2009/10/21

Wednesday, October 21

Kimmie Weeks and The New Liberia
Over the weekend I stumbled upon Kimmie Weeks, labelled Liberia's young hero by CNN. Honestly speaking, I had never heard of him - thought undoubtedly that says more about me than about him. He is famous, not only in Liberia, and in other African countries, but also the world over.

I am not going to repeat here his credentials; internet offers so many possibilities to trace his achievements. But I must say, when I saw the movie about him on CNN last week, I was greatly impressed. When I saw him, I immediately recognized his features.

When I taught at the University of Liberia – in the early seventies - among my students was one Weeks, a bright young man, very outspoken, very sympathetic. He was part of the progressive forces opposing the Tolbert Administration and True Whig Party hegemony. At one time he also was editor of the Revelation, one of those anarchistic hand-outs closely associated with the famous journalist Albert Porte. Anarchistic in the sense that they did not obey to the rules of the class society where their cradle once stood. Sincerely progressive, with the ideals and ambitions of real reformers (I do not say: revolutionaries), and gifted with a more than average intelligence, they represented the hope every society needs to advance ‘to higher heights’, to paraphrase former president William Tolbert.

I watched the CNN movie on Kimmie Weeks and hardly could believe my eyes. What a personality! What an incredible story! Born in 1981, he was a child during the civil war. During the early years of the war, his mother and Kimmie fled, landed in a refugee camp where malnutrition, infections and diseases decimated the population. When sick, the young Kimmie was given up and tossed on a pile of dead bodies. Thanks to his mother (who is she???) who refused to accept Kimmie’s apparent fate, he was rescued. According to his official web site, he then pledged a solemn oath: to fight for a better future for Liberia’s youth, later extended to other African countries.

In 1998, former Liberian President Charles Taylor made several attempts to assassinate him after Kimmie investigated his government’s involvement in the training of children as soldiers, subsequently releasing a groundbreaking report. Eventually he was forced into exile.

I will not repeat here what has been published elsewhere. But my interest was aroused. Who is Kimmie – apart from his own personality? I decided to dig into my memory and to consult some friends.

The following story emerged. Interesting - as will be clear from what follows.

Kimmie’s father was one of the famous Weeks brothers. Rocheforte L. Weeks was his father, born on August 15, 1923 in Crozierville, one of Liberia’s famous historic settler towns. By the way, the notorious oppositional Albert Porte, at one time editor of the already mentioned Revelation, also originated from Crozierville.

Rocheforte Weeks was the first Liberian president of the University of Liberia. After its creation in 1951, two Americans were at the helm of the nation’s highest institution of academic learning. For various reasons, President Tubman decided in 1959 to install a Liberian as head of the institution. The flamboyant Rocheforte Weeks served as President of the University of Liberia from 1959 till 1972. President William Tolbert appointed him as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1972, replacing Rudolph Grimes (who had demonstrated a lack of loyalty as perceived by Tolbert in the preceding year, after the death of President Tubman).

The Weeks family is or was one of the largest Americo-Liberian families. During the Tubman Administration (1944-1971) the three Weeks brothers were famous: the charismatic Rocheforte Weeks, his elder brother James Milton Weeks, who was at one time Minister of Finance, and brother Anthony, former Director of the Budget under Tubman.

The three Weeks brothers were accompanied by three Sherman brothers who in the same period were among the most powerful of the Americo-Liberian families. Charles Dunbar Sherman undoubtedly was the most powerful of them. Politician, academician, businessman, key person in religious and other organizations, he also served as Secretary of the Treasury in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Liberia’s ‘Growth without Development’ model was at its zenith – thanks to the abundant foreign investments in the country’s natural resources.

And then we also had the three Tolbert brothers. William Tolbert, who had patiently served under Tubman as his Vice-President for nearly twenty years, rose to the highest public position. Brother Frank served for many years as the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate whereas brother Stephen, rather a businessman than a politician, was nominated Minister of Finance by his brother-President. The uncrupulous and tough Stephen Tolbert also was the owner of one of the largest and most successful commercial enterprises in the country’s history, the Mesurado Group of Companies.

All these reflections emerged while watching Kimmie Weeks. His eloquent leadership, his gift of communication, no doubt he is the son of his father. A born orator, as this other great man, Barrack Obama. I was not surprised to read Kimmie’s political ambitions, and his ultimate goal: the country’s leadership.

In my opinion, Kimmie Weeks has the characteristics and potential of 'the new Liberian'. After watching the various movies available, on You Tube and elsewhere, and judging from his CV and background, I strongly have the impression that he has the potential to play a crucial role in the future of his country where – to paraphrase Martin Luther King – he and his children will not be judged on their background, but by the content of their character.

Liberia desperately needs people like Kimmie Weeks who have the potential to bridge the Past and the Present - as Liberia's present leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf aims to realize. They, together with other strong Liberians, must bridge the divide between the various segments of the Liberian population, without re-establishing the old order.

Whereas Ellen represents the older generation, Kimmie is an exponent of the new generation of Liberians. They both represent The New Liberia where labels such as 'Americo-Liberian' and 'Congo-people' have become anachronisms. One nation, one people, one destiny. 'By God's command'.

2 comments:

Ronauld said...

"The Weeks family is or was one of the largest Americo-Liberian families." I believe this is slightly misleading as the Weeks family are descendants from Barbadoians originally, hence the use of the term Americo-Liberian is not accurate if used in the right context. (reference: http://weeksfamilycroz.tribalpages.com )

Dr. Fred P.M. van der Kraaij said...

Many thanks Ronauld for your comments. The reference you sent is also very valuable. You are absolutely right and it would have been more correct if I had referred to the Barbadoian origin of the Weeks family. Historical research has clearly demonstrated that immigrants from Barbados distinguished themselves from the immigrants who left the USA. Thanks again for your contribution!