We Need To Build A New Society And Renew Our National Spirit, Says Charles Brumskine

(A Speech Delivered by Cllr Charles W. Brumskine at the installation of officers of Liberian Association of Southwest United States (COLOSUS) on November 9 in Dallas, TX )

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 19, 2002

Madam Secretary General
Officers & Members of COLOSUS
Distinguished Guests, Fellow Liberians,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine
I am honored by your invitation to serve as the Guest Speaker for the inaugural program of the Conference for Liberian Organizations in the Southwest United States (COLOSUS). Although the invitation was extended a bit late, I indicated to Wede, our sister and friend of many years, that Estelle and I would be glad to help out.

As a Christian, it is rather pleasing to note that the theme of your new administration: "To Give Back The Years The Locusts Have Eaten - A New Beginning", is of Biblical origin. It was the Prophet Joel who proclaimed the words of the Lord to the Jewish people of his days. The words of the Lord were, "I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you."

What a beautiful Prophesy for us, Liberians, to claim! We are a displaced people, dispossessed of our homeland, we have destroyed that which we did not build, we are consuming the legacy of posterity, "that which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten." Liberians are now looking with great expectation from the Lord to fulfill that promise to us.

But we should be reminded of a condition precedent to the fulfillment of that Prophesy: "...rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God..." In the days of the Prophet Joel, the customary way a Jew showed his grief was to tear his outer garment. But this external sign could be meaningless. The tearing of the outer garment is useless, unless the heart is broken in repentance and contrition. So as we plead for the Lord to restore the years that the Locust have eaten, the big question is, are we prepared to make the real, and not simply cosmetic, changes that will bring about the renewal of our country?

Let us not give the impression that the locust came on the Liberian scene only in the last five years, the last thirteen years, the last twenty-two years, or the last thirty-one years; the locust have been around for a while. We have had the swarming locust, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust. There were Liberia’s pre-dawn years when brothers war against brothers and sold each other children into slavery. Then there was the time of the dream that gave birth to a country called Liberia that was supposed to be a haven for all black people, where individuals would enjoy equal protection under the rule of law, with the benefit of liberty and justice for all. Regrettably, the dream was never realized. So out of that came the era of hope, but the euphoria was short-lived, and hope eluded us. We now find ourselves in the age of violence, where might makes right, brothers warring against brothers, and some of their children, who can make the escape, forced into yet one form of slavery or another. We seem to have return to where we were two hundred years ago.

We need to build a new society and renew our national spirit. It is crucial for the next government to address poverty, social exclusion, unemployment, lack of education, the sense of hopelessness, among others things, that has become the breeding ground for the type of violence that has destroyed our country and caused so much suffering among our people. The real change that Liberia needs may begin with sound public policies, but will depend on the character and resolve of the people to rid us of the locust that lies within.

A good government must ensure that Liberians, and those within our borders, enjoy all of the freedoms, as guaranteed by the Constitution. For example, freedom of speech and expression should never be compromised. We have learned over the years, as has been proven in these United States, that it is only when we allow a Free Market Place of Ideas that the good ideas rise above the bad. But the issue will always be, whether our freedom should be used to unite or divide, to build or destroy, to extol or to condemn, to say the truth or to lie? Our Constitution allows us the pursuit of happiness, but should our state of happiness be attained at the expense, and to the detriment, of other Liberians? These are ultimately moral questions, for which we will find the Constitution and laws inadequate in guiding our choices.

Addressing such questions requires integrity. Integrity brings about consistency between what we say and what we do. It makes one stop and ask whether the course of action he or she is about to pursue not only satisfies one’s personal agenda, but whether it also advances the welfare of the community.

We are too weak to own up to our own shortcomings; we strive to reach the top by pulling others down. It is never about what we did to positively impact our country; it is always an unwholesome allegation about another person. But yet, we expect Liberia to be a better place. We tend to forget that our country is an aggregation of ourselves, and our society a reflection of our character and our integrity

Our country is one of cultural richness, because of the various ethnic and religious groups that make up Liberia. We must harness our diversity into a spirit of nationalism. No more in the life of our country should a person’s religion or ethnic background cause him or her to be considered less a Liberian than any other.

