A letter from Edina (Liberia), dated May 2, 1838

The Christian Mirror (Portland, Maine), July 26, 1838

Emigration of former slaves and colored people to the west coast of Africa wasn’t always voluntary, as we have seen in preceding posts. This, however, doesn’t mean that African Americans who left the United States to settle on the other side of the Atlantic were unhappy or embittered. Far from that, in most cases. Few colonists returned to the United States. Most emigrants stayed in one of the American colonies where they had started a new life with better perspectives than what they had ‘back home’, in the United States where they were discriminated and/or held in bondage.

From letters which the settlers sent to their relatives who had stayed behind in the United States, or sometimes to their former ‘owners’, we learn that the new environment included many challenges. Two noteworthy books with letters from emigrants which I can recommend in this respect are Bell I. Wiley’s ‘Slaves No More. Letters from Liberia 1833-1869‘ (University Press of Kentucky, 1980) and ‘ “Dear Master”, Letters of a slave family‘ (Cornell University Press, Ithaca/London, 1978).

American 19th century newspapers contain many articles lauding the American Colonization Society which organized and financed the emigration of former slaves to one of the American colonies, with military, financial and diplomatic support of the US government. Some of these articles are in fact hardly disguised propaganda for a – also – much criticized effort to get rid of a group of undesired people.

However, I also find in some American newspapers letters from colonists who describe their improved status, and express their feelings of gratitude, as well as their happiness with their present situation. One of such letters I have reproduced here.

Map showing American colonies on the West Coast of Africa, Mitchell, 1839.

The letter was written by an African American colonist, James Moore, who had settled in Edina, in one of the American colonies created. From it we learn that he was an emigrant with considerable education; he may have been a former slave. The newspaper which contains his letter is ‘The Christian Mirror’ (published in Portland, Maine, one of the so-called ‘free states’ where slavery was not permitted), dated July 26, 1838, and cites from another newspaper, ‘The Washington Statesman’, hence south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The Christian Mirror presents James Moore’s letter, dated May 2, 1838, under the heading “News from Liberia”. It is not known to whom his letter was addressed. Presumably someone he knows well and holds in high esteem (maybe a former employer or slave-owner?).

It reads as follows (the text is reproduced as it appears in the newspaper):

“You may wish to know my situation, and how I like this part of the world, and if I wanted anything.
I answer the first – I am doing well: I am in the Medical Department ; my salary was five hundred dollars a year heretofore, and now is five hundred; I have two good houses and three lots; also, forty acres of land, ten of which are in culture – coffee, cotton, cassada, plantains, banaanas, beans, rice, yams, papaws, and melons, that you can tend or raise in the States; they grow all the year here. One acre of land is worth two in the United States. In a word, Sir, no man can starve here, that will work one-third of his time. It is a beautiful country indeed. I would not return to the States again to live , on any condition whatsoever, even if slavery was removed. But, sir, we are freemen here, and enjoy the rights of men.
What shall I say about want – why sometimes we want sugar and tea, also butter and meat. But time will remove all this. I have plenty of milk, and make butter; but there are a great many that have not cows and goats in abundance. Cloth and tobacco are acceptable here, and earthenware or crockery. I would be glad to get as much blue cloth as would make me a close bodies coat, as the article is scarce here. I will try to do what you requested me.
You would do well to send out some brandy to preserve such things as snakes, scorpions and many other things, as spirits are prohibited here, and hardly used among us, and cannot be bought for money. You need not be afraid to send it, by thinking it would bring trouble on me, for it is with and by the consent of Dr. Johnson that I am employed, and he will assist in choosing the plants for you – he is a smart man. I showed him your letter, and he offered his views on the subject. I would send you many things now, but your letter came to hand too late, and the ship arrived to-day and will sail to-morrow. I will write you by every ship that goes to America, for the time to come.
I have the satisfaction to inform you that this is a flourishing settlement indeed. The people thrive. All my children are well, and my wife has good health; the children are good English scholars. James is studying medicine with Dr. Johnson.
Yours, James Moore

Source: The Christian Mirror – July 26, 1838.
Posted in 1838, 1839, American Colonization Society, colonization, Edina, emigration, Maine, Mason-Dixon Line, Mitchell, The Christian Mirror, The Washington Statesman, United States | Leave a comment

The USA in the 19th century: a far from homogeneous country

It’s the year 1839. In the southern states of the United States of America (the ‘slave states’) hundreds of thousands of black people are kept in bondage. On slave markets in these southern states human beings are sold as slaves, individually or in a group, a family.

