Ask a typical Liberian anywhere in the world to describe Liberia, and it is no surprise to hear damaging, defaming, demeaning, disdainful and slanderous depictions of the country in which Africa’s liberation, redemption and emancipation first began. From the ruling establishment, to the politicians, to the religious leaders, to the journalists, to the economists, to the educationalists, to the agriculturalists, to the environmentalists, and the entire populace perpetually criticize the country with no hope for a prosperous future.
In homes, offices, university campuses, transportation facilities, and across street corners, where group of people from the intelligentsia meet to flex intellectual muscles, the discourse is mostly centered on all sorts of badmouthing and castigating utterances with pessimistic outlook about Liberia’s future. Moreover, radio and television talk shows hosts as well as regular callers portray doomed images that recovery from the fourteen years of intermittent and devastating civil conflict is far from reality. Even the leading stories in the print media all too often paint gloomy pictures that the country is retrogressing rather than gradually progressing.
It seems most Liberians are very fascinated about disparaging portraits of the country. Some Liberians prefer print and electronic media that denigrate the country in almost every edition. While other consistently and persistently visit small intellectual centers to malign everything about their own country mostly in the presence of foreigners without regard to the fundamental adverse impact.
Too often a considerable number of Liberians have the tendency to brand their country as “good for nothing, backward, corrupt, impoverished, dirty, worthless, among others awful vitriol”. For most, the country can be equated to a den of hell with iniquity at its highest peak. Some even cast a spell that Liberia will never go anywhere and nothing good will come from the country.
Of course, in a democratic, heterogeneous, and multicultural society like ours, people will always have opposing views and diverse opinions on many issues arising, be it local or national or international. Therefore, no one expect Liberians to turn a blind eyes on the extreme hardship, abject poverty, appalling education system, dreadful healthcare, frightful unemployment, unacceptable inequality and unbearable cost of living coupled with lack of safe drinking water, electricity, nutrition, and unending corruption in every sphere of the country.
Liberians would not fold their hands, silent their voices and shut their pens in the midst of the closure of radio stations for exposing and unearthing corruption and other dirty deeds of the government. The people of Liberia cannot sit back and relax when members of the Honorable House of Representatives formulate two blocks while other stay away from work and being paid by high earned taxpayers’ resources. It is very obvious that the people of this glorious land of liberty continue to standup to defend, protect and uphold the Organic Law and other fundamental rules.
In fact, it is expressed in the language of the 1986 Constitution of this great Republic that: “All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments”. From this constitutional provision, one can easily surmise that in a democratic society like ours, political power is ultimately inherent in the people and not under the jurisdiction of affluent individuals, the political elites, and members of the ruling establishment.
However, our consistent, persistent, insistent vilification of our country have led us to where we are today. In the words of René Descartes, a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist dubbed as the father of modern Western philosophy, “Cogito ergo sum” a Latin philosophical proposition meaning “I think, therefore I am”. We as Liberians must begin to perceive our country from optimistic viewpoints not permissive stances. We must begin to work toward a free, just, and equal society, where every man, woman and child can achieve their full potential and measure of happiness through their own imagination, creativity, culture, and national proud.
The way we think of our country, is the way it would be. But, if we concentrate on the opportunities instead of only the dangers in the midst of overwhelming challenges, it would be difficult to develop and improve as a country. It is not to illusively believe that everything is fine or live in a world of fantasy or just being hopeless without any action. This is about mustering the courage and braveness to carry forward the dream of our founding fathers and ensure it is turned into reality for the common good of all not just for a few privileged individuals.
