April 12 and 25 in Liberia and Portugal Respectively

This month marks the 42nd anniversary of the Carnation Revolution (CR) or Rose Revolution (RR) in Portugal and the 36th anniversary of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) Revolution in Liberia.

Two Cataclysmic Events That Shook Africa and Europe

Both events were military putsches that ended 2 entrenched regimes in Africa’s oldest independent republic and one of the most powerful European signatories to the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 that carved out Africa for colonialism.

Portugal’s occurred on April 25, 1974 and overthrew a system that had existed for 48 years; while Liberia’s triumphed nearly six years later on April 12, 1980 and extinguished Liberia’s GOP (grand old party), the True Whig Party (TWP) that survived for 112 years.

Both countries had political systems that were controlled by a small group of elites. In Portugal, the political system was controlled largely by the Estado Novo (New State) that was influenced by ‘social Catholicism’ and ‘integralism’. The New State had emerged after the May 28, 1926 coup d’état in Portugal and its leader were António de Oliveira Salazar (1932-1968); and later by Marcelo Caetano (1968-1974).

Economically, under the Estado Novo regime, the country’s economy grew by 5.6% annually. This was because “the regime encouraged and created conditions for the formation of large business conglomerates. The regime maintained a policy of corporatism that resulted in the placement of a big part of the Portuguese economy in the hands of a number of strong conglomerates, including those founded by the families of António Champalimaud (Banco Totta & Açores, Banco Pinto & Sotto Mayor, Secil, Cimpor), José Manuel de Mello (CUF – Companhia União Fabril), Américo Amorim (Corticeira Amorim) and the dos Santos family (Jerónimo Martins)” (READ MORE).

In Liberia, the TWP had consolidated power from 1868 and was controlled by the small Americo-Liberians who were descendents of the free and manumitted slaves who founded the country in 1847. At the time of the coup, these settlers were said to number less than 5% throughout the country.

According to Carl Patrick Burrowes (Kadallah Khafre), “in the nineteenth century the Americos rapidly inserted themselves as a comprador class between the Indigenes of the interior and the international market. They created and dominated the Liberian state. Access to the state and an ability to manipulate its administrative, fiscal, legal and military resources became central to the process of Americo exploitation…” (as quoted by Quentin Outram, p. 18).

These tiny Americo-Liberians that held political power became fronts for big companies such as Firestone, Liberia-American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO), the Liberia Mining Company, the National Iron Ore Company, (NIOC) and Dutch Liberia Mining Company (DELIMCO) who managed the Bong Mining Company. In fact, President William V. S. Tubman and the American, Landsdell Christie, owned the NIOC. Under Tubman’s leadership, Liberia and Japan experienced the fastest growing economies in the world. Yet, Liberia could not sure much physical development like Japan.   Thus, the phrase ‘growth without development’ became associated with his leadership.

Both Liberia and Portugal experienced similar situations in terms of the curtailing of personal freedoms, freedom of the press and labour union. Under the dictatorship, the Portuguese secret police, Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (PIDE), were responsible for hundreds of persecutions, especially of hose considered opponents of the regime. These perceived opponents were reportedly tortured, imprisoned (sometimes in concentration camps in Portuguese African colonies) or murdered in cold blood. Pro-workers labour unions were not allowed to operate.

Similarly, in Liberia, there were the secret agents of the National Bureau of Investigation or the National Security Agency and the Liberia National Police who were planted throughout the country to spy on opponents – real or imagined. In Liberia, under Tubman these secret agents were known as Public Relations Officers and under his successor, William R. Tolbert, Jr., they were simply called agents and were even serving as taxi drivers.

Under Tolbert, “Criticism of the administration was tolerated within the context of the party, but elsewhere free expression was curbed. The police employed a large ring of informers to report on suspected dissidents. Outspoken opponents lost jobs or suffered from public defamation and, if they persisted, were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured” (READ MORE).

In terms of foreign policy, both countries were markedly different on the eves of the coups. In Portugal, the Estado Novo rejected global cooperation in the fight against ridding the world of poverty and promoted the policy known as ‘proudly alone’; and was wholly involved in upkeeping the remaining Portuguese colonies in Africa – Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese Guinea), Angola, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe and Mozambique.

But in Liberia, the government was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) which metamorphosed into the African Union; and was an active participant in the decolonization of Africa. The country gave sanctuary to people fighting for political freedom such as Nelson Mandela, Roye Smith, Mariam Makeba and Vuz Makeh, all from South Africa; and Philemon Hue from Zimbabwe. In fact, Nelson Mandela passed through Liberia on his way to seek support from African countries before going back home where he was arrested. Surprisingly, Liberia hosted Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Toure), a member of the radical Black Panther Party of the United States of America. Stokely who was married to Mariam Makeba used to frequently visit Liberia and stopped at Gettylue Flora Park, not far from St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in Congo Town.

