By Atty Philip N. wesseh (PNW)
Whenever the phrase “The Progressives,” is spoken of, it is simply a reference to individuals in the late 70’s who advocated for change in the political system of the time. They, among other things spoke against the true Whig Party’s hegemony of a one-party state. Their crusade for change in the country at the time engendered massive support, especially in the students’ community, many of whom espoused to the campaign of the progressives. The term, “Progressives” may have come from Baccus Matthews’ Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), a group whose legality was once questioned by the then Justice Minister, the late Joseph Chesson on grounds that it used a foreign address in its letterhead.
As clearly stated, the progressives were made up from two distinct groups; the movement for justice In Africa (MOJA), headed by Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh and the Progressive Alliance of Africa (PAL) headed by the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews, still considered as the ”Father Of The Revolution.” These two groups were metamorphosized into two strong political parties, with support from the down-trodden and people who were fed up with the political structure and prevailing situation in the country at the time. The PAL became the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), while the MOJA was transformed to the Liberian People’s Party (LPP) following a convention in Monrovia. Years later, the PPP was changed to the United People’s Party (UPP), with no fundamental change in philosophy.
Today, I make reference to the progressives because of an analysis written in the “The Capitol Insider Magazine”, in which the writer rightly outlined the role of the progressives in the late 70’s and 80’s. Let me commend the writer for this fine piece and is useful to provide necessary information to many who may not be conversant with yesterday’s politics and struggle to get to where we are today. Notwithstanding, the writer also noted the splits those days that weakened. In his piece he stated, “However, the struggle to the way up has not always been smooth. As it is always with people of non-conformist tendencies, the progressives have been engaged in door-die battles and in-fighting for the turf fuelled by deep-seated schisms. Consequently, the ‘Progressives’ have been weakened by splits into factions. In any case, through cosmic fortune, the progressive forces for change in Liberia ossified into two distinct strands in the 1970s. These were the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) and the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL). Each faction attracted strong sympathizers, even from the political class— that is, people fired by self-interests and unbridled political ambition far removed from the core ideal of fighting for social equality and justice.”
The writer went on: “In the heat of the struggle, PAL and MOJA disagreed on many things, including the question of leadership and strategy. The only thing that kept them together was the common cause: the sheer determination to end the despotic rule of the Americo-Liberian hegemony.”
Frankly, this article is not intended to repeat the analysis of the writer, but to delve into some questions raised as the country prepares for one of the most historic elections in this country- a timer of transition that this country will witness a turn over from the completion of the term of an elected president to that of an incoming elected president.
Concluding the piece, the author raised the issue of the progressives’ chance, as they are “resurfacing.” But the writer asked these questions:“But what are their chances? Will they be able to upstage the incumbent Unity Party with the ‘Iron Lady’ at the helm? Are the progressives strong enough (economically) to defeat the likes of Dr. Mills Jones, and Benoni Urey? Are they street-wise enough to upstage the Congress for Democratic Change? What about the vociferous neo-progressives sprinkled all over numerous political parties? Are the original progressives able to bring their flock back home?
The writer said the questions are many. But what may count in favor of the progressives is the indisputable fact that no other political group in Liberia has many intellectual workforce (therefore, the requisite human resources to run the state) in its fold as the progressives.
He concluded: “Well, time will tell. One thing is certain; if the progressives will ever return in full force to claim their position, they would need to evolve a new methodology capable of reframing their cause and uniting the progressive factions. Above all, the progressives would need a leadership suitable for today’s Liberia. As the progressives return to the first league of politics, they must guard against inflaming the passion of those who fear that their quest for leadership is driving by mere ambition.”
Judging from the point of the writer, he believes that there is still a place for the progressives. But perceptibly pointed out that they would need to evolve a new methodology capable of reframing their cause and uniting the progressive factions and they would need a leadership suitable for today’s Liberia.
Certainly, I agree with the writer that the progressives, first, need to unite because disunity was seen at one point during the election of the Alliance of Political Parties(APP) which featured the progressives and other political parties. At the end, the race was between Cletus Wotoson of the Liberian Action Party (LAP) and Dr. Tipoteh of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP). At the end of the race, Wotorson emerged victorious, as it was generally believed that the United People’s Party (UPP) of Baccus Matthews, who did not make it to the finishing line, did not support the LPP, the other part of the progressives.
Interestingly, like a prophet, prior to the voting process, Dr. Amos Sawyer, of the Progressives, warned against the “Crab In The Bucket” mentality, where which person tries to tear others down. In the Liberian parlance, this is simply interpreted as, “if I do not get it, you too will not get it.” Politically, it can be interpreted in keeping with the prevailing situation at the time that if we, as progressives do not get it, you too, as progressives will not get it.” As a result of this rift between the progressives from the LPP and those from the UPP, a non-progressive, former Senator Wotorson won the day.
Let me emphatically state that while I still hold the progressives in high esteem for their advocacy over the years which has greatly brought changes in society such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and multiparty democracy, I believe that they missed great opportunities in the past for failing to unite as a force.
Incontestably, it was because of the strength of the progressives that the late President Samuel K. Doe created unnecessary bottlenecks to frustrate their parties from participating in the elections in 1985, which results it is believed was rigged by the late Doe. That was the past; what happens thereafter is now the issue of concern. This led to some of the progressives rallying support to other parties , especially the Unity Party UP) of the late Edward B. Kesselly and the Liberian Action Party (LAP) of the late Jackson F. Doe, who it is believed won the 1985 polls, but was robbed of the results by the late Samuel Doe.
In contemporary Liberia, it is not a hyperbole that some of those who admired and associated, as well as those who consciously espoused to the principles of the progressives, are now followers or disciples of others, who were not part of the progressives. Newly emerging politicians such as George Weah, Cllr. Charles Brumskine, Benoni Urey and others including Veep Boakai, who recently declared his intention for the presidential race in 2017, have taken away some of the disciples of the progressives.
Considering the level of disunity that has eaten the fabric of the progressives, I find it difficult for them to take state power. All I believe now that they can do is to be the KING’s MAKERS. I believe they still have few followers. Once more let me thank the writer for bringing out this topical issue, but let me say also in all fairness that the progressives stabbed themselves in the back. Scientifically, they are now like the ‘like poles of magnet’ that cannot attract.
Notwithstanding, they are still of political relevance and they have the experience.But to take over the leadership of this country in two years is what I do not foresee. Sometimes, it is said that the “wise man changes,” but in the matter at bar, I still find it difficult for the wise man to change. I stand to be proven wrong.
As a rejoinder to the plethora of questions by the writer, let me candidly say “Te-see” (from the Kru vernacular), which means “the time has passed.”Perhaps, they can support one of those students they nurtured for 2017, but not any of the old political gurus from the progressives. A hint to the wise is quite sufficient. I Rest My Case.