Friday 21st July 2017,

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Liberia: A place where platitudes and hypocrisy take precedence over noble goals

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Examining Daily Observer’s “Poro Devil” Story & Ed Carter’s divisive Comments

James Kokulo Fasuekoi, Eden Prairie, Minn – While neighboring sub-regional ECOWAS countries continue to focus on building strong human labor force and at the same time work toward catching up with latest modern technologies for the benefit of their respective countries and peoples, in war-ravage Liberia, conversely, officials and ordinary people have in recent years devoted much time to setting one group of citizens against the other by use of deception and stereotypes in attempts to gain economic and political powers, as well as try to destroy the enviable cultural values of Indigenous Liberians. However, what’s more worrisome is the glaring tendency by a few individuals within media circle to fall prey to such falsehoods and platitudes, something that this article will seek to expose.        

Of late, two separate posts on the OLM social media about Indigenous Liberian cultural practices sparked sharp criticism from this writer and another Liberian, Harper-Tubman University’s Professor, Dr. Nat Gbessagee, a seasoned writer/journalist, and renowned traditionalist. At issue first was an October 30thDaily Observer news story titled: “Poro Devil Wanted For Alleged Torture, Murder, “written by reporter Ishmael Menkor. And later, came a short but disparaging commentary on Native Liberian culture from Mr. Edward Carter, a current resident of Minnesota. Mr. Carter, at one point, is said to have served as “news reporter” for the Liberian News Agency (LINA) and later, a deputy minister at the Internal Affairs in Liberia.

The Daily Observer, Monrovia, Liberia

The Observer’s “Poro Devil” story which reportedly occurred in a town in Nimba was by all indications, satiated with flaws and the reporter’s own biases. And one wonders how such personal flaws and biases by reporter Menkor, infused into the story could escape the watchful lens of the paper’s editors. But again, when one considers the Daily Observer’s “Zero tolerance” policy against Liberian traditional cultural institutions and practices, the reporter’s glaring errors and biases may not have come as an accident, but that they were calculated indeed. In a few moments, I shall point out some of the journalistic flaws and biases found in Mr. Menkor’s news story by presenting a few paragraphs with quotations and singling out his mistakes and biases. 

The problem with Observer’s “Poro Devil” story

In reporting the referenced incident, the reporter writes as if there aren’t ethical rules and regulations in existence that serve as guidelines for those who aspire to become journalists (or those who may call themselves “journalists”), during the execution their respective reportorial duties the world over. Under the guardianship of a leading and respected daily, the Observer, Mr. Menkor writes with minimal regard for “attributions” and “quotations,” normally require in this noble profession, especially in a conflicting or homicidal case such as the one that was being reported. See entire story through this link:  Also, please find few paragraphs taken from Mr. Menkor’s controversial “Poro Devil” story with added footnotes in parentheses in order to understand my point.

“On Saturday, October 17, Samuel Mansuo was arrested and tortured for his failure to comply with the norms of the Poro Society, which call for payment of fines for ‘violating rules’ in the town”. (Who is the speaker here? It’s Mr. Menkor).

“It all began when the late Samuel Mansuo’s son, Nentor Mansuo, got into a dispute with one of his friends in Zuaplay over a parcel of land which he (Nentor) accused his friend of illegally taking. During the dispute, Nentor vandalized the house his friend was building on said land.” (Who’s speaking from an eyewitness standpoint? It’s no one else again but Mr. Menkor).    

“It was based on this demand that the devil’s chairman, Saturday Womengbah, ordered the arrest of the man, tied and tortured him until he died”. (What an incriminating statement by reporter Menkor! Again, he must have had to be on the scene to be in position to insert this line into his news story but he wasn’t).

A similar observer homicide story written rather professionally

By contrast, a similar homicide story published by the same Daily Observer just about the same time (November 4th 2014) entitled: “Police Nab Man, 22, For Shooting Youth Leader in Bong,” Link, certainly meets the requisite journalistic standards in terms of the usage of attributes and news sources. And unlike Mr. Menkor’s “Poro Devil” story, the writer of the second story, Mr. Marcus Malayea, went further to provide solid attributions from the beginning to the end of his story which is the hallmark of excellent journalism throughout the world. Please click the above link, read and then compare both stories. 

