Decades of mismanagement, political servitude, manifest incompetence,
corruption, dictatorships...have left a generation of Liberians worse
off than their parents
Independence Day Speech delivered Saturday, July 29, 2006 at
Celebration of the 159th Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Liberia
The Liberian Community Association of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area
Mohamedu F. Jones, Esq.
It is a singular honor and joy for me that the leaders of our Community Association have asked me to participate in this program and to share my thoughts and perspectives as we together commemorate the 159th Independence Anniversary of our nation, our homeland, the Republic of Liberia.
My wife Sando joins me in extending our gratitude for inviting us to share a place of high honor and regard among you.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentleman:
Decades of mismanagement, political self-service and political servitude, manifest incompetence, corruption, dictatorships, unlawful and abusive denial of equal rights and opportunities for certain Liberians, aggressive self-aggrandizement, unconstitutional acts by Presidents, Legislatures and Courts, as well as, coups, counter-coups, conflicts and wars, which were at times based primarily on promoting and then exploiting real and manufactured differences among the Liberian people, have made Liberia one of the world's poorest countries, and broken the social contracts inherently necessary in a society. These are the circumstances under which we mark 159 years of political self-determination.
These acts by successive rulers and leaders have left a generation of Liberians worse off than their parents. We Liberians born in the 1950s had better prospects than those Liberians born in the 1980s – what a tragic twist on the normal progression of human development and life quality improvement. The Republic of Liberia, its institutions, its education and health services, its families, its traditional structures and mores, all have to be re-built from scratch. What a point to be after 159 years of self-governance.
We have a population of 3.0 million people of which 1.0 million live in Monrovia; our population growth rate is a high 4.9%; the unemployment rate is 85%+ ; and not surprisingly, more then 80% of our people live below the meager poverty line established for Liberia.
We live with a long history of a corrupt and predatory economy from the Tubman and Tolbert era (where their families, friends and connections either owned or sought to own and control the national economy) to the Doe era when a different set of families, friends and connections either owned or sought to own and control the national economy, to the most megalomaniacal and kleptomaniacal, rapacious misuse of state power ever employed in the history of Liberia (and one of the worst in the world) under Charles Taylor. Taylor’s contempt for democratic principles, the rule of law, constitutional governance and human rights may have exceeded that of his mates Idi Amin and Jean Bedel Bokassa. It does bring some small measure of comfort that Mr. Taylor is very likely to remain incarcerated for the rest of his life.
Taylor’s utilization of his version of the “Genghis Khan” model of government, which included the sub-category of being in the government for the sole purpose of stealing, led to the “war for ministerial positions and managing directorships” under LURD and MODEL, which eventually led to the ineffectual, shameful and disgraceful Gyude Bryant’s National Transitional Government of Liberia. I say to President Sirleaf, where there is evidence that meet required legal standards, that den of thieves and rogues must be prosecuted and all their ill gotten gains returned to the people of Liberia. But Madam President, your government has the legal duty to seek and develop the evidence as permitted by law; to wait for the evidence to be dropped into the lap of the government is a dereliction of constitutional responsibility.
Pre-war under development and post-war devastation of Liberia's already dilapidated infrastructure and underperforming economy represents what is one of the biggest failures of self-governance in the history of the modern world. The statement that Liberia is a failed state is actually an understatement. These are the conditions under which our President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated President of Liberia in January 2006.
With President Sirleaf’’s assumption of the presidency of Liberia, we Liberians anticipate that it marked the end of a “bad” era and the beginning of a “new” epoch. Months in office are too short a period to make reasonable, informative and considered judgments regarding our President and her administration, and therefore I do not propose to do so. However, and not surprising, there are some signs out of Monrovia that are uplifting and other signals that are worrisome. The establishment of a good order of governance by President Sirleaf is very heartening. However, Madam President, remember the mere absence of war, while a good thing, does not a nation build. But, this does not devolve upon the President and her government alone.
