The Problem with Us - Liberians!

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 24, 2005

In 1795, Thomas Paine, the author of the Common Sense, usually referred to as pamphleteer, dreamer and patriot in American History wrote in his Dissertation on First Principles of Government that, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent which will reach himself”. These words are even true today because Liberia, my native land is guilty of this practice, and it started with the coming of the Settlers from North America in 1820 to establish LIBERIA.

George Orwell echoed similar sentiments when he said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.

It is regarding these basic facts of life, this article is all about. I honestly believe that as citizens and writers, by choice or either by fate, we have a responsibility to address such social maladies as abuse of power, the lack of qualification to hold a particular position in government, corruption, etc., and to speak out against these social maladies that have made our country and world, an unsafe place to live today. We must speak against these social maladies in order to offer a different approach or a better choice for those who are engaged in these wrong practices and for their victims to see that there are other means besides corrupt practices.

The Problem with Us – Liberians can be compared to the proverbial snake. It is that, “because snakes do not move in unison that allows each to fall prey to the hunter’s stick.” As Liberians, we do not address our problem with honesty. We are always cutting corners. I honestly feel, if we address our problems honestly for the sole interest of our country and its people, no individual or group, or for that matter, a single ethnic group will be able to bring division among us. However, our greatest obstacle to achieving this goal continues to be sidestepped by many people in our society, who for the “What is in it for me syndrome,” engage in all sorts of DEDEEBY.

In our attempt to stop this corrupt practice, do we have to worry about what our critics have said or will say about us? The answer is NO, because it is our patriotic obligation to our country and our duty to God. Secondly, if we fail to carry out this responsibility, internal as well as external forces will continue to rain misery on us so that we will remain in this state of stagnation forever. Why, because they reap enormous benefit from our divisions and conflicts. Therefore, as concerned Liberians it is imperative that we take a position – no matter the consequence.

This brings to mind an individual who has put his nation's interest first, and not his own - Prof. Chinua Achebe, the African patriot. In his book, The Trouble With Nigeria, talks about Nigeria's problems. The audience to which the book is addressed is Nigerians first, and Africans second. The intended objective is how to clean up the mess in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Prof. Achebe is strong in his condemnation of tribalism, indiscipline and especially corruption. While condemning most politicians in 1983, he praised Aminu Kano and other politicians like Bola Ige, Bisi Onabanjo and Ernest Ikoli for putting the nation's interest first, not their own. At the time he said, he looks forward to a time when such politicians would lead Nigerians, not divide them or waste their money needlessly.

To sum up his main point of contention, he wrote:

The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership.

“The Trouble With Nigeria” was first published in 1983. Since its publication, Prof. Achebe has been consistent in his critique of the leadership of Nigeria. To prove how sincere and genuine this true son of Africa is, he rejected his nation’s second highest honor on the grounds that, “It’s dangerous to keep quiet when the country is drifting towards anarchy and lawlessness. …growing poverty, conflicts, political hatred, and government indifference.”

How many among us (Liberians) are willing to make similar sacrifices - to put our personal interest aside for the greater good of the Liberian people? The last I counted – they only a “finger-full”. So many times Liberians have been made fool of by the gravy seekers among us. Yet, we practically worship these economic criminals for their ill-gotten wealth and badmouth those that earned their living honestly and are not exploiting our youth, particularly – those little 12 to 13-year-old, some of whom they boast of having “Iron Tit-tites”. While Prof. Achebe is looking forward to a time when honest politicians would lead Nigerians, not divide them or waste their money needlessly, we in Liberia prefer to have corrupt individuals as our leaders. This speaks volume to who we are – as a people.

