Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

West Africa: A Region In Turmoil (Part 2)

by Dr. A. B. Assensoh

Dr A.B. Assensoh of the Post-Graduate School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, England concludes his article the first part of which was published last week.
In the modern-day politics of Liberia, one may also recall the fact that the late President Tubman ascended to the Liberian presidency on 3 January, 1944 as the eighteenth President; he remained in office until his death on 23 July, 1971 after a prostate operation in a London clinic. Tubman's origins in Liberia stemmed from the fact that his paternal grandparents, William Shadrach and Sylivia Tubman arrived in the West African country for the first time in 1837 aboard a bark called Baltimore.

When President Tubman died, his Vice President for nineteen years, the late William R Tolbert, Jr., took over the leadership of the nation until 12 April, 1980 when Master-Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe led a coup d'etat to unseat him.

As Liberians have themselves categorized, compared to some of the tyrannical leaderships experienced in other parts of Africa since the end of active colonialism, the tyranny of the Tubman-Tolbert era might seem mild, yet during the administrations of the two leaders, power became an end in itself. Therefore, individual Liberians, who opposed them in any manner, were ruthlessly silenced and, like other future African leaders, they had the Liberian constitution altered in order for them to rule indefinitely. The national motto of Liberia, in the official seal, was "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here", obviously alluding to the arrival of the freed slaves in the nation, yet the Americo-Liberian rulers were so ruthless that their actions made a mockery of the words of the motto. However, observers of the Liberian political scene and other leaders should have learnt from the many plots to topple various Liberian leaders - dating back to the assassination of President Edward James Roye in 1871 - that autocratic rulers ended up in political flames.

Some of West Africa's leaders, whose repressive rule ended up in military intervention, knew very well that their unilateral actions were bound to lead to their fall. For example, apart from a supposed financial impropriety on the part of the late President Roye, one of his other 'crimes' was that he attempted to increase his term of office, by then pegged at only two years, to four years.

In January 1953, when the late President Tubman invited Nkrumah for an official visit of Liberia, he sent his personal yacht to the then Gold Coast to bring him. Therefore, Nkrumah very well knew the historical circum- stances of Liberia, a situation which should have helped the Ghanaian leader, later to avoid measures that should lead to the fate of President Roye in 1871. From February 1951, as Leader of Government Business, to February 1966, as President of Ghana - spanning 15 years - Nkrumah, too, ruled the Gold Coast and, later, Ghana; and, as the facts seem to suggest, he wanted to return to Ghana's leadership after his overthrow.

The late President Sekou Toure of Guinea and Nkrumah were very good friends; the former, too, ruled Guinea from 1958 to 1984, a spell of 26 years; he was removed from the leadership by his death recently. Apart from proximity, various historical events linked Liberia and Guinea together; for example, on 23 November, 1958, the Guinean leader joined Ghana's Nkrumah and Liberia's Tubman at a conference held at Sanniquellie in Liberia, where African liberation and unity were discussed.

Since Toure did not learn from the price paid by the Americo-Liberian leadership for their repressive rule, his death was punctuated with military seizure of power in Guinea on 3 April, 1984 and the subsequent formation of the 'Military Committee for National Redressment'. Although Toure was, reportedly, praised for his internation- al policies, the new rulers stated categorically that "on the home front, the country had suffered 26 years of poverty, repression and corruption".

The aftermath of the Toure era, similar to that of many other African situations, reminded one of what happened in neighbouring Liberia. After the deaths of Tubman and Tolbert, some Liberians were surely immersed in grief, while torrents of glowing panegyric were let loose, yet many more were both silently and openly jubilant because they felt that the end of the Tubman-Tolbert era offered them the deepest of relief.

In 1966, in Nigeria first, and in Ghana later, citizens of both nations jubilated at the announcement that the civilian regimes were overthrown. In the former instance, the national leader, Prime Minister Tafawa Belewa, Finance Minister Festus Okotieboh and many other notable individuals were killed in the coup; in Ghana, apart from minor military casualties, the most notable event was the destruction of Nkrumah's bronze statue erected in front of Parliament House at public expense, an incident which could be used to measure the extent of people's resentment for a leader who 'brought' independence to them.

In all the foregoing instances, one can safely conclude that West Africans are not prepared to suffer political repression and naked corruption for too long. That accounts for the reason behind the easiness with which military interventions succeed in West African nations, even to the extent that citizens outside the armed forces rush to the streets to partake in the public celebrations. When Tubman died, for example, Liberians did not seem, in great numbers, to remember him for his sup- posed astute political and economic leadership, but for his repression. Liberian Journalist-cum-Lawyer Tuan Wreh summed up the reaction of his fellow citizens in the following words: "Liberians are determined never again to succumb to such repression. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance".


Sometimes, it is sad for one to realise that most of the shortcomings which have undermined the efforts of deposed African leaders had happened elsewhere before, especially if one takes a non-partisan look at West African politics. Let us, therefore, look at Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's confrontation with the religious leaders of Zimbabwe, led by the Catholic hierarchy.

In retrospect, one may recall that on 4 August, 1962, Anglican Bishop Richard Roseveare of Accra, Ghana, told the 4th. Synod of his diocese that members of the youth wing of Nkrumah's ruling C.P.P. - known as the Young Pioneers were being systematically indoctrinated with the idea that Nkrumah was immortal and a redeemer.

For that reason, Bishop Roseveare unity. was expelled from Ghana on 13 August, 1962, also, Anglican Archbishop Cecil J. Patterson of West Africa, who reportedly supported Bishop Roseveare in his 12 August, 1962 sermon, was ordered to leave Ghana. In the end, the Nkrumah government bowed to international outcry and, on 15 November, 1962, Bishop Roseveare was allowed to return to Ghana.

In the political fortune of the West African nations, the excuse often offered by deposed leaders and their supporters, in the 1970s, was that they did not have past examples to use as a yardstick to measure their own actions and faults; whenever Ethiopia and Liberia were cited, as ample past examples, the excuse was that both nations remained 'neo-colonies' in the realm of their supposed independence. Therefore, their examples were not genuine and not 'very African'. What of the 1980s? What will the Mugabes, the Samora Machels, Eduardo dos Santoses and the newer African leaders say in future, if they are not prepared to learn from the mistakes of the past leaders, especially those from West Africa?

In West Africa itself, too, new regimes headed by military men should learn from the history of their prede- cessors. For example, if the Nigerian Federal Military Government, headed by General Buhari, would learn from the past, it would not have deemed it necessary to promulgate Decree No. 4, titled 'Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation'. After all, past West African regimes used similar laws to gag the press. In some instanc- es, some regimes even established Press Trusts, Press Commissions and Press Councils, all packed with their proteges but, in the end, the news media could not play an effective role as the viable watchdog in the absence of opposition parties and groups.

What happened eventually was that such regimes and their leaders, includ- ing the Acheampong-Akuffo military councils of Ghana, were swept away by swifter political and military currents.

Indeed, West Africa has rich historical anecdotes for the 'softening' of the multifarious problems of various West African and, even, other African nations. Those leaders, who live to trample upon the facts and lessons of history will, in the end, live in the king- om of 'had I known before"! But it may be too late for any corrective measures to be instituted for the commonwealth nations

talking drums 1984-07-30 Ghana A Danish Electric car deal - who will lead the parties in Liberia