.
Executive Director
Monrovia, Liberia May11-13, 2009

The goal of this proposal, “National Curriculum for Liberian Studies (NCLS): Elementary through Ph.D.,” is to create public awareness of the need to establish a national political, educational, and cultural framework or plan of action for Liberia and its educational institutions. The general aim of this proposal, therefore, is to re-conceptualize the national grade school, high school, and college curriculums in Liberia to reflect the objective realities of the diversity and socioeconomic wellbeing of Liberia. The proposal also attempts to incorporate and stimulate national understanding of the national cultural values and mores of Liberia, along with academic components that help to strengthen the existing dialogue in creating new pathways to peace, national identity, nationalism, self-consciousness, and oneness of purpose in Liberia. It is also safe to state that as Liberians we have always known ourselves based on the teachings and way of life our forebears passed down to us through oral tradition. However, those teachings have not been formalized in the past and included in the national curriculum of Liberian schools to broaden understanding and appreciation for Liberian culture and mores by Liberian citizens of all walks of life. As a result, it is anticipated that the proposed National Curriculum for Liberian Studies will break new grounds and impel Liberian policymakers, parents,  teachers, and students  to support implementation of a new post-civil war Liberian school curriculum that projects the true image of Liberia in terms of what is taught in schools and universities,  so that Liberian educators, students, policymakers, and all other stakeholders will get to know and appreciate themselves more as true Liberians.

Introduction and Historical Perspective

Liberia is a nation endowed with abundant natural resources, beauty, and   wealth. The natural and breathe-taking beauty of herds of prairie animals such as elephants, viviparous toad, cross river gorilla, water buffalo, lions, zebra duiker, leopards, Diana monkey, Iguanas, white mangabey, chimpanzees, and hippopotamus engulf the Liberian landscape. Liberia also possesses some of the world's rarest flora and fauna, and 30 percent of the country’s landmass is covered with forest in reserves and World Heritage Sites. Iron ore, gold, diamond, rubber, coffee, cocoa, and forest woods, and recently offshore oil, are found in Liberia, along with tourist attractions such as Kpatawee Waterfalls in Bong County, and the Mt. Gibi’s Oracle in Margibi County, with its parallel tunnels and a “rock kitchen” upheld by two rock pillars, which extend against the walls of the mountain and resemble the Hanging Garden of Babylon. Within the vicinity of the Oracle are found such rarest sacred wonders as white bats and Zhor birds. Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County, Sarpo National Park in Sinoe County, the Cestos River in Rivercess County, and similar lakes and rivers across Liberia make Liberia either the most watered nation, or one of the most watered nations in the world.

Of course, with independence in July 1847, Liberia remains Africa’s oldest independent republic south of the Sahara. However, since independence, Liberia has continued to struggle with the issue of self-identity and unity of purpose while attempting to balance the disequilibrium between its Euro-centric and indigenous Afrocentric roots. Therefore, after 162 years of national existence, I believe it is now that time for Liberia to rise to the occasion and redefine itself in the context of a definitive political, socio-economic, cultural, and pedagogical vision that clearly speaks to Liberia’s national and international uniqueness, goals, and objectives in the world. I believe, and if I must borrow the theme of the upcoming LIHEDE jubilee in August 2009, it is now time for those of us who are Liberians or persons of Liberian origin to begin "Understanding Ourselves and Our History: [as part of] A Call to Unity & Collective Development in Liberia." And it is this call to national unity and collective development in Liberia that has impelled me to share with you this proposal on the pressing need for creation of a national curriculum in Liberia to teach and prepare current Liberian youth and the next generations of Liberians to take up with pride and vigor the mantle of Liberian statehood by cultivating a clear understanding of their history, cultural traditions, values, and mores.

The proposed “National Curriculum for Liberian Studies (NCLS): Elementary to Ph. D. in the New Liberia” is intended to create a NCLS that shall provide Liberians with education about their history, culture, and traditional languages. It will also create a self-conscious and responsible Liberian citizenry who shall defend and protect together the sovereignty of their homeland. The NCLS shall help to establish in Liberia a reliable and responsible citizenship who shall promote the tenets of democracy, unity, patriotism, and total involvement of all Liberians in the reconciliation and reintegration process of post-conflict Liberia. NCLS shall seek to accomplish these goals by moving Liberian citizens away from the current heavy reliance on foreign expertise for running the Liberian educational, socioeconomics, and political institutions and systems, to emphasizing grounding in Liberian language, geography, history, mathematics, science, physical sciences, religion, and other tasks necessary for national survival as a nation and people. In essence, NCLS will help to teach the Liberian way of life with respect to national survival, national identity, knowledge acquisition, social attitudes, skills, values, customs, traditions, norms, beliefs, practices, cultural artifacts and technology. Indeed, when Liberian cultural values and the requisite skills for national development are codified into the national curriculum and taught in Liberian schools, Liberia will prosper as a nation and people united in search of peace, national unity, and development.

