Why Do Liberians Love Tyrants?

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The Editor,

Why have Liberians welcomed tyrannical, authoritarian leaders time after time? First, it was Samuel Doe and Liberians chanted “country woman born soldier…” Then came Charles Taylor and Liberians chanted again “You killed my ma, you killed pa, I will vote for you. Now comes George Weah and Liberians chanted, “you know book, you na know book, I will vote for you”. For years, I have pondered why do we Liberians willingly participate in our own oppression by submitting to authoritarian leaders? And today, the baleful rise of Weah’s authoritarian administration which overwhelmingly renders or begs this question as pressing as ever. 

Plato was one of the first and most influential thinkers to address the problem of tyranny. He argued in the Republic, written around 380 BCE, that democratic states are destined to collapse into tyranny. Plato was no fan of democracy, perhaps because it was the Athenian democracy that sentenced his beloved teacher Socrates to death. He believed that democratic forms of government create a licentious and undisciplined populace who are easy prey for smooth-talking politicians skilled in the art of pandering to their desires.

 In the Gorgias, written around the same time as the Republic, he tells us that such politicians entice the masses with unhealthy promises rather than nourishing the public good. ‘Pastry baking has put on the mask of medicine,’ Plato disparagingly remarks, ‘and pretends to know the foods that are best for the body, so that if a pastry baker and a doctor had to compete in front of children, or in front of men just as foolish as children, to determine which of the two, the doctor or the pastry baker, had expert knowledge of good food and bad, the doctor would die of starvation.’ 

Now fast-forward to today’s Liberia, almost three millennia to the early 21st century, and consider the work of the Liberian Iconic Soccer Star, George Manneh Weah. Weah stardom has made him to develop as a charismatic authority who possesses certain personality, by virtue of which Liberians have set him apart from ordinary Liberians and treated as endowed with supernatural or exceptional powers or qualities to be the savior with the magic wand. Liberians see in President Weah a prophetic charismatic leadership and will follow blindly because a rising tyrant has a special, almost magical aura. Liberians believe that President Weah can work miracles and transform their lives. But how does this happen? What is it that induces otherwise rational Liberians to yield to adopt such dangerously unrealistic views? Let’s dig deeper. 

The fact that the community of Liberians has a common identification with Weah’s authoritarian leadership is an important consequence. Weah’s followers identify with one another as parts of a ‘movement’, and they experience themselves as merging into a collective whole. 

This intoxicating sense of unity, and the subordination of personal self-interest to a greater cause, is a very important component of authoritarian systems. It is found in a great deal of authoritarian rhetoric, as exemplified by the “Pro Poor” and “Our time has come” rhetoric. 

The idea that the individual human being matters only as a vehicle for the party, CDC and that one’s duty to this greater, transcendent party trumps narrow self-interest, is pervasive in Weah’s Liberia. Liberian youth are promised many things by the party. They are told Weah is President for life. They are told Weah will better their lives. They are told Weah is their savior. They are told Weah is not a politician but more of a prophet touched by the divine. They are told Weah is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

Edward Doe

BSc Forensic/Auditing Accountancy 

Master Public Policy 

Washington DC, USA

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