Don’t Tell Me About Your Patriotism, Please!

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 22, 2008


On at least two separate occasions now, someone has asked me this simple and fair question: “When last were you [physically] in Liberia?” This question came up when I tried to convey to the individuals I was in discussion with that not much has changed in the now war-torn country despite the loss of so many innocent human lives [estimated to be 250 thousand plus] during the course of the recent bloody civil wars there.

I tried to tell them that the present conditions on the ground in the now failed state as told to me by Liberians living at home as well as others making periodic visit there for one reason or the other, were still terrible at best for the vast majority of our people who were caught unfortunately in the crossfire as the ‘elephants’ [the various warring factions] battled each other for control of raw power in Liberia.

Despite claims by some that life is good again in Liberia under the present Johnson Sirleaf administration it is no secret that the majority of Liberians are still catching pure hell albeit promises from this government that it would improve their wretched lives once in power.

On the first occasion, I had received an e-mail from a well-known Liberian asking me to call him to discuss an article that I had written about Auditor General John Morlu’s stand on the budget matter. This individual, who has been living here in the US for quite a good while now, had made a trip to Liberia right after the Sirleaf administration had been installed to pursue some business interests and of course to also see relatives and friends.

His beef with me

This individual’s beef with me was that I shouldn’t have been so hard on the young Morlu, stating specifically that, “if we don’t support this young man now then we the young people will never have the chance to stop things like corruption in Liberia.”

He then went on to explain to me in great details his personal experiences trying to do business in Liberia while there, particularly, his frustration in getting anything done. He spoke about the many bottlenecks which he faced, including, the age-old Liberian practice of soliciting bribes on the part of government workers at all levels

He did admit, though, that things were gradually returning to normal in Liberia as far as he could determine in certain areas. Ironically, this was coming from someone whose elder brother currently holds a top strategic position in the current government.

This individual has since returned to the US and all but given up for now on his efforts to help the government get on its feet by offering to provide much needed IT (Information Technology) services at a very reasonable cost.

I’ve since read other stories about Liberians who had returned home with their various skill sets to, as they put it, help rebuild their now fallen country. Like the individual I’ve just mentioned above, they too have grown frustrated and returned to the US empty handed or even in serious debt.

My second encounter

On the second and most recent occasion, I had stopped by the popular Kendejah restaurant in Washington, DC as I always do when I can to basically patronize the prominent Liberian-owned business, and of course, to enjoy their fufu and soup (a traditional Liberian dish) after a hard day’s work.

.Another good thing about going to Kendejah sometimes besides desiring to consume any number of their usually well prepared indigenous Liberian dishes is that you can never tell who you may run into there on any given day. I mean, I’ve been very fortunate to meet long lost friends and even relatives in some cases that I had not seen in years or known their whereabouts.

On this particular day recently, I ran into a friend who I’ve known since our boyhood days in Lower Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, and now lives on the Maryland side of the DC metro area. Incidentally, he was with another female friend that I had known from Kakata way back then. I had heard that this particular female friend was now also living in the DC area and I wanted to see her just for old time sake. Most importantly, I wanted to ask her about my friend who she was dating at the time to find out where he was, how he was doing or whether he was still alive.

My two old friends were accompanied by another Liberian gentleman who I didn’t know. From what I could gather, my two friends were just returning to the US from Liberia. Since both of them currently work for the Liberia Maritime program, I suspected that they may have traveled home recently to participate in the maritime conference which took place in Monrovia lately.

Getting his share of the pie

Prior to coming to the table where the three of them were sitting, my boyhood friend had come to the liquor counter where I was sitting just to chat. And as expected, I did ask him how things were going in Liberia, but knowing the kind of person he is, I really didn’t know what he’d say this time around. He’s the kind of person who would see nothing wrong with anything as long as he was getting his share of the pie. As far as he’s concerned that’s being smart – very smart.

But to his credit this time, he did say that things were gradually improving just as the first individual had said. He also said that the government was doing well building new roads, dealing with the chronic electricity problem, etc., while others still were returning home to rebuild their ruined houses or build brand new ones. But overall, according to this friend, the country still has a long way to go, again, just as the first individual had said.

This friend also admitted reluctantly that the cost of living at this present time in Liberia was in fact soaring even for those with good jobs. He told me that he had paid roughly between a hundred and thirty five to a hundred and fifty dollars a day for a single room at a hotel in Monrovia in the Mamba Point area.

When I asked him why he didn’t stay with one of his relatives he told me that it would have cost even more since his relative (s) would want to run the generator all day long because of his presence with them. And guess who would have been paying for the gasoline [if it’s available that is] to keep the generator running while he was there in addition to other living expenses? You’ve got it correct – he!

Hotels seem to be safer

So, based on his own calculation, staying in a hotel during his visit was the better option. He also said that stopping in the hotel was a wise decision for him for the simple reason that hotels appear to be lot more safer (especially at night) in light of continuing armed robberies taking place in Monrovia and its immediate environs.

After that brief chat with my boyhood friend, I then proceeded to the table where they were sitting to talk to our female friend who I had not seen in years. After exchanging greetings and catching up with the old times, we jumped right into a general discussion about living in America versus Liberia.

I told them bluntly that I love living in America because it has a lot of opportunities to offer anyone who really wants to make it here unlike any other country in the world today that I know of. Most significantly, I told them that the rule of law and the way the “system” works here in the US were just two specific reasons why I like living in the US.