Target Population, Goals, and Objectives

The NCLS aims to address the learning needs of Liberian students in grade school through college, but university professors, parents, legislators, foreign diplomats, tourists, and other stakeholders inside and outside Liberia stand to benefit from the teaching and learning of Liberian language, culture, and traditions in Liberian schools as well. After all, it is said that the ability to understand oneself and master one’s environment is the key to mastery of one’s survival. But sadly in Liberia, we have mistakenly understood the challenges to forge ahead as individual persons to mean that we can achieve greatness on our own as individual Liberians, so we often refuse to allow ourselves to be one nation, one people united toward common developmental milestones. As a result, we create all sorts of barriers for ourselves in Liberia by not embracing, recognizing, and respecting our ethnicities, languages, and cultural values and mores. Instead we continue to crave for the cultural values and mores of other nations as if there is something inherently wrong with our own cultural values and mores. The Liberian Studies curriculum I am proposing for use in Liberian grade schools and colleges is, therefore, intended to bring peace, stability, and hope to all Liberians and stimulate national growth and development in Liberia by giving us mastery of  own destiny without depending on others to guide us every step of our national existence. Through Liberian studies we will be able to embrace and respect our diversity more easily, and work together to produce a peaceful and productive society that we all can be proud of as Liberians. Through Liberian studies we will be able to study historical data from the past and figure out why we behave the way we do now.

At this junction, ladies and gentlemen, you might be tempted to ask, 1) “What is Liberian Studies,” and 2) “How should a program in NCLS respond to current internal and external pressures to focus on national development in Liberia?” Well, I want to wager that these are very important questions that go to the heart of my proposal. Under my proposal, I will define Liberians studies as any learning opportunity—structured or unstructured in terms of classroom or non-classroom settings—that pertain to the history, culture, language, traditions, economy, political structure, social etiquettes, and body polity of Liberia. Basically, any information on Liberia that will help Liberians understand themselves as one nation and one people will qualify as Liberian studies. Conversely, the NCLS is a structured classroom experience that incorporates all the attributes of Liberian Studies within the Liberian primary, secondary, and college or professional school curriculums. I contemplate that one strategy of the NCLS would be to structure NCLS in such a way that students from first grade through college are exposed to the immediate cultural environments around them, by learning the canons and related values of Liberian culture. This is why NCLS at every grade level in Liberian schools will promote appreciation for the development of a national language in Liberia alongside English, which knowledge can go a long way in fostering national unity and understanding, national security, national development, and national prosperity in Liberia. In essence, NCLS will clearly be one of the key mechanisms for training Liberian citizens of the present and future generations to appreciate Liberian cultural values. NCLS will particularly enable Liberians to know about themselves and their obligations to the growth and development of Liberia, as a matter of personal survival that does not rely on outsiders for basically everything as is the present case.

In essence, the Liberian Studies curriculum is an integrated study of the history, migration patterns, interethnic cooperation, linguistic tongues, and social, political, and legal institutions of the various ethnic groups of Liberia. It is a coordinated and systematic study that draws upon such disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology, as well as appropriate content from the humanities, mathematics, and natural sciences. The primary purpose of Liberian Studies curriculum will be to help young Liberians to develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse and democratic society in an interdependent world.

The Liberian Studies curriculum  will also emphasize the study of contemporary and historical Liberian women and men; the history of Liberian presidents, vice presidents, legislators, and judges; the role of religion in Liberian public and private life; the history and legends of favorite Liberian food and beverages; types of  Liberian marine life and fisheries; history of Liberian sports and sports legends; history of Liberian legendary warriors and war heroes; history of Liberian marriage customs, folklores, and names; history and types of Liberian traditional medicine and their applications; ,Liberian secular and sacred music, and Liberian religious and cultural practices, including birth and death rituals, and so forth.

I believe that when these aspects of our culture are institutionalized in textbooks, scope and sequence charts, curriculum frameworks, videodisks, software, and standardized tests, they will synchronize the oneness of Liberians and bring up generations of Liberians virtuously. For knowing about ourselves and our culture is one of the greatest educational lessons we can teach to our children and make them understand that life's lessons are best learned from the root. I believe that Liberian children shouldn’t be left along to learn these things on their own, because as a nation and people, we are required to build solid cultural and educational institutions that are viable enough to teach current and future generation of Liberians about the Liberian way of life.

