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Liberia and the United States During the Cold War: The Limits of Reciprocity by Dr. D. Elwood Dunn released September 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan Press is a major contribution to the ongoing discussion on not only Liberia, the first independent Africa Republic (1847) successful attempt at surviving in a world dominated by European Imperialist powers of Britain, France, Germany, and Spain, but the internal dynamics of the domestic ethnic configuration of the country itself (former slaves from the United States and the indigenous population comprising nearly fifteen ethnicities, each with its distinct language and unique cultural identity). The Book elucidates on the major challenges to the young Republic posed by France, and Britain who had colonial territories bordering Liberia on the North (Guinea), East (Ivory Coast), and West (Sierra Leone) that had enjoyed unencumbered highly profitable trade with the coastal ethnic groups comprising Bassas, Grebos, Krus, and Vais, and the role of the United States Government in ensuring the survival of Liberia.


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The main thrust of the book is Liberia - United States diplomatic intercourse, but the Dr. Dunn painstakingly assessed Liberia as an actor in world affairs spanning 1847 through 1990, a period of 143 years. Whether it was the struggle to maintain Liberian sovereignty over acquired territory from imperialist predators (President Daniel E. Howard), attempting to gain recognition of the Barclay Government from the US Government after the resignation of President C.D.B. King, President Tubman's balancing act of securing both security and economic assistance from the US Government, President Tolbert's attempt at expanding Liberia's diplomatic horizon beyond the Western sphere of influence while maintaining the special ties with the US and/or Doe era bonhomie with the Regan administration are all narrated with a fluidity that makes this book a must read for all Liberian scholars.

Taking cognizance of the old adage that Foreign Policy is an extension of Domestic Policy, Dr. Dunn takes the reader through the most daunting challenge successive Liberian Governments had to grapple with; viz., status of the indigenous population in a "western" democracy system; with a constitution modeled on the United States, promising fundamental equality for all citizens. However, Dunn makes it clear through his extensive research that the settlers did not consider the indigenous population as citizens nor equals, and concomitantly not having any rights or protection under the Constitution. This placed successive Liberian Governments in the unenviable position of espousing equality and freedom for all peoples while maintaining a pseudo master/slave system at home.

To support and sustain this type of system, a highly centralized structure of Government was designed giving monarchal powers to the President to appoint nearly all local government officials, including, Superintendents of Counties, District Commissioners, County Attorneys, School Supervisors, and answerable to him/her but not accountable to the people. Because they serve at his/her pleasure, the propensity for the government appointees to manipulate, through inducement, and intimidation are all too often used with the same effect as was done in yesteryears. Little wonder corruption and embezzlement of public funds has remained a Liberian government problem from 1847 to December 20, 2009. And elections in themselves will never resolve these entrenched issues of governance until the basic structural transformation through appropriate legislation resolves them.

US support for settlers is evidence by the strong commitment enshrined in its treaty of 1862, leading to the recognition of the Liberian Government, Section 8 quoted by Dunn stipulated that 'it (US) shall not interfere in the Liberian Government's treatment of its native population, unless at the specific request of the Liberian Government. This policy, which was critical to all the settler governments, was vigorously adhered to by the United States at lest publicly, while in confidential briefing papers, released by the US , quoted by Dr. Dunn, the US on several occasions noted that the greatest danger posed to the survival of the Liberian State was its treatment of the indigenous population. But at the same time, as quoted in Dunn's book, the Americans, in a confidential memo from the State Department to President Roosevelt stated that American interest in Liberian can best be served under the continuous leadership of the Americo-Liberians. Ironically, the Americo-Liberian's chickens came home to roost on April 12, 1980 in the form of violent overthrow of the ruling elites.

One unique aspect of this book that sets it apart from previous works by other scholars, both Liberian and foreign is that it encompasses every aspect of Liberian foreign relations; the recognition of Israel, the diplomatic rivalry between Nkrumah's Ghana, and the Tubman regime relative the formation of the Organization of African Unity, Liberian as trusted ally in America's fight to contain communism, President Tolbert's foreign policy - balancing regionalism, non-alignment, and maintaining special ties with the US, Doe and the Regan Administration, the Liberian Civil War, etc.

Most importantly, Dr. Dunn draws on his theory of the "Potted Plant Syndrome", which simply put, is that the settlers brought a government, culture, and unique world view but failed to expand it to the indigenous population by forging an alliance based on equality, to build a viable, prosperous black nation on the African continent that would be the pride of all peoples of African decent. Liberia's first Secretary of State, Hilary Teague, was committed to the concept that the settlers "were on a civilizing mission" and as such could not accommodate the "heathen indigenous population". Edward Wilmot Blyden the Eight Secretary of State, on the other hand, was the key proponent of a system that would adopt some of the more positive aspects of the indigenous system and culture into the Western model of Government, creating a unique system that would benefit all Liberians.

President E.J. Roye, according to Dr. Dunn, was highly influenced by Blyden and was disposed to implementing needed reforms to accommodate the indigenous population. He was overthrown and lynched by the enemies of change within the settler population. The consequences of this failure to adopt and make positive adjustments to create equal opportunity for all Liberians lead to the evolvement of a privileged group (Americo-Liberians), dominating access and control over the political machinery, and government resources to amass personal wealth at the exclusion of the indigenous population that comprise nearly 95% of the population.

I commend Dr. Dunn, a typical Americo-Liberian himself, who exercised such tremendous courage in highlighting these aspects of the Liberian reality to which most Americo-Liberians and some indigenous Liberians are so sensitive that even a casual mention of this historical and present day reality brings an abrupt dismissal. They like to remind us that these are historical abominations. This type of denial when taken against the preponderance of evidence in Dr. Dunn's book I consider pure disingenuousness with dire consequences for the future of a stable Liberia.

I am reminded of another passage in Dr. Dunn's book when Presidents Tubman and Tolbert were confronted by journalists while visiting the United States respectively on the subject of inequality in Liberia, Tubman answered that there is no ruling elite in Liberia, because his Secretary of State, J. Rudolph Grimes, and his Secretary of the Treasury, Charles D. Sherman was half natives! President Tolbert was also in denial of any form of inequality or settler dominance, and answered by saying that his 'only concern was the dominance of larger ethnic groups in government over smaller ethnicities!

I very strongly recommend this book as a MUST READ for every Liberian, especially policymakers, politicians, students of Liberian Government. The Ministry of Education should acquire copies for all public schools, and the Ministry of Information should also acquire copies for all Libraries throughout Liberia. The Liberian Legislature should acquire copies not only for the Legislative Library, but each individual legislator, because if one does not learn from the experience of history, one is bound to repeat it with dire consequences.

Thanks Dr. D. Elwood Dunn for writing and publishing "LIBERIA AND THE UNITED STATES DURING THE COLD WAR: THE LIMITS OF RECIPROCITY" at this critical phase of our national existence, coming out of 14 years of civil war, and attempting to chart a course for our future, this book could not have been more timely.




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