We have to appreciate our country, believe in ourselves, love our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, be proud of our identity, accept our culture and tradition, and have faith in our country, and refuse to fail our country no matter what circumstances we are experiencing and challenges that lie ahead. Let the quest to develop and better our country be greater than our individual ambition or greed for power or desire for wealth.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that patriotism would not exist or become practical when civil servant who keep the wheel of government turning cannot get the justifiable pay on time. When diligent and gallant men and women in uniform do not obtain their manageable salary and accompany benefits on time. When prices of everything on the market skyrocket and profit margin becomes extremely low due to high import taxes. When education is being branded as a “mess” and healthcare has failed too many. And, when thousands go to bed hungry without any hope to get meal the next day. Obviously, these are undisputable and unarguable facts. For the most part, what is even more disheartening and disappointing is the government unwillingness to listen and hear the cry of her citizens. Frustratingly, the people are still hopeful in the government, and they are expressing their displeasure every now and then in various forms and manners. Howbeit, the people must take appropriate actions and initiatives to help themselves out of poverty first instead of relying and waiting on the government for everything.
Let us make no mistake, no country in the world is perfect and capable of providing all of the assistance its citizens need, not even the world’s most powerful and wealthiest countries. They too have their own problems just as we continue to come face-to-face with human struggling and extreme poverty every day. Although, ours is a little bit complex due to structural and governmental and political issues. Notwithstanding, in every developed countries now, it is the people who have worked hard to change their respective countries from poverty to prosperity. In the wisdom of President Barrack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the one we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.
We must change the way we do things from reliance, dependency syndrome, handout and begging mentality, and begin to work very hard with our hands and innovate with our minds. It is our time to do away with the usual tussle and hustle for political jobs and employment in the public sector and fighting over the small jobs in the private sector which in most cases are short-term, because of the massive lay off strategy. We need to become the maker of our own things, author of our own history, and creator of our own destiny. We cannot just be end users and final consumers of various commodities most especially our stable food. Take a moment and ask: Why farmers in India, Pakistan, Japan, China, and other populated countries should produce abundant food to feed themselves, then supply us with rice amidst our rich soil and climatic condition rated favorable to agriculture? One can only ponder for possible answers. We must begin to engage into mechanized farming of rice and other edible corps. The government and the people themselves must provide the enabling environment and opportunity, where the people can be mobilized and motivated to become agriculturalists with different specializations and conviction of competing with and exceeding other nations in term of food production. This is our time to reorganize, rethink, reinvigorate and reclaim our future to become one full of opportunities and successes.
The change we seek would not come on a silver platter or within a relatively short span of time or extreme dependence on aid or blame shaping mentality, but rather it must come from ourselves as people united in a the truest sense of patriotism, discipline, and hard work. As Nelson Mandela rightly put it: “There is no easy walk to Freedom”. The road maybe rocky or muddy or rickety, however we should never lost focus and give up along the way. We should continue our journey to prosperity, lifting each other up, helping each other out and standing up for each other.
We must now begin to demonstrate a special affection for our country, nurturing a sense of personal identification and learning to seek the well-being of our country as well as adopting the spirit of willingness to sacrifice for the good of the country. We have got to envision a “New Liberia” that is greater than our religion confessed, our dialect spoken, our county of origin, our place of birth or the sound of our last name.
Patriotism should and must not be only the usual flamboyant utterances and cosmetic fanfares. It must contain a great meaning with a deep sense of loyalty, peace, love and the eagerness to make Liberia the best nation on earth. It is not an exaggeration or an illusion; this is definitely achievable if we begin to start thinking clearly for the common good of all.
The young people should be taught and willing to volunteer and give back to their communities and country. Patriotic young Liberians should be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to join the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberia National Police, the National Fire Service, the Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization, and the Executive Protective Service along with other state security apparatus. The children and even those outside the family of the gallant men and women protecting our borders and defending our statehood should appreciate that it is more honorable to be a soldier, respectable to be a police officer, and admirable to serve the country.
The government must play a pivotal role in providing appropriate accommodation, logistics and better incentive to commensurate with the prevailing economic situation. We the people must organize innovative initiatives to assist our valiant and astute state security personnel. The lip service render to our men and women in uniform has got to immediately stop. Moreover, civil servants who keep the wheels of our government turning must be treated with dignity and respect. The threats, intimidation, and humiliation from presidential appointees, elected officials and well-connected supervisors must come to an immediate end.