Thus, as Liberians and persons of Liberian origin, we owe it to ourselves and our children to draw from and drink of the fountain of wisdom and knowledge inherent in our history, culture, and tradition. We ought to learn to rely on our traditional fountain of wisdom and knowledge in finding a lasting solution to our national problems rather than relying on foreign negotiators. Generally, foreign negotiators do not know our history and culture so they usually provide a straightjacket-type peaceful solution to our national crisis, which often leave us with no other better alternatives but to be subjugated to all sorts of political and economic exploitations and repressions.  As a consequence, Liberia today is a deforested oasis run by foreign nations and foreign-funded NGOs, as Liberians at large become beggars and vagabonds in their own homeland. Indeed, one of the reasons for the current predicaments in Liberia is the failure of Liberians to create the mechanism for good governance, rule of law, justice, and socioeconomic equity rooted in Liberian culture and tradition. The NCLS is aimed at reshaping the perception of Liberians toward their traditional roots, as manifested through the following goals and objectives of the NCLS:


  1. Strengthen academic and professional excellence in the representation of  Liberian art, culture, and history
  2. Promote understanding of Liberian history, Liberian oneness, and Liberianism
  3. Promote scholarly communication across ethnic boundaries
  4. Advance research in the areas of Liberian art, tradition, culture, and history
  5. Share and promote Liberian diversity and collective resources
  6. Promote a healthy national dialogue of mutual respect and cooperation  


  1. Reduce derogatory, stereotypical ethnic names in the national discourse
  2. Reduce ethnic, class, gender, political, and religious inequalities
  3. Foster interdisciplinary analysis of the social, political, cultural, and educational realities of Liberia
  4. Support the study of shared cultures and social realities among Liberian ethnic groups
  5. Foster good national leadership and responsible citizenship

Today, due to the absence of a thriving NCLS to speak to our oneness and national identity as set forth in the goals and objectives of the NCLS, Liberians have proven mostly to be a divisive people continually in denial of the existence of the storehouse of information available about their origin and cultural diversity. As a result, a pall of gloom has continued to hang over Liberia since its inception as a modern nation-state in 1847. These acts of self-denial by Liberians have setoff a national transgression beyond measurable propositions, in the sense that depriving oneself of the richness of one’s history and culture limits the possibilities and solutions to national problem-solving. Depriving oneself of the richness of one’s history and culture also demonstrates the lack of knowledge of one’s own worth. Therefore, once Liberians acquire self-identity and knowledge about themselves and others in their lived world and beyond, they will discover their rich heritage and better defend that rich heritage at all cost.

Ladies and gentlemen, in view of the arguments I have presented above, it is clear that a program specifically designed to teach our history, indigenous languages, and cultures may provide the milieu for peaceful conflict resolution to our national crisis. It will also be able to serve as a guidepost that leads us to national unity, national reconciliation, and prosperity. For if Liberians hope to live together in peace as one people then it is time that they know something about the different cultures that make up this so-called Land of Liberty.  If Liberians hope to live together in peace as one people then it is time that we appreciate the historical and cultural influences that shape our individual identities, our national identity, and the cultures and ethnicities that share our nation. Indeed, when we seek to reason together and to resolve our differences in an amicable manner; when we learn to celebrate and appreciate our cultural differences, and to openly discuss our successes, failures, triumphs and tragedies in our history, particularly as they are reflected in the ideas and actions of modern Liberia, then we will become better prepared to face our own future with a set of skills that are valuable in whatever profession we choose to enter.

Therefore, Liberian Studies under the NCLS is not a long list of complaints of what did not work for us as Liberians in the past. It is not a series of sung or spoken liturgical prayers or requests from us for the blessing of God. Rather Liberian Studies is the only hope we have left for us to correct the wrongs we did to one another in the past. And NCLS is that strategic plan of action that may provide remedy to our past and present national crises. It may also give us the guiding light that constantly reminds us of who we are as a nation and people; from whence we have come, and where we are headed so we may avoid the mistakes of the past. We can no longer hold disrespect for ourselves and dignity of the human person. We can no longer disregard the sanctity of life, engage in rampant corruption, and mete out political and social injustices to our countrymen and women to simply to protect our own self-worth in society. We can no longer disregard national service and public accountability as a priority in Liberia.

The NCLS will be that catalyst that will help us want to learn more about ourselves and the history, culture, and achievement of our compatriots. For “Whenever a civilization or society declines (or perishes),” Carl Sandburg has noted, “there is always one condition present—they [members of that society or civilization] forgot where they came from” (Sandburg, 1904). And as the great Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey (1977) has said, “The history of a movement, the history of a nation, the history of a race is the guidepost of that movement’s destiny, that nation’s destiny, that race’s destiny” (p. 1).  Indeed, these statements by Sandburg and Garvey point to a reality that has been missing in Liberia for too long., whereby Liberians have refused to create a uniquely Liberian civilization rooted in Liberian culture, language, traditional values, customs, and mores. It is this reality that the NCLS  is intended to bring to the fore to give Liberians, especially Liberian students, the  remarkable opportunity to engage one another in the study of Liberian culture, tradition, community, family, society, and oneness. Through NCLS, Liberian students and educators will be able to examine the dilemmas and triumphs of Liberian society and explore the role of responsible citizenship and oneness. And it is hoped that through this kind of learning about ourselves, Liberian students will be model and responsible citizens committed to protecting, developing, and enhancing the social fabric of the Liberian landmass on which they live.

