The Kouwenhoven extradition case: the umpteenth postponement. Why?


On April 12, 2019 the Magistrate’s Court in Cape Town again postponed the case. It was the umpteenth postponement. I nearly lost track of the previous delays. The Dutch authorities want Guus Kouwenhoven back in the Netherlands. In April 2017 a Dutch court found him guilty of illegal arms trading in Liberia – in violation of a UN arms embargo – and of war crimes in Liberia and neighboring Guinea. Kouwenhoven had not awaited the final verdict and had fled to South Africa where he was arrested in December 2017.


He was released on bail which allows him te stay in his luxurious mansion in Cape Town. Kouwenhoven – once a member of the Dutch Quote500 – the list of 500 richest people in the Netherlands – hired the best and probably most expensive lawyers in South Africa to keep him out of jail. He had done the same in the Netherlands where he had hired Inez Weski,  a well known and well paid Dutch lawyer, and one of the best.

Now, again, Kouwenhoven’s lawyers managed to keep him out of jail, preventing his extradition to the Netherlands where the 77-year old businessman – who made a fortune in Liberia aided by his partners-in-crime Charles Taylor and Emmanuel Shaw – was sentenced to 19 years in jail. By the way, former Finance minister Shaw is now …. one of president Weah’s senior advisors, whereas warlord-turned-president Taylor serves a 50-year jail sentence in the UK for aiding and abetting rebels and war criminals in Sierra Leone.


The magistrate’s decision to postpone the case was motivated by his wish to first hear the opinion of the Cape Town High Court on the request of Kouwenhoven’s South African lawyers, Gary Eisenberg and Anton Katz, who have questioned the legitimacy of Kouwenhoven’s arrest, in December 2017.

Katz and Eisenberg were already successful in obtaining several postponements of the extradition case in 2018. “We are becoming incredibly frustrated, but not surprised.”, said prosecutor Christopher Burke, after the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court umpteenth postponement of the case in 2018. Christopher Burke left us puzzling what he meant.

The High Court in Cape Town will decide on the case on June 7, 2019.

There’s a saying: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’

More on the Kouwenhoven trial in the Netherlands, which lasted from 2005 till 2017, and the saga of his extradition (2017 – present) on my website.

Posted in Charles Taylor, Emmanuel Shaw, George Weah, Guinea, Guus Kouwenhoven, Justice, Kouwenhoven, Liberia, rule of law, Sierra Leone, South Africa, war crimes | Leave a comment

A trip back in history: the United States, 1851

Arrest of a fugitive slave

Browsing through old American newspapers searching for articles on the newly created republic of Liberia (1847), I read with a shock a headline that gave me goose pimples. “Arrest of Another Fugitive Slave” I read on page 3 of The New York Herald, dated August 26, 1851.

It was the chilling story of the arrest of John Bolding, a fugitive slave from Columbia, South Carolina, who – according to this newspaper – “was the property of Mr. Barnet Anderson of the same State”. Some four years earlier, John Bolding had run away from his ‘boss’. When arrested, in Poughkeepsie (NY), John Bolding was working successfully as a taylor, occupying a shop next to the Eastern Hotel. At Poughkeepsie, it seems, he was doing quite a profitable little business and was happily married.

His arrest incited his black friends to come to his rescue but before they could intervene the police hastily put John Bolding on a train to New York. The train left and at the time of the publication of the newspaper the ultimate fate of the fugitive slave was yet undecided.

Unfortunately, the case of John Bolding was one of many. The slavery issue in the United States would only be settled with the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by president Abraham Lincoln (1863).  The Emancipation Proclamation changed the federal legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved Afr0-Americans in the southern states. However, it did not end discrimination and racism in the United States, be it in the north or the south.
Notwithstanding the lack of civil rights most Afro-Americans decided to stay in the United States and build up their lives in the country where they were born. Emigration to Liberia came virtually to a stand-still.

The original 1851 article:

The New York Herald, morning edition, Tuesday, August 26, 1851 (page 3, 3rd column).

The New York Herald, morning edition, Tuesday, August 26, 1851 (page 3, 3rd column).

Posted in 1847, 1851, 1863, Abraham Lincoln, Afro-Americans, Barnet Anderson, civil rights, Columbia, discrimination, Emancipation Proclamation, fugitive slave, John Bolding, Liberia, New York, Poughkeepsie, racism, runaway slave, slavery, South Carolina, The New York Herald, United States | Leave a comment

Liberia’s rich biodiversity of flora and fauna

The other day I was preparing a powerpoint presentation on Liberia for a group of people interested in this country, but hardly familiar with it. For this purpose I was doing some research on Liberia’s flora and fauna and I was again heavily impressed. I thought it might be useful or interesting to share with you, the reader of this blog, what I found.

Liberia has an extremely rich biodiversity of flora and fauna – thanks to its tropical forests. Few people only realize or know this. It is estimated that 40 to 50% of the country’s surface is still covered with primary tropical rainforest containing over 250 different species. Liberia thus has West Africa’s largest  tropical rainforest. This situation is closely related to the country’s tropical, hot and humid climate. As you may know, the annual rainfall – concentrated in the rainy season which lasts from May till October (!) – varies between 5 meters (200 inches) – in the capital Monrovia – and 2 meters (80 inches) in the interior of the country.

Area covered by tropical rainforest in Liberia

Area covered by tropical rainforest in Liberia (source: – accessed on October 24, 2018).

Sapo National Park is home to about 125 mammal species, including elephants, leopards, giant forest hogs, chimpanzees, duiker antilopes and the rare pygmy hippo.

Location of Sapo National Park in Liberia

Location of Sapo National Park in Liberia

In general, Liberia’s fauna includes mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, butterflies and moths. Among the mammals we particularly note the pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis), a small hippopotamid (‘pygmy hippo’) which is native to West Africa. The pygmy hippopotamus lives primarily in Liberia, but small populations can be found in neighboring countries (Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone). Furthermore, it is assumed that Liberia is home to the greatest variety of snakes on the African continent.

Moreover, about 530 species of butterfly are known to be from Liberia, one of which is endemic. Finally, it is hardly generally known, but do you know that Liberia is an ornithological paradise or – in laymen’s words – a paradise for birds and bird-watchers? The avifauna of Liberia include a total of 695 species, including the bee-warbler, a bird only slightly larger than a bee. One of Liberia’s almost 700 species of birds is endemic,  three have been introduced  by humans and three are rare or accidental. It is important to note that twelve species are globally threatened.

