‘Among Finest Examples of Intellectuals’ -Legendary ‘Progressives’ Adore Tipoteh @ 80 -Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer Tenders Moving Tribute
Take it or leave it; believe it or disbelieve it, but the historical fact is irrefutable: a group of special Liberians, fondly called progressives, then youngsters, invested their tears, sweat and blood now serving as the compost that belies the evolving space of democracy and its accessories of freedom, liberty and transparency in contemporary Liberia. Many of these heroic compatriots are martyred along the journey but a few, who remain the somewhat endangered species, are still around. A topnotch of the survivors has become an octogenarian this month, specifically Saturday, July 17, apparently fatigued but still engaged with the weight of the “struggle for rice and rights”. And, as The Analyst reports, those who saw him closely in action chopping off the roots of tyranny and exclusionism are telling the story of his struggle, amongst them another progressive legend, former Interim President Dr. Amos Sawyer, who pays his salutation.
Liberia’s former Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh is celebrating his 80th birthday tomorrow, July 17, and Liberians familiar with the country’s tortuous political history and the rule he played are clamoring to express their glee and tell their part of this great citizen.
Tipoteh is unarguably one of Liberia’s academic gem, earning a Doctorate Degree in Economics at the age of 27. That’s a rare achievement at that time. His academic superiority aside, he’s best known for his political sacrifices made to admit Liberia to the world’s democracy and freedom helm, working with national and international forces to achieve this at his own peril.
A colleague of his of five decades of more years, Dr. Amos Cladius Sawyer, himself an acclaimed academic and progressive, summoned his pen in praise and adoration of Dr. Tipoteh to memorialize the octogenarian’s birthday.
In a tribute, “In Honor of Dr. Tipoteh”, Dr. Sawyer lavished exaltations on his colleague, describing Dr. Tipoteh as a renowned public intellectual and economist who has specialized in addressing challenges of poverty, particularly in Africa.
He recalled that Dr. Tipoteh’s over 50 years of work in this area demonstrates his abiding commitment to enhancing understandings of the condition of poor people and taking action in assisting them become drivers of their own development processes.
“He is among the finest examples of public intellectuals who have the extraordinary capacity to blend academic and action research with praxis for the improvement of the human condition,” Dr. Sawyer said of Dr. Tipoteh. “As an academic, he has over the years demonstrated an exceptional ability to analyze complex issues, making them understandable to people with minimal levels of formal education while, at the same time, enriching academic theories with practical on-the-ground experience.”
Dr. Sawyer said as an academic person, he has benefited immensely from his strength in this and many other respects.
The former Liberian head of state wrote: “As a development practitioner, [Dr. Tipoteh] has been able to successfully link academic training to development practice and, unlike many academics, he does not seek refuge in the Ivory Tower. He initiates and joins many debates about the political economy of our country, Liberia, and our continent, Africa, on issues ranging from the improvement of small-holder agriculture, to the empowerment of industrial workers, to improvement of financial institutions, to the overall strengthening of our system of governance.”
He added that Dr. Tipoteh’s tenacious insistence on truth-telling and the search for truth has often put him at loggerheads with the powers that be in Liberia.
“For example, his founding role and leadership of SUSUKUU, (a local self-help and self-governing development initiative) was much appreciated and enthusiastically embraced by local communities not only in Grand Gedeh and the southeast, but throughout Liberia. However, the heavy hand of an authoritarian government crushed the project but could not uproot the idea as it spread throughout Liberia and became the most viable model of community development.”
He also recalled that Dr. Tipoteh is also a cultural icon, and that the simplicity and authenticity of his African attire—including his popularization of the slippers that bears his name, ‘The Tipoteh’, his melodious baritone voice and above all, his resumption of use of his ancestral indigenous name have sealed his place as an icon in Liberian culture.
“As Dr Tipoteh reaches his 80th birthday,” Dr. Sawyer said, “we look back on his illustrious career and contributions with admiration and gratitude, and we appreciate his sacrifices. I am particularly proud and fortunate that he has been my friend, comrade, and inspiration for the last 50 years,” he said.
Tipoteh Looks Back
As the celebrant is himself a born writer, he takes a cursory look at his academic, professional and social growth spanning 80 this Saturday.
He wrote: “The Birthday, like any occasion, provides an opportunity for me to continue to share my knowledge with as many persons as possible in ways that can motivate people to take nonviolent actions to change their living conditions for the better. My 80th Birthday, which falls on Saturday, July 17, 2021, provides me with such an opportunity. This is the reason for my writing this Commentary on How to Solve Societal Problems.”
