A New Liberia: From The Ashes Of Civil War

By George H. Nubo

When Liberia became independent in 1847, there were high hopes and expectations that the 2nd independent black nation (2nd to Haiti) would serve as a model for African colonies seeking independence. One of the most impressive things that happened in Liberia in the process of gaining independence was the design of the flag of the new nation by seven ladies. Prior to Liberia's independence, women's involvement in flag making was limited to sewing them. The five-pointed white star imprinted into the blue field, by these ladies, said it all: it symbolized hopes and expectations that the white star would let its light illuminate the dark continent of Africa which was represented by the blue field.

But the star of Liberia as a beacon of high hopes and expectations failed to glow. No African nation used Liberia as a model for independence. Did they hate us that much? The answer is a resounding no. But they did not see anything in Liberia to emulate. What is obvious now is that the evidence of the age of the nation is showing through the star - not through development and advancement. The white star has turned into a dark star. The only light we have been seeing for the past decades is the light from the so-called dark continent. As we know, most other African nations jumped ahead of us before we were even into this civil war. The dark continent has become the light continent and the then white star is now the dark star. Could we reverse the colors so as to have a five pointed dark star and a white field?

The answer is a simple one: Liberia needs nationalistic leaders from the ashes of this unfortunate war to prepare the nation and its people for the 21st century. We must develop our nation and resources to catch up with the rest of Africa. That means we must commit ourselves to a national reconstruction and reconciliation schemes devoid of corruption and personal enrichment. Most essentially, it means being patriotic.

As such, we must pursue a policy of aggressive education program for the entire country, as we are lacking behind others in this vital national development endeavor. Liberia cannot transcend its backwardness without drastic overhaul and commitment to education.

In the past, education was deliberately withheld from the majority of our citizens as means of keeping them ignorant so they would not compete with the ruling class. That scheme kept the ruling class in power for hundred and thirty-three years. But it left the country unprepared to be competitive for the 21st century, even before the civil war, which has worsened the situation.

The national policy of educational neglect is as old as the republic. For example, in 1875, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia's first president, "came in conflict with the protestant churchmen of Cape Palmas, whom he accused of giving too much education to the Africans": the Africans being the Grebo and Kru (Krao) people of the Cape Palmas area.

Liberian leaders after President Roberts continued the government opposition to the level of education given to the indigenous people of Maryland County. This conflict between the Liberian government and the Episcopal Church of Maryland County led to the closure of Cuttington College (Maryland County), which subsequently relocated in central Liberia in area now called Bong County. All books, at the college, written in Grebo were burned by the government during this conflict.

The government's campaign against the institution was that graduates of Cuttington incited the Grebos and Krus (Kraos) in revolt against the state authority. The Grebo United Kingdom, evoking the precedent of 1834 argued that they had been "deprived of their brokerage rights" by the Americos. They defeated the Liberian militia but were forcibly brought under control by the USS Alaska in 1876.

Ironically, President Roberts was the only Liberian leader who established an educational trust fund for the children of Liberia.

A nationalistic government would have gladly welcome the Protestant Church's efforts to help educate the citizens of the Liberia. Lack of nationalism or ill-defined national priority can also have disastrous consequences as was prevalent during the Samuel Doe regime. A Krahnman, for example, serving as minister meant that the whole ministry would be predominantly Krahn. Let's say no to tribalism and sectionalism for the sake of nationalism for a better Liberia.

For years Liberian officials felt that America was their home. They felt that anything that was African was savage, barbaric or heathenic and uncivilized. Because of this feeling, Liberia did not embrace her African brothers and sisters when they were fighting for independence during the throes of nationalism in Africa. Our country is undeveloped because of our un-nationalistic and selfish nature. Let us eject ourselves out of this mold and start making progress.

What should we do to prepare for the 21st century? Liberia must develop its human resources; build a networks of roads, and a reliable communication system.

Education is the best way to develop the middle class of any society. Our present day educational system is substandard and inadequate. The other day a friend e-mailed me a speech delivered by one of the Americos. In the speech he mentioned that the Americo-Liberian dynasty built schools throughout Liberia, during Tubman's administration, to enable all Liberians to have access to education. I began to wonder what did he smoke before he took the podium.

How many high schools the Americos built? The whole of Bong County had one high school - Gboveh High, Grand Bassa - Bassa High, Sinoe County - Sinoe High, and the list goes on. You tell me! Can one high school serve any of these counties? Of course, there were some private schools. The disenfranchised African -Liberians, of course, could not send their children to these schools. In fact, the Americos resented the idea of merit scholarships to the African- Liberians.

Liberia, however, must be ready to start on a new page. Out of the ashes of the civil war will emerge a new Liberia. We must make education accessible to all Liberians. The paucity of Science and Technology in our educational system has contributed to backwardness. Liberia will never become a Taiwan or Korea of Africa if we do not have qualified scientists, engineers, and technologists.

Let us ask ourselves, why the telephone, radio, car, airplane, electricity, (just to name a few) were developed here in the United States, for example. The inventions were made possible by science and technology. Science and technology are confounded: science deals with WHY, while technology deals with HOW. Progress in these areas has helped America rise to the top. The task before us is enormous. It requires dedication, commitment and nationalism, and a credible government.

It is not late for Liberia. Other countries have done it and they are now reaping the benefits. In 1966, there were 20 college graduates in Botswana when the country gained independence, today there are over 20,000 college graduates. Ninety-five percent of all primary-school age children go to school. Algeria is another example. In 1962, Algeria's illiteracy rate was 90%. After independence the country started its war on illiteracy by allocating 25% to 35% of its budget to education. Today, more than 90% of all primary-school children go to school. "Algeria's admirable achievements in education" can be seen in medicine. In 1962, they had 300 medical doctors, today they have over 23,000 medical doctors. Algerians have access to free medical care (since 1974).

Liberia must invest in building an admirable road networks throughout the nation, an affordable healthcare system, reliable communication system, and electricity for all its citizenry. Improvements in these areas, in addition to education, will help greatly in decentralizing developments.

Liberia, from the ashes of this unfortunate crisis, needs to stand ready in raising Liberians from the ashes of illiteracy, poverty, and underdevelopment so as to justify the hopes and expectations symbolized by the five-pointed white star of our national flag.