By Nvasekie N. Konneh
The 2014 UNICCO election is over and we now have elected corps of officers; I want to write about some of the observations I made during the event as well as people I had the opportunity to meet. This was one of the few times I have been to any UNICCO convention and it was memorable for many reasons.
In this short article, I will outline some of the developments that stood out for me as a participant as well as an observer.
I would have loved to see some of those I read about on various list serve debating Liberian issues and Nimba County in particular. I certainly would have loved to see Tony Leeway, Emanuel Monluo, and Alex Ganda, but I was not fortunate to have seen them. Perhaps I was too busy that I didn’t have the time to put faces to the names.
During the counting of ballots in the main hall, I heard someone called Tony Leeway, by the time I looked around, I saw him running but I could not see his full face. I also met many people who told me they have read some of my postings on the list-serve or my articles on various Liberian websites.
Dr. Karh (forgive me if misspelled) told me he’s reading my book, “The Land of My Father’s Birth” and he thinks it’s “interesting.” Old man Saye Wonzon told me the book is a “good beginning” but he thinks I am not “well informed on some issues discussed in the book.”
Just like we have different tastes for different things, we certainly have different tastes for books. As a writer, I don’t expect everyone to have the same evaluation for my book or any book for that matter. Even though we belonged to different campaigns, which did not stop me from poking fun at some of Nya Dokie’s folks; among them was Kelehboe Gongloe, shaking hands with cool man Willie Doeleh.
My own team mates like John Wonlah, our campaign chairman Bobby Sandi, strong man Wonghen and Mr. Diah-Kpodo himself as well as the young dynamic president of the New York Chapter, Own Tuazama.
And let me not forget my Mandingo kinsmen all over the place. So over all it was good to be there, drinking in the fountain of beautiful togetherness (at least that’s what I think).
There was ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in the hall, the ever recurring songs I sing in my prose and poems but there was also little grumblings here and there about the huge presence of my Mandingo kinsmen who had not participated in UNICCO politic at such huge number before.
Now in the post-election analyses some have placed greater emphases on the ethnic configuration of the voters who voted for which candidates.
I am not sure to what extent the Krahns from the Kpablee district or the Gbis participated this time as compared to before but for the Mandingoes this was the first time we participated in such great number. And of course the Gios and the Manos have always been the dominant groups of the organization.
Now with the coming of other ethnic groups under the same UNICCO tent, it seems like some are not willing to spread the welcome mats for others, especially the Mandingoes. It seems like the Mandingoes’ presence is not totally welcomed. But if UNICCO must truly represent Nimba county it must represent it in its totality.
Yes it may be true that majority of the members of the organization has always been Gios and Manos, to not expect it to grow to include other people will be a sign of non-progress, non-growth. It means its leaders may not have had grand vision of including everyone. Organizations that fail to take into account changing time will be obliterated into oblivion. So if you are still living with old school mentality of organization, step aside, let UNICCO ride into the world of today with everyone on board.
Was This a Gio-Mandingo Coalition Versus the Mano-Krahn Coalition?
The way some folks have been analyzing the election results make it look like it was a Gio-Mandingo coalition versus the Mano-Krahn coalition. But that is far from the truth. I am not sure about the conversation that might have gone on between the Krahns from the Kpablee district and the Dokie camp but what I know is that there was no conversation between the Gios and Mandingoes about forming any alliance against any group.
The Mandingoes who came to vote did not necessarily come to support a Gio candidate. They came to support two of their own who were running on the same ticket with a presidential candidate who happened to be Gio.
As team, we encouraged our supporters to vote for the entire candidates on our ticket. When I decided to join Phillip Diakpodo’s team I did not think of him as a Gio. My decision was simply based on the fact that I have known and interacted with him since 2007. Because we agree on lots of things about Nimba county. I should have joined him the last election before this 2014 election but I had extended trip to Liberia and finally he withdrew from that race.
Yes, during the course of the camping I took him on couple of occasions to speak to some folks in our community and usually it was about what concerns the Mandingoes in Nimba County which is about the illegal occupation of Mandingo homes and properties in Nimba.
Though he said repeatedly that UNICCO was not the government but he promised to set up a committee to revisit the efforts of the Presidential committee headed by Musa Bility and see where UNICCO could be of help.
In response to some of the questions he said, “no matter how you see things in Nimba county, solutions are not going to be found if we sit and do nothing. You have to be involved and through that we can dialogue to fine solutions together as citizens of Nimba County.”
I am sure if candidate Nya Dokie had come to our community he would have been asked similar questions. But he did not engage our community. So all our discussion with Phillip and other campaign staffs were not about any alliance between the Gios and Mandingoes.
In other words we did not see his campaign as a Gio campaign. We saw him just as another son of Nimba County who wanted to lead UNICCO. During the course of the campaign I went with Phillip in many places including Georgia, New York, and Maryland and there are pictures both on the listserves as well as Facebook of people and places we went as team. I am sure Mr. Nya Dokie also traveled to many places with members of his team.
