EDITORIAL – Let Bicentennial Celebration Fertilize Better US-Liberia Relations

FOR THE FIRST time in its history—some argue it was held sometime in the 1930s—Liberia is celebrating in grand style its founding history as a nation state. This piece of land on the West African coast, then called the Grains Coast or the Pepper Coast by European explorers, was a habitat of splinter indigenous serfdoms and human wanderers until a group of Africans who arrived on it 200 years ago started the arduous process of forming a republic and a modern government.

THE REFERENCED TWO-HUNDRED-year period points to January 7, 1822 when freed African slaves, who voluntarily boarded a ship called Elizabeth, some call it Liberia Mayflower, arrived on an island edging on the Atlantic Coast. The arrivers named it Providence Island. It is those few dozens of ex-slaves and their American benefactors who negotiated with native owners of the land that worked to form what is today called the Republic of Liberia.

THREE GROUPS OF people cannot be divorced from or denied the credit or discredit in forming present-day Liberia and all that followed since. They are the new arrivers, the natives and the American benefactors who allowed and funded, for whatever reason, the ex-slaves and other Africans being taken into slavery, to settle on these shores of West Africa. They all are stakeholders in the formation of the Republic of Liberia, for if either had not mustered the courage to play their respective part, there would be nothing called the Republic of Liberia today.

Indeed, celebrating the 200 years whence the nation was founded and has evolved is not only a necessary undertaking to reflect on the divine merger that give birth to the Republic; it also provides an opportunity to reflect on the strides and failures of the three aforementioned stakeholders or their progenies and how to ensure that this Lone Star of Africa—the first Republic on the Dark Continent of Africa—stands out enviably in the comity of nation as a cherished pride of those who fought and died, and are still struggling, to uphold and defend as a Republic.

EVEN THE MOST illiterate of citizen in this country knows that Liberia’s age—200 years of existence—does not commensurate with the transformation of human conditions within its borders. There are those who think that countries or nations founded long after Liberia’s founding are far more developed—their citizens do have far better education, improved healthcare, longer lifespan and lower poverty rate than a country that is 200 years old.

IT IS TRUE that Liberia has played a “Pan-Africanist leadership role”, crusading for the liberation of African countries from colonial role. It is true that Liberia is a “Land of Return”, serving as an oasis of freedom and oppressed people. It is true that Liberia instituted the formation of the OAU, AU, ECOWAS and MRU, amongst others. Yes, those are memorable achievements that should not be dismissed. Those are very important milestones to celebrate.

BUT, AS WE celebrate, let’s know that we could have also celebrated more momentous milestones after two centuries. Some of the questions to ask ourselves, as we celebrate this yearlong event, are these: why are we not celebrating the lowest possible mortality and literacy rate? Why are we not celebrating all-paved community-to-community and county-to-county roads and highways? Why are we not celebrating Liberia as Africa’s choice of healthcare destination? Why are we not celebrating Africa’s top universities in Liberia? Why are we not celebrating Liberia as having Africa’s most coveted Gross Domestic Product or Gross Per Capital Income? Why are we not celebrating these and other human transformational achievements after 200 years?

THE WORLD’S MOST prosperous nation, the United States of America, must be asking why a country birthed from its economic and political largess far on these West African shores is hungering for peanuts and merely existing like an orphan? The US must ask itself why are former colonies of European powers that it outclasses in terms of resources are far better than a country, Liberia, that the US funded into existence? Why has the US allowed the child of its womb to look sorrowful and pitiful not just in infrastructure development but also in human development? Why?

Liberians, both the indigenous and settlers, also do have to ask themselves why they allowed their country drift so badly behind younger and naturally comparatively less-richer countries?

CERTAINLY, THERE ARE some pundits who may argue that the question belongs to political leaders who have had direct say and control over how the harvest and distribution of the country’s natural wealth is carried out. We partly agree. We agree that Liberia’s leaders, as seen since independence, take much of the responsibility for the poor state of the country and its people. They have had jamborees over the national cake at the exclusion of the vast majority of the people. Corruption has been their signature; and exclusion their batch and subjugation their staff. They have been without vision—vision that sees the transformation of the entire country and people as a pressing responsibility.

BUT IT MUST be said too that the citizens have not been asking themselves the vexing questions: Where is our sense of labor to toil the soil and reap from the land of our own? Why have we allowed foreigners to toil, labor and sweat that they are the ones raking and enjoying this “Sweet Land of Liberty”? Where is our wisdom? Where is our ingenuity?

IF THERE IS no better time for the United States, which spearheaded the formation of the nation state 200 years ago, and the people who have lived here throughout that period to reflect on those questions, the time is now. It should be at the ongoing celebration of 200 years of existence.

BOTH THE UNITED STATES and the people must confess that this is not the country that they had envisaged 200 years ago. They must have envisaged, indeed, a Sweet Land of Liberia, where human conditions are comparatively pleasant and livable.

NOW THAT THE locusts have eaten much of the last two hundred years, it is time to take counsel on the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who is behind in a race must forever remain behind or run faster than the one in front.”

TO PUT IT BLUNTLY, America should be ashamed that Liberia looks the way it looks after forming it 200 years ago. The ruling establishment must be more ashamed conducting independent governmental business in the filth called Liberia. The citizenry must buckle up to get up from their stupor of lethargy and from the wrong concept that “it is government’s responsibility to do everything.”

SO IF THERE is any better gain from the celebration of the Bicentennial, it should be a renewed collaboration, unity and commonality of purpose between Liberia and the United States in lifting this country out of 200 years of socioeconomic dungeon to the high plains of prosperity. Instead of the theme being, “Celebrating 200 Years of Pan-African Leadership”, it should actually be “Strategizing to Lift Liberia from 200 years of Socioeconomic Dungeon—the Role of US and Liberia”.

INDEED, THE MOST prosperous nation on Planet Earth can do it for Liberia, and Liberian themselves can also do it for themselves. More so, the combined efforts of both the US and Liberia can achieve a better Liberia in a few years after 200 years.

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