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Abraham M. Keita: A Journey from Slum to Stardom

Laureate Leymah Gbowee and Laureate Abraham M. Keita The clock was ticking towards a new day for thousands of Liberian Children. Africa’s first independent nation was gradually propelling to an admirable height of universal honor and respect. It was time to send a memo of hope to children living in slum communities and appalling conditions. It was a defining occasion to rekindle the spirit of self-confidence. It was a grand beginning to either embrace optimism or pessimism. A spectacular moment to choose between possibilities and impossibilities. The world stood still watching with amazement an inspiring journey of a teenage boy whose passion for humanity led him out of the slum to prominence.

A new paragraph in World History was about to be written. Another page in African History was about to be penned down. A whole chapter in Liberian History was nearing completion as a young Liberian patriot stood with courage, pride and dignity to revive the dying hope, dream and aspiration of his peers in his country and on his continent. His journey from slum to stardom was never a glowing one, but a tough highway with steep slopes and potholes. When almost everyone thought nothing good could come out of the slum of West Point, a child of daring courage, intelligence and prudence made an extraordinary difference by defeating such erroneous notion.

The red, white and blue flag of Liberia was once more flown far above Pakistan and Puerto Rica by a nationalistic icon whose passion for change has shifted global attention to his poverty-stricken nation. The world had no option, but to stand and listen with excitement to the National Anthem of a small Republic still struggling to rise above the sickening semblance of all forms of human indignity. With standing ovation, everyone sitting in the “Hall of Knights” in The Hague had to HAIL LIBERIA. There was total silence afterwards as a new story was about to be told by a futurist of Liberia.

This time around, international and local news headlines via electronic and print media did not describe Liberia as the second most corrupt country on planet earth; neither did they broadcast Liberia as a country with a messy educational sector or a broken health system. All we could see and hear through variety of media outlets was ‘A Liberian Child’ has won the most prestigious International Children’s Peace Prize for the first time. The caption used by Mail & Guardian News Service was “From the land that was hell for children: Liberian teenager wins International Children’s Peace Prize.”

This captivating news spread across Liberia and Africa like wildfire. For 11 years now, no Liberian teenager has won this award besides seventeen-year-old Abraham Keita. This Child Rights Advocate has made our nation so proud by engraving his name on the golden stone of history. Truly, he is a leader of his generation and a symbol of hope for millions of children whose dream is currently kidnapped by poverty and hijacked by hardship. The generation of today and even tomorrow has got a living legend to emulate.

It was a fantastic scene in The Hague for Liberia once more. It was a gleaming Monday with a euphoric atmosphere! This time around, it was not Nkosi Johnson of South Africa or Om Prakash Guriar of India. We did not hear the name of Thandiwe Chama of Zambia or Mayra Avellar Neves of Brazil. It was not Baruani Ndume of Tanzania or Francia Simon of Dominican Republic. It was not Michaela Chaeli Mycroft of South or Kesz Valdez of Philippine. It was not Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan or Neha Gupta of the United States of America. It was a young hero of West Africa and Liberia in particular. It was a fearless defender of children’s rights. It was an ingenious proponent of equality and justice. It was a campaigner for human dignity. It was a powerful voice from the biggest slum community in Liberia. O yes, it was Abraham Keita who proudly won the International Children Peace Prize this year.

His accolade was never a surprise to most of us, because we have been keen admirers of his good deeds and words. For more than seven (7) years, Abraham Keita has been an agent of positive change in his community and country. He has diligently worked with his peers to attract public attention to inhumane treatments and violence against children. Since 2008, Abraham has been an uncompromising advocate, promoting the dignity and welfare of his fellow compatriots, especially those living in abysmal circumstances.

During his tenure at the Liberian Children’s Parliament, he organized and led peaceful demonstrations and presented petitions to State-organs and global partners. All these proactive initiatives were geared towards lobbying for children’s participation in national decision-making processes and combating gruesome crimes against teenagers. In his many articles, he repeatedly stressed the need for the government and its partners to provide free quality primary and secondary education for all children.

As a result of his commitment to advocating for children, he has succeeded through unswerving engagement with government to pass national legislation protecting the rights of children. In 2012, Liberia became one of the first African countries to adopt comprehensive laws for children, incorporating both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter. This young activist was only 9 years old when he took part in his first child-led protest. Young Keita was inspired to act when he saw a young 13-year-old girl in his area raped and killed by her foster parents. Since that day, he has never stopped fighting to protect children’s rights and welfare in his homeland.