We must, therefore, ensure that every Liberian, or person within our borders, is allowed the freedom to worship God in his own way. Whether the person is a Christian, Moslem, or some other religion, all must be free to practice their beliefs and faith. As we recognize our diversity, we must understand that it has to be regarded as a source of our strength, and not a cause for our division.

We must build a society where our people are free from want. Our education system must be overhauled. Our policies must improve the structure, the instructional content, and the management of the system. We will have to address issues such as:

i. Expanding access to accommodate all school age children;

ii. Enhancing learning achievement by focusing on those factors that affect learning;

iii. Reducing gaps in enrollment, retention and achievement between the rich and poor, boys and girls, among counties, urban and rural schools;

iv. Strengthening management and institutional capabilities to improve organizational structures, and institutional capacities.

As a philosophy of health, we must embrace a broader definition with a shift away from the medical model of health that targets intervention at the individual clinical level. This will cause a focus of government programs on the true causes of ill health such as poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and poor drinking water, among others. Our approach will result in a global as well as an individual outcome. Healthcare, on the other hand, will entail a role for health services in restoring the functioning of an unhealthy body. It is closely associated with the medical model of health. We must subscribe to the slogan, "Health by the People", as coined by Newell. It reflects the idea that improvement in health requires the involvement of communities as an active participant, rather than as a passive recipient of health services. This approach will empower our communities as determiners of their health care and ensure the appropriateness of the type and level of care.

We must not only promote economic recovery, but also ensure that benefits of the new economy are shared by all. Tenants of a New Liberian Economy must include transparency in the public sector, transparency in the private sector, resolution of Liberia’s external and domestic sovereign debt, poverty reduction, establishment of a national savings and investment fund, creation of a domestic capital market, dealing with problems associated with waste management and environment degradation. We should consider making Liberia an international free zone with unrestricted capital flows. We must seek to privatize state owned enterprises. We should ensure stable monetary and fiscal policies, and an independent central bank.

We will have to adopt specific strategies to de-emphasize the extractive industries, and invest in our people. With about seventy per cent of our people still relying on subsistence farming, before they were displaced by war, we will have to implement policies that will ensure the transformation of the rural sector of our economy, and change the lives of our people in a very productive way. It is no longer sufficient to simply talk of farm to market roads, compelling every farmer to be a sales person, whether he or she has the ability or even the desire to market the products that he or she has grown. We must encourage agricultural cooperatives, ensuring our farmers not only enjoy the economy of scale, but also benefit from the division of labor.

Government must also create the environment and provide the incentives for the establishment of rural financial institutions, an essential element in transforming our rural economy. These financial institutions will serve as depositaries for farmers - the new comers into the monetary economy - will also serve as depositaries for other rural dwellers, especially those engage in the production of cash crops, who have heretofore kept their money in banks in Monrovia. Capital formation in the rural sector of the economy will facilitate the expansion of trade and commerce in the rural sector, by rural dwellers.

But the cornerstone of the New Liberia must be freedom from fear. We believe in firm, but fair law and order, the openness of government, the respect for human rights and the rule of law. Freedom from fear is more than the absence of war. It would require that our national police and other enforcers of domestic security be well trained to enforce our laws while at the same time respecting civil liberties and human rights of our citizens. Law and Order must be the bedrock of any national development plan, so that there will never again be a “scary little boy” in Liberia, because everyone security will be determined by the rule of law and not the goodwill of the President or his surrogates.

In the final analysis, however, it comes down to caring, love for your fellow man, especially those that we find different from ourselves, whether such difference exists because of religion, ethnic background, or economic status. But this is something one is not taught in the classroom. I was fortunate to see and live it. I watched a man, also a lawyer and a Preacher, not only befriend Moslems, atheist, and Christians alike, but who also defended the rights of the indigents, whether they were accused of a criminal offense or simply needed to secure a right. In those days we did not know of human rights lawyers, so he was simply referred to by the people of Bassa as the "Poor Man's Lawyer."

I learn to love and to care from my father. So, I too pray the Lord, to give us back the years the locusts have eaten, and bless Liberia with a new beginning.

I thank you.

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