Thousands Jubilate At Bicentennial -Weah, US Ambassador Thrill Citizens With Peace, Unity Sermons

MNOROVIA : There certainly were feelings of anxiety, fear, distrust and mistrust 200 years ago when a group of American-born Africans and their Caucasian accompaniers bumped into ragtag-looking natives in finding a foothold on a piece of land down on the Western flank of Africa surrounded by waters and edging on the Atlantic Ocean. Those odd feelings which ran in the spines of both groups almost immediately matured into sporadic melees before it all got stabilized by somewhat hook or crook arrangements. But what cropped up from that fateful encounter now amounts to the Republic of Liberia and Africa’s first republic. The descendants of both the strangers and their hosts last Friday, January 7, refreshed memories of the genesis of that 200-year-old historic merger with color ceremonies, symbolic reincarnation dramas of the first meetings—all replete with enthralling speeches, provocative dances and singing; courtesy of the George Manneh Weah administration which conceived the idea to host what is called Bicentennial Celebration this year.  Liberians from all walks of life turned out in the national colors and cultures, as The Analyst’s Stephen Fellajuah reports.

Providence Island shook to the beat of the weight of human traffic Friday, January 7, 2022 as tens of thousands of Liberians scrambled to enter the tiny island upon calls by President George Manneh Weah and his Government to gather to celebration Liberia’s 200 years of existence as a nation state.

Groggy with Ululation

It was all jubilation from Broad and Johnson streets, as students and ordinary onlookers lined up across both sides of the road towards the Gabriel Tucker Bridge – a gathering of Liberians from the nook and cranny of the country.

The National Traditional Chiefs and Elders, religious institutions and civil society groups, women organizations and student groups trooped to the Island to grace the program in grand style—and grand style it was, as elders told youngsters it was their first time seeing the historic island parked with such an avalanches of people gathering in their lives.

The Weah government and its supporters led members of the diplomatic corps and foreign residents to the spot where it is said the first 86 Africans freed from slavery in the United Nations disembarked from Ship Elizabeth in 1822.

Carving the Initiative

The Friday, January 7, 2022 assembly of citizens and noncitizens on the island is the beginning of the yearlong celebration commemorating 200 years of existence under the theme, “Liberia: the Land of Return.”

On display throughout the Providence Island on the day were also colorful historical artifacts and symbols of Liberia depicting the cultural heritage of art and craft of the country, all drawn from were displayed throughout across the Island to demonstrate and portray the truth identity of the country named Liberia.

During the ceremony, there were performances comprising of traditional cultural dances and the dramatic incubation of first freed slaves from the United States of America when they arrived at the Providence Island in Liberia.

The Government of Liberia last year put into place a National Steering Committee to spearhead the celebration of the Bicentennial Celebration not only to promote national reunification, unity, and peace but to attract Diaspora Liberians and African Americans to the homeland of the first black republic on the African Continent.

Before the kickoff of the Celebration, the Steering Committee launched the theme and logo of the Bicentennial last year in an elaborate ceremony.

According to the Steering Committee, the theme is “Liberia: The Land of Return – Commemorating 200 Years of Freedom and Pan-African Leadership” while the slogan is “The Lone Star Forever, Stronger Together.”

The Steering Committee explained that the theme signifies three important historical milestones achieved by the country since it was founded in 1822 by free people of African descent and their patrons from the United States.

Firstly, the theme celebrates Liberia, in West Africa, as the land chosen as refuge by free people of African descent who endured many years of servitude in the United States, to settle as their home country. Consequently, under the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS), many of the free people of color emigrated from the United States and disembarked on Providence Island in Liberia on January 7, 1822 as their home country.

Secondly, the theme seeks to memorialize black freedom and nationhood and the determination for self-governance that began 200 years ago when Liberia was established in 1822. In an era when people of African descent were seeking freedom and self-determination, the founding of Liberia, “the Black Republic,” which gained independence in 1847 stood as the clear indication that Africans were capable of self-rule.

