Liberians need to be optimistic--but cautiously


Joseph K. Solo


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 12, 2006


Recently, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan expressed concerns that there are looming clouds over the relatively peaceful atmosphere that exist in Liberia today. The secretary-general highlighted certain issues which if not dealt with prudently and with level head could potentially disrupt the peace that has been enjoyed so far in that war wearied country. The Honorable secretary-general has every reasons to be concerned. After all his organization has expended millions of dollars to intervene in order to stop the carnage that was thrust on that country by its own sons and daughters just because of greed for political power and money. What is more, as a son of west Africa, Annan felt the need to save Liberia and thereby saving the sub-region from anarchy. Because of that, he put his personal reputation on the line to create the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world to be deployed in Liberia. Liberia is having a relative peace today and was able to conduct free and fair elections to usher in a new government because of the intervention of the international community. For this we should be grateful to him

But despite all the progress that has been made, Annan is afraid that there are potentials that disruptions could come to Liberia if some issues are not settled. He mentioned the disgruntled ex-combatants who have not been compensated since their demobilization; Annan also mentioned the former members of the armed forces of Liberia and their families who are demanding that the government pay them benefits. Above all, Annan expressed concerns about the George Weah’s Center for Democratic Change, which participated in the elections and lost. Even though, the world declared the elections free and transparent, CDC is not willing to accept defeat and is willing to resort to violence to achieve its objectives. Like Koffi Annan, Liberians should be concerned about all these issues as well. And even though Weah has decided to withdraw his appeal to the Supreme Court contesting the transparency of the elections results, there are a lot of disgruntled Weah partisans out there who we need to be concerned about.

But all in all, Liberians have every reasons to be optimistic, with our president –elect being accorded respect on the world stage and Liberia going down in the Guiness book of records as the first African country to elect the first female president in Africa. Rewind the time to three years back when we had an international pariah and criminal who was banned by the UN from traveling and who was indicted as a war criminal, but was sitting as a president. Yes indeed, we have every reason to be optimistic. But I will advise that we can be optimistic but we need to be cautiously optimistic.

Some of the issues raised by Annan could be dealt with by a competent and sensitive government. Underline sensitive and competent government; words that could not be used to describe the Gydue Bryant’s interim government. Frankly, there is no explanation why the problems with the demobilized ex-combatants have not been dealt with all this time. I guess the same reasons why after over two years in office and over two hundred millions of donor money, there is no electricity and pipe borne water in Monrovia not to mention the entire country. But I am hopeful that Mrs. Sirleaf –Johnson’s government will consider the issue with the ex-combatants a very serious threat to national security and will deal with it as humanly and expeditiously as possible. Also, considering remunerations for retired veterans and families, their issues should be dealt with on a case by case and humane basis. There are a lot of them who served their country honorably and they and their families should be remunerated. But there are others who committed atrocities and they should be discovered and punished and not compensated. That may be a tall order considering that some of these murderers have been elected senators and representatives. I can imagine reinforcements being called at the Capitol building to prevent physical altercations as I can foresee that some of our people who just got elected law makers may not be capable of making intellectual arguments to convince their colleagues to support their stands on issues and therefore may resort to armed bullying. That should be another cause for fear.

But the most important issue that we should really worry about is the George Weah Phenomenon- this mindset amongst Liberians, mostly young Liberians, that you do not have to get prepared and don’t have to learn anything but that you can just be placed in a leadership position. This is a scary thought and to see some of our so-called educated people making the case for a George Weah presidency and some are even taking hard-lines, convincing Mr. Weah not to concede the election. How could a man like Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh try to convince people that George Weah could be a better president than any one of those who ran for the office including him, and still tell me that he loves Liberia?

But the issue is more than George Weah. The issue is how patriotic and nationalistic some of the so-called heroes of yesteryears are? And how depraved some young Liberians are to think that they don’t need any education to succeed in this life. As has been said over and over again, a man like George Weah has every opportunity to prepare himself educationally and professionally but he chose not to. Therefore, I would not think that he would be considered a role model by many Liberian youth. The reason is that when given the opportunity many of young people would venture to learn new things and prepare themselves for leadership in this 21st century. But during the election, we learned something different about many of our youth and that is scary.

And like Koffi Annan, I am scared that if this phenomenon is not debunked and it begins to take hold in the Liberian psyche, then we are for the birds. The way to debunk that mindset is to promote education by rewarding the brightest among us. With some of our youth looking up to warlords and celebrities for inspiration, we need to refocus them so that they could be encouraged to look up to our doctors, our engineers, scientists and writers for inspiration because no matter how you look at it, our nation will never move forward in the progressive era without the expertise of these people. We need to reward trained and educated people so that they could be respected in society. Our teachers need to be elevated by comparable remuneration and benefits and incentives should be provided for our brightest people to choose the teaching profession. I can remember a time in the eighties when the army privates were living better lives than graduate degree holders who were teaching in the high schools, colleges and universities. No wonder young people who came of age or were born in that era devalue education. It is pretty simple. Why would anyone spend their time and energy to study to get degrees just to scrap for a living while a man or woman who did not complete fifth grade is living a luxurious life? This will be the challenge facing our new government. The challenge is to bring Liberia in the 21st century since it has moved back to the eighteenth century. And the way to do it is not to condemn people but to persuade and educate them to know that in life we have to be patient to learn certain things and make certain sacrifices and wait for our time to seek leadership when we are ready. On the eve of the inauguration of first genuinely elected leader and first female president on the continent, Liberia has re-entered the world map as a respected member of the community of nations. Our new president, I am sure is fully aware of what need to be done to maintain Liberia’s newly gain status and improved upon it. She needs to bring around her those very few capable, competent Liberians who are nationalistic and love their country so that together they can create the environment for posterity to strive. Long Live Liberia!