The events that led to the coups in the two countries were similarly. In Portugal, though the economy though had grown in terms of gross domestic product by 56.4%, nearly half of that amount was spent on the country’s wars in Africa. Talking about how much of the country’s national cake was spent on fighting foreign wars, the online article, Carnation Revolution, says in 1973, “…Portugal’s per capita GDP had reached 56.4 percent of the EC-12 average (though the figure is necessarily dampened by the 40% of the budget that went to African wars)” (READ MORE)

Moreover, nearly a million refugees from these African colonies had settled in Portugal and were a strain on an economy dedicated to war machines. The raw materials from these colonies that spurred the Portuguese economy were no more going to Portugal nor sent to other Western metropoles.  Portugal was no longer largely clinging to its status of ‘self-sufficiency’.

This was partly because the OAU had launched an international campaign across the world against Portugal’s continuous subjugation of Africans in these colonies and had called for Western countries to carry out disinvestment in these Portuguese African colonies, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and South Africa. The campaign had succeeded at the UN and the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) and in Western countries. Consequently, many companies in these Western countries began to pressure Portugal, Great Britain and the United States to link the freedom of blacks to doing business as part of the decolonization efforts.

Commenting on Salazar’s ideology and how it contributed to the demise of Portuguese rule in Africa, Wikipedia writes:

“His reluctance to travel abroad, his increasing stubbornness against delivering the colonies to the Marxist movements endorsed by the African Unity Organization, his blind will to fight the so-called “winds of change” sponsored by the superpowers (USSR, U.S.), and his refusal to grasp the impossibility of his regime outliving him, marked the final years of his tenure….In order to support his colonial policies, Salazar adopted Gilberto Freyre’s notion of Lusotropicalism, maintaining that since Portugal had been a multicultural, multiracial and pluricontinental nation since the 15th Century, if the country were to be dismembered by losing its overseas territories, that would spell the end for Portuguese independence. In geopolitical terms, no critical mass would then be available to guarantee self-sufficiency to the Portuguese State” (READ MORE).

Furthermore, many of Portugal’s best sons who were conscripted in the army were dying on foreign soils. They were facing the bullets in these far away territories from Portugal and were extremely tired of fighting a proxy way. Hence, on April 25, 1974, a section of the enlightened members of the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) who had largely plan the coup in Portugal’s African colonies launched their CR in Lisbon and set up the National Salvation Junta (NSJ).

This is how Robert S. Pastorino, Commercial Attaché (1974-77) at the US embassy in Lisbon described the events, “There was real jubilation in the streets the first few weeks. It’s still known as the Revolution of the Carnations, and is famous for its civility. I have a wonderful picture of my son, who was six years old, standing in between two young Portuguese soldiers. They’re holding rifles, each with a carnation in the barrel and they’re smiling. Steve is there holding a sign saying ‘Viva Portugal’. From the outside [of the country] it appeared different from what we saw inside. I don’t think Washington really recognized what was happening in the beginning” (READ MORE).

Similarly in Liberia, the economy had declined. The cost of Liberia main mineral exports, iron ore and rubber, had dwindled on the world market. Synthetic rubber had begun to replace natural rubber and iron ore was no more in demand. The first company to fold up was LMC in Tubmanburg, Bomi County.

In spite of Tolbert’s pan-Africanist policy, corruption and nepotism were also widespread in the Tolbert led TWP regime. Sanford Ungar argues that as far back as 1980, Liberia was among the leaders of corruption in Africa. He wrote in the June 1981 edition of The Atlantic Magazine about the Tolberts and the government:

“In the field of corruption, Liberia became a genuine leader in Africa and the Third World. Under Tubman’s benign despotism, there were apparently some limits. It is an old saw of Liberian politics that ‘When Tubman stole a dollar, he would give ninety cents back to the people,’ in the form of food or minor amenities; as for Tolbert, ‘He would return ten cents.’ Tolbert ‘didn’t let a crumb drop from the table,’ says one American businessman. ‘He got everything.’ So did his son, Adolphus B. Tolbert, a lawyer, and they set an example for many other Americo-Liberians in and out of government.

“Tolbert’s daughters were not overly sensitive to conflicts of interest either; one, an assistant minister of education controlled the sale of all textbooks in Liberia. Another, a representative in Monrovia for the World Health Organization, was in the pharmaceutical business. The President himself was thought to have as much as $200 million stashed away in the United States. The Tolbert family’s greed was a key factor in the downfall of a system that might otherwise have survived for another generation.

