Now, here how it got started! The Settlers like the Europeans came to Africa with the preconceived beliefs that they were better than those they met in Africa. As the result, they called themselves Americo-Liberians and referred to the Africans as aborigines, natives, country people, ‘pagans and uncivilized’ because their culture was different than theirs. The Settles’ behavior towards their ‘brethren’ produced the conflict known today in Liberia as the “Americo-Liberian, Native/Country Divide”. This divide is what racism is to America. It is like cancer that is in remission; but when it is expedient it shows its ugly head. It is exploited for the benefit of those who seek it to their advantage - the Americo-Liberians and their counterpart, Native/Country elites or ‘book people’.
Liberians should pay close attention to these wolves in sheep clothing. With the October 10, 2017 presidential election approaching, candidates and their supporters are beginning to exploit this divide to their advantage. It is in response to this hypocrisy, I decided to write this article to serve as a WARNINGin order to expose politicians who are bent on using this tactics and denied the existence of Liberia’s Country and Congor divide for the sole purpose of exploiting it like candidate Donald John Trump did in winning the United States’ presidency. Both groups are disingenuous, neither of them is patriotic; they are all in denial of the bitter relationship that continued to exist today between descendants of the Settlers and the ‘Country people’.
Recent example of the hostility that exists between both groups was displayed by Liberty Party Standard bearer Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine in his response to Vice President Boakai’s alleged accusation that his party is supported by President Sirleaf. The article was published in the March 16, 2017 edition of FrontPage Africa under the titled: “Liberty Party Charles Brumskine Describes as ‘Nonsense’ VP Boakai’s Insinuations”. Excerpts from it read:
Please, I beg all those seeking political office to stop trying to bring this division to our country again. It is the Liberian people who have kept their peace and hope since 2003. And they should be allowed to enjoy the dividends of peace.
…The rumors of the President support comes from the fact that Liberty Party appears to be better financed than it was in 2011, adding that it is because the party has broadened it support base.
… This year’s elections should be issue driven rather than personal attacks and tribal divide…
The Liberian people should NOT fall such denial of division that still exists in the country. Therefore, for Cllr Brumskine to say “…all those seeking political office to stop trying to bring this division to our country again. It is the Liberian people who have kept their peace and hope since 2003. And they should be allowed to enjoy the dividends of peace”.
Nothing stays hidden forever!
While writing this article, I came across a letter written by then Senior Senator of Margibi County, Honorable S. Bedell Fahn. The letter was dated February 3, 1998, and addressed to Honorable Enoch M. Dogolea (now deceased), President of the Liberian Senate. Find below the letter and you be the judge if the Congor/Country Divide is a thing of the PAST in Liberia as Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine wants us to believe:
The Liberian Senate
Office of the Senior Senator Margibi County
Chairman: Ways Means Finance and Maritime Affairs
February 3, 1998
Honorable Enoch M. Dogolea
President of the Honorable Liberia Senate and
The Honorable Liberian Senate
Ref: LETTER OF COMPLAINT AGAINST SENATOR CHARLES WALKER BRUMSKINE
Dear Honorable President of the Senate & Fellow Senators:
I write to formally complain the unbecoming and distasteful behavior of Senator Charles Walker Brumskine of Grand Bassa County who walked into my – office on Friday, January 30, 1998 at 11:48 a.m. in the presence of my Administrative Assistant David Wiles, Senators Thomas Nimely and George Koukou and rained insults at me as well as his threats against me to remove me as Chairman of the Way, Means, Finance and Maritime Affairs Committee of the Honorable Liberian Senate because, according to him, I did not approve Travel Expenses for Senator Evelyn Diggs Townsend, Senator of Montserrado County, for her trip to the African Caribbean Pacific European Union Parliamentary Union (ACP-EU) scheduled to convene in Brussels, Belgium. My decision not to approve the Travel Expenses was due to the fact that there was no money in the interim budget to cover the Senator Townsend’s trip.
