Chapter One: The Prodigal Son of Darkest Africa (January 1st, 1936)
- Jul 1, 2017
The Black Star: A Kaiserreich Liberia AAR
Hello, and welcome to my second attempt at posting an AAR. This will be a Hearts of Iron 4 Kaiserreich AAR focused on the tiny country of Liberia. It will be told in a mixed style, primarily as a scrapbook of writing from the point of view of alternate historians with some narrative segments. One of my goals is to lead the nation Liberia to freedom with the assistance of a chaotic international system and become important enough to have an impact on the outcome of the Second Weltkrieg, but my primary goal is to tell an entertaining story of idealism and cynicism in an often-overlooked corner of the world using a country with only three starting factories.
The mods being used for this playthrough will be Kaisereich and Player-Led Peace Conferences, and the enabled DLC include Death or Dishonor, Together for Victory, and Waking the Tiger.
Table of Contents
Part One: The Black Star’s Nadir
Chapter One: The Prodigal Son of Darkest Africa (January 1st, 1936)
Chapter Two: Crabs in a Bucket (January 1st, 1936 to July 1st, 1936)
Chapter Three: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (July 1st, 1936 to January 1st, 1937)
Chapter One: The Prodigal Son of Darkest Africa (January 1st, 1936)
The Republic of Liberia’s borders circa 1936.
“Out of the tumult of the Weltkrieg, the Peace with Honor, and the Syndicalist revolutions in Europe, the map of Africa was redrawn. Unfortunately, the result was, overall, not a victory for the native population of the continent but a reshuffling of the colonial powers that had divided up Africa into their own spheres of influence. Whereas the British had once held the premiere place in the Dark Continent, that role was now held by the far-less experienced German Empire of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the government of which had organized the dizzying amalgamation of German, French, Belgian, and British colonies into one edifice, the colony of German Middle Africa. The French imperialists, exiled from their homeland by the Syndicalist revolution, moved to exert a more direct and brutal control over their North African colonies and added some formerly British possessions to their sphere as well…
“When Black Monday struck the capitalist economies, in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa there existed only three independent, black-ruled states. Each was a unique creation and represented some of the different currents of the age… In the Horn of Africa, preeminence was contested between the Abyssinian Empire and the Kingdom of Somalia. Although both of these states were monarchies, each derived its legitimacy from a different source. The rulers of Abyssinia could trace their dynasty back to the 13th century and ruled over a diverse array of subject peoples, especially after the expansion of their empire’s borders to encompass the former Italian colony of Eritrea. In a way, the Kingdom of Somalia was as much a counterpart to Abyssinia as the German Empire was to the Hapsburg Empire in Europe. Similar to the Kaiserreich, Somalia was founded as a federation of ethnically-similar kingdoms united under a single monarch with extensive powers, and had nationalism to thank for its unification. The disputed region of the Ogden was a constant source of tension between the two powers, eventually leading to war in East Africa…
“The last of the independent and black-ruled states of Africa was of a different nature altogether from Abyssinia and Somalia. The Republic of Liberia had no king, but rather a president, and a constitution slavishly modeled after that of their benefactors, the United States of America. Founded by freed slaves returned to Africa by American organizations or intercepted by the U.S. Navy in transit to the New World, Liberia was granted independence in 1840 on the ideals of freedom and liberty rather than hierarchy…
“Those principles became a cruel joke almost from the outset of the Liberian project. The native population of Liberia had not been consulted and soon found themselves exploited and even enslaved by the Americo-Liberians, who largely set out to re-create the same plantation society that they had been escaping. Nearly a hundred years later since the granting of self-rule and independence to the county, and Liberian society was facing the challenges of struggling to uphold its archaic system of extreme minority rule in the face of mounting financial difficulties and civic unrest. If Liberia could not successfully respond to these trials, then this project and the hope of freedom for Africans from tyrants both foreign and domestic risked being lost forever.
- The Struggle for Africa: A History of Liberia in the Second Great War by Vernon Bartlett
For decades, every Liberian politician of importance had pledged allegiance to the True Whig Party, but nominal party loyalty was being eroded by the changing situation in Liberia and abroad.
The Liberian presidential cabinet was meeting for its inaugural meeting, and George Padmore was already growing impatient with it. The treasury secretary, Railey, was droning on about the current trends in overseas investment in the country. It could have been interesting information in the hands of another man, but Railey had been chosen to fulfill a quota and lacked any semblance of charisma. He was a tolerable administrator, and that was it. So, Padmore’s mind was wandering.
