#SecureTheTribe: With Liberia in view, Africans and Afro-Americans stand up to each other

For a while now, a silent raging wrangle has existed between Africans and African-Americans – or Afro-Americans (AAs). But, the relationship between those two groups can never be forgotten, or erased; even with a high level of historical mis-knowledge, and a lack of in-depth understanding especially among millennials and Gen Z. Slavery is the connecting point, and is also the problem. This is why the argument never touches at a defined point or informed understanding.

A sample of today’s argument:

History makes us understand, or experience through words, the kind of dehumanising treatments and conditions Afro-Americans had to go through before the world thought to abolish slavery. There are still little traces of it in the American society which favours white caucasians over blacks.

Blacks are the minority in the American system, (#BlackLivesMatter may not fully capture how discriminatory the system is), and still live with memories of their struggles. This is what informs Afro-Americans to assume that African immigrants are opportunists who did not share in their pains but want to partake of the gains post-slavery. They believe Africans do not share in their ideology and are unwilling to participate in their political and civil rights movements.

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Africans, on the other hand, believe Afro-Americans like to claim leadership of the black race the world over, and assume this role without consultation. In this light, so many Africans believe AAs have the racist spirit that may even be worse than the one white people possess. Another reason to consider is the trust issues that exits between the two races.

AAs argue that Africans migrate to the US to take their jobs. The argument leans on the fact they have spent all their lives struggling with the system and Africans want to enjoy the benefits. On the other hand, Africans believe AAs do not know how to utilise the opportunities the American system offers.

It is a fiasco that has so many arguments and compromise is not usually the end point. The Liberian version will help us highlight this.

Americo-Liberians were descended from African-American and Afro-Caribbean settlers, many of whom were freed slaves and their descendants who emigrated to Liberia. The first black American settlers arrived in Liberia in 1822. Historians have argued that white Americans encouraged the emigration of people of colour to Africa due to their opposition to integration. Other African-Americans believed they would face better economic opportunities in Africa and be free from racial prejudice, a sentiment that was endorsed by the Back-to-Africa movement.

So, on February 6, 1820, the first group of formerly enslaved people in the United States to resettle in Africa departed from New York. An organisation called the American Colonisation Society, with funding from Congress, had been established to return them to the U.S. colony of Liberia, in West Africa. 

This movement happened with problems. Prominent was the fact that the returnees had no idea what Africa was anymore and were used to American lifestyles, which had no correlation with what was obtainable in Liberian communities. Even those AAs born in Africa, thinking migrating to Liberia presented an opportunity for true freedom became lost. History says two groups were formed in Liberia: Americo-Liberian ethnic group and indigenous Africans.

The former, though lost, saw an opportunity and kept a tight reign on power in Liberia. They were regarded as scond class citizens in America. In Africa, they realised how American they really were. They differed from the native Africans they found themselves among. In language, culture, and education.

The power they now had access to and held tightly was what they used to rule over the rest of the native groups, besides being just a small percentage of the total population of the country. Through the True Whig Party, they controlled the government, the economy, and the state. The societal inequalities this system generated caused much resentment among the majority population.

No wonder a group of 17 indigenous Africans, led by Samuel Doe, stormed Liberia’s presidential palace on April 12, 1980, and killed the then President, William Tolbert. The native African soldiers put the top government officials on a show trial, and condemned all of them to death. Ten days later, on April 22, thirteen of them were stripped to their underwear, and taken to the beach, where they were tied to wooden poles. In a grisly scene, these former rulers were executed. All the men who met their end on that fateful day were of African-American descent.

History does not say that Afro-Americans found Liberia. In fact, when the AAs were sent to Africa, they were locals who grumbled that newcomers were trying to come in to take their land. The relations of the African-American settlers with the natives were strained right from the get-go. The Africans saw the black Americans as no more than dark-skinned unwanted occupiers.

This is the crux of today’s conversation about Liberia. Social media users argue that AAs are not the founders of the country, Liberia, and have done more harm than actually build the country. It started from a Twitter Space conversation.

It aches to see this kind of argument in a world where racism is still a major problem. It is true we have all gone through various levels of hardship, turmoil, and suffering which serves as reasons we continuously hold deep grudges against others, but its high time we understood that we need to work together and move on.

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