In remarkably sharp contrast to my view, the gentleman from Liberia said that he could never live in America and Liberians here were just bad-mouthing the Sirleaf government simply because they were ill-informed, suggesting that in order to make any intelligent comment on Liberia one has to physically go home to see for himself or herself what was transpiring there– something I vehemently disagreed with them on.

Yes, it would definitely be nice to visit Liberia, if for no other reason, to see surviving family members as well as old friends who may still be alive, but shouldn’t this be a personal decision for each of us? I truly think it should!

And so, to suggest that one has to visit Liberia physically in order to be in a position to fairly comment on the various events currently taking place there is misleading or even seriously debatable.

Leaving the wrong impression?

At one point I asked: “So, are you telling me that whatever I’m hearing from people on the ground via phone or other means of communications are all wrong or exaggerated?” The guy from Liberia replied to the effect that most information we get from home are either grossly distorted or exaggerated to suit some people’s own fantasies, thereby, leaving the wrong impression about the formerly collapsed nation.

While this may be true in some cases, I’m strongly convinced that people can form accurate opinions about a place (be it Liberia or any other country for that matter) without physically being present there based on how reliable and credible their sources of information are.

Let me just give you one example. When I recently spoke to a family member on the phone from Monrovia, she told me that the price of the nation’s staple food – rice – had just gone up. I’ve since read similar stories posted on the internet by Liberians who had independently spoken to their relatives who had called them too from home.

So, is there any reason why we shouldn’t believe that the price of rice in Liberia has increased recently without going there in person to verify what we had heard? Where is the problem here, people? I clearly don’t see any distortion or misinformation here.

Taking only his words

Well, it would appear that the good gentleman from Liberia would want us to believe everything he was saying while at the same time seemingly discrediting the views held by others who also live on the ground just like him.

For their own selfish reasons, some Liberians think that by living in the country alone make them so-called patriots compared to Liberians living outside the now war-destroyed nation for various reasons.

Just listen to what I actually overheard this gentleman telling my friends as I turned my back. He said: “Some of these guys just stay in this country (US) moving from one job to the other making little money and criticizing everything the government is trying to do and then they say they love Liberia.”

When I confronted him about his wayward remarks, he said that he was not specifically referring to me [of course he wasn’t because he didn’t know anything about me except when he was told that I’m (also) a journalist who writes frequently about Liberia]. He said he was only making a general statement even though the discussion was actually between us.

Do they really love Liberia?

Apparently his version of loving Liberia [like other Liberians I know] is to live at home quietly while things basically remain the same. Well, my main problem with this is that their only contribution to the country [which they normally boast of] would be in the form of sustaining an already rotten system which badly needs to be replaced and not propped up – something they’re knowingly or unknowingly seem to be doing at this very point in time.

I’ve quite so often heard people say in the past that they love Liberia and were going back home to make things right. But guess what? Once they got there, they became part of the “system” (problem). They began to do just like the three proverbial monkeys – see no evil; hear no evil and say no evil

For example, the late Gabriel Bacchus Matthews did say that he was going back home to lead a popular revolution to save his people and bring the price of rice down. But did he? Also, the now controversial Tom Woewiyu also said he was going home too to help get rid of Samuel K Doe and redeem his people. But did he redeem them? Of course not.

Similarly, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh (who I saw in at least one photo raising the hand of the now jailed Liberian dictator, Charles Ghankay Taylor high up in the air) and his group of friends, the likes of Dr. Amos Sawyer, Dr. H. B. Fahnbulleh, Jr, and Dew Mason (now reportedly a very wealthy man) amongst countless others, proclaimed in the 1970s that they were advocating for change of the status quo in Liberia on behalf of the poor masses. The question is, have they done so even being on the ground? Again, the answer is hell no!

What we have seen to the contrary is a group of selfish and grossly egotistical individuals who have always apparently been in this [struggle for power] for themselves and clearly not on behalf of the highly illiterate Liberian people.

Patriotically blind or what?

Rather than seeking the interests of the “masses” as they deceitfully preached, these individuals have seemingly been carrying out their own selfish agendas. Sadly, their quest for raw power in Liberia at all cost have directly ruined our country and, most significantly, resulted in the needless destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent Liberian lives with the status quo still in tact today. So, please don’t tell me about your blind patriotism, okay.

It really beats me how some people [like the fellow I previously mentioned above who said he’s always lived in Liberia] would call themselves patriots just because they happen to live on the ground at this particular time – something which may have in fact been pre-destined for them from the very start.

By just living in Liberia and condoning this hopeless government which came to power riding on the back of our severely impoverished people, to me, doesn’t make anyone a patriot.

What really should be making people patriots is their willingness to continuously fight the many ills in our sick Liberian society with the hope that the government [whoever it may be] will see reason to finally change its ways and, most importantly, do the right thing just for once.

Blood on government’s hands

For some of us, it’s not that we don’t want to ever go back to Liberia, it’s just that we don’t want to do so at this particular point in time when the government in power evidently has the blood of our people on its hands.

More than just living at home, to love Liberia truly means to make a pledge to oneself wherever you may be to the effect that you would do everything in your power to ensure that the lives of our fallen compatriots were not wasted in vain.

Now, there lies our own sense of patriotism to Liberia unlike others who feel that by just building a house, quietly staying at home, accepting a post in government, or opening a small business venture there, etc., makes one a patriot. Clearly, it doesn’t. That’s my whole point here and Liberians need to just get off that.

© 2008 by The Perspective

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