Earlier in the 19th century, some African-Americans decided to return to Africa and founded there Liberia. That experience which should have been a reunion between separated peoples, went very wrong for the Natives. This sad chapter in our history is to be known and analyzed in order to draw all the lessons for the future…
At the turn of the 19th century, by force, the enslaved Africans gained more and more freedom in the US. Concerned by the growing number of free Blacks in the US, a country that advocates white supremacy, the US authorities responded to the will of some Blacks to return to Africa, and created the American Colonizing Society which aimed to promote the return of freed slaves to Africa. By 1822, thousands of African-Americans went back to Africa. But the improvement of the living conditions of Blacks in the US and the abolition of slavery encouraged many of them to stay.
There was still 12,000 of them who reached that land in West Africa that represents liberty and was therefore called Liberia. In 1847, the so-called Americo-Liberians declared their independence from the US authorities and founded the Republic of Liberia. That return, which should have been a reunion between separated peoples turned, rather into a nightmare for the Natives of the country.
The Americo-Liberians therefore created a system of segregation in which they were on top. They conveyed the European culture supremacy, built churches in defiance of the local Vitalism (animism), raised the English language to the status of national language that, to them, appeared to be superior to the Kpelle or Bassa indigenous languages, were wearing European clothes and eating American food, proudly kept their names inherited from the torture in the plantations, advocated individualism at the expense of the African Community society. Like the white settlers who were occupying the rest of Africa, they were despising Vitalism and thought, that only Christianity can civilize a man.
They founded institutions modeled on the American ones, with a president supported by a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Liberian flag is copied from the one of the USA. The Americo-Liberians prohibited the acquisition of the Liberian nationality to the Natives, prohibited their right to own a plot of land, prohibited their right to vote. Relations with Western governments were tight and those ones, made the country their playground. The Americo-Liberians, yet freed slaves or descendants of slaves even enslaved the Natives for the needs of the local Western industries.
Facing that outrageous discrimination, the Natives fought repeatedly. The US intervened to rescue the Americo-Liberian dictatorship in order to subdue the insurgents. Firestone, an American company operating in the exploitation of rubber took advantage of the huge rubber production in the country to become a real master of Liberia, just like the French group Areva in Niger today. The 5% of Americo-Liberians enriched themselves in the middle of an ocean of poor Natives.
It is when President Tolbert planned to increase the price of rice that Natives stood up for the umpteenth time and put an end to 133 years of segregation. Under the commandment of the native Samuel Doe in 1980, they succeeded in their coup and took over the power. Tolbert and his supporters were killed by dozens.
The country then sank into chronic instability and civil war. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, current president of a finally pacified Liberia, comes from the native people Kru and is also of Americo-Liberian descent. Liberia still has that flag copied from the USA’s and English is still the official language.
What lessons should we learn from this story?
African-Americans have exercised their legitimate right to return to Africa. Their presence in Liberia should not be fundamentally challenged. But what is here to say is that though those freed slaves were Africans in their blood and in their memory, they were not African culturally. Culture, which is the most important element of a people’s identity, was a Western one for the descendants of slaves. To put it directly, those people who returned to Africa were Black Skins, White Masks.
The Americo-Liberians were brainwashed, so brainwashed that they were proud of their slave names. And it is this brainwashing– that is also found today among native Africans – which led them to despise Africa. Although they physically returned to Africa, they did not do the work of cultural assimilation that would have made them authentic Africans again.
All this to say that when the issue of Afro-descendants integration truly poses itself to Africa when it will manage to unite, it should be ensured to establish strict conditions for the acquisition of citizenship to which all Afro-descendants are entitled. As a massive work of disalienation needs to be done in Africa, it should be required that African-Caribbeans, African-Americans and Africans of South America adopt partially or totally African names, learn the culture, spirituality and African languages. Each one of them will surely come with his cultural specificity, as long as it does not undermine the foundations of the Black identity. If it is done like this then, Africa will never experience again, in its space a similar terror to that of the Americo-Liberians.
By: Lisapo ya Kama ©