Senator Brumskine insulted me by saying, “WHO IS A FAHN TO DENY A TOWNSEND FROM TRAVELING FROM LIBERIA? YOUR NATIVE PEOPLE KILLED HER HUSBAND IN 1980 AND YOU TOO; A NATIVE MAN IS DENYING HER THE CHANCE TO TRAVEL”. I felt deeply insulted, demeaned and hurt by his action and I responded to him. “GET YOUR STUPID SELF FROM MY OFFICE, YOU FOOL”. Senator Brumskine again replied to me, “I WILL MAKE SURE TO REMOVE YOU FROM THIS COMMITTEE AND GET AT YOU, YOU COUNTRY FOOL. WE GET OUR COUNTRY BACK NOW, DAMN COUNTRY FOOL”. My colleagues and staff present can singularly prove all that Senator Brumskine and I said. Both Senators Nimely and Koukou lashed at Senator Brumskine for such divisive remarks and threats.
Honorable President of the Senate and Fellow Senators, I most respectfully request this body to look into my complaint as expeditiously as possible before my pending leave of absence for a short term course in the United States of America as you all are aware of.
Signed: S. Bedell Fahn
S. Bedell Fahn (HON)
SENIOR SENATOR MARGIBI COUNTY (Transcribed from Brumskine_Fahn (1).pdf)
To deny that there is NO division that exists in the country is rather self-serving and hypocritical by those that believe it. Moreover, the use of TRABLISM to gain votes will not work, either. This disunity is infectious; it is what Racism is to America. The inhumane treatment of minorities, especially African Americans inspired the poet Langston Hughes to write a poem titled: “I, Too, Sing America”. It reads:
Tomorrow, I'll be at the table when company comes. Nobody'll dare say to me, ‘eat in the kitchen,’ then. Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed -- I, too, am America.
Langston Hughes’ poem motived me to write, “We Too, Were Created Equal” to convey similar message to those who for four hundred plus years have done everything within their power, including telling LIES and the use of BRUTE FORCE to deny us – the (BLACK RACE) of our humanity. The first stanza reads:
We Too, Were Created Equal
Four hundred years ago
We were brought to these shores
Against our will
Accorded the worse kind of treatment
That was not even reserved for beasts
Forced to work the land of our masters
From sun up to sun down
In the worse of conditions
That ever visited upon any human being
Sold like cattle, with tags attached
To our bodies in the market place
And our mothers forced
To breed more commodity
To increase the wealth of their masters
Yet, it never dawn on them
That since we look alike we could be related
But instead, we were distinguished
On the basis of our features
And the color of our skin
So they need to know the truth that
We too, were created in the image of God!
How the Congor/Country Divide Got Started!
The Congor and Country Divide within Historical Context
The July 26, 1847 Declaration of Independence drafted by the Representatives of the People of the Commonwealth of Liberia excluded the natives of the soil. It reads:
We, the people of the Republic of Liberia, were originally inhabitants of the United States of North America.
In some parts of that country we were debarred by law from all rights and privileges of man - in other parts, public sentiment, more powerful than law, frowned us down.
We were excluded from all participation in the government.
We were taxed without our consent.
We were compelled to contribute to the resources of a country which gave us no protection.
We were made a separate and distinct class, and against us every avenue of improvement was effectively closed. Strangers from other lands, of a color different from ours, were preferred before us.
We uttered our complaints, but they were unattended to, or only met by alleging the peculiar institutions of the country.
All hope of a favorable change in our country was thus wholly extinguished in our bosoms, and we looked with anxiety for some asylum from the deep degradation.
The western coast of Africa was the place selected by American benevolence and philanthropy for our future home (emphasis is mine). Removed beyond those influences which oppressed us in our native land, it was hoped we would be enabled to enjoy those rights and privileges and exercise and improve those faculties which the God of nature has given us in common with the rest of mankind.
Under the auspices of the American Colonization Society, we established ourselves here, on land, acquired by purchase [questionable]from the lords of the soil…
In addition, the Motto adopted by the Settlers reads: “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here.”
