Liberia - The Meaning Of Independence
By: James W. Harris
July 27, 2001
Like many nations around the world, the Republic of Liberia, in West Africa, this past July 26, observed its 154th "independence" anniversary. For many nations, this is the most appropriate time to pause, seriously, and think (or rethink) about their present course in relation to the past. Up to at least 1980, when the late master sergeant, Samuel K. Doe, seized the country in a bloody military coup, Liberia was somewhat the envy of many African countries as it enjoyed relative stability on the turbulent continent.
Having been established by freed black slaves from America and others of African descent in the 1820's, who were determined to take "their destiny into their own hands," Liberia gradually became the "beacon of light" for all of Africa. It provided hope for Africans and others that were engaged in the struggle to free themselves of the vestiges of slavery, colonialism and imperialism.
Like any country that was newly evolving, successive Liberian leaderships, going as far back as its pre-independence, regrettably made their share of mistakes that should not be easily ignored as we look towards the future. But admittedly, Liberia, as a modern day nation-state, has had many internal conflicts, but nothing of the magnitude as those confronting it today.
When Mr. Doe and several of his barely literate friends overthrew the government of the late President William R. Tolbert in an orgy of violence, Liberians took to the streets "en mass", believing in their hearts, that one of their very own had come to save them from the iron grips of their "settler- oppressors". But in no time, Doe proved everyone wrong as he implemented his own selfish agenda.
He and his Peoples Redemption Council (PRC) colleagues had hardly settled down in their new roles as the country's leaders when Liberians began to realize, that this bunch of their "indigenous" kins, were no better than the so-called Americo-Liberians that had run the country exclusively since its "independence".
The failure of the Doe government to address the pressing needs of all Liberians seem to have dimmed the light, at least temporarily, which Liberia was supposed to shine in leading the continent out of its perceived darkness. Since then, the country has made an abrupt u-turn for the worse.
When Mr. Charles Taylor unleashed his rag-tag rebel army on the Liberian people in the late 1980s, he made it specifically clear that he was only coming after Mr. Doe, who he had accused earlier of committing various crimes against the state, including, "rampant corruption, nepotism, misuse of public funds, etc."
But as Liberians are now finding out, Mr. Taylor is no different than Mr. Doe. In fact, he has proven himself to be much worse than his former boss in every respect.
As Liberia observed its independence recently, the nation remained all but virtually isolated from the rest of the world thanks to the UN for putting Charles Taylor in his place. And we again urge the World Body to continue these sanctions until Mr. Taylor changes his ways, realizing that he has no other choice but to conform to acceptable international standards.
Liberians at home and abroad, as usual, reportedly observed their war-wrecked country's "independence" by planning various festivities, ranging from football games to queen contests. Yet, many of them believe that the nation will soon recover from the devastation brought upon it by Mr. Taylor and other faction leaders.
This kind of mentality by Liberians is not new, since they often take things for granted. Because the sad fact still remains that if Liberia will ever recover as a vibrant nation, in the true sense of the word, Liberians will generally have to change the way that they think. Unfortunately, many of them really have not done so.
For example, if a meeting were called today to discuss the current state of affairs or future of their country, very few Liberians would attend willingly, as opposed to the response one would get by inviting them to, say, a party just to socialize. This happens from time to time, although they wouldn't readily admit it
As I am writing this article, a fierce battle continues to rage in Lofa County between the Taylor-led government and Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), even as Liberians were celebrating their so-called "independence". In the process, Liberians that are unfortunately caught up in the battle are either being killed continuously or fleeing in droves.
If they had changed their way of thinking, Liberians would have wisely use this occasion to find permanent solutions to problems facing their country, like, the crisis in Lofa County, the nation's shambled economy, the ongoing health situation, etc., instead of celebrating just for the sake of doing so, because these are not ordinary times.
