When We Shall Say Good-By To Covid-19, What Will Be Most Remembered?


Monrovia – The Liberian government has lifted the state of emergency as of July 21, 2020, but before then the RIA had already been reopened to international air-traffic.

By James Thomas-Queh, [email protected], Contributing Writer

While we may rejoice, it is also prudent to remain vigilant because the Covid-19 is still omnipresent all around us –from Europe to America and everywhere else there is a resurgence of the virus. So, for those of us who have been very fortunate thus far to sail through the storm, we say first “Happy Birthday Liberia” at age 173.  Under the circumstances, it is worth also reactivating our memories from the trauma of weeks of lockdown – rich in events both national and international. 

ON THE HOME FRONT: Exemplary Civility and Solidarity

True, the start off was rough and uncertain, but so far our people have shown an exemplary civility and solidarity.  In comparison to the Ebola epidemic, we have done extremely well, indeed.  I therefore take the occasion to register my sincere gratitude to the entire Liberian citizenry for the unmatched resilience, the patriotic mobilization of ourselves as individuals, medics, churches, organizations, private entities, politicians, etc, to have patience and also give a helping hand to those most in need. We have demonstrated that longstanding traditional Liberian spirit of being “our brother’s keeper” – an essential element to our national reconciliation, peace, unity and economic development. As I mentioned in my last post, in a today’s world with absolutely no sense of direction, we can only count on ourselves, our strength, one nation and one people.

I note, though, our disappointment. We all were on the lookout to catch the government’s hand in the cookie jar – that is, sharing partners’ donations among its officials in the name of fighting the Covid-19.  However, there was nothing in the cookie jar because the partners have been too occupied to first save their own people. But luckily an occasion presented itself. Apparently, the government went into its own coffers and took out US$9m or $25m to feed the hungry population through the World Food Program (WFP). Then a controversy started immediately that the entire brown envelop did not go to the WFP, and the rest disappeared. Well, since then we are eagerly awaiting our whistleblowers to give us the latest update.

Notwithstanding, what I find interesting in this case is the mere fact that the Liberian government had to dip into its meagre savings and give to the WFP (and not the other way around as usual) to feed our hungry citizens. It would seem to me that our government does not have in place the official structure and logistical capability to distribute food items or relief to its own population during grave emergency situations.  If so, I would urge the government to address the problem as we are now disposed to all sort of serious natural disasters. 

That point made, I shall remember that our government made a financial contribution to a renowned international organization to feed the citizens. It is a sign of some sincerity to be recognized.

Thus my thumb up again to the Weah government for the extraordinary lucidity with which this crisis is being managed. At least the government has been actively functioning during the crisis. Further, let us imagine that the #14 Military Hospital did not exist, and all the Covid-19 patients were sent instead to the JFK Hospital, could anyone have imagined the psychosis and panic at our biggest national referral hospital in central Monrovia? Yes, the #14 Military hospital may not be functioning at even a 10% capacity; and also true, it may not be a complex comparable to the Chinese built Jackson F. Doe Hospital in Nimba, but the mere idea and intention to have built a hospital for our military were farsighted, indeed. So, having had it ready for the Covid-19, there is every reason to remember it for posterity.

That said, were I President Weah I would rename this #14 Military hospital in honour of a personality who has played an important role in the history of our Army and also at the national level. The first name that comes to mind is that of the famous “Soko Sackor Clinic” which was located at the military barracks of BTC (Barclay Training Center). It was a household name in our national capital up to the 1980s. Soko Sackor, a Mandingo origin, was assigned to the LFF (Liberian Frontier Force) detachment in Gbarnga as an eye specialist in 1922 – barely 14 years after the army was organized (1908). He was later commissioned as Paramount Chief of the Mandingo communities in Sanniquellie and Gbarnga Districts, and in 1967 became Representative for Nimba County. But also most important, in the 1920s he ably served as a mediator in the conflict between the government and the Mano and Dan tribes in Nimba (see: Joseph Saye Guannu “A Short History of the First Liberian Republic” – Star Books, 1985, p. 51)

Additionally, long after the death of Hon. Soko Sackor in 1969, two of his sons of our generation became prominent government officials. One was Minister of Internal Affairs, and the other went on to serve as Commissioner of Immigration, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and later Commissioner at the National Election Commission. What a laudable contribution to the political life of Liberia.

