Who became independent and who was enslaved?

Liberia will be celebrating its “independence day” on July 26 this coming week as they have done so for 173 years. It is considered to be Liberia’s independence day. This is taken for granted and Liberians will again bemoan the fact that the country lags behind in terms of human development. The prophets and politicians will make comparisons with Ivory Coast or Ghana or Nigeria. They will cry so much that everyone will feel sorry for them. How can a country be 174 years old and be in this state of mal-education, low human capacity, a rundown economy, and roads that are not worthy of being called car roads?

The question one must ask is the following: Is Liberia 174 years old, really? Or should we look at the history of colonization and decolonization to answer the question? Colonization, in general terms, means the occupation by a stranger of a space belonging to someone else. In our political parlance, it means strangers coming to the town and imposing their will on the inhabitants, coercing them to submit to their laws and exploiting at will the resources of that land. Western colonization came with the gun and the Bible. Subjection by force or  brainwashing.

On July 26, 1847, a group of immigrants from the United States of America, congregated and decided to create a sovereign nation, using the land and the people to do so. This group declared itself as an independent nation, free from the bounds of the US. They wrote a constitution and started their own form of government. The people of the hinterland were not consulted, neither were they citizens of the new nation. They were not part of the setup. Every law that was passed, every political undertaking was geared towards the welfare and the protection of that group of colonists who called themselves pioneers.

From that July 26, until 1980, political wealth, as well as economic wealth, was attained only by subscribing to that political agenda. The Frontier Force served to protect the same group. The group that ruled what has become known as Liberia was just like the French colonizers in Senegal or the British colonizers in Ghana. The big difference between the colonial processes in Ghana or Ivory Coast and Liberia is that in Liberia, the colonizers were black like the colonized. The illusion of “integration” worked perfectly.

To be independent, one has to be a colony. But who became independent? Did July 26 mark the beginning of sovereignty for the natives or emancipation and total control by the Americos? What started in 1847 was the start of the colonization process and it went on until it was overthrown in 1980.Samuel Doe as a hero or villain makes no difference and what happened to his legacy does not change the fact he ended the colonial regime. Just as N’Krumah, Ben Bella and others did, through war, negotiation or else.

Taking 1980 as the beginning of the emancipation of the natives, with a political system based on their vision and leaders they chose, one can posit that independence came to Liberia in 1980. How it came to be is immaterial. But before 1980, no one could imagine a Weah’s presidency.

Liberia is still poor because it is still functioning on the colonial model of exploitation.  From the 1920s when Firestone signed its first deal, the exploitation of Liberia natural resources has followed the same pattern as in any colony in Africa. However, when they became independent, many African countries restructured their economies, but Liberia has not, because it never considered itself a colony. As long as that essential issue has not been resolved, the country will continue to march on the path of alienation and dependency.

Liberian intellectuals have fallen into an ideological trap, by embracing the colonial narrative, maintaining this illusion that colonization stopped when, in reality, it was just beginning. The generation that sought to change things often glossed over the colonial aspect of our politics because they were more often than not aligned with the colonial system. Liberians do not question their relationship with America, as they fear that doing so will lead to a permanent break-up. This intellectual alienation is palpable at all levels.

Thinking that Liberia is 174 years old means subscribing to the colonization narrative. Of course, there was no such country as Liberia before the coming of the American former slaves, but what they started was independence for themselves and free-hands to take over Liberia and colonize it.

Celebrating the ‘26 as independence is celebrating the beginning of the colonization process and not independence. It’s like the slave celebrating the master’s birthday and taking it as his/her own.

My ‘26 on you!

By:  Abdoulaye Dukule

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