Expectations of the NCL at Each Grade Level

Both Liberian Studies and NCLS, as stated throughout this proposal, provide a unique opportunity for Liberians to understand themselves and their culture and tradition. The NCLS in particular provides a forum for acquiring in-depth historical perspectives about Liberia, and practical but respectful processes of engagement, as well as the means for developing a passion for individual and collective contributions to the common good of Liberia at the larger community level. The NCLS is particularly important in post-civil war Liberia because studying the history of one's own history and family is an ever-enriching experience. It is always an exciting opportunity to learn of the facts of one’s genealogy. It is always interesting to learn about how one's family was affected by the large historical events that led to the creation of Liberia. It is always important to understand and appreciate that as we look for answers to the questions about ourselves, our ancestors, and the circumstances of our forefathers journeying by land, river, sea, and air to the current landmass of Liberia, we are bound to plow through a maze of documents, laws, oral history, legends, folklores, songs, and dramas. But learning and knowledge acquisition are usually cumulative, so the expectations for NCLS at each grade level will be greatly different in degree and approach but complimentary in all respects, owing to the cumulative effects of learning. The following categorizations shall, therefore, constitute learning expectations and outcomes at each grade level of the NCLS:

1.    The NCLS at the elementary school level (1st to sixth grade) will include a wide range of study courses on Liberian geography, history, culture, and current events. The main thrust at this level of learning will be a series of collaborative activities and projects that provide opportunities for Liberian students to learn to value and respect diverse perspectives, opinions and ideas. Students will learn about Liberian geography and environment to develop skills to investigate and create maps; practice critical thinking skills as they research; read and evaluate sources of information; learn interviewing and questioning skills as they research family history; learn to be good citizens as they investigate problems of governance. Emphasis of the NCLS at these grade levels will focus on three key areas of Liberian society, including the self, the family, and the community. NCLS will enable each Liberian child to construct a knowledgeable self-identity, and to develop a comfortable sense of empathic in embracing Liberian diversity. The NCLS will help students at these grade levels to understand Liberian ethnicities and languages as strength of national unity and cooperation. NCLS will emphasize the attributes of good citizenship by helping students to explore the virtues of good governance. These virtues of good governance would include engaging in the democratic process of voting, promoting frank exchanges of view, and undertaking acts of negotiation, problem-solving, critical thinking, conflict resolution, mutual respect, and shared responsibility.

2.    The NCLS at the Junior High School level (seventh to ninth grade) will emphasize multidisciplinary investigation of the people of Liberia across time and space. The program will draw upon the disciplines of history, geography, anthropology, economics, law, philosophy, religion, sociology, archaeology, political science, and psychology. Students at these grade levels will study several specific areas for development and inclusiveness in Liberian society, including units in geography and mapping, citizenship and the democratic process, the environment, and indigenous Liberian culture. 

3.    NCLS at the High School level (tenth to 12th grade) will teach students to examine the multicultural and interdependent character of Liberia. The principles of toleration, openness, civility and fair play will be the key emphasis at the high school level. Students will be taught to develop evidence, analysis, and conclusion in the formation of their opinions about each historical issue. A variety of instructional styles will be implored to include extensive readings and group discussions; group work or collaborative projects; intellectual debates, field trips, simulation of Liberian cultural rituals, and topical classroom lectures that seek to foster greater understanding of Liberian historical issues and events. To achieve these goals, however, students will be required to complete three years of Liberian studies courses addressing a wide range of historical topics and issues categorized into such segments as Early Liberia History, Modern Liberia History, Liberian Social and Political Institutions, Traditional Trade and Commerce, and Liberian Citizenship. Additionally, students will be required to select from a number of electives that include Corruption and National Development, Liberian Economic Opportunities, and Introduction to Liberian Political Philosophy to supplement their course work.  All high school NCLS courses will engage students in research, writing, and public speaking.

