Liberians at home and in the diaspora celebrate the 164 years of so-called independence of their country and joining the comity of nations as they saw it then. A declaration of independence was proclaimed after referendum in which the commonwealth was deeply divided with two clergymen getting into fist fight. Sinoe County (formerly, Mississippi in Africa) vehemently opposed the
commonwealth breaking away from the control of the American Colonization (ACS) it abstained from the referendum and never participated. With a total of 110 persons voting in the referendum, independence rather than ACS control of the commonwealth was passed by a single digit and the commonwealth of Liberia became the “Republic of Liberia” .
Before one addresses the independence of Liberia, wisdom will dictate and necessarily so, that we delve into the holistic origin and existence of what the land of today Liberia was before the coming of the American Colonization Society (ACS), the people, where they came from, their institutions and life before encountering western civilization, their interaction with western civilization, the coming of freed black slaves to their shores, the formation of a government of the settlers, and the quasi country the settlers formed contradictory to the one they met and then finishing with detailed focus on the independence the settlers declared in 1847.
Liberia Before Western Civilization
As Liberians celebrate the one 164 so-called independence of their country, what comes to mind and the impression the concept of independence presents is that Liberia at some point was never habitable by any human and no form of human activity ever existed: there was never an organized culture, people, institution of governance but it took the act of the repatriation of freed black slaves from the United States to Africa that human activity and an organized people and governance ever came to the land the settlers from America met.
The land today known as Liberia existed as far back as the 12th century but not by the name Liberia we know today. Early Mende -speaking people expanding west from the Sudan migrated to what is today Liberia forcing smaller ethnic groups they met south of the Atlantic ocean. Recorded accounts of some earliest arrivals to today Liberia from the Sudan and Mali in 1317 and Songhai empires were the Dei, Bassa, Kru, and the Kissi in 1551.
The decline of the Sudanic Mali and Songhai empires coupled with inland desertification coerced the earliest arrivals to seek wetter coast, bringing them to Liberia. The Vais later followed but this time this latest arrivals were greeted with hostility from the people they met. The Vais encountered hostilities from their host because they fear further influx into the land, causing the Krus to form alliance with the Manes to prevent further influx of the Vais. The vai people of the Mali empire the last of the arrivals, migrated to Cape Mount.
The early Liberians migrating from Sudan, Mali, and the Songhai empires brought with them skills like cotton spinning, cloth weaving, iron smelting, rice and sorghum cultivation and most of all the social and political institutions from Songhai and Mali empires.
Encounter with western civilization
By 1461, early Liberia was well structured with a full functioning political and social institutions including a viable economy and commerce, trading with Cape Vert and other West African kingdoms. Portuguese, Dutch, and British merchants were in contact with Liberia between 1461 and late 17th century. They had trading stations in the region. The Portuguese named the land ” Costa da Pimenta”, which was later translated to English meaning Grain Coast for the plenty of the melleguetta pepper found in the land. The Krus traded with the Europeans in commodities but later shifted to trading in slaves.
The Europeans operated their businesses by the dictates of the trade regulations and governance administered by the Kingdoms and there was no incidence of violation of the sovereignty of the kingdoms or disregard to the authority of the political administration.
When the American Colonization Society, ACS came to the shores of present day Liberia, they met a functioning political system, government, inhabitants, a thriving economy and commerce and political administration running the kingdoms. The political structure the settlers meant was a confederate one divided into smaller kingdoms. The settlers negotiated with the political authority for land they met for settlement, they were given land to settle and become part of the kingdoms but they like any other African could not lay personal claim to the land because land was considered sacred to the Africans and was a communal possession which no person or group of people could lay claim to.
ACS/Settlers Breaching the Trust
Sooner did the Africans know that the land the settlers was given as they had previously given the Dutch, British, and Portuguese and received tokens for their gesture, would be misconstrued or they would be dubbed by the settlers to mean the land they were given was for their personal possession and the African sacred concept of land being a communal possession would be ignored and the settlers and ACS lay would lay claim to the land given to them in the spirit of African generosity and hospitality towards strangers. This breach of trust by the settlers and ACS planted the seed for the troubles and problems that would ensued between the kingdoms and the settlers. For one thing the Africans hold so dear and sacred was land and could go to war in defense of their land.