Now, having compared both stories, who exactly can one say is the key eyewitness/source in Menkor’s story? Based on the tune of the story it certainly has got to be Menkor himself who poses as the main source/witness and at the same time reporter in the “Poro Devil” story which is a violation to the canons of journalism. Aside his personal biases by his use of derogatory and stereotypical references, i.e., “Poro Devil,” to describe the supreme leader of Polor traditions, Menkor goes on and indicts not only “Nentor,” but also the Polor Zoe and “followers” before a trial can begin by his failure to provide attributes like, “allegedly,” or “reportedly,” necessary for this type of story. Again, read Menkor’s incriminating statement: “It was based on this demand that the devil’s chairman, Saturday Womengbah, ordered the arrest of the man, tied and tortured him until he died”. Certainly, this statement is strong enough to land him in a big legal trouble.

Why reporter can’t be a party to the conflict and report the news

It is a gross violation of journalistic ethics for a reporter to form part of an unfolding event including homicides and then be the one to report that event. Journalists indeed, are highly expected to strive for neutrality or “balanced-reporting” at all times. And in order to achieve such goal, the reporter must first detach himself from the situation he may be reporting on especially where he didn’t see the incident unfold firsthand. In Menkor’s case, he breached journalistic ethics by his failure to provide the necessary attributes either knowingly or unknowingly; that blurs his objectivity and renders him a participant and/or player in the referenced story. Unless Mr. Menkor was present and heard the “devil’s chairman, Saturday” gave order to “tie and torture” Samuel Mansuo to “death,” he can’t report as such. But that’s exactly what he did in this case.

Menkor’s apparent lack of requisite journalistic trainings to do the right thing doesn’t in anyway excuse him and his paper of breach of journalistic ethics. Mr. Menkor and his editorial staff could sure run the risk of falling into more legal trouble in the future with the country’s legal system and the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Press Union of Liberia if special attention isn’t given to news materials being published by the Daily Observer for nowhere in the world will any journalism school say it’s allowable for a “reporter” to speak for, or speak in place of a news source and still report at the same time. It doesn’t go that way.

Equally so, it is unethical for a reporter to interject his personal “biases” and/or opinions into a news story. Such “biases” and “opinions” should be reserved for the “opinion column.”  They can’t be interposed into a “straight jacket” news story as Menkor did.   

Down into the “Poro Devil” story, Mr. Menkor seemed to believe that by closing his eyes to journalistic rules and opting to use a “district commissioner” and “group of women” as the news sources, it would make his report appear validated. However, little did he know that such attempt would only tend to expose his sheer ignorance regarding the referenced subject being discussed.

He writes, “Commissioner Samuel Napah Wehyee quoted the women of Zuaplay who said they saw the devil escaping to the nearby town called Gbanquoi, after his followers were arrested.” This statement is at best laughable and it also validates Menkor’s absolute lack of knowledge about the subject matter thereby making him appear foolish in the eyes of Indigenous Liberians who hold membership to the Polor University. But again, this is exactly the sort of situation that results when no member of the editorial staff of a leading newspaper like the Observer is willing to go into specialized reporting on cultural heritage just as one would normally do with court reporting and sporting journalism.   

Throughout Liberia where Polor traditions are performed, it is highly unlikely for a woman, let alone, a “group of women” “to see devil” or have close encounter with Spiritual Zoe leaders especially during a ritual procession. Indeed, there are strong customary laws in place that bar women from remaining out door during such event and posters “Guva Sahn” and “Daa Wonokay” alluded to this in their various comments below Menkor’s Observer story.

Hence, it sounds weird to hear a “group of women” came face to face with the “Poro Devil” in a Nimba town for no woman ever sees the Polor Zoe and survives or lives normal life thereafter. Mr. Menkor’s narration sounds similar to the “Village of So-So Women,” a mystical ballet performed by former Liberian National Cultural Troupe during the old days in which a “Jina” (monster-like creature) would suddenly show up in a village inhabited only by women, grabbed one and escape while the rest of the women run helter-skelter, crying out for help. I supposed Menkor’s story is far from a play.

When God began his creation from the first day onward, according to the book of Genesis, He God wasted no time assigning names to each of His creation. Since then mankind has followed suit, giving names to all things he interacts with under the sun and the Daan and Mah Spiritual Zoe leaders are no different. They are generally referred to as “Gligbeh,” pronounced as “Glay-Kpein,” not “Gio,” “Mano” or “Poro” “Devil” as being erroneously portrayed by certain media practitioners.