'Birds of Liberia' by Wulf Gatter (1998)

‘Birds of Liberia’ (1998) by Wulf Gatter (author), Martin Woodcock (illustrator), Friedhelm Weick (illustrator)

From: Birds of Liberia' by Wulf Gatter (author), Martin Woodcock (illustrator), Friedhelm Weick (illustrator)

From: Birds of Liberia’ (1998) by Wulf Gatter (author), Martin Woodcock (illustrator), Friedhelm Weick (illustrator)

Posted in 'Birds of Liberia', avifauna, bee-warbler, biodiversity, butterflies, butterfly, Choeropsis liberiensis, climate, fauna, fish, flora, Friedhelm Weick, Guinea, Hexaprotodon liberiensis, Ivory Coast, Liberia, mammals, Martin Woodcock, Monrovia, moths, ornithological paradise, pygmy hippo, pygmy hippopotamus, rainfall, rainforest, Sapo National Park, Sierra Leone, snake, snakes, tropical rainforest, West Africa, Wulf Gatter, | Leave a comment

April 12, 1980 – April 12, 2018

PRC-678x38138 years ago, a group of soldiers changed the course of Liberia’s history. Seventeen soldiers, under the command of master-sergeant Samuel Doe, penetrated the Executive Mansion in the country’s capital Monrovia, killed the guards while working their way to the sleeping quarters, and brutally murdered President William R. Tolbert, Jr., the country’s 20th president. At 6 a.m. I woke up to the sound of automatic weapons at a friend’s house in the Sherman compound in the outskirts of Monrovia. ELBC radio soon confirmed what had happened the previous night.
William R. Tolbert, Jr. was the country’s last 100% Americo-Liberian president. He was the descendant of African-Americans who had created the colony and later the republic of Liberia, 160 years earlier. In 1985 Samuel Doe rigged the presidential elections, defeated his opponent, Jackson Doe (no relation) and became Liberia’s 21st and first indigenous president – though not really democratically elected. His poor parents belonged to the Krahn tribe. Doe’s rule became the prelude to a savage civil war, the country’s First Civil War, that raged between 1989 and 1997. His successor, warlord-president Charles Taylor was the son of an Americo-Liberian father and a Gola mother. He turned out to be one of the worst criminals of the African continent and ended up in an English prison, locked up for 50 years, probably till the end of his life. Charles Taylor was condemned for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, but not for the atrocities he ordered his NPFL fighters to commit in Liberia. His departure ended the Second Civil War (1999-2003) that left the country devastated, the economy in ruins, and the population traumatized. According to the Constitution, his Vice-President Moses Blah briefly served as Liberia’s 23rd president. Blah was of Gio descent and thus became Liberia’s second indigenous president – though not elected in his own right.
In 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the presidential elections, defeating her opponent, world famous soccer star George Weah. Her father was the son of a minor Gola chief and one of his wives, her mother was the daughter of a Kru market woman and a German trader. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Liberia’s 24th president and served two terms (2006-2018). She was Liberia’s and Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since both her father and her mother were raised in an Americo-Liberian family, she is considered Americo-Liberian by some observers – though she does not identify as such, specifically not after the 1970s when she briefly served as President Tolbert’s Finance Minister. Be that as it may, President Sirleaf managed to keep the country peaceful, with the help of a UN force, UNMIL. In 2018 she turned the key to the Executive Mansion over to her erstwhile opponent, George Weah, who had won the 2017 presidential elections. Reportedly, George Weah is of mixed Kru, Gbee, Mano, and Bassa heritage. Since the elections were democratic, peaceful, with multiple candidates and according to the law, George Weah in January 2018 not only became Liberia’s 25th president but also the country’s first democratically elected indigenous President, a historic achievement. Two hundred years after Liberia was created – first as a colony of a private American organization (the American Colonization Society), 1822-1847, then as Africa’s first republic (July 26, 1847) – the indigenous people of the region are no longer ruled by descendants of the freed slaves who had created the republic in 1847. The small Americo-Liberian elite, representing less than 5% of the total population, had excluded and marginalized the country’s tribal population and monopolized the political and economic power during 133 years, till that night, 38 years ago, when an indigenous master-sergeant seized power in one of Africa’s bloodiest military coups.

All this came to my mind when I woke up this morning, April 12, 2018.

Many people in Liberia have neither access to modern education nor to decent health facilities – and so on. I wish them a better future. Students in Liberian schools, colleges and universities lack books that tells them about their country’s history. To satisfy their needs – at least partially – and for everybody interested in Liberian affairs, I like making a small contribution and recently started updating my website on Liberia’s Past and Present, with the precious technical help of my wife for 45 years, and I will continue to do so in the near future. You’re invited.

Posted in 'April 12', 1847, 1980, 1980 coup, 2017 presidential elections, 2018, 20th Liberian President, 21st Liberian President, 22nd Liberian President, 23rd Liberian President, 24th Liberian President, 25th Liberian president, American Colonization Society, Americo-Liberian presidents, Americo-Liberians, April 12 1980, Bassa, Charles Taylor, Civil War(s) Liberia, Coups in Africa, democratically elected indigenous president, elections, elections fraud, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Executive Mansion, freed slaves, Gbee, George Manneh Weah, George Weah, Gio, Gola, health, international soccer star, Jackson F. Doe, Krahn, Kru, Liberia Past and Present website, Liberian Economy, Liberian History, Mano, military coup, Minister of Finance, Monrovia, Moses Blah, murder, peace, People's Redemption Council, Samuel Kanyon Doe, Second civil war 1999-2003, Sherman, Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Special Court, UNMIL, William R. Tolbert Jr. | Leave a comment

The importance of George Weah’s election victory

weah12January 22, 2018 was a historic day for Liberia. On that day, George Manneh Weah was inaugurated as Liberia’s 25th president, the country’s first democratically elected indigenous president since the creation of the republic, 170 years ago!

220px-Samuel_K._DoeYes sure, Africa’s oldest republic has had presidents of tribal descent before. In 1986, former master-sergeant and leader of the military People’s Redemption Council (PRC), Samuel Doe, was inaugurated as Liberia’s 21st president. Samuel Doe had seized power in the bloody 1980 coup that we all know from history books – some of us are old enough to remember it happening –, he thus became Liberia’s first head of state of tribal origin (Krahn). In 1985, he organized presidential elections in an attempt to legitimize his position. He won the elections by rigging, defeating Jackson Doe (not related) of the Liberian Action Party. For that reason – cheating – Samuel Doe cannot be considered a democratically elected indigenous president.

200381413Liberia’s second president of tribal descent was Moses Blah (Gio). He was Charles Taylor’s Vice President who took over after the latter’s forced exile (2003). Blah has been described as a Taylor-made successor. He only ruled for two months. Also in his case we cannot say that he was a democratically elected indigenous president. Blah was replaced by Charles Gyude Bryant (Grebo), who was not democratically elected, but put in place by Liberians who were ‘representatives of warring factions, political parties and civil society’ during peace talks in Ghana. Bryant’s official title was leader of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), he was not president of Liberia. His successor was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006-2018), the country’s 24th president. Although her grandfather was a Gola chief, she does not qualify as an indigenous president, given her mixed background. See the article ‘Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her tribal roots and Americo-Liberian background’. Hence, it is clear, George Manneh Weah can rightfully claim to be ‘Liberia’s first democratically elected indigenous president’ .

HRW JohnsonWe can also look at Weah’s historic achievement from another angle. Liberia was created in 1847 by free-born blacks and former slaves from the United States who settled on the west coast of Africa, aided by a private American organization, the American Colonization Society (ACS). The country’s first ten presidents were African-American presidents, born in the US – although legally, strictly speaking, they were not considered American citizens. Thereafter comes a group of Americo-Liberian presidents. They were born in Liberia. Their ancestors had come to Liberia as colonists. The first Americo-Liberian president was Hilary Richard Wright Johnson (1884-1892), Liberia’s first president born in Africa/Liberia though from American parents. As from 1912 all presidents were born in Liberia and ‘Americo-Liberian’, as they preferred to refer to themselves, at least until 1980. And now we have the first indigenous president – Weah (Kru) – democratically elected, 170 years after the creation of Liberia in 1847.

Will George Weah’s presidency be symbolic? Will he be the first of a large number of democratically elected indigenous Liberian presidents? Will his inauguration mark a further step in the decolonization of Africa’s oldest republic, first ruled by African-Americans, colored people, free-born blacks, former slaves from the US, then by Americo-Liberians, descendants of the American colonists, and now– from now on? – by African-Liberians?