4.    The NCLS at the college level will emphasize most of the courses offered at the junior and high school levels, but with particular focus on in-depth research and practices that examine the multicultural and interdependent character of Liberia. Various degrees and concentrations of NCLS at the college level will include:

  1. BA in Liberian Studies with concentration in Liberian Culture, Arts, and Linguistic BA in Liberian Studies with concentration in Liberian Music and Folklores
  2. BS in  Liberian Studies with concentration in computer graphic and indigenous language scripts
  3. BS in Liberian Studies with concentration in Liberian Theater and Dance
  4. BA in Liberian Studies  with concentration in Traditional Leadership, Governance, and Peace Building
  5. BA in Liberian Studies with concentration in indigenous military science
  6. MA in Liberian Studies with concentration in Gender Affairs, Peace Building, and Education
  7. MA in Liberian Studies with concentration in indigenous medicine and environmental science
  8. PhD in Liberian Studies with specialization in indigenous medicine, environmental science, Liberian Political Philosophy, Liberian Music and Folklores, Liberian theater and dance, or traditional leadership and governance.


Generally, the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liberian Studies under the NCLS at the college level will prepare students to develop professional backgrounds and proficiency in Liberian history, political leadership and government, economics, cultural and religious practices, educational administration, research methods, and entrepreneurship.  All these courses will be community development-focused, and will involve extensive writing and research, and development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The Masters of Arts Degree in Liberian Studies will prepare students to research and learn about Liberia’s historical figures, events, economic, social, and political trends, conflicts, and marks of progress. The program will be student-centered in that it will blend theoretical groundings with hands-on training, guest lectures, field trips, and internships with experts in and out of the classroom to complement the coursework. Students at this grade level will also work one-on-one with active scholars in Liberian studies, culture, and tradition to conduct field research, serve in professional and academic organizations, and participate in local, regional, and national cultural conferences. A special feature of the program will be an annual Graduate Student Conference at which students will present their research to a wider audience. 

At the PhD level, Liberian studies under NCLS will aim to create a storehouse of Liberian studies scholars and intellectuals or Liberianists. The thrust of the doctoral program will be to prepare Liberian men and women for highly specialized positions in research and consulting in history, international organizations, government and service organizations, and teaching and research positions in colleges and universities. Students at the PhD level will be exposed to a broad range of historical debates and methodologies in a broad array of seminars intended to help each student to:

  1. Conceive, develop, and conduct original research leading to useful applications in energy and environmental systems.
  2. Incorporate into their professional work considerations relating to scientific, historical, cultural, managerial, and social aspects of national reconstruction and development.
  3. Contribute to societal understanding of our oneness and cultural identity including national and economic through development of interdisciplinary educational materials and participation inter-ethnic exchanges.
  4. Demonstrate effective written and oral communication skills related to research issues in Liberian Studies and national identity.


Ladies and gentlemen, the NCLS program I have proposed, especially at the college level, is destined to provide a very rare opportunity to bring together Liberia’s best brains and scholars from various academic disciplines to promote interdisciplinary exchange about Liberian culture and tradition. The NCLS at the college level will reinforce social tolerance, acceptance, and interactions, critical interventions, and constructive engagement among Liberians with the goal of creating an acceptable national identity for all Liberians. Familiarity with Liberian intellectual thoughts and the activist traditions that flow from such thoughts will contribute to the ability of present and future generations of Liberians to dialogue peacefully with one another and collaborate on projects for nourishing a progressive and functioning nation.

In particular,  graduates of the Liberian Studies program at the college level will not only be more culturally sensitive and understanding of one another’s  cultural values, language, and mores,  regardless of ethnic origins, but they will also be able to make valuable contribution to Liberian society in ways that non-Liberian studies graduates might not. Certainly, like any college graduates, graduates of Liberian studies will be able to work as lawyers, judges, college professors, religious leaders, ambassadors, journalists, doctors, nurses, politicians, social workers, cabinet ministers, consultants, archivists, writers, researchers, editors, school principals,  teachers, tourism directors, business managers, personnel managers, human rights advocates, county superintendents, district commissioners, district education officers,  museum curators, language translators,  and protocol officers, among other professionals. But graduates of Liberian studies will stand out in Liberian society more because they will be more tolerant, understanding, and appreciative of the ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity of Liberians. They are also likely to work to promote peace, stability, nationalism, and patriotism by virtue of their exposure to Liberian culture, tradition, and ethics.

The Promise and Benefits of NCLS and a College Degree in Liberian Studies

At this point in the proposal, it is self-evident that a college degree in Liberian Studies has unlimited potential and value by cultivating goodwill, mutual respect and understanding, and promoting ethnic harmony, political, socioeconomic, and cultural cohesions, and national peace and development. Both NCLS and Liberian studies provide a remarkable opportunity to engage students in the enduring dilemmas embedded in the study of community, family, and society. And examining these dilemmas within the context of a national curriculum makes Liberian Studies to come alive for students and allows them to explore their role in society as responsible Liberian citizens. Through this kind of learning, Liberian students will gravitate toward historical perspectives and practical processes of engagement that are relevant for peaceful national coexistence and development in Liberia.

