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Facts matter in a discourse

Theodore HodgeBy  James Kpanneh Doe

 

 

In my last article to this magazine, entitled “What Hodge Failed to Mention About Tipoteh’s Activities in Liberia”, published on August 29,2014 I provided answers to Theodore Hodge’s principal criticism where he charged that Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh has remained silent in the face of bad governance in Liberia. In his rebuttal to my article, rather than responding to the facts and deepening the discourse, writer Hodge acting on his usual impulses of opining and pontificating on every issue chose to expand the charges.

I provide a few excerpts from his article of August 30, 2014. In that article, he wrote: “…. It was the late great Dr. Martin Luther King who said, ‘In the end, we will remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ And so it is with Dr. Tipoteh. The silence from him is deafening. “We all recall that Dr. Tipoteh was one of those who vowed to seek freedom and justice for the downtrodden. He saw and pointed out everything wrong with the Tolbert administration. But strangely, he seemingly compromised his moral standards when he joined the ‘gravy train’ to work with Master Sergeant Doe’s military junta. Strange that anyone who found the ways of the Tolbert administration so repugnant and repulsive would go to work for a military junta without any complaints.

 

“Well, as the old saying goes, “You can fool some of the people all the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” It didn’t take too long for the people to realize that indeed he wasn’t the great freedom fighter fighting in the interest of the poor and heavy-burdened. He was only concerned about personal ambition. All that movement of justice for the people nonsense was a ploy to buy recognition and popularity.”

 

These are very provocative statements that would have been helpful to the debate if they had any shred of truth, but the real truth of the matter is that they are unfounded, as we clearly demonstrated in our last article by providing more than enough facts that Dr. Tipoteh has consistently been engaged, that he has not relented in his civic responsibilities, and his voice of elightment has not been made silent by any “gravy” writer Hodge claims he is supposedly receiving from the powers

that be. But despite the stubborn facts presented to disprove writer Hodge’s criticisms of Dr. Tipoteh, he has chosen to ignore these facts and evade the issues by engaging in what has now become a fishing expedition, throwing his ‘hook’ everywhere to find fault (fish) where none exists in order to justify the unsubstantiated charges. If his core thesis or argument of ‘deafening silence’ made any sense at all, we would not be wasting our time on these pages to respond. However, his counterfactual statements—mostly opinions—which the writer wants to pass as facts and have the readers to believe needs to be further examined and exposed for what it is. We briefly examine some of these in his latest response. When summarized, writer Hodge’s newest round of charges are as follows: That Dr. Tipoteh is driven by personal ambition and only about himself; that Dr. Tipoteh supported the PRC regime, benefitting from their “gravy train” even amidst escalating repression by the military junta; that Dr. Tipoteh supported Charles Taylor’s tyranny against the Liberian people; and last but not least, that Dr. Tipoteh is irrelevant in the eyes of writer Hodge because he has made no contribution to the struggle of democracy and change in Liberia.

A bit of historical perspective here is useful and we indulge your patience for a minute before addressing the charges. It is rather clear that the writer Hodge has joined a new chorus of critics of the Liberian Progressives of the 1970s and 1980s who he feels have not contributed to changes that took place in our country prior to the breakout of the civil carnage in 1989 that ravaged the country and its people. This charge would be valid were the evidence presented by him and his coterie of critics as to cause a rethinking of our position. However, this is not the case! When closely examined, the critics have directed most of their intellectual fire on the individual failings of most of the key players of that era, without considering the repressive environment in which they engaged in their advocacy. Moreover, what the critics have not noticed or glossed over, is that most of the young men and women who led this struggle for change and democracy were in their early 20’s and 30’s and took great risk to their lives and future careers at the time. This is not to sidestep or excuse some of their missteps, but to charge that they made no contribution whatsoever, rises to the height of sheer intellectual dishonesty.

For example, in September 1980, Dr. Tipoteh was threatened with execution, by the Head of State after he made a public statement calling upon the government to respect the basic human rights of all Liberians. The threat on his life was reported on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) through Mr. Jeff Mutada, a Liberian government journalist. INSIDE LIBERIA (October – January 1983-1984) provided detailed information.