And thirdly, the theme acknowledges the pivotal Pan-Africanist leadership role that Liberia played, crusading for Africa’s decolonization and independence, including its uncompromising stance against the racial segregation in South Africa known then as Apartheid. Liberia would later champion the establishment of multinational unions on the African Continent and the global stage. Foremost, was its Pan-Africanist leadership role in organizing the historic 1959 “Sanniquellie Conference” involving Liberia, Guinea, and Ghana which ultimately resulted into the formation of Organization of African Union (OAU) in 1963. Liberia assumed similar Pan-Africanist leadership in the formation of the African Union (AU), successor to the OAU. It likewise joined the call on the Continent for creation of regional economic organizations, such as, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union.

Sermonizing Peace, Unity

Speaking at the program, President George Manneh Weah rallied Liberians to come together and strengthen national unity even as the country recognizes and celebrates diversity.

The Chief Executive who spoke on the theme “National Unity and Reconciliation”, indicated that

the choice of the topic for the occasion was appropriate because the bicentennial must redouble Liberians efforts to promote unity among all Liberians wherever they may reside, and encourage all to make meaningful contributions to the nation building task of the country.

He asserted: “In Liberia, national unity and reconciliation is the cornerstone to all national development efforts and it is the basis for combating all forms of discriminations and exclusions. As a country which has emerged from a divided past and recent civil war, it is our only option for survival and continuing as a nation. We must therefore continue to embrace the tenant of national unity as we move forward together towards becoming a reconciled country demonstrates a nation whose citizens are at peace with themselves, their neighbors and the world.”

In redefining Liberia’s identity, Liberian Leader said nationalism should be the at the center of reconciliation in Liberia model for genuine national unity, reconciliation should be inspired and founded positive cultural values, citizenship, building good governance, economic empowerment and the rule of law.

He pointed out that Liberians from diverse ethnic groups, religious beliefs, region, all must continue to coexist peacefully as one united Liberians nation in accordance with the Constitution, saying we Liberians can only promote national unity and reconciliation by living together in peace and harmony. Also he said, Liberians can promote national unity and reconciliation through exercising tolerance by accepting each other ways of life.

“There are so many people with different cultures and traditions which influence their ideologies about life and about how to approach things. We must accept and accord every person the respect he or she deserves in matters relating to differences and ideologies and understanding,” President Weah noted, adding that national reconciliation and patriotism is indeed the bedrock of the country national foundation.

He said, when there is love for one’s nation such love will engender the spirit of brotherhood, sisterhood and fraternity among Liberians.

Speaking further, President Weah called on Liberians to vigorously denounce and combat acts, writings and utterances which are intended to promote discrimination, intolerance or lack of injustice which counter-productive to the achievement of national unity and reconciliation.

“In fostering genuine unity and reconciliation we must go of the past and embrace the presence within the context of our diversity and give birth to a future with unity, peace, reconciliation and sustainable development as our imperative agenda,” he stressed.

President Weah, in the spirit of national unity, welcomed the leadership of all political parties to join his government in the celebration of the nation’s history via the Bicentennial.

“As President and Chief Executive of our sweet land of Liberty, Liberia, I want to call on all Liberians to champion the course on national unity and to reconcile our differences for Liberia’s growth and development. Let national unity reign everywhere in Liberia. Let peace reign across Liberia, our native land.”

Let us vigorously denounce and combat acts, writings and utterances which are intended to promote any kind of discrimination, intolerance or lack of justice, all of which are counter-productive to the achievement of National Unity and Reconciliation.

Fellow Liberians, in fostering genuine National Unity and Reconciliation, we must let go of the past, embrace the present within the context of our diversities, and give birth to the future with Unity, Peace, Reconciliation and Sustainable Development as our imperative agenda.

In this public manner, and in a spirit of National Unity, I do hereby invite the leadership of all Political Parties and other National Leaders, to the Official Opening Ceremony of the 2022 National Bicentennial Commemoration, to be held on February 14, 2022, as we memorialize in peace, unity, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The President also planted cotton trees on the ground of the Providence Island.

