I normally open my leadership lecture by throwing a challenge to my audience. And this is the challenge, “is it possible to make Liberia a leader and a success story for freedom, economic growth, development and democracy and a country that is second to none in Africa? If I were to walk the principal streets of Monrovia with this question the overwhelming answer I would receive will be a resounding no-that it is not possible. I have come up with this conclusion because in all ten of my lectures I have presented here in Liberia on Leadership, the dominating answer to the above question has been “no.” But it is indeed possible.
And so why would many in Liberia take no for an answer to such a question? I believe it is for two reasons. The first is that from independence up until now many of our leaders have failed to demonstrate true leadership, and secondly, it may be that many in Liberia do not see the big picture as they do not yet understand that Liberia has great potentials and that those potentials can be developed in ways that all who doubt today will begin to see the power of putting on a positive mental attitude. However, from my observation, I have found out that the thoughts and perceptions of many in Liberia have been so clouded by impossibility thinking so much so that things which seemed possible are looked at by them as being impossible.
Let me give you a short story. The Philippines was once the richest country in Asia while Singapore was once the poorest country in that same region. But today Singapore is one of the richest countries in that region and is a tourist destination while the Philippines have declined economically. Why?
Singapore started as part of the Sumatran Srivijaya Kingdom, but became part of the British Empire in 1826. In 1959, Singapore was granted independence. But the country didn’t do well. The Country’s leader, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, felt that the country had been cast adrift-with few prospects and little hope. There was only one thing to do: Work themselves out of their horrible situation.
Lee wrestled with the problem until he had a plan. He knew that a turnaround was possible, but it would take a generation to do it. His goal was to create First World conditions in a third world country. And this is how he decided to do it. First he brought in industries – that many low skilled workers would be employ. Secondly, he created Public Housing – he wanted to improve the people’s quality of living and to inspire them. They would move into better housing, but they would pay for it. Thirdly, he sends people to school – the only way for the country to improve was for the people to improve themselves. He would make education affordable for everyone. Fourth, he set up a banking system – the goal was nothing short of making Singapore the financial center of Asia. Fifth, he encouraged international travel – Singapore would become a business and tourist destination with a world-class airport.
Lee’s goal was lofty and his plan ambitious. Even though he sought help from the United Nations, things didn’t go smoothly at first. But lee and the people of Singapore persevered. First they received hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from the World Bank and the countries of England and Japan. Next they brought in experts from around the world to help them, carefully, selecting representatives from countries who led in their fields: Japan and Germany: technical advisors to set up factories. Sweden and Holland: experts on banking and finance. Israel: army advisors. New Zealand and Australia: air force and naval advisors. Then they brought in twelve hundred companies from the United States and Japan.
Today Singapore is involved in helping Bosnia, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Vietnam, East Timor, and Kuwait, while the Philippines which was once the financial center of Asia has declined economically. Good Leadership is the reason for Singapore’s growth while bad leadership is the reason for Philippines economic decline and lost glory. Do we see the Singapore story here in Liberia or we see the Philippines’ story? Do our leaders exhibit quality leadership? Does their hearts beat only for Liberia? Do we practically see good leadership in this country?
I have heard over and over again that Liberia as the first independent Republic in Africa has failed to take up leadership role and that the younger countries whose independence she has fought for are today taking the lead. I have also heard many that blamed Liberia’s failure on past leadership for, as they say, our leaders were not dreamers and were not tomorrow’s thinkers. And this of course I agree. But then how do we move this country forward so that she becomes a success story and how do we apply the Singapore story to Liberia today? This of course isn’t an easy task, and requires each and every Liberian to be a part of the process. Building this country does not rest on one person, a group or a political party. It will take the combine efforts of each and every Liberian to rebuild this country and to make it a better place for all.
As the late US President John F. Kennedy puts it “ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country,” The statement does not exempt our leaders. The statement is for all, but I believe those with greater responsibilities are our leaders. They need to set the pace for the people to follow.
(Chealy Brown Dennis can be contacted through email at: email@example.com or on phone at: 0886-264-611)