The urgency to caution aspirants and incumbents against invoking ethnocentric divisive politics cannot be overstated as the countdown to the 2017 presidential and legislative nears – especially against the backdrop of the country’s turbulent history, from 1847 to 2003. But it seems, in spite of calls for politicians to focus on issues and avoid inciting sentiments that further polarize the electorates, some politicians are just naturally hardheaded or plain insensitive to those issues that brought Liberia to its knees for more than two decades.
During the week, a disturbing photograph of the former Coca Cola millionaire magnate-cum Alternative National Congress (ANC) political leader, Mr. Alexander Cummings, flooded the Internet. Mr. Cumming was photographed condescendingly smiling while being carried in a hammock by citizens of Maryland County during one of his nationwide tours of the hinterland. Least to say, the savage imagery of an elitist politician being carried in a hammock by hinterland dwellers in this modern day and age evokes memories of the 1930s and ‘40s when disenfranchised aborigines of Liberia were flogged, taxed and compelled to tote local government administrators from district to district in hammocks. The situation was so bad, this is what President William V.S. Tubman said in acknowledgement of the undue hardship that the hinterland dwellers faced at the time: “As I reflect upon the conditions under which you were living in 1944 when we took office, I can recall how at my first interior council, you complained of, and I discovered that, District Commissioners were unrestrained in their imposition of fines upon you and your people; that for the most insignificant act your chiefs, wives, and children were humiliated and imprisoned; that you were compelled to bury your manhood and bow down to them as though they were your masters and lords instead of your public servants…. I further recall that you could not exercise or enjoy one of your basic rights as citizens to vote for those whom you wanted to represent you; that you were not even represented in the National Legislature; yet, you were compelled to pay taxes like every citizen. I still further recall that there were few roads, if any, running to or through your respective provinces, districts, towns, and villages; that you, your sons, and even your wives, sisters and daughters were compelled to carry hammocks and loads on their heads and backs; that there were no schools; no hospitals; no medical clinics….” Although there have been some marked achievements in the institutionalization of democratic governance since the end of the civil war, conditions today in the hinterland remain not much different from the Tubman era: bad roads, insensitive local government officials, undue taxation without representation, unsanitary or non-existent health outposts, unsavory education systems, among myriads socio-economic conundrums. The only major difference today is that instead of the settlers and ‘Congaus’ lording it over them, the citizens are now enslaved by their own kind. It is against this ugly history of the country’s turbulent past that the ANC political leader allowed himself to be carried on the shoulders of the electorates in a hammock ala President William V.S. Tubman, who said he did not know Liberians were forced to tote district commissioners in hammocks from district to district, but when he became President, he practiced the same. ‘Donkey Ride’ Backlash Although some ANC supporters have desperately attempted to justify Mr. Cummings’ allowing of himself to be carried in hammock by hinterland dwellers, the backlash against his insensitive action seems cacophonous. “Donkey Ride.....Alex Cummings relaxing in a hammock...Tubman-style... while being carried by the poor masses,” screamed one Facebook poster. “When you get someone with history of politics, want to lead, how can you allow such thing?”wondered Ebony Corvah. As for Kau Yeyia, there is just no justification for a political leader allowing himself to be carried in a hammock on the shoulders of citizens who he expects to vote for him. “As far as I'm concerned, there is no justification for this. Saying it's been done or similar has been done is not the right approach.” However Liberians look at the ill-advised photograph of Mr. Alexander Cummings allowing himself to be carried on the shoulders of his expected voters in a hammock – an imagery that evokes memories of Liberia’s ugly divisive history, it will take a long, long time for Cummings to reassert himself as “Mr. Clean”.