Beyond this fact each of the ceremonial Zoe, whether in Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Cape Mount, Bong or Lofa, has its own distinct mark of identity within the particular ethnic group just as humans have “Peter,” “Paul,” “John,” “David” and so forth in order to be able to make an accurate reference to a particular individual. It is therefore sad in fact to see members of the mass media embrace the age-old stereotypes and thus adding to the confusion instead helping to enlighten the populace.

Spiritual Zoes are the supreme leaders of traditional societies and seriously respected for the important roles they play. The noun “devil” used to describe ritual Zoes carries satanic connotation and it originated from “Congo” Liberians who have foreign backgrounds and remain totally clueless about these cultures. Therefore, a ritual Zoe or Gligbeh isn’t a “devil.” Always reference them by names just as one would do with a human.   

Edward Carter’s stereotype and misguided comments

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Photo credit: Library of Congress

On the other hand, Mr. Edward Carter who once served as mayor for Bentol went on to make some wild claims without any basis. Adding to a commentator’s post, Mr. Carter whose forefathers were former slaves before their migration to West Africa during the 1800s through the kind gestures of the ACS charitable group, wrote the following: “From my vantage point, as a former local government official, traditional practices are among the factors that have hampered and continues to hamper growth and development in Liberia from its inception as a nation-state. And for Liberia to reach its full development potential, some of these practices have to be addressed and eliminated.” He prevailed on “compatriots,” expected to meet in Washington D.C. “under the banner of the ‘ALL Liberians Stakeholders Conference,’” to include “this particular issue on their agenda.” His comments had come in the wake of Dr. Gbessagee’s rebuttal to the Daily Observer’s “Poro Devil” story. Mr. Carter, however, failed to provide hard facts or logical reasoning to back his claim.

As it happened, Mr. Carter got grilled by Prof. Gbessagee for making such loose comments. And as the web audience waited, anticipating a reaction from Carter, he Carter instead diverted to something else and went on rambling and speculating as to why Dr. Gbessagee had to suddenly leave Liberia for the U.S. in wake of the deadly Ebola threat to the nation and population.

Mr. Carter made it appear as if Dr. Gbessagee, like any other “Westernized Liberians” doesn’t have a right to travel abroad including visit to the U.S. at will just as he Carter. Or that Dr. Gbessagee’s departure from Liberia at the time was somehow an indication of his Dr. Gbessagee’s disloyalty to the nation and people, although he Gbessagee isn’t the “president” of Liberia.

It would take up to three weeks for Mr. Carter to show up in attempt to belatedly defend his divisive and misguided statement. Instead making an apology to indigenous, Carter would go on to cite “traditional Poro Zoes” and “witchcraft practices” as “cultural factors” which according to him,  have allegedly “hampered growth and development” in Liberia.”

Photo credit: Heath Vogel, Blogging Without Maps

Photo credit: Heath Vogel, Blogging Without Maps

Mr. Carter claimed when he served as mayor of Bentol he had approached “traditional Poro Zoes” there to donate a parcel of “tribal reserved land” for the construction of an elementary school. The school project, he said, was to ease burden off some students who lived in rural Bentol and had to walk long distances to attend classes in central town. But the alleged refusal by “Poro Zoes’” to provide land for the project, “deprived” many kids from acquiring education. “As a result of their [Poro Zoes’] decision, over 200 school-age children were deprived access to education,” he wrote in a Nov. 4th post. Because many local Polor Zoes, by culture, don’t acquire “foreign education” beyond traditional education, Carter thought perhaps they would be an easy pick but he was wrong! How unfortunate is it that even Mr. Carter who once worked as deputy minister in the Interior Ministry seems not to understand nor appreciate a simple fact that a “tribal Land,” whether it is in South Africa, Australia, Zimbabwe, United States, or Liberia, is earmarked for a special purpose. 

As to how “witchcraft activities” have allegedly stalled “growth and development” in Liberia, Mr. Carter again did not point fingers toward his Americo-Liberian ethnicity but Indigenous. For reference, see the following paragraph from his post: “In fact, few days ago, a friend of mine, who was an engineer for years at the Ministry of Public Works, narrated instances where heavy-duty earth moving equipment suddenly became immobilized under ‘mysterious circumstances,’ while deployed in some rural parts of the country constructing farm-to-market and other feeder roads.

