By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
Seal of Liberia
The review of Liberia’s National Symbols is nothing new. For example on July 22, 1974, the Liberian National Legislature enacted an Act authorizing the late President William Richard Tolbert, Jr. to set up a commission to address the issue of Liberia’s National Symbols. The Commission came into existence purposely due to persistent calls from citizens who felt that certain national symbols were divisive; therefore, they needed to be revised in order to include all of the citizens of the Republic of Liberia.
The goal of the Commission was to review the Symbols and Constitution with the objective of recommending to him (Tolbert) the necessary changes that were needed in order to promote genuine unity that was lacking since the “founding” of the country. The symbols and document that the Commission was to review were: the national motto, national flag, national anthem and the Constitution of Liberia.
Through a proclamation, President Tolbert outlined the guidelines by which the Commission was mandated to review the national symbols. According to the President, the mandate empowered the Commission to review the national symbols (motto, flag, anthem and constitution) "with a view of stamping out every idea that may suggest class distinction, separateness or sectionalism among the people of Liberia."
The Commission consisted of fifty-one members. It was chaired by McKinley A. Deshield. The fifty-one members were:
Montserrado County - McKinley A. Deshield (Chairman), C. Abayomi Cassell, E. Reginald Townsend, R. I. E. Bright, Luvenia V. Ash Thompson and Nathan C. Ross, Jr.;
Grand Bassa County – G. Flama Sherman, Lawrence Morgan, Joseph Findley, Martha Dunn and Joseph M. N. Gbadyu;
Sinoe County - Harrison Grigsby, H. C. Williamson, E. Richmond Draper, Charles A. Minor and Florence Ricks Bing;
Grand Cape Mount County - Charles Dunbar Sherman, M. Fahnbulleh Jones, Abeodu B. Jones, Eric David, Evelyn Watson Kandakai;
Nimba County - Jackson F. Doe, Michael J. S. Dolo, David M. Toweh, J. Railey Gompah and Phoebe A. Logan;
Lofa County - E. Sumo Jones, Milton K. Freeman, Moima K. Morris, William W. Momolu and Robert K. Kennedy;
River Cess Territory - John Payne Mitchell;
Maryland County - D. Wah Hne, J. Daniel Anderson, H. Nyema Prowd, Nathan Barnes, Jr. and Janet . Cooper;
Bong County - Harry A. Greaves, Sr., Elizabeth Collins, Melville Harris, Sr., Joseph G. Morris and Bismark N. Kuyon;
Grand Gedeh County - Salis Rue, Harry Garngbe, Yancy Peters Flah, E. Yeda Amafili and Albert T. White;
Marshall Territory - Emma Campbell;
Bomi Territory - C. C. Dennis, Sr.;
Sasstown Territory - Joseph S. Nimene;
Kru Coast Territory - S. Edgar Sie Badio.
On February 28, 2001, I published an article in ThePerspective.org under the titled: “Unraveling Our Past to Make Necessary Corrections”.
In this article, I wrote:
It is doubtful whether the Commission carried out the President's mandate after it was warned by Chairman Deshield in a national broadcast announcing its launching. In that broadcast, Deshield stressed that the President's mandate was:
To give consideration to possible, I repeat changes the Commission does not conceive neither interpret the President's mandate as an authorization or directive to necessarily change it is not the intention of the Commission to merely propose changes apparently to satisfy the whims and notions of a few purported academic detractors. [The highlight is mine for emphasis]
Having made the statement above, the Deshield Commission never got down to actually examining the issues. Since there were those on the Commission who did not care to - as Deshield puts it, "change history"; no matter who these symbols offend, those who held this belief were the ones who constituted the ruling class. Their opposition rendered the whole exercise a sham.
However, after three and half years (July 22, 1974 - January 24, 1978), the Commission submitted its recommendations. The recommendations did not mention any basic changes to the flag. The part of the Commission’s recommendation regarding the constitution reads: "indicated a disposition to certain changes, which were never specified in the report." On the national anthem, it recommended that the word "Benighted" be replaced with "undaunted." It also recommended that the national motto be changed to "Love, Liberty, Justice, Equality," replacing "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here."
The fact remains, none of the changes recommended were ever implemented. It is alleged that the reason the recommendations were not implemented had to do with the opposition to changing the motto by Commissioner C. Abayomi Cassell. Commissioner Cassell made his opposition known to the President through a memorandum, after the Commission had submitted its final report (See Historical Dictionary of Liberia, 1985).
