It was like a long pregnancy, for Liberians in Monrovia and in Diaspora. There were speculations everywhere as to what would come out of the first working visit by a US Secretary of State since her predecessor George Schultz went to Liberia in the aftermath of the 1985 elections. In certain quarters, some expected that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton would deliver a big package of aid. In other parts of the Liberian political spectrum, the expectations centered on the issues that the opposition now sees as the major shortcomings of the government, among other things the corruption issue and the much talked about recently released draft report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the Diaspora press, some political commentators were so desperate that they fabricated their own version of press releases from the State Department according to which Mrs. Clinton was going to “yell” at the President of Liberia about corruption and the need to implement without any delay the recommendations of TRC.
Luckily for Liberia, she did neither. She did not bring a multi-billion dollars package and she left Liberians to deal with their own problems of governance. People who thought and expected that she would do either or worried that she might do one of those things all had one thing in common: they expect America to come solve Liberian problems. The naïve anticipation that a visiting diplomat would make a public “declaration of non-confidence” stems from a sort of childish vision of Liberia-US relationship. It is based n the notion that America, like a supreme godfather is watching everything Liberia does and has the responsibility to set our national agenda. This attitude was no where more prevalent than with a certain media that went on to suggest that Clinton may have been “deceived by the embassy” or that her speechwriters did not do her justice.
The same childish attitude was exhibited by those who walked around with folders and budgets attached to projects, expecting Mrs. Clinton to put her stamp of approval on them, and sign checks before getting back on the plane.
The first group that thought Mrs. Clinton would endorse the agenda of the opposition and a certain civil society failed to understand from the beginning that the mere fact that Liberia was the schedule of the US Secretary of State was in itself a stamp of approval. Their lack of political understanding precludes them from appreciating the continuity in US policy towards Liberia and the great bi-partisan support the Sirleaf Administration enjoys in US and in much of the world. The assertion that the US Embassy in Liberia deceived Mrs. Clinton could just be laughed at if it were not professed by people who think they have the capacity to set national policies. That attitude is indicative of the maturity that is lacking in our comprehension of politics.
However, both those who expected billions and those who expected Mrs. Clinton to take position on important domestic issues suffer from a “dependency syndrome.” Phil Bartle defines the dependency syndrome as “an attitude and belief that a group can not solve its own problems without outside help. It is a weakness that is made worse by charity.” Clearly, this mindset has gotten a hold on the Liberian psyche in manifold ways. In our paper prior to the visit, we suggested that it was time that we start shifting our vision of US, that it was time to view the US as a foreign nation and act like adults by setting our own national priorities in that relationship. As long as we continue to see ourselves as “step children of America,” we would fail to take charge of our own national destiny.
The dependency syndrome is not exhibited only towards the US; it seems to permeate every aspect of our culture and politics. Speaking at one of the zillions of workshops that take place in every domain on a daily basis around the country, former minister of information Emmanuel Bowier said that “Liberians only respect those things that come to us through Robertsfield International Airport, the Freeport or when done by someone riding a “white jeep.” That attitude is the result of century old alienation that is expressed in our culture, in our economy and our politics.
The consequence of the dependency mentality is that we are always begging others for attention and solution to our problems. It is what makes Liberian PhD with years of experience to sit in their office and allow kids with a Bachelor degree and no experience to dictate to them the course of action in national issues and then we are surprised at the mediocre outcomes of some of our policies. It is that same attitude that makes us to drink imported beer when consuming our local brand would not only create jobs but also show that we trust our own production. In receptions, restaurants and at the beach, the Liberian middle class drinks nothing but imported beer, while foreigners can never get enough of Club Beer. It is the same attitude that our business people adapt when they import fruit juices from around the world when fruits are falling rotten in every part of the country.
Expecting the US to pour money in Liberia or a visiting dignitary bring a magical wand to fix our problems or castigate our leaders about issues we hold dear are both symptomatic of the dependency mentality that characterized our relations with the US. This may explain why Liberia has never developed a comprehensive and rational US policy. Our attitude has always been that of receivership. We remain perpetual beggars.
Changing minds and changing attitudes must not just be a slogan. If we manage somehow to temper our expectations of the US, we will be in a position to accept responsibilities for our actions and set a national agenda that will depend on our own capacities. The US and Liberia have a special relationship that goes back to the foundation of the nation. That relationship has taken a new meaning since the war, when close to half a million of Liberians migrated to the US. Liberia has changed through and because of the war. This must be reflected in how the leadership, be it in the opposition or in the government, and how to deal with national expectations.
Given the importance of the US on our collective psyche, being able to take rational approach to our relationship with it would be like growing up and becoming independent from the overshadowing presence of a step-parent. It might free lot of energy and capacity that we are not currently using. It might positively impact our relationships with other nations and could have a great impact on our interpersonal relationships, in our daily lives and in our politics… So that when we have an issue with government or others, we don’t run to Mamba Point or to Washington, DC but rather, we would sit with our friends and neighbors and try to find a local solution.