Adoring Father Of Liberia’s Democracy -Family, Friends Remember Baccus Matthews’ Birthday

The end of 133 years of political misrule, economic marginalization and social dominance in Liberia by the country’s settler elite did not fall from the clear blue sky. It was a product of unbridled audacity, daunting gallantry and strategic engagement.  Unarguably, no Liberian was—and is—a consummate expression of those traits than Gabriel Baccus Matthews, the legendary political pathfinder and liberator who sacrificed everything—his body, his youthfulness and his family—to challenge and break the backbone of a cruel, reigning hegemony. He would have been exactly 74 years this Sunday, May 8, 2022 but the conundrum of human circumstances snatched him away to the Great Beyond on September7, 2007 at 59. His friends, family, well-wishers and admirers are taking up time to reflect on the life journey of a man who ransomed his country and people to make way for the prevailing space of democracy, liberty and freedom. See below his family’s reflection is summoned in a rather enthralling tribute.




“Let me tell you all something interesting tonight.  Today is April 8, 1980. I was born on May 8, 1948, arrested on March 8, and placed in room 8, here in the Post Stockade.  All of what is happening to us today has a meaning. I am convinced that we will all leave this place alive.  And, very many years after we leave here, it will become clear why we had to be in here at this time.” Gabriel Matthews addressing his fellow comrades imprisoned along with him in the notorious Post Stockade, within the BTC Barracks.  This was Matthews, the clairvoyant. 

And, just as he predicted, four days later, on April 12, 1980, the gates of the compound were broken into by massive gunfire from some of the soldiers who had staged the military coup against the government of President William R. Tolbert, Jr. They burst in inquiring for the whereabouts of Baccus Matthews and the leaders of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) who were detained there.  The soldiers broke down the doors to the cells and released the PPP leaders, and the rest of the more than two hundred party leaders and members who had been arrested from across the country.

This was the second time Matthews and others had been imprisoned in Liberia for advocating for multiparty democracy in this country.  The Progressive People’s Party (PPP) had just been registered on January 8, 1980, as the first opposition party to the Grand Old True Whig Party, three months before the coup.  The last opposition to the TWP was crushed twenty (25) years earlier, following the 1955 elections.

Matthews spent his life fighting to bring all of the Liberian people to the table of political inclusiveness.  He risked his life to help guide the struggle for the establishment of multiparty democracy in Liberia.  Matthews was an embodiment of a selfless and charismatic political leader.   He was vehement that unless Liberia achieved political inclusiveness, the prospects for genuine peace and development would be illusive. 

Matthews strongly believed that the settlers were wrong in their approach to governance.  In a speech delivered on September 2, 2002, at The Unity Conference Center (UCC), Virginia, Liberia, at The National Peace and Reconciliation Conference, Matthews maintained that “…Acting in keeping with a distorted sense of values, these settlers pursued a process of acculturation, by which their values and culture would dominate and replace the traditional norms and values of the people they met. And, therein were the beginning of the mistake – the notion of a superior and an inferior culture, which led to a search for hegemony and dominance, rather than equality and respect.

What was needed was a responsible quest for assimilation that is the merging of the two cultures and peoples to produce a new identity, a Liberian citizenry, unified and strong.

Worse, hostilities attended the interactions of these two groups of people, and, by the time an independent nation was proclaimed, Liberia was already a state going in the wrong direction.

Did the settlers know that they were going wrong? Did they ever realize that a nation cannot be built while divided against itself? In other words, did they see a need to reach an understanding and effect reconciliation? Of course, the appropriate word is conciliation, because reconciliation is reserved for those who had, in fact, been together.”  Matthews, speaking to his belief on inclusiveness.

The speech went on to say: “In 1904, during his first inaugural address, President Arthur Barclay made the following observations:

We cannot develop the interior effectively until a satisfactory understanding with the resident populations is arrived at.

The efforts, which we have, in the past, made to coerce these populations by arms, have deservedly failed. Government must rest on the consent of the governed. We made a great initial mistake in the beginning of our own national career. We sought to obtain, and did succeed in grasping an enormous mass of territory, but we neglected to conciliate the populations and attach the resident populations to our own interests.”

President Barclay went on to say:

“Take for instance the Manna and Gallinas territories, formerly a part of Liberia. Why did we lose these? Because “we neglected to look after and conciliate the populations. We thought their wishes and desires unworthy of serious consideration, and after enduring the situation for many years they detached themselves from the interests of Liberia, and took their territories with them.”

But, the mistake continued, in many ways and in many forms. And, by the time we came along to be old enough to understand and reject what was going on here, Liberia was already a political environment dominated by one ethnic group and a single political party deeply entrenched.”

It was this thought of a divided nation that drove Matthews’ political vision for change in Liberia.  Gabriel Matthews stood up to this entrenched political class.  His fearlessness and uncompromising stance led to the birth of genuine multiparty democracy in our country, after 138 years.  Today, he is reviled by his critics, especially the victims of the spoiled system; and revered by the benefactors of the change process.   He left an indelible print on Liberia’s political sands of time.  He will be remembered for his sharp wit, shrewd analytical capacity and acute political prowess.

Rest in Peace Gabriel The Struggle Continues, Unabated!!!!

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