Whatever the answer may be to these questions, it is clear from the foregoing that the importance of George Weah’s election extends beyond the victory of a former international soccer star who has become president of a country, I almost forgot to mention the other historic achievement.

Schermafbeelding 2017-12-29 om 23.09.07

Posted in 1847, 1980, 1980 coup, 2017 presidential elections, 2018, 24th Liberian President, 25th Liberian president, Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord, ACS, African-American presidents, African-Americans, Afro-Americans, American Colonization Society, Americo-Liberian presidents, Americo-Liberians, April 12 1980, Charles Gyude Bryant, Charles Taylor, civil society organizations, Civil War(s) Liberia, Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA 2003, decolonization, democratically elected indigenous president, elections, elections fraud, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, freed slaves, George Manneh Weah, George Weah, Gio, Gola, Grebo, indigenous presidents of Liberia, international soccer star, Jackson F. Doe, Krahn, Kru, Liberia, Liberia Colony, Liberian Action Party, Liberian History, military coup, Moses Blah, People's Redemption Council, PRC, President Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, Samuel Kanyon Doe, vote rigging | Leave a comment

‘Tribute to a fallen friend Stephen Byron Tarr, 1943 – 2017’

Dr_Baron_TarrOn October 7 an eminent scholar, an outspoken politician, but above all a dear friend, Dr. Stephen Byron Tarr, died after a prolonged illness in St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Monrovia. Dr. Byron Tarr was one of Liberia’s brightest economists. He briefly served as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs in the PRC government led by master-sergeant Samuel Doe (Sept. 1981 – June 1982) and was Minister of Finance in the Interim-Government led by Amos Sawyer (1990 – 1992). Byron Tarr was a founding member of the Liberian Action Party (LAP) and served as its Secretary General. Other co-founders were Nah Doe Patrick Bropleh, Jackson F. Doe, Harry Greaves, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and  Tuan Wreh.

NB: International observers agreed that LAP’s presidential candidate Jackson Doe won the 1985 elections. However, due to massive fraud and vote rigging his opponent, Samuel Doe (no relation) was declared the winner with 50.9% of the votes cast.

Dr. Stephen Byron Tarr was interred in his home village of Zondo, Grand Bassa County on October 21. RIP Byron, we will always remember you and cherish the good memories and ideals that we shared.

A mutual friend, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, wrote a personal tribute to Byron. He was so kind to grant me permission to reproduce it here. Dr. Elwood Dunn is one of Liberia’s most distinguished historians and educators and a prolific author. He is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science (University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee).


By: D. Elwood Dunn

Byron Tarr’s older brother Phillip Tarr and I graduated Bassa High School together in 1960. Somehow our paths diverged and the younger Byron entered my orbit in the late 60s. As Byron and I received our terminal degrees in the United States in 1972 we began long and intense conversations about Liberia’s past, its present and future prospects. A bond was established then and it remained firm through the vicissitudes of Liberian national life since then, broken only with his passing earlier this month. Funeral Services were held at his home village of Zondo, No, 4 District, Grand Bassa County where his remains were interred on Saturday, October 21, 2017.

As I pause to remember my friend, I extend heartfelt condolences to his family particularly his three surviving children – Stanley Byron Tarr, Seymour Bruce Tarr and Aimee Zeoweh Tarr. Your dad loved Liberia with an uncommon passion and strove all his life to make it a better country. The records of his deeds are there for public examination and evaluation.

I walked into Byron’s office at the Finance Ministry in 1972 shortly after he took the job of Special Assistant/Assistant Minister of Finance for Revenues. I was on a visit home as a freshly minted Ph.D. We talked about the challenges facing the new Administration of President William R. Tolbert, Jr. I returned to my teaching job in the U.S. but we stayed in close touch.

Finance Minister Steve Tolbert directly recruited Byron and though he held titles as Assistant, then Deputy Minister of Finance for Revenues, he became a highly regarded principal adviser to Minister Tolbert. When the history of Steve’s effective though controversial stewardship of the Finance Ministry of the era is written, Bryon will perforce figure prominently. Remodeling the Maritime program, establishing systems for tax collection, chairing the committee that drafted Liberia’s first ever law toward strengthening the Auditor General’s Office, strides in government debt servicing, and creating an enabling environment for a vibrant Liberian entrepreneurial class were only some of the highlights of what transpired in the first half of the 1970s.

Two years later, I returned home with my family and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the year 1974 came to a close tragedy struck my friend as he lost one of his twin sons to a drowning accident. Though this tragedy was the proximate cause for his withdrawal from government service and returning to the U.S. landing a job as a tax expert with the U.N. system in New York, there were also echoes of personal disillusionment with the Administration. However, by 1977 Byron was back in Liberia at the personal invitation of President Tolbert. The new Job was Comptroller General of State-Owned Enterprises with mandate to improve the sector, including privatizing some of the state enterprises. But Byron’s responsibilities extended beyond public corporations, as he soon became an informal advisor to President Tolbert on matters affecting the national economy. As he brought to bear his intellect and passion for Liberia, I heard the President on several occasions marveling at Byron’s skills but also remarking: “You must have strong stomach” to digest Byron’s doses of advice.

A couple of years after Byron left the Tolbert Administration for the second and last time, the military coup d’état of 1980 occurred. Byron was recruited with others to help stabilize a major national crisis. He remained engaged in the 1980s, serving briefly as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, a member of the National Constitution Commission that drafted what became the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, and among the founders of the Liberia Action Party/LAP along with Harry Greaves, Sr., Jackson F. Doe, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nah Doe Patrick Bropleh.

He would soon pay a costly price for his political activities, for while he was serving as Secretary General of LAP he was arrested in 1985 by the military government of Samuel K. Doe, imprisoned and his house deliberately burned to the ground by Doe’s soldiers. Upon his release from prison he briefly settled in the United States, but professional opportunities in short order took him further afield.

Travelling throughout the African continent and residing in several African countries for periods of time, Byron’s many professional engagement included contractual assignments with the United Nations Development Program, the United States Agency for International Development, the Africa Capacity Building Foundation, the African Development Bank, the African Union, the European Union and the World Bank.

Such professional opportunities abroad did not preclude his commitment to Liberia, for as the country descended into civil war, he was in the thicket of the goings-on to contain war and restore peace to his beloved country. But it was not peace at any price that he sought. He wanted a different, reformed Liberia of greater equity and justice. Again, when the records of this dark period in Liberian history are fully uncovered Byron Tarr’s uncompromising stances tending toward equity and justice will become evident. And so he became a part of at least the first interim governing arrangement during the war years, even serving briefly as Finance Minister in the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU).

Once a semblance of peace was restored to the country, Tarr resumed his private consultancy work. He accepted membership on the Core Team and leader of the economy team preparing LIBERIA VISION 2030 long-term perspective study. His last major engagement was as founding Executive Director of the Liberian independent think tank, Center for Policy Studies/CERPS, which survives him.

Even as his health failed he was being recruited by the Liberian Senate to serve on a panel of economic experts known as the “Independent Economic Review and Advisory Panel” to study and advise on the parlous state of the national economy. I was visiting his home when he informed the President Pro Tempore of the Senate of his health inability and thus his decline of the offer. In the last few years of his life Byron was researching a book seeking to analyze the interrelationship of the political and economic architecture of Liberia by reviewing some three-dozen public sector reform projects Liberia and its development partners implemented between 1908 and 2008. Tentatively titled “To Rouse Liberia, Long Forlorn: Overcoming Challenges to Economic Governance,” the study sought to replace the politics of reform with the reform of politics.