From: Daily National Intelligencer, Washington D.C., October 7, 1839.

Simultaneously, however, and increasingly, slaves run away from their ‘owners’, to the northern states, to the ‘free states’, where slavery had been outlawed.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a couple of hundred freed slaves and free-born blacks who had left the United States in search for freedom, create the Commonwealth of Liberia, grouping three American colonies: Liberia, Bassa Cove and Mississippi in Africa (1839). 

In 1822, a first group of freed slaves and free-born blacks had been successful in creating a settlement on the west coast of Africa. Between 1822 and 1839 about a thousand colonists – desperate, optimistic, courageous – left the United States to start a new life in West Africa, hoping to realize a brighter future than what they could expect in the United States of America.

The African American colonists had gone to Africa under the umbrella of the American Colonization Society (ACS), created in 1816 by a group of wealthy and politically powerful white Americans who had various reasons to promote their emigration.   

The ACS members, supporters and sympathizers included abolitionists and slave-owners who wanted to remove freed slaves and free-born African Americans from a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon protestant (WASP) society where, according to the most radical among them, there was ‘no place for two races’. A more moderate group consisted of supporters of the Anti-Slavery Society.They wanted to send black and colored people ‘back to Africa’, where they would be free and have a better future. However, they underestimated the consequences of the fact that most ex-slaves who went to Liberia (‘repatriates’) had never seen Africa before. Another group of ACS members had religious motives to support the cause of colonization: to Christianize a continent (‘a dark continent’) inhabited by people considered to be savages and heathens. 

As stated above, the Unites States were far from united. In the ‘free states’ slavery was outlawed, in the ‘slave states’ slavery existed. In 1807 the US government had enacted a law prohibiting the importation of slaves but this had not ended slavery in the country nor had it outlawed the sale of slaves within the United States. Moreover, illegal slave traders continued the importation of slaves into the US. 

So, on the one hand a private organization (the ACS), financially and military supported by the US government, organized and funded the removal (emigration) of black people, whereas on the other hand slave-owners continued to hold slaves and slave traders continued importing new slaves. Runaway slaves from below the Mason-Dixon line, Mseparating the free states from the slave states, would try to escape to one of the northern states where they would be free.

In southern states, newspaper advertisements announcing a reward for capturing and bringing back runaway slaves were very common, with rewards varying from twenty to fifty sometimes one hundred dollars or more as the illustrations below illustrate. Eventually, the conflicting views and opposing interests between the southern and northern states turned out to be a crucial factor in the start of the American civil war (1861-1865).  

From: Daily National Intelligencer, Washington D.C., October 7, 1839.
From: Daily National Intelligencer, Washington D.C., October 7, 1839.

After the end of the civil war, which also brought to an end the inhuman system of slavery in the United States, emigration of African Americans to Liberia virtually came to a standstill. However, the freeing of hundreds of thousands slaves revealed another huge problem in American society: the racial discrimination of one group by another.

But that’s another story.

Posted in 1807, 1822, 1839, 1861, 1865, abolitionist, ACS, Africa, African-Americans, American Colonization Society, Anti-Slavery Society, Bassa Cove, colonization, Commonwealth of Liberia, discrimination, emigration, free-born, freed slaves, Liberia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mason-Dixon Line, Mississippi, Mississippi in Africa, Pennsylvania, repatriates, reward, runaway, slaves, United States, United States of America, Washington DC, WASP, West Africa | Leave a comment

Conditional manumission and emigration to Liberia

Both on my website ‘Liberia: Past and Present of Africa’s Oldest Republic‘ and on this blog I have paid attention to the (in)voluntary character of the emigration of African-Americans to the colony of Liberia in the 19th century. See the articles ‘How voluntary was the ‘return’ to Africa of people of color and freed slaves‘ and ‘A trip back in history: The United States, 1851, The arrest of a fugitive slave‘ (posted on February 28, 2019).

The other day, when browsing through a pile of old, 19th century American newspapers containing news about the recently created colony of Liberia, I came across another article that I like sharing with you.

A slave owner in the State of Virginia, Johnson Cleaveland, decided that after his death his slaves would be set free on condition that they emigrate to Liberia. I have always questioned the altruism of slave owners who wished to show their humanity by liberating their slaves after passing away – hence after enjoying a luxurious life based on the involuntary, free labour of human beings bought from people as unscrupulous as they were, and who had been responsible for the kidnapping, shipping and enslaving of innocent people, men, women and children.

