Mobutu Vlah Nyenpan: A Comrade, Friend and Brother


Vlah, Vlah, Vlah, Vlah; I have called you four times. I have called you according to the kwa tradition of the southeastern region of Liberia when funeral rites are performed. You have not answered! 

By Jerry Gbardy, Contributing Writer

You are dead!

For in life, you would have answered – you always answered!

I know because since our paths crossed on the campus of the University of Liberia, when the name Vlah was called, even once, upon hearing, you always proudly responded, “Uhm, mohn Vlah (Yes, I am Vlah)! You always responded to your name being called with cultural definition, and a contagious impression of being deeply proud of your name and your being.

Now you have not answered me. You cannot answer me! I hear your voice in my head. I see your face in my memory. I hear you laugh; I see you smile. But it’s all framed in the past. I cling to memories. 

“Uhm, Mohn Vlah” is dead!

Voice silenced. 

Body still and stiff. 

Life gone. 

Sickness ended.

Worries no more.

You have left. Your parting with us leaves many with nights of sleeplessness as our hearts bleed with the tragedy of your loss in the prime of your life!

Men will be men, I can hear you say. But Pekin, you’ve broken the hearts of many men to whom you were a true friend and a crazy brother!

To each is a beginning and an end. It is true we know not when or how. Even so, the news of your sudden illness and your passing is shocking, numbing and heartbreaking. It is so disturbingly incomprehensible and unbearable. 

WHAT HAPPENED on that fateful day of September 3, 2020, that precipitated the “massive stroke” from which you never recovered? We will never know.

Your lips from which you beamed the infectious smiles and told funny jokes, which made getting angry with you next to impossible, cannot say what happened. They are now sealed in the coldness of death inflicting infinite grief on the minds and hearts of the multitude of family members and friends you have left behind. 

In life, you warmed us with your charm and effervescent personality. In death, you have afflicted us to look more deeply at ourselves and evaluate the values we share and duties we hold in familial and friendly relationships. If I try to put into context what your passing has done to the collective psyche of your family and friends, it will be that such was your short life that the sting of death cannot erase the memories. Although physically dead, Mohn Vlah, still lives in our hearts and minds, and there, you cannot die!

 I am numbed by the grief but I find inspiration to write because I feel you in my heart, in my pain and in my mind. My heart is heavy.  It bleeds with the realization that when my wife Joanna, — your high school play mom and classmate at Bishop Juwle in Zwedru — and I along with our daughter, Jeryna visited you in your office in February of this year, and you treated us to a sumptuous lunch, that was a farewell treat you offered us. Life teaches such hard lessons. Had we known, perhaps our goodbye would have been longer, our laughs louder, and our embrace tighter!

We said goodbye believing we would meet again soon not as celestial beings but in the flesh. Instead of meeting again to reminiscence on our ‘good ole days’ of which we have many stories and experiences, we will now be showing up at your funeral to sing dirges. Aye my brother, that hurts! 

At the University of Liberia, you diligently served as Chairman of the Students Integration Movement, SIM, a student political party that rivaled the Students Unification Party, SUP. Going by the acronym of SIMist as we referred to ourselves and fellow partisans, we became a strong student political party to reckon with under your chairmanship. 

Fellow SIMists, Chairman Mobutu Vlah Nyenpan is dead! He has transitioned to join SIMists A.C. Teah Farcarthy, Theophilus Bettie, and all those gone before. 

I remember when our Graduating Class of 1989 was poised to hold election for Class President, Vlah threw his hat in the ring and so did AC Teah Farcarthy. At that time our core group comprised Farcarthy, Lewis Garseedah Brown (LB), Mobutu Vlah Nyenpan, Sylvester Rennie, James Verdier and me. We hung out together at the Student Center, on the soccer fields when Mighty Barrolle was playing, at other social gatherings and at our respective homes.

All of us except one had three major things in common: We loved Mighty Barrolle FC; we were students of the University of Liberia looking to the future with optimism; and finally, we were members of SIM, except Verdier who was a member of SUP. We reasoned, and quite logically too, that it made absolutely no political sense for two members of our core group to vie for the same position. And so we decided to talk things over as friends to have one person step aside.

At that point in September 1989, I agreed to play a mediatory role in hosting a meeting at my apartment to hatch out a process from which one candidate would emerge.  After speeches from the four non-contestants urging any one of the two to cede position to the other, none of the two would comply. When that couldn’t work, we went into a mini-primary election.

We (six of us) voted multiple times without a winner as the votes were evenly split between the two candidates. At the end of the tedious and exhaustive process, we agreed to take a break for the next day. But before we could meet again at the appointed time, SIMist Vlah withdrew his candidacy and gave his unflinching support to Farcarthy. 

We applauded him incessantly for his magnanimity given the fact that he did not let his quest for personal power and aggrandizement to becloud his judgment and compromise our friendship and camaraderie. Vlah always strongly believed that keeping his friends together was more important than power. With that, Farcarthy won the Senior Class election with a landslide. Indeed, Vlah demonstrated true grit, humility and selflessness befitting of a leader!

This is the Mobutu Vlah Nyenpan I know.

This same posture you took with you to national government – a sense of leadership, commitment and duty to your profession and country. As Minister of Public Works, you performed your duties so diligently using your ingenuity and training in engineering to ensure that vertical and horizontal infrastructural development projects were done with utmost professionalism.

And now, your earthly journey has ended. Even the best and brightest – the loved and hated – all must die. Your death, Vlah, is an irreparable and irreplaceable loss to your family, friends and the country. 

You were relatively young, and for many, had a lot more to offer. But we live in time and must part in time, the specific appointment of which it is never ours to determine. 

As you have departed this troubled world, we beseech you to greet AC Teah Farcarthy on behalf of Verdier, Rennie, LB and myself. I promise that though we and many of your surviving friends are scattered around the world with each in his own little or grandiose corner, we will one day converge to have a memorial for you and Teah. 

SLEEP ON, my brother and fellow SIMist; sleep on till we meet again. We love you but God loves you best.

Now, Vlah, rest in eternal peace!