After eight years of steady struggle, he was thrilled to reap the fruit of his labor. After eight years of defending underprivileged and marginalized Liberian Children, he was elated to receive the International Children’s Peace Prize on November 9, 2015 from Madam Leymah Gbowee, another Liberian who in 2011 won the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women during the country’s peace-building process. After eight years of raising alarm about issues affecting children in Liberia and around the world, a son of West Point finally stood tall above hundreds of nominees. After eight years of unrelenting advocacy, Abraham Keita is still demanding justice for teenager Shaki Kamara who was horribly murdered by AFL soldiers during the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in Liberia!

Today amidst abundant natural resources in Liberia, some 80% of the population still lives below the benchmark of poverty. In a country where 60% of the population is under the age of 25, almost 4,500 children lost one or both parents in the outbreak in which some 5,000 people died. According to a report by the University of Leiden, in the west of the Netherlands, almost half of Liberia’s children have experienced some kind of physical violence and 13% of girls have been sexually abused. As a result of these prevailing and terrifying statistics, Abraham M. Keita is even more energetic than ever before to demonstrate an unflinching resilience to help address some of these pressing concerns.

In his speech titled “Justice for Children”, he highlighted the urgency for world leaders to ensure justice for all children who has been victimized by violence. He said children worldwide are still exposed to violence and injustice while thugs often go unpunished. The 2015 International Children’s Peace Prize award winner said Liberian children are victims of civil war, poverty, corruption, and violence. “If you give justice to children, you are giving it to the world”, the global child rights activist said. In addition, KidsRights, the organizers of the International Children Peace Prize said, “Keita’s tireless work as a campaigner, bringing attention to crimes against children and campaigning until the perpetrators are locked away, stood out and convinced the jury.” Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who attended the ceremony in The Hague, said Keita’s work was “inspiring”, adding that “she recognizes in him a true change-maker, fighting to end extreme violence against children.”

Truly, this award is a symbol of hope for the children of Liberia, Africa and the World. As a result of Keita’s role in human history, the KidsRights Foundation is poised to invest some 100,000 euros (US$108,000) in projects in Liberia. The achievement of this global icon is worth commending and we must exceedingly celebrate it across our country. We are proud of him and will forever remain as he invests his lifetime championing a common agenda for change.

When I spoke to Keita on November 4, 2015 before his departure to The Hague, these were my exact words to him “Go with confidence and courage knowing that nothing is impossible for those with extraordinary qualities. Go and prove to them that education is not a mess in Liberia. Go and tell them that something good can come out of West Point. I trust your ability to beat them all. You have done it and you can do it again. Wish you all the best as you travel to make Liberia proud.”

Ending this piece without lauding the endless parental care of his single Mother would render it meaningless. I hope his father was alive to witness his 17-year-old son speaking with prudence and eloquence to global actors in the “Hall of Knights” in The Hague. How I hope he was alive to sit near his wife in this historic hall to witness little Keita presenting a powerful speech of hope, possibilities and great dreams!

With unending appreciation, we can never forget about the mentorship role played by comrade Vandalark Patricks through whose nomination the work of this brilliant Child Rights Advocate became visible to the entire World. History shall forever remain kind to Brother Patricks as our nation endures these perilous times. We are grateful also to all of the Schools young Keita ever attended. Special recognition to J. J. Roberts United Methodist High School in Sinkor, Monrovia where this world icon currently attends as a senior student.

As we celebrate this award nationwide, I encourage all children including youth and adults to learn the following lessons from young Keita: 1. Success must never be kidnapped or hijacked by your current location, condition or association.

2. Courage, Confidence and Consistency breed Greatness and unforeseen ends. 3. Education, discipline and honesty are hallmarks of growth.
4. Non-violence in advocacy is an indispensable agent of positive change.
5. Pessimism must never override Optimism.

I hope the government of Liberia will organize a National Program to celebrate this award as was done in the case of Nobel Laureates Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee in 2011. Even though this regime has failed miserably in creating opportunities, friendly space for children to exist and protecting them from all forms of violence, but this award still belongs to Liberia. I hope a book will be written soon to honor the great work of this young scholar and leader. I hope all Liberians will assemble at the Roberts International Airport to welcome this proud son of our country upon his return. All hail Abraham M. Keita – All hail Liberia – All hail West Africa – All hail Africa – All hail the Children of the World.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was never wrong in his assertion when he said “The heights by which great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but through sleepless nights of determination.”

Let me now end in Swahili by saying “Ibrahimu Keita ni icon kweli wa kizazi chake” meaning in English “Abraham Keita is a true icon of his generation.”

About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, student leader, an emerging economist, and a young writer. He is currently a student at the University of Liberia reading Economics and a member of the Student Unification Party (SUP). His passion is to ensure a new Liberia of socio-economic equality and justice for ALL. He can be reached at: martinkerkula1989@yahoo.com

By Martin K. N. Kollie

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