History has also recorded that it was after two weeks (March 28, 1979); MOJA announced its intentions at its Second Congress to challenge the Tolbert regime in the then scheduled 1983 national elections that President Tolbert was overthrown, not by MOJA, but by the PRC in a coup d’état. MOJA did not participate in the process of forming the PRC government. MOJA’s announced representation in the PRC government came through radio broadcast without prior consultation on who served under the PRC regime as cabinet ministers. Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, then MOJA President and fellow MOJA leader, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., were appointed ministers of Planning and Economic Affairs and Education, respectively. The two MOJA ministers tried hard to work for the implementation of basic democratic policies, but the harder they tried; the greater became the threats to their lives.

 

Dr. Tipoteh served the Government from April 12, 1980 to August 16, 1981, when he resigned, citing his non-involvement in the making of key decisions and attempts at his physical elimination as reasons for his resignation.

Furthermore, MOJA’s Vice President Rev. Dr. Nya Kwiawon Taryor, a leader in the United Methodist Church was serving as Dean of the Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia, when he was dismissed for his religious work among the poor people by the then United Methodist Bishop, Bennie Warner in 1978. Earlier that year, Rev. Dr. Taryor, who has a doctorate in Theology and another in Ministry, published a book entitled, Impact of African Tradition on African Christianity, which received high praises from both academia and the religious community.

The repercussion was non- stop! As trivial as this may sound, Dr. Fahnbulleh of MOJA was fined by the PRC government for not wearing a non-Liberian three-piece suit at a meeting with the Council members.

I am going through this exercise for the sole purpose of providing context, refreshing the memories of those who lived during this era and, significantly, sharing with some of our readers who were not born, or who were either young to get to know the facts; because there are some people in this world who for some reasons or another are bent on destroying a person they know nothing about. Similar tactics were used by detractors of the struggle for civil rights in the United States of America to discredit the late American patriot, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the eyes of the eyes United States government, by labeling him communist. Such labeling is a most dangerous and well-known game played by mercenaries and not by patriots and people whose burning desire is the building of democratic institutions through which economic progress and social justice can flourish.

I could go on; but allow me to share with you the name of the late Defense Minister, Colonel Gray D. Allison. On the fateful day of August 31, 1984, Colonel Allison masterminded the terror on the University of Liberia campus, with the expectation that sufficient confusion would follow for him and his henchmen to take over the reins of government. Scores of students and university professors got hurt that day! It can be recalled that Dr. Amos Sawyer, Professor George Klay Kieh,Jr., and student leaders such as Ezekiel Pajibo, Alaric Tokpa, Siapha Blackie, etc. were arrested and sent to the notorious Belle Yallah maximum security prison on that fateful day. Colonel Allison did not stop at this; he pulled from his bag of his deadly tricks to come up with the weirdest and most ridiculous charges that MOJA intended to eliminate all church leaders including Tipoteh’s own beloved father, Rev. Samuel Togba Roberts who was a Methodist church leader. [As an aside, some critics have tried to mock the fact that Dr. Tipoteh is always singing religious songs at occasions. If they are not aware, Christianity didn’t just come to Dr. Tipoteh yesterday. He grew up in the Methodist church where his father was a well-known preacher. Besides, he is multi-dimensional and talented. Among others, he was a student leader while in High school at the College of West Africa (CWA), a versatile athlete who was Liberia’s champion for Lawn Tennis for nearly 15 unbroken years. He is a gifted poet, dancer, etc.].

Now, let’s examine the charges.

Tipoteh’s Personal Ambition

Shouldn’t’ all of us have ambitions or dreams? Where has it become a crime to dream? Or for that matter, where has it been a crime for holding on to one’s dreams? I have not heard nor seen such a place on this earth! It was once suggested that, “Dreams are what life is made of!” And the truth of the matter is history is not lacking in examples of men who attained status as the result of having big dreams. If it were not for dreams, individuals like Thomas A. Edison, George Washington Carver, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Kwame Nkrumah, Bill Gates and many others would not have been able to make valuable contributions to humanity.

Had they abandoned their dreams, there wouldn’t have been discoveries that we enjoy today. What is so shallow and cheap about this ambition argument, is that the critics have failed to point out how Tipoteh has used his ambition or aspirations to trample on the ambitions or dreams of others. Even though writer Hodge sees nothing GOOD that Dr. Tipoteh has done throughout his entire life, there are hundreds of Liberians out there who would confidently say that if he did not carry the torch that those before him like Edward Blyden, Didwho Twe, H. Boima Fahnbulleh,Sr., etc. blazed, they would not be where they are today. Collectively, the role of the progressives in the 70s and 80s was indisputably critical to breaking the stranglehold on one-party oligarchic rule, freedom of speech, creating mass awareness, and striking a death blow at more than a century rule of the archaic and moribund Grand old True Whig Party (TWP).