As you can read in this newspaper clipping from the New York Transcript, dated September 13, 1834, Johnson Cleaveland’s slaves were given two years to decide. Should they decline the ‘offer’ the inevitable alternative meant that they would continue their enslaved existence since their ‘owner’ had stipulated in his will that they then had to make a choice of their new ‘owners’ amongst any of his relatives. After all, in 1834 slavery was common and legal notably in the southern states.

Source: New York Transcript, September 13, 1834, p.3

History does not tell us what eventually happened with the slaves, whether they emigrated to Liberia or stayed in the United States – and under which conditions. However, the article clearly shows that the emigration of African-Americans to Liberia was not always voluntary. The seal of the independent republic of Liberia which the colonists created in 1847 expressed their feelings and what brought them to Africa’s shores: the love of liberty.

Posted in 1834, African-Americans, colonization, emigration, manumission, repatriates, United States, Virginia | Leave a comment

Liberia at 172 – Happy July 26 to you all!

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Posted in Liberia | Leave a comment

The Kouwenhoven extradition case: the umpteenth postponement. Why?

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On April 12, 2019 the Magistrate’s Court in Cape Town again postponed the case. It was the umpteenth postponement. I nearly lost track of the previous delays. The Dutch authorities want Guus Kouwenhoven back in the Netherlands. In April 2017 a Dutch court found him guilty of illegal arms trading in Liberia – in violation of a UN arms embargo – and of war crimes in Liberia and neighboring Guinea. Kouwenhoven had not awaited the final verdict and had fled to South Africa where he was arrested in December 2017.

Augustinus-Petrus-Kouwenhoven

He was released on bail which allows him te stay in his luxurious mansion in Cape Town. Kouwenhoven – once a member of the Dutch Quote500 – the list of 500 richest people in the Netherlands – hired the best and probably most expensive lawyers in South Africa to keep him out of jail. He had done the same in the Netherlands where he had hired Inez Weski,  a well known and well paid Dutch lawyer, and one of the best.

Now, again, Kouwenhoven’s lawyers managed to keep him out of jail, preventing his extradition to the Netherlands where the 77-year old businessman – who made a fortune in Liberia aided by his partners-in-crime Charles Taylor and Emmanuel Shaw – was sentenced to 19 years in jail. By the way, former Finance minister Shaw is now …. one of president Weah’s senior advisors, whereas warlord-turned-president Taylor serves a 50-year jail sentence in the UK for aiding and abetting rebels and war criminals in Sierra Leone.

web-1812binguuskouwenhovenjpg

The magistrate’s decision to postpone the case was motivated by his wish to first hear the opinion of the Cape Town High Court on the request of Kouwenhoven’s South African lawyers, Gary Eisenberg and Anton Katz, who have questioned the legitimacy of Kouwenhoven’s arrest, in December 2017.

Katz and Eisenberg were already successful in obtaining several postponements of the extradition case in 2018. “We are becoming incredibly frustrated, but not surprised.”, said prosecutor Christopher Burke, after the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court umpteenth postponement of the case in 2018. Christopher Burke left us puzzling what he meant.

The High Court in Cape Town will decide on the case on June 7, 2019.

There’s a saying: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’

More on the Kouwenhoven trial in the Netherlands, which lasted from 2005 till 2017, and the saga of his extradition (2017 – present) on my website.

Posted in Charles Taylor, Emmanuel Shaw, George Weah, Guinea, Guus Kouwenhoven, Justice, Kouwenhoven, Liberia, rule of law, Sierra Leone, South Africa, war crimes | Leave a comment

A trip back in history: the United States, 1851

Arrest of a fugitive slave

Browsing through old American newspapers searching for articles on the newly created republic of Liberia (1847), I read with a shock a headline that gave me goose pimples. “Arrest of Another Fugitive Slave” I read on page 3 of The New York Herald, dated August 26, 1851.

It was the chilling story of the arrest of John Bolding, a fugitive slave from Columbia, South Carolina, who – according to this newspaper – “was the property of Mr. Barnet Anderson of the same State”. Some four years earlier, John Bolding had run away from his ‘boss’. When arrested, in Poughkeepsie (NY), John Bolding was working successfully as a taylor, occupying a shop next to the Eastern Hotel. At Poughkeepsie, it seems, he was doing quite a profitable little business and was happily married.