Diagnostic tests were conducted on these machines, but mechanical defaults were ruled out. More so, even today, these kinds of stories continue to reverberate throughout the country.” In Mr. Carter’s own perception, all of the country’s woes both past and present should be blamed on native “traditional cultural practices” and not his settler group.

This is despite Mr. Carter’s great grandparents were the ones (not Native Liberians), who ruled the country for over 133 consecutive years; settlers’ administrations that were characterized by gross mismanagement, nepotism, abuse of power and marginalization of  the Native majority among many others vices which eventually prompted the overthrow of that dynasty in 1980. How comical thus that Carter will now attempt to distort history by putting things differently?

It appears thus that Mr. Carter’s outburst is a complete testament that much of the so-called “regulatory” decisions concerning the cultural heritage made in the past mainly by Congo settlers, including Carter, were based solely on gossips and such erroneous perception as being exhibited by Carter. And what an immeasurable damage this may have done to Native traditions and culture by allowing a group of “strangers” or “new arrivals” with no clue whatsoever about local cultures to be the ones to formulate rules and regulations on how traditional institutions of Liberia should operate.

How pathetic and unfair!  Now, I can understand and feel Dr. Gbessagee’s pain when he writes: “And the question has always been ‘why’ was there a need to ‘regulate’ at the national level the culture and traditions of the majority population by the minority population? And the simple answer has been ‘Control, control, control!” But the biggest irony in all of this is that even though such suppressive cultural laws introduced by past settler administrations no longer serve useful purposes in today’s Liberia, yet, incoming regimes, including the current Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s, for some reasons, have continued to endorse those same old faulty cultural policies with minimal resistant from Indigenous Liberians being affected by such illegitimate laws.   

Mr. Edward Carter has from time to time proven to be an interesting figure often making erratic comments on national political and cultural matters. He is known on the OLM social network for initiating fire-spitting propagandas that are no different from the present issues he has raised. However, the biggest disappointment many have in the former Bentol mayor is, as intelligent as he appears to be, he will never show up afterwards to defend his usual and unpopular grandiosity when trapped or placed under scrutiny by another scholar for making reckless  comments. And this has made some of his colleagues to begin forming negative opinions of him to the point they think Mr. Carter may be living a life of fantasy.

For example, he didn’t utter a word after Dr. Nat Gbessagee seriously quizzed him as to whether “Americo-Liberian presidents,” prior to the 1980 coup, “built [modern] roads and passenger rail systems to connect all parts of Liberia, and constructed schools, public libraries, hospitals and clinics in every major town and village in Liberia but somehow the ‘traditional practices’ destroyed all of these development?” Asked Dr. Gbessagee, “Why will Mr. Carter not partly attribute the underdevelopment of Liberia to Americo-Liberian practices such as Mason, UBF, god-ma/god-pa, suspect line-ups, compulsory devotion, plead bargains, and so forth, but to the “traditional practices and customs” of Native Liberians?” Mr. Carter will never respond to questions like these.

Debunking Edward Carter’s empty claims embedded in pomposity

How dare Carter, a product of Americo-Liberian ethnicity will shamelessly hold onto such bold view that Native “traditional cultural practices” have impeded “growth and development” in the country when the facts overwhelmingly prove otherwise? I wonder what may have stirred up Carter to make such remark. And why will Native “educated” people even sit by helplessly and watch Mr. Carter play “tribalism” in broad day without uttering a word? Could this be because many “educated” Natives, like other Liberians, now hold this popular notion that “Americo-Liberian” is not a “tribe” and therefore it is impossible for a “Congo” person like Mr. Carter to engage in tribalism? If they believe so they are greatly mistaken.

I guess Natives who see Mr. Carter’s latest “propaganda war” against Indigenous as nothing important should begin to ask themselves who were the victims of segregation and oppression under Americo-Liberian rule for over a century if not Native Liberians? Do Native born Liberians think “oppression” happens overnight? Or that Mr. Carter doesn’t know what he’s doing? In addition it is worth noting that Liberians from none-Congo background are in constant habit of needlessly misapplying the word tribalism while missing the real big picture. For instance, on the social media, it has become very common to see a Liberian, say a Mandingo accuses another Liberian from the Daan or Lorma Ethnic group for engaging in acts of tribalism if the accused said something annoying about his accuser and vice versa.

