Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The short reign of an unusual Minister

By Elizabeth Ohene

The political climate in Liberia today reveals a rather volatile situation in which the principal actors, particularly the Head of State, Samuel Doe, are engaged in a war of nerves in the race for leadership in the country's planned return to civilian rule. The recent removal of Alhaji Kromah as the Minister of Information is discussed below.
Alhaji Kromah did not last very long as Liberia's Minister of Information, but he surely was an infinite source of amazement while he lasted.

One felt that the man either had to be too good to be true or else very naive; or else the most consummate practitioner of the art of double-speak.

My meeting with him in London remains a strange memory. He had not been appointed very long, barely a fortnight in fact, and he was in London to meet the journalists (hacks?) who take an interest in Liberia. An attempt had been made to stagger the meetings so that each establishment had an "exclusive meeting with the minister but as these matters usually turn out, things did not go according to schedule, so Talking Drums sat in and witnessed the BBC World Service reporter tackle him.

It was something to watch. When the sound people were through, the written word people started. Again both sides were not likely to forget the encounter for a long time.

It is significant to mention that the day of this encounter happened to be the day that the results of the voting on the Liberian constitutional proposals were being announced.

There was no way but the Minister had to be in trouble - the results were coming in as he was speaking. The assembled group of journalists could barely hide their conviction that the entire return to civilian rule programme being enacted in Liberia was a charade and that the result was already known - that of Commander-in-Chief Doe was going to become President of Liberia.

Alhaji Kromah convinced all assembled that they were unnecessarily cynical and bent on seeing evil where none existed. Gen Doe had not said he was going to stand for elections, why were we all determined to read non-existent motives. "Was he at all worried that his ministry would be used to campaign for one party against others?" we asked. "No such fears, it simply would not happen."

"Was there not the likelihood that the People's Redemption Council would be drawn into the ensuing fray when political parties start campaigning? Was it possible that the parties could campaign without reference to the events in Liberia of the past five years?" The Ministry of Information under Alhaji Kromah was not going to be drawn into any such divisive fights, the PRC was determined to oversee a peaceful and fair campaign, return the country to constitutional rule and return to the barracks.

It might be worth the while of us all cynical journalists to remember that this is all very new to Liberia. The country had after all never had a plural party system of government, the majority of the people had never exercised their franchise. All in all, by the time it was over, one felt a little ashamed of oneself for allowing the inbred cynicism to cloud one's judgement.

Even when within 24 hours of the interview, Gen Doe had in fact not only dissolved the PRC but had declared his candidate as President and his intention to form a political party, one could not really discount Alhaji Kromah. Not even when it turned out that the High Commissioner in London was being appointed Vice-President of a newly appointed interim Assembly.

You wondered, of course, if Alhaji Kromah really knew what was happening in Liberia or if the Ministers of Gen Doe's Cabinet had any say or control in the decisions that were taken. You wondered how long he would last in his position if he continued to speak as candidly as he did with us.

Back in Liberia, all his pronouncements sounded the same as in London. He was still talking about an independent and impartial Ministry of Information. More than that, he seemed to have assumed the responsibility of assuring the world that Liberia was NOT on the road to a one-party dictatorship.

The more the events in Liberia seemed to point to the possible emergence of a one party state the more strident Alhaji Kromah sounded. There were two possible reactions to his protestations - you either felt he was privy to some inside information and felt compelled to warn his fellow Liberians about it, or else he was trying to shame the cynics of the world that in spite of them, Liberia was going to a plural party system of government.

When he was sacked by Gen Doe, there was a sad sense of inevitability about it. Gen Doe said he was sacking Alhaji Kromah because he had been talking about the evils of a one party dictatorship so much, one would think that Gen Doe has such intentions.

But it is sad that Gen Doe felt the need to fire a person like that for Alhaji Kromah was possibly the best thing that happened to Gen Doe for a long time. Did he not realise that his Minister of Information was confounding his critics far more than was anything he could possibly say himself?

If all that Alhaji Kromah has done is to warn against something that Gen Doe himself recognises and accepts as an evil, it would surely not do any harm to have him emphasising the fact.

"The arrest of Dr. Amos Sawyer has led to many unanswered questions. There is no doubt but that Liberians agree with Gen. Doe that if some people were planning to impose a one party socialist state on Liberia, then the people want none of it..."

Every week when priests and preachers mount their pulpit to warn Liberians against stealing, adultery, murder, etc, the suggestion surely cannot be that the priests are suggesting that Gen Doe has any evil intentions.

What is even more dismaying is that there is the distinct impression that Gen Doe only wants to hear things that please him and has gone very allergic to discordant notes. With Alhaji Kromah gone, the message will not be lost on other members of the Doe team that if they desire to keep their positions, they had better keep quiet or only echo whe has been said by the leader.

Already, Gen Doe has a difficult task convincing the whole world that he is not engaged in a gigantic ruse to legitimise his position by transforming his military regime into "constitutional government". He has not tried to calm the fears that have been expressed about the guidelines for the formation of political parties. Up to date, he has been the only one of those who have expressed the intention to form political parties to pay the unnecessarily high sums required by the decree.

The arrest of Dr Amos Sawyer has led to many unanswered questions. There is no doubt but that Liberian agree with Gen Doe that if some people were planning to impose a one party socialist state on Liberia, then the people want none of it. In much the same way, if everybody that opposes Gen Doe is going to end up as an enemy, Gen Doe might very well find that there is nobody he can trust.

If Gen Doe had come to regard Alhaji Kromah as an enemy then it is worth recommending an old saying to him: "God protect me from my friends, as for my enemies I can take care of them myself. One can only hope that Gen Doe is able to cope with his friends.

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