Liberalism and conservatism – a roadmap for achieving genuine reconciliation and fostering national development efforts
It is generally perceived that multi-party democracy was birthed in Liberia following the adoption of the 1986 Constitution in Liberia. Though research shows that multi-party system was allowed in Liberia as far back as 1940 with the Unit Party (UP), the Democratic Party (DP) led by Hon. James F. Cooper of Monrovia and the TWP, led by Associate Justice William V. S. Tubman (TWP)1, I am inclined to believe that Chapter III- FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS of the 1986 Constitution that embodies the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, freedom of thought, conscience, expression and freedom of association with others (political parties, organizations, specifically Article 17 which provides for freedom to associate with others; political parties and organizations are the troubling and fundamental issues that have beclouded our judgment.
This is why we find it imperative for us to critically deconstruct and critique Article 17 and other components of Chapter III of our constitution for advancing this national debate. In 2010 while on a visit to Liberia after many years in the USA, we were invited to attend a political meeting organized by the Democratic Alliance (DA). The Alliance was established by prominent Liberian figures with one political objective- to unseat the Unity Party government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2011. After three successive meetings, a friend, also a hierarchy of the DA asked us to serve as the Alliance’s Coordinator in the US. In a short span, the DA’s Manifesto/Platform was developed and we were privileged with a copy.
Prior to associating with the DA, a childhood friend, now a respectable and “exiled” lawyer asked our political interest and wondered if I would be interested in joining the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and subsequently introduced me to a key figure (now Representative in the lower house) of the party. Our meeting provided me the privilege of the CDC’s Manifesto/Platform. The same trend followed with the Liberty Party through a cousin and other closed associates. In the United States, I have had the opportunity to meet and attend many political conferences. In fact, I single handedly drafted the Resolution of a newly formed political party called Vision for Liberia Transformation (VOLT). While I concede that I am not a “political pepperbird”, I am a well-seasoned technician with a solid education and extensive work experience in my political and career life.
Though not a politician by profession, but our association with pioneers of the profession and well learned colleagues of politics has given us an insight of many of the problems confronting our country. Also and in the real sense of this debate, we preempt that others will disdain our action (from one party to the other) as impetuous but it must be established that our affiliation with numerous political parties should in no way be construed as being disloyal to any one institution or that our actions were done under any covert posture intended to gather and use “classified” parties’ information to the detriment of other parties.
Love for country and patriotism were the driving factors as this would further broaden our objectivity to dissect and determine the true national interest of these political parties and individuals. What we saw and read in these platforms and/or manifestos was not just empty rhetoric, they were farfetched, monotonous, repetitive and generally unachievable. There was not a single party that did not raise infrastructure development (some said four lane highways) across Liberia, education reform (free & compulsory education, student loans), poverty reduction, healthcare, agriculture (subsistence to mechanized farming), reconciliation, reconstruction, unification, economic empowerment, etc., etc as its development agenda. The same rhetorics are being reconstructed and repeated in almost every platform as presidential “wanna-be’s” journey into 2017.
What we find compelling for introducing this debate; if all these critical issues embodied in political manifestos and platforms are good-intentioned, why not form just two political parties that bring and unite Liberians with conservatism and liberalism ideologies? Why is our political/democratic system so segmented and divided? Isn’t it GREED? What are the “value added” and political benefits under the “the freedom of association” clause of our constitution? The undebatable issue to grasp here is that “multi” means “more than one” not necessarily more than five, ten, twenty or fifty. It is common sense that man must not concoct history and if history is to be flawless, then the truth must be told and not buried. The intensification of tribal and section politics (understood by many Liberians as multi-party system) in Liberia witnessed an unprecedented progression in 1985 following Samuel K. Doe’s declaration of intent to contest the presidency of Liberia and ordered those with political interest to resign their posts. When Teacher Gabriel Kpolleh resigned and organized the Liberia Unification Party (with no clear vision), the Kpelleh people were elated. It was their “time”, as they claimed. A time, like many tribal politicians that was within reach yet so distant away if not for greed, self-interest and for being misguided. Kpolleh became the voice in the Kpelleh Kingdom, from the mountain tops to the valleys, villages and towns. So were the Liberia Action party of Jackson E. Doe and the likes of Dr. Byron Tarr that attracted high profile Nimba citizens and the United Peoples’ Party of G. Bacus Mathews; the Bassas.
While the “progressives” fought amongst themselves, the Krus and Grebos were divided along tribal lines. Some remained with Dr. Togbah Nah-Tipoteh and Sawyer while others followed Cllr. Chea Cheepo.