“Documents… trace the sale to foreigners, especially Germans, of dozens of Liberian diplomatic passports (which would permit people to travel around the world without having their baggage opened or inspected). In one instance, a woman paid half a million dollars for her title of ‘financial consultant’ to Liberia and for other unspecified favors. One man paid $150,000 for an eight-year appointment as Liberia’s honorary consul in Rome. Others established ‘foundations’ in their own names in Monrovia, to which they would send ‘contributions’ whenever they wanted something from the Liberian government.

In an extraordinary letter, handwritten on an airplane, Adolphus Tolbert told a European business associate who had recently been in Liberia: ‘I expect to meet you in London during the first week in June to discuss the gold, diamond, and uranium project … Bring along the Rolls-Royce … Please transmit the balance on that amount given to me last night. Also send the papers for the two cars… Make sure that a secretary is awaiting my arrival in London…’ Astonishingly, the Tolberts kept photocopies of the passports they sold, issued receipts for the payments, and in some cases even made videotapes of the transactions”(READ).

In terms of nepotism, President Tolbert had several relatives by blood and marriage in government on the eve of the coup. Below is just a hint of the widespread nepotism that prevailed under him.

William R. Tolbert – President
Victoria A. Hoff Tolbert – Wife, First Lady
Frank Tolbert – Brother, Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate
Adolphus Benedict Tolbert – Son, Representative/Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee
Christian Tolbert Norman – Daughter/Deputy Minister for Instruction, Ministry of Education and controller of elementary-secondary school textbooks in the country
Lawrence Norman – Son-in-law/Deputy Minister, Ministry of Public Works
Whilemina Tolbert Holder – Daughter/Chief Medical Officer of Liberia
Burleigh Holder – Son-in-law/Minister of Defense
Edward David – Brother-in-law (brother of Victoria Tolbert)/Mayor of Monrovia
Frank Stewart – Brother-in-law (husband of Charlotte Tolbert, sister)/Director of the Budget
Jehu Richardson – Son-in-law/Captain of Air Liberia
Tonia King – Son-in-law/Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization
Johnny Wisseh McClain – Nephew/Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism

As for the men in arms, though the soldiers were not involved in an internal or external war, they were tired of being mere body guards of Liberian bigshots. Commonly called, nooks, these soldiers who metamorphosed from the Liberia Frontier Force (LFF) to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), were often looked down on and denigrated and felt the pinch of the economic downturn.

The previous year (1979), the men and women of the AFL refused to shoot at unarmed civilians during the Rice Riots of April 14. Thousands of Liberians had demonstrated against the proposed increase in the price of rice, the country’s staple, as suggested by the then agriculture minister Florence Chinoweth. In an effort to stop the protesters, police under the late Col. Varney Dempster, were ordered by the justice minister to shoot on site any demonstrators. Over 100 persons were killed and several other hundreds were incarcerated throughout the country. Among those killed was University of Liberia (UL) student Irene Nimpson.

Two days before the first anniversary of the Rice Riots, a section of the AFL led a popular coup that overthrew the Americo-Liberian led TWP regime. The 133 year settler regime tumbled as if an earthquake had struck. Thousands of citizens took to the streets of Monrovia and jubilated hailing the soldiers and chanting ‘native woman born soldier, Congo (a misnomer for Americo-Liberia) woman born rogue.’

In terms of deaths when each coup struck, only 4 persons died in Portugal. And these were not killed by the soldiers who led the CR but by members of PIDE defending the overthrown regime of Caetano. In Liberia, it is largely believed that some 22 persons died, 9, including President Tolbert and close associates on the night of the event; and 13 were summarily executed on the Barclay Training Center beach after being tried by the Special Military Tribunal.

Both the Portuguese and Liberian coups had far reaching effects. The Cr saw the end of the last vestiges of colonialism in Africa as Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde being declared independent states in Africa. The military takeover sent shivers in Europe and the US because of the series of nationalizations of private property (land and houses) and several industries. The fear was that a similar situation could also occur in Europe with social movements taking control and reaping the gains for the poor masses who were experiencing widening inequalities.

“These nationalizations of land and industry were what many workers had been waiting for, and a law banning economic sabotage legitimized factory occupations as well as the occupations of agricultural land. The commissions sought to institutionalize themselves into the factory structures and took control over the process at the grassroots level….

“When government passed a law stating that all empty houses were to be registered so they could be rented out within 120 days, neighborhood commissions and activists registered the apartments themselves. When the 120 days were up—again due to the local governments lack of resources—the commissions went ahead and occupied the houses, distributing them in accordance to need. This second wave of occupations also led to the setting up of neighborhood clinics, daycare centers and assembly halls” (In Memoriam: Portugal 1974, (READ MORE).”

