MONROVIA: Towards very crucial national elections this October, peace advocates and other well-meaning citizens are concerned about post-election life—whether Liberia will entrench its democratic credential or drift back to the days of carnage and conflict. The youngest Flag Day orator in Liberia’s history, who spoke to the nation Thursday, August 24, 2023, joined many other voices to woo Liberians cherish the hard-earned peace that is prevailing in the country during and after the elections. With 16 tribal groups and scores of contestants and dozens of political parties, the potential for division in the face of the apparent political diversities is clearly too high, but the young Flag Day Orator is passionately calling on Liberians to see such diversities as a source of strength rather than a source of division and weakness. The Analyst reports.
Liberia’s 176th Flag Day Anniversary keynote speaker is calling on citizens to embrace their social, economic and political diversity not as division but rather as a source of strength. He said each Liberian brings unique perspectives, experiences, and talents to the table, and that it is through the recognition and celebration of this diversity “that we can forge a truly united and prosperous nation”.
Wantoe Teah Wantoe, who is a noted Liberian youth activist, said seeking to understand one another, respecting one another, and working together makes common goals realizable, imploring all citizens to break the cycle of prejudice, discrimination, and hostility that has hindered the country’s progress for far too long.
Speaking Thursday, August 24, 2023 as the National Flag Day Anniversary orator, Mr. Wantoe reflected on the unification solution of President William V.S. Tubman which, he said, “teaches me we can utilize the symbolic nature of our resolve as a nation to overcome these historical divisions and strive towards a future where unity and nationalism are not merely aspirations but lived principles”.
According to him, President Tubman recognized that national unity and social integration were crucial for the country’s progress and that he understood that building a harmonious Liberia required breaking down barriers, fostering understanding, and promoting equal opportunities for all citizens.
He said while Tubman’s unwavering commitment to unification laid the foundation for the strides made since then, the work of unification did not end with President Tubman.
“It is an ongoing process that demands our continuous commitment and efforts. We must all play our part in fostering a sense of unity and belonging. Regardless of our background or social divide, we must recognize that we are all Liberians first and foremost.”
“Our mission is building a Liberia where every citizen feels valued, heard, and included,” he said. “Together, we can create a legacy of unity that will endure for generations to come. His generation must encompass youth.”
He added: “In our pursuit of unification, we must embrace our diversity as a source of strength rather than division.”
The Flag-Day Orator who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Oxford’s Pembroke College and Blavatnik School of Government, was selected by Ministry of Education to serve as the national orator for the 176th Flag Day celebration.
“Today, we gather here to commemorate the 176th anniversary of our beloved National Flag. Under the theme, ‘The Lone Star: A symbol of Unity and Nationalism,’ we reflect upon the significance of this emblem and its role in fostering a sense of togetherness within our great nation,” the orator said.
According to him, throughout history, Liberia has faced challenges of division and animosity from historical origin to the progressive stage, stating further that “It is a conflict that lives at the heart of such periods.”
“As Liberians approach the 2023 election, he said: “Let us do so with optimism and a renewed commitment to peace. We certainly are bound together by our shared history, aspirations, and dreams. Let us demonstrate to the world that Liberia is a beacon of hope, a shining example of a nation united in its diversity.”
Mr. Wantoe also indicated that the diversity of thought and expression should be protected and encouraged, as it serves as the bedrock of a vibrant democracy, stressing that all candidates must have equal access to platforms for public debate, enabling them to present their visions and policies in a respectful and constructive manner.
He said: “Let us reject any form of hate speech or incitement that stokes division and threatens the very essence of our unity as a nation. The cost of conflicts in Africa since 2000 has been estimated at nearly $900 billion, and our own civil conflict preceded that timeframe. In light of this, we must appreciate the significance of President Weah’s leadership in ensuring that our resources are directed towards development, progress, and the well-being of our people, rather than being squandered in endless cycles of violence.”