His arrest incited his black friends to come to his rescue but before they could intervene the police hastily put John Bolding on a train to New York. The train left and at the time of the publication of the newspaper the ultimate fate of the fugitive slave was yet undecided.

Unfortunately, the case of John Bolding was one of many. The slavery issue in the United States would only be settled with the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by president Abraham Lincoln (1863).  The Emancipation Proclamation changed the federal legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved Afr0-Americans in the southern states. However, it did not end discrimination and racism in the United States, be it in the north or the south.
Notwithstanding the lack of civil rights most Afro-Americans decided to stay in the United States and build up their lives in the country where they were born. Emigration to Liberia came virtually to a stand-still.

The original 1851 article:

The New York Herald, morning edition, Tuesday, August 26, 1851 (page 3, 3rd column).

The New York Herald, morning edition, Tuesday, August 26, 1851 (page 3, 3rd column).

Posted in 1847, 1851, 1863, Abraham Lincoln, Afro-Americans, Barnet Anderson, civil rights, Columbia, discrimination, Emancipation Proclamation, fugitive slave, John Bolding, Liberia, New York, Poughkeepsie, racism, runaway slave, slavery, South Carolina, The New York Herald, United States | Leave a comment

Liberia’s rich biodiversity of flora and fauna

The other day I was preparing a powerpoint presentation on Liberia for a group of people interested in this country, but hardly familiar with it. For this purpose I was doing some research on Liberia’s flora and fauna and I was again heavily impressed. I thought it might be useful or interesting to share with you, the reader of this blog, what I found.

Liberia has an extremely rich biodiversity of flora and fauna – thanks to its tropical forests. Few people only realize or know this. It is estimated that 40 to 50% of the country’s surface is still covered with primary tropical rainforest containing over 250 different species. Liberia thus has West Africa’s largest  tropical rainforest. This situation is closely related to the country’s tropical, hot and humid climate. As you may know, the annual rainfall – concentrated in the rainy season which lasts from May till October (!) – varies between 5 meters (200 inches) – in the capital Monrovia – and 2 meters (80 inches) in the interior of the country.

Area covered by tropical rainforest in Liberia

Area covered by tropical rainforest in Liberia (source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/liberia/10104422/Liberia-and-the-vanishing-rainforest.html – accessed on October 24, 2018).

Sapo National Park is home to about 125 mammal species, including elephants, leopards, giant forest hogs, chimpanzees, duiker antilopes and the rare pygmy hippo.

Location of Sapo National Park in Liberia

Location of Sapo National Park in Liberia

In general, Liberia’s fauna includes mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, butterflies and moths. Among the mammals we particularly note the pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis), a small hippopotamid (‘pygmy hippo’) which is native to West Africa. The pygmy hippopotamus lives primarily in Liberia, but small populations can be found in neighboring countries (Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone). Furthermore, it is assumed that Liberia is home to the greatest variety of snakes on the African continent.

Moreover, about 530 species of butterfly are known to be from Liberia, one of which is endemic. Finally, it is hardly generally known, but do you know that Liberia is an ornithological paradise or – in laymen’s words – a paradise for birds and bird-watchers? The avifauna of Liberia include a total of 695 species, including the bee-warbler, a bird only slightly larger than a bee. One of Liberia’s almost 700 species of birds is endemic,  three have been introduced  by humans and three are rare or accidental. It is important to note that twelve species are globally threatened.

'Birds of Liberia' by Wulf Gatter (1998)

‘Birds of Liberia’ (1998) by Wulf Gatter (author), Martin Woodcock (illustrator), Friedhelm Weick (illustrator)

From: Birds of Liberia' by Wulf Gatter (author), Martin Woodcock (illustrator), Friedhelm Weick (illustrator)

From: Birds of Liberia’ (1998) by Wulf Gatter (author), Martin Woodcock (illustrator), Friedhelm Weick (illustrator)

Posted in 'Birds of Liberia', avifauna, bee-warbler, biodiversity, butterflies, butterfly, Choeropsis liberiensis, climate, fauna, fish, flora, Friedhelm Weick, Guinea, Hexaprotodon liberiensis, Ivory Coast, Liberia, mammals, Martin Woodcock, Monrovia, moths, ornithological paradise, pygmy hippo, pygmy hippopotamus, rainfall, rainforest, Sapo National Park, Sierra Leone, snake, snakes, tropical rainforest, West Africa, Wulf Gatter, www.telegraph.co.uk | Leave a comment