After putting the Liberian people through this tiresome exercise, the position of the descendants of the settlers prevailed. Secondly, the President's failure to act upon the recommendations, suggest that the entire exercise was a waste of taxpayers' money, resources and time. The ruling class’ refusal to change their attitude as well as make fundamental changes in the way the government was being operated, were some of the factors that led to "the struggle which culminated in the April 12, (1980) coup d’état that had been long in its gestation. Indeed, the depth of the hostility that lay beneath the surface had been marked to the outside world by the very urbaness and sophistication of these young diplomats and other officials who represented Liberia abroad during the past two or three decades," wrote the late J. Gus Liebenow.
The Americo-Liberians, Liebenow argued, imposed a set of dominant cultural norms for the new state, which were roughly modeled after those of society across the seas that had rejected them. These norms, he explained included "the Christian faith; monogamy; a commitment to private ownership and free enterprise; and increasingly Liberianized version of the English language; a preference for American styles in clothing, food, architecture, literature; and the creation of a political system which superficially resembled that of the United States". ("The Seeds of Discontent," Part I - Liberia: The Dissolution of Privilege, 1980)
In other words, the concentration of political power in the hands of a few is the fundamental flaw of Liberia's political culture because it is inconsistent with the nature of modern democracies and contradicts both the spirit and substance of the principles of freedom, justice and equality upon which Liberia was founded.
Again, 24 years after Liebenow made his observation, we are at it again; the review of Liberia’s National Symbols and Constitution. Is it the same old good for nothing exercise that “The Deshield Commission for National Unity” exercised? I hope not!
On December 8, 2013, I received an email from the Coordinator of the Project, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn that reads:
“…Would like to solicit your help and support when we launch shortly a National Symbols Review process -- ie hearing from the Liberian people about their Flag, Seal, Anthem, Awards, etc.
I was reluctant to engage in what I considered “another good for nothing exercise.” However, due to discussions like those listed below, I renewed my interest in the Project.
In a recent article titled: "National Symbols Review Project: A Compelling Schema or Plundering Scheme”, which was published in the March 31, 2014 edition of FrontPageAfrica. In this article, Stephen B. Lavalah wrote:
The quest to alter Liberia’s national symbols has resurfaced once again since President William Richard Tolbert constituted a National Commission to give consideration to possible changes in the national motto, national flag, national anthem and the Constitution of Liberia. Tolbert’s Commission established by an Act of the National Legislature approved July 22, 1974 comprised of a Chairman and fifty members with five representatives from each County and one from each Territory. However, scores of Liberians likewise foreigners are yet to figure out the outcome of the commission’s mandates and many ponder about what were proffered by some of the brightest and finest statesmen and stateswomen in Liberia.
Then on June 6, 2014 a symposium on “Reviewing Liberia’s National Symbols To Renew National Identity” at which Justice Gladys K. Johnson, Chairperson of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights of Liberia, made the remark that was published in the June edition of theperspective.org. According to Justice Johnson:
The history of our country began with contradictions of purpose, direction, aims and objectives, and identity, and has continued in that vein for the past 167 years, including the decade that followed the coup d’etat of 1980 and the recent 14 years of anarchy that nearly ended our existence as a sovereign state. It is therefore a welcome decision to have these inconsistences or contradictions removed through this transformational process.
I am in agreement with her points. However, I find Fele, the “proud son of Nimba and Liberia” position quite interesting. While I may agree with some of what Fele expressed on June 21, 2014 in the Horizonnewsmedia, I find some of what he said disturbing. According him:
If you go to Dunn home in Grand Bassa, you will notice that the nation being swallowed gradually by the ocean. The same thing is in Sass Town and Maryland. If you reach the streets of Monrovia, you will see a saturation of people many of whom are not Liberians because they do not have homes or county. If you reached West Point and New Kru town, you will know that many of our kids are dying in drugs brought to the country by bad Liberians and foreigners. People are living in darkness with no clean water BUT KNOW ALL PEOPLE ARE NOT LOOKING IN THAT DIRECTION BUT WANT TO CHANGE FLAG, SYMBOLS AND INTRODUCE DUAL CITIZENSHIP.
This is a big shame! The president should not site [sit] there and allow all these NON-PATRIOTIC LIBERIANS to destroy what has left!!!!!!!!!!
A PROUD SON OF NIMBA AND LIBERIA (Tony Kona Fele, “Does The Changing of Symbols Really in Really [Reality] Matter in a Country As Poor As Liberia?” Horizonnewsmedia, June 21, 2014
I empathized with Fele in expressing what has and continued to take place in our beloved country, but I cannot understand what he meant by “…allow all these NON-PATRIOTIC LIBERIANS to destroy what has left!!!!!!!!!!” Does he means the Symbols and the Constitution are what these NON-PATRIOTIC LIBERIANS will be destroying when they review them? I think not!
