As African tackles inhibiting cultural practices in its development process, nowhere is this seen more than in Liberia, Africa’s oldest Republic. Expected to be a source of light for progress, Liberia's headlines over the past months look scary Hollywood-type movies.
Liberia has a big challenge with human sacrifices that spring from its culture. Samples of headlines from prominent Liberian newspapers such as the “Analyst” and the “Liberian Observer” include: “Ritual Killings in Maryland Defy President Sirleaf,” “Woman Detained for Ritual Killings,” “Quiwonkpa Killed, dismembered body Consumed,” “Ritual Killings Increase in Nimba County,” and “Bryant Warns Presidential Candidates Against Ritual Killings.”
Locally called “Gboyo” - the practice of killing people so that their body parts can be extracted and offered as sacrifices to bring power, wealth and success has not been addressed by Liberian elites. This has made the practice to grow to such an extent that on June 29, 2005, prior to Liberia’s current democratic dispensation, its interim leader, Gyude Bryant, warned any aspiring presidential candidates tempted to boost their chances by carrying out human sacrifices that they would be executed. "If you think you can take somebody's life in order to be president, or the speaker (of parliament) or a senator, without anything being done to you, then you are fooling yourself," he warned.
The highlight of Liberia’s human sacrifice was supremely seen during the 14-year vicious civil war (1989-2003), where a mixture of the negative aspects of Liberia’s traditional cultural values and the criminal behaviour of its mindless “Big Men,” who have the cultural belief, like most Africa societies, that it is culturally right to sacrifice their victims for their various ambitions prevailed. In this atmosphere, child soldiers ate their victims’ hearts and other body parts for spiritual powers.
How is the oldest “Republic in Africa,” supposed to be a shining light of Africa, so challenged by negative cultural practices that threaten to undo its developmental gains? That the growth in human sacrifice appears not to go away 150 years after independence shows that Liberia is yet to have a wholistic grasp of its cultural values (positive or negative) that drive the foundations of development.
This fact is exemplified by prominent Liberian scholars, thinkers, writers and journalists who contributed to a “Special Issue on Liberia” on its 150th independence, published by the UK-based Pambazuka News. Nothing from these Liberians indicated that the cultural values and traditions of the country are factored in when midwifing the country. This also indicates that there are no conscious attempts to tackle any inhibitions with the Liberian culture for progress. Even Anthony Morgan Jr’s catching title, “Principle of Duality: Psychoanalysing Liberia,” didn’t reveal how Liberian elites are attempting to tackle not only their cultural inhibitions but also appropriating the good aspects for policy-making, consulting, and bureaucratizing.
Liberia’s elites have overlooked certain aspects of their traditional values that hinder progress despite the fact that various Presidents, from William Tolbert to Gyude Bryant, “have signed the death warrant of several government officials, accused of procuring human body parts for Gboyo rituals.” It is not only Liberian “Big Men” who engage in human sacrifices, ordinary Liberians also do it. Unlike in most African states, Liberian women are prominent in these rituals.
It is all over Liberia. Samples: The “Liberian Observer” (04 October, 2006) with headline “Woman Detained for Ritual Killing” reported that the Magisterial Court in Buchanan “charged and detained a woman identified as Ruth Redd with the crime of “negligence homicide” in connection with the mysterious death of a two-year old Victoria Wee in Gbegbah Town, in Harlandsville Township, Grand Bassa County.” In another instance, the “Analyst” (March 10, 2006) reported that barely three hours after incumbent President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf delivered a speech of gratitude to the people of Maryland County and told those involved in ritual killings to stop and not to tempt her because she is a woman, a three year old boy was ritualistically murdered. The “Analyst” (March 9, 2006) reported that “The relief arm of the Assemblies of God Church, the Faith Charities Consortium (CFC) has reported that there is increase in the practice of ritualistic activities in Nimba County…Children are disappearing on a daily basis with their bodies mostly discovered by community dwellers in the bushes along highways and bearing marks of certain body parts removed.”
The growth of human sacrifice in Liberia confirms Florence Bernault's thesis that Public rumors depict human sacrifice and other related sorceries “as the most common way to achieve personal success, wealth, and prestige in times of economic shortage and declining social opportunities. Political leaders are widely believed to perform ritual murder to ensure electoral success and power, and many skillfully use these perceptions to build visibility.” This is, as Liberia indicates, despite elites oftentimes ignoring classical political and historical studies.
As the flux of Liberia’s culture and progress show, the impact of the inhibiting aspects of Liberia’s culture on its progress as Bernault analyses “is not a marginal, but a central dimension of the nature of public authority, leadership, and popular identities.” Dirk Kohnert, of Germany’s Institute of African Affairs, argues that the belief in African native occultism are still "deeply rooted in many African societies, regardless of education, religion, and social class of the people concerned" and this has “implications for democratization and poverty-alleviating aid in Africa.”
Either because of the extremely long-running colonial rule, which pretty much suppressed African values for developmental transformation or post-independence African elites’ weak grasp of Africa’s values in its progress, as Liberian elites exemplify, certain parts of Africa’s values such as the growing human sacrifice in Liberia have not seen conscious attempts to refine them from within African values for progress by its elites.
By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Expo Times Independent Sierra Leone
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