We Must Work To Unify Our Nation

By Johannes Zogbay Zlahn

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 23, 2011


In an article published on the Liberian Forum on January 13, 2011, I lamented the position taken by some of our aspirants for public office, especially for the presidency, and stressed the necessity for us to cast our votes not on the basis of ethnicity, but on the basis of who is most qualified to lead the nation as evidenced by his or her policies and programs for the country. This article is an expansion of the ideas espoused in the January 13 article. While it is true that this election year is a fascinating time in Liberian politics, it is also a trying time for the nation. No one can deny the fact that ours is a divided nation and has been so divided for a long time, especially due to the events of the last two decades. But this fact should not deter us from aspiring for unity among our people. The onus is on all of us, especially those aspiring for public offices in our nation to ensure that our people, no matter what their ethnicity may be, gravitate towards the collective good of the nation. This then means that we should not gravitate towards individuals per se, but rather towards ideas, policies and programs espoused by individuals, and not the individuals themselves.

Our aspirants for the presidency can greatly enhance unity in our nation by tempering their rhetoric, bearing in mind that whoever is elected in October will have to govern the nation, become president for all the people, and that the problems of the nation will become his or her problems. A president must be one who unites the people not one who divides the people. The president should be a magnanimous person who is willing to reach out to the opposition in order to achieve the collective good of the nation; he or she must seek to enhance mutual understanding in regards to humility, equality and justice. Are these qualities too much to ask of our president or potential president? I think not, and believe that those who seek the highest office in our nation must possess these qualities. Our politicians should be held to these standards to ensure that by their acts or omissions, our nation does not once again go over the precipice and into the valley of self-destruction. Certainly, as leaders with followers and believers, politicians influence the behaviors of so many of our fellow citizens, such that what they say or do, or fail to say or do, can have lasting negative or positive effects on our nation.

I am cognizant of the fact that political campaigns are hard fought “battles for the hearts and minds” of the voters, and as such, partisan conflict and bitterness are unlikely to dissipate during the campaign season. Therefore, things will get worse before they get better, but we will overcome any adversity; and I believe that post election Liberia will be a stronger and united nation of which each of us can be proud to be called a citizen. But this noble goal cannot happen by chance, it requires the tireless efforts of each and every Liberian. It is one thing to hope for something good to happen and quite another thing to work for the attainment of the goal of having something good happen. We, as a people, cannot sit idly by and hope that by chance, our divisions and hatred will disappear; we must exert every effort we can to ensure that those divisions and hatred become extinct. In this effort, no Liberian is too small or too big to participate. We can begin to preach unity in our cities, towns and villages; in our offices and our schools; in our churches and mosques; in our homes and at our dinner tables. We can also demonstrate this attitude in our daily interactions with our fellow citizens. True, we cannot legislature love or morality, but we certainly can demonstrate those values in our everyday life, especially to our young people who are tomorrow’s leaders.

Evidence of unity in any nation is the lack or absence of discrimination of any kind, whether against a particular individual or group of individuals and the existence of laws which specifically penalize discrimination. Discrimination comes in many and sometimes subtle forms. It may be on the basis of ethnicity, religion, national origin, sex, etc. We must therefore work to rid Liberia of all forms and vestiges of discrimination. No society can hope to achieve unity if a sizeable segment of its population feels left out. Similarly, no society can hope to fully develop if one segment of the society is discriminated against. Therefore, in order to be truly united, we must treat all Liberians, regardless of their ethnic, religious, economic or political status, equally and without distinction. Our politicians must make no incendiary or inflammatory statements that stigmatize any of our citizens on account of their ethnicity or religion. In my opinion, the United States of America would not have achieved the greatness and gained the respect it achieved and gained had it continued to discriminate against its black citizens and kept them as second class citizens. Liberia can only achieve its full potential if all of its citizens fully participate in the affairs of the nation; we cannot afford to do anything less. Every citizen of our nation, especially our politicians and policymakers, must work hard to eliminate discrimination in our nation if we are to become a unified nation.

It is my prayer and hope that all well-meaning citizens of this country will also help to bring our great nation together after the election. There is no doubt that there are great differences of opinion among us, and that we have to agree to disagree over many issues, but we also must realize that we agree on many more issues than we disagree on and that we have more in common than our petit differences would lead us to believe.

Some of us have friends, co-workers and families in each of the political parties in our nation, but we do not hate them or despise them because of their being members of political parties to which we do not belong. We therefore need to look beyond the political campaigns and the election to avoid a divided and polarized nation. We should not allow our emotions to overcome our sense of reasoning and thereby ruin our friendship or create enmity between ourselves and our fellow citizens because of differences of opinion. I therefore implore the leaders of all religious faiths in our nation to devote a sermon before the election on “unity,” “healing” and “love.” I pray that God will guide and bless all of us, and no matter who is elected president in October, we should all support him or her and pull together to make sure that the next six years are not years of division, bitterness, discrimination and hatred, but years of unity, love and progress.

Johannes Zogbay Zlahn is an attorney-at-law.

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