Today, many of the legacies of the past that continue to plague Liberia mirror those of the European contact with Africa. For example, the missionaries' approach to the indigenous Africans' way of life was negative. The African was regarded as a child. He must be nurtured and guided through a process of slow and carefully controlled growth toward a time in the dim future when he would be ready to look after himself (Impact of the African Tradition on African Christianity, 1984).
It is in the same light that it can be said that the settlers, who were once victims themselves, were fooled in believing that their ancestors (Africans) came from an inferior culture, and after several hundred years of William Lynch's indoctrination and false Christian doctrine, their descendants have not comprehended Blyden's warning. They continued to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors which were based on "pure ignorance". It is against this mindset, I am taking Dr. Dunn’s words serious:
Today is an ordinary day in the life of Liberians, yet I hope today will mark a new beginning, the beginning of a national introspection. Such a critical look at the national self could lead us to clarify for ourselves why we call ourselves Liberians, and then what national self-image we wish to project to the world beyond us.
Lastly, my friend and brother, J. Patrick Flomo’s observation makes the argument why the symbols should be revisited. Flomo observed: “A motto is considered an apothegm, adopted as a guiding principle or the summarization of the general conviction or purpose of an organized entity, whether it is a society, corporation, or social organization. Every nation has a motto; each nation’s motto defines the conscience of its people. The motto expresses, defines, and intertwines the collective sense of oneness and direction. Moreover, a motto seems to project an intellectual soul and conscience. For example, the American motto is, “E pluribus Unum,” or “Out of Many, One;” the French motto is, “Liberté’, Egalite’, Fraternité’,” or “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity;” the Ghana Motto is “Freedom and Justice.” These three examples express a sense of oneness and purpose for each country. Liberia’s motto seems to lack soul, conscience, or the spirit of intellectualism. Moreover, the motto expresses no sense of oneness or a collective purpose. In fact, it continues to express a divided people: the descendants of former American slaves (Americo-Liberians) and the indigenous population (natives)”. (J. Patrick Flomo, “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here” published in August 23, 2013 edition of TheLiberianJournal)
Flomo’s observations are what all Liberians need to honestly address. Therefore, I have reduced how I feel about the Symbols and Constitution in the poem provided below:
© By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
As a proud African
I would love for the name
Of my country to be called
The Republic of Songhai
Or by another name
Than a Western name
Name that has cultural significance
Like some African countries.
I am willing to reach a compromise or two
On few national issues
A compromise on the name LIBERIA
To remain like it tis
For the fact that it has historical significance
To our sojourn brethren
And the role for which they played
In uniting with us.
Yet, I will be remised
If I did not say to you
That it makes me ashamed
For the country that I love so dearly
To bear names of places and persons
Who treated my sojourn brethren
With no dignity and respect
And whenever I think of it
The first name that comes to mind
Is the name MONROVIA
The Capital of LIBERIA
That was named in honor of
President James Monroe of the United States
An individual who participated
In the scheme to have our brethren
Deported on account of their skin color
It is only proper for the name MONROVIA
To be changed back to DUCOR.
There are individuals like me
Who feel strongly that some compromises
Are in order, to change several things
Things like the motto that reads:
“The Love Of Liberty Brought Us Here”
To “The Love Of Liberty Unites Us Here”
For the flag, our mighty Lone Star
To undergo some positive revisions
The white star to change to BLACK
To represent our African race
The blue field to change to GREEN
To represent the land and its wealth
The WHITE stripes to change to BLACK
The RED stripes, to remain like it tis
To remind us of the blood that was shed
In the Middle Passage, slavery
And the brutality suffered
Under colonialism and neo-colonialism.
When these changes are made
They will complement the new realities
So eloquently stated in the 1985 PREAMBLE:
“We the People of the Republic of Liberia
Recognizing from many experiences
During our existence that all of our People
Irrespective of their history, traditions
Or ethnic background, are part of
One common body politic.”
With these words as a reminder
We are to remain ONE NATION
UNDER GOD and INDIVISIBLE.
From the upcoming book of poetry titled: TIPOSAH: Message From The Palava Hut - published by Kiiton Press, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A.
About The Author: Siahyonkron Nyanseor is the Chair of the ULAA Council of Eminent Persons (UCEP), Inc. He is a poet, Griot, journalist, and a cultural and political activist. He is an ordained Minister of the Gospel. He is Chairman of the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), publisher of theperspective.org online newsmagazine and Senior Advisor to the Voice of Liberia newsmagazine. In 2012, he Co-authored Djogbachiachuwa: The Liberian Literature Anthology; his book of poems: TIPOSAH: Message from the Palava Hut will soon be on the market. Nyanseor can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org