Liberia: It is what it is.

.... From a Liberian who loves to boast about his country.

By H. Augustus Roberts, Jr, Guest Contributor

My mother always told us this, “Be careful what you say to people because other people might be listening, especially children who tend to take it to heart. 

And remember, you are judged by your words.”  Of course, my late mother was much more than a “mom”. She was a school teacher, and she was always concerned about the impact her utterances had on both her children and her students. 

There were certain words and  comments my mom considered “inappropriate” that she never used around us and did not tolerate in her home. To this day, I am still uncomfortable when I hear people using some of these inappropriate words and comments. That’s how it is. As the songwriter says, “It is what it is.”

So you can imagine when I heard a popular radio talk show host make the statement, “We have nothing to boast about in this country!” I was so disturbed by this statement, that I tried calling the show. Unfortunately, I was unable to get through. So I texted this message: “ … gentlemen are  you guys serious that Liberia has nothing to boast about? Please this is not the message that we need to give our children. 

Yes, we are going through some difficulties, and all of us, including myself, are frustrated. Yes, our leaders need to do better.  But to say that we have nothing to boast about, is taking it a bit too far. Please check your history. What our young people need now is motivation. Thanks.”

Perhaps, these guys knew better, and were trying to stir up a discussion; or they were just being provocative considering the times in which we find ourselves. That is giving them the so-called “benefit of the doubt”; but I cannot say that either because it is not the first time I have heard these guys make these types of unqualified outrageous statements of fact. 

This raises several questions. Should we ignore them (the comments) and label them as based on  “ignorance” , “radio talk show blabs” and just turn the radio off; or, should we respond by challenging and correcting them and setting the record straight whenever we get the opportunity? In most cases, I and most of us do ignore them and move on. 

But it raises another question, “What happens when these sorts of language and comments persist from those who have the ears of many of our people, especially young children who might be listening?” Do not forget that a large segment of our population is considered under-educated.

In fact, these guys just did not stop there. They even suggested that, “When you travel, you are ashamed to show your passport or identify yourself as a Liberian.”  I said to myself, “What! Are these guys for real? What the hell are they talking about?”   I travel quite often to meetings and conferences all around Africa. 

I have even been to China and India for training. There has never been a time when I have hesitated or been apprehensive about identifying myself as a Liberian. In fact when I am in a Zoom meeting, the first thing I do is to rename myself with “Liberia” attached to my name. 

So, what are these guys talking about? And who are these people who are ashamed to be identified as Liberians?  Honestly, to be fair, they are not the only ones who make these types of comments. 

You hear them from government officials as well as ordinary citizens. But the problem is as I said earlier, their statements have a wider audience and are instantaneous.?

Interestingly, a few hours later while talking with a leader of a political party and some of his legislative aspirants, I mentioned what I had heard on the radio and expressed my displeasure. 

To my surprise, the leader in a scolding and lengthy discourse agreed that the guys were right in their analysis of the Liberian situation, and that we, in fact, did not have anything to boast about and challenged me to name something. “Wow!” I said to myself.  

But the guy did not stop there. Before I could answer, he went on, “Is that because we have been independent since 1847? What do we have to show? Go to JFK (Hospital) and see the kind of service they are providing.” 

He made his tirade while at the same time praising the service JFK once provided. In fact, he went as far as praising Tubman. What an interesting paradox!

Of course, I did respond and tried to demonstrate why we (Liberians) have much to boast about. I do not want to repeat my conversation or the exchanges we and the others had in the room, because it is not what this conversation I am having with you is about. My argument remains that whatever we are going through in this period of our existence does not negate what we, as a nation, have achieved and contributed to Africa and the world. 

And there is nothing going on in this country at this particular or any other time that will ever make me to be ashamed to present myself as a Liberian, of which I am extremely proud of. 

I was so proud when a Ghanaian friend said to me one day. “You know what your daughter said to me?” I asked, “What did she say?”  He responded, “She said, that she is a proud Liberian.” 

Denise must have been about 11 or 12 years old when she made that statement to my friend in Ghana. I really do not know what prompted her to make that statement. My friend never told me what they were discussing or what he thought had prompted her to say what she said.

But for him to mention this to me, suggested that he must have been impressed by her utterance. In fact, I know he was both impressed and amazed because of the manner in which he gave this information to me. Perhaps, it was because of her age; or maybe, her attitude towards her country was quite different from some of the negative comments about Liberia that he might have been hearing from other Liberians. My friend is a pastor who visits Liberia frequently, and he interacts with many Liberians living in Accra.

Honestly I was proud to hear this as I think any Liberian parent should be, but yes, I was quite surprised that my young child had made such an emphatic statement, “I am a proud Liberian!” 

I really do not remember giving her any history lessons on Liberia. Or, did I without remembering? I have written quite a few of what you might call historical articles on Liberia, but I do not remember discussing them with her. Maybe I did and just do not remember. Did she overhear me discussing some of these things with friends? These were some of the things I was pondering. But even more interesting are the things that Denise talks about doing in Liberia. How is she going to do real estate development on a piece of land I have? This surprises me not only because of her age, but because so many Liberians seem to have given up on their country. In a way, you cannot blame them when the environment which would allow them, their families and businesses to thrive, is not being created; and the country remains essentially lawless.

