When a Sovereign Country Turns into a Failed State: The Case of Liberia

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 6, 2005


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Before I present my own view regarding the ongoing debate about the proposed “Liberia Economic Governance Action Plan” (LEGAP), I want to thank Dr. William E. Allen for his recent article regarding the same topic (theperspective.org, July 5, 2005). I especially want to thank him for his historical background passage on the term “trusteeship”. I also agree with him that the term is generating a lot of emotional debate, for obvious reasons. It is quite disingenuous that some politicians and opinion leaders are invoking the use of the word where it may not necessarily apply; it is true the LEGAP does not call for “trusteeship” as some argue.

Intellectuals, academicians and other public figures as well as ordinary citizens will argue the meaning of the term “trusteeship” endlessly while the practical issue of what is at hand could be lost in the process. But while we argue common semantics, the main questions should be, why is Liberia a candidate for this proposed arrangement? How did we get to this point? And most importantly, after we sift through all the emotions, what is the bottom line? Is the proposal likely to help ordinary Liberians, and the country as a whole? Knowing what I know about this proposal, my answer is, yes.

Let’s take the first question above: Why is Liberia a candidate for this proposal? Because Liberia, like the legendary nursery rhyme character, Humpty Dumpty, has fallen and can’t lift herself up. Literally, Liberia needs her international friends to help her patch her old shells and restore her to what she once was. Those who ignore this reality are not doing the rest of us a favor. We need help and our friends are making a proposal that we need to sensibly debate, instead of jumping to wild and unrealistic assumptions about their agenda; it’s time for a reality check.

How did we get to this point? Liberia is Africa’s oldest independent country. We like to argue over bragging rights with Ethiopia, the only other country that could make the same claim, depending on applicable technicalities. As a child, that dubious distinction was the source of enormous pride for me. Apparently, for a lot of grown folks, it is still true without any critical analyses. But if Liberia is Africa’s oldest independent country, how did we become a failed state after nearly one hundred fifty years?

The answer to that question is, through failed leadership – self-imposed, local-bred leadership. For close to a century and a half, we have had one Liberian leader after another who has put his personal interests (and that of his clan) above national interests. Some of our leaders pitted one group of citizens against another. (We will recall it took over a hundred years after independence for universal suffrage to become a reality in Liberia). Some of these leaders are on record of being kleptomaniacs; they boldly and shameless enriched themselves without giving national priorities any prominence. During these successive administrations, the term “corruption” has come to be accepted as a leadership criterion; our leaders are corrupt people, we all seem to agree.

Is the proposal likely to help ordinary Liberians and the country as a whole? Yes, if implemented with due caution. The trick now is to understand the proposal and examine it in great detail. Those who are in a position to do critically analyze this document are urged to do so instead of generating these emotional debates that play on the intelligence and emotions of our people.

Let’s consider some practical issues: If you live in Harper Maryland County, it now takes weeks to travel by car to Monrovia (a distance that could be covered twice in just one day). After being independent for nearly a hundred fifty years and going through a succession of at least twenty administrations, Liberia (a country roughly the size of the state of Ohio), does not have modern roads. Do you think the people of Harper would prefer to have road construction managed and controlled by internationals alongside their Liberian counterparts or to continually have a few “ Liberian leaders” living lavishly at their expense without modern roads? Aren’t we tired making individual Liberians rich? I think those people would welcome the proposal if they understood the perceived benefit.

Think about all the other benefits that could be weighed against this idiotic concept of “sovereignty being snatched by colonialists”. Liberia has hardly any clinics or hospitals. Schools are crumbling from lack of repair after a prolonged civil war and the unemployment rate is probably the highest in the world, competing with a few other backward countries. The ills befalling the country are too numerous to list, and who got is in this almost irreversible muddle? The answer is, Liberian leaders, during a time of national independence and sovereignty. We can’t blame our plight on foreign invasion; as a matter of fact, we owe our existence to foreign aid, without which we could have ceased to exist as a nation.

Now, our friends in the international community are gearing up to lend us another helping hand. But they are understandably trying to set a few conditions. Without bothering to understand what’s being proposed, the doomsayers and self-styled leaders are telling us our sovereignty is being compromised. The question is what did we do when we had a chance to distinguish ourselves among the community of nations? We made ourselves the world’s laughing stock. How long must we continue to allow such calamity only because our own countrymen deliver it? Does it hurt any lesser?

I, therefore, join Dr. Allen and others who are calling on our people to exercise patience in examining the merits of the debate at hand. We do ourselves no justice by jumping on this bandwagon of “the fear of surrendering our national sovereignty”. The International Partners to Liberia (IPL) -- (UN, USA, EU, and ECOWAS) are not threatening our “national sovereignty”. Instead, they have come to our assistance after our own people led us from one disaster to another. The sensible thing to do is to listen and evaluate what is being proposed. Maybe in the end we can gain real “sovereignty” and learn to safeguard it properly.

Special Note: I understand that ULAA’s endorsement of the proposal did not go through the normal channels; that the endorsement was made by ULAA’s selected top brass without giving other bodies such as the Board of Directors a chance to study and debate the merits of the proposal. For a national organization like ULAA to bolster its waning popularity, it must always act democratically; to do otherwise undermines its own credibility. It doesn’t matter what the issues are or what its position is, the organization has an obligation to speak for all its people, not just a few movers and shakers.