In fact, what good is a nation's independence if it cannot provide life's basic necessities, such as, portable drinking water, shelter, food, good hygiene, among other things, for its own citizens? As a "sovereign" nation, Liberia definitely will not be able to provide any of these until it actually achieves some level of political stability.
In recent days, the Taylor government, for whatever reason, has been making some overtures towards reconciling the nation. The announcement of his release of three prominent political prisoners is a move in the right direction.
His latest granting of clemency to his exiled opponents, including, Mr. Alhaji G. V. Kromah, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Roosevelt Johnson, amongst others, who he had charged with treason several years ago, is also another good sign. But he really needs to go much further by immediately granting "umbrella clemency" to everyone, once and for all, despite the fact that he has to justify, at some point in time, why he forced more than 250,000 Liberians to their untimely death during "his" civil war. It is only then that real reconciliation and the nation's rebuilding process can begin
Because many Liberians now believe that Mr. Taylor's war had a lot to do with him settling personal scores with Mr. Doe than saving the nation.
But as Liberia observed its "independence" and look forward to reconciling itself, it is of utmost importance that Liberians consider themselves to be one people with one destiny. After all, the last ten years has taught us that the country's problems are purely not ethnic in nature, because both the so-called Americo-Liberians and the indigenous people (some now prefer to call them African-Liberians), have done the nation grievous harm.
Therefore, the struggle for power from now on should not be between these two groups, but rather, between those who want to use the country's enormous wealth for their personal gains and those who want to see that wealth equally distributed amongst the citizens. Liberia legitimately belongs to all those who want to see the country progress in a positive way, and certainly not those who want to destroy it for selfish reasons.
Although the nation's forefathers were wrong for keeping the indigenous population down for so long, but their intent to establish a country on the West coast of Africa, with a "unique" history, was very good.
Delivering an address to the 52nd anniversary meeting of the American Colonization Society (ACS), which sponsored the establishment of Liberia, the nation's first president, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, observed in 1869 in Washington, DC, that one of the main goals of the society was: "First, to establish on the shores of Africa an asylum where such of her scattered children, as might choose to avail themselves of it, would find a free and happy home; and in this connection they would fairly test the capacity of the African for self-government and the maintenance of free political institutions." Now, who can argue against this!
Such an observation by one of Liberia's founding fathers, as history would later prove, did give hope to generations of Liberians and other Africans that wanted to "avail themselves of it".
Better yet, this is what he (J. J. Roberts) had to say when he declared the enfant Republic an independent state in 1847: "When we look abroad and see by what slow and painful steps, marked with blood and ills of every kind, other states of the world have advanced to liberty and independence, we can not but admire and praise that all gracious Providence, who by his unerring ways, has with so few sufferings on our part, compared with other states, led us to this happy stage in our progress towards those great and important objectsHe will miraculously make Liberia a paradise, and deliver us, in a moment of time from all the ills and inconveniences consequent upon the peculiar circumstances under which we are placed."
But little did he or the others know that the country, which they had struggled so hard to gave birth to, would today be in complete turmoil. The "freedom" and "paradise" of which he spoke so eloquently, elude us even now.
Liberians should, however, be encouraged by his words and strive diligently towards building a country that we all can be proud of. Amidst the chaos, we have the opportunity to rebuild the country from scratches, making it truly independent.
In order to do this, Liberia needs a leader that is unselfish and dedicated to the task of nation building. And finding the right leader seems to be our biggest problem, because not everyone that steps forward is capable of leading the country at this time.
The first challenge for any Liberian leader, going forward, would be to completely rid the country of the "criminal enterprise" imposed on it by Mr. Taylor. This leader would have to ensure that the nation's vast natural resources are used for the benefit of all Liberians, and not a select few, as it has been the case in the past.
This leader will obviously face the challenge of not only rebuilding the nation's badly damaged infrastructures, but also restore integrity to the judiciary, legislature, and of course, liberate the press.
When these are accomplished, Liberians could then give true meaning to our "independence" and celebrate as joyously as they want.
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