Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Liberia: Master-Sgt, General, Doctor Who?

by Kofi Andoh

As the Head of State and President of the National Assembly, Samuel Doe prepares for his inauguration as President, this pen portrait tells a story.
From a Master-Sergeant to Commander- General and President within a space of five years is a long way to come in any military career. But there is nothing unusual about it. It is a natural occurrence in a country and more particularly on a continent that has an unequal share of military and political misfits. On the whole, however, such mis-happenings are way short of the normal, in the sense that they make a mockery of the whole military structure and orientation on the continent and brings into sharp focus the pre-dominance and over-politicisation of the military in Africa.

From most accounts President Samuel Kanyon Doe is a fine soldier. He appears quite disciplined, gentle, humble and above all well-intentioned toward his fellow men. But all that was before he became a politician. Now, our Doe or the President as he prefers to be known, has adopted the airs of a peacock, patronises his enemies and friends alike, has the demeanour of an all-conquering General and has become more of a theatrical entertainer. Gradually, he has replaced the original slogan of the dissolved PRC - "in the cause of the people, the struggle continues" with a far more intolerant philosophy which treats human beings (or lesser mortals, as Doe in now on a higher plane) with unjustifiable contempt and sees power as the over- riding ambition in any impoverished society. Otherwise, how does one rationalise his pre-election utterance with regards to the outcome of the elections and the declared aims and objectives of the revolution? "Win or lose, I Samuel Doe will not quit the executive mansion," he is reported to have told Liberians.

One should, however, not forget the role of the United States in the unfolding of the Liberian drama. Here, one should also remember that President Reagan of the US and President-elect Doe of Liberia have a lot in common. Both jumped into their present shoes from rather humble beginnings. Both have an obsessive fear of the communist threat and both regard the purpose as an end in itself. No, the means do not matter very much. Any means adopted to instal democracy in any country does not matter, as long as the tag military is no longer associated with such a government. The haste with which Reagan congratulated Doe on his election and his condemnation of the aborted putsch were in line with the thinking of the minds that lay hollow claims to the upholding of the finer points of human rights.

So now Doe has finally legitimised his rule. That is quite commendable. But at what cost? And just how popular a Presi- dent is he? According to the official figures released by SECOM (Doe's official rubber-stamping agency), President-elect Doe polled 264,362 votes out of a turn-out of 519,040 with his three combined opponents polling 254,678.

To outsiders, it was hoped that political matters in Liberia would be better handled after the revolution. Painfully, however, it is now easy to predict that although General Doe has won the elections, the various ambitious political leaders... may surely take steps to undermine the incoming civilian administration...

This gives Doe a plurality of 9,684 votes! Just consider the enormous powers of incumbency he had at his disposal, the period of his rule and the subtle attempts to make it a one-man candidate election and you will realise just how popular Doe is. Furthermore, consider the reception both soldiers and civilians accorded the invading forces of late General Thomas Quiwonkpa and the situation would become clearer.

What one makes of the election results itself, that is, if the results is even to be taken as a true reflection of the voting pattern, is that it amounts to a pronounce- ment of unpopularity and a serious indictment of the Doe phenomenon. It is time that the uneven distribution of wealth in Liberia during the era of the True Whig Party was legendary. But it is also equally true that the price which Liberians paid for the coming of a saviour in the form of the then Master-Sergeant Doe has not been worth it, in the final analysis.

Like his contemporaries elsewhere, the Doe phenomenon has been a curse. The boots which he hoped to fill has been just too big for him and both his political and economic policies have marked him out as a misfit. Sheer survival has pre- occupied his thoughts and dictated the trend and pace of his attempts to make Liberia the political and economic showpiece of the continent. At best, his actions and attempts at governance and his own unpopularity do not make the prospect of having a lasting and stable democracy in Liberia any brighter.

On the economic front, most of the country's economic indicators portray signs of deterioration. There is a centralisation and concentration of corruption and his economic policies have been a concretisation of what obtained in the True Whig Party period. Both his political and economic policies reflect sectional (or tribal) interest aggregation and Liberia has been transformed into a society of have-nots.

A critical appraisal of president-elect Doe leaves much to be desired. But the US is not bothered for as long as he remains a faithful ideological ally on the ever-changing political landscape of the continent of Africa. In this vein and to this end, the US is quite prepared to befriend a villain! Just consider how many Liberians Doe has killed, how he crushes popular forms of protest and how many he has incarcerated or silenced with a stroke of Machievellian high-handedness and you will understand why the United States still remain the unchallenged defender of human rights and democracy in the free world! What a paradox.

The paradox and double-standards pale into insignificance when placed against the United States' role in supporting unpopular forces of revolutions, all in the name of democracy. Remember Zaire, South Africa and Latin America? Remember Morocco and Western Sahara, how the US arms Morocco in order to crush a country's legitimate right to self determination and sovereignty, all because of the communist threat? And now Liberia.

There is no denying the fact that the outcome of the Liberian election was a foregone conclusion. But at least, it should have been given a garb of respect- ability. As it is, the US and its enfant terrible Doe have succeeded in making a mockery of the whole concept of univer- sal suffrage in a country that is revving up for another go at democracy. But then democracy itself is a relative term. When you are President of the US, the meaning is quite cosy. In Africa it is a choice between democracy of the ballot box and that of the bullet. And Doe has just chosen democracy of the bullet. Remember Macbeth?

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