He mentioned his days at the Saint Patrick’s School on Snapper Hill, Ashmun Street, Monrovia, where he graduated in 1955 from the Elementary Section before entering the College of West Africa (CWA) on the same Ashmun Street in 1956.
To pursue higher education, he took a competitive exam for 200 students seeking foreign scholarships to attend school in the United States of America (USA).
When the results from the exam were published, he recalled, only eight persons were accepted and he was not on the list.
He wrote further: “One of the Examiners saw my Father, Mr. Samuel Korwreh Duwree Togba Roberts, and congratulated him for my good performance on the exam that got me in the scholarship group. When my Father told me about what the Examiner said, I engaged in my first public protest by siting on the sidewalk near the Executive Mansion where former President William Tubman worked and lived. Upon seeing me there, Mrs. Tubman asked me why I was sitting there. I replied telling her about my name not being on the scholarship list. Then she told me to return to see her on the next day. When I returned on the next day, she told me that my name had been placed on the list, based on her intervention, pointing out that I had earned the spot through my performance on the exam. What had happened was that the Secretary (now Minister) of Education removed my name from the list and replaced me with his son. I have thanked Mrs. Tubman privately and publicly for her kind and timely intervention.”
“Now that I had the foreign scholarship, I went to study Economics at Ohio University (OU), Athens, Ohio, United States of America (USA) in 1960. With my academic scholarship, I earned an athletic scholarship from my playing on the OU Tennis Team,” Dr. Tipoteh reflected, adding: “As I did not have to go off campus for any vacation job and stayed in school, I was able to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in less than four years by 1963. Interestingly enough, as the USA was a white racist country, I had a white roommate named David Lyons. I introduced David to his Wife Mrs. Haruko Nomoto Lyons from Japan at a Foreign Students Program. David has now become Dr. David Lyons, an outstanding Geologist. Also, I had a white dormitory mate, Les Lefevre, who later became Dr. Les Lefevre, an outstanding Medical Doctor, who has also become an outstanding Painter on account of his paintings of the Wild West of the USA.”
He said further that he went to Ohio State University in the Summer of 1964 to pursue the Master’s Degree in Economics, which he completed in 1964.
“Thereafter, I returned to Liberia, where I taught at the University of Liberia while I worked at the National Planning Agency. Through the intervention of the Harvard University Advisory Team, to the Agency, headed by Professor of Economics Dr. Elliot Berg, I qualified for the Harvard University-United Nations Special Fund Fellowship in Development Economics under the Center of International Affairs (CIA) at Harvard University. In a joking mood, I told some persons that I was a CIA Fellow and they began to avoid me, thinking that I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the USA.
“Under the Fellowship, I studied at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), guided by Professor of Economics Dr. Robert Clark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Through the intervention of Dr. Clark, I went to the University of Nebraska, where I worked as a Teaching Assistant, while pursuing the Doctorate in Economics, under the guidance of Professor of Economics Dr. Wallace Peterson. At Nebraska, I was able to earn enough money to get my Sister Nmuna to come to the USA to study at Western College in Ohio. She finished college and married her American Boyfriend, Tony Harris. Thay have three children. Tony is a successful Real Estate Developer with his company, Krao Construction Company. Thirsty for advanced education, my Sister earned her Doctorate Degree in Health Science at the age of 65, writing on the subject of Diabetes Management.”
According to Dr. Tipoteh, in 1969, at the age of 27, he earned his Doctorate Degree in Economics, writing the Dissertation Negative Income Taxation and Work Effort, A Quantitative Analysis with Implications for Poverty Alleviation.
The Senior Advisor on Poverty Alleviation to the President of the USA, Dr. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, showed considerable interest in his doctoral research in the wake of the longstanding and widespread debate on Lifting Up Oneself by the Bootstrap, with inadequate quantitative data.
He wrote that the USA experience was very useful. Knowledge about the heroism of Ms. Harriet Truman in the Struggle to free slaves through the Underground Railroad and the leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther in the Civil Rights Struggle, he was highly motivated to return to Liberia to Walk The Talk about Poverty Alleviation.
