Thomas Nimene Botoe: 1953-56
The True Whigs often get painted as a North Western Islamic party vs the Patriotic Union's South Eastern Christian Base. This, obviously, is a simplification. The Vai newspaper 'The Commercial' often leaned PU thanks to their distrust of pan-africanism and there existed a decent True Whig base among the Chistian Kru, what began as the Twe wing of the party. Botoe was from that wing, a protégé of the grand old man of the Christian True Whigs, though he'd been too young to actually fight with Twe during the Occupation. And after nearly 20 years of domination by the Western Islamic Wing, the Kru felt it was their turn, and Botoe was elected unopposed.
The 1953 election had seen General Harper elected for the PU thanks to the pan African vote being split between Massaquoi and Ahmed Sékou Turé, the union leader from Northern Liberia running for the Socialists. Harper had made much of the supposed lack of patriotism of the True Whigs, a party who had invited in an American who'd never visited the country to become President, had been willing puppets during the French Occupation and now were hoping to have Liberia annexed into a West African super state that current Liberia would be less than a 20th off. With the emergence of men like Kwame Nkrumah in the Gold Coast and Modibo Keïta in the French Sudan, the unification of West Africa had suddenly become possible and a lot of Liberians began to seriously consider the realities of attaching themselves to the ex-colonies.
But, Pan-Africanism had, at this point, become a major part of the True Whig philosophy. They worried that if the nationalist PU party were in charge when independence of the European colonies happened, an opportunity of a generation could be missed. Botoe therefore reached out to Turé to discuss some kind of pact for the 1957 election. The exact reasons these talks collapsed is somewhat disputed, Botoe blamed Turé's unwillingness to compromise, Turé in return has said that the CIA talked to Botoe and convinced him not to ally himself with a communist. There is a general paranoia in left wing Liberian circles about the USA but certainly in the 1950s they were a powerful influence in the country and strongly anti-communist.
The USA had had soldiers based in Liberia since WWII and it was their most useful military base in West Africa. It was also a strong economic partner, with rubber and iron being bought in large qualities from Liberia, and oil to soon follow. In 1954, the USA began exporting their excess agriculture to Africa and Liberia, as the main recipient, received huge amounts of rice. This allowed for labour to be moved away from the rice fields and into more profitable export industries, which attracted increasing American private investment as private industries were set up to compete against the existing government owned mines and plantations.
The True Whigs, and the Socialists, were against widespread foreign investment and reliance on foreign food exports, a pan African state would be strong enough, Botoe argued, to be self reliant whereas an independent Liberia would always be much weaker than the USA. Botoe made other criticisms of Harper's economic policy too. Due to the 1947 constitution, it was the Kings who decided the economic policy of their districts and this often resulted in a fight to the bottom as Kings attempted to out bid each other for the prestige, and possibility for bribes, of foreign investment by offering lower taxes and wages. Foreign investment was therefore very unevenly spread and generally did not trickle down into wages.
This wasn't entirely Harper's fault, while the Government could control border tariffs and made trade deals with foreign powers on that basis, the 1947 constitution meant it didn't have the power to dictate economic conditions within the districts themselves and many True Whig districts simply refused to allow foreign investment. However because Citizenship was universal within Liberia, this didn't prevent neighbouring districts poaching their citizens, hence the large growth in Cities like Arthington, Bewerville and Harper City during this time period.
Harper also ran into controversy over those rice farmers who still remained. Traditional Liberian views on land ownership was that the land belonged collectively to the people of the polity who controlled it, rice farmers produced rice for that group in return for being allowed to use that land to produce rice. If someone did not produce rice to feed the people of that area, then they would need to pay rent to the group to compensate for the lost profits in terms of land use. In legal terms what this meant was the Chief would charge rent to foreigners who wished to use land for their own purposes but not to farmers who fed his own villages. This was one of the reasons why the provision of free food in soup kitchens was so ubiquitous, as part of that social contract that prevented them paying rent. By the 1930s, the majority of the rice was being sold to Monrovia and the other cities, with a small amount kept back to feed the locals as part of the feudal contract that allowed them to live there. But because most Liberian societies didn't have a system of private land ownership the land itself still belonged to the group, which in practice meant the chief and after the 1947 constitution, the King.
In 1955, with Rice becoming less valuable, there was an effort among certain Kings of Southern Districts to remove the farmers by in some cases asking for rent comparable to the value of the land and in other cases directly seizing the land. The farmers viewed this as a breech of the cooperative effort which had long being held up as the core of African culture and resisted both rent payment and evictions, leading to the Rice Riots. Harper, by all accounts, privately sympathised with the farmers but politically he had to be seen to help PU Kings against civil disorder and asked for neighbouring security forces to be sent in to restore order.
Reports of the bloodshed that followed permanently damaged Harper's standing. Botoe would have almost certainly won the 1957 election had he not died in 1956 of a heart attack. He is a tragic figure, an almost forgotten footnote in the story of the world's first democratically elected Female leader.