Liberia: Fahngon’s Aftermath – President’s Surrogates Grounded in Congau-Country Row
Monrovia – David Kolleh took the high road Tuesday, even as some under his Facebook post sought to lure him into the usual war-of-words that has characterize his exchanges with critics of President George Manneh Weah.
Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Many questioned the timing of his futile attempt to speak to the soul of a nation engulfed in division over tribal politics and eclipsed by a major row between the indigenous and Liberians of Congau descent, catapulted by a strong statement from the United States embassy in Monrovia which led to the suspension of the controversial Eugene Fahngon, Deputy Minister for Press and Public Affairs at the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism.
Off the bat, Mr. Kolleh acknowledged the inevitable. “There is no denial that politics divides a nation into two different worlds – a world that hates, and another that loves. I choose the latter!”, he wrote.
An Age-Old Dilemma
In the midst of a rapidly changing political dispensation, observers say the government of the day could hold the key in shutting the door on a rather complicated but recurring dilemma entrenched in an unending season of hate and irreconcilable differences.
Mr. Kolleh, who has been one of the fiercest defenders of President Weah on social media, mostly going to war with critics – issue after issue – most times resulting in strong languages heaped on those speaking truth to power and looking to hold the government’s feet to the fire, appeared confined to a limited space Tuesday, more conciliatory about his own position and the direction of the country in the aftermath of the Fahngon saga which reignited the age-old debate over Liberia’s great divide – Congau vs. Country.
It is an issue at the heart of some of Liberia’s major dilemma.
For more than a century, the country was dominated by Americo-Liberians, who were descendants of the various free and ex-slaves from America who settled in Liberia from 1822.
They later integrated 5,000 liberated Africans called Congos (former slaves from the Congo Basin, who were freed by British and Americans from slave ships after the prohibition of the African slave trade) and 500 Barbadian immigrants into the hegemony Americo-Liberians rarely intermarried with indigenous West Africans.
Descendants of the settlers ruled Liberia from 19th century until 1980 as a dominant minority. From 1878 to 1980, the Republic of Liberia was a de facto one-party state ruled by both the indigenous and Americo-Liberian-dominated True Whig Party and the Masonic Order of Liberia.
When Master Sargeant Samuel Kanyon Doe and his band of 16 other military officers overthrew the government of William R. Tolbert on April 12, 1980, more than a decade of Americo-Liberian rule came to an end.
The end of one chapter gave rise to another with indigenous Liberians, led for the first time by Doe.
Doe ruled Liberia for nearly a decade, his reign duplicated by much of the same frailties the indigenous accused the Americo-Liberian of for years: Corruption, greed, nepotism all chronicled in a near-decade-old rule that further deepened the wounds of hate between the two groups, even amid numerous inter-marriages between families and the declining impact of the Congau-Country narrative in recent years.
EJS Struggled With the Divide
Even former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf struggled in trying to cement what she described as her ‘feet in two worlds’ – the world of poor rural women with no respite from hardship, and the world of accomplished Liberian professionals, for whom the United States is a second and beloved home,” when she addressed the joined session of the United States Congress on March 15, 2006.
Sirleaf declared at the time: “I draw strength from both. But most of our people have not been as fortunate as I was. Always poor and underdeveloped, Liberia is only now emerging from two decades of turmoil that destroyed everything we managed to build in a century and a half of independence.”
The depth to which the former President reached to explain her parental lineage was in an apparent response to concerns that Washington, on the eve of the 2005 presidential elections favored an indigenous candidate over an Americo-Liberian.
For Sirleaf, her family exemplified the economic and social divide that has torn Liberia. “Unlike many privileged Liberians, I can claim no American lineage,” she charged.
The former President went on. “Three of my grandparents were indigenous Liberians; the fourth was a German who married a rural market woman. That Grandfather was forced to leave the country when Liberia – in loyalty to the United States – declared war on Germany in 1914. Both of my grandmothers were farmers and village traders. They could not read or write any language – as more than three-quarters of our people still cannot today – but they worked hard, they loved their country, they loved their families and they believed in education. They inspired me then, and their memory motivates me now to serve my people, to sacrifice for the world and honestly serve humanity. I could not, I will not – I cannot – betray their trust.”
Surrogates Throw Divisive Rhetoric
Over the last year, the divide has deepened.
The inauguration of Weah as President and the adoption of the “Country Giant” persona has prompted his followers to take cue in raining havoc on those the government have come to labeled as “enemies of the state”.
Critics of the President point to some of his surrogates as being among the leading proponents of the Country-Congau line.
Dashward A. Wumah, who briefly flirted with contesting the 2011 legislative elections in District No. 5, has been one of those leading the line. Taking aim at protest organizers of the June 7 Save the State rally, Mr. Wumah said: “The Congau people are very determined to unseat our native president as they did to the late President Samuel K. Doe. We the native people will resist their evil plans. Join the Country People on June 8, 2019 to appreciate our native President for the developmental achievements so far.
Samuel Worzie, an assistant minister of Information declared recently. “We will not sit and allow people with hidden motives against the peace and security of the state to go unnoticed. There are clear indications that the June 7th protest is a planned program with invasion undertones.”
