A Keynote Speech at the 1st National Convention of the All Liberia Party
February 5, 2016, Gbarnga City Hall, Bong County
By Tiawan S. Gongloe
Mr. Acting Chairman and members of the organizing Committee
Partisans and sympathizers of the All Liberia Party
And other distinguished ladies and gentlemen
This is the second time in less than a year that I have been invited to deliver a keynote speech at a convention of a party that I am not a member of. The first was on July 6, 2015 at the 35th Convention of the True Whig Party in Bentol City, Montserrado County. I am pleasantly surprised by these invitations. I am not a member of the True Whig Party. I am also not a member of the All Liberia Party. But both parties have given me the highest platform any person can have at a party convention. Yet, it is a known fact that my views, over the years, about Liberia, have been diametrically opposed to the views of the leaders of these parties. I must say publicly that the credit for transcending our differences goes to the leaders of these two parties. I want to thank the organizing committee of this party for such a great honor. This says a lot about the social and political transformation that is taking place in our country. Liberian people are getting more open-minded about their country and transcending the little barriers that divide them.
As a people, we have found that narrow-mindedness in whatever shape or form and for whatever reason or purpose, has failed to serve our collective interest. Narrow mindedness has brought about exclusionary politics and exclusionary governance in our country and this has led us, as a people, to state failure. We have all recognized the fact that we are all Liberians and are bound to live together in peace and harmony, irrespective of the origins of our parents, our ethnic identities, our religious affiliations, our looks, our fraternal associations, our secret societies. We must not judge each others by the history of our settlement in this part of the Africa. The question of who settled in this part of Africa first and who settled last, as well as, who is just settling, cannot help us to sustain the peace, strengthen our bond as a people and build a strong, prosperous, progressive and great nation for ourselves, our children, their children’s children and many more generations unborn. We must not also, allow the issue of Liberians who have acquired citizenships in other countries and still want to maintain their original citizenship of Liberia rise to a level where, it will constitute a new barrier to the promotion of our oneness, as a people. I hope that this issue will be resolved as quickly as possible and in a manner that does not portray us as a narrow-minded and mean spirited people.
Liberia is a unique country in Africa. It is not a product of colonial rule, like most African Countries are. It is a place of refuge for people from various parts of the world. Some of its citizens are remnants of great ancient empires such as the Mali Empire, the Songhai Empire and the Ghana Empire. Some of its citizens are descendants of some of our ancestors, who having been subjected to the worst form of human suffering in the Americas returned to this part of Africa to find a place they can call home. Yet still some of its citizens are descendants of people who came to this part of Africa, as a place of refuge from the repression of European colonial rule in various parts of Africa. So historically, most Liberians came to this part of Africa from somewhere. Our challenge as a nation has been a lack of the full appreciation of this historical fact. As a consequence of this collective ignorance, some of us have over the years, emphasized more, our differences, rather than focusing on our common identities and our shared aspirations of living in peace, happiness and building a progressive and prosperous country based on the respect for the rule of law and human rights.
We have done things that have undermined our efforts to build a great country, a better Liberia in which resources and opportunities provided by the state can be made equally accessible to all citizens. Instead we embarked on building a nation based on exclusionary politics and governance. This led us to the brutal removal of two of our presidents and fourteen years of extremely brutal and senseless civil conflict.
We must seek to build a better Liberia, in which our collective security is guided by emphasizing our oneness as a people, and disregarding our differences. Let me start on the road to finding and emphasizing our common identities, by reminding all of us here about one word that is probably the only word which means the same in every Liberian language. That word is “keh”. In all Liberian languages, the word “keh” means but. So at least we know that we are Keh people. This means that all Liberian ethnic groups have historically, perhaps, for hundreds of years or thousands of years being together. This is one way of explaining how one word can have the same meaning in so many languages. It is strange that the word keh means the same to Mande, Kwa and Mel speaking people. We must, therefore, accept the fact that we are one people, not by choice, but by natural history. Nobody can, therefore, can succeed in dividing us. Many persons may attempt to do so, “keh” they will not succeed.
