If you will notice, in the title of this article and in the introductory paragraph above, I indeed question the objectives of the current call, but not the idea of a national conference. For, there is no doubt that we need to discuss, take stock, re-set, and redefine our path to lasting peace and stability, as well as laying the foundations for sustainable economic growth and socio-political advancement. Can these be achieved only through a national conference? Certainly not, but a true national conference is an option through which we could formulate a cohesive and focused approach to tackling the causes of our past failures. Is that the true objective of the current call for a national conference? I too am in doubt.
Even before the idea of the national conference could take root, talks of "coups and counter coups" for the hosting rights have begun to spring up, with different groups of organizers claiming legitimacy to host the conference. I understand that ULAA is maintaining that since it is the umbrella organization of Liberians in the USA, it must be the one to host the conference. But did the idea originate from ULAA? Do the folks who run ULAA know what the word "cooperation" means? Can those who envisioned the idea not collaborate with ULAA to ensure greater participation? Undoubtedly, when people start to fight just to convene a "national conference", then others have the right to question their motives.
It is a fact that, for almost all of the national conferences that were organized for Liberia, whether by the international community or by Liberians themselves, the focus of most of the participants and organizers was to buy and sell jobs, and or protect jobs. The Banjul Conference, the Hotel Africa Conference during the Amos Sawyer era (when Dr. Togar McIntosh Gaywea switched sides), the Charles Taylor's "Vision 2024" conference, and the recent Accra conference that gave birth to the NTGL Government, all culminated into the appeasing of some participants (the chosen few who consider themselves as the "stakeholders") with jobs. That is why it is prudent to question the intentions of the organizers of the current call, especially so when the roll call of who's who consists of the same old beneficiaries of previous national conferences.
This brings me to a related concern, and that is, the organizers (hosts) and conferees of this "national conference". While it is true that everyone cannot possibly attend and or host, I am inclined to also question the make up of this current call. You know, it is funny how certain Liberians continue to believe that they and their associates will continue to be the opinion leaders of Liberia. For them the rest of us are bereft of ideas to uplift our country. They were considered opinion leaders 25 to 30 years ago, and so they must remain opinion leaders until the end? Besides, what good have they done for Liberia that our people should continue to look up to them for guidance? Other than to fight meaningless turf battles and seek their personal interest, what else can they boast of doing for Liberia whenever the opportunity to move the country forward was placed in their hands? Absolutely nothing!
This is why I almost screamed to myself when I read brother Brownie J. Samukai's assertion when he inferred that our "great thinkers" never had the opportunity to consolidate and actualize their purported brilliant vision/s for a vibrant Liberia.
In the 14th paragraph of his article, "Rejoinder To Does Liberia Need Another National Conference", The Perspective web magazine, Jan. 11, 2005, Bro. B. J. Samukai wrote and I quote: "There have been numerous calls for reforms, with varying degrees of methodology from persons such as Hon. Bai Gbala, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, Mr. Weh-Dorliae, Dr. Sawyer, Dr. Elwood Dunn, Mr. Byron Tarr, Cllr. Tuan Wreh, Dr. Antoinnette Brown-Sherman, Dr. Zangbar Liberty, Dr. Seyon, Dr. Edward Beyan Kesselly, Cllr. Tambakai Jangaba, Dr. Augustine Caine, among others. These calls and presentations made over four decades ago have not been galvanized through a national setting that would serve as an obligatory mandate to leaders elected to serve in public office." Are you kidding me? All due respect to my older and well learned brother, but whose fault is it that the "pristine visions" of our intellectual kingpins never saw daylight? My fault? Our fault?
Dr. Amos Sawyer, Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, Hon. Bai Gbala, Mr. Byron Tarr, not leaving out the other PhD holders and "influential thinkers" like, Dr. Togbah Nah Tipoteh, Dr. Henry B. Fahnbulleh, Jr., as well as the overly trumpeted progressives like Mr. Gabriel Baccus Mathews, Mr. Oscar J. Quiah, Mr. Blamo Nelson, et al, served in some of the most influential positions in government and in several administrations too, at which time they could have implemented some of the reforms that we are begging for today. And some of these reforms are just basically administrative and bureaucratic without any constitutional implication. But what did we get? What better national setting were they waiting for? It is not our dependence on our past national leaders for solution that is "an abomination to the ultimate sacrifice of our forbearers and victims of our civil conflict"; it is the selfishness, greed, and non-commitment of our leaders, past and present that is responsible for our seemingly perpetual backwardness.
What mandate can be more "obligatory" than the constitutional mandate to justly serve your people? Even in situations when the Constitution or parts of it were suspended, the acceptance to serve the people of Liberia was enough to obligate our leaders to serve in "the cause of the people". If our "intellectual elites" failed to heed the cry of the people, then let them (the elites) cry their own cry, and we should not always be looking for shoulders to dump their failures on. We can acknowledge a few exceptions, but we must not continue to throw out blanket exonerations; and worse, we cannot accept to bear the responsibility for their inexplicable actions and inactions.
And so, with my scream about to pop out, it was an immediate relief when I came to B. J. Samukai's concluding comments when he wrote: "In Liberia, if efforts in the past have been riddled with shortcomings, failures and disappointments by any political clique, then it is about time that a new generation emerges with better ideas to take the mantle of leadership and make a difference. If individuals entrusted with political power had failed in the past, a new generation should emerge to demand changes and challenge existing political postulates."
Indeed, there are a lot of contemporary Liberians around with "better ideas" to make a difference. That is why a conference organized around those of the old order does not promise much. We have no proof that they can do better than what they have shown us. If we look back to their track record, there is nothing of consequence other than their perennial claim that they "fought for democracy and freedom". And indeed for the past few years, contemporary Liberians including, Emmanuel Dolo (PhD), Theodore Hodge, John S. Morlu, II, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, Ezekiel Pajibo, Abdulaye Dukule (PhD), Winsley Nanka, including my big brother Brownie J. Samukai, and many others have all postulated great ideas too for lasting reforms. Can a new generation of nationalistic and selfless leaders emerge to lift Liberia out of its long-standing conditions of economic and socio-political obscurity? You bet, and sooner than later too!
Past efforts have not just been "riddled with shortcomings, failures and disappointments", they were paradoxical, to say the least. The efforts of our so-called political elites have always been geared towards upstaging one or the other in their fight for their coveted prize of Liberia's political mega star. They have always placed their quest for political stardom and personal wealth accumulation over and above nationalism, honesty and integrity. This is not the legacy we expected to be left with, but that is what we have now, and we must correct it.
There may be a great amount of support for a true Liberian National Conference, but the current call can be better. Stop the in fighting; sell the idea without imposing it; continue to consult with various Liberian communities; review your "honor roll list" with an attempt to be regionally inclusive; and be sure that your objectives are clearer and more realistic, and they must not be about creating a condition for you to be noticed for government appointment.