The Vais and Golas that remained with the LPP did so on the same tribal lineage of Dr. H. Biomah Fanbulleh. Samuel K. Doe’s NDPL attracted the Krahns, Sarpos and Grebos. The Lormas, Kissi, Gbandi and the Belles followed Dr. Harry Moniba to the NDPL while some remained with Dr. Edward Beyan Kessely of the Unity Party. Those who perceived the vision of individual political party or had personal relationships with individuals of these parties joined the list, like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Cletus Wotorson, Willie Belle, Dr. Thomas Booker, Dew Mayson, Dr. Charles Clarke, Dr. James Teah-Tarpeh, etc., etc. In the same fashion, if any of the followers were a Gbandi, Vai, Gola, Mandingo, etc., that person would followed his/her tribal lineage and was never on the basis of a clear vision for Liberia. There was not a single Liberian who was objectively judgmental in choosing a party line of his/her choice on the basis of a clear national development agenda. It is the lack of that vision today that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has failed to develop and move Liberia forward.
In 1997, the trend of sectional and tribal politicking again showcased its ugly tenets. This time the Krus and Grebos were segmented. They pushed chiefdoms, households and clans lines between Cletus Wotorson and Dr. Ceryenus Ford all from Grandcess, Grand Kru County, Dr. George Toe Washington from Barclayville, Grand Kru County, Dr. Togbah Nah-Tipoteh from Nifueh of the same county. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf political greed divided the Alliance of Political Parties and though absent from the country at the time, Cllr. Emmanuel Koromah, a Vai man reverberated the process and stood to represent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He declared his presidential ambition as a calculated ploy and delay tactics to allow for the “Iron Lady’s” return to Liberia. Chauncey Cooper and those of the Americo-Liberian lineage were planted within the ranks and files of the Alliance. They fueled the Alliance’s pivotal and strategic information to Charles Taylor and undermined the chances of the Alliance and Wotorson was too dumb to detect this ploy. Wotorson’s longtime friends and allies, Gyude Bryant, Willie Belleh, Dr. Thomas Booker, Abraham Mitchell and many of the LAP boys remained loyalists to the cause and brought on board Alaric Tokpah as a way of attracting young progressives University politicians and student leaders. But Alaric was more of a problem then the intended purpose.
The establishment and subsequent participation in 2005 of the New Deal Movement with membership composed of followers of the “old progressives” who tried to achieve political legacy manifested further disagreement and division. Today with over twenty three registered political parties and twenty applications pending, one can conclude that the certification of the pending applications (meaning 43 political parties) will further divide the population into households and family size per party. Where is Liberia headed and how can we achieve genuine reconciliation, sustainable peace and national development. In reality, if those forming political parties argue on the basis of their fundamental and constitutional rights yet with the same political visions and motives as enshrined in their platforms, why are we bent on forming more political parties instead of seeking legislation for establishing a two party state, given our population of 4.1 million? Even more troubling is how our so-called multi-party democracy has degenerated into sectional and internal rivalry at every county level in Liberia. If two Gio or Mano men are from different political parties, they rant and throw jibes at each other and battle lines are drawn. For example, the Vision for Liberia Transformation (VOLT) was established and is headed by a young Nimba citizen called Jeremiah Whapoe while Prince Y. Johnson’s MRD is also pushing the Nimba cause.
So are the Krus, the Grebos, the Kpellehs, the Sarpos, the Lormas, the Bassas, the Vais, the Golas, the Mandingos, the Belles, the Gbandis, the Kissis, etc. There is no longer brotherly love and communal life has disintegrated. In our quest to achieve our political objectives, family values are lacking and families are no longer respecters of the others. How then can true and genuine reconciliation be achieved under an LP, MOVEE, UP, ALP, MPC, MRD, JAC, ANC or LPDP Government with such divisiveness? It is an undeniable fact that internal divisions are conflict-triggering recipes and subject a group of people or a society to political instability. So let us flip the other side of the coin. Isn’t it hard time that Liberians refrain from constitutional argument and/or from comparing Liberia to other African/sub-regional countries where there are multiple of registered political parties? Can Liberians conceive a “common sense” approach to our national problems than fermenting chaos on the basis of constitutionalism, intellectualism and educational prowess? There must be a period of self-actualization and self-realization in our political and democratic dispensation. Liberians must realize that the over twenty or more political party system is getting the country nowhere. The country remains conflict-prone and instability is imminent. While most African and sub-regional countries have more political parties, they are on the one hand progressing in clear development terms while Liberia remains stagnated on the other. As in marketing, Liberia must inculcate new political strategies to outsmart its competitors. We must identify our targets and set priorities.
Why Conservatist Or Liberalist Ideals For Liberia?
The development and advancement of Liberia must be infused with new recipes, added with different ingredients. Liberians must embrace critical changes for forward march in their desire to catch-up with other nations. For the past century and almost seven decades, Liberia remains stagnant with the status quo of its body-politics. Every election period, more than 25 political parties are registered not because they are formidable or have new ideas to take the country to a new level, but for greed, stealing and extortion of our national wealth. This is why a two party system (Conservatism or Liberalism) will lead Liberia to a new era of advancement and bring us together. In the United States’ Conservatist and Liberalist systems, it is construed from a lay-man perspective that Conservatism is susceptible to radical ideas while Liberalism is liken to social justice and equality. Conservatism (Wikipedia) is defined as any political philosophy that favours tradition (in the sense of various religious, cultural, or nationally-defined beliefs and customs) in the face of external forces for change, and is critical of proposals for radical social change. The catching ideal here is RADICAL SOCIAL CHANGE! Without a radical social change or a radical president, Liberia will remain buried in the dungeon of social, economic and political catastrophe eternally.