The distinction established in the Settlers’ Constitution and Motto gave birth to our present pregnant problem. Instead of being united as a people in this small country of ours, Tribalism, Ethnicity, Congor and Country divide became the yardstick used to distinguish each other. Moreover, the Settlers refused to be identified with a TRIBE or to be called tribal people, when in fact they a tribe based on the definition of TRIBE. Don’t take my word for it, look it up in the dictionary and the Bible. A TRIBE consists of a people who speak the same language (Liberian English - Settlers), share the same culture, and support each other at the expense of those they considered different from them, like in the case of those they referred to as native or country people. It was they who brought about the distinction they came with from North America.
Imported Cultural Hegemony
Based on the socialization of the Americo Liberians in North America, they adapted the prejudices of their slave masters in their dealing with the indigenous population. They assumed a position of superiority – one similar to the arrangement that existed between them and their slave masters on the plantations in North America. As the result of this orientation, they considered the indigenous people as backward, uncivilized, pagan, heathen, etc.
In an article (September 7, 2001) titled: “Liberia’s Slave History Is Complex” written by Todd Pitman of the Associated Press, wrote, “…But the settlers, who came to be known as Americo-Liberians, were foreigners in Africa and frequently battled indigenous tribes”.
In support of his claim, he quoted the late Archbishop Michael Francis:
It was a checkered history. They wanted to import their experience in America with them, says Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Francis. They didn’t want to do manual labor because it reminded them of plantation life. So they forced indigenous people to do it instead.
It is this general attitude that brought about the division in the Liberian society. For example as far back as 1864, President Daniel Bashiel Warner was concern about the division created by the settlers; therefore, in his inaugural address of January 4, 1864, he made an attempt to bring it to the attention of the ruling elite:
Of late, however, I have noticed with emotions of deep regret what I consider indications of a growing feeling of sectionalism among us, manifested particularly within the last few weeks. Need I say, that, in every point of view, whether affecting the social condition, the material prosperity, or the civil liberty of our country, down among us, for it cannot but exercise a deep and wide – spread influence for evil and only evil continually. (Joseph Saye Guannu, Inaugural Addresses, 1980, pp. 52-53)
Furthermore, in Arthur Barclay’s Second Inaugural Speech (January 1, 1906), he stated:
There is often manifested among the civilized population an active although secret disloyalty, especially in matters affecting the native tribes which has been very troublesome and embarrassing.
The Americo-Liberian citizens may do, and in the past has done the most harm in connection with the subject (African inhabitants) now considered, by maintaining a contemptuous, ungracious, and unjust attitude toward his aboriginal brother, by a want of politeness and good feelings. (Joseph Saye Guannu, Inaugural Addresses – 1980: 215)
However, in Arthur Barclay’s First Inaugural Address of January 4, 1904, he made reference to this reality by stating:
…The United States is not the only source from which we may draw desirable immigrants has long been recognized.
We have the West Indies and the English West African colonies. A large and increasing number of Sierra Leoneans which people with those of Liberians constitute at present the largest Negro English speaking population on the West Coast are now settling in the country. It is an interesting fact. It may have far-reaching consequences. Be hospitable and liberal, conciliate the populations in the colonies around you, and they will help you to tide over things until our relatives abroad shall come to our assistance. (Joseph Saye Guannu, Inaugural Addresses, 1980, p. 204).
In addition, based on Arthur Barclay’s plan, an indigenous person had to meet certain requirements before he or she could be accepted as citizen of Liberia. These requirements were:
The willingness of applicants to qualify for Liberian citizen by adopting the Christian faith, Western living conditions, and Western standards of conduct, dress, and general appearance. An African, in effect, would have to detach himself from his own customs by completely accepting the Americo-Liberian set of values. Citizenship and voting rights might then follow. (Yekutiel Gershoni, Black Colonialism: The Americo-Liberian Scramble for the Hinterland, 1985, pp. 37-38).
These were requirements that the indigenous people had to meet in other to become citizens in their own land. Citizenship was extended to the indigenous population in 1904; after 57 years.
Maintenance of the Congor Cultural Hegemony at Any Cause
There were individuals or group of people who highlighted the division caused by the Settlers’ social, political and economic divide; instead, they were viewed as TROUBLE MAKERS.