An effective Liberian Studies program at any grade level in the Liberian educational system will foster a sense of national cultural identity, ethnic harmony, and linguistic development in Liberia, and promote a type of understanding that forces all Liberians to work together for the common good of Liberian society. Liberian studies will enable Liberians to learn how to investigate, read about, and reconstruct their past to develop a historical perspective that answers basic questions for each individual Liberian such as: “Who am I?” “What happened in the past?” “How am I connected to those in the past?” “How has the world changed and how might it change in the future?” “How can the perspective I have about my own life experiences be viewed as part of the larger human story across time?” “How do my personal stories reflect varying points of view and inform my contemporary ideas and actions?” These are basic questions that confront people in every nation, and these are questions that confront each of us in Liberia on a daily basis, except that this time through implementation of Liberian studies in the Liberian national school curriculum, these reflections will take on a life of their own in contributing to the national dialogue and development aspirations of Liberians.

The Liberian Studies curriculum will also grant young Liberians the capacity to explore Liberian cultural and linguistic mosaics of Liberia, and engage in scholarship to exploit the diversity within Liberian society in creating democratic society built on rule of law, justice, fair play, and respect for one another. The interpersonal and critical thinking skills developed by students in Liberian Studies classrooms will also help students gather, interpret, and analyze Liberian cultural and linguistic data with much tactfulness and confidence than is the current case with Liberian students who are so bombarded with western cultural artifacts that they find no redeeming value in Liberian culture. The Liberian Studies curriculum will also stimulate interest in national affairs among Liberian students and strengthen their competencies in the acts of self-government through citizen participation. Liberian studies under NCLS will also help students to understand multiple perspectives about local, national, and international issues, and empower them to undertake service learning activities that are bound to improve their community involvement and civil duties. Ultimately, responsible citizenship rests on these capacities, and a Liberian Studies program that cultivates a responsible citizenship in Liberia should be an instant educational priority in Liberia, if Liberians really desire a vibrant governing system of constitutional democracy.

The promise and benefits of NCLS and a college degree in Liberian studies to the socioeconomic and intellectual growth and development of Liberia are too enormous and many to be counted in one breath. For example, in 1851 Liberia College, the forerunner of the current state university, the University of Liberia, was established to meet the higher education needs of the Liberian people. Unfortunately, the Liberia College curriculum included bachelor degree programs in Greek and Latin instead of Liberian languages. And today, the College’s successor institution, the University Liberia, has yet to offer degree programs in Liberian languages but has added baccalaureate degrees in French, English, and other non-Liberian languages. The University of Liberia not long ago added one Liberian language, Kpelle, as an elective course rather than a full degree program, while Liberian grade schools and high schools lack any mention of Liberian languages and cultural values and traditions in the curriculum. Hence, the NCLS and Liberian studies will unleash new waves of critical thinking and exploration of Liberian culture—indigenous music, food, traditional arts and crafts, language, traditional theatre and dance, folklores, and history—among Liberian students, and create a new sense of national unity, ethnic tolerance, and socioeconomic development. The promise and benefits of NCLS and Liberian Studies in these contexts are highly unprecedented. It is difficult to think that current educational situations wherein Liberian students learn about foreign heads of state, foreign literature and cultural philosophies, names of foreign state capitals, foreign mineral resources, foreign forms of government in Liberian grade schools, high schools,  and colleges. It is difficult to think that current educational situations wherein Liberian students, major in foreign languages at Liberian colleges  and universities to the disadvantage of Liberian languages can substitute for a strong grounding in Liberian culture, languages, traditions, and folklores.

The origins of NCLS, therefore rooted in cultivating a new relationship and understanding of the role of all Liberians—Native Liberians and Americo-Liberians—in the creation and birth of the Liberian state. Liberian studies will in a sense bring about elevated intellectual interests in the history, migration patterns, and historical antecedents that underpin the Liberian nation and people. The focus of NCLS and Liberian studies on Liberian culture and tradition brings enormous benefits to fostering peace and unity among Liberians, as opposed to the current Liberian curriculum which focuses on foreign cultures, traditions, and ideologies. Liberians must acknowledge that while the study of other cultures is not totally irreverent, it is always necessary that the studies of other cultures not take precedence over the study of Liberian history and culture. The national school curriculum of Liberia should strive to produce a good Liberian citizenry by upholding those cultural values and mores that have sustained generations of Liberians, regardless of local cultural practices and linguistic demarcations.

