Our Message to Bicentennial Celebrators

THE CELEBRATION OF Liberia’s 200th Founding Anniversary is both a cleverly thoughtful idea and a historically complicated endeavor such that it requires sober reflection, as citizens and non-citizens alike, kickoff the yearlong event at the Providence Island on January 7. We think it is a cleverly thoughtful idea because Marcus Garvey is right: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” And as Michael Crichton adds: “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” Indeed, the Bicentennial Anniversary gives us a sense of belong to what is now Liberia, and it refreshes our pride as not only Africa’s first republic but also as a crusader of freedom, liberty and independence.

BUT WE ALSO think it is a historically complicated endeavor, in so far as the speeches and media stunt on the Bicentennial depict. The history of the founding of Liberia is complicated because in part it concerns heterogeneous forces—the “uncivilized” aborigines or natives on the one hand and the “exposed” ex-slave settlers and their colonial funders on the other. In so far as the public relations stunt of the celebrations portrays, it seems more likely from the eye of an independent observer that the event is more or less about paying homage and extol the returnees.

TAKE A LOOK at the overly sung prefix of the theme: “The Land of Return”. Such a motto automatically isolates those who did not really return on January 7, 1822 and after. It gives the impression that the celebration is more or exclusively about those who returned, and not about those who were met here on that date. The question critical pundits are asking is this: What’s about “native Liberians” also being celebrated?

THESE CONCERNS ARE not meant to inject an aura of division and hate in the Bicentennial that is intended to unite Liberia and promote the peace of the country. It is rather to ensure that we don’t celebrate a novel idea on false and parochial foundation. Agreeing without admitting that Liberia’s history began in 1822, it is not true that the land called Liberia now was void and without inhabitants at about that time. In fact, establishing a foothold on the land by the returnees was a subject of negotiation which was arguably mutually acceptable. Thus, celebrating the role of one group over another is totally self-defeating for the purpose of this important occasion.

OTHERWISE, WE WELCOME the celebration and hope that all Liberians, no matter their social, ancestral, political and cultural background, will be factored into every aspect of the Bicentennial Anniversary Celebrations. As this is the first time since 200 years we are recognizing this momentous history, it is expected that every citizen will feel a sense of belonging or would be disarmed of misgivings, cynicisms and biases that would prevent or undermine a successful celebration.

WHILE WE MAY not be fully abreast of the calendar of key events that will take place during the year, we are tempted to suggest one important thing if it is not already captured: All Liberian Conference that will bring to the Nation’s Capital the various social cleavages—youth, elders, women, civil society, government officials—from across the country even if it were to only provide the platform of extracting pledges and commitments from Liberians for greater unity, peace and development.

A BICENTENNIAL NATIONAL Conference will erase the impression in some quarters that the event is all about government officials or for Monrovia alone. By all 15 counties sending in delegates coming from all county districts or just statutory districts – citizens coming out with and delivering their own solidarity statements for the sustenance of national peace and unity, the B200year observance will assume a national or people-centered character. All the citizens will develop a sense of belonging and ownership of the celebration and by extension to the nation state.

All Liberians must take pride in the history being celebrated. Natives, whose territory was invaded and who, out of an extreme sense of humility and magnanimity—caved in to allow fellow Africans get a resting place from servitude they had ensured for four hundred years in the hands of the white man—must be celebrated. At the same time, the settlers who, out of the clear blue sky, in search of freedom and liberty, braved the storm, mustered the courage, not only to break the chains of foreign humiliation and sailed the perilous Atlantic Ocean but also stepped foot in the land of unsuspecting strangers, built settlements and lighted the first torch of liberty on a vast dark continent must be celebrated.

LET’S MAKE THIS event a national event, not just for the ruling establishment but also for all, including those in opposition and those who are politically independent. It is only when this is done that outsiders, whom we are wooing to visit and invest in this country and become part of us can be assured that Liberia is truly an oasis of liberty, peace, unity and development.

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