On February 6, 2014, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of our nation delivered a speech at Paynesville City Hall on “Official Launch of the National Symbols Review Project”. In this speech the President said “. . . gathering the views of Liberians as to what we need to do to unify people, to have a sense of national identity, to feel that we all have shared values, we all have one destiny, one people – some of things identified as not promoting the spirit of unity were some of our National Symbols – the Flag, the Anthem, Awards, among others”.
In other words, review Liberia’s National Symbols for, perhaps, an update of our pre- and post-conflict conditions/significance of the nation’s triple heritage, over time.
Indeed, a symbol, logo or motto of any organization is significant to and in the formation of any organization, particularly, in expression of its purpose or objective, and the identity, unity, commitment, pride and patriotism of its members. Moreover, the symbol or motto of a nation projects the soul, conscience, spiritualism, the ethos, and belief systems of that nation’s citizens. Take, for example, the mottos of the nations – the USA, “Out of Many, One”; and France, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. It is important to note that although these nations have not been able to achieve all objectives so eloquently defined and portrayed by the mottos throughout the centuries of their national existence, they, nevertheless, express the unity and collective purpose.
More so, the motto or symbols of our nation which, during our lifetime and the recent, tragic nightmare of the civil war, had been dealt profound, near-fatal blows that left indelible scars on our national, socio-cultural, economic and political conscious, though tacit, but dangerous re-introduction and reinforcement of our traditional, ethnic/tribal bigotry – latent jealousy, rivalry, segregation/discrimination and antagonism, bordering on hatred, a profound challenge of the critical issues of identity, unity, commitment, inclusion and liberty, let alone the ideas expressing these notions, such that a rigorous, intellectual discourse is crucial and may not be over-emphasized.
The facts of our History tell us that our founding, forefathers were of two groups of Peoples with different historical experience – socio-political and economic. One group was the African-Americans – emancipated and freed peoples from the North and South Americas. They came (“returned home” – Queh) and settled on this land of their ancestors, a flight from slavery, race, socio-cultural discrimination, servitude and human bondage, in search of human freedom, justice and equality, on a land of their own.
The other group was the African-Africans, on their own land, but also a flight from autocratic, despotic rule by African, tribal chiefs, monarchs and slave merchants who sold their own people to western slave traders; theirs was, also, in search of human freedom, justice and equality.
Out of this painful, historical, complex, troubling experience, including our inherited (?) notions of “national Symbols”, come the following thoughts and questions:
The National Symbols
A. The Flag of red, white and blue, one star on a dark background; the Seal or Coat of Arms, with the inscription, “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here ”, and the National Anthem, set in and expressive of 18th century, conservative worldview.
B. The National Awards – recognition of and rewards to loyal, patriotic citizens who spent their productive lives, diligently, in the service of the nation and people. Because of and due to their selfless dedication, the Republic survived the difficulties of nationhood to this day.
The Critical Questions
1. Did or do the Liberian Symbols – the Flag, Seal or Court of Arms, National Anthem, National Awards and related others express the consensus as well as represent the hopes, fears, aspirations and views of all Liberians?
2. Will this intellectual exercise – though a compelling need, but an intellectual exercise nevertheless, with appeal to the understanding, appreciation and personal satisfaction of a very few (academic & intellectually/informed citizens); an abstract, psycho-social exercise and approach ignored for more than a century and a half (and, perhaps, one of the major reasons for the April 12, 1980 Event) – address the current needs, demands and expectation of and by the Liberian people living in and under abject poverty, hunger, decease?
3. Also, will this exercise treat the critical issue of National Decentralization & Local Governance, a Policy designed to take government closer (than now) to the people; a policy recognized, accepted and supported by all county superintendents, elders, traditional leaders, chiefs and the people, but a victim of endless, intellectual/academic “exercise” as well as a victim in deep slumber in the Monrovia offices of bureaucrats?
4. Will this required academic/intellectual exercise substitute for, fill the glaring absence or conspicuous economic void such as Priority, Public Policy development, prescription and implementation of the acclaim Premier, multiplier Effect in national economic development – transport/communications – efficient/effective roads/highways throughout the nation?
5. Will this bookish intellectual adventure arrest and address the needs of Liberia’s rapid population growth, urbanization (rural flight), conspicuous consumption, but without production, due to lack of education or absence of opportunities, the critical incentives necessary to attract and retain rural, migrant dwellers – doctors, nurses, educators, economists, engineers, business managers, politicians, bankers, investment seekers/promoters, IT technologists, etc., now in urban communities back to their homes in rural Liberia?
6. And finally, for now, will the issues of our National Symbols, very important as they are and will be, but eclipsed by the Ebola emergency and others, less important, but our traditional, daily economic and political issues, address the profound, painful national/international, socioeconomic and political constipation of our Capital City, Monrovia, that is rapidly breaking at its seams from congestion, over-population, unsanitary conditions unfit for human habitation and, indeed, may be, soon, ungovernable?;
Moreover, will this “brainy” interaction by a very few take the place of or resolve the problem of the streets/roads of Monrovia, paved and unpaved, built some 45-50 years ago, but cannot, now, facilitate safe, smooth movement of increased, vehicular/pedestrian traffic, with heavily-busy, uncontrolled, street intersections?;
Will this cerebral gymnastic answer our century-long question of the absence of street addresses, national mail delivery, communication that facilitates personal interaction, moves business which, in turn, moves the national economy?; and
Will this Aristotlian debate replace or answer, in finality, our desire for the elusive National Reconciliation?
However, it is an honor and opportunity, with gratitude and appreciation, to be a part of the exercise. While we are willing and prepared to attempt answers to the questions of the Symbols – of Dr. Dunn’s “what”, “why” and “how” with the aid of the Papers presented by experts on National Symbols at the June 6, 2014 Symposium – we will be occupied with the questions raised in this Paper.
Bai M. Gbala, Sr. of Menyea Town, Grand Gedeh County, presently lives with his son (Kanio & wife) in Monrovia.