Are We Really Friends of America?

By Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

The Inquirer
Monrovia, Liberia

Distributed by

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted July 3, 2004

As a child growing up in the Borough of Kru Town, I was fond of playing with younger kids(pekins). One day, one of such pekins accompanied me to my grandmother’s home, arriving there I introduced him as my “friend.” My grandmother who was always beaming with smiles whenever I visited her, this time around, gave me an unusual one. Being inquisitive, I demanded to know why her physiognomy had changed. Frankly, I was scared, for I thought the introduction I had made might have offended Grand Ma..... But as she looked at me and my “friend,” she simply said to me, “this child is not your friend.” And went on, “you may admire him, but in the true meaning of ‘friendship’, he is not your friend.”

What she had just told me set my mind wondering, and so being curious to know more, I posed some questions to the Granny regarding the issue of friendship. In her wisdom, she told me, “a friend is someone who one gains from and who also reciprocally gains from him too.” In other words, she said, “you learn from your friend and your friend learns from you.” She then asked me, “what will you learn from this baby?” I became perplexed and said to her, “I just like the child.” She then said, “this does not mean he is your friend, you only admire him as a child.” As we concluded the issue, she lastly said to me, “I hope you’ve gotten the message.”

Since that conversation with my grandmother, whenever people refer to others as their friends, and countries refer to other countries as friends, I get reminded of what she told me several years ago. As I grew up over the years, I began to realize that friendship indeed means “mutual interests.” No matter where this exists, both persons alternately benefit in the relations.

Since my childhood days in New Kru Town to present, I continue to hear Liberians referring to the United States as a friend of Liberia. Sometimes, the relationship is politically put as "traditional friends." Whatever relationship between the two countries, it has existed for many years. However, my concern is, what have we as a people and nation learned from the United States, which is a developed country?

Beside the political relationship subsisting between the two countries, Liberia and the United States are tied by consanguinity. That is, through intermarriages and the extended family system, the relationship has become too close. In addition, affiliations among institutions in both countries have brought the peoples closer.

At the same time, if one were to do an analysis of educated people in Liberia, it would not be strange to note that most Liberians with higher degrees, obtained such from schools they attended in the United States. Consequently, many Liberians have very close ties with former schoolmates or classmates. But my only problem with the friendship between Liberia and the United States is that, Liberians have not really shown that they are true friends of America. What do I mean? We have failed to bring all of the good things and systems which have made America great to this our ‘land of liberty.’ All we do is to only brag about the greatness of America. Why have we not brought some of that greatness to develop our country from backwaters to prosperity.

What’s My Qualm?
Frankly, as I stated above, my qualm with this friendship is that we have over the years failed to transplant those good things which exist in the United States, for which that country is developed. Unlike the Americans, nationalism and patriotism is lacking in us. We have put individual interest above national interest. One thing I have observed about the people of the United States even before I visited that country two times, is that they are nationalistic.Unlike us, they always put their country first in whatever they do. I am not suggesting that there are no deviants.

Obviously, in every human society, there will always be bad apples. Nevertheless, on the aggregate, Americans are nationalistic. They love their country. It is America that matters; they are prepared to do anything for America. How then, do we refer to America as our friends if we do not love our country but ourselves?. We are too self-centered. When we are given national leadership, we think about ourselves and not the people.We see ourselves as rulers and leaders, and therefore suppress our people. Our actions even cause some of our people to run and live in self-imposed exiles.

Naturally, we are blessed with a country endowed with enormous resources, yet, we are still lagging behind several countries that just gained their independence, because of our lack of vision and our national leaders not getting our priorities right. Besides, vice tendencies like greed, corruption and bad governance have immensely contributed to this backwardness.

What sometimes hurt me is that, some miscreants and nonentities who find their way into the corridors of power, have nothing but to tongue-lash the United States for its help to Liberia. How long will America keep on to “spoon feed” us? What can’t we follow the good programs and policies of our friend - the United States- to develop our country.

As stated earlier, like in any given society, there would always be deviants. This is why institutions are set up to tackle such issues. In Liberia, we have similar institutions, but we have allowed them to become the personal properties of national leaders, thus undermining the intent and purpose of those institutions. As a result, impunity has become the order of the day. We have created the impression that certain people, many of whom are flunkies, are above the law. And so they go on doing things contrary to the law and good virtues.

During one of my visits to New York, I met human rights activist Kofi Woods, an old friend in New Kru Town. We decided to visit some friends in Staten Island. And so we decided to use the ferry to get there. He and I were among the first group of about 25 persons to arrive. In a twinkle of an eye, the number swelled. I got concerned and told him that we should get closer to avoid being caught in a rush. Smiling, he said to me, “just wait, as soon as the time of departure comes, things will be done orderly, there will be no shoving or pushing.” Truly, as Kofi had said, when it was time, orderliness was the order of the day. I then soliloquized and said, when will this happen in Liberia? Here, to get orderliness is a problem with most of our people, especially the so-called “big boys” Additionally, we enforce the laws for certain people. Some people do not even pay real estate taxes. Jokingly, I said to someone one-day that one of the reasons why people build fabulous houses is because they do not pay taxes for them, else, they would be mindful of the kind of structures since they know they have to pay taxes.

Over the years, we have failed to realize that this country is blessed. Sometimes, Liberians say, “there is nothing in the country.” But the foreigners, some of whom at times refused to be labeled foreigners, always remark in the opposite. For me, I always feel that there is something in Liberia. What I have noticed over the years is that most of us only rely on government jobs. Don’t ask me why? Most of us, despite what we have seen in America, lack the innovation and ingenuity to venture into the private sector.

Besides nationalism, one other thing I admire about the Americans is their deep respect for history. As a result, they have built structures and institutions to memorialize some of their fallen compatriots. Don’t ask me what is the status of the historical Providence Island (the place the freed slaves landed when they came to Liberia) and the living dead National Museum on Broad Street. Why can’t we develop these structures or institutions, like we saw in the United States? Like I said earlier, we have the institutions which but only bear the name and not the functions. For example, we have a Tourism Department in government. But do we have a tourism program? Something which is income-generating? The answer is anybody’s guess.

Even the old Providence Baptist Church where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1847, is a very good historic site. It can become a good museum, where the scenery of the signing of the document could be created. Those who visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, know what I am talking about. Entering that museum will give a mental picture that indeed Martin is still alive.

The challenge to Liberians as Friends of Americans
To conclude, since we consider America as our good friend, let us emulate their good examples. Let us elect leaders for what they are and not for a bag of rice; let’s put out country’s interest above all other things; let us avoid driving our compatriots away, even if they are critical of us or disagree with us on national issues; let us utilize the resources for the benefit of all and not a few undeserving elites; as officials of government, if we are riding flashy cars, let the common people be provided modern public transport system. let us review our land policy for possible reform. I may be wrong, but Monrovia is the only city I have seen with undeveloped land in the center of the place. Something needs to be done about those "1818 deeds." This is also crucial for investment.

As we celebrate with our friends, the United States on their natal day, let us resolve as a people and nation never again to resort to violence; never again should elections of national leaders be one based on high bidder; never again, should rubber-stamped legislature be allowed. Lastly, in whatever we do, let us put Liberia first, let us see one another as Liberians and not as member of any tribal group. Let us shun tribalism or nepotism. Let see each other as one people- indeed as LIBERIANS. HAPPY NATAL DAY, America.

© 2004: This article is copyrighted by The Inquirer newspaper (Monrovia, Liberia) and distributed by The Perspective (Atlanta, Georgia). All rights reserved.