April 12, 1980 – April 12, 2018

PRC-678x38138 years ago, a group of soldiers changed the course of Liberia’s history. Seventeen soldiers, under the command of master-sergeant Samuel Doe, penetrated the Executive Mansion in the country’s capital Monrovia, killed the guards while working their way to the sleeping quarters, and brutally murdered President William R. Tolbert, Jr., the country’s 20th president. At 6 a.m. I woke up to the sound of automatic weapons at a friend’s house in the Sherman compound in the outskirts of Monrovia. ELBC radio soon confirmed what had happened the previous night.
William R. Tolbert, Jr. was the country’s last 100% Americo-Liberian president. He was the descendant of African-Americans who had created the colony and later the republic of Liberia, 160 years earlier. In 1985 Samuel Doe rigged the presidential elections, defeated his opponent, Jackson Doe (no relation) and became Liberia’s 21st and first indigenous president – though not really democratically elected. His poor parents belonged to the Krahn tribe. Doe’s rule became the prelude to a savage civil war, the country’s First Civil War, that raged between 1989 and 1997. His successor, warlord-president Charles Taylor was the son of an Americo-Liberian father and a Gola mother. He turned out to be one of the worst criminals of the African continent and ended up in an English prison, locked up for 50 years, probably till the end of his life. Charles Taylor was condemned for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, but not for the atrocities he ordered his NPFL fighters to commit in Liberia. His departure ended the Second Civil War (1999-2003) that left the country devastated, the economy in ruins, and the population traumatized. According to the Constitution, his Vice-President Moses Blah briefly served as Liberia’s 23rd president. Blah was of Gio descent and thus became Liberia’s second indigenous president – though not elected in his own right.
In 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the presidential elections, defeating her opponent, world famous soccer star George Weah. Her father was the son of a minor Gola chief and one of his wives, her mother was the daughter of a Kru market woman and a German trader. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Liberia’s 24th president and served two terms (2006-2018). She was Liberia’s and Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since both her father and her mother were raised in an Americo-Liberian family, she is considered Americo-Liberian by some observers – though she does not identify as such, specifically not after the 1970s when she briefly served as President Tolbert’s Finance Minister. Be that as it may, President Sirleaf managed to keep the country peaceful, with the help of a UN force, UNMIL. In 2018 she turned the key to the Executive Mansion over to her erstwhile opponent, George Weah, who had won the 2017 presidential elections. Reportedly, George Weah is of mixed Kru, Gbee, Mano, and Bassa heritage. Since the elections were democratic, peaceful, with multiple candidates and according to the law, George Weah in January 2018 not only became Liberia’s 25th president but also the country’s first democratically elected indigenous President, a historic achievement. Two hundred years after Liberia was created – first as a colony of a private American organization (the American Colonization Society), 1822-1847, then as Africa’s first republic (July 26, 1847) – the indigenous people of the region are no longer ruled by descendants of the freed slaves who had created the republic in 1847. The small Americo-Liberian elite, representing less than 5% of the total population, had excluded and marginalized the country’s tribal population and monopolized the political and economic power during 133 years, till that night, 38 years ago, when an indigenous master-sergeant seized power in one of Africa’s bloodiest military coups.

All this came to my mind when I woke up this morning, April 12, 2018.

Many people in Liberia have neither access to modern education nor to decent health facilities – and so on. I wish them a better future. Students in Liberian schools, colleges and universities lack books that tells them about their country’s history. To satisfy their needs – at least partially – and for everybody interested in Liberian affairs, I like making a small contribution and recently started updating my website on Liberia’s Past and Present, with the precious technical help of my wife for 45 years, and I will continue to do so in the near future. You’re invited.