Toga Nimely, a commissioner at the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission (LERC), another one of the President’s defenders on social media recently branded organizers of the June 7 protest as losers and political rejects of the 2017 elections, shamelessly posing as an unregistered group of patriots, but none of them resembled what patriots are. “These bunch of losers and their surrogates, a group of bootlickers prepared to do the dirty work of their rejected political masters, the lout mouth lazy politicians who are soon to join the ranks of the Tipotehs and those politicians who master minded the April 14 rice riots in Liberia, killing scores of Liberians with propaganda damaged in a whooping billions are now again attempting to bring the country to nothing.”
Towing the ethnic line, Atty. Nimely said: “Be reminded that Samuel Doe was the first elected indigenous President murdered by the pioneers’ children, they are at it again. You know they always use our misguided indigenes to achieve their nefarious deeds thus the Dillon a boy from Rivercess and the rest of them. Our second indigenous president popularly elected has been at the helm of power for less than a year and a half and they are already plotting wicked things but this leader is unlike Samuel Doe. What you guy’s need to get ready for is for a fight of your lives. Now it is you against us, the people of Liberia well-meaning majority who permeate the entire landscape, you are in for the fight of your lives, I hope you have the strength for such a fight. And I be damned if we will allow you to take power by any means other than the ballot box, stop wasting your time in what may likely lead to end games for you. We know of you plans. It’s power struggle you will not win this time.”
US Embassy Steps in; Weah Acts
“Our second indigenous president popularly elected has been at the helm of power for less than a year and a half and they are already plotting wicked things but this leader is unlike Samuel Doe. What you guy’s need to get ready for is for a fight of your lives.”
Atty. Nimely, Commissioner at the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission (LERC)
The heated rhetoric was taking its toll and with the planned June 7 protest fast approaching, international stakeholders were keen to put things in check with the US embassy in Monrovia setting the tone and calling Fahngon and others to book. “Those who promote through their words or deeds a Congo-Country divide do not have Liberia’s best interests or that of their constituents at heart, but rather appear motivated by personal ambitions or fears. It is unacceptable for Senator Prince Y. Johnson, Representative Yekeh Kolubah, “ex-generals” or other former actors in Liberia’s civil wars to incite unlawful acts through ill-considered rhetoric that could jeopardize Liberia’s hard-won peace and security. It is equally irresponsible for people within leadership positions in government or the ruling party to promote such division as Deputy Minister Eugene Fahngon has done on social media. To take such a public stance and suggest it is a private opinion or a personal right reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of public service in a democracy. As Liberians look to National Unification Day next week, we encourage all Liberians to reflect on their role in constructively contributing to development and sustaining peace.”
President Weah immediately responded, declaring that his Government remains committed to a “one country, one people” policy with zero tolerance on divisive politicking or tribalism. “The Liberian Leader has sent out warning to government officials and all citizens to stop dividing Liberians along ethnic lines.”
Fahngon Reignites Great Divide Debate
Rhetoric aside, the Fahngon suspension has brought the age-old Country-Congau debate to forefront of Liberia’s bourgeoning democracy.
Even prior to the suspension, it was clear that the administration realizing the dangers the rhetoric posed to Liberia’s post-war peace and stability sought to distance itself from Fahngon. “The government has said over and over again that we will not prevent any Liberian citizen or group of citizens from exercising their democratic rights to freely assemble as guaranteed under the constitution of the Republic of Liberia,” Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe told the VOA Daybreak Africa this week.
Pressed about Fahngon’s plan to stage a Country People Assembly a day after the June 7 protest, Minister Nagbe said: “The position of the government is very clear. The government is not authorizing any counter protest on June 7 or June 8 or any of the days there about. Additionally, the leadership of the Coalition for Democratic Change already issued a statement that there will be no counter protest. So, we are not aware of the social media back-and-forth – and we as a government cannot be responding to people’s social media posts. His (Fahngon’s) position on social media cannot be interpreted as a position statement of the government.
By the end of day Tuesday, even the government in power had heard enough.
In a statement signed by chairman Mulbah Morlue, the party in power declared that it considers as appropriate and timely, a recent statement released by the Embassy of the United States of America, encouraging ‘All Liberians to reflect on their role in constructively contributing to development and sustaining peace’. “The CDC is calling on all officials and members to avoid unhealthy or inciteful political utterances that could undermine peace and security and the mutual coexistence of all Liberians,” the statement said Tuesday.
For Assistant Minister Kolleh and a lot of defenders of the ruling party, Uncle Sam’s caution was unexpected but came with a lot of weight that many perhaps never envisioned.
Complicated, Recurring Dilemma
It is time to turn the corner, Mr. Kolleh said Tuesday. “There is no better time to hold together than now. Let our actions speak to the soul of the nation’s survival. Let us put aside envy. Let’s us together build the Liberia we desire to see in fifty to hundred. A Liberia that gives our children hope. A Liberia that brightens the smile of a woman in labor and a father on the plantation. A Liberia that ensures that our schools are opened; one that allows you to drive to Maryland and back without an ounce of worry about the roads. Our collective approach MUST change. If we hope that Liberia will be transformed into an oasis of love in the desert of hate.”
In a season of political discontent, where a former warlord Prince Johnson appears to have overstayed the reconciliatory gesture Liberians have given him over the years, with an arsenal of hate-filled divisive rhetoric from his pulpit, Liberia’s age-old struggle with the great Congau-Country divide is once again making the rounds. But even amid intermarriages and cultural integrations, propelled by a new generation, many remain hopeful that Liberia has seen the last of the divide. In the midst of a rapidly changing political dispensation, political observers say the government of the day could hold the key in shutting the door on a rather complicated but recurring dilemma entrenched in an unending season of hate and irreconcilable differences.