Monday, January 11, 2010

Honoring the Legacy of Dr. William Salifu

Honoring the Legacy of Dr. William Saa Salifu, Sr., Ph. D.
By "Uncle Joe" Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
Dr. William Saa Salifu, Sr.
Former Dean of Academic Affairs, Cuttington University College


The word "legacy" means "inheritance," "birthright," or "heritage." It implies a take over, or to be an heir to someone. Hence in this text, the word legacy also denotes an honorable Liberian educator and statesman who lived at peace with himself and the others around him by obviously showing his self-respect and respect for others through the life he lived in the academic world. Further, it is essential to note that not everybody gets the opportunity in life to leave a legacy behind when he or she dies. Therefore, only a few persons may be able to achieve this noble goal in life because one must first of all discover or rediscover himself or herself by knowing from whence he or she has come; where he or she presently is in life as an individual; and where he or she intends to go or to be in the near future. In view of the foregoing, the idea of establishing a legacy does not come about so easily; and, nobody hands you legacy on a silver or gold platter. It is something you personally have to strive for and accomplish on your own. Against this backdrop, Dr. William Saa Salifu, Sr. knew who he was, from whence he had come and he definitely had an idea as to where he would have liked to be before he was quickly snatched away by death. Notwithstanding, Dr. Salifu worked many days and nights and he untiringly studied under candle and lantern lights in order to achieve the gracious ethics and legacy he has left with us today as a distinguished international Liberian scholar and patron of the arts.

Dr. Salifu's Rich Historical and Cultural Background

Also, let me categorically state here that one cannot speak about the legacy of an individual without first knowing that person's historical and cultural background. The background of a person is so important a piece of the overall puzzle of knowing an individual because the issue of legacy stems from one's family tree, one's ethnicity, and nationality. All of these sociological and cultural factors add up to make an individual unique and different from others around him or her. In addition, the heritage of a person may also prepare him or her to make a difference in his or her own life as well as the lives of others. Therefore, part of Dr. Salifu's legacy stems from his being the son of Paa and Kumba Salifu and a member of the Kissi ethnic group of Liberia. Further, his legacy also stems from his being a citizen of Lofa County, as well as a nationally recognized Liberian and international scholar. Hence, it is quite in place to know a brief history about the Kissi people of Liberia from whom Dr. Salifu came to us as our humble servant.

Brief History of the Kissi Ethnic Group of Liberia
The Kissi ethnic group of Liberia is part of the traditional African Mande ethnic group of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, respectively. Initially, the Kissis formed a division of the overall Kissi kingdom that was a branch of the Western Sudan Mali Empire but they migrated to West Africa during the ancient decline of the Mali Empire around 1375 and with the Songhai Empire approximately 1591 (Gilbert, Erik & Reynolds, Jonathon T, 2004). However, the Kissis were split into smaller groups after the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 when the entire continent of Africa was partitioned or broken down into smaller and often mutually hostile units by Europeans in order to colonize and divide and rule Africans. As a result of this, the Kissis, like other large African ethnic groups such as the Kpelles, Gbandis, Manos, Gios, Krahns and Greboes, were split up through political and artificial boundaries that were created by British and French colonialists, accordingly. As a result of the partition of Africa, Kissis are today found in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, respectively. Nevertheless, the Kissis in all three West African states are related genealogically and historically.

In view of the foregoing, the Kissis are members of the Mande linguistic group of Liberia that includes but that is not limited to: Kissi, Lorma, Kpelle, Gbandi, Mano, Mandingo, Vai, and Mende. They live in the northwestern region of Liberia in Lofa County which is home to the Lormas, Kpelles, the original Liberian Mandingoes, and Gbandis. Lofa County is rich with mineral and natural resources (particularly diamond and gold) and agricultural produces that range from coffee, cocoa, as well as rubber and other food crops (kpendo, bitter balls, eddoes, plantains, bananas, yams, rice, palm oil, and so forth).

Hunting wild animal game is a regular pastime in Lofa County.

