Liberia: A Vision for National Prosperity

.... In essence, while our national vision strives for apolitical ends, it requires transformative and consequential leaders chosen through the political process to secure its achievement. It needs leaders skilled in everyday politics but not constrained by them. It needs leaders beholden not only to their parties but also to the higher calling to be in the service of the nation as a whole. 

James Earl Kiawoin

Without vision, the people perish. Liberia needs a transformative political vision that works for all. Our country’s future depends on it. This national vision can be our North Star, helping us find our way back from the crises of despair and deprivation that perennially hobble us.

This vision can help us develop a shared vocabulary of what national progress looks like and unite people toward achieving our common goals. With it, we can articulate the reforms that support the aspirations of all and redefine the values of our country. 

The bicentennial celebration would have been the perfect platform to reckon with our past and chart a new vision for our future. Although the bicentennial has come and gone, the time is still ripe to forge this shared vision. As we head into a pivotal election, we may be too distracted by everyday life politics to have these discussions, but this is exactly the year in which we need to have this long-overdue conversation, alongside the promises and plans voiced by political actors. 

This national vision can be the cornerstone for party platforms, campaign pledges, and policy debates. It will give candidates a sense of direction, a lighthouse beaming into the darkness of electoral jousting. This national vision will help define the elements of our national character and help us develop a national values system to guide how we conduct ourselves.

Our national vision should be that we leave no one behind from cradle to grave, enshrining a national obligation to provide every Liberian with economic security, broad opportunities, and prosperity. This vision requires a strong education system, robust financial management rules, accessible and resilient health systems, adequate infrastructure, and a coherent and ambitious social safety net.

This national vision is not a development plan. It is not a set of policy objectives with time-bound targets. It is not a document that codifies large-scale growth initiatives. It is not a government agenda that can be easily rehashed based on the ideas or policies in vogue. It is not a roadmap to graduate to another level of the World Bank’s income classification system. 

Instead, this vision is a set of guiding principles that anchors our national aspirations, steeped into the consciousness of every Liberian about who we are (one nation with liberty and justice for all), what we value (fairness and equality), what we won’t tolerate (corruption and abuse of power), and what we want to be (a global exemplar of post-conflict flourishing that provides economic opportunities for all). It is a set of principles about advancing the common good. It encapsulates shared hopes for the society we want our children and ourselves to live in — in short, the ends of our aspirations, not the means.

While creating a vision aligned with an entire nation is no easy feat, we can come together to ask ourselves what are the things we want the most, and what are the things that each of us, on our own, can’t solve. After that, we need to boldly articulate and execute a radical vision for Liberia. 

Our immediate action is imperative, for the nation continuing on the current path is to condemn people to poverty, hopelessness, and short life expectancies. A continuation of the status quo, marked by widespread corruption, a chronic shortage of health workers and teachers, poor learning outcomes, and extreme food insecurity will exacerbate despair and destitution, depriving citizens of basic infrastructure that powers fulfilling lives and grand aspirations.  A continuation on our current path is to leave our nation and our people ill-prepared for what lies ahead.

It will be difficult but worthwhile to pin down a national vision that reflects the hopes and dreams of all. The tenets of this vision will give us a common purpose to unite our country. They will help us chart the course for a national rebirth. They will help us hold our leaders and ourselves to much higher standards.

Visions don’t become realities overnight or without action. They require big, sustained, and concerted efforts. They require diligence and courage from the people and their leaders. They require a new culture of ambition to transplant ideas on a big scale through bold actions. 

So, what do we need for this national vision?

First, we must believe that this country can and must bring everyone along to reasonable levels of comfort, security, dignity, and prosperity. We must firmly embrace the idea that no one should be left behind. We can create a shared national identity around this belief and build a sense of connection with all Liberians. Belief and hope for a better future shapes people’s actions, increasing their sense of belonging, their civic engagement, and their sense of optimism for their country. 

Second, we need to reimagine and rethink the role of government. For far too long, we have expected far too little from our government. This is partly due to a long track record of the government’s failure to deliver on its promises.  We must believe that and shape the government as the biggest enabler of social change, as the vehicle that can do what we can’t individually achieve. If we conceive an expansive role for our government, we will set the bar high for who we elect and demand better governance. We will, once and for all, bury the notion that “this, too, is Liberia” every time our government fails.

Such reimagining of government needs to go hand in hand with efforts to strengthen the state’s ability to implement grand projects and initiatives. We need a strong civil service to conceive and execute fresh ideas, enforce new regulations, and forge new frontiers that meet our challenges.

We need to decentralize institutions, improve budgeting transparency, and develop innovative initiatives to deliver growth. A strong government will help restore faith in our ability as a nation to do great things, which is crucial to aligning people around this vision. We need people to believe in the legitimacy of state institutions and their ability to serve and protect. 

Third, we need sensible, fair, and aligned rules to improve the management of the economy. We must strengthen our nation’s ethics and public integrity rules so the economy works for all. If our national vision is to leave no one behind, it will require substantial investments in infrastructure, job creation, education, governance reforms, healthcare, women’s empowerment, social welfare, agriculture, public safety, electrification, internet connectivity, environmental protection, and rural development. To power these investments, we need tax reforms and structural financial management policies to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse so the public purse can be big enough to fund our aspirations. 

In essence, while our national vision strives for apolitical ends, it requires transformative and consequential leaders chosen through the political process to secure its achievement. It needs leaders skilled in everyday politics but not constrained by them. It needs leaders beholden not only to their parties but also to the higher calling to be in the service of the nation as a whole. 

Our national vision can be our North Star, to help us find our way when we are lost, to help steer us to our desired national destination. It will take serious work to craft a vision that is broad enough to honor the diverse perspectives of where our country should go and meaningful enough to inspire people to set their differences aside to sustain a concerted effort to turn this vision into reality. It may take years to get to that North Star, yet we will know in which direction we have to go to keep making positive and transformative progress as a nation.

James Earl Kiawoin lives in Monrovia.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.