Kabs Kanu: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 September 2022:
Saturday April 12, 1980 was a day like no other in Africa. It was the day when soldiers stormed the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, assassinated President William Tolbert and overthrew the True Whig Party government. And I was there and saw it and heard it all.
We recall the coup today as ECOWAS threatens to start applying systematic sanctions against the coup-makers in neighboring Guinea. It seems that ECOWAS is a foolish problem-solver. It is only concerned with sanctioning regimes. It is not concerned with causative factors that provoke coups. Today, we will educate ECOWAS that they need to look more at how coups happen than seeking to punish those who stage them.
Though many condemned the Liberian coup, let it be conceded right here that the disaster took many, many , many years in the making. And this is one of the lessons any president living today and thinking he can oppress his people, create a one ethnic group state, commit human rights abuses galore and feed fat on the countries resources and get away with it for long should always remember.
I was there. I saw the coup and the tragic events , including the angry public execution of government officials by firing squad later and I can tell with authority how it happened. Why it happened, I can also tell–The people were very angry with the TRUE WHIG PARTY and the Congaus who have ruled Liberia with a black apartheid, one ethnic group styled oligarchy and denied other Liberians their rights and dignities for over 100 years.
PHOTO: SAMUEL K. DOE, WITH WALKIE-TALKIE, POSES WITH OTHER MEMBERS OF HIS GROUP OF SOLDIERS WHO STORMED THE EXECUTIVE MANSION ON SATURDAY APRIL 12, 1980 TO OVERTHROW THE TRUE WHIG PARTY GOVERNMENT
I was there when the rumbling that led to the coup started. I listened to the complaints of the people. They were angry because they were being excluded from governance and the National Cake. The Congaus controlled power and privildges and denied the so-called Country People their rights.
I listened to my students, many of whom were participants in the affray that followed. They were angry for the same reasons their parents were angry. I listened to the grumbles and complaints of the people in Douala buses ( Poda Podas ) taxis, pubs in New Kru Town, Buzzay Quarters and Biafra. They were angry.
I listened to the complaints in my neighbourhood of Caldwell Road , Douala and New Kru Town . I listened to the angry rhetoric of the reformers Gabriel Bacchus Matthews, Oscar Quiah, George Boley, Boima Fahnbulleh, Togba Nah-Tipoteh, Amos Sawyer, Chea Cheapoo and Albert Porte.
I attended some of their street meetings that were broken up by armed police. I read their leaflets. I read the magazines produced by Old Man Albert Porte. They were full of appeals for change . They were full of angry rhetoric against oppression, suppression , corruption, greed,and political and economic exclusion. Everybody was angry. Liberians were angry. They felt that they had been pushed to the wall for too long.
I was there. I met an angry nation waiting to explode. And I witnessed the bloody explosion that ensued later.
PRESIDENT WILLIAM R. TOLBERT SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO LIBERIANS AND THE REFORMERS
President Tolbert should have listened and initiated constructive engagements and peaceful negotiations with them with the prospects of initiating meaningful socio-economic and political changes in Liberia. He did not.
Instead of listening to the reformers, he and his government called them terrorists, arrested them, and locked them up at the notorious Post Stockade. It was being rumoured that the President was even planning to put them on trial and execute them—Just for fighting for the rights of the people. The military realized that there was no hope for Liberia and intervened to redeem the people.
A year before, when Liberians went into the streets to demonstrate against a proposed hike in the price of a bag of rice, President Tolbert sent armed police to kill them. At least one hundred protesters were shot dead.
However much we condemn coups, as it has just happened in the Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso and neighbouring Guinea, let us remember that coups do not happen in a vacuum. Coups, like accidents, are caused. Let us remember that coups do not happen in a flash. Coups take long in the making .
Coups do not solve any nation’s problems, but they have one redeeming quality—They teach African leaders that when you press your people to the wall for long, they snap and do kick back, often with tragic consequences . No people can endure injustices, neglect, marginalization, tribalism, ethnicism, extrajudicial killings, abuse of their human rights etc for too long.
Coups also result when leaders deny their people every legitimate avenue for change, rig elections, deny people their rights to vote and elect their leaders and gloat over it in triumphalist glee.
President Bio is the latest African dictator on the block. He is oppressing his people. He is suppressing his people. His police and soldiers are killing people on the streets of Sierra Leone for demonstrating for their rights. President Bio has created a one-tribe oligarchy in Sierra Leone. Only members from one ethnic group and region are being appointed to all positions.
His ministries , departments and agencies ( MDAs ), the military, the police and even the elections commission are saturated with people from just one ethnic group or region. President Bio is thumbing his nose at the nation and the international community . President Bio is creating a dangerous situation in Sierra Leone. He is following the same path pursued by the True Whig Party in Liberia that led to the 1980 military coup.
Samuel Kanyon Doe is dead and gone but he represented a hypothesis and a theory. If you are an African leader and you deny your people their rights , suppress and oppress them , kill their children for demonstrating for their rights and deny them any avenue for change, you create the danger for a Samuel Doe to arise and seize power in your country.
Nobody is unbeatable. Nobody is invincible. Dictators ultimately meet their match.