It is anticipated that NCLS and Liberian studies will serve as a profound mental, cultural, and political revolution in Liberia that awakens Liberians to the reality of a creeping cultural renaissance, national unity, and national identity. In this light, the role of the NCLS in national development is likely to evolve over time into a system of education that instills a sense of nationalism and patriotism in students and teachers alike; and, in turn, these culturally and linguistically enlightened students and teachers will also instill their good qualities in civil society in order to bring out the best out of all individual Liberian citizens. Thus, the proposed Liberian studies curriculum is intended to provide the appropriate rationale, goals, and objectives for redesigning, reevaluating, and revamping the Liberian school curriculum to meet post-conflict realities of education in Liberia. These realities demand an educational system that adequately addresses and removes all forms of hatred, racism, tribalism, sectionalism, fear, disease, poverty and self-destruction from within the socio-political fabrics of the Liberian society. Thus, I believe that this is why all great nations of the globe have found it imperative to invest heavily in national studies: sciences, math, cultural development, and social research studies that serve as bonds for national unity and cooperation, and instill within individual citizens a willingness to fight and die for their inalienable rights with every fiber of their being.  The promise and benefits of NCLS and Liberian studies speak to the overwhelming need for "Understanding Ourselves and Our History: [as part of] A Call to Unity & Collective Development in Liberia," to once more quote the theme of the upcoming LIHEDE jubilee in August 2009.

Ladies and gentlemen, the promise and benefits of NCLS and Liberian studies to the Liberian nation and people are very high. There is a need to broaden the scope of knowledge about ourselves, gain important insights into the different ethnic groups, peoples, and cultures within the borders of Liberia, learn how to create increased awareness and appreciation for our social, cultural, and linguistic bonds as Liberians, and undertake projects and other interactions with one another that will unify us and make us live together in peace and prosperity in Liberian society. There is also the need to propel the Liberian nation and people to the frontline of indigenous Liberian culture and tradition and stimulate a genuine educational reform initiative that thrives upon a new approach that does not leave any aspect of the nation’s history behind. Against this backdrop, I recommend on behalf of the Liberian History, Education, and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE) that Liberian Studies be offered in Liberian schools from elementary school through college to bring about a greater understanding of ourselves and our culture as Liberians.

At this time, I want to acknowledge my colleagues in LIHEDE, particularly Mr. Nat Galarea Gbessagee and Mr. Siahyonkron Nyanseor, for assisting me in putting together the initial Liberian Studies Project proposal for LIHEDE in 2004, upon which I have expanded to develop this NCLS proposal. To be specific, in 2004, LIHEDE under my leadership proposed a comprehensive Liberian Studies Program to fill existing gaps in the Liberian educational system regarding Liberian history, literature, culture, and geography. The proposal was presented to the Liberian government initially through the offices of Chairman Gyude Bryant of the Transitional Government of Liberia and former Education Minister, Dr. Evelyn Kandakai, and recently through the office of current Education Minister Dr. Joseph Korto. Chairman Bryant embraced the LIHEDE Liberian Studies Proposal on behalf of the Liberian government, and mandated Minister Kandakai to mobilize all available resources to make the program a success. However, the Bryant Administration’s initial commitment of $35,000 to kickoff the program did not materialize before the term of the transitional government expired, although Minister Kandakai’s suggestion to begin the teaching of Kpelle at the University of Liberia has since taken root. Current Education Minister Korto was subsequently briefed about the Liberian government’s commitment to the LIHEDE Liberian Studies Program proposal, and may still be studying the proposal.

In addition, the LIHEDE Liberian Studies Project proposal was shared with leaders of Liberia’s higher institutions of learning, including Drs. James Kollie and Al Hasan Conteh, former Presidents of the University of Liberia; Dr. Henrique Tokpa, President of Cuttington University College; Dr. James Oliver Duncan, former President of United Methodist University; Dr. Levi Zangai, former President of African Methodist Episcopal University;  Rev. Paul Mulbah, President of A.M.E. Zion University, and Sister Mary Laurent Brown, President of Don Bosco University. LIHEDE later signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Methodist University and the African Methodist Episcopal University in 2005 to begin offering in the 2006 academic year a bachelor’s degree program in Liberian studies. The program kicked off briefly at the United Methodist University in 2006 before subsiding due to lack of support. Nonetheless, during the 2008-2009 academic year, Cuttington University launched a new Africa-centered program, the Africana & Liberian Studies Program that is headed by former LIHEDE’s Director of Education and Culture/Liberian Studies Project, Dr. Adetokunbo Borishade. The Africana & Liberian Studies Program at Cuttington and the Kpelle language elective course at the University of Liberia are welcome signs that buttress the current NCLS proposal for teaching Liberian studies in Liberian grade school, high school, and colleges.

