Those who chopped off the roots of a one-party oligarchy in Liberia and fought for the sparkle of the rays of political freedom and democracy are called progressives. For nearly a century and half, Liberia’s economic and political governance was concentrated in the hands of a tiny ethnic hegemony and the republican system was a solid so-say-one, so-say-all affair. It took the sheer audacity and gallantry of a group of young citizens, who, having gotten some western education, returned home to the country and rose up in agitation and protest that engineered fresh freeze of civil liberties and freedom began to blow. One of such persons is legendary Togba-Nah Tipoteh. He’s celebrating his 80th birth anniversary today. July 17, 2021 and a herd of colleagues and mentees with whom the fight for multiparty democracy was achieved are inundating the celebrant with soothing tributes and salutations. Amongst them are equally legendary figures like Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe and Senator Conmany Wesseh, amongst others. These surviving members of progressives are all unanimous in the view that Dr. Tipoteh is an icon and a legend par excellence. The Analyst reports.
Tributes and salutations continue to pour in for one of Liberia’s acclaimed academics and economists, former Minister of Planning and Development, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, who is celebrating his 80th birth anniversary. He was born July 17, 1941.
Dr. Tipoteh is well known for his passion and work for the poor, always investing his education, experience and organizations in devotion to bettering the living condition of ordinary Liberians. Colleagues and followers of the former Professor of Economics at the University of Liberia are clamoring to tender the respect and adoration for him as he hit 80 on Planet Earth.
Tuan-Wleh: ‘Man of the People’ and ‘Paragon of Virtue’
A long partner and ally, also widely known in the political history of Liberia, Professor Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson, and who like the celebrant, bears bruises of the struggle for “rice and rights” described Dr. Tipoteh as a true “man of the people”.
“Today, we only stop to congratulate Dr. Tipoteh for his achievements and longevity particularly when we consider the intimidations, harassments, and long years of exile to which he was subjected—all in the cause of our people,” Dr. Tuan-Wleh wrote in a tribute.
He added: “Those who read contemporary Liberian history or who are old enough to remember the events in our country beginning in the early 70’s will recall that it was Dr. Tipoteh who popularized and made us proud again to wear our African clothing and sport our indigenous names and culture. Remember the rubber sandals nicknamed the ‘Tipoteh?’”
Prof. Tuan-Wleh recalled that it was Dr. Tipoteh who along with the late venerable Albert Porte and some others, led the way in ‘speaking truth to authority’, thus laying the foundation for the continuing struggle for rice and rights, for economic development and political freedom.
The topnotch Liberian diplomat and business tycoon reflected on the days when he returned to Liberia in 1970 following his studies in the United States, when he got plunged in the budding struggle being led by Dr. Tipoteh for greater freedom in Liberia.
Joining forces with Dr. Tipoteh was a great experience, he said. “We held long discussions with each other and with his associates and mine. We had a strategic objective: to work for a more just and equitable Liberia. And we covenanted among ourselves that we would not be used by the ruling class to perpetuate its privileges. Gradually, we began to attract a large following, first among the students, the workers, and among the broad masses of our people.”
Ambassador Tuan-Wleh continued by saying that “Dr. Tipoteh was, and continues to be, a paragon of virtue. Modest and brutally honest, he is never tired speaking and working in defense of the mass of our people thereby earning the deep love and respect of all of us”.
He further said of Dr. Tipoteh: “He is not a wealthy man, but he has never pursued wealth. Whatever money he has made from honest work, he has used it to assist the poor and suffering in our country.”
“Hear this, my people,” Prof. Tuan-Wleh growled: “When Dr. Tipoteh was Minister of Planning in the first Doe cabinet, he, along with other Ministers, went for a LAMCO Board Meeting in Europe. LAMCO defrayed all the expenses of the Ministers. And so when Tipoteh returned, he, alone among the Ministers, gave back to Government all the per diem he had received for the trip! Such brutal honesty!
He continued: “Oh yes, the post of President has eluded Tipoteh. But most of the heroes and sheroes we now honor in our history did not hold the office of President. Mama Suacocoa, Juah Nimley, P. G. Wolo, Albert Porte, Dr. Morias, Wilmot Blyden, Didho Tweh, Bill Witherspoon, Du Fahnbulleh, Bacchus Mathews—did they occupy the Mansion? No, no, no. Yet we honor them as opposed to, say, C.D.B. King who dishonored the Presidency by being an accomplice in the shameful business of slave trading.”
