What Is This Divisive Issue Of “Country People” And “Congo People?”
By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Few days ago I received a call from a lady, seemingly very intelligent and soft-spoken, who in my interaction with her wondered why the media carried some stories or articles without disclaimer. She said that was necessary since it was not the view of the media institution and I told her that not every story or article the media carries should indicate that the media support such idea, suggestions, remarks or views. But sometimes it is intended to expose the ignorance of people to do away with misinformation and also to know the intrinsic thinking of people and also their beliefs.
Like in the case of Senator Prince Johnson, by carrying the story, preaching divisive politics does not mean that the media is in support of what he is saying, but to expose his plan, as he is interested in the presidency 1n 2017, and that the people would decisively discuss the issue. The intent of the media has been achieved as many persons continue to descend on the Senator for such reckless and divisive statement. With this, I expect the Senator to concede, as to err is human.
The Senator, who considered himself as the “political leader of Nimba County,” reportedly said that the “Congo people” have held the presidency for a very long time and now is time for the “Country people to take over. For this, he said he would stand as President and a “Congo” person, as his Vice President.
Actually, if such a statement was made by somebody else rather than Sen. Johnson, also believed to be the most popular person and most admired person, as well as the indomitable politician in Nimba County, I would not have taken this as an issue. Because this man wields a lot of support among his people, a county with the second largest number of registered voters in the country, there is a need to join the many persons who continue to disagree with the Senator, also the “Rock of Gibraltar” of Nimba County.
Whenever I hear people speak of this Congo people and country people issue, I always wonder as to who are those people like Senator Johnson refer to as Congo people and country people.Are the “Congo” people those with English names, or those who are light-skinned in complexions”? Are the “Country People” those with what is considered as native names such as Wleh, Flomo, Saah, Ziah, Dahn, Choloply, Kollie, Wesseh, Sirleaf, Korkoya , Boakai, Juah, Glay, just to name a few.
If our judgment of Congo people is based on the names, then, I am also a “Congo” man because my biological father was a Wilson from Maryland County, a relative of one time Chief Justice A. Dash Wilson of Harper City.Also, if the issue of Congo people is based on one’s complexion, then, my late mother, Mary Wleyonnoh Wesseh alias “Neipue” (bright woman) of the tiny county of Rivercess was a “Congo” woman.
As funny as this may seem, this is how some people like Sen. Johnson, whose parents or foster parents may be described as Congo people because of the surname he bears, usually think, in determining one’s background.There are people who carry English names as their surnames, perhaps because of guardianship or adoption. Today, I am aware of typical Kru people in the Borough of Kru Town with Nelson, Dennis, Doe, Roberts, Davies, Julius, Dixon and so to judge people or determine their ethnic backgrounds would be unfair and misguided judgment.
What really gets to me whenever some individuals like Senator Johnson make mention of this is that they try to create the impression that the problem in this country is all about ‘Congo and Country people issue’ and that the so-called country people are so united. To think this way is to live in a state of hallucination because the very so-called country people are more divided and fragmented than the so-called Congo people.
In the very Nimba County, whose people have reaffirmed their confidence in the Senator by reelecting him during the recent special and senatorial election, there is still problem among tribal groups to an extent that a lawmaker raised the issue and that of marginalization. But he was rebuked by Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, former Solicitor General and Zaiye Dehkee, former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, two prominent sons of the county.
For now, what this Senator and his likes should be concentrating on is the high level of internal conflict and tribal divisions in some of our counties, including his and Sinoe, two of which that are so profound in the country to try to bring out the issue of Congo and Country people only to conciliate the people cannot hold water anymore as the people cannot afford such divisive politics again. The people have seen the deceit, hypocrisy and disappointment by those who claimed to have the solution to the country’s problems.
I can recall that in the 80’s it was the so-called Country people that decimated other ‘Country’ people; and that it was the same so-called ‘Country’ person, the late Jackson Fiah Doe, also a so-called ‘Country’ man from Nimba County, who was robbed of the presidency by the late President Samuel K. Doe, also a so-called ‘Country man’ during the 1986 General and Presidential Elections.