The harassment of Tipoteh

Prejudice was directed at Dr. Tipoteh then Director-General of SUSUKUU, INC. At the time, SUSUKUU, INC., non-profit service cooperative, whose goals and objectives were to help poor people in helping themselves, and to assure that more Liberians get to know about their rights under the laws of Liberia, had a project in Putu Chiefdom, Grand Gedeh County. The project was a part of the parent organization – the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) programs, which included farming, literacy, legal assistance, health, school construction, food processing, road construction, production of reading materials, installation of safe drinking water, wells, and the construction of recreation facilities.

The money that was to be generated from the sales would have been used to build schools, clinics, roads, and small factories, mainly for the people in Putu. Instead of applauding SUSUKUU and the people of Putu, they were attack by Government operatives.

When the project started in January 1978, former Justice Minister Oliver Bright, former Local Government Minister Samuel Hill, former True Whig Party General Secretary Robert Bright, Education Minister John Bernard Blamo, Grand Gedeh County Attorney David Swengbe, Grand Gedeh Senator Albert White, Grand Gedeh Representative Silas Rue and Grand Gedeh Superintendent John P. Beh, threatened, intimidated, harassed, and jailed some citizens of Putu with the intent of abandoning their self-help development project; instead, the Putu Development Corporation (PUDECO) stood firmed and challenged the authorities.

Somehow, Superintendent John P. Beh ordered the closing down of the Putu project in November that year (1979). This act led the people of Putu in many parts of the country to protest as well as filed their grievances with the Zwedru Circuit Court to prevent Superintendent Beh and his supporters from interfering with their self-help project. And while the Putu case was still in the Zwedru Executive Council, where the investigation was taking place, members of the National

Legislature made slanderous and prejudiced statements against the Executive Director of SUSUKUU, Dr. Tipoteh. Those Legislators indicated that Tipoteh is a Kru man; therefore, he must leave Grand Gedeh County and go work in Sinoe or Maryland (counties), where Kru people are plentiful. (Nya Kwiawon Taryor, Sr. (1985), Justice, Justice: A Cry Of My People)

On February 18, 1980, the West Africa magazine conducted a series of interviews, which involved President William R. Tolbert, Gabriel Baccus Matthews, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh. The caption of the interview with Dr. Tipoteh reads: “Three Voices of Liberia – III, Mobilising the Masses: An interview with Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, chairman of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA).”

The introduction to the interview reads:

“Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh was in 1971 Professor of Economics and chairman of the Economics Facility at the University of Liberia, as well as director of the Liberian Economic Research Institute, also at the university. He was demoted to associate professor and dismissed as director of the Economic Research Institute “for political reasons” in 1972. He was dismissed from his 1971 position as budget advisor to the president in 1972, reinstated the same year, and finally dismissed in 1973. His chairmanship of the Economics Faculty was taken away in 1973 and he was also fired from the University. After faculty and student protest, he was reinstated in1974, but was dismissed again at the end of 1974. Since then, he has been working full-time for MOJA and Susukuu, Inc., while serving on the National Rice Commission and sometimes as acting chairman of the Liberian Electricity Corporation. He is described as “one of the handful of Liberian PhD’s in economics…who could be earning far more than he does…within the system”. He also happens to have been the national champion for the last 15 years – an activity he describes as “one of those petty-bourgeois things.”

Partial answers to some of the questions:

Q: What sort of work is MOJA doing now?

A: All our work has a consciousness-raising content in the first place. Secondly, it is characterized by mobilisation for engagement in socio-economic projects and participation in concrete political action against oppression and repression.

 

Q: What form does the latter take?

