MY LAST WILL: I Like The Sun Rise Again

By James Thomas-Queh


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 26, 2005


For the centennial celebration in 1947, President Tubman commissioned the famous Duke Ellington to do a composition in our national honour. The album that came out “Liberian Suite” had its first piece entitled: “I Like The Sun Rise.” It has been over half a century since then and out of the ashes of total destructive madness, we have elected not only the first female President of Liberia, but also the first in Africa and about the fifth or so female leader in the world. Thus like in 1847, Liberia has bounced back once again as the trailblazer of a positive example not only for Africa, but also for the rest of the world in this 21st century. O’ how great I feel to be a Liberian; and that I can now proudly say: “I Like The Sun Rise Again.”

To the President elect, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and our compatriots. Congratulations! And we are all very proud to be Liberians. We have shown to the entire world our tolerance, civility and political maturity long time underestimated. I have often reiterated my profound conviction that were Liberians let alone to decide their destiny, they knew exactly where to go. It has been largely repeated, Madam President, that these elections were not about the usual “Congo-Country” bashing turned into the “Krahns against the Gios or Manos” and now to the “book-people against the uneducated”; – they were simply about genuine democratisation of our society – an aspiration for which we have sacrificed our nation and more than 250, 000 of innocent compatriots since the 1979 rice riot. And needless to say that only when a people have the freedom to speak, their right to education, to proper health care, housing, job, and the other basic necessities of existence – can there be genuine peace, reconciliation and sustained national stability and prosperity. It is not the other way around, and neither should we be made to think it is the other around: democracy brings peace; not peace that brings democracy. And never again should we ever lose our focus on this reality. We trust, Madam President, that you would keep that course for the common good and future of our country. And on that note, let me say, you have our fullest and unflinching support.

To Ambassador George Manneh Weah. For a starter, you’ve fought a dignified political battle – bravo! Thanks to your democratic engagement and fair play, the Liberian elections stayed on the international news headlines until the end. But somewhere in these same columns we have had the opportunity to express our admiration to you under the caption: “The Hurdles of State Power..” (See -Dec.20, 2005). I still think you made one fatal error that you must overcome if at all you intend to continue a successful political career. That is -you transformed an icon crowd into a populist political support base. There is a significant difference between the two: An icon generally lives of his or her crowd without any obligation whatsoever; whereas political crowd lives off the politician, and when that crowd turns populist then, unfortunately, it becomes dangerous and harder to control. Superfluous to mention that you have in your entourage some of the most experienced and tested politicians, but who have failed to alert you on this intrigue of a populist political crowd. Because since the 1979 rice riot, we have learned that because stability is an important prerequisite to national prosperity, “populism” does not necessarily make sound politics or politicians. Populism is an immediate reaction of the masses in despair - a red signal, so to speak, to those who lead nations. As a result, populism is a real national burden. First, for those whose prominence depends upon it – it is a force that either breaks or stigmatises beyond repairs. And second, he or she who leads should have the genuine political will to turn gradually that red signal to yellow and then to green. To achieve this at a faster pace, it is therefore important for these two poles –both the national and populist leaders – to meet on a neutral ground: national interest. In clear terms – both leaders must take or consider their national responsibilities. Otherwise they would be doomed to history.

It was also no coincidence, Mr. Ambassador, that out of the 22 candidates, you were among the two front-runners. According to most foreign observers there were two tendencies of voters: those who voted with their heart (for you), and those who voted with their head (for Mrs. Sirleaf). And believe me, those are the two most important poles of national energies; and when blended together for a common national good – there is nothing that can stop that nation from reaching its zenith in stability and prosperity. And as I have mentioned to you before, politics needs patience and time; and age and time are still in your favour, but not patience; the greatest task ahead of you now is how to survive a political party. Luck. But in the main time, let history remembers you that the only winner on November 8, 2005, was LIBERIA.