Amb. Tuan-Wleh wrote further: “Oh, please let me remember that I said at the beginning that we are saving the major accolades and big Waka for later this year when we hold the formal 80th birthday ceremonies for Dr. Tipoteh. And so I am going to shut up. In doing so, however, permit me to get a little personal. In my long years of association with Dr. Tipoteh, I have come to know, respect and admire this man—his progressive thinking, his moral values, his good character, his tenacity, his capacity for hard work. By Dr. Tipoteh’s side, I have lived through some difficult yet magnificent days—with Susukuu in Putu, with the various protests for Albert Porte and against gambling, with the Sawyer for Mayor campaign, on the barricades with our people during the April 14th rebellion—to name only a few episodes when the Dr. , as usual, exhibited his rare qualities of leadership and courage.”
“Yes, my people, Dr. Tipoteh has run the race, he has kept the faith. Happy birthday, Bo, DG, Dr. All God’s blessings for you and Sis. Fatu, your darling wife. I can bet that no matter the circumstance, you, Dr. Tipoteh, can always be counted upon in defense of the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden in our country, in our Africa, in our world.
“Dominus vobiscum. God be with you.”
Senator Wesseh: “Tipoteh: The President, Liberia Never Had”
Also tendering a rather passionate tribute is River Gee County Senator Conmany Wesseh, someone who milked the wisdom of Dr. Tipoteh for so many years. He also became an iconic progressive, having sucked from the rich experience of senior progressives.
Senator Wesseh wrote in his short but moving tribute he is very proud to be called a student at the feet of Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh.
During all the years, he wrote, “I learned to appreciate the DG. I learned to know the great man better. I realized that Dr. Tipoteh has been walking in the footsteps of Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Didwo Tweh, P. Gbe Wolo, Juah Nimene, Dr. Morias, Albert Porte, Emma Shannon Walser and many other comrades who laid down their lives so that “we may live”. “We remember these great souls immortally as we now wish the good Doctor many, many years with the blessings of good health, happiness and continued service to the people of Liberia and Africa,” he said, adding that the streams of movement for change are correctly called “the PROGRESSIVES” whose collective sacrifices have advanced democracy and promoting peace and development in Liberia.
“Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh has gloriously marched to 80 years today, July 17. He is being celebrated for his immeasurable contribution to the struggle for rice and rights over the last 50 years and more. Many of TNT’s best can be judged in his marrying of exceptional knowledge and real practice that are summarized as education, training, experience and suitability – possessions and attributes that have qualified him to be one of Liberia’s president who never became.”
Senator Wesseh asserted that Dr. Tipoteh’s first manifestation of theory and practice is in his upbringing, the teaching in and living the ground rules of the 10 commandments that are core to the Holy Bible, the Holy Quran and the good books of all other religions.
Understanding and practicing these simple rules have been both Dr. Tipoteh’s strengths and his challenges as there are not many like Jesus Christ who have tried to live so rigidly, the longtime progressive further wrote.
Senator Wesseh wrote: “That discipline must have catapulted him at 27 to become the youngest and the first Liberian with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in economics from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States of America. While in the United States and studying, he experienced the civil rights struggles of the 1960s including the violent experiences that took away the lives of civil rights leaders, especially Martin Luther King in 1968. That year also saw the height of the student rights movement, the anti-apartheid and independence struggles for racial equality and colonial freedoms.”
Armed with the PhD, he said, the young academic [Dr. Tipoteh] returned home to Liberia to launch what became the ferment. His arrival in the country shortly before the death of William V.S. Tubman and the ushering in of President William R. Tolbert, presented a different kind of “book man”.
“He practiced his economics by a special kind of research that saw his students thought, touched and taught about why Liberia was poor and how to answer the question about where to find the wealth and how to use it in the service of the people.”
Senator Wesseh said the Celebrant’s teachings were that teachers, students and workers, their employers and those who control the state should not steal, must not lie, must not kill, must have moral values, must honor their fathers and their mothers so that their days would be long and the whole stretch of the tenth commandments.
“It was at this point at the University of Liberia that other younger academics and social activists like Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer, Professor Dew Tuan Wleh Mayson and a few others joined the crusade for change.