We as citizens, whether we are graced with formal education, or are not literate in English, but wise in the ways of good and equitable leadership from tradition and heritage, must begin to contemplate how to address certain fundamental questions about constitutional democracy: How is it created? How is it maintained? How can it be adapted to changing circumstances? How can we prevent the recurrence of the dismantling of the rudiments of democracy (as provided for under the 1847 Constitution) as happened under President Tubman or the road-blocks imposed on the establishment of democracy (as provided for under the 1986 Constitution) as occurred under President Doe. How do we keep the “Charles Taylors” of Liberia from using developed democratic structure to commandeer and then misuse and abuse legitimate authority of political power?
We must promote and educate ourselves and others to the essential elements or characteristics of constitutional democracy. While trite, and sounding like a school recitation, nevertheless, democracy is indeed government of, by, and for the people. It is government of a community in which all citizens, rather than favored individuals or groups, have the right and opportunity to participate. In a democracy, the people are sovereign. The people are the ultimate source of authority. In a constitutional democracy, the authority of the majority is limited by legal and institutional means so that the rights of individuals and minorities are respected. This is what Liberians must strive for, fight for, and work for. This is our duty and obligation to ourselves and our successors.
• We must recognize and insist that the powers of government are limited by law.
• We must demand that those in power abide by, obey and uphold the law
• We must proclaim that the law applies to the governors as well as the governed.
The fundamental values of constitutional democracy is a reflection of paramount concern with human dignity and the worth and value of each individual. Protection of certain basic or fundamental rights is the primary goal of government: covering life, liberty, and property.
We must recognize and act with the affirmation that all citizens are equally entitled to participate in the political system. Our action must never be grounded on the basis of unreasonable and unfair criteria such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, religious or political beliefs and affiliations, class or economic status. We must teach our children to never make a decision, particularly about the nature of their relationship with another person, good or bad, based on these criteria.
It is an imperative requisite of constitutional democracy that the fundamental rights of citizens extend to include such economic and social rights as employment, health care and education. All citizens of Liberia should have the right to an equal opportunity to improve their material wellbeing.
A constitutional democracy must pursue economic growth, poverty eradication, and sustainable development to survive and prosper. Such a milieu is essential for the establishment and maintenance of constitutional democracy. It is also indispensable that the international community address, and in a serious and urgent way, Liberia’s external debt. Debt relief is an elemental requirement for Liberia’s development. The international community must also seriously live up to the commitments made to Liberia since the inauguration of President Sirleaf.
Lack of economic growth prevents poverty reduction; relatedly, poverty and low growth help to increase the risk of conflict as individuals have less to lose from conflict in situations of poverty. I believe that economic growth is the principle avenue through which sustainable poverty reduction can take place in Liberia. This is a core pre-requisite for building and keeping a constitutional democracy in place in the country.
Economists generally agree that private capital flow is a major propellant of economic growth. Liberia has the potential of major private capital inflow through expatriate Liberians now living throughout the world. Scholars offer that long term-sustainable economic growth depends on the ability to raise the accumulation of physical and human capital, to use the resulting productive assets more efficiently, and to ensure the access of the whole population to these assets.
To fully tap into this major resource and enhance the accumulation of human capital in the country, Liberia must seriously consider offering its expatriates a way to regain their Liberian citizenship while retaining any current nationalities they may have acquired as a means of surviving abroad during the war years. Offering persons of Liberian descent a means to re-acquire or acquire Liberian citizenship, even with reasonable limitations, is an important goal of many of us in this hall. Our fellow Liberians in Liberia should provide the avenue for achieving this goal. We call on the Legislature to act with haste on this proposition. It will benefit and not hurt the country.
As we mark the declaration of the establishment of the Republic of Liberia, let us be guided in our actions and words to the following obligations and responsibilities:
• We have a duty to institute, maintain and protect constitutional democracy in Liberia.
• Discriminatory thoughts, words or actions in any form or fashion towards another Liberian (or actually towards any other human being) is just plain wrong.
Let us remember that it took Liberia 159 years to reach this state of failure; while it ought not to take another 159 years to correct the multiple failures of our nation, it does require on the part of the governed and those who govern: individual responsibility, self-discipline, self-restraint, civic-mindedness, open-mindedness, compromise, toleration of diversity, affirmative promotion of unity, patience and persistence, compassion and loyalty.
In Union Strong, Success is Sure.
May God bless all of you.
God bless Liberia and all our people.
Thank you very much
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