Capitol Formation, Asset Relocation And Challenge of Nation Building

By Francis W. Nyepon & Mohammed S. Kromah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 12, 2002

If conventional wisdom was etched in stone, the place of an individual in effecting change in society would be insignificant compared to the prevailing view, that economic and political change must occur through an institutional process, through governments and its established institutions. But because such wisdom does not define destiny, it has been proven over and over again, that individuals single-handedly or collectively, have the capacity to influence change and bring meaningful improvement in their economic well-being outside the realm of government. Martin Luther King, Jr., this great civil rights leader and Nobel laureate, put it succinctly when he stated: "I refuse to accept the idea that an individual is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, and unable to influence the unfolding events, which surrounds him."

The good fortune that brought Liberians to the United States gives them a special responsibility to influence events that are unfolding in Liberia.

What are the events that demand their influence? Liberians have gathered through out the world by force or by sheer will in these auspicious times from their country after a two decades or more of violent change in governments amidst civil strife and social unrest.

Today, Liberia is eclipsed by an unexpected peril: The economy is in ruins and near collapse; humanitarian crises have reached catastrophic proportions; a state of national security is engulfed in lawlessness; a culture of lack of respect for rule of law and human rights permeates; and the social and cultural fabric of nationhood is torn apart. This is the state of Liberia today, “Our Land of Liberty”. This condition is not just a peril of war, dictatorship, and underdevelopment. Liberians are faced with a peril of self-destruction, and individually and collectively we have succumbed to an inept and corrupt leadership incapable of providing the most basic services to its citizens.

In 1997, the special internationally monitored elections were concluded to be free and fair, and thus established constitutional democracy. But five years after this historic event, the democratic process has capitulated to tyrannical rule. The world has fast come to the realization of how reckless and shortsighted Liberians acted in 1997 to choose a man of violence to lead them out of violence. The participation of warlords in the democratic process was not a thoughtful and long-term solution for the emergence of multiparty politics and citizens-driven participatory democracy.

The warlord elected president in 1997 promised the world that Liberia would soon become the beacon of humanity on the horizon of the dawn of genuine democracy. On the eve of 2000, the imperial president again promised us that the window to political prosperity, economic equality, and social justice in Liberia would take shape in the first year of the 21st Century. This in effect suggested that the quest for Liberia’s place in the global village of civilization, information and trade would come full circle.

Instead, the world now knows that the election and leadership of President Charles Taylor unquestionably marked the darkest chapter in our country’s history, since its founding in 1822 and independence in 1847.

Wherever one travels around the world, from the most vibrant cities to the most remote villages, people of modest means appear to working hard, productive, and enterprising: They are farming, trading, selling goods, operating cottage industries, and even building and improving homes for their families. Some of them either own or are accumulating valuable life and physical assets, such as skills, tools, machinery, equipment, buildings, and livestock, among others. These are nation-builders, as long as they are earning a daily living by hard work and harnessing their human, material and financial assets.

But Here Is the Problem: No matter how hard they work, they are unable to raise capital against the assets they have accumulated to create additional wealth for self and investment in productive ventures. Their assets do not have life beyond their immediate use. Liberia is a prime example of this drag on asset allocation for capital and investment. These Assets Are Dead! They cannot be used to benefit their families, to grow businesses, or advance their lives. We will address the dead asset concept later.

For now, this paper will address Liberians residing in the United States who have routed their prosperity in the American dream. In America, Assets Have Two Dimensions:

1. You can live in them: When you own a home in America, this asset has a daily value as a place of shelter.

2. You can leverage them: To obtain capital. This capital can be used as an investment to unleash additional wealth.

A good illustration of this concept or case study is the Boston market (one of the authors have lived in Boston for more than twenty years).

Ten years ago, a single-family home in Boston cost between $140,000 to $160,000. Since then, property values in Boston have appreciated a great deal. Today, that same single-family home in Boston is worth an average of $260,000 to $280,000. By appreciating in value, this single-family asset generates about $120,000.00 in capital gains.

FACT 1: According to Fannie Mae, the principal federal mortgage (guarantee) lending institution in the United States:

a) Homeowners in the United States withdrew about eighty billion dollars in equity wealth from their homes in the 1990s. And with that wealth, they paid down their credit cards, purchased investment property, improved their homes, and consolidated their debt.

b) In addition, they had a lot of extra cash left over for personal activities. This allowed them to channel about fifty billion dollars backs into the American economy, which provided more economic stimulus during the last ten years.

To a Liberian political economist, this is ample room to wonder, just how many millions of dollars of that eighty billion belonged to Liberians residing in the United States? This should be very interesting to every Liberians residing in the U.S:

FACT 2: According to Western Union, remittance to Liberia in 2001 alone totaled some twenty five million dollars from Liberians in the U.S market alone. This amount does not include remittances from Liberians residing in Europe or remittance that were allocated to Liberians residing in the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ghana.