“It was at this point that a group of us, younger men and women among us Dusty Wolokolie, James Fromoyan, Bloh Sayeh and on and on joined the crusade under the banner of Susukuu, the Movement for Justice in Africa and the Student Unification Party and later, the Liberian Peoples Party.”
By then, he recalled, “Tipoteh’s teachings of the 10 commandments had fully metamorphosed into a simple expression of justice for all and the struggles against the ‘monkey work, bamboo draw’ way of life, the struggle for the Susukuu philosopher of pulling resources for progress, the MOJA support to the national liberation movements and the democratic development of the continent and the overall struggle for ‘rice and rights’.
“It must never be forgotten that the ferment drew other streams of leadership in the great contributions of Gabriel Barcus Matthews, Oscar Jaiah Quiah and Wesley Momo Johnson and others who led the Progressive Alliance of Liberia, the Progressive People’s Party and the United Peoples Party.”
Dr. Amos Sawyer: Tipoteh, A Development Practioner
If there is anyone of the progressive stock who is invariably paired with the Celebrant, it will be Dr. Amos Sawyer, former Interim President of Liberia. Both Dr. Sawyer and Dr. Tipoteh founded the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), an iconic social justice campaign institution that built civil consciousness in the country.
He, also, has a good reconciliation and fond words of Dr. Tipoteh’s character and history. In his tribute to the Celebrant, Dr. Sawyer called Dr. Tipoteh a “development practitioner”, who has been able to successfully link academic training to development practice and, unlike many academics, he does not seek refuge in the Ivory Tower.
Dr. Sawyer wrote that Dr. Tipoteh is good at initiating and joining 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 said: “Professor Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh is a renowned public intellectual and economist who has specialized in addressing challenges of poverty, particularly in Africa. His 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 recalled that Dr. Tipoteh 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.
Of the Celebrant, Dr. Saywer wrote: “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. As an academic person, I have benefited immensely from his strength in this and many other respects.
“His 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 said after completing his PhD in economics in the United States, Professor Dr. Tipoteh served a stint as an expert in the US government’s Anti-Property Program, working under the distinguished Professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
“He was recruited from the Anti-Poverty Program of the United States to serve as Advisor in the office of the Director of the Bureau of the Budget of Liberia. He fell out of favor with the Liberian Government because of his insistence that the budget be used as an instrument to promote development, and not as a laundry list of presidential preferences.
“At the University of Liberia where he served a professor of Economics, his insistence on ensuring the relevance of courses to addressing the economic challenges of Liberia, and on the reorganization of the management and direction of the Liberian Economic and Management Research Institute, again put him at loggerheads with the authorities who seemed to be strapped in tired and irrelevant economic and management orthodoxies.”
Dr. Sawyer said as a teacher, Dr. Tipoteh used everyday expressions and well-known aphorisms from everyday life in Liberia in teaching economic principles and concepts. For example, his popularization of the expression, “monkey work, baboon draw” has been wholly adopted as an economic and political concept in Liberia.
Through his work with industrial workers, and progressive forces in the society, the empowerment of labor was taken to a new level of strengthened union secretariats with enhanced capacities to engage in collective bargaining that resulted in the negotiation of better work conditions for industrial workers, especially in the Liberian American Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO), the Liberian Mining Company (LMC), and Dock Workers Association of Liberia (DOWAL), among others.
“With all these accomplishments appreciated, Dr Tipoteh’s signature work remains his leadership role in the founding of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), which since 1973, continues initiatives to build democratic, accountable, and transparent institutions of governance in Liberia and other parts of Africa,” Dr. Sawyer noted, adding that this Pan African organization is linked to sister organizations throughout Africa and to democratic and development organizations worldwide. Under Tipoteh’s leadership it became a major force organizing grassroot movements in several African countries in support of the African liberation struggles, he said, adding: “Dr. Tipoteh is also a cultural icon. 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.”
Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe: “Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, the Winner”
The President of the Liberia National Bar Association, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, is another household word as far as the Liberian progressive movement is concerned. He is an ardent follower and mentee of the lives of Dr. Tipoteh, moving in the ranks and files of the movement.
In his tribute, the noted human rights advocate wrote that Dr. Tipoteh’s greatest achievement that will always be written by historians is that “you are the winner of the struggle for change in Liberia.”