Liberia A National Polity in TransitionByron and I collaborated on a wide range of issues related to our country, among them the Vision 2030 exercise and CERPS. We provided critical editing to each other’s work. We even co-authored a book, Liberia: A National Polity in Transition (Published 1988). We worked well together for some 45 years in service to our ideals and to our country.

Goodbye my friend! You have played well your role! Rest in peace until we meet again!

Byron Tarr 1
Elwood Dunn’s tribute to Stephen Byron Tarr (1943 – 2017) was also published in  The Perspective (October 24, 2017).

Daily Observer Publisher Kenneth Y. Best and former colleague John T. Woods also paid respect to Stephen Byron Tarr: ‘Dr. S. Byron Tarr. A great Liberian son’! In: the Daily Observer (October 24, 2017).

‘Renowned Liberian Economist, Dr. Byron Tarr, is dead’, in: Daily Observer, October 9, 2017.

Posted in 1943, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1986 Constitution, 2017, Africa Capacity Building Foundation, African Development Bank, African Union, Aimee Zeoweh Tarr, Amos Sawyer, April 12 1980, Byron Tarr, Center for Policy Studies/CERPS, Daily Observer, elections, elections fraud, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Elwood Dunn, European Union, Famous Liberians, Grand Bassa County, Harry Greaves, IGNU, Jackson F. Doe, John T. Woods, Kenneth Best, LAP, Liberia, Liberia Action Party, Liberia: A National Polity in Transition, Liberian Action Party, Liberian History, military coup, Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, Monrovia, Nah Doe Patrick Bropleh, National Constitution Commission, Phillip Tarr, PRC, Samuel Kanyon Doe, Sewanee University, Seymour Bruce Tarr, St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital Monrovia, Stanley Byron Tarr, Steve Tolbert, The Perspective, Tuan Wreh, United Nations Development Program, United States Agency for International Development, Vision 2030, vote rigging, William R. Tolbert Jr., World Bank, Zondo village | Leave a comment

A ‘Kru ring’ found in a thrift shop in the Netherlands

An extraordinary find
Last week I received a letter from a fellow-Dutchman who lives in a remote region of the Netherlands. He wrote me that he had found a strange object in a local thrift shop. Attracted by its shape, weight and material, he had bought it – presumably for an insignificant amount since articles in thrift shops never cost much. It’s a solid brass ring, open on one side, with four knobs. It weighs almost 10 lbs (4.2 kg!), and measures 6″ wide without knobs, and 9½” including knobs – i.e. 15 cm resp 24 cm – and 2″ high (5 cm). After coming home with his mysterious object, he started to Google and stumbled on my name, website and blog where I had described these rings. He had bought a nitien, a Kru (or Grebo) ring from Liberia!

Kru-ring-origin-unkown-smallI was flabbergasted. It is the second time in nearly ten years that someone in the Netherlands contacts me after buying a Kru ring. The first time was in 2010 when a friend-of-a-friend, Fred J., told me that he had bought a Kru ring – also not knowing what he bought – in a garage sale, in the southern province of Brabant, in the Netherlands, near the Belgium border. See photo left.

Arnoldus G., the compatriot mentioned above who had bought the ring at a local thrift shop, lives in the north of the Netherlands, in the province of Groningen, not far from the border with Germany. He had bought the nitien at a thrift shop in the nearby town of Winschoten.

Kru ring thrift shop Winschoten GroningenYesterday I drove to the province of Groningen and met with Arnoldus, who was so kind to show me his find. It’s a very complete, good looking ring, with hardly any damage or wear and tear. The ring is in a very good condition. Of course, the very first question that arises is: ‘Is it a real nitien or is it fake?’ People in Liberia call these objects ‘nitien’,tien’ or ‘Dwin’ meaning water spirits or ‘Gods of water’.

A second question that also immediately came to my mind was: ‘How the **** did this nitien emerge in a thrift shop in this remote corner of the Netherlands?’ And, a related question: ‘Who was its previous (Dutch) owner, and how and where did he acquire it?’

Below I wil try to answer these questions.

Question 1: Real or fake?
The question ‘real or fake’ focuses on the authenticity or authentic origin of the ring. In previous postings I’ve already dealt with the mystery surrounding these rings: What was their original use, for which purpose have these objects been made, and how old are they? Interested readers are kindly referred to these postings. I concluded, in conformity with the conclusions of Scott Sheppard, a major expert on ‘nitien’, that we are dealing here with ritual objects, village or clan fetishes. It is very, very unlikely that these rings have been used as money. Imagine, some of these rings can weigh as much as 20 pounds!

Kru rings – or Grebo rings as they are sometimes called – differ in shape, weight and material used. I’ve seen solid brass ones, others had a sand core. An explanation of the latter could be that the maker was short of brass whereas sand was widely available and cheap. But maybe solid brass rings were more prestigious. After all, we’re talking about village or clan fetishes. Solid brass rings may have been – still are??!!! – more powerful! Similarly, open versus closed rings: no explanation – not even a theory – exists as to the reason of this difference.

Compared to other ‘nitien’ I’ve examined, I am inclined to conclude that the ring found in the thrift shop in Winschoten is an old, original one. However, there exists only one scientifically acceptable method to determine with absolute certainty the age of these objects: a radio carbon testing.

Question 2: Who was the previous owner of this open-ended ring with four knobs and how did it emerge in Winschoten?
Most objects in garage sales or in thrift shops are redundant goods. From time to time people tidy up their garages, attics, cellars, cupboards, and decide to get rid of old stuff. Another major source of supply for thrift shops are the unwanted household effects of a deceased person. Together with Arnoldus G. I went to the Winschoten thrift shop and asked the person who had sold the ‘nitien’ if he remembered where it came from. He stared at me, and in his eyes I could see confusion and the big question why I was interested in this strange object? I told him that I am doing research as to the geographical origin and original use of these objects, ‘from Africa’. I explained that if I would know the (name of the) owner, I could ask his next of kin for more information.

In general, people working in a thrift shop do not remember where they pick up old, discarded household goods. Initially, my man told me that too: the driver of the truck picking up goods usually visits several addresses a day, so in general he does not recollect what comes from where. However, after a few seconds, he told me that the previous owner of the ring had passed away and that they had picked up ‘a whole lot of African stuff ‘in his house.

Arnoldus G. who had increasingly become interested in the strange object he had bought, provided me with an additional, plausible explanation how this ring may have ended up in Winschoten. This region used to be well-known for its shipyards and shipping companies. He suggested that the previous owner might have worked on a ship and may have bought souvenirs in ports or places he visited. Given the strong historical relations between ‘Holland’ (the Netherlands) and Liberia (‘the Grain Coast’) this sounds reasonable, but this hypothesis still has to be confirmed by facts. Further, the next question is: when did this person buy this? Assuming that the deceased was in his eighties when he died, does it make sense to estimate that he may have bought it between 1950 and 1985? A wide range, some 35 years. I will first await more information concerning the previous owner before advancing more speculations.

The ring’s place of origin in Liberia
Last but not least, a final question needs to be asked, but I’m afraid we’ll never know the answer. Where in Liberia does this ‘nitien’ come from? Generally speaking, these objects originate from the eastern part of Liberia. However, since it was taken out of its natural, cultural and geographical environment, we may never know the exact place of origin of this ‘nitien’: which clan, which village, which creek or river? Unfortunately, this is the case with most of the ‘nitien’ now in possession of foreigners or foreign musea, in the US, in Germany – recently eight ‘nitien’ were sold there at an auction -, the Netherlands or another European country.