The people of Lofa County also produce very good Liberian palm wine and two of their outstanding delicate dishes are "Togbogi" and rice and "Kpendo" and rice. Kpendo is a sauce with a bitter but pleasant and delicious taste. I had some togbogi and rice and I drank some Lofa palm wine when I visited Radio Voinjama as a consultant to the Liberia Rural Communication Network (LRCN) in 1988. In addition, Lofa County has some very beautiful touristic sites. Also, the people of Lofa County are well-established in the Poro and Sande traditions that form part of their traditional curriculum and way of life (culture). Therefore, it is safe and appropriate to say that the people of Lofa County are very well cultured and respectful and cooperative based on their traditional Poro and Sande education. Hence, it is against this rich cultural and historical backdrop that I speak of the legacy of Dr. Salifu. No wonder why he was such a great and well mannered Liberian because of his rich traditional background as a Kissi, as a citizen of Lofa County, and as an internationally acclaimed Liberian pedagogue and educational leader.

Meeting Dr. Salifu for the Very First Time

If my memory can serve me well, I first met Dr. Salifu during the dry season of 1975 when I was a member of James Roberts' (alias Kona Khasu's,) Blamadon Theatre Workshop. James Roberts was my theatre mentor at that time. Henry Salifu and Dr. Salifu stopped by to observe us practice one evening and to give us a pep talk about the dire need to promote Liberian arts and culture. In those days most people regarded artists (musicians, dancers, actors, vocalists) as people who were not serious in life. Hence, talking about a pep talk, that was Dr. Salifu's strength. He knew how to talk you into doing something for which he had a passion. Therefore, you can imagine his pep talk gave me forward motion to pursue a career in theatre because before then I was undecided as to what I wanted to be in life. At one point, I wanted to become a medical doctor when I newly entered the University of Liberia; but that was not my calling because I spent more time rehearsing my plays and writing politically motivated poems than I did studying the sciences. However, to cut a long story short, the visit of Henry and his older brother at the Blamadon Theatre Workshop rehearsal that evening made a great difference in my life. I absorbed every word Dr. Salifu said and he immediately became a "Big Brother" and a source of inspiration to me. From that time, I believe Dr. Salifu returned to the United States to complete his doctorate but I sometimes saw Henry now and then in Monrovia. Following that time as well, I completed my first degree in English at the University of Liberia and traveled abroad to obtain my master's degree in theatre as a result of that pep talk Dr. Salifu delivered at the Blamadon rehearsal five years earlier.

Meeting Dr. Salifu as Dean of Academic Affairs at Cuttington University College

One of the areas of arts and culture Dr. Salifu and the Yekeson

Administration supported was the Africana Museum at Cuttington

Thus, the next time I met Dr. William Saa Salifu, Sr. was when he was Dean of Academic Affairs at Cuttington University College. One day I read in the local dailies in Monrovia about a vacancy in the Humanities Division at Cuttington University College (CUC). I learned that the institution was in search of a qualified Liberian in the area of Literature, Drama, and Composition and so I became that perfect match that the Dean of Academic Affairs was looking for when I applied! What a coincidence! Here, I was not only meeting my employer but I would be working along with my "Big Brother" who urged me not to give up in life but to reach for the skies! I was just a high school graduate and I was trying to enter the University of Liberia then. Hence, my employment under his administrative prowess provided me an opportunity to grow intellectually and it enabled Dr. Salifu the occasion to assess my skills as an artist/scholar and to improve our working relationship as educators.

My Cuttington Days

The Epiphany Chapel at Cuttington University in Suacoco, Bong County

My days at CUC are among the most memorable and fun days of my life. At Cuttington, we lived as a community of scholars and we piggy bagged on each other whenever we did research or prepared scholarly papers that needed the expert advice of other faculty members. Also, Dr. Salifu was so respectful and humble that sometimes one had to think twice in order to realize that he was Dean of Academic Affairs because he humbled himself a lot and went about doing what was right in the sight of God.. Sometimes Dr. Salifu wore African design shirts with embroideries on them and a dressy pair of pants to match his shirt in order to remain physically simple. Also, Dr. Salifu appreciated African music of all kind and he loved dancing. Essentially, he never carried his title on his head like most administrators do at institutions of higher learning around the world; but rather, Dr. Salifu was very cordial in addressing issues and he always had wonderful words of advice and a bright smile for his coworkers all the time. Additionally, Dr. Salifu was also a facilitator; and he made sure I was given all of the logistics I needed in order to produce professional theatrical presentations when he asked me to become the director of the Cuttington Univeristy Dramatic Club.