He said he first saw Dr. Tipoteh in Yekepa, in the mid-1970s at the Open Door in Yekepa, then LAMCO, now ArcelorMittal, when he served as the commencement speaker at a graduation program of the LAMCO Vocational Training Center (LVTC) in Yekepa, Nimba County. At that time, he reflected, Dr. Tipoteh was wearing a blue African gown and a pair of rubber sandals made from used tires.
He wrote: “Your speech was about themes that you have, since then, repeated many times over the years, including the issues of the exploitation of Liberia’s natural resources by foreign corporations with minimum benefits to the Liberian people, the need for Liberians to grow what they eat and eat what they grow, and the fact that the poor people in Liberia were getting poorer, while the rich were getting richer.
“I asked myself, why would a man with so much education decide to wear what in my home town in Glehyee Zorpeay a palm wine tapper would wear. Later in life, I found out that by wearing a pair of rubber sandals, you were demonstrating two things: one, that an individual should not be evaluated by what he wears or how he looks, but by his thoughts and contributions to society; and two, that by buying a pair of rubber sandals made in Liberia, you wear encouraging Liberians to support Liberian entrepreneurship and creativity. You also wore Vai shirts and other shirts made out of cotton grown and weaved in Liberia. Being the only Liberian at that time with a Ph.D in Economics, I can fairly assume that you had the ability to wear designer shoes, sandals and shirts. Therefore, your choice of locally made shoes and shirts was a deliberate effort on your part to live the change in attitude that you desire for Liberians and the people of Africa, perhaps, learning from Mahatma K. Gandhi who said to agents of change, “Be the change you want to see in the world.’” It is clear that by doing what you did then, you wanted Liberians to be proud of being Africans and to appreciate their African values by practicing their culture just like Africans throughout the length and breadth of Sub-Saharan Africa were doing from Dakar to Dar es Salaam and from Lome to Luanda, feeling an integral part of the African people and to stop living a false life of being “civilized” Africans, with unique values that were closer to the Americas than Africa. You try to convince the rest of the Liberian people that going to school and obtaining a terminal degree, as well as travelling abroad should not make a person feel superior in any way to a person who has never been to school or travelled out of Liberia. In addition to wearing local tailor-made materials from indigenous materials and wearing locally made rubber sandals, you made serious efforts to learn various Liberian languages, perhaps, in order to be more convincing in transforming the minds of the Liberian people to cherish their African values. Today, you are able to greet every Liberian in his/her language and sometimes converse a little bit in some of those languages. You have spoken Mah and Dan to me a few times and for Klao man you sounded very good.
Continuing from the non-violent struggle of Liberians before you like Francis Morias of Maryland, D. Twe of the Klao land, Albert Porte of Montserrado County, you dedicated your education to promoting the view that all Liberians are equal and are therefore entitled to equal treatment by the Government of Liberia, as directed by the Constitution of Liberia of 1847 which provided, “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights; among which, are the rights of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.” Constitution of Liberia, Article 1, section.1 (1847). This constitutional provision was not given any concrete meaning in Liberia.
Governance during the existence of the 1847 Constitution demonstrated that the bar set by the Constitution was too high for those who governed to meet. A study of the conditions on the African continent by you and other colleagues of yours made you to reach the conclusion that Liberia was governed in the same manner as , Rhodesia(Zimbabwe), Mozambique, Angola, Southwest Africa(Namibia), Portuguese Guinea (Guinea Bissau) and South Africa were being governed. You and other progressive intellectuals on the University of Liberia Campus, including Dr. Amos Sawyer, Dew Mason of Cuttington College( now Cuttington University College), later joined by Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Rev. Dr. Nya Quiawon Taryor and many others, including foreign progressive faculty members concluded that in those countries named hereinabove, citizens did not enjoy equal treatment. This situation was more accentuated in South Africa were a system of Apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning “separateness”, or “the state of being apart”, literally was in force.
You and your colleagues then decided to form a movement to bring justice to the African people, thereby giving birth to the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) in 1973, when you were just 31 years old. Under the banner of MOJA you and your colleagues began creating awareness among the Liberian people about the need for equality in Liberia and on the African Continent.
