Through the Eyes of Cletus Wotorson, from Tubman to Sirleaf: Journey Of A Boy from Grandcess to the Senate Pro Tempore Chair


A new thing, much needed, is happening. First President Sirleaf, now Senator Wotorson, key actors are beginning to write their story and for the former Pro Tempore it spans from President Tubman when he sought education, travelled to Monrovia and ended with the senate gavel gives one an exhilarating view of what is largely shrouded in official garbage and thinly revealed by the  Saye Guanu’s summaries of history series.  

The latest autobiography of a powerful legend takes its title to underscore the titanic struggles in a system designed to perpetually keep the indigenes below, the system of the settlers dominated era that brutally ended the wrong way on the night April 12, 1980. And having mastered that world, risen to sit in the highest council of state as a cabinet minister ostensibly part of those indigenes being groomed to secure a proper transformation out of what he calls “Liberia’s Apartheid”, this little Pandarkorian  native would have been executed on the light pole along with the pitiful thirteen  by the native soldiers and progressives had  he not helped some  soldiers  when serving as the Minister of Mines.

Cletus brings his fearless Kru-ness in disclosing new insights about our history and leaders as never seen before with boldness befitting a senior statesman. True to the national cliché about the Kru – fearless, loudmouth, caustic and direct – he brings out new facts for our generation of leaders from the acrid Tubman ‘tail coat legacy’; to the gushing development intoxication of the Tolbert Mat to Mattresses ‘home grown development initiatives’; and to ‘the floundering and directionless violence of the ill-equipped non-commissioned officers and their untested progressives partners’ stewardship of Doe bloodbath era; and with  his everlasting companion in government and opposition,  partisan Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s ‘ World Bank IMF pandering dozen years’. 

Wow! What a salivating treasury trove one finds of Liberia politics and society when she picks up in his hands the book Acceptance! I asked a senior progressives  at the book launch to buy more copies and he says this: “ I’ll buy and read first to see what he writes about me oh, that old man is another thing.” This confirms to me that he packs his thunder irrespective of persons and I got excited.

For Starters – Are You Ready for the Presidents’ Review?

He is the first to condemn and dubbed the dehumanizing subjugation, violence and discrimination of the indigenous Liberians by the settlers and descendants from 1822 to 1980 as “Liberia’s Apartheid”. Such fresh uncontaminated historical airs needs to be deeply drawn by all living Liberians!  

One needs to pick a copy of the book if she intends to seriously know about Liberia politics and government; his chapter 37 boldness in his conclusions of all Liberian Presidents during his active years:

President Tubman: “It was the time when the purchase of a luxury yacht and a cartoon of Cuba’s finest cigars took priority over the paving of significantly important motor routes .  It was common knowledge that Mr. Tubman treated the national treasury as his personal bank account and presided over the country’s bankruptcy.”

President Tolbert: “In my opinion , Mr. Tolbert would have been the best thing to have come Liberia’s way. ….It is my conviction that had Mr. Tolbert been given the time……he definitely would have made a better manager  than any of our leaders from Tubman to Ellen Sirleaf.”

“Tolbert immediately initiated the building of social cohesion and capital. He designed work projects that are home-grown while trying to go slow on what some economists describe as the IMF / World Bank fit-all policies that sustain donor dependency.”

President Doe: “ Doe’s greatest achievement was that he overthrew a despicable hegemony. Mr. Doe was not prepared for a leadership position. … a Master Sergeant had none of the basic ingredients for national leadership.

“  I saw the last bastion of apartheid in my own country being dismantled, yet my joy was limited. The violence I witnessed was totally inhumane. Unfortunately, the euphoria for total emancipation was misapplied.  It rapidly turned into despotisms, oppressive by a power obsessed and mostly corrupted hierarchy of military functionaries.”

President Sirleaf:  “…Ellen’s concern was how to get power and how to use the International community to stay in power.  For more than 12 years, the Bretton Woods officials experimented with all sorts of programs with mind-boggling names, including Poverty Reduction that left Liberia poorer.”

