The Conception Of A New Nation: Mirror On The Wall



By Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 4, 2005

Months from today, Liberians are likely to go to the polls to vote for their new leaders: a president, vice president, legislators, and many occupants of other elective offices. The clock started ticking on January 1, 2005 toward the delivery of a new nation state. The metaphor that best captures this experience for me is the conception of a baby and the associated critical processes that influence safe delivery, an imagery borrowed from Emmanuel Bowier during a recent conversation about our hope for Liberia in the New Year. This image is used not only to envisage the glory of a remarkable future, but also to grieve the three previous miscarriages that our communal family (Liberia) has experienced. Liberians do not have to look deeply into our history to sense the degree to which our collective humanity has suffered turmoil, loss, and disenchantment. The challenge before us is that we are all parts of a team of midwives endowed with the enormous responsibility of nurturing an environment, which assures that the safe birth of this new nation state will occur without incident.

In Liberia, loyalty and devotion to the state and fellow citizens as well as patterns of leadership are mired by self-absorption and public corruption. For an overwhelming majority of Liberians, the structures of social, economic, and political life have been so decadent that yearnings for security and human community continue to erode. Hence, how might we nurture an environment that is conducive for delivering a more inclusive and democratic nation state? Prior to the war, family, spiritual life, tradition, and local community spurred allegiances among various fabrics of our society, however tenuous, but the war destroyed such emergent agents of communal life. The superior traditional social organizations and the “natural harmony” that rural life offered were also undermined by the war. Although our need for jobs, food, old-age security, and other aspects of cohesive daily family life were inadequately met before the war, in its aftermath, we live in abject poverty and in the shells of our bodies and living spaces with limited or no employment and related opportunities. Sadly, so many Liberians have committed horrors toward one another out of the perverse need for power and wealth and to feel better about themselves at the expense of others. Even worse, their targets have often been the most vulnerable citizens: women, children, the elderly, etc. The cultural stock of the nation has fallen into disrepair. How might we mount resistance against such a perverse mindset so that we can launch collaborative efforts in the birth of a new nation?

Self-indulgence and ethnic bigotry are two major moral hurdles to attaining peace in Liberia. Woven together, these two social ills have been prime producers of hate and violence. They have rendered Liberians captives to constricted visions that are intolerant of difference, and if left unattended, the birthing of a new and functioning state might be a virtual impossibility. The hallmarks of leadership in Monrovia are greed, exploitation, and tyranny and these vices continue to be resistant to change. New people emerge on the political scene each day bent on squandering the minimum public resources that the nation owns or siphoning them to personal use. How might we invite our brothers and sisters to examine themselves and their ties to corrupt practices and institutions? How might we abandon mere guilt bidding and mount a liberating vision to those Liberians taken over by the curse of selfishness and naked over-indulgence? The vision that I offer in this article does not simply provide easy answers, but it attempts to create a rationale for why self-indulgence and ethnic bigotry must be “denounced and dismantled” and replaced by loyalty and devotion to the Liberian state and its people, if peace is to come. Liberians all over the world are still drifting in the wastelands of our past and present (internally displaced or refugees abroad) and my quest is to help encourage the first steps on the way to remorse and recovery.

The desire to write this article is born from one compelling rationale – love for Liberia and a strong desire to contribute to its rebirth. I have watched numerous Liberians, public servants in particular; and their cohorts derive ill-gotten wealth from their proximity to power. Yet, these persons have gone to their deaths or being publicly shamed and humiliated -- not clinging to such wealth, but leaving them behind for others to enjoy. Worse, they have left legacies from which their children and grandchildren only wish to separate themselves, and even more disheartening, our current core of public officials are living carelessly. The voices of many Liberians who were attached to previous dictatorial and inept regimes have receded via (self-imposed exile) and they have been rendered powerless, although they could be contributing immensely to the current discourse on nation building. It is regrettable that the same features mark our contemporary political landscape. Political actors in the current interim government are becoming extremely bold in stealing the national wealth amidst hopelessness and tremendous anguish, a problem that many commentators have also addressed recently.