Setting up State within a State
Contrary to what the Africans had expected from the settlers to be a part of the kingdoms they met like the Europeans had done for centuries before the coming of the settlers, co-existing side by side by their African hosts under one political system administered by the kingdoms, the settlers had mischievously desecrated their generosity and hospitality while ignoring the sacred concept of landownership the Africans lay to their land and began to form a government of their own with no allegiance to the kingdoms and taking land the Africans had given them and defining it as a territorial domain in which they can administered their own government and coerced the kingdoms to live under their quasi government and sovereign country they organized. This mistreatment brought wars between the both sides, the Africans vowing not to condone the desecration of their hospitality and generosity by the settlers by forming a “government within a government” and a “state within a state”.
ACS/Settlers and the western power they met in Africa
Through force and superiority in military and arms, the settlers expanded their authority over the Africans with constant threats of war and wars. They began to impose tariff on the businesses of western power they met who had been dealing with the kingdoms political authority they met there for centuries before the late arrival of the “private and humanitarian entity”, the American Colonization Society which has no authority under international law to form a state or government let say imposing tariff on legitimate sovereign nation the business interest of the Europeans represented. The Europeans refused to pay any tariff to the settlers but would rather continue to deal with the kingdoms they met which they considered was the sovereign authority tariff could be paid to not a private and humanitarian entity like the ACS. The ACS in 1856, a bid to exert its authority and force the Europeans to comply, passed an act through the Legislature it had set up called the “Prohibition Act of 1856”, prohibiting commerce and trade between the kingdoms and Europeans.
This act by the settlers put more fuel between the kingdom and the settlers on one hand and the Europeans and settlers on the other hand resulting into tensions. Tensions and conflict characterized the relations with the settlers and the Europeans and the African Kingdom. By 1845, the Commonwealth of Liberia as the settlers had changed the name of Liberia unilaterally from Grain Coast, they had succeeded with a formidable government in place administrating governance and claiming ownership over the African kingdoms though the Africans resisted.
What Necessitated Liberia declaring independence
In 1845, the British seized a Liberian ship for what they considered the Liberian ship was not flying with ensign, a recognized flag of a sovereign nation though the ship was flying the flag of the Commonwealth of Liberia, known then as the “Christian Flag” which was a replica of the United States flag but with a “white Christian Cross” in the background of the blue field. The Europeans refused to recognized the Christian Flag on grounds that a private and humanitarian entity as the ACS could not form a sovereign state and therefore, the Commonwealth flag was not a flag of a sovereign country and as such a ship can not flag it to the enjoy protection and privileges of the sea. Perplexed with this dilemma, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a former Vice Governor to Jehudi Ashmun but soon took over as governor after Ashmun’s death in 1839, Governor Roberts requested the Legislature to call a referendum to determine independence which will transform the Commonwealth into a republic to enjoy full privilege of statehood. A referendum was called and independence rather than control of the Commonwealth under the direction of a private and humanitarian entity of the ACS was narrowly voted for amidst fierce bitterness and deep divisions among the settlers. On August 16, 1847, the declaration of independence was written in a convention held at old Providence Baptist Church on Broad Street.On October 5, 1847,election was held for a new government and Joseph Jenkins Roberts was elected President and sworn in on January 3, 1848 as the first President of Liberia. When Liberia declared her independence Great Britain was the first country to recognize Liberia and a 21 gun salute followed. The people of Liberia refused the salute because it was on Sunday and so the British Captain had to repeat the salute the next day on Monday. The gun salute was a big deal in those day which signified recognition by a foreign nation.
Great Britain was followed by Haiti, Belgium and other countries but ironically, the United States refused to recognize Liberia until 1862, its own people it financed by providing $100,000.00 through the United Congress to help the ACS adventure in Africa for fear that recognizing Liberia would mean a black Ambassador would be in Washington DC, something southern congressmen would dare to see.
Independence of Nation
For a nation to declare independence, in the time Liberia declared hers would mean the true sense of the word, that would mean that country might had been under the control of a foreign country and that foreign power had relinquished authority to the local territory it once administered or a portion of a country once attached a unit had roken away to administer its own affairs. That local territory which had been given authority to minister its own affairs, would declare independence as a free and sovereign state freed from foreign control. On the other hand, countries which evolved over time without foreign interference and or no control but continued to administer its own affairs won’t have to declare independence to be regarded sovereign nation to be recognized in the comity of nations.