In 1971, Dr. Tipoteh returned to Liberia, having been given a contract to provide leadership in the establishment of the College of Business and Public Administration while serving as first Dean of the College. The Visitor of the University, President Willam Tolbert had a different idea and he intervened to make the banker Mr. Romeo Horton, his friend, business partner and fellow partisan the first Dean of the College. The reflected further: “After the Horton appointment as Dean, I was offered the post of Head of the Economics Department and I accepted, as I wanted to perform well in the area of human resource development. While serving as Head of the Economics Department. I provided leadership in institutionalizing the indispensability of the combination of Theory and Practice for Societal Development by setting up the Liberian Economic and Management Research Institute (LEMRI).
Lo and behold, the authorities of the University did not like the role that I was playing and they fired me three times from the University. But at each time of the firing, the Faculty and Students of the University protested and the University authorities reinstated me. I was also serving as Representative of the Liberia University Teachers Association (LUTA) at the University Council. Then came the fourth firing and the media carried announcements to the effect that I had to vacate all University facilities within twenty- four hours or I would be evicted. This is how I left the University of Liberia. While at the University I was providing some public service as Budget Advisor to President Tolbert. When I raised some accountability issues, I was also fired by the President of Liberia. So, by 1974, I was out of the University and out of President Tolbert’s office.
“But my work continued, as I provided leadership in setting up Susukuu, the fifty- year-old poverty alleviation organization in1971. As nearly all Liberians were in farming communities, facing shortage of arable land and living under subsistence conditions. It became necessary to give highest priority to improving the conditions in the farming communities. Therefore, Susukuu presented itself to the people in the poorest part of Liberia, notably Putu, Grand Gedeh County. While motivating people in Putu in Grand Gedeh to use what they have to improve their conditions, President Tolbert held an Administrative Council Meeting there and ruled that we should be evicted from Putu because we were there planning to overthrow the government violently. By the time Susukuu left Grand Gedeh, I had provided leadership in forming the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) in 1973, realizing that consciousness raising about the political situation in Liberia was necessary to bring nonviolent pressure to bear on changing conditions for the better. Thinking that MOJA was only an anti-apartheid Movement, President Tolbert applied for membership, which was accepted by MOJA. As soon as MOJA began working to expose President Tolbert’s interest in promoting the interest of apartheid through business dealings, he withdrew his membership from MOJA. President Tolbert paid no heed to the MOJA warning that the poverty among the poor could become the pretext for greedy people to break the Rule of Law by engaging in violence. President Tolbert was overthrown violently by American backed Liberian military and Master Sargeant Samuel Doe became head of state as leader of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC). No wonder the USA government subsidized the Doe government with USD500 million annually despite the fact that President Ronald Reagan of the USA called him President Moe.”
Through the foregoing approach to solving societal problems. I have worked publicly at the National Planning Agency; the University of Liberia; the Office of the President of Liberia as Budget Advisor, Chairperson of the Price Commission, Chairperson on Vision 2030 and Advisor on Climate Change; as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs; Chairman of the African Group of Governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; member of the Eminent ECOWAS Advisory Group; Member of the Amnesty International Electoral Panel; Senior Advisor on the Management of the Post-Apartheid Economy; Senior United Nations Advisor to the Government of Mozambique; and Senior United Nations Advisor on African Recovery and Development. My private work with a societal impact includes the work of Susukuu; the work of MOJA; the work of the Universal Prison Fellowship; the work of the Liberian Women Initiative; the work of the Universal Peace Federation; the work of Servants of Africa Fighting Epidemics (SAFE). and the work of the Kukatornon Reconstruction Company Susukuu is now fifty years old while MOJA is forty-eight years old and the poverty generation system still exists in Liberia, as seen in the Legislators who have access to USD1, 000 a day and their friends/partners in the commercial sector have access to USD2 million a day while over eighty per cent of the people of Liberia have access to at most less than USD2 a day. Much work has been done but still more work needs to be done. Most of the members of the 52nd and 53rd Legislatures who wanted to be re-elected were not re-elected. This trend will continue but this situation will not be corrected fully until the electoral system is changed from UNFAIR to FAIR so that persons with good records of helping the poor to help themselves can be elected. The Struggle continues to motivate people through the sharing of knowledge so that people can take nonviolent actions to change the electoral system for the better. Hopefully, this Commentary is helpful to people through the presentation of what I did to learn how to solve problems and this knowledge has been used to solve societal problems nonviolently, within the Rule of Law, in Liberia and in other countries.
Gweh Feh Kpei (the Kpelle language for The Struggle Continues)!