“The progress of every nation is measured in terms of the progress and prosperity of its individual citizens. But if the citizenry is poverty-stricken, disease-ridden, unhealthy and illiterate, the nation is bound for failure, retrogression and internal disintegration”. – William V.S. Tubman
After Tubman successfully outsmarted his predecessor – Barclay; he had to think-tank how to capitalize on power. Barclay made a politically inept decision to have reckoned that Tubman would not turn astute politician but remain a poddle. Why would Barclay harbor such mindset? Tubman must have come from far away Cape Palmas but he emerged a poor man’s lawyer for which he gained fame.
Tubman served as senator for Maryland County in the National Legislature and was also appointed to the Supreme Court as Associate Justice. No smart politician could have just written Tubman off as Barclay tried to do. He was mistaken and had to pay dearly for his miscalculation.
Williams V.S. Tubman ascended to power in the midst of the cold war – the ‘East and West’ saga was at its peak. No doubt he had to be on the side of our traditional ally – the United States of America. He was a two-faced leader. President Tubman’s image at home bore different characteristics unlike Liberia’s foreign policy. His grip on power had to be solidified and he did so mightily. He was a no nonsense leader who had absolutely no accommodation for opposition at the expense of democratic pluralism.
The people saw in Tubman their leader – not necessarily by choice but through an entrenched political dynasty. He came from the line of the True Whig Party oligarchy. It was typical of some kind of cartel. It was a strong cum powerful establishment and those who benefited from the system patronized its existence. If previous presidents before Tubman did not know what it meant to make a powerful, respectful and fearless national leader, at least Tubman provided them adequate schooling. They were out of power and seemed to have only appreciated the man in charge.
He thought as president – that the political imperative was to have one’s ears on the ground and it worked in his favor. Through the PR conduit, a lot of people drew government’s paychecks for either lying to the president or by simply telling him what he wanted to hear. Tubman brought a great deal of respect and credibility to the highest office in the land. A resurrected Tubman cannot survive the kind of new Liberia Ma Ellen is leading. Tubman will no matter - whatsoever dare to ask for one day of Ellen’s legacy. Why not? Tubman will not be like Barclay whose miscalculation relegated him to the political abyss.
A fair understanding of the late William V.S. Tubman can only be done within context. That said, it is important to examine the internal control mechanism, democratic pluralism viz-a-vis political tolerance, free speech, foreign policy, decentralization, national security, socio-economic development, open door policy, etc.
William V.S. Tubman was firmly in control of the administration as president of the nation. His kingmaker was managing in oblivion and never surfaced at all. The government was intact. His powerful smallish-looking chief spy – C. Wellington Campbell was also a fearless individual who was always at the center of scheming. Tubman knew the power of security and paid whatever it took to ensure his reign remained uninterrupted. The man was an absolute ruler. He proved this when his Cuban produced cigar was lit across his lips while smoke bubbled its way out like a gas chamber oozing out smoke.
No wonder the late Liberian Lawyer and journalist Tuan Wureh aptly described him Tubman as a “benevolent dictator”. Wureh did not escaped Tubman wrath – he went to jail several times and had to be paraded through the principal streets of Monrovia carrying human excreta or carcasses. This was the same man who imprisoned H. Bioma Fahnbulleh, Sr. but was seen at the Monrovia City Hall spearheading a function to raise school fees for Miatta Fahnbulleh.
Democratic pluralism viz-a-vis political tolerance was never a part of Tubman’s legacy. Why should we expect a cat to reproduce rat? That kind of genetic cloning is yet to be discovered folks. Surely, there were successive elections in which the powerful man in Liberia repeatedly succeeded himself but what transpired was more of subterfuge than anything next to a democratic process. There were no opposition parties even though D. Twe made a failed attempt to get one started. How could anyone mention ‘political parties’ when not even one was registered? If someone was dreaming of forming a political party under the Tubman’s era – that dream would only perfectly make sense once Tubman’s retirement was at hand but never in his lifetime.