Given such a visible disregard for the well being of the Liberian people on the part of the current pool of “political hustlers and pimps,” there is a strong demand for new choices on the part of Liberian citizens. However, readers are prone to ask: Would writing an article that recommends a vision and commitment to better political and ethical choices be an invitation into my personal “moral universe?” Yes! But I have no credential that makes me eligible for sainthood. More importantly, I do not wish for such a lack to prevent me from taking on my citizenship and historic responsibility. I hope that this will also not deter you from joining in the charge discussed in this article. I believe that the need for change is so great that we all must risk personal scrutiny for the sake of urging alteration in our political culture and ethical landscape. Such scrutiny only makes us personally stronger in holding ourselves accountable. Nonetheless, in seeking change, I do not aim to hold ethical hammers over the heads of my fellow citizens. Instead, I ask each Liberian to evaluate their own conduct and character as it pertains to building the architecture of a new nation to determine how best they can contribute to this effort. I ask each Liberian to make compliance with the highest ideals of ethical standards within the public domain a commitment. I ask each Liberian to put emphasis on personal accountability and transparency, if we are to be successful individual and collective midwives charged with the safe delivery of a new nation. The emphasis of this article is on what ethicists Anita L. Allen has come to refer to as the “ethics of citizenship.” In her newest book: The New Ethics: A Guided Tour of the Twenty-First Century Moral Landscape, Allen (2004) urges us not to be tactful, but rather straightforward in pointing out those among us who take advantage of the public trust by defrauding the nation and squandering its resources. The time has come to take steps to let the cheats among us know that we will no longer condone their abuse of our goodwill. We can disassociate ourselves from those individuals who were imposed on us uncritically by time and circumstance, especially since their actions have been rather devastating and not redemptive as they vowed. A new nation will only flourish where equity and justice abound. A new nation will also grow in a fertile soil where tolerance of diversity is also made normative. We must repel the notion that Liberia is the junkyard for those among us who find pleasure in the torment of their fellow Liberians.

Scarred by the agonizing memory of previous stillbirths, our national family is painfully aware that this symbolic pregnancy is our last hope for the survival and continuation of our common patrimony. When the months of waiting come to a close, we the nervously stricken family who has experienced several traumatic miscarriages hope for a safe delivery of the family’s child of hope. This will not be a love child conceived as a result of a romantic attraction between two persons. This is child conceived in the wake of a brutal, bloody, and shameful past. This is a child conceived from a gang rape (between warlords and previous detractors), but it is the only hope of perpetuating our family. Should we lose this child, who will bare our family (Liberia’s) name? Our nation’s faith and our nation’s hope will be secured in this child. We must protect and love this child because we have no other choice. The mother is not capable of conceiving another child following this birth. We must keep this child, despite, and even perhaps because of the gory reminder of the horrors of our past. From the Maternity Center in Monrovia, an emergency call has gone out to every midwife (Liberian citizen) in and out of Liberia urgently summoning him or her to national service. The lady who carries this pregnancy is in critical danger of losing our child -- our national family’s only hope. She has been confined to bed for the remaining of the pregnancy. She will require intensive care to assure safe delivery.

I hope that the New Year will be the beginning of grassroots efforts geared toward holding public servants accountable and on track toward building a more sustainable future during the new nation. No longer can Liberia afford a citizenry that is passive and uninvolved especially when the country stands at the threshold of its fourth miscarriage. The important lesson here is that our leaders must now be people who can follow our lead and not the other way around. This paradigm of leadership will prove difficult for those bent on asserting their selfish interests because this is the core of the current leadership crisis. Building a new nation is not a spectator event, but one that requires the active participation of every Liberian. It requires both a vision and a commitment and the way forward would be to ask the following questions. What political, economic, and social structures have perpetuated self-indulgence and ethnic bigotry? What are the alternative approaches to halting and reversing these phenomena? This is a long-term commitment. The future of our children and that of their children’s children, hinge on the choices that we make today.

About the author: Emmanuel Dolo and his family live in Maplewood, Minnesota. He can be contacted at