Dr. Salifu Was Teacher and Learner-Centered

During Dr. Salifu's reign as Dean of Academic Affiars Cutting ranked as a leading higher education institution in West Africa. He rigorously enforced the curriculum by supervising professors and Lecturers

In addition, Dr. Salifu was both teacher- and learner-centered. He admired my humility and excellent rapport with my students and he always encouraged me to continue in that direction. In fact, I was one of the youngest faculty members at CUC and so on many days the students sometimes mistakenly took me to be one of them. The reason for this was because back in the day, college professors were more elderly then. They were usually in their late forties, fifties, sixties, and so forth. On the contrary, I was only thirty-one while most of the students were twenty-five, twenty-six, or my age group or even older. Moreover, the tradition was that teachers should not have a cordial rapport with students because students might disrespect faculty members and faculty members might also abuse students, and vice versa. As a result, there was always a divide between students and faculty members in most Liberian schools. Consequently, it was an irregularity for most faculty members and students to see a teacher and his students play basketball or football or ping pong together. As a result of this anomaly, my colleagues regarded me as a "small boy" while the students considered me as their "crowd of boy" (COB). However, Dr. Salifu did not share this view as other faculty members did. He recognized me as a full fledged faculty member of the institution and he provided the moral, material, and spiritual support I needed in order to do my work effectively. In addition, I diligently maintained my own role as a faculty and transformative educator and I challenged my students to learn and make a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of others.

Dr. Salifu Fostered Collegial Relationships between Administration and Faculty and Students

My going to Cuttington was like a reunion for me and for some of my former students whom I had taught at St. Patrick's High School and A.M. E. Zion Academy High School in 1980. I was then a graduating senior at the University of Liberia when I taught SLA (Social Studies and Language Arts) part time. Later, I took up another teaching job in the evening at Zion Academy. Therefore, some of these kids had completed their high school education and they were now enrolled at CUC when I was employed to teach Literature, Drama, and Composition. In this light, my students and I reunited once again and we were very happy to see one another. Further, my coming to CUC brought me closer to Dr. Salifu whom I had always regarded as one of my mentors in the field of education.

After my family and I settled in, I actively engaged in sports activities since I was still agile and had some skills in soccer, basketball, volleyball, and ping pong. Hence, I sometimes ran ball fifty-fifty with my students on the basketball court and my shots were very crisp then. You may ask my pekins Ernest Bedell, Alston Wolo ("A1") or Boima Blake; or you may ask my boy, Robert Ellis, Jr. ("Baby E",), or Cuffy ("Body"), and they will lay the "kpatawee" (gossip) on you! My shots were so clean that my balls never hit the rim; I only made "sweps" and so everyone called me "Ah pluckush" or "Ah plowee!"

Also, one day I wanted to play ping pong and so I asked "Baby E" to take me to the student center to play a couple of ping pong games. When we got there, there were about three students ahead of me. However, when it was time for me to play, one of the students assumed I was a freshman student because I was new on campus. He said to me, "New students are not allowed to play on this board."

I was a little confused because I did not know whether the fellow was speaking to me or to someone else. Nevertheless, "Baby E" walked up to the "show man" and whispered in his ears: "That is not a student; he is a member of the faculty."

From where I stood, I could see the bezah's and "show man's" facial expression changed apologetically and thereafter he walked up to me and said, "I am sorry, Prof. I thought you were one of the freshman dogs!"

We both laughed at the student's joke and then I received the bat from him. I also thanked him for being courteous; and then finally, I advanced to the ping pong table, took a deep breath and faced my opponent in the eyes. Initially, I was a little nervous because I did not want a student to defeat me on the ping pong table in the presence of my own students. Hence, practically speaking, this was a self-esteem issue for me. Nevertheless, I mustered up courage to play my opponent with grace and confidence and the beat went on and on!