Have we yet vindicated our generation? Partly. It seems that we have been running after history. It took our founding fathers 25 years –from 1822 to 1847 – to declared Liberia the first independent nation on the dark continent of Africa. It has taken us 26 years of struggle, destruction, carnage, etc. – from 1979 to 2005 – to have elected the first female president on the continent of Africa, and among the fifth or so female leaders in the world. So yes, we can rightly say that as the fortunate survivals of this generation, we have witnessed the beginning for what more than 250, 000 of our compatriots have been sacrificed. We must now keep our focus to continue to heal our deep national wounds and piece together our nation for the future of our children. It would be the end of our mission.

Thus preserving our democratic gains. This is the daunting task to the political “gurus” – those seasoned and those emerging. That said, as an observer and layman, we want to advance some leads for exploration – a part of our thoughts that we have already exposed elsewhere. We need to eat our cake while it is still hot, the old folks would say.
1. That the first 3 or so political parties in these elections should receive government financial subsidies to be decided by the National Legislature. Our people are too poor and destitute to finance or rely upon to finance their political parties. Government subsidies would mean accountability and investment into the preparation of our future leaders. This is the route that is now being followed by even the most developed nations in the world. That this democracy we so cherished has also a financial price for its sustenance and survival.
2. That the National Election Commission (NEC) should be reinforced, financed and maintained as an independent institution. Though the Diaspora was not allow to vote, most of us were extremely proud that from a click on the internet button we were able, at least, to follow the evolution of the election results.
3. Beginning with the current government, we must take a vow to have a government of inclusion during the next two decades or so. That is, until our people should have been well settled, financial improvement and social and political institutions stronger.
4. Limitation to a one-term presidency. These elections have shown that the absence of the incumbent from the ballots can create a level playing field – a free and fair democratic process. We must continue to innovate the emerging democracy in Africa with our exemplary boldness.
5. We should not precipitate into a full-scale de-centralisation scheme until we have established a strong sense of patriotism and centralised democratic institutions. And again these elections have demonstrated that our national politics is still conceived very heavily on tribal affiliations. Thus it is an imminent danger that a former warlord be elected superintendent of a country and later declared himself president of a separated state (especially if that county should have our natural resources), should he or she harbours the conviction that his or her political party was cheated in the presidential elections.
6. Citizenship and dual-nationality – By granting citizenship and property ownership on race and colour, the Liberian constitution is racist. I repeat: the Liberian constitution is racist. We need to now look at ourselves hard in the mirror and recognise this absurdity. In a quest for reform we need to first disassociate the granting of “citizenship” from that of “property ownership.” Liberians in the Diaspora all over the world have properties in places where they are not necessarily citizens, but simply law abiding and legal residents. We hold the same respect and dignity to those who live legally and law abiding within our national boarders, irrespective of race or colour. And then the dual-nationality – It is a pure absurdity again to demand from our children and their parents who have spent the last 25 years in exile and refugees camps to make a choice between Liberia and those countries that have generously adapted them. Dual-citizens are enormous assets to the future development and prosperity of our country; and must therefore be embraced into our constitution. Anything on the contrary, this time then we are diehard racist against ourselves.

My last will. This is to my compatriots, and in particular to those of Grand Gedeh (from where came my maternal grandmother), those of Nimba, the settler class, and the fellow members of our generation. It has been 25 years since Presidents Tolbert and Doe, and general Quiwonkpa went tragically to the great beyond. We have since learned that these three men did not incarnate their respective tribes or groupings, but instead, were both the incarnation and victims of a System from which we are all the by-products. Our children, today 25 years and above, have a very distance memory of these three noble sons, if I dare say (because each in his own way tried to take our Liberia from wrong to right), and yet they –our children -have been the principal victims of our madness of carnage and destruction. Let their future now be our prime concern and objective; we must move beyond our collective guilt, fear and intimidation to the larger national interest where we all would have the freedom to live in peace, tranquillity and prosperity. Liberia is for all of us; and we are all proud to be Liberians.