Liberalism on the other hand is defined is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality2. In comparing these two ideologies, we draw two distinctions between the Liberal and Conservative principles and ideals proffered by Studentnewsdaily.com, a non-profit current events website for high school students. We believe this comparison will set the pace and draw a congruent rationalization of our argument.
- DEATH PENALTY
Under death penalty for example, the Liberals believe that the death penalty should be abolished. It is inhumane and is ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. Imprisonment is the appropriate punishment for murder. Every execution risks killing an innocent person. (argument based on social justice, liberty and equality). On the other hand, the Conservatives believe the death penalty is a punishment that fits the crime of murder; it is neither ‘cruel’ nor ‘unusual.’ Executing a murderer is the appropriate punishment for taking an innocent life2 (argument based on radical change that favors traditional beliefs). “An eye-for-an-eye” traditional belief for radical change to deter criminals-emphasis mine.
Under Abortion, the Liberals believe a woman has the right to decide what happens with her body. A fetus is not a human life, so it does not have separate individual rights. The government should provide taxpayer funded abortions for women who cannot afford them. The decision to have an abortion is a personal choice of a woman regarding her own body and the government must protect this right. Women have the right to affordable, safe and legal abortions, including partial birth abortion (argument based in social justice, liberty and equality). Conservatives on the other hand argue that human life begins at conception. Abortion is the murder of a human being. An unborn baby, as a living human being, has separate rights from those of the mother. Oppose taxpayer-funded abortion. Taxpayer dollars should not be used for the government to provide abortions. Support legislation to prohibit partial birth abortions, called the “Partial Birth Abortion* Ban”(*Partial Birth Abortion: the killing of an unborn baby of at least 20 weeks by pulling it out of the birth canal with forceps, but leaving the head inside. An incision is made in the back of the baby’s neck and the brain tissue is suctioned out. The head is then removed from the uterus.)3 (Argument based on radical change that favors traditional beliefs)
Liberia is witnessing an unprecedented change in every spectrum of social, justice, economic development and political phenomenon. After years of internal wrangling and conflict, the country remains stagnant and has not taken steps to address lawlessness, corruption, marginalization, and inequality, social and economic deprivation. As the 2017 representative and presidential elections draw nearer, Liberia needs either a radical leader whose ideals and principles favor conservatism (conservatists do what they say no matter the consequences) or a leader whose ideals and principles favor liberalism (too much diplomacy and talking). Our choice for leadership should not be based on sectional or tribal sentiments with rhetorical, unrealistic and unachievable goals. There is not a single presidential aspirant that can reconcile Liberians in the midst of this enormous divisiveness, tribal/sectional segregation and marginalization that has taken over our airwaves and transcends every landscape of our country nor is there any aspirant that can achieve education, healthcare, agriculture reform if he/she cannot convince Liberians on the basis of his/her principles (what he/she stands for) and ideologies (what he/she believes).
- Jones, Sumo E- Multi-Party Political System In Liberia-2009
- Caldwell, Dan: World Politics and You-1999, pgs. 87-95.
- Student Daily News-Liberals Vs Conservatives; published 2005 (revised 2010) on studennewsdaily.com
- Student Daily News-Liberals Vs Conservatives; published 2005 (revised 2010) on www.studennewsdaily.com
About the Author:
Maxwell Jappah Hooks is from Barclayville, Grand Kru County. By birth or tradition, Maxwell Hooks comes from the Teah Nyahn family whose father was called Nyahn Teah Jittee and therefore his native name-Teah Jittee Jappah or Maxwell Jappah Teah. He was imposed upon the name “HOOKS” by American United Methodist Missionaries from down south, United States of America who named his great great grandfather Samuel Hooks and therefore the HOOKS Clan. Maxwell Hooks holds an MBA/MSC in Project Management and Management Information Systems. He is a Marketing Research and Project Management Specialist. He holds an Investment Management Certificate, a General Urban Planning and Inventory Management Certificate from Tatung University in Taipei, the Republic of China. Maxwell Hooks have several international and local work experiences. He worked with the Integrated Management Resource Group (IMRG), the Golden Key Group and Grant Thornton as Financial & Administrative Consultant for both the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also consulted with the World Bank-WARCIP project in Liberia and is an Enterprise/Business development expert. Contacts: 1+443-317-7431 (USA) & 231-770-798421/231-886-798421 (Liberia) or at firstname.lastname@example.org