MOJA contributed to the liberation of the African people in all the countries that were engaged in the liberation struggle. MOJA’s work in Liberia stimulated the pressure on the government for the equal treatment of all citizens as directed by the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. MOJA’s work emboldened other Liberians to develop the courage to organize as without organizing, Liberians were agonizing. For example, a group of Liberians living and studying in the United States of America organized the Progressive Alliance of Liberia in 1975 and the existing labor movements began to fight for their rights more vigorously than before. MOJA, having sufficiently built the consciousness of the Liberian people to demand respect for their rights, it became easy for the Progressive Alliance of Liberia to organize a mass protest against the government’s proposal for an increment in the price of rice and eventually organized and registered another political party.
Today, Liberia is incrementally becoming an open society with the multiplicity of print and electronic media institutions; although, some have been denied registration for reasons that are not clear. Liberians are speaking truth to power and examining the processes of governance every day. Dr. Tipoteh, your contribution to the continuing struggle for the creation of a just and open society in which all citizens are treated equally in Liberia will be remembered forever in the history of Liberia. As I have told you before, do not judge your achievement by winning an election. It is clear to all Liberians who have appreciation for the history of this country that without your commitment to change, the “Change for Hope” would not have been possible and certainly President George Manner Weah would not have been President of Liberia today. Even a man from a humble background from an upriver settlement like Charles M. Taylor would not have been President, as Liberia’s past presidents before 1980 came, largely, from the elites of that time.
You are Liberia’s icon in the struggle for an open and just society. The monument that exists in the minds of all conscious Liberians shall be built in your honor, long after you might have made your transition like Mahatma K. Gandhi, Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela.
As a Ph.D. holder in the field of Economics at the Age of 27 in 1969 from a great American School, you could have worked for the World Bank, International Monetary Fund or corporate America or with the United Nations or join the faculty of your alma mater or any other top university and live very well in the United States. But for the love of Liberia and its socioeconomic transformation, you made a deliberate choice to come to Liberia and make your contribution to change in Liberia for the better. Indeed you are a winner and all well-meaning Liberians will forever remember you as a winner. Do not strive to win anymore! Your greatest achievement that will always be written by historians is that you are the winner of the struggle for change in Liberia. Happy birthday Winner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! May you live to celebrate your ninetieth birthday.
Siapha Kamara: Tipoteh, Teachers of Perseverance
Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh made a multitudes of disciples at home and abroad. Amongst them Mr. Siapha Kamara, a development expert and researcher. He also had got some fond words for the Celebrant whom he had known for the last 46 years.
Mr. Kamara wrote: “Time flies and so too is life. I have had the good fortune of knowing you for 46 of those years. We lived like a big and small brother for nearly 6 of those years in The Hague. We looked after each other in times of illness or whenever we received bad news from home. We knew we had to lift each other up when things were not going well. Memorable years, at least for me! “
He continued: “The punches of life may have hit you hard at times, but you have taught me and so many others to learn to live with the ups and downs that come our way without compromising our dignity, principles and commitment to a cause greater than ourselves: Liberian People. I have never seen you down or broken, rather always optimistic and bubbling with strategies to prosecute and maximize on the cause of the Liberian people.
“While many with whom you started have long thrown- in the towel and made other – life-choices, but for you there is no bigger price in life, than to be an active citizen in the political struggle of the Liberian people. Over the years you have put at the disposal of the Liberian struggle all the multiple gifts and talents God has endowed you with- playing sport, (football and later tennis), singing, poetry, charisma, orator, leadership, mentorship, economist and multiple languages -English, French, German and few Liberian languages.
“I do not know of any Liberian who has all these talents, achievements and opportunities of this world but remain humble, selfless and always on the right side of history i.e., championing social justice, human rights, peace, democracy, gender equality, anti-corruption and empowerment of the poor.”
He said Dr. Tipoteh has been prosecuted for many things, reflecting on one of the which he (Mr. Kamara) did not understand in 1981 but now greatly admire Dr. Tipoteh for.
He said, referring to the Celebrant: “You returned from the World Bank Meeting and I think it was your first meeting, as Minister for Planning and Economic Affairs. You went over to the Ministry of Finance and returned part of the per diem because the World Bank covered the expenditure. You did not make an announcement in the media or to anyone. For this act of good citizenship and patriotism, staff of Planning and Finance complained to Amos, “what is he trying to prove. “Not even the so call progressive MOJA leadership stood by you. We joined the chorus of condemnation: “Tipoteh cannot work with other people… he is too difficult “. Now an adult, father, manager and leader in my own right, I know the danger too well, of compromising principles and values. Those who are quick to set aside their principles to say the least are not worth “going to bed with.”