Posted in 1847, 1980, 1980 coup, 2017 presidential elections, 2018, 20th Liberian President, 21st Liberian President, 22nd Liberian President, 23rd Liberian President, 24th Liberian President, 25th Liberian president, American Colonization Society, Americo-Liberian presidents, Americo-Liberians, April 12 1980, Bassa, Charles Taylor, Civil War(s) Liberia, Coups in Africa, democratically elected indigenous president, elections, elections fraud, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Executive Mansion, freed slaves, Gbee, George Manneh Weah, George Weah, Gio, Gola, health, international soccer star, Jackson F. Doe, Krahn, Kru, Liberia Past and Present website, Liberian Economy, Liberian History, Mano, military coup, Minister of Finance, Monrovia, Moses Blah, murder, peace, People's Redemption Council, Samuel Kanyon Doe, Second civil war 1999-2003, Sherman, Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Special Court, UNMIL, William R. Tolbert Jr. | Leave a comment

The importance of George Weah’s election victory

weah12January 22, 2018 was a historic day for Liberia. On that day, George Manneh Weah was inaugurated as Liberia’s 25th president, the country’s first democratically elected indigenous president since the creation of the republic, 170 years ago!

220px-Samuel_K._DoeYes sure, Africa’s oldest republic has had presidents of tribal descent before. In 1986, former master-sergeant and leader of the military People’s Redemption Council (PRC), Samuel Doe, was inaugurated as Liberia’s 21st president. Samuel Doe had seized power in the bloody 1980 coup that we all know from history books – some of us are old enough to remember it happening –, he thus became Liberia’s first head of state of tribal origin (Krahn). In 1985, he organized presidential elections in an attempt to legitimize his position. He won the elections by rigging, defeating Jackson Doe (not related) of the Liberian Action Party. For that reason – cheating – Samuel Doe cannot be considered a democratically elected indigenous president.

200381413Liberia’s second president of tribal descent was Moses Blah (Gio). He was Charles Taylor’s Vice President who took over after the latter’s forced exile (2003). Blah has been described as a Taylor-made successor. He only ruled for two months. Also in his case we cannot say that he was a democratically elected indigenous president. Blah was replaced by Charles Gyude Bryant (Grebo), who was not democratically elected, but put in place by Liberians who were ‘representatives of warring factions, political parties and civil society’ during peace talks in Ghana. Bryant’s official title was leader of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), he was not president of Liberia. His successor was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006-2018), the country’s 24th president. Although her grandfather was a Gola chief, she does not qualify as an indigenous president, given her mixed background. See the article ‘Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her tribal roots and Americo-Liberian background’. Hence, it is clear, George Manneh Weah can rightfully claim to be ‘Liberia’s first democratically elected indigenous president’ .

HRW JohnsonWe can also look at Weah’s historic achievement from another angle. Liberia was created in 1847 by free-born blacks and former slaves from the United States who settled on the west coast of Africa, aided by a private American organization, the American Colonization Society (ACS). The country’s first ten presidents were African-American presidents, born in the US – although legally, strictly speaking, they were not considered American citizens. Thereafter comes a group of Americo-Liberian presidents. They were born in Liberia. Their ancestors had come to Liberia as colonists. The first Americo-Liberian president was Hilary Richard Wright Johnson (1884-1892), Liberia’s first president born in Africa/Liberia though from American parents. As from 1912 all presidents were born in Liberia and ‘Americo-Liberian’, as they preferred to refer to themselves, at least until 1980. And now we have the first indigenous president – Weah (Kru) – democratically elected, 170 years after the creation of Liberia in 1847.

Will George Weah’s presidency be symbolic? Will he be the first of a large number of democratically elected indigenous Liberian presidents? Will his inauguration mark a further step in the decolonization of Africa’s oldest republic, first ruled by African-Americans, colored people, free-born blacks, former slaves from the US, then by Americo-Liberians, descendants of the American colonists, and now– from now on? – by African-Liberians?

Whatever the answer may be to these questions, it is clear from the foregoing that the importance of George Weah’s election extends beyond the victory of a former international soccer star who has become president of a country, I almost forgot to mention the other historic achievement.

Schermafbeelding 2017-12-29 om 23.09.07

Posted in 1847, 1980, 1980 coup, 2017 presidential elections, 2018, 24th Liberian President, 25th Liberian president, Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord, ACS, African-American presidents, African-Americans, Afro-Americans, American Colonization Society, Americo-Liberian presidents, Americo-Liberians, April 12 1980, Charles Gyude Bryant, Charles Taylor, civil society organizations, Civil War(s) Liberia, Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA 2003, decolonization, democratically elected indigenous president, elections, elections fraud, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, freed slaves, George Manneh Weah, George Weah, Gio, Gola, Grebo, indigenous presidents of Liberia, international soccer star, Jackson F. Doe, Krahn, Kru, Liberia, Liberia Colony, Liberian Action Party, Liberian History, military coup, Moses Blah, People's Redemption Council, PRC, President Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, Samuel Kanyon Doe, vote rigging | Leave a comment