Somehow he contrived to leave his man Amos Sawyer out of his assessment on chapter 37 and one would think but the scanting condensation of the interim regime and Sawyer modus operandi gives one a lesser view of the man who gave us the second racist constitution in our country. Scornful of  the interim government he described the Ducor Palace , home of the Sawyer government as “ran-infested” where he refused the President’s offer of residence. And surely out of the rat infested palace that government came out not worthy of place in the Pandarkorian boy memoir’s chapter 37.

But Cletus Rise is A lso the Story of the Impact of the Catholic Church 

The devote catholic saw his highlight in life not as the numerous jobs he had, a minister in President Tolbert cabinet, key jobs in President Doe’s government and rising to wield the Liberian senate’s gavel but his meeting of Pope Johns Paul in Rome as part of the official Liberian Delegation on the Pope’s ascension to the papacy. And all is because the Catholic build schools that prioritized the education of indigenous boys as opposed to the top notched Methodist and Baptist schools that were solely for the settlers children like College of West Africa, Lott Carey, JJ Roberts, Ricks etc and that Catholic plan help gave us such a rare statesman through the St Patrick High.

Two Roads Divulged….. The Tolbert Road that was not taken…

One of the seismic explosion in the book is how President Tolbert’s recruited him to become a minister of lands and mines!  All we have heard of the President Tolbert is settler hegemony supreme but to call a young Kru man and offered him first to establish the LPRC and later make him minister as well as to make Jackson Doe, James Gbarbea, Edward Kessely, Bernard Blamo all ministers proper to the dislike of the settlers top leaders is totally refreshing new light for me.  President Tolbert was in broad day light showing the way but it was never seen, he took a road that was prudent and even promised not to seek re-elections in 1982 – the route to peaceful transition.

And then I got it, know it was not the PRC, not Ellen, not even the youthful George Weah that started giving young men cabinet position, it was the President known as “Speedy”,  think of William E. Dennis as Minister of Commerce at mere twenty-seven – a record still unbeaten!

But the road President Tolbert was paving and building which many Liberians including all the progressives did not see was to build a matured indigenous leadership to take the state from the minority settler descendants and his perfect plan  was to give properly educated and brilliant indigenes opportunity at all levels in his government.  He even made Buutuo in Nimba County his favorite destination in Liberia, build a presidential home there, as a matter of fact that was the last rural town he visited in March 1980   before his unfortunate brutal murder on April 12,1980 and horribly his plan was crushed when  the bottom of the army struck. 

And then you will see that President Sirleaf’s ascension was fulfillment of the Tolbert’s plan; though unlike the author her father was adopted by the settlers  which meant she was raised in the settlers circle and grew up as one she essentially is an indigenes on all sides of her bloodlines as per the Wotorson’s assertion.  And may I digress to note that consistent with the Tolbert’s plan the progressives who were perceived as not ready to govern never tasted state power – they are all greybeards  now and the times have changed.

And A Must Read, A Wonderful Book

It is a must read if you want to know of Liberian politics spanning from 1960s to 2015 but what is equally interesting is the story of a young man with no background who struggled and rose high on high scholarship and personal determination. As the writer himself reminded us frequently, the jigger-infested toes of his youth reminded him of how far he travelled in life, not the physical distance from Grandcess to Ducor but from a jigger-infested toes boy running in the sand of the Atlantic in Kru country to palaces and cabinet rooms.  And when all eyes were looking for a man to challenge the rebel leader Charles Taylor in the 1997 elections, the jigger-scarred toes man, one of  President Tolbert’s gradualist indigenes  eventually got the massive nod over  the gilded 1970s progressives icons for a reason in the multi-party coalition dubbed Alliance for Peace and Democracy(APD) primary. 

Inarguably then, after all, when the Pandarkor boy wielded the senate gavel as the Senate Pro Tempore it was a crown of celebration  because the road had been well traveled; surely , I must insist that such deep knowledge of our society, history of our country, and the rise of a jigger-infested toes youth, Acceptance is a book that pants to be read for it possesses tons of gold to enrich your Liberian journey.

*The writer is a lawyer and statesman who worked with Senator Wotorson from 2006-20015 when he served as a Representative in the Liberian Legislature, he is former journalist and served as Secretary of the Liberia Association of Writers; currently a practicing lawyer and independent consultant.