The last presidential election held over the previous year had been more competitive than expected, with the long-defunct True Republican Party managing to emerge from the shadows to field a credible challenger in the form of a young senator from a prominent family, William Tubman. Even the socialists had tried to press their luck and tried to disrupt the election, with pitiful results. The True Whig Party had held strong though, and elected their man, but the writing was on the wall. 1940 promised to be a much more exciting year in Liberian politics, at least it would be if the current system could hold out that long.
Because the True Whig Party had been the only functional political party in the country for decades, it became much more of an amalgamation of different cliques and interest groups than a focused political machine. That was how George Padmore had risen to prominence, as leader of the faction of the True Whig Party that advocated for a more independent foreign policy and some fledgling steps towards economic justice. It was a sign of the growing public sentiment in those directions that he was appointed to the post of secretary of state in the new administration. From such a post, he could continue to build up his reputation and maybe succeed President Barclay in 1940 or, more likely, 1944.
Padmore wanted to snort derisively at the very thought, but he held back so as to not attract the attention of his fellow cabinet members. In eight years, Liberia, and the world, would be a very different place. A man who waited too long could miss his chance, and that was one thing that Padmore would not let happen to him.
Something caught his eye, and Padmore turned to glance at the man sitting across the table from him, Attorney General Frank Tolbert. He was regarding Padmore with some interest, as though he could read his mind. With the network of informers and influence that he had spread around Liberia, it was not entirely outside of the realm of possibility for Tolbert. But Padmore had his own sources and thus his own suspicions about his rival. The two men had clashed earlier in the cabinet meeting, and to an outside observer it might look as though the two men were sullenly licking their wounds after their inconclusive bout, but the truth was that Padmore and Tolbert had been testing one another and not been entirely disappointed by what they found.
Neither of them felt particularly beholden to the name and so-called ideals of the True Whig Party, and both of them would not mind seeing it fall. So, for the time being, they could clandestinely work together towards that cause. The only question was which of them would be able to get the upper hand in the ensuing chaos. Padmore leaned back in his chair and turned his attention back to the treasury secretary’s report. He could afford to be patient, if only for a little while.
Firestone was the largest employer in Liberia for most of the interwar period, its reign characterized by the influence it exerted over the country’s government and economy, and the brutality with which it treated its workers.
“Liberia’s economy was already in a fragile state of affairs before the German stock market crashed. Exports of agricultural goods and raw materials had never been enough to balance the trade deficit that Liberia had with more developed economies. Even before the Great War, Germany had been a preeminent trading partner of the small African state, and this dependency only grew more and more pernicious, even as the American government imposed tariffs and other restrictions to limit German penetration into Liberian markets in favor of their own countrymen’s firms…
“The primary Liberian product in the global marketplace was rubber. With heavy investment by Henry Ford, the rubber plantations in Liberia became the primary source for tires in the Western hemisphere and in parts of Europe as the world left the age of the horse and carriage and entered the age of the automobile. The sight of rubber trees sprawling over what seemed to be every spot of arable land in the country was a breathtaking sight and, in partnership with American companies like Firestone, Liberia enjoyed a surge of overseas investment and development as foreign technicians and experts came to the shores of Africa to advise and plan for the most efficient way to produce, extract, and transport rubber…
“The huge plantations also required a large workforce, and this was supplied not only in the form of coerced employment by members of the native tribes of Liberia’s interior that verged on outright slavery, but also by immigrants from elsewhere on Africa’s western coast. The changeover of administration in Sierra Leone from British to French produced a wave of new arrivals in Liberia who already spoke English and were generally more skilled then the uneducated tribesmen of Liberia’s hinterlands. Working-age men from lands that had once been part of the Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, and other colonies flocked to Liberia, sometimes bringing their wives and children with them and other times leaving them behind in order to live in the barracks hastily erected by Firestone and its partners to house these workers…
“These new arrivals may have assisted with the transformation of Liberia into the so-called ‘Rubber Coast’, but they also presented a host of problems for the current social order in the country. Having been exposed, if only in some small part, to ideas of trade unionism and even outright Syndicalism from British and French sources, the influx of new Africans intermittently agitated for improved wages and working conditions and spread their ideas to the native Liberians that they worked alongside and even to some of the Americo-Liberians as well. Furthermore, although divided by tribal and ethnic differences, the new arrivals shared an important connection with the tribesmen of Liberia in that they clearly did not see themselves represented by the ruling Americo-Liberians. Already a delicately situated minority in the country, the Americo-Liberians were at risk of losing their power and standing under the sheer weight of the number of new arrivals.”