This must make Liberians everywhere ask three basic questions: If remittance to Liberia alone totaled some twenty five million dollars in 2001, as reported by Western Union, imagine how much more went through other sources, including travelers:

a) How much total remittance was sent to Liberians at home and in the refugee host countries mentioned above during the period, 1990 – 2002?

b) How much total remittance was sent during the war years (1990 – 1997)?

c) How much total remittance was sent during the presidency of Charles Taylor (1997 – 2002)?

The answers are anybody’s guess. But there are three additional questions and three lessons to be learned by Liberians:

1. What would happen to the prospect of each Liberian residing in the U.S privately provided 2% of his or her capital gain appreciation profit to Liberian NGOs to provide basic social services for Liberia?

2. What would happen if Liberians in the U.S combine their individual portion of that capital gain asset or Western Union remittance to a national fund or grassroots organization to reclaim their country from tyrannical rule and dictatorship?

3. How can Liberians residing in the U.S affect structural change in Liberia with this massive amount of assets capital and make it work to improve the daily lives of their fellow citizens and country?

Important Lessons:
Several lessons can be gleaned from this important economic resource information, which can be translated into positive action.

1. Liberians residing in the United States earn an average per capita income of $30,000.00 annually. This is the greatest amount of average income generated by Liberians anywhere in the world. But how come, then, that this capital remains dead and lay dormant, without proper and efficient exploitation to benefit the greater good of our Great Land of Liberty?

2. If the power of asset is Capital, and its potential value is Investment, then how come Liberians with the greatest per capita income in the world (those residing in the United States) have done absolutely nothing as a collective to effect change in Liberia for the past dozen years or more?

3. If structural change is to come in Liberia, then there must be a willingness to attempt a total social transformation of the Liberian polity. If this is true, then how come Liberians residing in the U.S are not engaged in a process to affect that change, especially if they are the most likely producers to in fact effect this change with efficiency and authority?

4. Liberians residing in the U.S are the most technical, professional, skilled and educated of Liberians throughout the world. They have the most disposable income and capital assets as a group to invest in the modernization of Liberia, and sustain its development. Then, how come, they are doing nothing about it and are allowing their country to become a criminal enterprise by a handful of self-centered individuals?

5. Why can’t Liberians residing in the U.S use an existing grassroots organization already engaged in removing this criminal enterprise from Liberia to demand change for complete social transformation, especially if all attempts at dialogue has failed?

6. Is there enough satisfaction among Liberians residing in the U.S to be labeled and judged as “guilty for doing nothing” to remedy the plight of their fellow brothers and sisters in Liberia?

7. If this is not the case, then, how come, they are not making use of their massive asset capital to bridge economic disparity and forge genuine participatory democracy in their Land of Liberty?

8. Could it be because, they all want to be ruler in Chief? Or is it because they believe that each of them know everything and must be crown king or queen before anyone else can take the leadership of Liberia to promote change?

Liberians everywhere agree that seven years of brutal civil war, and an additional five years of political decay and chronic economic dislocation, is too much of a burden for any group of people to continuously bear.

Currently, nothing seems to be working for Liberia and its people: The international community thinks of the country as a “criminal state enterprise”, “a rogue nation” and a “Pariah state”. The entire national leadership is frown upon as crocks, drug traffickers, terrorists and money launders by people throughout the world. The majority of Liberians see their leaders as ineffective and incapable of restructuring the economy, establishing genuine participatory multiparty democracy, and cultivating respect for rule of law and the fundamental rights of all citizens. In totality, the leaders of Liberia are viewed as self-centered, promoting a separate class system for their family and friends, and unable and incapable of providing the most basic services to they’re country and people.

The current Liberian leadership has betrayed the trust and confidence of Liberians everywhere: Liberians residing in the U.S have managed to escape the horror and destruction face by Liberians living in Liberia and in the refugee camps in neighboring countries. They reside in comfort and share in opportunities, unlike their brothers and sisters living in squalor in refugee camps or those who are internally displaced in Liberia and suffering from hunger and treatable diseases. They justify their inaction as a collective by providing for only their immediate families and friends, while forgetting that their country is not far removed from a catastrophic tragedy.

This inaction forces other Liberians to believe that Liberians in the U.S are not nation- builders. There is no movement forward as a collective; they are stalled as a people; they are blind to their national sense of brotherhood and sisterhood; and by their inaction, they are fast becoming robbed of their national dignity and respect.

A Strategy of Divide and Conquer
The Liberian leadership has violated our country’s Constitution repeatedly with impunity, and without recrimination or punishment for causing and perpetrating twelve years of brutality upon the people of Liberia.

And Liberians, especially those residing in the U.S. have allowed them to get away with this criminal behavior. The violent abuse of power and positions remain rampant, and there is no writing on the wall to curb such behavior and actions.

