Liberia and the Continued "Politics of Exclusion"...
By Roderick Nyennatee Lewis
August 19, 2002
As Liberia emerges from a protracted civil conflict and turns its efforts to electing a genuinely democratic government, it is paramount that we pay homage to our ancestors who inhabited the shores and plateaus of this land and established the first form of government long before 1822.
Contrary to the many historical accounts, which tend to white out or belittle their contribution to Liberia's founding, they, our ancestors, were also pioneers of the Liberian nation.
Like a beacon of hope or a "statue of liberty", our ancestors must have cried out to the nations of the world, "send us your tired, hungry and oppressed masses...and we shall give them refuge and hope and restore their dignity".
Some one thousand years ago, African families from north and central Africa- fleeing religious persecution and political repression and heeding the calls of our ancestors - arrived in the present area of Liberia.
Eight hundred years later, they were joined by African-Americans, fleeing slavery and discrimination in search of freedom and nationhood. This reunion led to the founding of the Republic of Liberia.
While Liberia's Declaration of Independence saved Liberia from external colonial rule, Liberia suffered internally from the institutionalized "politics of exclusion" practiced by a succession of minority governments.
Political control and centralized planning led to the construction of prestigious projects and major infrastructural development in Liberia's capital city, Monrovia, while the rest of the country remain underdeveloped, thereby leading to an enormous pull effect on the rural inhabitant to Monrovia.
Students left their villages in search of "better health care and employment." Monrovia's limited housing stock forced many migrants to move into overcrowded shanties like West Point, South Beach, Buzzi Quarters, etc. where they shared rooms with relatives and friends.
In order for a typical family of four to survive, all members had to work. The father may have gotten a job as a night watchman at an expatriate store, the mother sold groceries at an overcrowded market, while the children sold cold water and cool-aid during the mornings and went to school in the afternoon.
Sometimes as things became rough, the kids had to quit school and work full time at a car wash and even sell their precious bodies to make ends meet. Vagrancy, petty larceny, and prostitution became the common vices among youths, while politicians remained insensitive to the problems facing the nation.
It may have been expedient for politicians to maintain their grip on power through the "politics of exclusion" but it is morally wrong, socially destructive, economically insane and politically suicidal. Liberia's rice riots of the seventies, the military coup d'etat and attempted coups of the eighties, the civil conflict of the nineties and the current crises are a direct result of this policy. Liberia remains divided and not at peace with itself because it continues to operate on less than 25% of its human resource potential.
Take a look into the eyes of that child on the back of its mother at a market stall in Duala, and you would see a Liberian precious jewel yearning to be in a daycare facility, while it mother earns a living selling groceries.
Take a look at the hand of that boy or girl selling cold water or cool-aid on the side walks and you would see a future Liberian leader yearning to be in a school with adequate library and science laboratory facilities to prepare him for a more responsible future.
Take a look at Liberian ladies selling fruits and vegetables on the side walks before expatriate supermarkets, and you would see Liberian entrepreneurs yearning for a government underwritten franchise to catapult them from the rainy sidewalks into a supermarket owned and operated by them.
Take a look at the hand of Liberians in search for scrap metal to smelt and form into utensils and your would see the signs of industrialists yearning for a space in a vocational school.
Take a look at the muscular statue of a fisherman in a dugout canoe, braving the waves of the Atlantic ocean, fishing for barracudas and cavallas, and you would see a Liberian yearning for a government underwritten loan to purchase a motor boat to ensure a bigger catch and more capital for investing in his own cold-storage facilities.
Yes indeed, we have the potential of transforming Liberia into a highly skilled and developed society if we replaced the "politics of exclusion" with the "politics of inclusion".
It is against this back ground that we have founded the Free Democratic Party, a party dedicated to Liberia with a new breed of leadership, with "new wine in new bottles" where self-aggrandizement gives way to national development.
We pledge to lift Liberia from poverty by streamlining government. We believe in building; not wrecking. We believe in bridging our differences; not deepening them.
We pledge to decentralize government and economic development through the creation of eighteen semi-autonomous political subdivisions, to be called "regions", where local leaders are not appointed by the central government but rather elected by the residents of the respective regions.
We pledge a Liberia where Liberians shall no longer stand on the side lines and watch but rather actively participate in Liberia's economic activities.
Finally, please listen to these condescending remarks constantly made by expatriate merchants in Monrovia. They say that their businesses are in Liberia, their bank accounts are in London, and their hearts are in Lebanon or India.
We pledge to you a new Liberia in which economically empowered Liberian businessmen and women shall exclaim:
"Our businesses are in Liberia, our bank accounts are in Liberia, and our hearts are in Liberia."
Would you join us in this noble endeavor!