“As part of this national unification effort, I will today plant two cotton tree seedlings here,” the President said minutes he was escorted by the traditional chiefs of Liberia and other dignitaries to carry out the ritual.

“I am informed that they will replace the “male and female” cotton trees that stood here majestically for probably centuries.  Perhaps they were even standing here when the settlers arrived.  By planting the seedlings today on the official commencement of the 2022 Bicentennial, we are reinforcing the common heritage that unites all of us, both the descendants of the indigenous people and the descendants of the settlers. We are One People, with One Destiny.”

US Ambassador McCarthy

Also on hand to spice up the occasion was the Ambassador of the country that engineered the return of freed slaves to Liberia.

Ambassador Mark McCarthy extolled the longstanding relations between Liberia and the United States, stating that while the relationship had its ups and downs, but with many generations of citizens who tried to correct those previous wrongs, it all has culminated into a better nation today.

The US ambassador asserted: “Look around. Take a moment and consider the 200-year experience between those that were already in this territory – the Kpelle, the Bassa, the Mano, the Gio, the Kru, the Grebo, the Krahn, the Vai, the Gola, the Mandinka, the Mende, the Kissi, the Gbandi, the Loma, the Dei, the Belleh, including people of multiple different faiths – and those that came here: the Americans and Barbadians and their descendants.”

“Our shared history is literally written into the geography, from Monrovia to Maryland County to cities in between, such as Buchanan – named after the cousin of U.S. President James Buchanan – Greenville – named for a Mississippi Delta planter – and Harper – named after a U.S. senator.  Bushrod Island is named after the favorite nephew of George Washington”, the US Ambassador said.

He told the gathering that the US knows that the path to that ambition is through a commitment to democracy that ensures every voice is heard, a commitment to rule of law that supports freedom and investment, and a commitment to the Liberian people themselves – their health, education, and other needs.

He reflected: “Just weeks ago, our two presidents joined with other democratic leaders to demonstrate this commitment for the first installment of the Summit for Democracy. Both President Biden and President Weah pledged to a series of interventions in each of our respective countries to defend against authoritarianism, address and fight corruption, and promote respect for human rights.”

He added: A year from now, we will gather again to review the progress of these initiatives, he said.

Mr. McCarthy also said the United States Government, in Liberia, is one year into a long-term collaboration with the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, World Monuments Fund, and the University of Virginia on ways to preserve and reuse this very island for future generations.

He further recommended: “Extending beyond Providence Island, I urge you all to consider establishing a ‘historic quarter’ consisting of the Palm Grove Cemetery, President Roberts’s executive mansion and other preserved government buildings on Ashmun Street, and the historical churches, and allocating the resources for preservation, beautification, and identification of these landmarks and the neighborhoods that connect them.”

Continuing, the US Ambassador said, the Providence Island has the potential to attract visitors from across the world and spark a boom in the tourism economy.

“And most importantly,” he noted, “it ensures the next generations of Liberians are well-informed and proud of our one-of-a-kind shared history.”

The US diploma said that the preservation initiatives and our joint year of action to renew our democracies is a worthy tribute to recognizing the ambitions of our forefathers and foremothers, each of whom envisioned a republic based on the inherent power of its people.

These commitments, he said, celebrate all we are going to achieve in the next 200 years while recognizing both the dreams as well as the sacrifices and missteps of the last 200 years.

“Together, we have a lot to be proud of.  And we have a lot to look forward to as we prepare the next generations for their turn to lead our great countries” he said.

Earlier, the Lord Mayor of Monrovia, Jefferson T. Koijee, welcomed Liberians from the diaspora, as well as Liberians here and foreign residents.

He said the bicentennial demonstrates the symbol of how significant the occasion to principally gear towards reuniting Liberians from across the globe, promoting cultural heritage and reuniting the spirit of pan Africanism.

The keynote address was delivered by the Vice President for Academic Affairs professor from the University of Liberia, Dr. William Ezra Allen, who drilled his audience on the founding history of Liberia, including issues that necessitated the repatriation of some freed black slaves to Liberia.

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