The picture of seeing the Gios and Mandingoes hands in hands and Mano and Krhans hands in hands should be celebrated. Because not too long ago the Krahns and Mandingoes were allies fighting Manos and Gios. So this election presented what the picture looked like during the war. Over all I this in positive light and it brings to mind the adage that “politics make strange bedfellows.” So if politics could do this I see it as a silver ling in the entire Nimba saga.
My Mano Biological Connection
Biologically speaking, I am much closer to the Mano because my maternal grandmother was a Mano. So if I was so obsessed with tribe I should have stuck with the Manos because of that biological connection. But I did not have any reason to look at the election in tribal term. Though I was with my campaign teams and we visited many Mano and Gio homes in Philadelphia and other places we went, I wanted to bring my Mandingo people to UNICCO.
Though there has been Mandingo presence in UNICCO personified by the former president Mohammed Keita, Ansumana Jabateh, Abraham Turay, Richmond Konneh, Lassana Dukuly and others, majority of the Mandingoes from Nimba county have either not been aware of UNICCO or have not had the courage to belong to it.
I wanted to change that by telling them we belong to where other Nimbaians are. I am glad many of them listened to our outreach efforts. But truth be told there are many who were not prepared for the large turnout of the Mandingoes and some of them didn’t just keep it to themselves.
I had to break up what might have been a fight between a Mandingo man and a Mano man from Atlanta, Georgia. He accused the Diah-Kpodo camp of importing Mandingoes from Guinea to vote for him. This Mandingo brother was offended by this and he responded in similar derogatory manner and next thing I saw the Mano man was telling the Mandingo man to follow him outside to fight. I had to step in to say this should be about us coming back together instead of fighting one another.
Let the Leaders Be Wise
I think UNICCO leaders at the local and national levels should top into the interest many people have shown in the organization. Though there is a saying that many people come to vote but after the election they are nowhere to be found, I still believe that our leaders should make lots of outreach efforts to Nimba people in their various communities. Together we are one people.
Mandingoes and the Electoral Politics of Nimba
Mandingoes’ massive participation in the May 25th UNICCO election is not the first time that Mandingoes have played important role in Nimba politics. It is just a repeat of history. From chieftaincy to legislative elections, whichever side Mandingoes supported emerged many times as victors.
Two prime examples in Saclepea Mah County District were Rep. Sammy Dahn who defeated David Quigley because the Mandingoes heavily voted for him and Cooper Zenneh (Sekou Cooper) who defeated Michael Bleetan for Paramount chief. Not only did the Mandingoes supported various candidates with their votes, the wealthy Mandingoes backed these candidates with financial supports as well. They used their cars to transport voters to the various polling stations. These financial supports were given in the forms of loans with the promise that when they harvested cash crops such as cocoa, coffee. Robber or in some cases rice they would pay back the loans.
While Mandingoes always supported Mano and Gio candidates in these elections, they did not field candidates for various elected positions in the county.
Despite this being the fact in Nimba electoral politics, it is interesting to know that between the 60s and the 2000s, there have been three Mandingo representatives and one senator from Nimba County, the first being Oldman Soko Sackor of Sanniquellie in whose honor the Soko Sackor Clinic at BTC is named.
The others were Rep. Mamadee Kamara of Bahn, Zoe Geh District and Rep. Abdullah Kromah of Tappita in Lower Nimba County. Though he did not take the seat, Minister Edward Komo Sackor won a senatorial seat in the 1985 election.
In the 2005, Alhaji Sidiki Turay unsuccessfully campaigned for the representative seat of Zoe Geh District. Mr. Turay is a businessman who represented LURD during the transitional government formed after the departure of Charles Taylor.
The question could be why Rep. Mamadee Kamara and Rep. Kromah succeeded and Sidiki Turay did not succeed? The answer could be the difference in times. In the 80s, the Mandingo constituency of Nimba was huge and played significant role in the election of Rep. Mamadee Kamara and Rep. Abdullah Kromah. In 2005 up to present, the picture is completely different.
Even though Mandingoes were bused in and voted for Mr. Turay, one cannot compare their participation in 2005 to the 80s. So that should simply explain why Sidiki Turay lost in 2005. What is also interested here is that of the four Mandingoes elected between the 1960s to the present, three (Rep. Mamadee Kamara, Rep. Abdullah Kromah and Edward Sackor) were elected in predominantly Gio regions and only Rep. Soko Sackor was elected from the predominantly Mano region.
This is against the fact that the war showed different attitudes and treatments of Mandingoes by both Manos and Gios. But it is very important to not only measure the Manos/Gios/Mandingo relation based on the war alone, we must also looked at the good relation we enjoyed before the war with the goal of reconciling for a shared future.
It is a good thing that there are many people on both sides who have shown great interest in reconciliation and unity. We must join them on the table of reconciliation and unity. That’s the opportunity provided by our participation in UNICCO.
About the author: Nvasekie Konneh is a Liberian writer and author of a collection of poetry, “Going to War for America” and “The Land of My Father’s Birth,” a memoir of the Liberian civil war. He was a candidate in the just ended UNICCO 2014 Election. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 267-407-5735.