Concluding remark
I’ve pleaded on previous occasions for more research on the history of these ‘nitien’, or Kru (Grebo) rings because ‘If you don’t know where you’re coming from, you don’t know where you’re going to.’  I sincerely hope that one day this wish comes true.

Kru ring from thrift shop Winschoten



Posted in 'Dwin', 'Holland', 'tien', Arnoldus G., Brabant province, Culture, Europe, Fred J, garage sale, Germany, Gods of water, Grain Coast, Grebo, Grebo rings, Groningen province, Kru, Kru rings, Kru/Grebo rings, Liberia, Liberian History, nitien, research, Scott Sheppard, shipyard, the Netherlands, thrift shop, US, water spirits, Winschoten | Leave a comment

Liberia’s 170th Independence Anniversary Calendar of Events

The following calendar of events in observance of Liberia’s 170th Independence Anniversary was originally published by FrontPage Africa, one of Liberia’s leading newspapers; click here for the original text plus background information on this year’s National Orator, Dr. Herman Browne, President of Cuttington University.

rev-browneLiberia’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released the calendar of events in observance of Liberia’s 170th Independence Anniversary under the theme: “Sustaining the Peace”. Dr. Herman Beseah Browne, President of the Cuttington University, has been named as this year’s National Orator.

According to a Foreign Ministry release, activities celebrating the 170th Independence Anniversary begin on Thursday, July 20, with the Golden Image Awards and Dinner, which take place in the Ballroom of the Monrovia City Hall, at 6:00 p.m.

On Friday, July 21, the Muslim community will host Thanksgiving and Intercessory Prayers at the 72nd Central Mosque, Paynesville at 12:00 noon.

An Investiture ceremony will take place at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion, Ashmun Street at 4:00 p.m.; followed by a Reception for the Honorees hosted by the President of Liberia at the Executive Pavilion, Ashmun Street at 6:00 p.m.

On Saturday, July 22, there will be the dedication of the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville at 9:00 a.m.; followed by kickball and football matches at the same venue from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

On Sunday, July 23, at 11:00 a.m., a Thanksgiving and Intercessory Service will be held at the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Broad Street.

On Monday, July 24, beginning at 9:00 a.m., President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will dedicate development projects around Montserrado County including the Google Project Link, John F. Kennedy Eye Clinic, and the National Museum; followed at 2:00 p.m., by an Interactive Young Mothers Dialogue at the University of Liberia Auditorium on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, July 25, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will dedicate more development projects including the Pipeline Community Hall and the Bentol Peace Park.

Beginning at 12:00 noon, a Traditional Honoring Ceremony will be held for the President at the Bentol City Hall in Bentol, Montserrado County.

At 4:00 p.m., an Investiture Ceremony, recognizing partners who have contributed to Liberia’s development agenda over the years, will be held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ C. Cecil Dennis, Jr. Auditorium.

On Wednesday, July 26, Liberia’s 170th Independence Anniversary celebration begins with the shooting of the cannon at 4:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., sharing the dawn of the Independence Anniversary, and at 6:00 p.m., announcing the end of the Day.

Also at 6:00 a.m., programs begin with the hoisting of the National Flag.

At 7:45 a.m. the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and President of the Republic of Liberia will arrive and review the AFL troops at the Barclay Training Center. This will be followed by Honors to the National Colors.

Official ceremonies in observance of the 170th Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Liberia take place at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion (Government’s Square) on Ashmun Street, Monrovia at 11:00 a.m.; followed at 2:30 p.m. by an Independence Day Reception hosted by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the Executive Pavilion on Ashmun Street.

On Thursday, July 27, at 10:00 a.m., there will be a book launch by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo; followed at 12:00 noon, by a Children’s Socialization Day with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, organized by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. (Series of activities will be held simultaneously in Bentol, Brewerville, Monrovia and Paynesville Cities.)

On Saturday, July 29, activities for the 170th Independence Anniversary will be climaxed with a National Kukatonon Peace Festival at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Liberian flag

Posted in 'July 26', “Sustaining the Peace”, 170th Independence Anniversary, 1847, AFL, Antoinette Tubman, Ashmun, Barclay Training Center, Bentol, Brewerville, C. Cecil Dennis, Centennial Memorial Pavilion, Cuttington University, Dr. Herman Browne, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Executive Pavilion, FrontPageAfrica newspaper, Independence Day, Independence Day Orator, July 26, Liberia, Liberian History, Monrovia, Monrovia City Hall, Montserrado County, National Orator IndependenceDay, Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, Paynesville, Samuel Kanyon Doe, University of Liberia | Leave a comment

“Who’s Running Liberia? Ask George Abi Jaoudi”

A few days ago one of Liberia’s leading newspapers, FrontPage Africa, published an interesting article entitled ‘Who’s running Liberia? Ask George Abi Jaoudi’. For three reasons, I like to share this article with you and I include here the link to the article and the many interesting comments on it.

First, the author is absolutely right in posing the question: ‘Who rules Liberia?’ For the outside world, Liberia is ruled by president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf aka ‘The Iron Lady’ – a nickname she prefers herself – and better known as ‘Africa’s first democratically elected female president’. In democratic terms: Liberia is being ruled by the Executive branch – the president – in combination with the Legislative branch – the Senate and the House of Representatives – whereas the democratic process, the rule of law, and much more, is being checked by the judiciary. The system of three independent, separated powers is called the Trias Politica model and is common for modern, democratic societies.

In reality, however, things are different. The judiciary does not act independently. Basic decisions are not taken by parliament. The president – sometimes with her inner circle – decides virtually everything in Liberia, bearing in mind the interests of foreign investors and other powerful people. This is not always in the best interest of the country and the Liberian people. This situation is well explained in the FrontPageAfrica article. Of course, more could be said on this issue but for briefness sake we will stop here. Before doing this, however, I want to emphasize here that Liberia under president Sirleaf is not a dictatorship, characterized by human rights violations. Freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of the press are respected.

Secondly, the writer makes very clear that the official and non-official treatment of foreign investors and entrepreneurs by the Liberian government is highly uneven when compared to the treatment of Liberians who engage or want to engage in business – small and medium enterprise owners. Foreign investors like Abi Jaoudi, Arcelor Mittal and other mining companies, Sime Darby and other oil palm plantations, are very favorably treated when compared to Liberian enterprises. Tax holidays, large concession areas, even leading to the eviction of traditional farmers (‘land grab’) are ‘normal’ practices.

William Tubman stampThe basic concept underlying this policy is better know as the ‘Open Door Policy’: the view that Liberia can only be developed by making use of foreign capital and knowhow. This policy is closely associated with president William Tubman, who ruled Liberia for 27 years (1944 -1971) and who considered the national treasury as his personal property. As I have also stated in my 2015 publication on Liberia, president Sirleaf has revived Tubman’s ‘Open Door Policy’. At one point, the Sirleaf Administration even – wrongly – claimed to have attracted foreign investments of at least US$ 20 billion.

As with the foregoing issue – democracy – in reality, things are very different as the positive role of foreign investments in the national economy is concerned. I have studied Liberia’s Open Door Policy since its very early days – the early 1900s – and readers are invited to go for more details to this link. I updated my study in 2015, including the Sirleaf period, the results can be found here. The preferential treatment of foreign investors and lack of incentives for Liberian-owned small and medium enterprises have certainly contributed to Liberia being one of the poorest nations in the world – among other reasons. It is a pity that the FPAfrica article does not elaborate on this aspect, but I understand that one cannot treat everything in just one article.