For example, Edward Wilmot Blyden defined the role of those who emigrated as “rolling back the appalling cloud of ignorance and superstition which overspreads the land, and to rear on those shores as asylum of liberty for the downtrodden sons of Africa wherever found.” Blyden felt that it was the objectives of blacks in America “to assimilate with the Africans in Liberia rather than assimilate with Euro-Americans in the United States” (Tom W. Shick, Behold the Promised Land, 1977, pp. 9-10).
Blyden’s approach was received by the country’s mulatto ruling elites as an attempt to rock the boat. As a result, on one occasion, he was apprehended, dragged through the streets of Monrovia, and on the verge of being hanged by the ruling class, saved by a close friend. After the incident, he went into exile in Sierra Leone.
Regarding the attempts on his life, he wrote:
“If the elites succeed in killing me, they will have to annihilate the ashes, for out of them will arise a stronger influence than any they have yet witnessed in Liberia for the right whose triumph they dread”.
Honorable Welleh Didwho Twe (commonly known as D. Twe and Cllr. Tuan Wreh suffered similar fate leveled against them by President William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman. Didwho Twe’s crime was challenging Mr. Tubman for the Liberian presidency in 1951, and as a journalist, Tuan Wreh criticized Mr. Tubman’s policy in the newspaper.
Another story that is worth mentioning here is from an English man who was a former Colonial Secretary of The Gambia, his name is Henry Fenwick Reeve. In The Black Republic published in the 1920s, he wrote:
The natives have never been considered the full equals of the emigrants, nor treated as brothers; they are ‘hewers of woods’ and ‘drawers of water;’ they are utilized as house servants. It is convenient to be able to fill one’s house with ‘Bush Niggers’(as the settlers/Americo-Liberians referred to their fellow citizens of the interior, cited on p. 181 of The Black Republic) as servants, and the settlers have done so from the early day of settlement.
While, indeed, should one himself work where life is easy, and money is quickly made through trade? This feeling of cast shows itself in various curious ways – the Colonists soon fell into the habit of calling themselves ‘white man’ in contrast to the Negroes of the country…
…The ‘Bush Niggers,’ as the Liberians term their fellow citizens of the Interior, still fight among themselves without interference on the part of Government, while the spoil of battle in prisoners, men, women or children, is still bartered among themselves, and even sold to the Liberians under the euphemism of ‘Boys’ (*Wards).
In fact, the term “boy” is a derogatory reference with regard to people of African origin as child-like. The Americo-Liberian settlers used it in relation to the African Liberians in the same manner boy was used in reference to them in North America.
Nonetheless, these past ten plus years, African Liberians, practically occupied the principal positions in the Unity Party (UP) government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Their performance surpassed that of the Americo-Liberians they replaced. In fact, they are worse! Most of them were and are engaged in corrupt practices. They are only concern about what is in it for “Me, myself and I.” These are individuals that are exploiting the Congor, Country Divide to get elected like what Donald Trump did in the US. Liberians should not for it! On the other hand, the Congor people should refrain from using the phrase: “We are one people”, when in fact it was their ancestors that created the MESS we find ourselves today. How can we be one people when the motto still reads: “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here” and Liberia’s highest honor is named after the ‘so-called’ Pioneers?
There are still many constitutions or principal bodies of law in most countries with clauses and amendments designed to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their origin, race, gender, or religion. In Liberia too, we have these same guarantees in place, but they are not enforced to the letter. The same government that enacted them violates them with impunity.
However, there is the tendency by many of the children of the Settlers to write about the relationship as if it is cordial. A classic example is Helene Cooper’s memoir The House at Sugar Beach. It was reviewed on Friday, February 4, 2011 by Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey. It reads:
Deconstructing Helene Cooper’s The House at Sugar Beach
Helene Cooper’s memoir, The House at Sugar Beach, is an account about dichotomies, race, class, and the African psyche in all its complexities. Cooper, a child of two “Congo” dynasties (descendants of repatriated American Blacks), dissects her unusual upbringing in Liberia, her exile to America’s deep South, and her reunion with a long lost adopted sister in her country of birth after years of professional training as a journalist in the United States.