This piece is not about my daughter, but if a child, who has never had the opportunity to enjoy what Liberia once had, is so proud about her country, then what about us? I once heard another popular radio talk-show host say that our founding fathers were “racists” because they inserted a clause in our Constitution that restricted white people from owning land in Liberia. That “racist” label was used again by the US UN Ambassador and former US Ambassador to Liberia at an event, held in the USA, marking the 200th Anniversary of the settlers’ arrival on these shores.  Was she, an African-American, comfortable to repeat this because no one had challenged the talk-show host at that time, and therefore, we have accepted this as a fact? People do repeat what they hear you say, especially, if you are considered an authority and say it often enough.

Of course, our people were not racists. Perhaps, they were protectionists, but racists, not in any stretch of the imagination, especially if you look at the definition of the word. 

But, what is important, from my perspective, is that they sacrificed so much that all of us, regardless of our political persuasion, ethnic or religious background, should not only be proud of but that we can boast about having a country which they created that has stood the test of time. 

That, perhaps, if we know and appreciate their history and their ordeal, we and the talk-show host and the US Ambassador would understand why they put that particular clause in the constitution. 

After all, they had more than two hundred years experience living with “white folks”, and I believe they knew exactly why it was necessary to put that clause in the Constitution. I have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

They were forcibly taken out their homeland in chains, in shame, defecating and urinating on themselves while lying on their backs for thousand of miles on a rough ocean, only to be turned into “Beasts of Burden” and breeders of more “Beasts of Burden” to work in the cotton fields and sugarcane plantations of the so-called New World for the so-called “Civilized” plantation owners from the so-called civilized world. 

They worked from sunup to sundown in the most inhumane conditions imaginable (many times with a whip on their back), mankind have ever known — that even as I write this, I cannot stop the tears. 

But, in spite of all of this, they came back, voluntarily, not forcibly, to their home of origin and built a nation. Now, someone tell me, why would they want to share their new home with their former oppressors? 

They were not stupid. They knew that if they had allowed these people who had the money to own land in their very own nation, they would have once again dominated them. 

 But unfortunately, the talk-show host and our sister, either do not know that history or have forgotten it. Or they would never have called them racists that have survived 200 years. 

This piece is not about this specific incident, but it illustrates why it is important to put our comments in historical context. 

Because if we do not we make unqualified and outrageous commentary that sooner or later if unchecked or unchallenged become a statement of facts. 

Today, it is commonplace to hear someone say, “Since 1847, we have nothing to show.” Is that true? No! It is not, but it persists; and now it has expanded into a political battle cry when, in fact, the evidence is right before our eyes.   

Our founding fathers were not herded as cattle and placed on a boat and shipped out of America, as the people who settled Australia were taken out of Great Britain. If they can boast of their shadowed history, why should I not boast of mine? 

Today, even America is celebrating this accomplishment. How? In the entire 200-year history of the establishment of this colony of Liberia that grew into a nation, I have never heard or read about them being referred to as Americans or African-Americans. 

They were always called Freed Slaves. Why? Because they were not Americans and could not have been Americans because in 1821, no Black man or woman could be an American citizen. It was simply against the law. So why now? 

The answer, 200 years. Even though they were not forcibly shipped out of America, nobody expected them to survive, In fact, many of them did die from yellow fever and other diseases; and in conflict with their brothers, but against all odds not only did they survive, and establish a nation the “First Independent African Republic”, they also ended slavery on the West Coast of Africa. 

I do not know about you but, for me, that alone is more than enough for me to boast about my country, Liberia. I could give you a hundred more reasons, but for me that is enough. If this is not enough to motivate and rally us to a higher call, then we deserve all that we are going through. 

With all of what this country is going through at this time, I can also boast about being the only African country to produce the only woman, Angie Brooks-Randolph, as President of the United Nations General Assembly and George Weah, the “Greatest African Footballer of all time.”  

Whether this country is flourishing or floundering under his leadership does not take away from his accomplishments on the football pitch, which every Liberian had, at one time, claimed and celebrated.

Look, it is a fact that at this time in our history, something has gone terribly wrong, but all is not the making of this government. Many of the ills we have today were inherited; and if the present government cannot or does not seem capable of solving the problem, then we have to replace it with one that we believe is capable. 

But to say that “we have nothing to celebrate or boast of” in our frustration is simply out of line, in my opinion. I can point to many countries that are worse off than us, but I am not going to do that. What I will do is leave you with a story.

My stepson, John (not his real name for his privacy), who lives in the US, brought one of his White business partners to visit Liberia a few years ago. Apparently, this guy had so many negative things to say about Liberia, but interestingly, John did not say anything to him or argue with him, but he said to himself, “I will fix this guy.” 

So, when they got back to New York, he invited his friend to go out. John drove his friend straight to a section of Philadelphia. When they got there he said to his friend, “Come on. Let’s go hang out.” 

But the guy was so scared that he would not get out of the car. So, John said to him, “Man, what are you afraid of? You were just in my country. Even though you had the worst to say about it, you were never afraid to hang out, but why are you so afraid now? 

This is the richest country in the world, but look at this community. With all of our poverty in Liberia, we have nothing like this.” I am sure that with all that that White guy saw in South Philly, he still boasts that America is the “Greatest Country” in the world; and I suspect so do the citizens of Philadelphia.

Yes, I do have my days when I am just as upset with the craziness, nonsense, lawlessness and corruption, but IT IS WHAT IT IS. I, too, like Denise, a “Proud Liberian”, with all that is going on, I am still proud to be Liberian. And nobody can change that.