By the time Liberia declared independence, there was no world governing body like the league of Nations or United Nations today which is the custodian of international sovereignty and nationhood of countries
Liberia all in a true sense, does not pass any of the conditions that must necessitate her declaring independence to be recognized as a sovereign nation, especially when there was a functional government and sovereign kingdom recognized as a nation personified by the Dutch, British, Portuguese and Cape Vert who respected the sovereignty of the African kingdom and abide by the laws and trade regulation promulgated by the kingdom. Like the Sudan, Mali, and Songhai empires all of which existed as sovereign nations and did not have to declare independence to be recognizd as sovereign nations.
Independence of a new nation and its subsequent declaration as a means for countries once under the country of a foreign power or a part of a country but broke away for self-determination and rule came into being to be recognized as a sovereign nation to be accepted in the comity of nations came after the the League of Nations was formed and its subsequent successor, the United Nations . The United Nation therefore, is the custodian of international sovereignty today and for a nation to declare independence, the new nation must had been under the control of foreign power or a part of a country but broke away to enjoy self governance like what the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, did few weeks ago.
Liberia Independence, a Falsehood
Liberia July 26 independence as is regarded is a sham and falsehood far from the truth and a desecration of the dignity of African kingdoms the settlers met. Before the ACS came Liberia was already a sovereign country recognized and respected by the world by manifestation of the foreign presence in the kingdom doing business with the governmental institutions and authority they met many centuries before the late arrival of the ACS. Liberia was already a sovereign nation evolved out of natural human circumstance like the Sudan, Mali, and Songhai empires and did not have to declare independence to be regarded as a sovereign nation.
Independence does not in any way apply to Liberia, the country was never under any foreign control or did not break away from any one country it once attached to. The ACS was a private and humanitarian institution and could not form a country and declare independence. If one hold on to Liberia’s independence as many do, then the questions that must be answered to thread in their thought are; Which foreign country did Liberia gain its independence and or which country Liberia was a part of in Africa but broke away for self governance.
Owing to the contradictions and lies beneath in the soc-called independence of Liberia, the nation is regarded in teasing manner as the only nation on earth that got its independence through proclamation, outside the antecedents required under international law and customs for a nation independence.
July 26, “Not Independence” but “National Day”
What the settlers declared on the morning of July 26, 1847 which they brand as the independence of Liberia, giving it sovereign statehood, unfortunately that declaration of independence was shameful instrument . July 26, 1847 was not the first time Liberia became a sovereign nation, rather the Liberian nation evolved through natural circumstance as far back as the 12the century. Liberia is the only country on the African continent that can proud itself as a nation borne out of natural circumstance and was never interfered by foreign forces or power but instead when they came to its shores they met a vibrant country and they lived by the African political institution and authority they met before the late arrivals of the freed slaves from the United States in the 1800s.
July 26, therefore must be celebrated as a “National Day” instead and not as Independent Day as is being celebrated today. July 26 must be celebrated as a holistic tribute to both the settlers and the Africans they met who established an organized political system, a society and a thriving commerce and trade including a rich culture and wonderful people together and brought forth a thriving nation in spite of the odds and stands today as the only nation on the African continent which evolved out of natural sovereignty and was never seized but was able to thrive in the face of European exploitation of the continent when greed drove them to seize and plunder the continent bringing all nations on the continent under their control by slicing the continent into fractions among themselves.
July 26, as it is being celebrated as “Independent Day” is a living monument for Liberia’s division and recipe for continual conflict between the various divides of the country. July 26, regarded as Independent Day desecrates African intellect, intelligence and robe Liberians of its rich heritage and the splendid work their forefathers carried on earth. It also disingenuously pay false tribute to the settlers that they established Liberia as sovereign country while ignoring the fact that Liberia was a sovereign nation recognized and respected by the world as far back as the 12th century before the late arrival of freed black slaves from the United States. Liberia’s independence is so dishonest such that Liberians celebrating Independent Day today have no clue about one line of their declaration of independence though they can recite the declaration of independence of the United States.
The reason behind this embarrassing situation is that the Liberian declaration of independence is a dishonest historical artifact filled with incendiary words desecrating the land they met and excluding the Africans they met as they consider the land they met as “barbarous land” and considered themselves as natives of “North America”, as it reads we the the people of native of North America” . Were the African kingdom and people they met ever part of the United States?
To foster a comprehensive peace and unity going forward, Liberians must honestly begin a national dialogue and confront the intentional, incendiary, exclusionary and dishonest historical artifacts hidden and buried but elude genuine unity, placing a stumbling block in our search to make Liberia a better place wish we believe, God had meant it to be on the front burner as we together reconcile ourselves to each other and the land.
J. K -K Peah