- The Roots of the African Revolutions by Yekutiel Gershoni
Liberia’s armed forces was paltry, especially when compared to the great military powers of the age. The Republic had no air force or navy of which to speak, instead relying almost entirely on the United States navy for protection from foreign threats.
“The military of Liberia, the so-called Frontier Force, was a woefully anemic collection of malcontents and opportunists before its reorganization. It only consisted of a few undermanned divisions and had been shown time and time again to be even less impressive in reality than it was on paper in its poor showings against repeated British and French incursions. The imperialists had been able to forcefully adjust Liberia’s borders on several occasions, halted only by the intervention of the Americans when they felt compelled to protect their former colony. The most egregious example came during the First Great War when a German ship was able to bombard the Liberian coast with impunity…
“Command of the Liberian Frontier Force was held by General Jenkins Yancey, whose primary recommendation for the position came from his relationship with his older brother Allen Yancey. The elder Yancey served as vice-president of the Liberian government for a period and then collected a paycheck directly from Firestone as a ‘consultant on labor relations’ until his sudden and violent death. General Yancey enriched himself over his tenure as head of the military by embezzling money and guns from the soldiers under his command and covering for these losses by engaging in several punitive expeditions against the tribes of the frontier over real or imagined slights such as avoiding taxation or Syndicalist organizing…
“Morale was low as a rule and even though they were recruited almost entirely from the Americo-Liberian population of the country, the soldiers were eager for a way out from under the boot of their tyrannical general.”
- The Red Army of Africa: A Short History by Edgar O’Ballance
Despite its poverty, Liberia’s strategic location between the German Empire and what was left of the French Republic, and its instability, made it a frequent object for intrigues and schemes between the intelligence services of various states.
“Before the Great War the greatest challenge facing the French so-called Republic, beyond its corrupt and reactionary nature, was its inability to match the size of the armies fielded by Germany, in terms of standing army, reserves, etc. Beyond reliance on their Russian allies in the East, the imperialists sought to reconcile this material reality to their ambitions through an extensive process of recruitment and fielding of colonial troops, primarily from their holdings in northern Africa…
“The current government organized for the people of French has made great strides in the conditions of the workers and peasants of France, but the material facts of demographics and training remain. The revolution is in even greater danger from German imperialists than its class foes were in 1914, for we have no access to colonies to supplement our armies, and despite the variety of pro-natal efforts we have undertaken have, thus far, been inconclusive. Our revolutionary allies in any coming conflict are also suffering from a lack of manpower due to their incomplete revolutions.
“Adding to the disparity between the populations of the French and of the German metropole are the populations of German colonies and dependencies that can marshaled in order to support their imperialist exploiters. Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Indochinese, and Africans, as such, can all be called up to supplement the already-overwhelming numbers of the German armed forces.
“The RG must shift to a policy of active disruption of the German colonial empire, highlighting and exacerbating the contradictions in the current system of German domination of these lands. In such a way, the material conditions can begin to be rectified towards a more favorable state, eventually gaining its own momentum.
“At the same time, it is not enough to simply remove numbers from the German side of the ledger, it is necessary to add revolutionary forces to the other side. There are existing revolutionary movements that can be nurtured, some operating within the current confines of the German imperial sphere. A reversal of, say, Indochina from its current predicament to a state more aligned with the free nations of the Third Internationale would be a huge boon.
“Africa in particular can be a valuable target for engendering a revolutionary consciousness and encouraging anti-imperialist actions. While the continent’s human capital is largely unimpressive, its wealth of resources and manpower could address the two material shortcomings facing the revolution.
“In order to maintain a sharp contrast between ourselves and the Germans or the Pétain Clique, options for engendering native leaders must be pursued. Contacts in former French colonial possessions should have the highest priority, and agents have made contacts with elements of the Somali army that can also be developed. This could have the added benefit of extending revolutionary consciousness to the Islamic world, possibly even managing to endanger the German control of the Suez Canal.”
- Excerpt from Renseignements Généraux Internal Memo N-63
“We hardly need to remind all parties involved that any proposed or actual actions must be conducted in the spirit of fraternal cooperation in line with Syndicalist internationalist principles.”
- A hastily scrawled note written in the margin of Renseignements Généraux Internal Memo N-63
“Mais bien sûr”
- Second note written in the margin of Renseignements Généraux Internal Memo N-63