In His Address At Cuttington’s Graduation? Did Kenneth Best Predict Another “Civil War”

By Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

For the past few days since Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, the Founder and Managing Director f the Liberian Observer Corporation, publisher of the DAILY OBSERVER, the country’s oldest newspaper delivered this year’s commencement address at the Cuttington University, in Suacoco, Bong County, there have been reactions on talk shows to his speech, particularly to claim that he predicted another civil war in the country, if certain things are not done.

Although I obtained the speech hours before it was delivered and I read it religiously and exhaustively, I was compared to re-read it after one of the talk show host highlighted the issue of another civil war by Mr. Best. The host said it was unfair for anyone to predict another civil war in this country despite the problems. Unsurprisingly, because of this, some of the callers disagreed with Mr. Best, while others took him to task on said claim, considering the consequences of war.

As I listened to some of the callers commenting on this claim of another civil war, I thought that the speech I received was quite different from the one delivered. But as I read through my first copy and the one received after the address, I discovered that there was nothing different from the initial copy I received before it was delivered last Saturday.

With this, I began to ponder and later realized that perhaps some of those who were reacting did not read, or did not comprehend the speech or the message in the speech and that they were only acting based on the premise laid down by the talk show hosts.

As I painstakingly and patiently pursued the speech repeatedly, I still did not find such thing as to predicting another civil war. Similarly, I received a call that Mr. Best referred to this government as the ‘worst government in Liberian history.”

Again, I doubted this for a man I worked with for years, stating that even if Mr. Best wanted to be critical of this government, he would not be naïve to classify it that way. But the person insisted that this was true as it was being carried by SKY FM of T-Max Jlateh as a jingle. I was constrained to inquire from T-Max on the issue. He, too, expressed surprise and said such was not on his radio, saying, “let them leave my station alone.”

As I could not find such portion in Mr. Best’s speech and the denial of Mr. Jlateh, I then began to wonder why people would say something that someone did not say. Why would people want to attribute something to someone who did not say it. Or is it that these people did not really understand the message of Mr. Best.

Still contemplating on this, I got to realize that perhaps the portion of the speech that has been misinterpreted and misunderstood is that which relates to the plight of young people in the country on the issue of the country’s educational system.

In that he said, “those young children who are not in school can be found on the streets selling cold water, candy, etc. or in the markets and down waterside being breadwinners at age seven and up. Ten of thousands of our young people are loitering and languishing with no means of an education or skills training. The ingredients for civil strife are within the grasp of anyone who has nerve or stupidity to choose violence to attain power.

As I was going through the speech again, I also thought it was based on another point in his speech in which he said, “Many of the nation’s assets, including huge tracks of agricultural land, petroleum blocks and mineral deposits, are being assigned to foreign conglomerates with no Liberian participation. In any country around the world, these are among their most treasured assets. If the people are not partakers in the benefits of these assets, such countries and peoples are doomed to poverty and inevitable conflict.”

He went further, “Changing this woeful and dangerous state of affairs is extremely critical to our peace. If it is not changed, we will have no peace gave this warning in 1989, exactly a quarter century ago. Now here we are today, far worst off than we were then. We must arrest this terrible trend that can lead us only down the path to more trouble.”

For me, it is unfortunate that when people do a fair assessment of the situation in the country, some individuals would engage in a campaign to demonize or crucify them.

All in all, I think that the whole problem with this kind of interpretation of Mr. Best’s speech can be linked to the usual Liberian, “they say,” without even reading or personally looking into the matter. It was a similar situation after Cllr. Varney Sherman delivered last year’s Independence Day Oration in Tubmanburg, Bomi County. He was crucified by some members of society, who did not really understand what he meant at the time.

The points made by Mr. Best that if things do not improve, and that if the people are not partakers in the benefits of these assets, such countries and peoples are doomed to poverty and inevitable conflict,” or is this because of what he said that if we do not arrest this situation, this can lead this nation “only down the path to more trouble” that is being interpreted as a prediction of another war?

Are people interpreting the phrase, ‘inevitable conflict’ or the ‘path to more trouble’ to suggest or denote that the country would go through another war because of problems facing it? I see this kind of interpretation or inferences as unfortunate. This is a fair assessment of the situation in the country and that once they are not improved, there would always be disenchantment, and not necessarily war, as we experienced in the late 90’s.

Until we begin to appreciate people for fair assessment of the situation in the country, as Mr. Best and Cllr. Sherman did to combat poverty and hardship and move this country from backwaters to prosperity, I REST MY CASE.