Delivered by: Alexander B. Cummings, Political Leader,
Alternative National Congress
Fellow Liberians, in a few days, our country will be 174 years old. Over that time, we have had some successes and firsts that we should be most proud of; to name a few- the first Africa to graduate from Harvard eUniversity, the first elected female President in Africa, the first and only African female to head the United Nations General Assembly; the first West African to publish a book in English, a leader in the formation of the regional bodies to include OAU, now AU, ECOWAS and MRU, and the list goes on and on. We should be proud and I congratulate us Liberians for our contributions and endurance over the last 174 years.
Unfortunately, and despite the resilience, tenacity and hard work, the conditions Liberians are living through do not reflect the age of our country. We have not managed ourselves and our resources as well as we could. We have not been as accountable to each other as we could. We have not invested as we should in building strong human and institutional capacities. And of course, we have not invested in improving systems and processes for continued democratic governance, and guaranteeing Liberia remains an independent and inclusively developed nation.
As a result, too many Liberians are very poor. Common and treatable illnesses continue to kill too many of our women and children. We are losing too many to the inadequacies and lapses of a broken system every day. MAY WE HAVE A MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR THE MANY WHO HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES TO COVID AND THE RECENT SHIP THAT SUNK ON ITS WAY TO MARYLAND.
As we observe 174 years, the reality of the challenges faced by our people is clear. The moral compass of our society is broken. Too many of our young people are unemployed, and for some, are unemployable. The cost of living is unbearable forcing too many proud Liberians to become beggars. Corruption is pervasive. In distributing the nation’s wealth, a few have continued to receive more than they need while the many who desperately need more have continued to be given too little.
Liberia is experiencing the worst economic conditions in a decade with continued dismal performance in the key macroeconomic indicators such as Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment, and inflation. For example, according to the International Monetary Fund, in 2019 and 2020, real GDP recorded negative growth of 2.5 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively. Of course, we can blame the COVID-19 Pandemic, but mismanagement, lack of accountability, poor planning and corruption have continued to haunt the administration of our government.
Some of our leaders continue to invest themselves in dividing Liberians mainly along the line of tribe, religion, gender, and political association. Meanwhile, across all Liberian tribes, religions and political parties, the living standards have continued to worsen. According to the World Bank's latest statistics, Liberia’s 2020 real GDP per capita, which measures people’s living standard, is the lowest in a decade. In the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index Report, Liberia was ranked 175 out of 189 countries in 2019. Things are bad for everybody, and it is only getting worse.
Unemployment is high. Annual inflation is averaging over 20 percent in the last three years, seriously reducing the purchasing power of Liberians, particularly those who already cannot afford it.
In April of 2021, the Central Bank of Liberia released its Monthly Economic Review, which indicates that Liberian Dollars in Circulation is 22.6 Billion. Out of this amount, 20.8 Billion, or 92 percent, represents currency outside banks.
There is only one logical explanation for this: People do not trust the banking system. Confidence is low. This is the price we have to pay when we politicize the banking system and corrupt it into systemic and other administrative failures. These failings combined with non-performing loans of 26.9 percent pose a high risk to the stability of the nation’s financial sector.
God has blessed Liberia with an abundance of natural wealth. Yet, at 174 years, we continue to beg for budgetary support, including from nations far less endowed than we are, and whose public officials and legislators are paid way less than ours. We are so rich, and yet, we are so poor. Too many are suffering with more than half of the population living on less than US$1.25 a day. And at least 7 out of every 10 Liberians in urban areas lack access to improved water, improved sanitation, sufficient living space, or housing durability.
At 174 years, our under-5 infant mortality rate is about 84.6% which means, out of every one thousand newborn Liberian children, 846 will probably die before they reach five years old.
At 174 years, only 1.3 percent of Liberians living in rural areas and 34 percent in urban areas have access to electricity.
At 174 years, our nation still cannot feed itself.
Somewhere between the Declaration of Independence and today, we have lost our way. I know we do not need these grim statistics from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other international institutions to prove this point. Too many Liberians are actually living it every day in the worsening conditions of finding food, finding jobs, caring for families, paying rent, paying school fees, paying hospital bills, and keeping a roof over their heads.
At 174, Liberia is in a difficult place. Regardless of who we prefer to blame, the truth is that we are all in serious trouble. At 174, Liberia does not need some of us. Our country needs all of us. At 174, our country does not need to settle more ethnic and political scores. It needs all of us to work together to achieve higher national goals.
At 174, Liberia is too old to have hospitals without essential medicines and diagnostic equipment, while officials of our government with the responsibility to correct this are themselves seeking treatment in neighboring countries, or farther abroad. If the government cannot fix the hospitals that the people they serve will go to when they are sick, no official of government ought to seek medical checkups or treatment in a foreign hospital at government’s expense. Therefore, fix the hospitals, or use it as it is.
At 174, Liberia is too old to have its schools offering inferior and substandard education to our children. If the government cannot provide for the improvements of schools, then no official of the Liberian government ought to send their children to attend schools abroad. So fix the schools, or send your children there too!
