A tribute by Henry Mamulu
Alhaji was dead long before he expired. Perhaps he died of a broken heart, an unfulfilled dream of existence so carefully planned, he never anticipated the vicissitudes of life with all its uncertainties.
We met at the all-boys school, St. Patrick’s in Monrovia in 1971, I came off my most successful academic stint at Cathedral and met Alhaji in the 10th grade. He had already been at St. Patrick’s along with Varmunyah Sherriff, Anthony “Teacher” Gray, Oliver “OBlay” Blay, Boikai Sirleaf, from what seemed to have been the 7th Grade.
Alhaji had just written his first article perhaps to dispel the rumor that a new student would join us, one Charles McGee already hailed as a great thespian. Yes, he was competitive like that. In Alhaji’s article, he equated the usage of the word ‘Brother’ as an identifier for young men who smoked weed. His article suggested that you can identify these miscreants for they greeted each other as “Brother”.
The Gala Day of St. Patrick’s came as soon as school opened in March. We started school on the 5th and the 15th was Gala week. Our female counterparts from St. Theresa’s Convent would join us to begin the festivities. By this time I had joined Charles Martin, Chuku Anderson, and Rudolph Eadie, already at St. Patrick’s and we formed the most popular boy band of the 70s, the Junior Temptations modeled after The Temptations, a famous American Band. Monrovia literally belonged to us. However, at the Gala celebration, something spontaneous and unusual happened. Alhaji sang a song, not just any song but a song by the former lead singer of the Temptations. The song ‘My Whole World Ended’ by David Ruffin. This was perhaps providential.
Alhaji’s delivery was not good but great! His voice nearly rivaled the growl of Chuku Anderson and his stage presence and natural charisma was intoxicating. I was stunned as he seemed to be the one person who could capture Monrovia away from the Jr. Temps.. Well by Monday, soul brother Kromah was gone and back was the guy who wanted to be tops in everything. You had to be close to Alhaji to witness those moments when his alter ego would emerge revealing a totally unfamiliar but relatable and enjoyable character. But those moments were few and far between. That year he gave himself the name ‘“Thombor”. It meant the palm tree that stood above all others. Boikai Sirleaf just called him”Posi” for position.
I sat in the same 10th-12th grade with Alhaji and he wanted to be our Valedictorian so badly. He worked assiduously to achieve this goal. However, his plans were thwarted by Anthony Kekurah, an unassuming young man who was not only studious but brilliant as well. This does not take away from the prowess of Alhaji even though I never felt he was as naturally gifted as a Kpadi Williams or Anthony Gray but he was arguably the most disciplined of our generation, Frugal with time, attentive to his dress, I think it is safe to say, Alhaji in 10th grade may have been more disciplined than say, Alex Cummings in C.W.A,. who was no slouch kitten himself.
Alhaji had it all planned out. He would become the youngest President of Liberia. If you knew him as well as I did, you would assume that he decided this in first grade. However, he had a hiccup. He was Mandingo as I am. Today, it seems, we are simply hated but in those days we were both hated and ignored and so Alhaji had to find the next best thing, a wife because “he who finds a wife finds a good thing”. He picked Clarice Simpson. Now, now hold your horses, I think he loved her dearly! Who wouldn’t? She was beautiful, a great athlete at the prestigious B.W. Harris School and Grand Daughter or niece of C.L Simpson Sr, With a calculating, not wasting of energy mind like Alhaji’s she could get him into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He had it all figured out.
We graduated and enrolled at the University of Liberia. I went to study Chemistry after going to summer school for the darn thing. Soon with my other brotherly activities, I was flunking out of college. Alhaj enrolled in his Political Science, an area that seemed to come naturally to him, and soon was duxing. The coup came around and Samuel Doe Head of the Military Junta was a football fan and liked Barrolle. Alhaji maneuvered himself to the presidency of Barrolle, a strategic maneuver I might add, that placed him front and center in the desirable crosshairs of Doe. Thereafter he was appointed Managing Director of LBS and Minister of Information, and it was rumored that Doe was seriously considering him as a replacement for the Vice Presidency. Alhaji donned his army fatigue, sometimes with an uzi in tow, and followed Doe everywhere, including on one occasion, to Nimba County in the middle of a contentious situation that had sprung up between the tribal peoples of Nimba including the Mandingoes. Alhaji had finally rebounded from the decimation of his ‘congo’ dreams to pole position within the clan that had destroyed that dream. He was on top of his game and on top of the world. It was a script that Hollywood movies were made of. You see but for the change of events, Alhaji would have joined the True Whig Party and the Masonic Craft.
Enter Ellen Sirleaf and her war machine that cost Doe his life, shattered Alhaji’s dreams of pomp and pageantry all over again. And the demise of 250,000 of us. Alhaji was still resilient and in 1997, he was not done for. He ran as a presidential candidate for the All Liberia Coalition Party and was topped only by Charles Taylor and Ellen.
One day in the 2000s I am in Philadelphia. I hear people wailing, the gnashing of teeth, and rending of clothes. I followed the sound of anguish and came to a mosque. I asked what had happened and they told me it was the anniversary of the Massacre of Bakadu, a town in Lofa, I walked back to Woodland Avenue and asked what had happened. The young man in the store said the town was attacked by the rebels. Men, women children, and even dogs were massacred. He (this young man), was one of the many Mandingo boys that jumped into the Lofa River and swam across to Sierra Leone.
He further went on to say that in Freetown they were trained to come back and fight in Lofa particularly. They were given drugs, told not to bathe and young Muslim lads whose bodies knew no pollutants returned home as animals. They, he said were the ones who removed fetuses in Lofa and Alhaji Kromah was their leader
It would be easy to understand and sympathize with my classmate. Here I am, have done everything you asked. Never tried pot like some of my brotherly classmates, studied hard, married right, and just when I am within reach of my long-sought-after prize, you bring this senseless war to deny me my gold medal. It was about that palm tree that was to stand above all others and Alhaji had been foiled once again and he had no recourse but to fight in the only way that he didn’t know-how. For us, his classmates, it was difficult to visualize him as a rebel fighter or even a leader of a rebel group, a guy never played or took a push-up in high school and barely passed PE in college. However. his brilliant manipulative skills would be no match for the likes of ‘The Iron Lady’, especially after having such high visibility with the ‘enemy’. And so his ‘tactics’ changed, he joined the ranks of those who have destroyed what they profess to love the most and contributed in making his own dream an impossibility. Alhaji’s “world had ended” and he “died way before he was pronounced dead”.
There is a lesson here somewhere. Live a little, love a lot for, however, you may have planned life in its shades of grey, it has a way of overturning the best-kept plans. God bless. A great man has fallen.