- Published on Thursday, 30 August 2012 13:18
- Written by Stephen B. Lavalah
Ever since the inception of hoisting the Liberian flag on August 24, 1847 which is commemorated as a National Holiday, Liberians from all walks of life wave the flag in different forms and manners.
Some place it on vehicles and other transport facilities, while several raise it on homes and offices. Still many display it in the public domain. Score of Liberians decorate street corners with red, white and blue and as well wear national colors to depict patriotism. Even as that during each Independence Anniversary and national sporting festivities a good number of Liberians charm such occasions with picturesque scenery of the flag and state attire to portray nationhood and national identity. As a matter of fact, every morning across this great land students assemble to pledge allegiance to the flag. Besides, it is mandatory that all citizens and foreigners alike be attentive and at standstill in the course of hoisting or dropping the Flag.
More to the point, from time immemorial the Government expends thousands of taxpayers’ resources to festoon public facilities with national colors, undertake and dedicate variety of projects, and also deliver all sorts of thought-provoking and motivational speeches in order to venerate the day. All too often, the most amazing and fascinating component is the parade of students and perhaps military and paramilitary personnel throughout principal streets. Many onlookers rise to the occasion to pay homage to statehood and sometimes sing patriotic songs.
In spite of all the glamorous outlook of homes, offices, and public facilities with state-owned hues as well as resounding loyalty to the flag emanating from the students and citizens including obligatory framework for adherence, there remain more questions regarding the Liberian flag. First of all, some prominent and well-educated senior citizens have argued that the Flag should be changed to reflect indigenous emblems while the inherence historical contradiction about the Flag still remains unsettled as manifested in the recent testimony from one of Liberia’s renowned historians, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu. As a result, lots of Liberians have begun pondering on the actual essence of the Flag. What difference will it make by changing the color and symbol? Will it further divide or unite Liberians? What is the motive behind honoring a flag without a true spirit of patriotism? Why most Liberians are united only for a relatively short span of time and divided consistently on basis of petty jealousy and recrimination? How come the founding fathers hoisted another flag on the day of Independence? Where the warlords and architects of the 14 years of brutal and barbaric bloodshed ever conscious of the Flag being an icon of unity, pride and freedom? With all of these questions on mind and many more yet unanswered, a number of Liberians and even some foreign counterparts are still doubtful if Liberia would ever become better than what it is now.
Something Greater than Flag Waving
Raising and waving the flag is not a matter of compulsion or an assigned task as require by law. It is not just a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance or National Anthem or other patriotic songs. It is not about how long the Flag will keep flying on vehicles and transport facilities. It is not the beautification of buildings and streets with red, white and blue banner or eloquent speeches or legal establishment. Instead, it is an obligation; dedication and conviction to serve the country selflessly beyond personal aggrandizement. It is a mark of good citizenship and loyalty to country, founding documents and respect for fellow citizens. No matter what colors or symbols, the flag should and must create a sense of hope, cultivate unity in diversity and foster pride and values among citizens. So, the argument about changing the Flag really does not hold water, because it is not the color or symbol on the flag that matters most, it is the mindset of Liberians towards their own country and its people.
Liberians must begin to demonstrate a special affection for their country, nurture a sense of personal identification and learn to seek the well-being of the country and as well adopt the spirit of willingness to sacrifice for the good of their country. The people across the great land and those in the Diaspora should now envision a new Liberia that is greater than religion confessed, dialect spoken, county of origin, place of birth or family name. Liberians have got to understand that the country is bigger than the sum of individual ambition or greed for power. The time for reform is upon this country and there should be absolutely no moment for ‘Native or indigene’ or ‘Congo or Americo-Liberian’. In the same vein, the Constitution of this Republic most be revisited to reflect current realities. The issues of dual citizenship and granting nationality status to people of only Negro descent as expressed in the 1986 Constitution should be carefully reexamined. Each and every Liberian should exhibit a high degree of patriotism and respect for constituted authority.
