A presentation at the formal opening of the new office of SURE-Liberia (Campaigners for Change)
and the formal launching of the 2013 National Youth Civic, Human Rights Education and Peace Building Lecture Series
By Tiawan S. Gongloe
On Friday, May 10, 2013
Executives of the SURE-Liberia (Campaigners for Change)
Other Youth Advocates, distinguished ladies and gentlemen
First, I want to congratulate you on the occasion of the opening of your new office and hope that these facilities will be used for promoting change by being the example of the change that you want for the greater Liberian society.
Before I proceed any further, I want to make some general comments about advocacy for change. Those who advocate for change must themselves be the change that they want for the rest of their community, society or nation. Mahatma Ghana advised all change advocates in the world in the following words, “Be the Change You want the world to be” This statement is profound. The only way for a change advocate to be trusted is for him to live the change that he wants for others. This life of trust and respect is only possible if a change advocate is prepared to make difficult choices and to be consistent in the choices that he makes under every situation. A change advocate should be prepared to go through pains. History has shown that there is no sustainable gain without pain. One has to be disciplined to be a respected and trusted advocate of change. Finally, one has to always place the collective interest of the community, society or nation above personal interest, in order to succeed as an advocate of change. Self-lessness is the key to success as an advocate of change. So above everything that you do as advocates, be selfless and you will succeed.
Now today you have asked me to speak to you on the topic:” Protecting the Tenets of Democracy through Constructive Advocacy.” First, what are the tenets of democracy? The tenets of democracy are enshrined in the Constitution of our beloved Country, the Republic of Liberia, and the Great Land of Liberty by God’s command, established in the 1800s to serves as a human rights paradise on earth, a shining example of black self- rule and a beacon of hope for all peoples of African descent. The Constitution of Liberia provides that the people are the source of power and that it for their welfare and protection that power exists. Article one of the Constitution of Liberia, is clear in this regard. It provides, “All Power is inherent in the people...” This point has to be understood by all advocates very well because it is this power that must be protected in order for democracy to survive. All power is inherent in the people, in their collectivity, not in an individual, a group or a family. In order to understand this point let me explain further. In a democracy, power resides in the people and they exercise that power through their votes, their instructions to their elected servants, by speaking or writing to them or by assembling in groups to express themselves through one form or the other to their servants. Note that I am not using the word leaders, but servants in referring to elected and appointed officials of government. The reason is that in a democracy, the people are, collectively, the master and their elected and appointed officials are their servants.
The situation is different in a Monarchy. In any form of monarchy, the monarch is the master and the people are subjects of the monarch. The views of the subjects, the people, are meaningless in a monarchy, while the views of the people in a democracy influence or control the direction of governance. Also in a monarchy, there is a noble class to which the family members of the monarch belong. There is often reference to the ruling family in a monarchy. This situation has no place in a democracy.
A breakdown of government and general law and order produces a third form of government, the military. It is a rule by a group of men in arms who were, either formerly were directed by a democratic government or a monarchy. Here, like a monarchy the views of the people have no place in the direction of governance.
I am providing this information because, in my view, young advocates must clearly understand what democracy is in order to promote and protect its tenets through one form of advocacy or the other.
For example, based on the explanation that I have just given, it is clear that Liberia is gradually transforming into a monarchy. There is involving a situation where family interest is gradually replacing the collective interest of the people and the views of the people virtually have no impact on the direction of the government these days. There is evolving a situation where there exists a ruling family that seems to have a pervasive influence in both government and the private business arena. Advocates of maintaining Liberia as a democratic country must act to reverse the gradual erosion of the gains made by the Liberian people following the 2005 elections in developing a democratic culture of governance.
We cannot have a situation where the President ignores the popular views of the people regarding issues of governance, where the interest of the family is given priority by the President over the interest of the people and where there exist a virtual crown prince and still pretend as a people that we are still on the path of building democracy and not transforming Liberia into a virtual monarchy.
One of the tenets of democracy is freedom of speech and this government has taken a lot of credits for allowing free speech. But the question is what good is free speech, if nothing changes regardless of the number of people who speak truth to power on a particular issue. Just because those who speak truth to power are not being killed, arbitrarily arrested, detained or tortured, as was done in the past, does not mean that the Liberian Government now promotes free expression. The absence of brutal dictatorial tendencies, in reaction to free speech, does not mean that there is a presence of democracy. It only means that there exists an environment of soft dictatorship, where the people are allowed to speak, but their speeches are deliberately ignored by those who control power. What has been happening in Liberia over the last few years clearly shows that we now have a soft dictator as our president and not the same advocate of democratic change that we elected in 2005. I ask all Liberians, especially young people to read President Sirleaf’s inaugural speech of 2006 and the one she delivered in 2012 in order to understand the point that I am making.
The young advocates of this country must pay keen attention to how Liberia is governed to take appropriate legal steps to ensure that our leaders just do not do what they want. It is the future of you, young people, not my generation that is threatened by bad governance. As Bob Marley says in one of his revolutionary songs,” Stand up for your rights.” Be an advocate of the kind of Liberia that you want your children to live in tomorrow or be prepared to confess to your children that you did nothing when Liberia was being led in a wrong direction.
But in order to be a constructive advocate you have to begin with yourselves. You must be true to yourselves. Do not just advocate for change, just to be recognized. Do not suggest that those who serve in government today should do things that you know, when given the opportunity to serve you will not do. This is opportunistic and deceptive, to say the least. We have seen much of this kind of advocacy carried on in Liberia, but this kind of advocacy is not good for our country. Advocate Ellen Sirlief, for example, was critical of President William R. Tolbert for appointing his children, brothers and other family members to positions of trust in the Liberian Government. Today, President Ellen Sirleaf is doing the same thing. Where is the consistency in her advocacy? Was her advocacy a mere strategy to be known for future political benefits? From the inconsistency between her actions as an advocate for change and her actions as the President of Liberia, it is logical to conclude that the sole purpose of advocate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf‘s actions as an advocate was, merely, to win political points for what she enjoys today. We saw a different Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as an advocate and we now have a different Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as our president. Similarly, during this era, we have seen many young persons criticize just to be recognized and given high government posts. These kinds of advocates are not good for our country. They tend to undermine public trust in advocacy and respect for advocates. A true advocate must stand for some set of principles. He must have a conviction that he is prepared to stand up for, suffer for or even die for, if need be . A true advocate is not influenced by opportunities for high government posts or positions in public corporations, or scholarships or to travel with the President of Liberia or to get big gifts from the President or other officials of government. We have seen many of such advocates in the past and are seeing many now.
Therefore, my advice to you, young Liberian advocates for a democratic Liberia, is to study the lives of the following great advocates of change: Mahatma Ghandhi, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Martin Luther King jr., Rosa Park, Mother Teresa, Thomas Sankara, Murtala Mohamed and our own Albert Porte, amongst other consistent past advocates for change and you will afterwards become better advocates.
I thank you.