Liberian children are amongst the brightest in the world. I see this everyday at the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) School funded by the Cummings Africa Foundation. Our children deserve more from their government to be better prepared to inherit the future and compete with children of other countries.
At 174, Liberia is too old to continue to allow greed and corruption to substitute for the duty of public accountability and integrity. In both 2019 and 2020, Liberia recorded the lowest scores representing high level of corruption reported in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index since 2008. Our country is too old to view honesty in public service as naivety, and to let ourselves continue to lose the duty of citizenship to partisanship.
At 174, Liberia is too old to continue to allow our politics to be about our tribes or religions. All of our tribes and experiences make us Liberians, and must never be used to divide us. Instead, our politics must be about ideas - ideas to improve and empower Liberians, ideas to build our country and manage our wealth better, and ideas to finally end the things that have continued to keep us down and backward.
At 174, Liberia is too old to continue to run an economy that prioritizes others and gives Liberians no chance. Liberians cannot continue to be onlookers and bystanders to their development.
At 174, Liberia is too old for the institutions of our government to continue to be weakened by lack of independence, sycophancy, as well as systemic and leadership failures in transparency and accountability. We must end the imperial presidency.
At 174, Liberia is too old to be standing still, if not sliding backward. It is a national shame that we have fallen so far behind other nations we assisted and inspired toward independence.
I know we cannot change our past, but we can create our future.
To do this, we must change the mindset that got us to where we are today. We must adopt a new national perspective that Liberia belongs to all Liberians. All Liberians, therefore, owe a duty to the country to be good citizens - to work as hard and as honestly as we can to make Liberia better for ourselves and for our children.
Good citizens do not steal from the people. Good citizens do not deceive the people.
Good citizens stand for that which is right for the country even if they anger a few friends and political allies. The fundamental duty of citizenship - of belonging to Liberia and being called a Liberian citizen - is to build a better country.
Obedience to the law is a duty of good citizenship. Good citizens take responsibility and accept the failures of getting it wrong just as they will accept the benefits of getting it right.
National leaders - political, religious, community, and traditional - must be more accountable to each other and to our country. Leaders must lead by good examples so that others are encouraged to follow.
We will not grow until we allow our visions, expectations, dreams, and aspirations to also grow. Therefore, national goals must be bigger, allowing us to set our sights higher, and extend our collective endeavors further.
In corporations or governments, there are no shortcuts to success. Irrespective of a tribe, family name, the name of the village or city in which a Liberian is born, or the choice of one’s religion, success in Liberia must come to belong to every Liberian who is willing and ready to work as hard as they can to achieve success. Opportunities must be fair and equally available to all Liberians.
Too often in our country, we have let ourselves settle for what is easy and not for what is right. We have continued to choose the path of least resistance, which neither tests our collective resolve nor deepens our commitment to achieve the future we seek.
Too often, we have wanted change, but have let ourselves be frightened by the hard work required to get the changes we seek. Too often, we have allowed ourselves to compromise easily rather than set good precedence and examples for the future.
Unfortunately, as we have continued to settle for the easier road and look for the shortest cuts, change has never happened; promises of change have been repeatedly broken, and doubts about change ever happening now overwhelm us. We are overtaken by negative self-fulfilling prophecies looking to give up when we should be standing up. In our national conversations, I hear echoes about what we cannot do instead of what we can, must, and should be doing.
Change is hard. It requires hard work and determination. And it takes time. But like success, change can happen. Liberia can be better. We can build a prosperous future for all. We can unite ourselves. We can expand the economy. We can grow the national budget. We can fight corruption. We can genuinely reconcile our fractured nation. We can heal the wounds and pull ourselves together. We can end the culture of impunity and establish a war and economic crimes court.
We can fix our schools, fix our hospitals, and fix our roads so that the movement of people, goods and services are unhindered throughout the year. We can feed ourselves and export our surplus to the world. We can manufacture and add value to what God has naturally blessed our country to have. We can electrify villages and towns just as we are trying to do in Monrovia because Liberia is more than Monrovia.
Let there be no mistake: We will not do these things overnight, immediately or magically, but we can do all of them if we took collective responsibility for the development of our country and refuse -- for example, to sell our natural resources cheaply or for kickbacks, and refuse to engage in the mismanagement of our wealth.
At 174 years, there may not be much to celebrate, but we can begin to write a new chapter in the journey of Liberia. The next chapter can inspire the world again because we can let the new statistics reveal that although we fell, we refused to remain down. We stood up, and together, we forged new roads and found different paths to a better and more prosperous future for all Liberians. That we became good to each other and treated each other with love and respect; that we put our love for country above our love for personalities; that we honored excellence and frowned on mediocrity; that we became the beacon of hope again. The next chapter can show that although we lost our way, we found a new way and found ourselves again.
The new story of Liberia can be that although the Lone Star was lowered, together, we raised it again for all of the world to see - a new Liberia flying higher and shining brighter.
Happy Independence, fellow Liberians. Please stay safe.
May God continue to bless you and May God Bless Liberia.