Patriotic Liberians who joined the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberia National Police, National Fire Service, Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization along with state security apparatus carrying the Flag of this Republic on their right arm should be treated with dignity and respect and given all due courtesy in a timely and unique manner. The children and even those outside the family of the gallant men and women serving the security sector should and must appreciate that it is most honorable to be a soldier, respectable to be a police officer, and admirable to serve the country. Therefore, the Government should provide appropriate accommodation, logistic and better incentive to commensurate with the contemporary situation. The hoaxes and empty promises have got to stop and welfare of the valiant and astute state security personnel must be highly prioritized. Besides, civil servants who keep the wheels of government turning deserve better living conditions and an environment conducive for working. The threats and humiliation emanating from presidential appointees and well-connected supervisors can no longer be tolerated and need to immediately end. The young generation of Liberians should be taught to give back to their communities in whatsoever positive virtue. As a replacement for the US$3 as stipend to young people to clean street corners, the Government has got to introduce service learning in the national education curriculum at the secondary and tertiary levels. Then, the amount allotted for compensation can be utilized to reduce tuition, build public library, construct and upgrade laboratory, provide up-to-date textbooks and enhance research activities so as to ensure the publication of more contextualized Liberian textbooks.
Patriotism should and must not be only through the usual flamboyant utterances and cosmetic fanfares. It should 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 illusion; this is achievable if Liberians begin to start thinking clearly for the common good of all.
Liberia as Africa’s oldest is richly endowed with natural resources and a climatic condition that is favorable for agricultural activities, so Liberians must be able to harness or reap their God given and inalienable right to possess and enjoy their wealth instead of a few elites and higher-ups. The people have got to stop begging for handout, bailout or rescue package, rather they should wakeup, shakeup and standup to acquire what belong to them. This should not be done through the use of vehement force or antagonistic attack to gain political capital; however, it must emulate and assimilate a nonviolent approach of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and lately the Egyptians in Tahrir Square. Liberians must be willing to call their government to change the status quo of nepotism, sectionalism, favoritism, tribalism and partisan posture to being a government for all Liberians irrespective of creed, status, tribe, religion and background.
Liberians have got to espouse a posture of strategic thinking and do away with politicizing everything, perpetually criticizing without any industrious venture, badmouthing campaign for little or nothing and singing everlasting praises to the power 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 penury Liberians. Throughout the country, legal and illegal immigrants are in all sectors and especially dominating the private sector. The Chinese are building roads, bridges setting up the first post-war solar powered traffic light and establishing stores. Moreover, the Lebanese and Indians along with Fulani control almost all the business entities. Roughly all the banking institutions and even the used auto spare parts stores are owned and operated by Nigerians. The Ghanaians are planting the light poles, repairing engines at White Plains water treatment facilities, constructing residential facilities and predominantly enjoying the fishing industry. Since the organic law prohibits these aliens from owning land; they have swiftly learned to acquire property through long-term lease agreements and they are constructing real estates in Redlight Market, Sinkor, Central Monrovia, Waterside and other parts of the country. Thus, after so many years, these foreigners own vast properties and accrue a lot of resources due to the fact that the original owners in most cases consistently appeal for extension of the lease or issue a waiver. The appalling and disappointing part of the entire episode is the gradual increment of community shops being dominated by Fulani, Nigerians and Ghanaians. Despondently, most young people and perceived members of the intelligentsia with well-attired suits exhaust hours astringently arguing about Liberia and other social issues and for the most part engage into negativism against their own country or argumentus ad hominem in a disjointed fashion under the canopy of flexing intellectual muscles. They are knowingly or unknowingly enriching the foreigners by purchasing roasted meat, peanut, tea and so forth.