The third reason is that the situation described shows an astonishing resemblance with the situation in the 1970s, a period also referred to by FP Africa. When I was living in Liberia in the 1970s – years before the notorious 1980 coup or the two civil wars that devastated Liberia and its modern economy – the name Abi Jaoudi was already a household word in Liberia. In other words, and I react here with a question: ‘What has Liberia and what have Liberians learned from this episode?‘

I fully agree with the FP Africa article author that presidential candidates who aspire to move into the Executive Mansion should take position on the privileges granted to Mr George Abi Jaoudi. I would even like to go a few steps further and invite the main contenders: Boakai, Brumskine, Cummings, Mills Jones, Urey and Weah to publicly state their policy intentions with respect to ‘foreign investors versus Liberian entrepreneurs’ well before the presidential elections will be held on October 10 next.

Posted in 1980 coup, 2017 presidential elections, Abi Jaoudi, Alexander Cummings, ArcelorMittal, Benoni Urey, Charles Brumskine, Civil War(s) Liberia, Economic development, elections, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Executive Mansion, FDI, freedom of association, freedom of speech, FrontPage Africa, George Abi Jaoudi, George Weah, Human Rights, Iron Lady, iron ore, Joseph Boakai, Justice, land grab, Lebanese in Liberia, Liberia" From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost, Mills Jones, National Elections Commission (NEC), oil palm plantation, Open Door Policy, press freedom, Press freedom in Liberia, Rodney Sieh, Sime Darby, Trias Politica, William V.S. Tubman | Leave a comment

Three obituaries: Mohammed Alpha Bah, Igolima Amachree and Svend Holsoe

Within ten days, three eminent scholars have passed away. The three esteemed long-time researchers and writers are Mohammed Alpha Bah, Ogolima Amachree and Svend Holsoe. Their contribution to ‘Liberia’ can hardly be underestimated. To commemorate them I have decided to reproduce here a tribute/biography/obituary for each of these three “great trees who have fallen” – to follow the wording used by Verlon Stone, Ph.D., Special Advisor, Indiana Liberian Collections/African Studies Collection, Indiana University Libraries.

On April 25, historian Mohammed Alpha Bah, 73, passed away. Prof D. Elwood Dunn wrote the following tribute. Elwood Dunn is a historian and a professor of political science at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Mohammed Alpha Bah (1943-2017)

‘Our ranks have been thinned by the passing on April 25, 2017 in Maryland, USA of Dr. Alpha Bah, one of the very few Liberians trained as a professional historian. A gentle and soft-spoken man, he was a teacher at heart captivating the admiration of his many students in Liberia and the United States. He labored throughout his professional career unearthing the history of the African peoples especially the peoples of the Mano River Basin – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In his passing we pause to salute him for his contributions to scholarship and to global education.

Born in the Fouta Djallon region of Guinea on May 25, 1943, he was taken at an early age to Freetown, Sierra Leone by his merchant father. There, young Alpha began his formal education at St. Edwards Roman Catholic School where he completed the O Level Certificate before availing himself of an Egyptian government scholarship in 1965 to continue his studies in Egypt. Four years later he arrived in the United States and eventually enrolled at Howard University. Alpha remained and completed his B.A. degree at Howard (cum laude, 1973), two M.A. degrees, one in French Language and Literature (1975), and the other in History (1977). His history thesis was: “Herbert Bankole-Bright and his impact on the growth of constitutional government in the development of political parties in Sierra Leone, 1924-1957.” Also at Howard, he received there the PhD degree in History in 1983 studying under the renowned Professor Joseph E. Harris. His dissertation topic: “Fulbe Migration, Settlement in Koindu Among the Kissi of Sierra Leone.” He spoke fluently six languages including English, French, Arabic, Fula and Creole.

His teaching career began at the University of Liberia while in 1978 in the West African region researching his dissertation. He would return to the University briefly upon completing his degree, and then finally as he returned from self-exile in the United States. In the interim he served as a teacher’s assistant, then lecturer in the History Department at Howard, Fulbright Scholar in Residence at Villanova University’s History Department. He joined the faculty of the Department of History of the College of Charleston (South Carolina) in 1986 where he remained for 22 years, attaining the rank of full professor before his retirement expressly to return to Liberia.

In the early 2000s Alpha joined the ranks of the all-too-few Diaspora Liberians who returned home when peace returned to the war-weary country. There he re-joined the History Department of the University of Liberia, serving concomitantly as the first Director of the University’s Confucius Institute from 2008 to his demise.

His activities in all of these universities were many and varied. They were marked by a keen interest in his many students, as well as a solid contribution to scholarship. At Charleston he exposed his students to model OAU/AU simulations at Howard University, as well as study-abroad programs to which he led his students to Africa and the Middle East. Of his students he once said: “I am shy talking about it, but my biggest joy, what is most important to me are my students. This is my love.”

Alpha hosted at Charleston a joint meeting of the Liberian Studies Association and the Sierra Leone Studies Association in 1994 and in 2001 the 33rd annual conference of the Liberian Studies Association.

Among his many publications are his book Fulbe Presence in Sierra Leone: A Case History of 20thCentury Migration and Settlement Among the Kissi of Koindu, New York: Peter Lang publisher, 1998, and scores of articles including “Rice Culture and the Atlantic Slave Trade” in Les Riz Cultures de L’Afrique de l’Ouest (Bordeaux, France, CIRAD, 1995, pp225-31; “The Status of Muslim Minorities in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” Journal of Muslim Minority, VII, 11, 1992, 464-481; The 19th century partition of Kissiland and the contemporary possibilities for reunification,” Liberian Studies Journal, XII, 1 (1987): 38-55, and “West Africa-South Carolina/Georgia Low Country Connections: Three black Charlestonians in Freetown and Monrovia – William D. Crum, Thomas McCants Steward, and Edward A. Jones.” His contributions must be noted as well to the documentary “Family Across The Sea” that captures the Charleston/West Africa connections.

He was married to Kadiajatu Bah, a physician who predeceased him in July 2013. Together they had three now adult children, a daughter Aissata Bah and two sons, Chernor Sulaiman Bah and Mamadou Leypete Bah.

Alpha was also a friend and colleague. For almost a quarter century he and I met almost without fail at annual conferences of the Liberian Studies Association and the African Studies Association at various universities across the United States. For a decade we dutifully showed up with our students, mine from Sewanee: The University of the South, at OAU/AU simulation sessions at Howard University.

In the passing of Dr. Alpha Bah we have lost one of a handful of Liberian historians. He was in collaboration with his fellow historians, as well as some of us history enthusiasts trying to address the Liberian national history problem through the now moribund Liberian National History Project (LNHP). I read recently reference to the project by Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu and the Rev. Emmanuel Bowier at a forum hosted at the Library of the Liberian National Legislature. Guannu suggested that government facilitators of the project might want to make timely use of the availability and interest of some of my generation for our ranks are fast thinning.

Goodbye Alpha; May your soul rest in peace!’ 


Then, less than a week later, on May 1, the renowned sociologist Igolima Tubobelem Dagogo Amachree, 80, passed away.


Dr. Verlon Stone sent us the following biography:

Igolima Amachree (1937-2017)
Igolima Tubobelem Dagogo Amachree, passed away peacefully on Monday, May 1, 2017 at the University of Iowa Medical Center in Iowa City, Iowa. He was born on March 8, 1937 into the Amachree Royal Family, established since the 15th century in Nigeria.

