Liberians in the Diaspora: We Must Unite

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective

November 14, 2001

I have been following with interest recent events in and about Liberia. One theme quickly emerges: Our beloved country is looked upon by peoples of divergent views and interests as a pariah – a rogue state headed by a thug, a blood-thirsty, merciless, greedy and self-centered strong man. The people of Liberia are suffering immeasurably both physically and emotionally.

Living in the information age, it has become impossible for the "evil regime" to cover its tracks. Journalists and other objective observers feed us stories depicting horror and inhumanity that occur daily. For example, we read about Taylor’s support of the notorious RUF in neighboring Sierra Leone, his diamond smuggling and gunrunning and now his association with the infamous al Qaeda movement. We read about his inhumane treatment of the opposition and other perceived enemies. We read about his hand picked Legislature and Judiciary and how he treats them like the puppets they are. We read about his inappropriately named "anti-terrorist unit" whose main duty it seems is to commit terrorism against a defenseless citizenry. And we sadly read about his brutal murder of those innocent nuns whose mission was to help the poor and suffering masses.

I could go on and on ad infinitum. The bottom line is the news out of Liberia is enough to depress any conscientious person, Liberian or not. Although I must admit I have no hard evidence to support these charges against Mr. Taylor, I do believe he is culpable if not outright guilty, because these charges are made and substantiated by various credible entities: the United Nations, U.S. government sources, highly respected news organs (local and foreign), Liberian intellectuals and political figures and plain John Q. Public. In view of the foregoing, I must deduce (as many do) that Mr. Taylor is not the right person for the country now.

Well there is nothing fundamentally astounding about the aforementioned conclusion: "That Taylor is not the right person". Anybody with half a brain could easily reach that conclusion and many do. For a very long time Liberians have seemed to be a complacent and apolitical citizenry in the Diaspora. Fortunately and gladly, that is changing. Liberians of all walks of life have recently taken up their pens to express their dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Liberians have decided to exercise that great human right, freedom of speech. Liberians in the U.S. have become more vocal in their criticisms; after all, we live in a country where freedom of speech is not only a human right but also a legal right guaranteed by the constitution.

Time and time again, I have turned to the pages of The Perspective and other news organs to read some powerful pieces by Liberians. I am amazed that Liberian students are not shy when it comes to picking up their pens and expressing their opinions about the issues. Liberian journalists and other opinion leaders are also tremendously open and bold. And some of these people do so knowing and understanding the potential risks; there are some ruthless people lurking in the darkness for a chance to pounce on them.

The issue I intend to raise in this article is the futility of all these efforts by these well-meaning citizens as long as we Liberians in the Diaspora remain fragmented and unfocused. Each Liberian may address a symposium, deliver a speech, write an article, preach a sermon or argue at the top of his/her lungs at a beer party. As long as we fail to organize ourselves into a viable political entity with clearly defined objectives and leadership, we are doomed; all that effort will be moot.

We all remember how Mr. Taylor won the last election in the first place: Too many candidates with fragmented messages and views posed no serious challenges to the deeply entrenched warlord. Had candidates been more disposed to adequately inform and motivate us Liberians in the Diaspora, a more credible threat could have been posed. We could have been persuaded to elicit support from diverse avenues to mount a more public and united campaign against that buffoon. The potential influence of Liberians abroad over Liberians in the homeland could not be over stated, after all, it is no secret that relatives abroad are substantially supporting most Liberians at home. We could have waged a credible campaign from right here through the airwaves – the telephone. They would have listened and been persuaded. Instead, we became the silent constituency, to our own detriment.

As another election approaches, it is with great dismay that we observe the same pattern: Candidates are running parochial campaigns, targeting sections and patches of the community at large. One would think it would be elementary to attempt to meet a cross-section of the community. What is the wisdom of preaching to the converted?

Do these candidates expect to announce their candidacies by posting a few position papers on the Internet, making a few guest appearances in comfortable places and hope to run effectively? No, like the late Tip O’Neal once said: "All politics is local". We want to see you. We want to hear you. We want to touch you. We want to look into your eyes when you make your promises. We want to interview you. In short we want to know you before you replace the devil we already know.

I will make it clear here that it is not the candidates’ fault that we are not as organized as we could be. We have a so-called national organization (ULAA) that has proven itself ineffective, sometimes dysfunctional. Although the inept leadership of the organization must be blamed for its failure to deliver on promises, the Liberian communities must also be blamed for their general complacency and lack of desire to explore the political realities around them.

The challenge now is what is ULAA prepared to do to reach the average Joe Blow and motivate him or even arouse his interest? Equally important is what are the various community leaders doing to help ULAA become more representative and more credible? If ULAA, as we know it, is not up to the task of self-renewal and revitalization, isn’t it time to organize a new body to accept this challenge? It is a worthy challenge, as I see it, and a way of showing the international community that Liberians in the Diaspora care about their homeland. Until we organize ourselves, present our cause and galvanize world opinion and support, we pose no measurable challenge to that common criminal.

So, candidates of the up-coming 2003 elections, when you go to a city upon invitation by your supporters, do not be content to preach to the converted. Accept the challenge of meeting diverse groups who may even be opposed to you. After all, if you don’t feel comfortable dealing with the masses here, how do you intend to deal with the masses of the homeland that may not even have the right to assemble freely?

To reiterate my points here, our national body, ULAA, needs to take the lead role in asserting its credibility through progressive leadership. I know the task is not an easy one but so is the nature of leadership. The candidates need to do more to reach the masses here to deliver their messages as clearly as possible and define themselves. Lastly, the masses need to mobilize themselves and demand answers to pertinent questions from the candidates as well as from ULAA. Failing to deliver any clearly defined agenda, the masses must seek an alternative forum and leadership. The time has come for us to awaken, unite and fight against that evil regime that holds our country hostage.

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