The House at Sugar Beach traces a young girl’s journey to consciousness in a country of imported Nancy Drew books, American movies, phony British accents, blue jeans; essentially a country struggling to define itself. Cooper exposes with self-deprecating humor vices inherent in Liberian society, i.e. alcoholism, womanizing, kleptocracy, patronage, ethnocentrism, dependency, corruption, sloth, elitism, colonialism, colorism. Sugar Beach also reveals post-conflict schizophrenia, savagery, inhumanity, the ties that bind families, trans-nationalism, and hybridity, the theory of two-ness, tracing the apartheid-like disparities that separate the Coopers and their ilk from ordinary “Country” Liberians.
In addition, there is a film titled: “PROVIDENCE” that deals with the same subject matter. It is writing by Dr. Clarice Ford Kulah et al. It will premiere sometime this year. It is about former slaves returning to Africa after the abolishment of slavery, and the American Colonization Society’s pursuit of repatriating the slaves by establishing Liberia for them. But they carried with them the American segregation practices; they referred to themselves as Americo-Liberians. The movie stars ace Hollywood actress Vivica A. Fox, the popular Nollywood/Ghollywood actor Van Vicker and others. It was firmed in Atlanta and Liberia. “PROVIDENCE” deals with the Congor and Country divide currently prevalent in the Liberian society.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Fellow compatriots, the unity we seek involves a complete paradigm shift! To achieve change requires moving away from one’s old ways of doing (behaving) things. It encompasses a deeper understanding of humanity’s quest to do what is right for no reason other than it is the right thing to do. Since change is not easy to come by, those who are not willing to make the sacrifice, often refer to those of us who seek change as ‘boat rockers’ and ‘troublemakers’. And if history is any guide to understanding the genesis of a country’s pregnant palava, and how that palava, i.e., ethnicity, inequality, injustice, peace, reconciliation and national unity are addressed, the Liberian experience is no exception.
Liberia’s political culture needs to be completely overhauled in order to resolve its palava of inequality. The conflict that evolved as the result of this palava has not been addressed amicably. As a result, the system is dysfunctional with no plan in place to help resolve the conflict. Instead of finding lasting solution(s) to the palava, the leadership wants the aggrieved party – the indigenous tribes to be the one to give in or make the adjustment in the relationship. By just saying we are one people; we must forget the PAST is avoiding the vexed palava. It has NOT worked in the past, and will NOT today. Let’s face it fair and square!
As a believer in history, I feel, in order to correct the wrongs of history, the truth must be told for the necessary corrections to be made; and for similar wrongs to be avoided in the future. In this regard, we (Liberians) must without malice put our cards on the table to ascertain their authenticity as we reason together through our physical and psychological injuries.
The problem here is our leaders put their selfish interests over the common good of the masses. For the most part, many of our people’s support for politicians are based on what they can get from them and not what they stand for. This is the reason most elected officials grossly violate public trust. They earned supports on the basis of the handouts they provide—‘brown envelopes’ hand delivered at night to these unprincipled supporters. These individuals do not care where their handouts come from; as long as they keep coming to them, their families, friends and relatives, they have no empathy for the rest of the suffering masses who live on less than $1 DOLLAR a day.
This is a serious problem we are faced with. The mindset of ‘don’t care’ must be done away with. It reminds me of ‘Mind your business’ or ‘Your leave the people’s thing alone’, which when we were young - we were advised not to get involve in vexed Liberian issues. Personally, I believe had we gotten involved at an early age, we would have helped to educate our people regarding what was wrong in our country and how it could be resolved amicably. This approach could have prevented some of the problems we are facing today.
I don’t know about you or what others will say or do, but as for me, I will write and say what’s on my mind, when I can, and will not let anyone or government regulate what I say or how I say it. Any attempt to return to the so-called ‘sweet old days’ where the natives were the servants and the Americo-Liberians (Congors) were the masters is wishful thinking. The way forward is to fix this MESS once and for all.
In closing, I pray this special prayer for our nation and leaders:
Dear Lord, our land needs your healing, today. We see weakness spreading across it, and wonder how this happened. A solution seems so far away.