A: Demonstrations, work-related action like slowdowns, stoppages, militant action by workers, campaigning against the slave society laws (no land, no vote), and international solidarity. For consciousness-raising, the important part is being on the side of workers, farmers and students when they face their day-to-day problems. Confronting management, oppressive school officials, exploitative landlords and landowners, ruthless tax collectors, etc., all raise consciousness greatly. You can make plenty of speeches but without concrete action people won’t take you seriously. We have a sister organisation called Susu (susu meaning mobilising of financial resources by poor people for one of themselves at a time and kuu is a Kpelle word – the most meaning mobilization

of human resources by poor people as in everybody helping on one man’s farm before going on to the next. So the name “Susukuu” is symbolic of the work we do). Susukuu was formed in 1970 and incorporated in 1971. From 1971 it has kept a low-profile as a worker’s organisation, and acting as consultants for collective bargaining. It has also conducted intensive research on workers’ and farmers’ problems. Since most of MOJA people work in Susukuu as well, I can just say that we have acted as consultants to the workers of Lamco and Bong mines, Firestone agricultural and produce marketing workers, students, market women. We have helped in negotiations even more than any union.

The PRC and Calculated Attempts to Slander the Progressives

John G. Rancy is alleged to be the author of a letter based on a request from then Head of State Samuel K. Doe. In 1983, when Head of State Doe wanted to consolidate his power in order to move from a military leader to a civilian president; he consulted his close advisors regarding his plan. The Rancy Letter served as the blueprint for Doe’s civilian presidency.

The following recommendations were made to Head of State Samuel K. Doe:

 

1. Remove all known MOJA and PPP sympathizers from the public eye through re-assignment or dismissal from Government and private positions.

2. Re-establish diplomatic ties with the State of Israel.

3. Adopt a sharp stance in both the domestic and international arenas against Soviet policy.

4. Dissipate all domestic opposition through strategy if possible; crush with force if necessary.

 

When the famous “John Rancy Letter” was made public, John G. Rancy denied that he ever authored such a letter. However, all of the recommendations made in that letter, became a reality, later on.

Tipoteh’s Photo with Taylor

Again, Hodge is on a fishing expedition! Since he could not come up with credible defense against the facts I presented in my researched article; he had to let a PHOTO do the defense for him – “A picture is worth thousand words” deception! Well folks, the photo Hodge purposely displayed was taken at the closing of the Government’s Peace and Reconciliation Conference that was held in Virginia, Liberia on August 28, 2002. At the end of the Conference everyone hugged, shook hands with friends as well as foes as done in CIVILIZED settings.

Hodge showed the photo of Dr. Tipoteh and President Taylor, but did not explain the context in which the photo was shown. His intention here is to mislead the readers. It is like looking at a photo of an individual who appeared in a photo with the Devil (Lucifer), with a Holy Bible split into pieces on the table next to both of them. Can anybody look at the photo and say for certain what took place? The answer is NO! Let say from looking at the photo, I could conclude that the individual in the photo, destroyed the Bible because he has joined the Devil; while another person looking at the same photo could conclude that a bitter fight took place between the two, and Holy Bible got destroyed. These are reasonable answers; but they are correct, because they are mere assumptions and not the facts.

Clearly, one who has no facts to present in an argument usually behaves like a person drowning in a lake who will attempt to hold onto a leaf floating by.

Finally, on Tipoteh’s relevance, we leave that to historians to judge and not writer Hodge. Let me close with this interesting observation made by these scholars: Dr. Edward Lama Wonkeryor, Dr. Ella Forbes, Dr. James S. Guseh, and Dr. George Klay Kieh, Jr. from the book titled: American Democracy in Africa in the Twenty-First Century? The passage speaks of the Post-Cold War Period – 1980. It reads:

“…There is resistance to democratization and democracy from civilian authoritarian regimes in countries like Egypt, Cameroon, Kenya, Liberia, and Morocco. In these countries, systematic efforts have been and continue to be made to strangulate political pluralism, primarily by making it very difficult for opposition political parties to operate freely…” (p. 6)

 

It is abundantly clear that in the scheme of things, the Liberian or African problem is much bigger and cannot be reduced to personalities, even though leadership plays an important part in how we tackle the systemic problems of our fragile democracy that the scholars have noted above. We should not relent, however; in thoroughly scrutinizing our current and emerging leaders, but we should take care to be fair, objective, and ethical in our analysis. The burden is even greater for those who write as they command a platform that shapes public opinion, and this should not be abused.

I rest my case and would make this my final piece on this subject of a distinguished Liberian, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh.

 

J. Kpanneh Doe can be reached at: kpannehdoe@live.com

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