The success story of academic and activist, Robtel Neajai Pailey, and her integrity crusade
Since the founding of Liberia, corruption has been the order of the day. From one generation to another, the situation has become worse and as the national population continues to increase with high levels of unemployment, the stability of the country is at stake due to persistent corruption.
Nevertheless, such a situation might be circumvented by looking at the success story of renowned academic and activist Robtel Neajai Pailey’s anti-corruption crusade which focuses on children between the ages of 8 and 10 years.
She said: “My generation doesn’t value honesty, integrity, accountability. So we need to groom a new generation of young people who will be anti-corruption crusaders. From my interactions with adolescents and young adults in Liberia in particular, I discovered they are already schooled in the ways of corruption. They know how to find their way out of a situation through dubious means and get what they want.”
Pailey says that “children are inherently honest until we teach them to be dishonest.” So, instead of waiting until they are older to stir up meaningful conversations with them about corruption, she believes that “it is possible now to cultivate children’s natural honesty by giving them the verbal tools to question the confusing ethical codes of the adults around them.”
Pailey’s message has made an impact in Liberia through the publication of two anti-corruption children’s books, Gbagba and Jaadeh!, illustrated by a Liberian visual artist and published by Liberian niche publisher One Moore Book.
“The books explore issues of accountability and challenge the mainstream notion that corruption is a monopoly of the powerful, particularly those in the public and private sectors”, she said. Gbagba and Jaadeh! feature twin characters Sundaymah and Sundaygar who encounter and deal with everyday forms of corruption.
Although Jaadeh! is forthcoming this year, Gbagba has already been piloted in schools in Montserrado and Grand Bassa counties through two grants Pailey applied for and secured from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). Gbagba has enabled Pailey to initiate a national conversation with children about how corruption affects them, and she hopes the same conversations will be generated from the sequel Jaadeh!
Pailey said: “I don’t want to just write books about how bad corruption is, I want to give children life skills to enable them to resist corruption regardless of how corrupt their external environment may be.”
She says that she is pleased that one of her campaign goals is being achieved because children are using the term “gbagba” to remind each other and the adults in their lives about the follies of corruption, in their homes, schools, churches, mosques, communities, etc. Pailey added: “Children are having conversations about how to be accountable to self, community, nation, continent and globe.”
The anti-corruption campaign which Pailey started five years ago has so far reached 20 schools through the pilots in Montserrado and Grand Bassa and audiences far and wide, in Liberia and elsewhere. Gbagba has been placed on the supplemental list of readers for 3rd to 5th graders in Liberia as well as for Primary 3 in Ghana, and is currently under review by ministries of education/education boards in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger and Rwanda.
The book has also been adapted into a five-minute radio drama which previously aired on 64 community and commercial radio stations across Liberia as well as on West Africa Democracy Radio. A stage play adaptation of the book debuted at Monrovia City Hall Theatre with an all-child cast on September 28, 2017.
Gbagba and Jaadeh! have also been adapted into songs written and produced by popular Hip-Co rapper Takun J, with the sequel song featuring vocalist Ella Mankon Pailey, the younger sister of the author. Both songs, entitled “Gbagba Is Corruption” and “Jaadeh Is Integrity”, respectively, aired on radio stations across Liberia and West Africa Democracy Radio, with the music video adaptations airing on Power TV and HOTT TV.
Pailey said although she would like to do pilots of Gbagba and Jaadeh! in all of Liberia’s 15 counties, she has been deterred by financial constraints. “I’m grateful to OSIWA for all the support they have provided thus far, and look forward to securing additional funds from OSIWA and other sources to expand the scope of the two books. “
Paid continues: “Through these books, I hope to build a movement of children who question corruption—resist it, even—and embarrass adults into living more authentic, ethical lives. In Africa, we have folktales that teach children about virtues and vices. Now, we can add Gbagba and its forthcoming sequel Jaadeh! to that amazing canon, formally and informally.
Visit gbagba-jaadeh.com for more information about Gbagba and Jaadeh!