People have become so consumed into this “tribal” war that many for personal selfish reasons even refuse to recognize and respect the roles, rights, of a journalist to report and critically examine former war-political leaders such “accusers” may favor in the community; whenever that happens, the journalist or human rights advocate is labeled as “tribal bigot.” Yet, Mr. Carter’s incendiary comments against the entire Native population of Liberia, to many, are by no means “tribal bigotry.”

How interesting! But for the benefit of foreign visitors and our new generation who may be unfamiliar with Liberia’s troubled past, it only fair to provide some highlights in the wake of Carter’s malicious propaganda intended to demonize the Great Indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage. The refutation is indeed necessary in order to set the record right otherwise, foreigners might be tempted to accepting as the “truth,” Carter’s historical distortion. It is a duty one can’t afford to shun as it is said that evil will only flourish in a place where good people failed to stand up.  Now, to address Mr. Carter’s falsehood, let’s briefly glance at the Pres. Williams Tubman era in order to make a long matter short. Late Pres. Tubman ruled the country for 27 unbroken years under a single party system till his death in 1971. Unlike other Americo-Liberian led governments, the Tubman Administration has been hailed as the architect of “Modern Liberia” and “national integration” movement that brought settlers and indigenes much closer.

Nevertheless, our history remains critical of Tubman. In “Liberia: The Heart of Darkness,” Gabriel Williams observed: “Critics have maintained that the level of development programs undertaken by Tubman was far less in proportion to the unprecedented economic boom during his administration.” Continued: “During this era of economic prosperity, the country simply experienced growth without development.” And Mr. Williams went on to cite an incident where two visiting Soviet Union journalists in 1989, “jokingly told an American diplomat [in Monrovia] that we came not hoping to see a little New York, but a little Florida.”

In other words, Pres. Tubman had the capacity to carry out more infrastructural and other developments during his nearly three decades rule as per the economic prosperity of Liberia at the time but reneged on such opportunity. As freelance writer Theodore T. Hodge best put it, “The ‘founding fathers’ set the country on a collision course; the collision finally took place on April 12th 1980. They set out to create two distinct societies; separate and unequal, settler and indigenous, rich and poor. It should be little wonder that we ended up where we are.” Read: “Leaders with Slave Mentalities: The Strange Case of Liberia,” (The Perspective, Nov. 28/14).

When Liberians and Americans gathered in Brooklyn Park more than a year ago for a fund drive geared toward constructing a modern library in Kakata, Liberia, for research and other educational benefits for students of BWI as well as teachers and the general public, Rev. Dr. Francis Tabla, a product of the BWI, made an embarrassing statement that resonated with Liberians present. “Liberia was the first to declare her independence on the continent of Africa in 1847. But in spite of this fact, it doesn’t own a national library.”

The statement had the audience; particularly Americans, stunned and some turned to each other and asked how can this be for a country this old that is America’s ally? But again this is the sad reality of the so-called “Negro Republic” and remains unchanged up till this day. If by chance there’s any national library in Liberia, it will only exist in name and that will be in Harper, Maryland, home of Pres. Tubman which should explain the reason why. Plus Maryland was once a nation of her own prior to joining the commonwealth of Liberia. This may sound unbelievable especially for a nation blessed with abundant mineral resources including vast forestations and rivers of splendors everywhere. 

Despite these remarkable blessings, accountability for centuries till now has only existed in name among the leaders of Liberia who controlled the money and wealth. Hence, it is an absurdity in the eyes of the Natives majority to see the GOL annually declare both Nov. 29th and March 15th (Pres. Tubman’s and J.J. Roberts’ natal days) as official national holidays throughout Liberia to be celebrated with grandeurs while leaving out April 12th the day some members of the Native Class braced the storm and freed the entire country from settlers’ domination and exploitation.

Therefore, it should be a total disgrace to Mr. Carter and any other member of his Congo ethnicity to attempt to vainly throw “hammer” onto the air with the hope that Native Liberians will swallow such falsehood without a second thought. Certainly, nowhere can he Carter nor anyone from settler origin show evident of the roles that Native “traditional cultural practices” played which eventually led to the failure of Mr. Carter and his forefathers to bring about the most needed developments to the country during the period they ruled Liberia. The fact here is that Edward Carter must still be living on “past glory” as Dr. Gbessagee has said often.  Related Story; Carter blames “Native” “witchcraft activities” for lack of development

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