How did this practice come about? This much I can remember! As a child growing up on the unpaved side of Clay Street in Monrovia, I thought the name Tubman meant president; therefore, I used to refer to other country’s presidents as Nigeria Tubman, Ghana Tubman, Guinea Tubman, Ivory Coast Tubman, etc. This was due to the fact that all I heard off at the time was: “Tubman is the man we want” as if there was no other man in Liberia. Then came Master Sergeant Doe – “Country woman born soldier, Congo woman born Tolbert”. After Doe, came Charles McArthur Taylor, the redeemer, who was credited with the doping of child soldiers as well as bribed them with rice to sing his famous song – “You kill ma, you kill my Pa, I’ll vote for you”. Then in the name of peace, a “deal” was made with the very people who harassed, raped, burned houses, villages, and killed innocent Liberians and foreign nationals to form a government. The group then selected a so-called businessman, from among other prominent qualified Liberians to continue business as usual; who according to his critics, is “New wine in old bottle” - that is, continuing the protection of the interest of those who put him in office, which includes Taylor.

What kind of business is this? Why can’t we learn from history or for that matter, recent history? I said at the onset of this article that, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent which will reach himself”. The recent fiasco in Monrovia – Christians against Moslems is a classic example. How long are we going to fall victim to this kind of nonsense? Although the cold war is over, there are strategies that have replaced it.

This reminds me of a story retold by Keith B. Richburg, the author of Out Of America, who said the story was told to him by an American diplomat in Nigeria, who was once stationed in Indonesia.

According to the story, an Asian and an African become friends while attending graduate school in the West. Years later, each became finance minister of their respective country. One day, the African ventured to Asia to visit his friend and is startled by the Asian's palatial home, three Mercedes-Benzes in the circular drive, the swimming pool, and servants, etc.

‘"My God!’ the African exclaims. ‘We were just poor students before. How on earth can you afford all this now?’ The Asian takes his friend to the window and points to a new elevated highway in the distance. ‘You see that road?’ he says, and then proudly taps himself on the chest. ‘Ten percent’.

‘“A few years later, the Asian returns the visit his old friend. He finds the African living on a massive estate. There's a fleet of dozens of Mercedes-Benzes, an indoor pool, an army. This time the African leads his friend to the window and points, ‘You see that highway?’ he asks. The Asian looks and sees nothing, just an open field with a few cows. ‘I don't see any highway’, the Asian friend says. The African taps himself on the chest, ‘One hundred percent"’.

This story captures the reality we are facing all over Africa. In fact as I write this article, there are unscrupulous elements in our midst that we need to beware of - for their sole interest is to prevent us from uniting and making meaning changes and development in our country, and will manufacture conflicts like it was during the cold war era; lies that resorted into class and ethnic warfare. The direct results of these practices have elevated our struggle to a do or die or now or never crisis, which we find ourselves. The Liberian people deserve better than what they have experienced these past 14 years. We cannot honestly say we are all Liberians until we truly put the interest of our country first, which starts with our attitude, business relations, infrastructure development, education, and public health concerns.

How can we address these problems and move on to concentrate on nation building? This is the challenge we are faced with! And it cannot be achieved by mere pretences or by writing position papers or giving flowery speeches, but rather by our actions and examples – examples that cross ethnic divides – cooperating with each other rather than setting up road blocks or barricades for one another. It is only in pursuit of such genuine national interest can we serve the interest of our native Liberia.

In other to achieve our goal, the following prerequisite must be pursued:

1. Bring to justice all of those among us that committed economic crimes and other atrocities against our people.
2. Reject the prejudice that is being propagated by one group against the other – Krahn against Dan (Gio) or the reverse, Christians against Moslems or Natives against Congoes or the reverse.
3. Investigate the alleged corrupt practices brought against the former Executive Governor, Mr. Elie E. Saleeby & associates of the Central Bank of Liberia.
4. Conduct a thorough investigation into the selling of Liberian embassies by the present government because the explanation provided after it was made public by the press is not satisfactory; it seems as an excuse.
5. Liberians’ expectation for their office holders should be – and not limited to having well-informed approach to public service through consensus, consultation, equity and poverty reduction. They must translate the country’s wealth into better life for the people, in contrast to the usual notorious pride in looting and celebrating their ill-gotten wealth amidst abject poverty and squalor.
6. We must see it as our national duty – every one of us to cry out loud, follow it up with petitions to name names, amounts, locations and banks or financial institutions where looted public funds are kept. To have these funds LIBERATED in order to be used for our people, especially, the poor masses who are paying the price of the theft of their resources.
7. We should bring pressure to bear on Nigeria and President Olusegun Obansanjo to turn over former President Charles G. Taylor to the next elected government or the World Court in Geneva for crimes he committed against our people, and
8. For the Liberian people to aggressively work with governments and officials of other countries to extradite individuals who committed similar crimes against our people, now living in their countries to be brought to justice.

