The Struggle For Rights & Rice – 75th Birthday of Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh
Before proceeding any further, May I ask you to stand with me in one moment of silence to the memory of fallen heroes and MOJA militants, in the struggle for change in Liberia. Let’s reflect on militants like Weewee Debah, Tonieh Richardson, Wuo Tappia, Philipe Powoe, Dr. Bangaly Fofana, Justice Ishmael Campbell, amongst many others.
Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, in at the age of 32 established the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) along with Dr. Amos Sawyer and Dew Tuan Wleh Mason then only in their twenties, who were later joined by Drs. H. Boima Fahnbulleh and Nya Quiawon Taryor, amongst others, as a national consciousness movement for the transformation of the social, political and economic condition in Liberia, using the pan-African agenda, with a focus on the struggle for change in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, led by PAIGC, Mozambigue led by FRELIMO, Namibia, led by SWAPO, Zimbabwe led by ZANU, South Africa led by the ANC, and Angola led by MPLA. MOJA became an alternative voice to the True Whig Party Government, using the suffering of the oppressed people of Guinea Bissau, Angola, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, amongst others.
MOJA used our staple food, rice as a symbol for the advocating for a fair distribution of wealth and the general improvement in the social and economic conditions in the country and the rights of all Liberians to participate political activities and decisions affecting Liberia on an equal basis.
By educating the Liberian people about injustice in South Africa and the other countries engaged in the struggle for change, Liberians became conscious of the situation of injustice in Liberia. Stimulated by the work of Dr. Tipoteh and his comrades in MOJA, the student movement and the workers unions began to speak about the appalling situations in the schools and places of work, particularly in the mining and rubber industries.
In 1975, influenced by the level of consciousness that had been created in Liberia through the work done by Dr. Tipoteh and other comrades, a group of Liberians in the United States of America led by the Late Gabriel Baccus Mathews, then in his twenties, organized another consciousness movement called the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL). PAL unlike, MOJA focused directly on the social, economic and political conditions in Liberia.
Both organizations cooperated very closely. For example before PAL came to Liberia, its publication, the Revolution was sold through MOJA. While the two organizations were different in the eyes of the True Whig Party Government, they were the same. Its members were referred to by the regime as trouble makers.
Tipoteh, having obtained Ph. D, at the age of 27, could have used his education either to work for the Government of Liberia and live well or seek job with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, or remain in the United States to teach. Any of those choices would earned Dr. Tipoteh an upper class life. But for the love of the Liberian people, he refused to make those choices and rather chose to struggle with the down-trodden masses of Liberia for change in the economic, social and political conditions of Liberia.
Many of us who followed him and our other senior comrades, developed values that have helped us to be what we are today. He thought us the value of simplicity by example, perhaps learning from the Great Mahatma K. Ghandi who once said, “ Be the Change you want to see in the world”, Dr. Tipoteh, the man with a Ph. D in economics and who speeches created fear in the True Party regime, ate with us many times in the same bowl at this humble residence on Ashmun Street, although he could afford to eat at Diana Restaurant, Ducor Hotel or Gondo Restaurant and conversed with us on daily basis, while eating with us, and sometimes the meal was just dry rice and palm oil. Although he could afford to wear the best shows from Elegant Store on Broad Street and the best shirt from Brawico Store, he wore scandals made from used car tires and country cloth shirts, teaching us to maintain a simple lifestyle and focus on our studies and the process of sharpening the consciousness of the people.
He thought us to build our minds and characters and to care for the conditions of the poor. By teaching us his lifestyle, we were able to develop great self-esteem to the extent that we could wear our Tipoteh and African shirts and feel more confident in how we appeared, than our fellow students on the campuses of the University of Liberia, Cuttington University, VTC, etc. Tipoteh made us to discover our greatness as human beings.
He stood against the powerful for the common good of the people. For example he was a leading voice in the Committee against the Gambling Bill, and the Committee for the Defense of Albert Porte in a major Court case filed by Steve Tolbert against Albert Porte, a poor pamphleteer.
Through his struggle for rice and rights Tipoteh made a great contribution to the transformation of Liberia for the good of all Liberians. While the struggle for a better Liberia continues unabated, we must acknowledge the fact that all of us here owe a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Tipoteh for our ability to be critical, committed and caring. On behalf all of us here and abroad and those brothers and sisters who, died in the struggle and could not see this day, I thank you for the great teacher that you. Have no regrets.
You are a successful man. By your teaching you have multiplied more Tipotehs than you will ever know. And for thousands of years to come the Tipotehs that you produced will continue to play leading roles in and out of government as well as on the African continent and the rest of the world.
DG, Doc, the great teacher, before, I rest let me use this occasion, as you would, to share a very important information with you and the audience. We always say that we Liberians are one people. This is in deed true. This truth is symbolized by one word. That word is “Keh”. Keh means but in every language of Liberia. Keh means but in Mano, Dan, Kpelleh, Belleh, Gbande, Vai, Lorma, Kissi, Mandi, Mandingo, Kru, Bassa, Grebo, Krahn, Sapo and Gola. In deed we are the same people. We are keh people.
May you live a hundred more years. Happy Birthday.
By Tiawan S. Gongloe, Contributing Writer