In Portugal itself, the CR restored civil liberties, released political prisoners and democratized the political space. Members of the NSJ retreated to private life and left the running of the country to politicians. Their action “was eventually recognized as the event that triggered the ‘third wave’ of democratization, a phenomenon that was to transform politics throughout the world” says Arch Puddington in Remembering Portugal (READ MORE).

Today, Portugal is a very stable democracy and member of the European Union (EU) and its economy is steady, though it suffered from the financial crisis of 2008. Wikipedia, quoting several sources in 2015, says Portugal’s GDP was $197.510 billion; GDP rank 42nd (nominal) / 49th (PPP); GDP growth 1.5%; GDP per capita $18,984, $27,734 (PPP); and average net salary €984 per month; and stands at the 23rd place concerning ease of doing business in the world (READ MORE).

The coup in Liberia was not welcomed, especially by other long time established leaders in West Africa, especially so when Tolbert at the time of his death was Chairman of the OAU. Moreover, Tolbert had been a founding member of ECOWAS. At an ECOWAS summit in Togo, the Liberia coup leader, Samuel K. Doe, was turned back.

In Liberia, the PRC rule ended the marginalization of nearly 95% of the population and made people conscious that every evil system has to end one day. But unlike the NSJ, the military men in the PRC formed a milivilian (combination of military and civilian) regime and metamorphosed themselves into the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) after the regime leader, Samuel K. Doe, visited Egypt and met with President Anwar Sadat and his National Democratic Party. Doe rigged the 1985 presidential elections from the remnants of TWP who bundled themselves as the Liberia Action Party (LAP) and Unity Party (UP). Human rights abuses and corruption became very rampant like the regime they overthrew; thereby, institutionalizing many similar vices found under the TWP.

In 1990 amid the widespread human rights abuses across the country, mismanagement of the economy and curtailing of personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, members of the overthrown TWP found an ally in Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). On December 24 that year, the NPFL with massive support from remnants of the TWP launched a war that led to Doe’s capture and gruesome murder in September 1991.

In 1997 Taylor won elections but in less than a year, his regime became dictatorial more than Doe. Curtailing of personal freedoms, including freedom of expression and movement and massive human rights abuses, including killings, were the order of the day. Taylor turned his back on his financial, moral and military supporters and began a personal agenda that included destabilizing West Africa to perhaps initiate a West African Reich and install himself as fuehrer.

Another civil war was started in 2003, this time largely by former supporters of Doe who created two warring factions to kick him out of office. These were the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) led by Sekou Conneh and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) led by Yaya Nimely. Both factions reportedly had the blessings of 2 governments of the Mano River Union (MRU) states – Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. Guinea allegedly backed LURD and Cote d’Ivoire allegedly supported MODEL.

In 2005, remnants of the TWP in UP led by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf assumed power. Today, according to Wikipedia, Liberia’s GDP is  $2.719 billion (PPP); GDP rank 185th; GDP growth 8.3%; GDP per capita $700 (PPP); and ranks 151 in terms of ease of doing business in the world. Corruption remains very rampant in the country (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Economy_of_Liberia).  Among the top 10 most corrupt countries in Africa, Liberia ranks second says the Transparency International (TI) in its 2015 corruption index.

António de Oliveira Salazar, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Ant% C3% B3nio_de_Oliveira_Salazar, (retrieved April 9, 2016).
Arch Puddington, Remembering Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, https:// freedomhouse. org/ blog/remembering-portugals-carnation-revolution, (retrieved April 10, 2015).
Carnation Revolution, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnation_ Revolution (retrieved March 30, 2016).
Economy of Liberia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Liberia (retrieved April 8, 2016)
Economy of Portugal, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_ of_Portugal, (retrieved April 8, 2016).
Kenneth Maxwell (June 1974), “Portugal: A Neat Revolution”, New York Times, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1974/06/13/portugal-a-neat-revolution/.
Quentin Outram (1997), The Lessons of Liberia: An Analysis of the Liberian CPE 1989 – 1997 (A Report Commissioned by the Department for International Development, London).
Sanford Ungar (June 1981), “Liberia: Liberians Are Still Waiting to See Whether Their Lot Will Improve Under Master Sergeant Doe,” The Atlantic Magazine; the article can also be found on http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1981/06/liberia/376303/.
The Carnation Revolution: A Peaceful Coup in Portugal, http://www. huffingtonpost.com/adst/the-carnation revolution_ b_8208322.html, (retrieved December 1, 2015).
Tiago Matos, In Memoriam: Portugal 1974, http://new-compass. net/articles/memoriam-portugal-1974 (retrieved December 2015).
Tolbert Presidency, http://www. Global security.org/military/library/ report/1985/liberia_1_tolbertpresidency.htm (retrieved April 11, 2015).

S. Kpanbayeazee Duworko, II, Contributing Writer

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