Mr. Wanto therefore implored the government, the opposition, and all stakeholders involved in this historic election to prioritize the consideration and inclusion of all, particularly young people whom he described as heartbeat of the nation, representing 63 percent of the population below the age of 25.
“Their voices, aspirations, and dreams must be recognized and embraced,” he said, adding: “I firmly believe that the path to peace in this election lies in enabling our young people to become catalysts of positive change. By empowering them with knowledge, skills, and opportunities, we can unleash their potential and channel their energy towards building a more united, vibrant, and prosperous Liberia.”
He admonished Liberians to rid themselves of divisive tribalism and instead embrace a clear progressive agenda that unifies our nation.
“Our young people must see themselves as integral parts of a united Liberia, transcending tribal boundaries and working towards the common goal of peace and progress,” the Flag-Day Orator further warned.
“Let us provide platforms for dialogue, engagement, and participation. Let us nurture an environment that encourages the exchange of ideas, constructive criticism, and innovation. By valuing the contributions of our young people and respecting their perspectives, we can forge a path of unity that transcends partisan politics.
“But let us not stop at inclusion; let us foster an environment that nurtures their dreams and aspirations. Let us invest in quality education, vocational training, and infrastructure that empowers our young people to become active contributors to our nation’s growth and development. By providing them with the tools they need, we can pave the way for a brighter future.”
He said Flag Day should be a path to embark on a journey with a firm resolve to uplift young people, harness their potential, and create equitable opportunities for all.
By embracing their voices, “we can build a Liberia that we can be proud of – a Liberia that thrives in unity, nationalism, and optimism,” he stressed. “However, we cannot forget the dark past. Our celebration of nationalism must remind us of the step it took us to get here.”
We are Our Own Architects of Peace
The 175th Flag-Day Guest Speaker also reflected on the dark times of history, when the country was torn apart by two civil wars that spanned over 14 long years.
He reflected: “The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) played a crucial role in bringing an end to these conflicts through Security Council Resolution 1509 in June 2003. However, it is important to acknowledge that sustaining our peace and security requires substantial dedication and resources. Over the course of 14 years, UNMIL invested a staggering $7.5 billion and deployed more than 180,000 peacekeepers, including 130,000 troops, 16,000 police officers, and 24,000 civilian staff. Their presence was necessary to ensure the successful conduct of democratic presidential and legislative elections in 2005, 2011, and 2017.”
He praised the Government of President Weah for what he described as an extraordinary achievement wherein the nation and its people have emerged as “the architects of our own peace, security, and stability”.
He added: “We stand here today, no longer reliant on the presence of 180,000 international peacekeeping forces but more unified and patriotic to underscore the significance of not returning to our dark days. Notwithstanding, the cost of his election is enormous since it is the first post war without the presence of UNMIL on our shores.”
The young speaker said the power of democracy lies not only in the freedom to choose leaders but in the principles of transparency, accountability, and peaceful coexistence that underpin the electoral process.
“It is my humble duty to charge President George Weah and all stakeholders involved to ensure a peaceful and transparent election that upholds these fundamental principles,” he warned. “The unity of Liberia should be cherished and celebrated during this election.”
He underscored the need for the all citizens to transcend partisan interests and prioritize the collective well-being of the nation, honoring the legacy of peace that Liberia has striven to build.
Continuing he noted: “As we reflect upon our successes since the post-war period, we must acknowledge the power of tolerance and peace as cornerstones of our national values. It is through embracing these principles that we have been able to navigate the complexities of our diverse society and move forward as a united nation. As we approach the upcoming elections, let us remember the lessons of our history and ensure that tolerance and peace continue to guide our political discourse and decision-making processes.”
Patriotism, he said, should not be confined to mere words but should be reflected in action.
“We must adopt a spirit of optimism, inclusivity, and reconciliation as we work towards a better Liberia. Let us recognize that our individual and collective contributions have the power to shape the future of our nation,” Mr. Wantoe said.
“By embracing optimism, we can impart hope to our fellow compatriots and inspire them to actively participate in the development of our society.”