He graduated from Durham University in England before completing his Master’s Degree at Michigan State University, where he ultimately graduated in 1967 with his Ph.D. in Sociology. Igolima taught as a professor, edited newspapers, and served as the Sociology department chair at Western Illinois University. Igolima was not only accomplished, but widely published in academic publications the world over, as well as deeply involved in numerous organizations throughout the United States and internationally.

Igolima was passionate about international development, education, and peace. He served as a consultant for developing nations to the World Bank, assisted in the drafting of the 1985 Liberian Constitution, and was instrumental as a consultant on institutional issues in the Accra, Ghana Peace Conference that produced the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Liberia. His work in academia prompted him to form and head the Liberian Commission on Higher Education and Constructed the Research Proposal on “The Status of Higher Education in Liberia”. He again answered the call to public service as a consultant to the Liberian Government on the Joint Needs Assessment presented to the United Nations in February 2004, which he attended as an Official Delegate of the Liberian Government to the United Nations on the International Conference for Reconstruction in Liberia.

Aside from his academic career, Igolima was one of the most beautiful souls one could ever have known. He touched so many lives with his gift for human connection. Igolima was incredibly thoughtful and kind . Brilliant yet humble. Insightful, curious, wise, grateful, and understanding. He always radiated joy. He had so much love in his heart and was genuinely interested in every person that crossed his path. We will keep our memories of him alive as we remember Igolima’s infectious laugh and captivating smile.

He will be greatly missed and lovingly remembered by his Wife, Mara; Children Selepri (Danyelle), Tonye, Opuene (Karen);  and Grandchildren: Kennen, Christian, Devin, Ella, Kaema, Nakai, Amaya, Kory, Ava, and Emma.

Online condolences may be expressed at

Memorial Services will be held 3pm, Friday May 19 at Wesley Community Center in Macomb, Illinois.
Funeral Services will be held Saturday, May 27, at Trinity Church in Lansing, Michigan.
In lieu of flowers, charitable donations can be made here –


Three days later, on May 4, the famous anthropologist, researcher and collector of Liberian documents and artifacts, Svend Holsoe died after a protracted illness at age 78. Again it is one of Liberia’s most distinguished scholars, Dr. Elwood Dunn, who wrote the following obituary.

2017 Zanzibar Visit PhotographsSvend Holsoe (1939-2017), tireless American scholar of Liberia

Once again I bring to the community of Liberia scholars the sad news of the passing of a renowned scholar of the Liberian experience. Professor Svend E. Holsoe, an expert on the Vai people and an avid and unrelenting collector of   things Liberian passed away at a Philadelphia hospital on the morning of May 4, 2017 after a protracted illness at age 78. His partner, Mr. Reuben Mollo James, survives him.

Svend’s parents, Torkel and Birthe Ambt Holsoe took him as a youth along with them when his father was both a forestry advisor to the Liberian government and a part of the United States Navy team supervising construction of the Free Port of Monrovia (now the National Port Authority). So a part of his early schooling was in Monrovia in the late 40s and early 50s. There he began to form acquaintances and develop a “feel” for things Liberian. Though he would later go on to study Anthropology with focus on the Vai people, he developed early a broader interest in the history and culture of all the peoples of Liberia. It is this broader interest that led him to become perhaps the largest single collector of documents and artifacts on or related to the country.

Born in Morgantown, West Virginia on March 16, 1939, he was educated at Haverford College (B.S., 1961), and Boston University (M.A., 1963; Ph.D., anthropology with minor in African History, 1967). With a dissertation entitled “The Cassava Leaf People, An Ethnohistorical Study of the Vai People with Particular Emphasis on the Tewo Chiefdom,” Holsoe went on to become a significant researcher and teacher. Before becoming professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Delaware in 1995, Holsoe served as assistant professor of anthropology and director of the African Studies Center at DePauw University (1967-70), assistant, then associate professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware (1970-95). He also lectured about Liberia at many venues in the United States, Africa and Europe, incurring in the process the burden of unsolicited consultations from many pioneering their own study of Liberia. Governmental entities, corporations and international agencies to provide expert opinions on Liberian affairs frequently called upon him. Two notable awards he received were the Liberian Studies Association Annual Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1999 Indiana University’s Chancellors’ Medallion in honor of his unique contributions to scholarship and donation of his valued Liberia collection papers.

I first came to know of and subsequently met Svend not long after I arrived in the United States for graduate studies in 1967. Incidentally, this was the effective beginning of my own journey into understanding my country and its peoples. No doubt I travelled with Svend on this journey for my first exposure to his then already large collection of books and other material on Liberia at his home in Delaware sparked my interest and developed in me what in time became by own passion for Liberian history and culture. This was in 1971 as he hosted the annual conference of the Liberian Studies Association. It was there in Newark, Delaware that I learned of Svend’s pioneering role in the creation in 1968 of the Liberian Studies Association and founding editor of the Liberian Studies Journal the same year. He served as editor 1968-80. Both association and journal remain the single surviving institutions devoted to Liberian studies anywhere.  It was my fortune to serve as editor of the journal for a decade, 1985-95. My friendship and association with Svend led to much collaboration including our joint compiling of the first edition of The Historical Dictionary of Liberia (No. 83, 1985), and an aborted attempt to edit for publication his manuscript on President E.J. Roye. To assist me and my family shortly upon our arrival in the United States following the 1980 overthrow of President Tolbert,  Svend schemed with the Roman Catholic Fathers at Tenafly, New Jersey in compensating me for copying important documents I had acquired during my six-year service in the Tolbert administration.

There were as well scores of Liberians who benefitted in diverse ways from his friendship and assistance. In the interest of brevity I will cite but three. The first is Hon. Morris M. Dukuly, Sr. (former Minister in the Sirleaf administration) who should have preceded my own for the association came earlier and was deeper. Morris recounts to me in an email message the details of how he met Svend in Liberia and the impact he came to have on Morris’s life. After doing very well in elementary school his prospects were uncertain for continuing his education due to family circumstances. Svend entered his life in 1967 while in Liberia to do field work for his dissertation. He provided the financial means for him to attend and successfully complete High School. In minute details Morris recounts Svend’s many other acts of kindness toward him, adding  ‘I wanted to share this personal story with you to know how profoundly and indelibly Svend impacted my life, and the lives of members of my own family.’ And then he added: “I want to share that because Svend literally and singlehandedly transformed the course of my life, he gave me the opportunity to fulfill my potential and become who I have been in this life. ..” “Hopefully, this personal story will let you in on the depth of the sadness and sorrow that I and my family feel. Svend will remain irreplaceable in my life. He will always be the father I never had [father died when Morris was age 6]. His love of Liberia will remain indelible and exemplary. He was a non-Liberian Liberian patriot. His name in my family will remain forever.”

The second case I cite is that of Dr. Al Hassan Conteh (Liberian Ambassador to Nigeria) who speaks for himself as follows: “Svend took me and my family under his wings when I arrived at Penn in 1983 for graduate studies. He became my mentor and academic advisor. This contributed in no small measure towards my academic success at Penn. For a few years, before he moved to Lansdowne, PA, he was our distinguished neighbor on Chester Avenue in Philadelphia. I benefitted immensely from studying some of his massive collections on Liberia in his personal Library, and at the Institute of Liberian Studies, which was then located around the corner from Chester Ave. We later became “colleagues”, collaborating on matters pertaining to the LSA and Liberia…I believe after the late Professors Gus Liebenow and Warren d’Azevedo of blessed memories, Svend became the Doyen of Liberian Studies. As the saying of the wise goes in Nigeria, where I’m currently serving, another ‘Iroko Tree has fallen’ in the Liberian Studies Community. May God Almighty have mercy on him, and may his soul rest in perfect peace.”

