A speech delivered at the closing program of Rick’s Institute in Virginia,
Montserrado County on Sunday, July 3, 2016
By Tiawan S. Gongloe (Cllr.)
The administration and members of the teaching staff of this great Institution, officials of government, parents, students and other distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
As a father of an alumnus of this great institution, I am greatly honored by my selection, in the midst of more intellectually endowed Liberians, to speak to you at this very important annual event of this institution. In view of the end of the mission of the United Nations Mission in Liberia and the promise of our government to the world and to the Liberian people that Liberia will remain peaceful, even with the departure of UNMIL, I have chosen to speak to you this afternoon on the topic: Keeping the Promise of maintaining Peace in Liberia-an obligation of all Liberians.
A few days ago, the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia ended its duties of peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. From October, 2003 to June 30, 2016, the world through the United Nations deployed here in Liberia, members of the military, para-military and civilians to support the United Nations effort to make peace, keep peace and to consolidate or strengthen peace in Liberia. In other words the United Nations brought to Liberia well-armed soldiers, police officers, correction officers, immigration officers, fire service officers, intelligence officers, amongst others.
The United Nations also brought in civilians with special skills and expertise, ranging from mechanics, plumbers, yellow machine operators, electricians, masons, carpenters, engineers, computer experts, lawyers, political analysists, financial analysts, administrators, amongst others. While UNMIL was keeping the peace, it was providing training the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberia National Police, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, the Correction Service; it help to establish a probation service; it helped to strengthen the prosecution by providing training of lawyers and by giving stipends through consultancy contracts and other logistical support; it helped to strengthen the public defense system in all courts throughout Liberia; it supported the Judiciary through training and logistical support, amongst other things; it helped in the drafting of policies and laws for reforms improving the justice system and general governance.
UNMIL helped to rehabilitate roads throughout Liberia, especially during the raining season, and through its quick impact program built police stations, magistrate courts, etc. Generally, we can safely conclude that the world, through UNMIL, kept its promise for the restoration peace, assistance with reconstruction, repatriation, reintegration, reforms in our laws and institutions for effective governance, amongst other interventions. We are now on our own.
When our government took over from UNMIL on Friday, July 1, 2016, what we, the people of Liberia were doing on that historic day was that we were saying to the world that we were now able to function as a peaceful nation and that never again, will there be a need for a peacekeeping force in Liberia. We were promising the world that Liberia will forever be a peaceful country. We the people of Liberia must keep this promise. We have no other choice.
We must be guided by our history that, a nation established on the promises of protecting human rights, especially upholding the equality of all Liberians in the governance the country, governance by respect of the rule, becoming the beacon of hope for all oppressed people of the world, and a shining example of the ability of African people to run a civilized government, has suffered landmark tragedies due the failure of its leaders to keep the promises upon which Liberia was founded. In 1871, President Edward James Roye, Liberia’s fifth president was brutally overthrown for failure of the political establishment at the time, to keep the promise of upholding the law, driven by greed for power. President Roye attempted to illegally extend his term of office, in betrayal of the promise he made in his oath of office that he would uphold, defend and promote the Constitution and statue laws of Liberia. The politicians opposed King, some of whom were law-makers, illegally removed him from office by issuing a manifesto and by the use of non-government armed militia. They too, like President Roye brayed the promise of respecting the Constitution and statute laws of Liberia.
In 1927, President Charles D. B King, manipulated the electoral process to illegally retain power. In the election between Charles D. B. King of the True Whig Party and T.J. R. Falkner of the People’s Party, King obtained 243,000 votes and Falkner got 9,000 votes, when the total number of registered voters in that election was 15, 000. He betrayed the promise of upholding the law and morally governing our country. King was a beneficiary of a corrupt electoral process introduced and managed by him. The election is still recorded in the Guinness Book of Record as the most fraudulent election in world history. King and his Vice President were forced to resign as a result of the crises that had its roots in the fraudulent elections of 1927, as the opposition accused President King of permitting slavery, slave trade, and forced labor.