Indeed, after 162 years of national independence as a nation-state and people, it is now time, especially after 14 years of civil war that we in Liberia begin anew to learn about ourselves, our history, and our culture.  We need to cultivate understanding and cooperation amongst ourselves as Liberians and work together in peace to build a united, stable, and prosperous homeland. Liberia needs to create a national cultural identity that sets us apart from the rest of the peoples of Africa and the world by digging deeper into our indigenous culture, traditions, and mores to provide Liberian literature, and other texts. Liberia is foremost an African country, so Liberia cannot successfully embrace, mimic, and practice  western culture and traditions no matter how hard it tries. Certainly, there is a need to infuse the local culture with positive aspects of other cultures—western or otherwise, but Liberia cannot neglect entirely its local culture to adopt the cultures of another nations.

This approach has not worked in the past and it will not work in the present or in the future. For as President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf mentioned in her recent memoir, she didn’t learn much about Liberian history and culture because the high school she attended, “the College of West Africa, was an excellent school but certainly an elitist one; in truth, all formal education in Liberia at the time was based upon the elitist settlers’ version of culture and history.  The subjects we studied, the lessons we took, the books we read were either American–little houses in the woods, snow-covered mountains, and other unfathomable things–or Americo-Liberian.” (Sirleaf, 2009). President Sirleaf said it was certainly a rude awakening for her upon arrival at Harvard that she finally “learned that the history of settler-African relations in Liberia was vastly more complex and more shaded than the Christianity-over-paganism paradigm we had been taught. I learned that the early chiefs with whom the settlers had bargained for land–“king Peter,” “king Bango,” “king Tom,” and other kings whose real names are lost to history–did not realize that in trading their lands for guns and trinkets they were trading those lands for good.  They believed the settlers were coming to work with them, not to strip them of their land and authority” (Sirleaf, 2009). 

These reflective notes in the President memoir not only point to the harsh realities of past and present system of education in Liberia, but also emphasize an urgency for implementing the NCLS (Liberian studies) proposal to give Liberian students the opportunity that President Sirleaf and other Liberian students didn’t have during their grade school, high school, and college days in Liberia. But implementing the NCLS proposal is not a piece of cake, as it involves huge capital investment in textbooks, personnel, and other administrative and professional tasks.

Of course, during my discussion with Education Minister Kandakai in 2004 regarding the initial LIHEDE Liberian Studies Project, it was suggested that the Ministry makes available academic scholarships to the first group of 500 students to enroll in the Liberian Studies Program at a local university, who will upon graduation form the nucleus of Liberian studies teachers in Liberian elementary, junior, and senior high schools. As a result of those discussions, a total amount of US$600,000 was projected to initiate the pilot project in one elementary, one junior high and one high school, as well as a college or university campus for a period of three years. After the initial period of three years, it was anticipated that other sources of funding would have been identified from international donor agencies to buttress the Liberian government’s financial, material, and moral support toward successfully implementation of the project. That strategy still holds true under the current NCLS proposal.

The logistics for implementing the NCLS proposal are enormous but the proposal is essential for advancing peace, unity, and understanding in Liberia, so every level of creativity should be used to implement the proposal without delay. Liberian indigenous language speakers and cultural artists should be recruited to begin conducting Liberian language and culture workshops in selected Liberian grade school, high school, and colleges to kickoff implementation of the proposal while Liberian language and culture textbooks are being written and teachers being trained. So far, five of the 16 major ethnic groups of Liberia have written alphabetic scripts for academic undertaking, but little or no academic textbooks, literature, and written histories. Efforts should be made to start with the NCLS implementation with the five ethnic group with alphabetic scripts and other ethnic groups are encouraged to produce their alphabetic scripts conducive for intellectual inquiries within a structural classroom setting.

Indeed, it will take huge infusion of money, time, and other resources to bring the NCLS proposal to full implementation. But the proposal is a viable addition to unity and development in Liberia, and every effort must be undertaken to make the proposal a reality. First, Liberian language experts and cultural theorists should be commissioned to undertake research into the customs, traditions, and languages of each of the major ethnic groups of Liberia to prepare the relevant textbooks for the program of study in Liberian studies. Second, Liberian ethnic groups with existing language scripts should be encouraged to mass produce and teach those scripts in Liberian schools beginning at the regional levels.  Third, we must put the icing on the cake by passing legislation to make  Liberian Studies a priority education pursuit in Liberia that requires inclusion in all grade school, high school, and college curriculums in Liberia. And as part of this effort, Liberian Studies should be included as one of the subject areas on the junior and senior high school national examination. My colleagues and I in LIHEDE will be greatly honored if the implementation of the NCLS, proposal grounded in Liberian studies, becomes standing requirement in public and private education in Liberia. LIHEDE is also available to discuss specific details about course content, scheduling, and related issues associated with successful implementation of this NCSL proposal. I thank you.



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