Though Liberia needs more Socrates and Plato to deliver all types grandiloquent speeches and masquerade the corridor of the majority as “activist” or “down trodden”, but the challenges before the country is voluminous and require sober, mature and dedicated people to drive the change through hard work, perseverance, integrity and honesty. Liberians must be willing to take up the task at hand and many more ahead, not through proliferation of intellectual forums or regular calling or texting on famous radio talk show or constant creation of civil society organizations, but with the formation of think-tank of young Liberians and older folks cluster in community strategizing to move Liberia forward. The think-tank would produce engineers to compete with the Chinese, entrepreneurs to surpass the Lebanese, Fulani, Nigerians and Ghanaians. Furthermore, doctors, nurses, economists, environmentalists and other professionals would be nurtured and equipped to perform any assigned duties in their areas of specialties.
The Government of Liberia, politicians, policymakers, decision makers and eminent citizens must desist and disengage from patronizing so-called intellectual forums and begin creating competitiveness through innovative and creative ideas so as to make young people think beyond the ordinary.
Instead of government officials struggling to prey upon the minds of adherents of intellectual centers, they could swing the pendulum to visit primary school kids and take time out to read a couple of stories with the aim of nurturing the culture of reading and creating a new generation of tolerant and critical thinkers that would shift to a paradigm of innovation, social responsibility, transparency and morality. Likewise, the Government should start the hosting of a national science fair in the Executive Mansion so that the younger generation and more pupils can be encouraged to study the sciences as it is being done in the United States of America. In addition, instead of the Government incessantly providing public jobs to young people that have got alignment with the ruling party or connection with the established order under the ruse of including youths in the national planning and decision-making processes; the Government should now begin to re-strategize and ensure that rural youths who have tremendously and selflessly contributed to community services be given similar opportunity like their counterparts in Monrovia. This would influence more young people to get engage into voluntary community services, which is vital to the development of post-war Liberia.
Despite the nourishing soil and climatic conditions that are suitable for agricultural purposes, Liberia is yet unable to feed itself. There is a huge dependency on the United States, China, Japan, India and many other countries for survival. Liberians must get back to the soil and begin engaging into mechanized farming of rice and other edible corps. With such vast land and nothing much doing, foreigners are again taking over ploddingly as evidenced in the gargantuan Firestone rubber plantation in Marigibi County; Sime Darby ambitious palm tree plantation in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu counties; Golden Veroleum enormous palm tree plantation in the Southeast; and Equatorial Palm Oil huge land bank of oil palm are all indications of the way in which the land is being utilized. Liberians must not sit back to allow this to continue without any substantial actions. The Government needs to 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 nationals.
Regardless of the plentiful natural resources, it is the foreigners yet again who have got the greater share while Liberians strive for employment prospects primarily at the lowest level. The foreigners take advantage of the weak legal system, signature fees and rampant bribery to get their aims accomplished without even going through vigorous due diligence and thorough scrutiny. In actual fact, within less than seven years, the Government has signed more concessional agreements in the extractive industry than any other regime in the history of Liberia. The Elenilto, China Union, ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton, Putu Mount, and several other concession agreements delineate concocted attempt to mortgage Liberia’s future as shown in the numerous calls emanating from some lawmakers to renegotiate existing agreements.
The discovery of crude oil off the coast of Liberia further exacerbated and exploded another opportunity for foreigners to augment their riches. It was reported in Vol.18 No. 057 of the National Chronicle newspaper dated 14th April 2012, that Prince Ezi, a Nigerian national and the purported owner of Oranto, who owned off-shore oil blocks 11, 12 and 14, sold seventy percent of his oil blocks to Chevron for one hundred and twenty million (US$120,000,000.00) without a penny being paid to the Ministry of Finance as income tax to the Government of Liberia after generating huge sum of money from the partial sale of the Liberian off-shore oil blocks. The Global Witness report of September 2011 accentuated that the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) lacks transparency, accountability, institutional framework, and appropriate regulations to carry out its statutory responsibilities. Many analysts and experts in the oil and gas sector are convinced that these circumstances have resulted into massive fraud and rampant corruption in Liberia’s nascent oil industry. To further affirm the worsening situation at NOCAL, the Honorable House of Representatives requested the renegotiation of the ten existing oil production sharing contract agreements and additionally endorsed to halt the passage of any contract if the President refused. In an endeavor to remedy the state of affairs, NOCAL added insult to injury by drafting a bogus, malicious, and dreadful petroleum policy. And what is more disgusting is the fact that NOCAL is spending six hundred fifty thousand (US$650,000.00) under the pretext of carrying out so-called “consultation forum”. The entire draft petroleum policy contained distortion and fabrication about the oil and gas sector. Even a crony of President Johnson-Sirleaf and a man widely believed to have accumulated wealth at the expense of poverty-stricken Liberians, Montserrado County District #6 Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe Jr., differed with NOCAL in relation to the draft policy. Hence, one ponders the extent to which a few group of Liberians are amalgamating wealth and forsaking nationhood even though they used the flag as pins, stickers, hard hats among other items.