Notwithstanding, Mr. President, I am already aware of our obnoxious tribal instinct: “The man is a Mandingo man!” But from J.J. Roberts to William R. Tolbert, jr they were all the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations of immigrants. So I beg, Mr. President, you have made history twice on your own; so let history be your guide. What is more, I surmise the name “#14 Hospital” was given instinctively, out of emotion and populace enthusiasm to honestly reassure and identify with the Army. And that has been fully accomplished. And I dare predict, though, that if this hospital is not renamed today under your watch, tomorrow your opponents will tear it down or neglect it completely.

On The International Front: People’s Power More Effective than Bombs and Sanctions

Unimaginable, in the midst of a devastating global epidemic, Blacks, Whites, youths and elderly folks took to the streets from Washington D.C., New York to Paris, London and elsewhere and pacifically took down the statues of notorious slave and colonial masters. It was an extraordinary people’s power, least expected, that added to the already great embarrassment of the Western governments. Like the Covid-19, it also caught the emperor naked.

Well, thanks immensely to President Donald Trump for his ingenious management (or rather a calamitous mismanagement) of the Covid-19. After a demonstrative prescription for Americans to inject themselves with bleach and then publicly exhibiting a Bible up-side-down for some divine guidance and political survival, the American President took the crusade to another fruitless stage: conditioning the world opinion for a China and WHO bashing or a so-called new Cold War. And now here we are, instead of an anti-China/WHO coalition, Mr. Trump ended up with a huge global coalition of demonstrations under the banner: “Black Lives Matter.” And you know, in Liberia we say “small shame can hurt more than big shame.”

Frankly, who ever thought that in this day and time a “Black Lives Matter” could have re-awaken a global Black Consciousness to shake up America and Europe. In fact, for long the Europeans pretended as though the ghost of slavery was only America’s burden, forgetting though that they themselves were both the slave masters and colonizers of the Americas. And of course, that same colonization would later extend to Africa to continue the exploitation and servitude of the Black race to build Europe and personal enrichment from the lucrative slavery economy. And since then, without any remorse or conscience, they have had the nerves to stand from the pulpit to persistently preach and inculcate moral virtues to their innocent victims.

But for almost four years now President Trump, with extraordinary ingenuity, has exposed all the hidden secrets of the West: hypocrisy, contradictions, lies, blackmails, deceits, gross inequalities, incompetence, and the list goes on and on. The Covid-19 was the last straw to break the camel’s back. The entire world saw that buffoonery, incompetent leaders and mass poverty are not only found in developing countries, but are also very plentiful in the most developed world as well.

Now, when a virus crippled an entire nation – hospitals overwhelmed with patients; morgues and mass graves submerged with dead bodies and the most modern and biggest aircraft carriers neutralized not by a war – any rational leader would first show some humility and empathy for the people; then take full responsibility and assemble the nation for a forensic self-examination to find the best way forward. But America has been too great to do a self-examination, abide by any international rules or accept a blame. In fact, it has always shifted blames on others – scapegoats – not knowing this blame shifting strategy, in reality, is a sign of weakness rather than power.

Thus the bad luck this time.  President Trump likes nobody but only himself and “America First” (but without the people and democracy). He does not like the Europeans; he looks at Africa with disdain and no consideration either for Black America; he has a dislike for the Latinos; China is his archenemy on the surface, but he swings deals on the side; then comes out first shouting victory and rhetoric.

So, really and truly, who in their right mind would be in the “coalition of the willing” to ally with such a President to start a new Cold War with China?  Certainly not Europe which already has its plate full with problems and social upheavals in the horizon.   Further, 1947 (the start of the first Cold War) is not the same as 2020. Then the two blocks were reconstructing independently their war ruined economies on two distinct ideologies: capitalism vs communism. Today, however, communism has been assimilated and transformed into “globalization” where all the economies are inter-dependent as proven by the shortages of masks in the West during this Covid-19. And second, all the trillions of dollars and euros the West has pumped into the economic to keep it afloat came from all sort of credit mechanisms, and China is high in that chain of creditors (apart from being the manufacturer and a market of more than 1.4 billion population, almost twice the population of both Europe and America put together).