The third case is that of Eugene Peabody who in tears read to me on the phone the following: “A beloved friend and brother, a Liberianist, a faithful and devoted son of the soul of Liberia: After my university years at Cuttington College he schooled me in the use of the English language by pronunciations and enunciations. His methods of research in Anthropology gave me the privilege to attempt to enter the realm of other social sciences. We penned the Liberian Studies Journal for several years at the Department of Anthropology of the University of Delaware while I studied graduate economics. We lived together. Your general knowledge of African culture and specifically of the socio-cultural history of Liberia is evident by your vast collection diminutive only to the U.S. Library of Congress. You were a beloved family friend. As a street philosopher once said in Gbarnga: ‘Man’s ingress into this world is naked and bare. His journey through the earth is fraught with trials and tribulations. His egress is to a place no man knows. If you can make it here you can make it there.’ Sleep Svend! You’ve fought a good fight. We will always remember you. Your Brother, S.T.E. Peabody.”

And there are scores of others who would have volunteered testimonies were time our friend. I will sneak in here part of an email message I received from Dr. Emmanuel Dolo: “I recall how Svend was generous with his knowledge and time. He took time to share documents with me during research on the manuscript for my book and to write a statement endorsing it….He added an immense value to the knowledge base on Liberia.”

Svend was a member of the Friends of Liberia (FOL), a group of American returned Peace Corps Volunteers who formed an association that grew to include Diaspora Liberians and other Americans interested in Liberia. These people came together to help the people of a country in civil war. He was a Board member of the organization 2007-2013, contributing as well to the establishment in 2008 of the association’s small grants fund to finance small educational and social projects. Members of the group, including Svend, visited Liberia in 2009. This may have been Svend’s last visit to Liberia captured in a photograph with him in a tête-à-tête with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

There are many dimensions to Svend’s scholarly work on Liberia. Apart from the fieldwork he did in Cape Mount County for his dissertation, he started early collecting all sorts and conditions of materials on Liberia. Probably beginning with documents he secured from his father’s work in Liberia, he was allowed entry in 1965 into the Liberian National Archives then housed with the Department of State (now Foreign Ministry) under the leadership of the late Mr. Augustine Jallah. This entailed some controversy as the unorganized documents contained some classified materials and was not open to the public. At any rate Svend gained access and proceeded with the cooperation of Jallah to organize the documents. The late Professor Tom Shick later produced a listing and categorizing of the work Svend had initiated. Svend copied perhaps the bulk of the documents dating to Liberia’s founding circumstances in the early 19th century up to and including the early 1960s. This would become the core of his Liberia collection, but he was far from done. From that date perhaps up to the outbreak of civil war in 1990, Svend visited Liberia frequently collecting quantities of government published documents such as the annual reports of the various ministries and other government agencies. He became what you might call obsessed with securing absolutely all he could on Liberia, resorting at times to buying expensive out-of-print items on the Internet. It is these materials, his books and other documents, that he donated in 1997 to Indiana University. The Svend E. Holsoe Collection include copies of the Liberian government Archive Documents between 1824-1983; extensive genealogical records, including analyses and family trees developed from these records; political, institutional, social and cultural surveys from the 1980s Liberia Rural Radio Project; field notes and oral history tapes of Vai and Bandi research; Vai script materials, and slides and photos spanning decades and covering many geographical areas and activities. Following a hiatus when discouraged about the protracted civil war, Svend relented in his withdrawal from work on Liberia, and about two years ago he sent an additional 100 boxes of the Holsoe Collection to Indiana University that he had collected/produced after the first large consignment went to Indiana in 1997. Due to massive destruction of the Liberian government archive during the civil war, the Holsoe Collection may contain the only surviving copies of important Liberian state papers and historical and cultural documents.

Perhaps one of the last major public addresses on Liberia was his testimony on September 2, 2008 in Monrovia at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings. He titled his paper “Troubled Boundaries,” as he spoke to what he considered an environment of tension induced by cultural dualities/contradictions that the old regime could no longer contain. He opined the necessity that any new post-war political structure acknowledges “regional political and social differences.”

Among his numerous scholarly publications on Liberia are:

  1. “The Condo Confederation in Western Liberia,” Liberian Historical Review, 1966.
  2. A Standardization of Liberian Ethnic Nomenclature,Institute for Liberian Studies, 1979
  3. The Historical Dictionary of Liberia, first edition, compiled by Holsoe and D. Elwood Dunn (Series No. 83,1985)
  4. A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture(Holsoe co-authored with Bernard Herman & Max Belcher, (1988)
  5. African American Explorers in West Africa: Four 19thcentury Diaries (edited by Holsoe, Fairhead, Geysbeek & Leach, 2003)
  6. A number of unpublished manuscripts including  “A Biography of Edward James Roye”, Fifth President of Liberia.
  7. Liberian Studies Monograph Series.
  8. A Social Survey of Grand Gedeh County, Institute for Liberian Studies, (1979)
  9. What Liberians Call Themselves and Each Other, Depauw University, African Studies Center, 1970
  10. Twenty-seven other articles related to Liberia for numerous publications

Svend had many other interests and hobbies in his long and fruitful life. His scholarly interests extended to West Africa, Africa in general, and the genealogy and history of slaves and slavery in the Virgin Islands. But it is the Liberia dimension of his work that I seek to underscore, a dimension that absorbed the bulk of his time and talent. He was a decent and friendly man. He was also a humanitarian who believed in giving back to sources that elevated him. He said as much to some of his Liberian friends and acquaintances. It was perhaps this character trait that led him, following his fieldwork in Liberia, to so completely devote himself to the collection of massive Liberian documents and artifacts. It is even ironic that the controversy of his access to the Liberian archive in 1965 pales when compared to the holdings he has donated to Indiana University, holdings that any government in Liberia has access to in part of in whole.

In a sense Svend’s Liberia legacy is three-fold. I consider the archives to be of monumental importance for it contains very simply a huge part of the story of the Liberian past, and that past remains critical to charting a future course. The second legacy is the Liberian Studies Association and the Liberian Studies Journal. There were attempts to undertake such institutions in Liberia itself and elsewhere, but the efforts were ad hoc where the LSA and the LSJ have endured for half a century and seem poised to go another half century if not longer. The last though not the least part of Svend’s legacy concerns his ethnographic work not only among Vai-Liberians but other Liberian ethnic communities, inclusive of the cross-border groups. Svend has here initiated important scientific work that awaits vetting, alternative perspectives by scholars who are themselves a part of the ethnicities under study, not to speak of Liberians in general. Svend has made his contribution. The challenge remains for Liberian scholars schooled in the various disciplines such as anthropology, political science, history and sociology to now step up to the plate and deepen our understanding of the country both in its particularities as well as its generalities – regional Liberia and national Liberia.

Svend will be memorialized at a service to be held on June 24, 2017 at the Quaker Friends Meeting House in Lansdowne, PA, USA.

Thank you Svend; Rest in Peace!


Dr. Holsoe’s Memorial Service will be held Saturday, June 24th in the Philadelphia area, probably in Lansdowne, PA.  Further details regarding final arrangements will be sent when they are finalized. 

Visit the Indiana University Liberian Collections site here

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