Although the 1847 Constitution of Liberia provided equal rights to all citizens of Liberia, it was not until 1904 that the indigenous people were recognized as citizens of Liberia and it was not until 1946 that the indigenous people of Liberia and women were allowed to vote and be voted for in elections for public offices in Liberia. This was a betrayal of the promise contained in the 1847 Constitution of Liberia that all Liberian citizens would be treated equally. Even the granting of universal suffrage in 1946 was pretentious because when D. Twe and other politicians decided to participate in the electoral process they were charged with sedition and they suffered severely at the hands of President Tubman. Tubman definitely betrayed the promise of upholding the law and morally governing our country.
In the 1970s President William R. Tolbert promised to open the political space to allow the Liberian people to speak to their leaders freely without any fear of repercussion. However, his arrest of university students in 1974, 1978, one of whom was your humble servant and leaders of PAL, MOJA and LINSU in 1979, in their attempt to freely express themselves to their government was a betrayal of his promise to the Liberian people that he would uphold freedom of expression.
In 1980, the military brutally overthrew the Government of President Tolbert, established a government they called the People’s Redemption Counsel and promised to eliminate corruption and inequality as well as to promote respect for basic human rights and the rule of law. The military government headed by Master Sergeant Doe became very corrupt and promoted inequality and institutionalized abuse of human rights and lack of respect for the rule of law. The military government of Samuel Doe, betrayed the promise made to the people of Liberia on April 12, 1980. The result was the extra-judicial killings of political opponents and a fourteen year civil conflict.
As a result of the Doe Government’s betrayal of its promise to the Liberian people, several armed groups evolved over the years. The names of these armed groups were full of promises of promoting the common good of the Liberian people. The first was the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). This armed group promised to free all Liberians from the brutal regime of Samuel Doe. However, this group became the most effective killing machine against the Liberian people, thereby betraying its promise to the Liberian people. In reaction to the National Patriotic Front of Liberia came the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO). This group, like the NPFL, committed atrocities against the Liberian people thereby betraying its promise to promote democracy which is guided by the principle of acting for all the people. Then came the Liberian Peace Council, which instead of using peaceful means in the interest of the Liberian people also committed atrocities against the Liberian people, thereby betraying its promise of being an instrument of peace for all the people of Liberia. This group was followed by the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) along with its ally the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). Both of them were responsible for serious atrocities against the Liberian people, thereby betraying the promise of acting in the interest of all Liberians.
Finally, came President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who promised the Liberian people that she would be in power for one term and her main concentration would be the laying of a firm foundation for good governance, through combatting corruption, upholding the rule of law and protecting the human rights of all Liberians without distinction. She declared corruption as public enemy number one. However, under her administration, Liberians have witnessed selective justice, the shielding of some corrupt officials, the jailing of journalists and political activists for sedition, criminal libel against the president, criminal malevolence; she has engaged in nepotism, preferential treatment of some political appointees in terms of salaries and benefits, the breaking down of viable institutions established by past governments, such as National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL). Further, President Sirleaf has failed to revive institutions such as the Housing and Savings Bank, the Agricultural Bank, the Free Zone, amongst others which were established by past governments based on the homegrown vision of building local capital for investment and the development of local entrepreneurship and increased agricultural production, as well as providing a foundation for export promotion and import substitution.
Although, President Sirleaf promised us change for the better, the process of the change that she promised has been largely driven, by prescriptions of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions. Unlike the regime of President Tolbert that relied on local wisdom and the experience of other countries like Ivory Coast and Tanzania to develop the policy of self-reliance as a sustainable instrument of comprehensive national development and the policy of export promotion and import substitution as a sustainable economic policy, for reducing economic dependency, promoting industrialization, with the net effect of increasing employment, broadening the tax base and improving the quality of life of the people of Liberia, this government has largely relied on the prescriptions of the world bank such as poverty reduction strategy and vision 2030.