If one can afford to think realistically for a minute, one will acknowledge with great certainty that our national leadership is replete with selfish, self-serving and self-absorbed egotistical characters bent on personal financial gains and power.

Liberians can hail no single act or position of our national leadership anywhere as being in the best interest of our people and country. This leadership has produced absolutely nothing for the ordinary person or the man on the street for five years.

Liberians residing in the U.S must make every effort to persevere as a collective, if for no other reason than for their birthright, heritage and civilization. They must stand up and claim the moral high ground for their country and for those of their brothers and sisters they have left behind to keep watch over their precious Land of Liberty.

Liberians residing in the U.S must now say that the actions and behavior of their leaders are unacceptable and intolerable, for which they must be forced out of office by any means necessary.

There are several reasons to ponder and engage the future. It is not the still calm of life or the repose of a specific situation that form great characters. Therefore, Liberians must continue to search and keep asking themselves some simple and basic questions:

a) How long can fortunate Liberians continue to sit idol, do nothing and allow the brutality and criminalization of their country and people to continue?

b) What are fortunate Liberians prepared to do about the restoration of some sense of normalcy in their country?

c) What are fortunate Liberians prepared to do individually to promote genuine social transformation, multiparty democracy, respect for rule of law and fundamental freedoms in Liberia?

d) How do fortunate Liberians, as a collective, secure a better future for their children, their heritage and their civilization?

Engaging the Heart
Great necessities have befallen upon Liberia, our Land of Liberty. The habits of our vigorous minds, as a collective, must now be formed in contending with these difficulties. The time has come for every Liberian to call out for his or her greatest virtues. However, our collective mindset must now be raised together and animated by scenes that can engage our hearts. Those qualities, which would otherwise lay dormant, must now be wakening to life. We must bring out the best in ourselves, as we are natural- born statesmen or stateswomen.

We must allow ourselves to become conscientious by those who disciplined their intellect to find a new sense of nationalism in the common interest of all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, class and religion.

If we can do this, then we can learn a simple lesson from history and from those who have gone before us. If we can together agree that there is no such thing as, “a self-made man or woman”, then we can still agree as a collective that:

We are the beneficiary of those who have helped guide us, nudged us in different directions, encouraged and inspired us in different ways, then we can admit privately that we have a national responsibility, obligation and duty to save Liberia. For this simple reason, Liberians residing in the U.S must stand up, speak up and be counted upon to stop the abuse, crimes and injustice currently being perpetrated against the children of Liberia.

To Liberians residing in the U.S, the clarion call must become: How can we help? What can we do? Where do we send our contribution to affect change? and How can we get involved in changing the current direction and state of affairs in Liberia?

To Liberians residing in the U.S, if the clarion call for the Freedom March to Monrovia has begun in earnest, then let us journey together with those already on the move. We must embark on a new direction, and renew our faith in the reclamation of Liberia.

Conclusion: U.S. Base Assets can Generate Capital for Change in Liberia
Liberians in the U.S cannot expect their brothers and sisters living in squalor in refugee camps or those internally displaced in Liberia, to bring about change or significant social transformation aside from their physical availability to join the current March for Freedom in Liberia.

The fact remains that Liberian refugees and internally displaced persons are essentially socially and economically disadvantaged groups who do not have the kind of airtight system of Asset Acquisition and Protection to bring about significant social transformation to affect change in Liberia.

Liberians living outside of the Americas and Europe cannot prove ownership or show value for any assets they may have left behind in Liberia. Therefore, they cannot inject life into those assets to generate capital for significant social change in Liberia.

For unfortunate Liberians who lost their assets during the scourge of war and post-war bad governance, the current system of government and justice does not guarantee them legal rights to recover what they have lost or protect the assets they have recovered. Hence, they cannot borrow against such assets because they do not have any value, or have not been insured against loss or protected from the courts.

Therefore, Asset Recognition in the context of this document does not exist for Liberians outside of the United States and Europe even if they wanted to employ them.

The concluding point here is that Liberians in the United States have a moral obligation to remake Liberia into a democratic and developed nation, now and not later. There are two pathways to our national salvation:

a) We can either contribute to the March for Freedom already begun in earnest in Liberia to secure our homeland for life after the United States, or

b) We can invest in the social and economic development of Liberia, which will cultivate opportunities to ensure that our society will not lapsed into anarchy or tyranny anymore.

Which way forward is not the issue, as both paths have a common junction or crossroad: There is no nobler calling than to give a small portion of your asset to Nation Building or Reclamation of our Civilization.

Remember always, “We Shall Over All Prevail.”

Francis W. Nyepon & Mohammed S. Kromah, serve as chair and vice chair of the Liberian Freedom Alliance, an advocacy group that campaigns for democracy in Liberia.

© The Perspective
P.O. Box 450493
Atlanta, GA 31145