As someone who covered that controversial elections, I observed that when the so-called country man, Samuel Doe, who had metamorphosed from a military general to a civilian person, saw that some of the so-called ‘Country people’ in the then Liberian People’s Party (LPP) of Dr. Amos Sawyer and the Progressive People’s Party of the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews were strong forces to contend with, and as such, the two grassroots’ parties were proscribed by his government to enable him to have a smooth ride.
But later did the late Doe, who was then standard Bearer of the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) that the ill-advised decision of his government was a mistake as some of those from the LPP and PPP joined forces with LAP that carried the late Jackson Doe and the late Emmanuel Koroma as its Standard Bearer and Vice Standard Bearer.
Undisputedly, I know that it was because of this election fraud or election rigging that led the Senator, a former member of the dissolved Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and also the former leader of the defunct Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) to the bush to unseat the late Doe’s Government. I wish not to go into the bitter past as a result of the conflict, which was later described as “senseless war.”
At times, like in this matter, I hate to delve into the ugly past because I believe that digging out old wounds does not augur well for this country. But the utterances of Sen. Johnson continue to create room for one to reflect on the past to draw his attention of how such utterances or statements are counter-productive to the peace we enjoy today and that such action would not help to promote reconciliation. However, as Sen. Johnson, a former member of warring faction continues to take us to the ugly past, then, it becomes expedient to retrospect on some of the past events that are appropriate for the subject matter.
Fairly to say, the issue of Country and Congo has been around for many years. In fact, it is said to be one of those factors that led to the civil conflict, as the Country people felt marginalized in the governance system, leading to the formation of many pressure groups that called for changes. And so when the coup came in 1980 it was seen as redemption for the so-called Country people, as the event was received with high euphoria by the country people as some of them, mostly women jubilated in the streets And chanted;“Country woman born soldiers; Congo woman born rogues.”
Interestingly, when the military coup came, the so-called ‘Country people’ took the realm of power with the then Master Sergeant Samuel Doe as Head of State. That government incorporated many of those, including some members of the then Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) headed by the late Baccus Matthews and the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) headed by Dr. Tipoteh, who at the time advocated for change. The PPP was an offspring of PAL, while the LPP was an offspring of LPP. They came into being to ensure that these pressure groups would have the opportunity to get to state power.
Sadly to note, later, the center could no longer hold as internal wrangling brought about misunderstanding and confusion among people who were once united for a change. That permeated the fabric of the then People’s Redemption Council (PRC), as distrust or mistrust crept into the ranks and file of the Council with all kinds of coup attempts,something that led to the killing of some of the implementers of the coup, including the late Thomas Weh- Seh, the then Vice Chairman of the Council, who prior to being killed by firing squad, said, “If I die, I die for nothing,” indicating his innocence of the attempted coup charge brought against him by his own ‘country’ brother, the late Doe.
I try to bring to the fore some of the sad events involving some of the so-called country people to point out that the problem in this country is not whether or not a ‘Country person or Congo’ person occupies certain position- whether it is the presidency or vice presidency.
It was the same country people that were in power when student leaders, activists, political leaders, including Dr. Amos Sawyer, now chairman of the Governance Commission, Commny Wesseh, now Senator of Rivergee, AlaricTokpa, Ezekial Pajibo and James Fromoyan, former Chair of National Elections Commission (NEC) were either tortured, humiliated, arrested or detained, while some were jailed at the former notorious Belle Yella in Lofa County, now Gbarpolu.
It was unfortunate for the senator to allude to such theory. I am not against his desire to contest the presidency in 2017, but my concern is his attempt to propagate divisive politics of determining who should hold the position of President and Vice President.
By this time after many years of conflict, it is disheartening to note that a man overwhelmingly elected to the Senate for the second time would make such a divisive statement. To him and his likes, I say this is no time for Congo and Country people issue, as this is an antithesis to unity, growth and development.
Until we realize that we are all one people with common patrimony, we would “perish like fools,” as the late Martin Luther Jr. once said. Let us always do away with this Country and Congo people thing, as the problems in this country are not the responsibility of any ethnic or tribal group, but all of us.
Lest we forget that we are too intertwined and interrelated, either by consanguinity or affinity to be speaking about divisive politics.
As the late Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah said, “United we stand, divided we fall.” I REST MY CASE.