The government has also, virtually relied on non-governmental organizations to carry on rural development, especially in the areas of health and education, and have done so in a manner that appears like government has abdicated its responsibility of intervening in the lives of the people. This is a betrayal of the promise of promoting good governance by nationally driven programs. It should be noted the interventions by NGOs are donor driven. When donors stop giving money to NGOs, the NGOs stop their interventions and sometimes leave the country abruptly. Most often the projects that they are engaged in at the time that they stop receiving money remains abandoned forever. Today, for example, many hand pumps that were installed by NGOs are broken down, in many parts of the country.
Do not get me wrong. The World Bank, IMF and NGOs can make great contributions in poor countries, such as Liberia and they have done a lot here. However, these institutions must be made by government to be supportive of nationally developed and nationally driven programs, in order for their interventions to have long-lasting effect. They should not be permitted by government to lead the process of development. Africa, for example, witnessed in the past the failure of the structural adjustment program which was introduced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Critical scholars have concluded that no nation can experience growth and development by over-reliance on foreign aid. This government, therefore, miserably failed in its promise of laying a firm foundation for good governance and development by its over-reliance on foreign aid.
Dependency hinders national development because it disregards the capacity of the people to make progress. The promotion of dependency instead of a nationally driven process of laying a firm foundation for our development is a betrayal of the promise upon which this government was elected. This persistent betrayal of promise has created a lack of trust and respect for the government of Liberia and its functionaries. It is a situation that has created mass disenchantment and hopelessness. If the situation continues, it could undermine peace and the breakdown of law and order, thereby necessitating a return of the United Nations to Liberia. We must not let this happen to us. We must do nothing to undermine our collective security.
Emerging leaders in Liberia must commit themselves to keeping the promise of maintaining peace in Liberia. Those intending to contest for political power in the 2017 elections must commit themselves to keeping the peace, by making a solemn vow to themselves not to be like their predecessors who failed to keep the promise of upholding the values that promotes and maintains peace. The electorates, the ordinary Liberian people must vote for leaders who, by their track records, have demonstrated consistency in what they say and do and therefore, have the ability to keep the promise of maintaining peace in Liberia. Do not follow politicians, whom I call political investors and election time humanitarians. Such politicians cannot keep the peace. In fact they are threat to peace in Liberia. Following them, for short term benefits is the same as undermining the peace, stability, security and progress of our country.
You young people must choose your role models, wisely. Do not admire those, who in a few months after getting into public office become so filthy rich, as though they are money magicians. In some cases, these magically rich officials of government could not easily find food to feed their families or to even pay rents for their rooms, I say rooms, not apartments. Suddenly you see them with huge buildings and fleets of expensive vehicles and riding only first class, when they travel out of the country. Then in order to make the public believe that the source of their money is business, they open big businesses that they did not have before holding the positions that they now occupy.
The business that corrupt government officials do is for one purpose, only. It is for the purpose of transforming corrupt money into clean money. This is referred to as money laundering. Such people, definitely betray the promise of keeping Liberia peaceful. Public servants must always be perceived by the people as acting in the public interest. In this regard, it is not what they actually do, but what they are perceived to be doing. It is the appearance of impropriety that is the yardstick for judging public officials, not the actual existence of impropriety. Therefore, public servants, especially those who hold leadership positions must conduct themselves in manners that make the people to see them as good people.
In this regard, the situation today whereby leaders of the Executive and the Legislature are trading accusations of bribery is shameful and scandalous. Such trading of accusations undermines public trust, at the highest level of our government and therefore, threatens the peace and stability of our country. I plead with you not to make such leaders your role models, as future leaders of our country.
I urge you students, especially those who will be departing this school at end of this academic year, to develop the courage of living honest lives. Strive to work hard for what you earn. Avoid the temptation of pursuing shortcuts or being beneficiaries of shortcuts. It is only when a majority of the men and women who hold leadership positions in the public service in our country have integrity that our government will succeed in keeping the promise to the world that we will maintain peace in Liberia forever. Therefore, my children, I urge you to strive very hard to be men and women of integrity. Lack of integrity is a threat to peace, stability, our collective security and national development. Let your actions always match what you say. I advise you to always keep the promises you make to others. Say what you really mean and do what you say. Be promise keepers for lasting peace in Liberia.
May God Bless you all.
I thank you.