Should There Be Any Defence On The Issue Of “Natives And Indigenous People?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

In all of my articles on issues of national concern, I try to avoid ‘personal attack’ about the author or proponent on a particular issue. And so whenever I am personally attacked by an individual in response to something I had written, I still try to exercise restraints, being fully aware of some of the pitfalls or bitter pills when it comes to the issue of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, for which, I believe that we must tolerably accept the exercise of these rights to move forward.

Because I subscribe to this philosophy of dealing with the issues, rather than attacking people, no matter of attacks on my person, wouldever cause me to deviate from this act of civility or do otherwise to avoid the anecdote of the “crazy man and the man in the bathroom,” scenario.

Sometimes people wonder why I should carry a rejoinder that is fraught with insinuations, innuendoes and invectives against my person. But I always said that I believe that the reading public is the best judge on such matter. Therefore, I never surpass disagreements no matter the manner and fashion in which such is written.

What hurts me is the fact that my good intention has been taken out of context or is not intuitively understood for which there might be these attacks against me, rather than dealing with the issue.

I recall that sometimes ago when I wrote an article that our failure as journalists to act or deal with the issue surrounding the US$100,000 donated by President Sirleaf to help construct the headquarters of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), could be a stigma on us as journalists but that was misconstrued by the man who was in charge of the Union when the money was donated.

Today, I still maintain that this issue would remain a stigma on all of us, especially so as we try to insist on accountability, transparency and financial probity in society. We, including me, should always be prepared expectedly or unexpectedly to be faced with this question of the US$100,000.

Similarly, this week there was a response to an article I published, captioned: ”ARE WE STILL SPEAKING ABOUT “NATIVES AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE”?, in which I emphatically and consciously opposed the nickname and slogan of the country’s newest political party- The People’s Unification Party (PUP), which refers to itself as the “NATIVE and INDIGENOUS PEOPLE PARTY”.

In that response or rejoinder, which was published on Wednesday this week, an official of the party, publisher and journalist of the “BONG TIMES,” Philip G. Moore, who is now P. Gardea Moore, attacked me personally and the newspaper for not achieving much since it was established during the heat of the civil war.

The paper had earlier written an editorial, also opposing such characterizations by the party as being divisive. My article was only a reinforcement of the position of the paper’s editorial.

In his rejoinder, Mr. Moore, among other things erroneously said that some of the points I made in my article about the natives producing the next president does not represent the view of more than 97% of the people of Liberia. He went on to say that my view “reflects that of the wealthy and most powerful minority that butter his bread through advertisement in his newspaper that has little or no readership outside of Monrovia where most of his kinsmen live in appalling economic condition.”

On his attack on the paper he said, “I think I understand that the staff collectively condemned the PUP for being pro-native; because an editorial is a collective decision of the staff. Look at the kind of people that are condemning the PUP. The Inquirer is a paper that has and is still experiencing growth without development. Despite the fact that the paper enjoyed the biggest portion of the multi-million-US-dollar trade in advertisement over the years, the paper’s management is yet to show any tangible development in terms of assets like printing machine or office building belonging to the paper. The only thing the paper can show the public in its more than 20 years of existence is growth in the form of printing once a week to five times a week, while those in the hierarchy of the paper are amassing wealth at the detriment of the paper’s growth and other staffers who are hoping to get salary increment. Is this the kind of Liberia The Inquirer wants us to build? “

He went further: “what kind of New Liberia Wesseh and his rich minority are striving to build? A Liberia in which the natives will see themselves as tribes but not collectively named as natives; something which has been a source of conflict over the years or a Liberia in which the majority people who make up the geography of Liberia will always remain in the position of vice President? Didn’t Philip Wesseh and his Inquirer learnt of the news that Vice President Joseph Boikai was asked to resign to give way to a descendant of the settlers when there was conflicting signs that President Johnson-Sirleaf was not going to end her tenure due to old age?”

In his reflection of history, Mr. Moore, also publisher of the BILINGUAL newspaper, said, “Let me briefly take you through those strings of events since 1980: Group of illiterate soldiers took power and killed some of the richest members of the Americo-Liberian oligarchy. The relatives children of these oligarchs later decided to take revenge. Since the soldiers and the vast majority were illiterate, their acts of revenge were easily done.”

He added, “They manipulated the natives to see themselves as tribes; thus sparking a serious conflict among the natives. The coup makers killed each other until a few including Samuel K. Doe survived in the 80’s. When the majority decided to forget Doe and move on with their life since they have already gotten used to being ruled by the minority, some former members of the oligarchy lobbied with Samuel Doe’s buddies in exile to wage war on the Doe ‘s regime as was mentioned in late Quiwonkpa’s wife’s testimony in Monrovia. She said her husband was going after his normal life when the current President visited his home and persuaded him to come and remove that regime. Attempt to overthrow Doe drummed up serious tribal conflict fueled by the oligarchs in exile.”