And Africa, oh Africa, what is her position?  Well, thanks to the “Black Lives Matter” we have been fully reminded of our continent’s painful past and present. Our generation lived the first Cold War that left Africa among the biggest collateral victims. All her best illustrious sons and prophets were sacrificed in the name of combating communism – a sheer masquerade to prolong the colonial exploitation through brutal civil/liberation wars, mass refugees, and pillages of natural resources, poverty, and the rest. And much so that by the time communism ended in 1989, Africa emerged with brute military dictators, tyrants, autocrats and buffoons as imposed leaders. But soon a democratic fervour swept through the continent to bring some hope and relief, but to no avail. It was another façade – a smokescreen that gradually plunged the continent into massive poverty and disillusionment.  Then to still cover-up their persistent exploitation, the West quickly invented some very effective stigmatising adjectives: corruption, bad governance, failed-states and invested the continent with NGOs as supplements and implementing arms of the IMF, World Bank & Co. The result, today the Mediterranean Sea has become the mass grave for African migrants to the absolute silence of the world. At the other end, President Trump prefers spending billions of dollars to build a border wall, instead of investing that amount in Mexico to help eradicate its poverty. Paradox, the same people that were yesterday rescuing Cuba, Vietnam and communist migrants in fanfare as heroes, now refer to the new wave as economic migrants, criminals and undesirables.

With all these historical flashbacks, I cannot imagine any African President jumping on the Trump bandwagon to go into some new Cold War with China. I am certain that even the weakest links on the continent will think thrice before conceding to any American pressure.  What is more, China does not stop America or Europe from investing in Africa, and China also invest massively in the capitalist West to secure jobs.  That said, there will surely be a sustained anti-China rhetoric and propaganda and some mischief here and there; so that the “Black Lives Matter” and the massive global poverty may get off the conscience of the Western governments.   

Having talked my mind, permit me now to summarize what I will remember the most under the stress and trauma of the Covid-19. First, having been around to see and hear Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah “Africa Must Unite”; Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” and Barack Obama “Yes We Can”, I will forever remember the peaceful worldwide demonstrations of the generation my children – Black and White – under the now famous historical banner: “Black Lives Matter.” And what a change, for once it was not the Western “Military Coalition Forces” and their supporters bringing down the statues of Saddam Hussein, Colonel Mouammar Kadhafi and others and while raining bombs on their innocent citizens, destroying their countries and future on any concocted pretext.

Second, more than 35 years ago I had a discussion with one of my university lecturers here in France who forecasted that the 21st century will be an Asian century and Africa the future. It sounded too farfetched for an exiled struggling to adopt anew to the classroom. But soon we celebrated our capitalist victory as the powerful communist empire crumbled in a very peculiar way. Its last fatal days were filled with agony – drunk, crazy leadership, rumours of coups, civil wars, etc. However, since this tragic episode our capitalist West has never been able to find its bearings until the sudden arrival of the Covid-19, ushering in the awaited Asian century and the beginning of the decline of the American empire. After all the futile resistance, now we are all masked – a symbol embedded in the Asian healthcare culture.

Let me add this note, contrary to what most people do think, the example of China (and Cuba that sent medics to Europe and elsewhere to fight the Covid-19) shows that capitalism did not win communism. My theory is that communism felt because its leader – Russia – extended too far its wings more than it could manage. As a result, most of its satellite countries, totally dependent, became a huge politico-financial burden. The United States is in this identical situation today, but with a major nuance. With its main partners (Western Europe), they have a very high life standard which has been maintained for too long on the sweat and perpetual suffering of the rest of the periphery nations through wars, cheap labour, extortion of natural resources, and the rest. The China factor has lifted the veil on this systematic practice of exploitation without genuine development.

And lastly, there is yet another credit to President Trump. The man is definitely not an avid bellicose, fortunately. Thus we can only hope that a future democrat president will reconcile America and the world – not with threats, tensions and noise of military boots, but with a high sense of realism and a radical change of policies. That the little children from the north to south and east to west will have the same future and not the false dreams of America and Europe. And together they shall preserve humanity; then America can honourably retire to the pantheon of “Past Empires” or simply “influential nations” as France, Britain, Germany, Russia and others.

Then Africa, our sleeping giant, with its huge reservoir of natural resources, manpower and the brains, taking cue from the centuries of Western exploitation and establishing a genuine partnership with the Chinese/Asian progressive model of development, can undoubtedly conquer the 22nd century. And definitely, We Can.