Fortunately for me, Dr. Salifu happened to be around the student center when I was calling roll; he walked in just on time to observe me give those Chinese spins with my serve and some swift Kpelle backhand smashes that landed my poor opponent at Ten Love! Dean Salifu liked that very much and he remarked:" I did not know you play sports very well. We need more of this kind of cordial relationship among administrators, faculty members, and the student body."

He was right about that because there was a great divide between students and faculty based on the old fashioned way our schools were run through the technical/rational system of education. In addition, the students were deeply touched as well when they listened to Bob Saa make those comments because very seldom did faculty and students socialize together during my school days. However, on the contrary, Dr. Salifu wanted to see a revolution in the relationships between faculty members and students. He wanted a way out of the normal "I am the faculty and you are the student" type relationships that existed between students and faculty members at Liberian institutions of higher learning. Thus, I would say Dr. Salifu was a transformative educational leader who believed in the active participation of all stakeholders in the informed decision-making process of schooling for learners and their supporters: students, administrators, faculty members, parents, guardians, business community, home school association, and so forth.

As a result of the above mentioned, Dr. Salifu never made any distinction between himself and his faculty members on the one hand, as well as between students, faculty members and himself, on the other hand. Hence, I was very pleased that the Dean of Academic affairs was a very liberal but yet straight forward administrator who liked seeing faculty and students working together in the spirit of academic success and excellence. To speak the truth, this type of cordial relationship was not impossible to attain at CUC because most CUC students were very respectful and dignified and well cultured; despite the fact that there was a wide age gap between most of the faculty members and students. Besides, CUC made a great difference in the local community by exhibiting Christian discipline in its curriculum and so there was already a moral and Christian cultural framework within which to teach and learn at CUC. Those were some of the fringe benefits that came along with the teaching profession at CUC.

Dr. Salifu Lived an Exemplary Life of Self-Respect and Respect for Others

In light of the above, Dr. Salifu basically lived an exemplary life of self-respect and respect for others. Thus, he very quickly observed my smooth relationships with my students and he would sometimes softly remark, "Keep up the good work, Joe."

His commendation was based on the fact that I treated the students as I would my own children. Subsequently, treating my students as my own biological children was due to the advice my father gave me when I received my first teaching job at St. Patrick's High School in 1980. My father advised me to treat all my students fairly as I would like my own children to be treated by someone else. Fortunately, Dr. Salifu believed in the same philosophy as well; therefore, our characters resonated in this respect.

Another thing Dr. Salifu admired about my relationship with the students was that they did not address me as "Mister" Gbaba as they addressed the rest of the faculty members on campus. Instead, the students of Cuttington University College all called me "Uncle Joe," and they also addressed my wife as "Aunty Atta," even though my wife was much younger and she was a student as well. Principally, the students bestowed such an honor upon my wife and me because we always opened our home to all of CUC students. Therefore, nothing was so good to share with them as well. In view of the foreground, the students treated us with respect and gratitude as their guardians on campus and we loved them for being the wonderful and studious students they were. Thus, CUC students were blessed to have us on campus and we were also blessed to have such wonderful group of students until I left CUC to take on another national assignment in government.

After My CUC Days

I maintained my relationship with Dr. Salifu and members of the CUC faculty and student body after I left CUC to take up a position as Principal of Zwedru Multilateral High School in Grand Gedeh County. Unfortunately, we were all separated by the Liberian Civil War that landed Dr. Salifu and me in the United States of America, respectively. However, over the years, I learned Dr. Salifu had taken up responsibilities with other higher education institutions in Liberia after the war and that he was still doing the good things he liked doing best: teaching and working with faculty and students and promoting Liberian arts and culture. Recently I learned from Dr. Melvin J. Mason, former President of CUC that Dr. Salifu had fallen ill and was at home with his family in Baltimore. I obtained his telephone number and called my "Big Brother" up and we talked for more than 30 minutes on the telephone.

As usual, I was anxious to make a progress report about what I had been doing since I sought refuge in the United States; and it had also been a very long time since Dr. Salifu and I saw each other or talked on the phone. Thus, this phone call was a very special one to both of us. He listened very keenly on the other end of the line as he usually did when I explained my story to him. I felt so proud to let him know I had followed his footsteps and had earned a Master of Science degree in Elementary and Special Education and then culminated my studies with a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership.

