By Martin K. N. Kollie
I woke up this morning to a sunny day wondering whether there is still hope for my homeland and its people after almost 168 years of sovereignty. Nothing could really convince me that our Nation is waking up from the ashes of extreme poverty and acute inequality. For almost 10 minutes, I could not shake my lips as I began to contemplate on our horrendous past. The country we cherish so dearly lies in ruin as vast majority of its citizens remain under a devastating canopy of misery. The desperation of most Liberians to embrace a new destiny of socio-economic parity remains a compelling priority. The campaign to ensure inclusive development in all fifteen political subdivisions of our nation is an imperative.
The future of Liberia is gradually slipping downward and if we are not cautious, it might experience an irreparable crash. Is there any reason to observe a day that has lost its meaning? Why must we celebrate Unification Day when there is no middle class? Why must we celebrate Unification Day when vast majority of our people still live in slum communities? Why must we celebrate Unification Day when many of our kids are found selling coldwater during school hours? Why must we celebrate Unification Day when the economic gap between the haves and the have-not is expanding daily? We cannot commemorate Unification Day because existing realities contradict the true essence of this day.
Declaring May 14th of each year through an act of Legislation in 1960 as a National Unification Day was a unique step forward to defeating disunity and deep division between the Americo-Liberian elite and the indigenous majority. During this time, there was total disintegration between forces of the minority class and the majority class. One group felt more supreme than the other and thought Liberia was a family plantation or empire. As a result of their cruel and inhumane actions against vast majority of the people, our nation was bewildered and befuddled by all forms of injustices.
We could not afford to coexist in a country where less than 5% of the population had exclusive authority to decide the political fate and economic paradigm of 95% of the people. As a result of this divisive tendency and anti-democratic precedence, President William V. S. Tubman, who led Liberia from 1944 to 1971 saw it prudent to introduce the Unification Policy. This national plan was intentionally meant to foster unity and brotherhood among all Liberians irrespective of culture or creed. There was a pressing demand for reconciliation between Americo-Liberians and indigenes. National integration was a matter of urgency.
Finally, the PEACE PIPE was blown in 1960 between the majority and the minority after a prolonged era of vicious suppression, discrimination, and segregation. Many Liberians including foreign partners thought that the Unification Policy would have integrated every sphere of our society; unfortunately, this was never the case even after more than five decades since this day was first observed on May 14. The country has been through a lot of hard-hitting and horrible experiences and the masses have been mostly affected during these terrifying times. Sometimes, it becomes really sickening to recount our ugly past.
Our sweet land of liberty has been torn apart by greed, nepotism, corruption, inequality, patronage and all forms of human degradations. What is the significance of celebrating Unification Day when those who we have entrusted with political offices are compromising our interest every day? National Unification starts with patriotism. Integration comes through public transparency and integrity. It must begin with the proper management of the people’s resources. How do we expect unity to prevail across Liberia when over 80% of our people still live on less than $1.25USD per day? How can we celebrate Unification Day when the rate of illiteracy and unemployment is disturbingly high?
Since 2006 up to present, public discontent has taken center stage as our people hustle every day just to survive. A good number of them go to bed hungry even though their country is currently hosting dozens of multi-million concession companies and foreign businesses. Instead of making genuine progress like other countries, our nation is still struggling to crawl out of the dust of underdevelopment and economic deprivation. It is a big shame for Africa’s first independent State to be one of the poorest nations on planet earth.
We can only become happy to observe Unification Day when rampant corruption is minimized and economic pillagers are severely penalized for looting public coffers. Unification Day can only regain its real meaning when access to quality education becomes a practical priority. It is unfortunate that few handfuls of cruel individuals continue to drink imported mineral water while vast majority of our people lack access to safe drinking water. In fact, most of our people are still fetching water from creeks, unsanitary hand pumps, unsafe wells, and drainages. We live in a country of equal citizenship, but socio-economic equality is invisible.
How can unity prevail when they (State actors) are spending millions of dollars on their children and grandchildren to obtain foreign education, while our system of education in Liberia still remains a mess? It is a paradox for Madam Sirleaf to publicly proclaim that education is a priority under her leadership when the highest Institution of tertiary education (University of Liberia) in the country is underfunded. Can $US9.9 million provide quality education and carter for the academic needs of over 36,000 students? This is the real definition of mockery especially when the office of the President uses over $US40 million just in 12 months!
No wonder why Hon. Amara Konneh (Minister of Finance and Development Planning) said recently in Philadelphia during a town hall meeting that Liberia risks another April 14 if government does not intervene to address the economic plights of its citizens. Even though his startling assertion is belated and he cannot be blame-free for the economic misery our people are going through, but his statement must be taken seriously by this insensitive regime and the international community. The people have been through a lot and there comes a time when they become compelled to reshape their destiny and redefine history through genuine democratic actions. April 14, 1979 is a unique example to reference!
The Liberian government was able to generate $US3.1 billion since 2006, but sadly 60% of this amount was spent on just 40,000 people out of more than over 3.5 million people residing in Liberia. This is the highest form of injustice. Is this how we intend to achieve national reconciliation and integration? I certainly don’t think so. If government officials have the leverage to travel abroad and seek advanced medication using public resources, they must also use those very same resources to build a vibrant health sector in Liberia that will cater for the health needs of commoners. If the Managing Directors of Maritime and Freeport can receive over $US15, 000.00 each on a monthly basis as disposable income, then it means we need to increase the monthly wages of our teachers and nurses to at least $US500.00 as well.
Our people deserve to live a better life too like anyone else on earth. We are not requesting Madam Sirleaf, Speaker Tyler, Pro Tempore Jallah, and Chief Justice Korkpor to use their personal resources to improve the livelihood of our people, but our simple demand has always been for this government to manage our resources wisely and provide those basic social necessities of life. Our brothers and Sister in Grand Cape Mount County deserve to sleep under electricity like Binyan Kesselly. Our brothers and sisters in Sinoe County deserve to drink purified water like Madam Sirleaf.
Our children who are working currently on goldmines in leeward counties deserve to be in school like the grandchildren of Madam Sirleaf who are currently acquiring education in the United States. Our young sisters who are currently involved with prostitution deserve empowerment and educational opportunities. There can be no national unification when a huge number of young people in Liberia currently depend on gambling for survival. There can be no integration when the only option for most high school graduates is motorbike-riding. It is time for national stakeholders to initiate genuine steps to promptly mitigate some of these prevailing challenges that are hampering national development and economic growth.
National Unification is worthless and unachievable when over 80% of our population lacks access to the following services:
The people have lost hope as a result of a failed system. They are now close companions to poverty and misery under a self-seeking regime. There can be no unity in any democratic nation until public welfare becomes a matter of national imperative.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, student leader, an emerging economist, and a young writer. He is currently a student at the University of Liberia reading Economics and a member of the Student Unification Party (SUP). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org