‘Tribute to a fallen friend Stephen Byron Tarr, 1943 – 2017’

Dr_Baron_TarrOn October 7 an eminent scholar, an outspoken politician, but above all a dear friend, Dr. Stephen Byron Tarr, died after a prolonged illness in St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Monrovia. Dr. Byron Tarr was one of Liberia’s brightest economists. He briefly served as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs in the PRC government led by master-sergeant Samuel Doe (Sept. 1981 – June 1982) and was Minister of Finance in the Interim-Government led by Amos Sawyer (1990 – 1992). Byron Tarr was a founding member of the Liberian Action Party (LAP) and served as its Secretary General. Other co-founders were Nah Doe Patrick Bropleh, Jackson F. Doe, Harry Greaves, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and  Tuan Wreh.

NB: International observers agreed that LAP’s presidential candidate Jackson Doe won the 1985 elections. However, due to massive fraud and vote rigging his opponent, Samuel Doe (no relation) was declared the winner with 50.9% of the votes cast.

Dr. Stephen Byron Tarr was interred in his home village of Zondo, Grand Bassa County on October 21. RIP Byron, we will always remember you and cherish the good memories and ideals that we shared.

A mutual friend, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, wrote a personal tribute to Byron. He was so kind to grant me permission to reproduce it here. Dr. Elwood Dunn is one of Liberia’s most distinguished historians and educators and a prolific author. He is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science (University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee).

TRIBUTE TO A FALLEN FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE
STEPHEN BYRON TARR, 1943-2017

By: D. Elwood Dunn

Byron Tarr’s older brother Phillip Tarr and I graduated Bassa High School together in 1960. Somehow our paths diverged and the younger Byron entered my orbit in the late 60s. As Byron and I received our terminal degrees in the United States in 1972 we began long and intense conversations about Liberia’s past, its present and future prospects. A bond was established then and it remained firm through the vicissitudes of Liberian national life since then, broken only with his passing earlier this month. Funeral Services were held at his home village of Zondo, No, 4 District, Grand Bassa County where his remains were interred on Saturday, October 21, 2017.

As I pause to remember my friend, I extend heartfelt condolences to his family particularly his three surviving children – Stanley Byron Tarr, Seymour Bruce Tarr and Aimee Zeoweh Tarr. Your dad loved Liberia with an uncommon passion and strove all his life to make it a better country. The records of his deeds are there for public examination and evaluation.

I walked into Byron’s office at the Finance Ministry in 1972 shortly after he took the job of Special Assistant/Assistant Minister of Finance for Revenues. I was on a visit home as a freshly minted Ph.D. We talked about the challenges facing the new Administration of President William R. Tolbert, Jr. I returned to my teaching job in the U.S. but we stayed in close touch.

Finance Minister Steve Tolbert directly recruited Byron and though he held titles as Assistant, then Deputy Minister of Finance for Revenues, he became a highly regarded principal adviser to Minister Tolbert. When the history of Steve’s effective though controversial stewardship of the Finance Ministry of the era is written, Bryon will perforce figure prominently. Remodeling the Maritime program, establishing systems for tax collection, chairing the committee that drafted Liberia’s first ever law toward strengthening the Auditor General’s Office, strides in government debt servicing, and creating an enabling environment for a vibrant Liberian entrepreneurial class were only some of the highlights of what transpired in the first half of the 1970s.

Two years later, I returned home with my family and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the year 1974 came to a close tragedy struck my friend as he lost one of his twin sons to a drowning accident. Though this tragedy was the proximate cause for his withdrawal from government service and returning to the U.S. landing a job as a tax expert with the U.N. system in New York, there were also echoes of personal disillusionment with the Administration. However, by 1977 Byron was back in Liberia at the personal invitation of President Tolbert. The new Job was Comptroller General of State-Owned Enterprises with mandate to improve the sector, including privatizing some of the state enterprises. But Byron’s responsibilities extended beyond public corporations, as he soon became an informal advisor to President Tolbert on matters affecting the national economy. As he brought to bear his intellect and passion for Liberia, I heard the President on several occasions marveling at Byron’s skills but also remarking: “You must have strong stomach” to digest Byron’s doses of advice.