Then, the maestro gasped for breath and said, "You have done very well, Joe. Congratulations!"

I told him "Thank you" for being the "Big Brother" he had been in my life all these years and he felt very pleased his words of advice did not fall on deaf ears as well. We also talked about our respective families. I asked how old his children were for I also had not seen them since I departed CUC. Dr. Salifu told me the progress his children were making in life: that Massa and William, Jr. were taking after their mother in the nursing profession, and that his younger daughter had married and he was a proud grandfather. I also told him I was a grandfather and that some of my kids had completed college and they were living on their own in Maryland. Our conversation was so candid and mutually refreshing that we would have stayed on the line for ever; but as you know, every good thing must come to an end. Therefore, we bid each other farewell with hopes of getting back in touch with each other in the near future.

Therefore, I was shocked when I recently learned about Dr. Salifu's death because it just seemed like yesterday when we spoke on the telephone for more than thirty minutes. I had even planned to call him a couple of days prior to his death to find out how he was faring and now he was gone! Immediately, I contacted Sister Alice Salifu, his wife, to express my family's condolences and to inquire when the funeral would be held so that my wife and I might attend. I also called Dr. Mason up to find out if he knew about Dr. Salifu's death and yes he did. Thus, after I reflected for a moment, I felt privileged and so glad that at least I chatted with Dr. Salifu during his last moments before he departed this earth. In view of this, I would say I had some closure because we talked and what we discussed will always remain a part of my everlasting memory.

Dr. Salifu's Funeral

Consequently, I was not surprised to see the huge crowds that attended Dr. Salifu's funeral. If it had been in Liberia no doubt it would have required more than a Basilica to accommodate mourners. However, the ceremony here in the United States was very impressive. There were many Liberians from all walks of life and I had the opportunity to personally shake hands with Dr. Salifu's widow and children, and his brothers, Henry and James. They all spoke highly of their older brother and father; and, what was exceptionally moving for me was when Dr. Salifu's younger brother (James) testified about how William and Henry were directed by their aging father Paa Salifu to search for James in the remotest Kissi village.

A remote makeshift bridge in Lofa County

They were instructed by their father to bring him (James) back so he could join his brothers and attend school. There again was the virtue of Dr. Salifu: he went searching for his younger brother in the remotes Kissi villages; he walked many miles by foot until he found his brother and brought him back to their father so he could attend school and become educated. For me, James' testimony crowned it all up: it spoke volumes about a man who shared his knowledge and expertise with others so that this world would be a better place to live.

The Repast

The reception was very grand both in attendance and with respect to the meals that were prepared for the repast. The meals were well cooked and delicious. I tasted a couple of peppered chicken drum sticks and they were off the hook! Then Steve Manju played some Kissi music and I did a traditional dance stroke for Henry and the whole hall lit up with smiles.


In view of the foregoing, I want to seize this opportunity to thank the people of Liberia for Dr. William Saa Salifu, Sr. He was a true Liberian at heart and mind and he was such a wonderful blessing to all who came in contact with him. I want to thank also the people of Lofa County for the precious mind that came from their midst. Dr. Salifu contributed his quota toward the reconstruction of Liberia through the field of education. In this light, he trained so many hearts and minds for Liberia and the entire world. And, finally to the Kissi people of Liberia, our hearts go out to you for the loss of your beloved Saa; for he was not only the first son of Paa and Kumba Salifu but he was also a "Big Brother" to so many of us who learned from his wisdom, humble life, and kindness. Therefore, may the soul of Dr. William Saa Salifu, and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in perfect peace. In addition, may Saa's soul someday be seen resurrecting from the grave and ascending the peak of Wologisi where the souls of our ancestors reside and live in perpetual peace and grace. Amen.

Dr. Joe Gbaba, Sr.
United States of America

Copyrighted (@) Janauary 10, 2010
Dr. Gbaba can be contacted at You may also access this article on his website: in the Education and Culture column.Please forward all comments to Dr. Gbaba.. Thank you.

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
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Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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