In addition to these 8 points, there are 5 additional things we must emphasize at all cause to depart from the old practice of “business as usual”:

a) Educate our people
b) Mobilize resources that will be used to benefit all of our people instead of a finger-full
c) Advocate and practice the Rule of Law
d) For our elected officials/civil servants to actually work the people, and
e) For Good Governance to be the order of the day

While it is to some extent true that there will always be individuals in society, who for their selfish and hidden agendas, will try always to do whatever within their power to exploit innocent people, more especially - desperate and hungry people, that should not stop us from exposing their unscrupulous deeds, such as: “Tubman is the man we want”; “Country woman born soldier, Congo woman born Tolbert”; “You kill ma, you kill my Pa, I’ll vote for you”; and now, “He No Book, He Na No Book, We Will Vote For Him”; which were in the past and now intended to maintain the narrow greed of few unpatriotic individuals in the Liberian society to exploit and use innocent people at the expense of the entire population to get what they want.

Liberians do not learn from history, they continue to repeat the same mistakes “over and over again”. Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden spoke to similar problem in his July 27, 1857 Independence Day address – titled: Liberia as She is; and the Present Duty of her Citizens. In this address, he asked the question, “What then…are the moral causes of the present evils in Liberia? …as a people we have been in too much haste to be rich”. He then went on to say, “…the money lavished upon houses, which add nothing to health and comfort; upon dress, which does not increase the dignity and beauty of personal appearance; the large sums laid out in expensive furniture,… the great amount consumed in the luxuries of the table would go a great way in keeping our streets clear of weeds, in felling the dense forests around us, in reclaiming the wilderness, in cultivating the soil, in civilizing our… brethren.

“… Look at the numbers who… in order to advance to, or maintain this [extravagant] style of living, flock to the fostering arms and sheltering wings of these [foreign] societies. Thus dishonest stalks abroad under the semblance of piety; and impiety assumes the appearance of religion for the sake of gain. And … this extravagant manner of living … are more in the minds of many the standard of respectability .. we attached more importance to display than to reality. There is little that is substantial about us…” (Black Spokesman: Selected Published Writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden, Edited by Hollis R. Lynch)

Dr. Blyden’s message is applicable today. Our leaders are only concern about purchasing automobiles, living in mansions, while the streets are filled with trash and potholes, hospitals have no equipments and medication, and Liberians who were the envy of their neighbors have become beggars in order to survive. What a pity!

We should not let this practice continue, or stand for it! The sooner we as a people begin to do something about these BAD PRACTICES, those who want to make it an occupation - to feed upon our people, will have to think twice before engaging in their unscrupulous activities; but if we sit by to do nothing, it will signal to them that “crimes really do pay.” We will then remain at “ground zero”, and the rebuilding of our war torn nation will be left to others, and we will be waiting til Judgment Day” or for another 14 years, while our people will be dying from hunger and curable diseases.

I don’t know about you or what others will say or do, but as for me, I will say what’s on my mind, when I can, and will not “let sleeping dog” continued to sleep and daydream for the day Liberia will become sweet, again. You need to join the chorus if you considered yourself – patriotic and not to depend on the international community’s handouts, to fix the mess we brought upon ourselves.

Always remember – “When justice hangs in the balance, the silent people can be the most dangerous”. So, what are YOU doing about it?