Moment for Renew Hope
From the inception of this awe-inspiring country, the history has been very much inconsistent and controversial with a whole lot of claims and counter-claims proportionate to dates, events and accomplishments of certain heroes and heroines. Even to the extent that legendary historians have provided conflicting accounts in publications and utterances about the country’s rich and diverse history. Due to the status quo of Liberian history, many people have not been able to acquire the factual story behind most past occurrences in the country. As a result, the younger generation is finding it difficult if not impossible to comprehend historical events. Consequently, there is a need to rewrite the history so as to set the record straight for posterity and strengthen the country’s emerging democracy. The Government must take the lead in providing and sourcing funding as well as necessary facilities to professors and other young professionals to carry out research work with the intention of obtaining and ascertaining the facts and missing links through the publication of up-to-date books.
Unlike Africa’s newest nation South Sudan that hoisted its own flag on the day of independence, the oldest nation did not until almost a month. This fundamental error on the part of the founding fathers might have resulted to independence without any holistic identity, a condition that has caused most Liberians to struggle for a common front. Some prominent Liberians have continuously advocated for changing the name of cities, streets, public buildings, and other natural features to represent the indigenous people while other high profile Liberians have called for changing the flag, seal and motto to reflect indigenous emblems. Besides, certain eminent Liberians have argued very strongly that the founding fathers had secretly written behind the Presidential Chair in the Executive Mansion: “Do not forget the pioneers’ the children.” Above and beyond, other astute Liberians have also called for a single vernacular to be chosen, spoken and taught in schools across the county. In any case, if all the doubts are clear and rejoinders are in the affirmative, would it further unite the country and make it more prosperous? The answer is a resounding no!
It is not the changing of the names of places, structures, features, design of flag, seal and motto that determine the modus operandi of unity, peace and prosperity; it is the attitudes of each and every citizen toward their country. The dominant black South Africans who suffered from the apartheid regime did not struggle to change the names of places like Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg etc. to any of the country’s eleven official languages to which the state guarantees equal status. In spite of the difficulty and hardship meted out against Black South Africans, they have learned to forge ahead with a sense of identity and the courage to embrace each other under a flag designed to symbolize unity. All the more so, the tussle between Native American Indians and Europeans did not change the naming of places in honor of American Indians. In fact, about half of the states got their names from Indian words. For typical examples, the name of Kentucky comes from an Iroquoian word (Kentahten), which means “land of tomorrow” whereas Connecticut’s name comes from the Mohican word (Quinnehtukqut), which means “beside the long tidal river” and many other states. With all the pluralism of American society, most if not all American citizens feel like part of a team and flying the same flag.
So, it is up to Liberians to rethink and begin the work of remaking Liberia by accepting and appreciating the country’s rich diversity, culture, tradition, arts, music and language. The time has come to stop shaping blame on the founding fathers for their mistakes and re-examine the governance structure, education, health, agriculture, commerce, and as well recognize the dignity and worth of every Liberian. The moment has come to stop the dependency syndrome and begin today working to move Liberia forward through volunteerism and social responsibility. Contemplate on retaining the wires and traffic signs at King Zolu Duma Bridge. Concentrate on preventing the stack of garbage in Redlight and other street corners in central Monrovia. Consider Liberia as one common patrimony and stop engaging into all sorts of unwholesome and mendacious practices, which have put the country backward for far too long. Think about competing for jobs on the international scene rather than focusing on presidential appointment or some kind of political employment. In years to come, Liberians must take the lead to become president of the World Bank, Secretary General of the United Nations and so on.