Free speech was freely expressed in bedrooms while Tubman was in charge but one man challenged the status quo. It was comrade Albert Porte, a renowned Liberian Pamphleteer. Comrade Porte did not only write articles critical of the regime but also aggressively exchanged some of the fiercest communications with the Office of the President on a wide-range of subjects. Albert Porte carried his mat and pillow wherever he went in readiness of landing into prison. Porte did not want to be escorted by Tubman’s security because he knew the consequences would be grave.
One of his most remembered exchanges with the President’s office - was his antagonistic stance on the purchase of a presidential Yacht. Porte weighed-in by disagreeing with the President - suggesting that there were issues more pressing like healthcare and education. The pamphleteer thought it was a waste of state resources to invest in the procurement of a new Yacht versus prioritizing social services. Interestingly, Tubman was at no time outraged by those dissenting letters and commentaries from Albert Porte – because he would appropriately respond by deciphering Porte’s arguments in his counter-arguments. Porte will be remembered in real time as the man who stood up against the trappings of dictatorship and defended the broad mass of the people. Did the people feel that way after Tubman had programmed and factored them into a particular mindset?
Tubman’s most memorable achievement under decentralization was his National Unification Policy during which he worked to foster inter-ethnic marriages. A symbolic manifestation of the unification policy is the unification monument that is in the heart of Voinjama, Lofa County. At a unification meeting in Kolahum, Lofa County, Tubman made the following remarks: “We fee gratified that all sections of pour country and people have cooperated in making the unification policy a success. This gives much satisfaction to all those who had anything to do with inauguration, shaping and execution of the policy as well as every citizen who has cooperated in making the national unification policy a reality”. He created additional political sub-divisions including Lofa, Grand Gedeh, Bong and Nimba counties.
Liberia’s foreign policy is traditionally dictated by the President. Tubman unlike his successor stood on the side of our America during the cold war. No goods made in the then Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, etc. were allowed to be sold in Liberia. People were arrested for doing the unacceptable. Under Tubman Liberia became a founding member of the United Nations and the estlrwhile Organization of African unity (O.A.U.).
In 1964 Presidents Ahmed Sekou Tours, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and W.V.S. Tubman met in Saniquielle, Nimba County for the first ever meeting of the OA.U. Liberia enjoyed cordial ties with neighboring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. Privately, Liberia supported the liberation efforts in South Africa. Comrade Nelson Mandela made a number of subterranean visits to Liberia in the name of the struggle. Liberia as a symbol of self-determination helped to inspire the liberation struggle in Africa. She used her presence at the United Nations to accentuate and articulate the aspirations of fellow Africa states locked down by the tentacles of colonialism.
William V.S. Tubman hugely funded national security because he saw it as critical to his political survival, national peace and stability. He consistently strengthened the PR instrument. He saw it as a viable network of intelligence gathering for his regime. The president had a strong grip on his security apparatus and did not take any piece of intelligence for granted. His prolonged stay at the presidency clearly bears testimony to that fact that he was in control. He called the shots and he certainly knew where the bodies were buried.
On the socio-economic and development fronts, President Tubman can be credited for introducing the Open Door Policy, an initiative that translated into tremendous and invaluable socio-economic dividends and development opportunities for the country. Firestone started operations in 1926 and until Tubman’s arrival onto the political scene the American company was the only dominant private sector employer in the country. With Tubman surfacing - came Bong Mine, LAMCO, the National Iron Ore Company and a host of other Agro-based economic activities. Liberia’s economic growth was comparable to modern day Japan. Ironically, it was growth without development folks. All of these investments were foreign dominated as the government fell short to empower the locals who in turn would take control of their economy.
Tubman made history for 27 years but realistically putting stability aside, the country cannot account for anything tangible. Zero tolerance for opposition politics, the creation of a policed state and the ordination of a patronage system marred his regime. While his score could see him rated at 47%, we have got to appreciate his tenure within the context of looming variables. But Tubman indeed was the man of the people in his own real time.