The tendency of blame shaping for Liberia’s misfortune must be eradicated and a rebirth of a new paradigm shift introduced. It is about time that Liberians begin to avoid the propensity of eulogizing individuals whose actions and supports contributed to the prolonged civil war as well as those who embezzle the nation’s much needed revenue. The era of praise singing for people that steal public resources, commit atrocities and make use of unlawful wealth to swindle the common people under the disguise of being self-proclaimed humanitarians is over. Liberia has got to change and cannot continue to trend on the same path of hailing former warlords, belligerent citizens and corrupt officials just because of pseudo developmental initiatives or somewhat benevolent assistance. After all, if the nation’s resources were equitably distributed for the common good of all, no one would actually strive to entreat the few that are wealthy.
Liberians have got to embrace an attitude of strategic thinking and do away with perpetually criticizing everything without any alternatives, badmouthing campaign for little or nothing and singing everlasting praises to the powers that be. While Liberians are quite busy with all sorts of trivial issues, the foreigners are making use of every single opportunity to enrich themselves at the detriment of the already poverty-stricken Liberians. The foreigners see the opportunities in the midst of crisis and Liberians only envision the dangers. Throughout the country, legal and illegal immigrants are in all sectors especially dominating the private sector.
The economic power of our country is now in the hands of the Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, Pakistanis, Syrians, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Guineans and Malians among other nationals. Since our organic law prohibits foreigners who are not Negro from being citizens and owning land, these foreigners have swiftly learned to acquire real estate property through long-term lease agreements or marriage or allow other Liberians to front for them. From the largest commercial district of Red-light Market, to the budding Tubman Boulevard, and in the heart of our nation’s capital, new buildings are being constructed by these foreigners while we sit and wait for the next election to obtain political power and engage into negativism against our own country under the canopy of flexing intellectual muscles.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with foreigners doing business in Liberia, but Liberians need to get involve in business and entrepreneurship in order to create more jobs and compete with the foreigners. If we are not careful and continue to trend on the path as usual, in the next ten to twenty years, our political power too will be in the hands of foreigners, because one who has economic power in any country controls the politics and determines who becomes what in the government and even influence laws, policies and regulations. So, we need to work overtime to catch-up and even surpass the foreigners in every aspect of business. We need to exhibit a high degree of trustworthiness and believe in ourselves. It is up to us to change our mentality and adopt a new approach to foster economic growth and venture into different businesses in order to change the future of Liberia.
We will also need to fix the problem in the education system and turn it from mess to best not just in words, but through a revolutionary and aggressive overhaul of the system and it should not be about perpetual criticism or blame shaping or continuous excuses.
Now is the time to ensure accessible, affordable, effective, efficient, and state-of-the-art education for all irrespective of creed, status, gender, and affiliation. With education for all, young minds will be developed to build new roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals across the country. Education for all will ensure the construction of factories to produce goods with the inscription “Made in Liberia”; on top of that basic infrastructural facilities to better the standards of living and improve clean energy and provide safe drinking water. Furthermore, education for all will fill the knowledge gap through the development of human resource capacity of young people thereby yielding more medical practitioners, engineers, business tycoons, entrepreneurs, lawyers, social workers, educationalists, scientists, and other specialists to tackle the difficulties now and future challenges that lie ahead. Investment in the development of human resource capacity within the public sector will decrease government’s expenditure on consultancy and provide employment opportunities that boost the economy.
The time has come for every Liberian to set their sight higher and begin to think about solving our problems and not just talking about them. It is time for us to begin to teach every man, woman and child about the importance of patriotism. It is time for us to put aside petty jealousy, partisanship, corruption, greed for power and quest for wealth and change the future of our country. And, it is time for us to take collective, decisive, and proactive actions to swing the pendulum of Liberia from criticism to patriotism. Together, we can fulfill the dream of creating a glorious land of liberty under God’s command and a more prosperous future.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent YES.