Liberia: Sanitation and Unification

Lekpele M. Nyamalon

On May 14, Liberia commemorated National Unification Day, a brainchild of President William V.S Tubman; Unification day was meant to foster integration amongst peoples of different social divides as part of his government objective of promoting national unity.

In the wisdom of President Tubman, the pressing problems of the time and perhaps still, border around national cohesion, social integration and other divides. The fourteen-year civil war left in its wake a country deeply divided along many polarizing lines. 

It is important to note, however, that the greatest threat against a nation is Disunity. Disunity eats at the fulcrum of nation building and renders it vulnerable to internal or external shocks. For any nation to thrive, it must look beyond the fault lines and embrace the commonality that binds its people together. The Liberian experience, unfortunately, has exacerbated its fault lines at devastating proportions and blurred the unique features that bind us together. Hence, the need for national unification cannot be overemphasized. It is also noteworthy that nations unite during moments when confronted by a common enemy that threatens the existence of the state.  In the words of President William R. Tolbert Jr, those enemies are: Ignorance, Disease and Poverty.

One of our contemporary enemies in the current Liberian reality is the overwhelming presence of garbage at almost every corner of its capital, Monrovia. The presence of uncontrolled garbage overtaking the nation is a huge public health concern and an enabler of one of the enemies as espoused by President Tolbert: Diseases.  The role of sanitation in preventing some negligible tropical diseases is paramount; hence sanitation sits at the intersection of public health. It is extremely important that state led policy on sanitation is enhanced and implemented.

Effective civic and grassroots approach to understanding the importance of clean cities and communities through proper education and penalty for violators are critical to ensuring that we develop a psyche of responsible citizenship towards maintaining clean communities.

The current sanitation nightmare staring at us represents our collective national malady that has to be tackled with all hands on deck. Normal clean up exercises would require the amalgamation of different tools and skill sets to get the job done. Traditional clean-up exercises demand the rake, broom, wheelbarrows, some food and water and, in some cases, some entertainment for mind boosters. These realities represent how we tackle our common enemy — by coming together to expel that which threatens us all. Some garbage has to decompose with the soil and provide fertilizers. In figurative terms, such garbage represents the lessons from the past that have to be psychologically decomposed, thus giving us a fresh start. Some garbage has to be recycled for future use; we cannot discard everything from the past, but use a few of them for building blocks for tomorrow.

Sanitation affects our image, threatens our collective existence as a country and is a dent in our civilization as a people. The role of community leaders, city governments and other stakeholders in recognizing our common enemy, forming a united front to fight this off and leaving the lessons for posterity is a test of time. We cannot ignore this or relegate to outside forces. History has proven that even the finest army of strangers cannot defend a cause without the hands and hearts of the people whose existence is threatened. This is our war — a war on our image, our pride, our very existence, our public health and our country. The time to recognize this and direct our energies in fighting off this menace is now. The purpose of unification is to come together when attacked and defend ourselves against forces that tear apart our social fabric, destroy our image or make us all extinct. 

The call for collective action to tackle the wanton throwing of trash in drainages, street corners and everywhere by passersby in taxi cabs, etc, has to come to an end with city governments and community leaders taking the lead. I led a small group of youth on Unification Day to provide community based awareness on the need for proper disposal of trash in our community and a general clean-up of drainages to avoid clotting with dirt. Our approach was symbolic of the need for local ownership and how, together, we can fight off the enemy of dirt and disease. The fault lines of every society will remain but the causes that bind us together must outshine these fault lines and call the people to action to save the state from imminent collapse. As President Tubman envisioned, we can take unification to another level in solving the issue of sanitation and keeping our communities clean.  In the words of President Tolbert, the enemies remain: Ignorance, Disease and Poverty. One of them is out to get us all. Let’s tackle it now.

The Author

Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer and Speaker, an OSIWA Poetry fellow and a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow. He can be reached at