"Leave the People's Thing Alone" or Mind Your Business!"

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 23, 2003

In my previous article entitled: "The Tax Collector and the Canoe Operator," published by The Perspective on December 9, 2003, I talked about an incident that occurred between a tax collector from Monrovia, and a Klao (Kru) man, whose duties it was to provide services for those that had to go across the Sanquin River. But when the Government official who was on an "important Government business" arrived at the crossing, he did not meet the Canoe Operator. As a result, he got vexed and begun cursing (abusing) "country people" - those he had dealt with in the past, the Canoe Operator who he had not met. Eventually, the Operator appeared from the bush where he went to attend to the call of nature. Because he did not attend to the Honorable's needs immediately, an altercation ensued, verbal exchanges were made, during which the Operator said to the Honorable:

"My good friend, don't ever underestimate a book by its cover". And he added, "Since you don't know the difference between the ‘divisions of labor', let me tell you. Divisions of labor simply mean that not everyone can perform the same duty or trade; therefore, individuals specialized in different trade. That's the reason, I am not familiar with any of your Ologies and you are not with mine, either. For this reason, you depend on me to get you across the river. So from here on, you better watch what you say to the next country man you meet up with as you go about your so-called ‘important Government business.'"

This reminds me of the statement that reads, "the greatest literature of a people is the honest and free expression about issues and events concerning them". Therefore, to say one must mind his/her business is like not being alive, because "Politics is life, and not to be politically active or conscious is to neglect your life," says Dr. Wafula Okumu.

At an early age, the political culture in Liberia taught us to play it safe by remaining disengage or pretending vexed issues in our society were not any of our business. As the result, we were told to "leave the people's thing along", meaning politics of pregnant issues. This statement should have followed with the question, "who are the people the thing belongs to?" Instead, many of us went about minding our business.

I content that it was this culture of "Mind Your Business" that led our country into the present deplorable state. This culture was such that the mere expression of concern about a social, economic or political issue was like committing a cardinal sin. And those that had the guts to question the ills that existed in our society were dismissed as being Craky – a Liberian expression, which means crazy.

If there was ever a time for Liberia to change for the good of its citizens, the time is now! We must get involved at ever level of the problem concerning our country. In fact, we must follow our conscience, obey the LAWS and abide by the Constitution of our country as well as hold our leaders and elected representatives accountable for their actions. We cannot continue to give them "free ride" - unlimited power and make excuses for their behaviors, i.e.:

· "My man, he's the President;" suggesting that he is above the law.
· The belief that the Executive Branch of government has supreme power as compared to the Legislative and Judicial branches.
· The practice by both the Legislative and the Judicial branches of government to support the President even if the President's actions are in violation of the Constitution.
· Bypassing the Constitution to submit resolution or petition to the President to succeed himself for another term of office.
· The habit of telling the President what he wants to hear and not what he ought to hear – good or bad.
· The common practice by the President, Big Shots and the elites to "sleep with under aged girls", other people's wives without any consequence.
· Condoning the practices of Open Corruption, Nepotism and the Abuse of Power.
· The acceptance of bribe and embezzlement as being ok once the resources are used to build houses, take care of one's family, friends and girlfriends.
· Condemning an accused person, i.e., disrobing, beating and destroying or taking away his properties before he/she is tried for the alleged crime.
· Big Shots taking the laws into theirs own hands; for example, jailing, beating or even killing an employee without any consequence.

In fact, there is a contemporary versions of "leave the people's thing alone". They are: "don't rock the boat", "don't push up fire", "you're looking for trouble", or the call to just "forget about the past" for the sake of peace and reconciliation. To me this approach is based on a false sense of history. Many of the people who make these remarks have not learned from the past, therefore, they are asking us to repeat past mistakes. Some of them even go to the extent of repeating something they do not believe in - like "Liberians need to forget the past for the sake of peace and reconciliation."

Well, since history does not contain only the future, it is narrow-mindedness to forget the past. The past is not something one forgets easily. It is part of one's experience! The past (history) serves as a vehicle for correcting past mistakes and to improve on past successes.

As a matter of fact, we got where we find ourselves today, because most of our people were too afraid to rock-the-boat or did not have the guts to look the truth square in the face to say, "enough is enough" but rather engaged in hide and seek, deception and hypocrisy. Many religious leaders are guilty of this behavior as well. Instead of doing as Jesus did, condemned wrongdoing, they let the opportunities to bring about change slip by. They too, continue to tell the Liberian people how good it is to forgive and forget. Perhaps, it is out of fear and other reasons they elected to remain silent on many of these vexing issues, but I feel something is wrong with this approach!.

Several decades ago, The Student's Companion written by Wilfred D, Best was one of the most cherished English language textbook supplements students in Liberia used because of its extensive vocabulary and proverbs. One such proverbs, "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride", conjures the complexities of the ongoing struggle between the warring fashions – LURD, MODEL and the NPP. Many of us would desire for wishes to be horses in order for us to ride as fast as possible to make our country safe – free of violence and senseless killings of innocent Liberians. But not so! The past doesn't seem to be going away. Instead, it continues to haunt us. Can we forget the past as suggested by some quarters? The answer is no! It cannot be forgotten, it can be forgiven. In fact, this is one of the reasons we are being constantly reminded of it through history and Holy books. Even then, those who made mistakes in the past will have to admit and accept the responsibilities to have those mistakes corrected so that they will be forgiven, and the mistakes to not be repeated.

To forget the past in the spirit of peace and reconciliation without the wrong doer first admitting his/her wrongs is to ignore the dynamics of history. This approach has never worked in the past, and I don't think it is going to work for Liberians today, because history as recorder of past and present events has to address the past, without which the future cannot be planned or predicted.

If the majority of our people continue to remain silent on these vexing issues, Liberians will end up with a worwor (ugly) system, and worwor leaders, and these worwor leaders will continue to violate our rights, including the constitution they swore to uphold.

The truth of the matter is, we cannot withdraw to the comfort of our place in exile while our people continue to suffer because of the greed of a few. To bring an end to their miseries, we must participate in the ongoing dialogue in finding a lasting solution to our problem. If there was ever a time to be engaged, now is the time! We need to get involved - serve as beacons of truth and hope in a desperate world that is yearning for HOPE and REDEMPTION. To serve as mere spectators, will continue to fuel the miseries for our people.