We need a leadership that will not only keep the “Keh” people united, but a leadership that will stimulate them to be self-reliant, independent, confident, self-respecting, creative, hardworking and with these values lead them to build a better Liberia.
Mr. Acting Chairman, members of the leadership of the All Liberia Party, it is against this background that I find the theme of your Convention “Redefining National Leadership for Liberia’s Transformation” a very meaningful and appropriate theme for this period in our national history.
This theme is saying that the current definition of national leadership, or the definition of national leadership that we have accepted in this country, cannot lead to the transformation of Liberia. Therefore, in order to transform Liberia, National Leadership must be defined in a different way. In other words, if National Leadership continues to mean the same as it has always been, then Liberia will not transform. My understanding of the old definition of leadership is lack of love of country; lack of respect for a majority of the citizens; promoting divide and rule; lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law; ignoring the suffering of the people; failing to provide shelter, food, education, good health, electricity, water and sanitation; failing to provide telecommunication services for a majority of the people; seeking the happiness and welfare of a select few; being a master and not a servant; being arrogant; being dishonest to the people; being unsympathetic and insensitive to massive human sufferings; being dictatorial and autocratic in decision-making; being persistently inconsistent; promoting selective justice; demonstrating greed for money and being corrupt; amongst other things. Certainly, a definition of leadership that encompasses such negative values can only transform Liberia into a perpetually poor and backward country, finding its place at the bottom of every international index.
How should we redefine national leadership for the transformation of Liberia into a better country? The new definition of leadership must include the opposite of all the characteristics of bad leadership that I just named a few minutes ago.
In finding a new definition of national leadership in Liberia that is capable of transforming Liberia into a better country, we must consider, above everything, being humble and showing respect for the people; maintaining consistency between what is said and what is done; demonstrating respect for the rule of law and human rights; demonstrating love of country in every action; providing equal access to opportunities provided by the state; promoting collective interest over self-interest; promoting the collective security of the people over the security of a few and demonstrating commitment to seeking the happiness and welfare of the people on a fair and equal basis.
The next question is can such a leader be found in Liberia. My answer is a resounding yes. I am an eternal optimist. I believe in my country and have great respect for the judgment of my fellow Liberians. If we want a leader that can transform this country, we can find one. The way to begin is to look at the track records of those who have put themselves forward for national leadership and not to look at what those persons are capable of offering as gifts to voters. I call those who do good only during election period as election time humanitarians. Because they invest so much money in the political process, I also describe them as political investors.
If we want Liberia to be transformed, then we should not vote for election time humanitarians. Yes, we must do everything to prevent political investors from winning any electoral post in the 2017 election. One reason for my advocacy against the election of political investors is that the basic motivation for investment in any business is to earn profit on what is invested. If we elect to office people who are political investors, we should be aware that when they get to office, they will do everything to earn profit on what they have invested. This means that they will use their offices to convert public funds and resources to their private property. Let us ask for the plans that candidates have for us and not what they have for us to eat or put in our pockets.
One way for a political party to avoid the election of a leader who is not capable for transforming Liberia is to promote internal democracy. Through the process of internal party competition for leadership, the partisans get to know the leaders who have the qualities required for the transformation of Liberia into a better country. I urge members of the ALP to promote internal democracy. Open every position in your party, including the position of standard-bearer-ship for competition.
Open competition for electoral offices in your party will make your party strong. I urge you to rely on the student political parties at the University of Liberia, especially SIM, STUDA and SUP. These student parties are older than most of the existing national parties. Their leaders will tell you that their parties are stronger than the national parties because they have remained free and open internal democracy. Any national party that wants to be a strong party must, as a matter of priority, learn from these student political parties. I am giving you this advice because, I strongly believe that no party can produce a presidential candidate with the ability to transform Liberia for the better, if it does redefine the process of producing party leaders.
Any party that produces party leaders, including its standard-bearer by the process of “So say one, so say all” cannot produce a leader that can transform Liberia for the better. So, I urge you to muster the courage to redefine the process of producing party leaders, if by making the process free, open and transparent, if you want anyone to take you seriously as a party that wants to redefine national leadership for the transformation of Liberia.
I thank you.