Mr. Moore also believes that maybe I did understand all because I was working for a newspaper (inferably The Daily Observer) that “had a mission to destroy native rule and now that the pre-80’s oligarchs have returned to power, that paper no longer sees negative things happening in Liberia. When people are committing suicide due to abject poverty, when the poor marketers are feeling the pinch of the ‘regime’s policy of ‘go back to the villages where you areetc,’that paper is seriously reporting the economic growth and how many international awards President Sirleaf has won.”

Today, I try to reflect on some of the arguments raised by my name’s sake as justifications for the party being nicknamed, “Native and Indigenous people” party. Frankly, the reasons given by my brother are amorphous and cannot hold water in the realm of logic because political parties should not be formed for any specific group of people. That is, political parties should be opened to all who espouse to the philosophy and doctrine of those parties and not necessarily based on ethnicity, social or other statuses in the society.

As he tried to cite some historical issues or occurrences, some of those took place because of the divisiveness or divide-and-rule politics or tactics that also contributed to the years of conflict in this country. This is why I am totally against the nickname of this new party. Let me make it clear; I am not against a group of Liberians organizing a political party; that is their constitutional right; my concern is the slogan and nickname of the party.

Based on what he believes as some of the problems of the past, logically, I see no reason why he wants to disagree with me on this matter of the party’s slogan or nickname. When he speaks of people being used or manipulated, it was because of that same divisiveness that those who did that capitalized on. Therefore, his party cannot come out today to repeat similar mistakes.

On the issue that I did not understand some of the problems against certain groups of people in the society because at the time I was working for a newspaper (inferably The Daily Observer) that “had a mission to destroy native rule;” I unequivocally disagree with this young fellow and see this as a fallacy.

As former News Editor of that paper prior to the civil conflict in 1990, I was never instructed to destroy any group of people in this country. The paper, the first independent one, provided the space for everyone. Anything about the paper at the time was just wrong perception by selfish and self-centered individuals who wanted to muzzle or silent the independent media, especially The Daily Observer which was very critical, something for which it suffered many closures, with some of its staffers incarcerated for doing their professional

duty. Can you even imagine that the paper suffered closure, only because it reported about bad roads in Lofa County? We should be proud that the paper existed at the time.

Disgustingly, it hurts to hear of what my brother called “Native Rule,” because the phrase in itself is divisive and should not be spoken of.

Whenever people like Mr. Moore speak of natives, I always wonder as to whether he really understands the history of this country. Native, by definition, refers to“a person born or thing produced in the place or country indicated.” Another definition states, “An original or indigenous inhabitant of a region as distinguished from an invader, explorer or colonist etc.”

Now, considering these two and in line with this country’s history, one may wonder as to the actual natives of this country. My study in African Law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia shows that all of us in this country came from somewhere to settle here.

And so to see others as not being part of this country is wrong. There are some of us who at times draw conclusion or have perception of people’s origin based on their surnames, like in the case of Philip Moore, who because of his name, could be classified as someone from somewhere, when, in fact, he is from Bong County.

For example, in my case, my biological father, a “Wilson,” hailed from Maryland. Today, I carry a name from the maternal side in Rivercess, and so I am a Wesseh. I mention about names because this is how some of us naively classify people. Also, there are some of us because of people’s ‘color’ brand them differently.

Again, while respecting these groups of Liberians to form a party, I still feel that they need to rethink the nickname of their party. The party cannot be talking about “unification” and at the same time conversely be nicknamed, “native and indigenous people party.” The million dollar question now is: how can this party unify this country, if it has begun to preach “pick-and-choose” or “divide and rule” tactics against the very people it wants to lead?

One of the reasons why people organize new organizations like a political party is to correct some of the mistakes of the past. I like the name of the party, and not the slogan or nickname. I foresee the leadership rethinking this, as it is suicidal that is akin to stabbing oneself in the leg.

Let me emphatically say that no amount of insults or derogatory comments would dissuade me from advocating against this. But all in all, as we observe another Independence Day tomorrow, we MUST avoid this ‘Natives, Country or Americo-Liberian thing’. What we need is to make DEMANDS on our leaders, rather than slogan or nickname that are detrimental to unification, unity, oneness and togetherness as a people and nation.

Until all of us can work together as “one people, with one nation and one vision,” and avoid divisive tactics and politics, we stand to fall together; I REST MY CASE with reservation to return should this slogan and nickname continues.