The solution You’ve outlined in Your promise is not without personal cost. You call on us to humble ourselves, seek You in prayers, and turn from our wicked ways. Today we confess that we have many sins to our credit and not much good. Please help us to turn from our sins so that You will heal and bless us with forgiveness.
May we be a part of our hurting country’s healing, Lord! Turn our leaders and people toward You – perhaps by using our testimonies they will confess and repent. To You be the glory, Amen. (Paraphrased from Murray, Andrew (2002). The Everyday Guide to Prayer, p. 172).
*The Ward System is a common practice by which young children of African Liberians are sent to stay with settler or Congor families in exchange for education.
NOTE: I include the material below for the benefit of those who have been searching and requesting from me Blyden’s “The Three Needs of Liberia”.
“The Three Needs of Liberia”, a lecture he delivered in Grand Bassa County on January 26, 1908. In it he discussed his concerns about the conditions of the Liberian state. It reads:
This year we celebrate the eighty-sixth anniversary of the founding of the city of Monrovia by the Negro settlers from America. The colony is nearly ninety years old. The Republic has just celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. Still Liberia is called by foreigners an experiment. Nothing of the kind has ever happened before in the world’s history. A group of returned exiles – refugees from the house of bondage – settled along a few hundred miles of the coast of their Fatherland, attempting to rule millions of people, their own kith and kin, on a foreign system (emphasis are mine) in which they themselves have been imperfectly trained, while knowing very little of the facts of the history of the people they assume to rule, either social, economic or religious, and taking for granted that the religious and social theories they have brought from across the sea must be adapted to all the need of their unexpatriated brethren.
Liberia is a little bit of South Carolina, of Georgia, of Virginia – that is to say – of the ostracized, suppressed, depressed elements of these states – tacked on to West Africa – a most incongruous combination, with no reasonable prospect of success; and further complicated by additions from other sources. We take a bit from England, a bit from France, a little bit from Germany, and try to compromise with all. We have no definite plan, no dominating race conception, with really nothing to help us from behind – the scene whence we came – and nothing to guide us from before the goal to which we are tending or should tend…. We are severed from the parent stock – the aborigines – who are the root, branch, and flower of Africa and of any Negro State in Africa.
…Our progress will come by connection with the parent stock. The question, therefore, which we should try to study and answer is, what are the underlying principles of African life? Every nation and every tribe has a right to demand freedom of life, and abundance of life, because it has a contribution to make peculiar to itself toward the ultimate welfare of the world. But no nation can have this freedom of life, and make this contribution, which no other nation can make, without connection with its past, of which it must carefully preserve the traditions, if it is to understand the present and have an intelligent and inspiring hope of the future.
…We need Emancipation. When the first Negro emigrants for Liberia left the United States in the good ship Elizabeth in 1820, they escaped physicalbondage. And when Abraham Lincoln in 1863, proclaimed freedom for the Negroes throughout the United States, he delivered them from material shackles which hampered and degraded the body. The body was set free, but the soul remained in bondage. Therefore, the intellectual, social and religious freedom of the American ex-slave has yet to be achieved. When our fathers came across the Atlantic they brought with them the social, industrial, and religious trammels that bound them to the intellectual and material “fleshpots” of America. Those trammels they transmitted to us. They could not help themselves. The mere passage across the sea did not change their mental condition.
And now, we, their descendants, call ourselves Americo-Liberians or Afro-Americans, that is to say, Africans with the prejudices and predilections – the bias and aspirations – of white men: with “ideals”, as Sir. Harry Johnston has told us in his extraordinary History of Liberia (1906), “pitifully Anglo-Saxon”: and these “ideals”, altogether unattainable, are nevertheless, the burden, the stumbling block and the opprobrium of the nation. They beguile us into efforts to introduce a condition of things under which Europe and America are helplessly staggering, and compel us to take upon ourselves and labour to solve the problems of a foreign climate and alien race, which of course takes away from us the desire, the disposition and the ability to study our own problems and their solution….” (Hollis R. Lynch, Black Spokesman, Selected Published Writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden, 1971)