The Government officials and members of the ruling establishment must begin to put the Liberian people’s interest supreme above the quest for wealth and state power. The Liberian people should and must demand from their government lawful and full-scale investigation into the Danish journalist, Mads Brugger documentary “The Ambassador”, which excuses Cllr. Varney Sherman, a leading corporate lawyer in the country of being mortgaging Liberia for little or nothing. To further worsen this situation, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olubanke King-Akerele has since debunked Cllr. Sherman’s assertion. Therefore, the Liberian people who are the direct employer of President Johnson-Sirleaf and members of the 53rd National Legislature deserve to know the truth of this matter. This should not be the case of the US$1.1 million unscrupulously transferred from the Central Bank of Liberia to a private account in ECO Bank.
When the country is faced with enormous challenges and majority of the ordinary people who voted for elected officials are impoverished with neither daily meal nor other basic necessities of life, the Honorable House of Representatives chose to pass the Democracy Sustainability Bill barely few days to commemorating Liberia’s 165th Flay Day. The Bill provides for funding political parties that obtained 5 – 10 percent in the tone of two hundred fifty thousand (US$250,000.00) to one million (US$1,000,000.00) from tax payers’ resources. In an emerging democracy like Liberia, it is not prudent or feasible to mull over such a bill under the banner of strengthening political parties. It is an open secret that Liberians are becoming disappointed in the electoral and governance processes as clearly manifested in the low voters’ turnout during the recent Bi-election in district #11 Montserrado County, second round of the 2011 general and presidential elections and the well-publicized National Referendum among others. One can only envision how cruel and callous some lawmakers are to their own people. Nevertheless, the Liberian people have got another chance, if the Senate does concur with the House of Representatives, there would definitely be a massive exodus of Senators come 2014 mid-term election. The ball is in the court of the Honorable Senators and it is left with them to take the shot.
Apparently, some of the legislators tend to flimflam their own people through the utterances of ridiculous expression in words. Take for instance; the most recent accusation by Bomi County Senior Senator Lahai Lassana that senators were forced to sign the Sime Darby Deal speaks volume of the scandalous and hedonistic activities in the Upper House. Undisputedly, Senator Lassana has got no moral grounds to begin pointing finger at Sime Darby Plantation (the world’s largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil), when in fact the Senator had all the rights and privileges to inquire and scrutinize the Concession Agreement even before its passage. Senator Lassana fell to point out who allegedly coerced him and other senators to sign Sime Darby Deal. Hence, the Senator’s utterance is shameful, embarrassing, detrimental and disingenuous to the Government and people of Liberia. Therefore, Senator Lassana needs to publicly apologize and desist from using Sime Darby to gain political capital. From this moment upward, Senator Lassana must begin to rethink and wave the flag patriotically instead of delving into the old-fashioned blame shifting mentality. Liberia is at a watershed towards lasting peace and the people of this country deserve better than fallacious and ill-informed statement emanating from someone who is being paid by tax payers.
As the country struggles to transition from conflict to tranquility, the Government needs to reform existence laws so that it commensurate with current realities. Nowadays, setting a day aside for flag adoration has become obsolete to many countries. Accordingly, the Government should alter Flag Day celebration to initiatives that foster patriotism. The Constitution must be taught in all institutions of learning as enshrined in the 1986 Constitution of this Republic. Likewise, civic education and community sensitization regarding the importance of being patriotic should be carried out.
With the flag up high, Liberians from all walks of life must put their thinking cap on to cultivate the sense of oneness and love for their country while denouncing violence, self greed, and all of the vices that have kept Liberia backward for far too long. This is Liberia’s time to shine and together Liberians must make it a reality.