A couple of years after Byron left the Tolbert Administration for the second and last time, the military coup d’état of 1980 occurred. Byron was recruited with others to help stabilize a major national crisis. He remained engaged in the 1980s, serving briefly as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, a member of the National Constitution Commission that drafted what became the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, and among the founders of the Liberia Action Party/LAP along with Harry Greaves, Sr., Jackson F. Doe, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nah Doe Patrick Bropleh.

He would soon pay a costly price for his political activities, for while he was serving as Secretary General of LAP he was arrested in 1985 by the military government of Samuel K. Doe, imprisoned and his house deliberately burned to the ground by Doe’s soldiers. Upon his release from prison he briefly settled in the United States, but professional opportunities in short order took him further afield.

Travelling throughout the African continent and residing in several African countries for periods of time, Byron’s many professional engagement included contractual assignments with the United Nations Development Program, the United States Agency for International Development, the Africa Capacity Building Foundation, the African Development Bank, the African Union, the European Union and the World Bank.

Such professional opportunities abroad did not preclude his commitment to Liberia, for as the country descended into civil war, he was in the thicket of the goings-on to contain war and restore peace to his beloved country. But it was not peace at any price that he sought. He wanted a different, reformed Liberia of greater equity and justice. Again, when the records of this dark period in Liberian history are fully uncovered Byron Tarr’s uncompromising stances tending toward equity and justice will become evident. And so he became a part of at least the first interim governing arrangement during the war years, even serving briefly as Finance Minister in the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU).

Once a semblance of peace was restored to the country, Tarr resumed his private consultancy work. He accepted membership on the Core Team and leader of the economy team preparing LIBERIA VISION 2030 long-term perspective study. His last major engagement was as founding Executive Director of the Liberian independent think tank, Center for Policy Studies/CERPS, which survives him.

Even as his health failed he was being recruited by the Liberian Senate to serve on a panel of economic experts known as the “Independent Economic Review and Advisory Panel” to study and advise on the parlous state of the national economy. I was visiting his home when he informed the President Pro Tempore of the Senate of his health inability and thus his decline of the offer. In the last few years of his life Byron was researching a book seeking to analyze the interrelationship of the political and economic architecture of Liberia by reviewing some three-dozen public sector reform projects Liberia and its development partners implemented between 1908 and 2008. Tentatively titled “To Rouse Liberia, Long Forlorn: Overcoming Challenges to Economic Governance,” the study sought to replace the politics of reform with the reform of politics.

Liberia A National Polity in TransitionByron and I collaborated on a wide range of issues related to our country, among them the Vision 2030 exercise and CERPS. We provided critical editing to each other’s work. We even co-authored a book, Liberia: A National Polity in Transition (Published 1988). We worked well together for some 45 years in service to our ideals and to our country.

Goodbye my friend! You have played well your role! Rest in peace until we meet again!

Byron Tarr 1
Elwood Dunn’s tribute to Stephen Byron Tarr (1943 – 2017) was also published in  The Perspective (October 24, 2017).

Daily Observer Publisher Kenneth Y. Best and former colleague John T. Woods also paid respect to Stephen Byron Tarr: ‘Dr. S. Byron Tarr. A great Liberian son’! In: the Daily Observer (October 24, 2017).

‘Renowned Liberian Economist, Dr. Byron Tarr, is dead’, in: Daily Observer, October 9, 2017.

Posted in 1943, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1986 Constitution, 2017, Africa Capacity Building Foundation, African Development Bank, African Union, Aimee Zeoweh Tarr, Amos Sawyer, April 12 1980, Byron Tarr, Center for Policy Studies/CERPS, Daily Observer, elections, elections fraud, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Elwood Dunn, European Union, Famous Liberians, Grand Bassa County, Harry Greaves, IGNU, Jackson F. Doe, John T. Woods, Kenneth Best, LAP, Liberia, Liberia Action Party, Liberia: A National Polity in Transition, Liberian Action Party, Liberian History, military coup, Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, Monrovia, Nah Doe Patrick Bropleh, National Constitution Commission, Phillip Tarr, PRC, Samuel Kanyon Doe, Sewanee University, Seymour Bruce Tarr, St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital Monrovia, Stanley Byron Tarr, Steve Tolbert, The Perspective, Tuan Wreh, United Nations Development Program, United States Agency for International Development, Vision 2030, vote rigging, William R. Tolbert Jr., World Bank, Zondo village | Leave a comment