Liberia’ Tubman: the failed vision of a united Africa

Wednesday February 6 2019


By Peter Kafumu

This second and last part of William Tubman’s story looks at his pan-African activities and legacy as a revered leader who is credited with bringing prosperity to Liberia.

The end of World War II in 1945 resulted in anti-colonial movements across Africa, and Tubman was forced to strengthen ties with his fellow African leaders who were fighting for independence.

It was at this time that Tubman participated in several conferences that promoted the Pan-African Movement.

One of the conferences he attended was the 1959 Second Conference of African States that Tubman himself hosted in Sanniquellie in Liberia following the first conference that was held in Accra, Ghana in 1958.

The 1959 Conference developed and signed a declaration proposing the establishment of the Community of Independent African States with membership open to all independent African states.

‘Independence and Unity’ was the motto proposed to spearhead the coming together of the African continent. However, this community of nations was short-lived and dissolved within a year.

Yet, the liberation movement in Africa gained momentum and all Free States embraced the concept of continental unity; but not all agreed on how this unity could be achieved. Two camps of leaders emerged; the first camp was the Casablanca bloc, formed in Casablanca, Morocco in early 1961.

This group known as “progressive states” comprised Ghana, Algeria, Guinea, Morocco, Egypt, Mali and Libya wanted an immediate continental Government.

The second camp was the Monrovia Bloc of which Tubman belonged. It was established on the 12th of May 1961 following a Pan-African conference held in Monrovia.

The camp wanted a gradual approach to continental unity, through regional cooperation and integration. The Monrovian Bloc also known as “moderate states”, comprised Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Liberia.

However, in 1963, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia invited the two groups to a conference in Addis Ababa, to achieve a dynamic compromise between the two.

The two groups were in attendance, from 32 independent African states from across Africa. The conference drew and signed a Charter to create the Organisation of the African Unity (OAU) .

At this OAU founding conference in Addis Ababa, William Tubman gave a speech defended his belief in the African unity, that it can strengthen socio-economic stand of the continent.

He said: “…Unity can be achieved and steps can be taken towards its practical implementation so that it may bring us into a creative partnership in which we can live and work in peace for our mutual benefits and there make Africa strong in the economic, educational, cultural and technical phases of development…”

Ending his speech, he told the conference that unity was the only immediate desired action to liberate Africa: “…Never before has unity of action been more desirable and urgent; never before have had independent nations faced such a challenging and splendid opportunity for concerted action; never before have our problems been graver and our needs more crucial…”

The legacy of William Tubman is entrenched in his policies of national unity between indigenous Liberians and the Americano-Liberians to drive for one African identity.

His policies increased foreign investment in Liberia and stimulate economic growth. At the time of Tubman’s death in 1971, Liberia had attracted more than $1 billion in foreign investment.

On the 23rd of July 1971, William Tubman died in London and was succeeded by his then-Vice President William Tolbert.

The demise of Tubman stimulated political dissent that resulted into the overthrow of Tolbert in 1980, by Sergeant Samuel Doe. Samuel Doe’s rule did not last either as the country was thrown into a civil war that subsequently removed Doe in 1990 and destroyed the economic prosperity of Liberia and the country was left in ruins.

William Tubman, the pan-African leader from Liberia always endeavored to bring his country to prosperity and at the same time promoted the Pan-African Movement that aimed at ensuring that all Africa united to be one free nation. Africa will live to remember him as one of the founding fathers of the Pan-African Movement.

Dr Kafumu is the Member of Parliament for Igunga Constituency