“The time is now, the die is cast,”
A shapeless identity takes form—at last!
We must be steadfast, we must be brave,
We must search inward,
Our nation to save!
C.1979 Keith Neville A. Best
Thursday, February 6, 2014, came and went without a bang—described as low-key by one of its prime movers, Dr. Elwood Dunn.
And, perhaps that is the way it should have been—for now: low-key, pensive, unassuming, undemanding, stimulating, searching, encouraging, for the good of this nation—and for the first time, for all of this nation’s people.
And whether Liberians realize it or not, beginning Thursday, Liberia, as they know it, has taken off in a new direction, and will never be the same again.
In was in that connection, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Thursday, February 6, made history at the Paynesville Town Hall when she launched the National Symbols Review Project (NSRP).
The day would remain an ordinary day in the lives of this people; yet it would mark a new beginning, the day when Liberians began taking up the challenge of taking their nation and themselves, seriously.
This critical look at the national self, they were told, could encourage Liberians to clarify for themselves, why they call themselves Liberians, and what national self-image they wish to project to the world.
The NSRP project is meant to review and place in perspective for acceptance by every Liberian, all of the nation’s symbols, including its Flag, Coat-of-Arms, Seal, Anthem, and its National Awards that—whether they are aware of it or not—have, up to this point only represented no more than a small segment of the entire society.
Through these symbols—things that speak of Liberians, representing what they think and feel about themselves, enable them to tell themselves and anyone they meet, who and what they are.
That change already has begun through a number of activities aimed at reshaping the Liberian society. How has this come about?
President Sirleaf said at the launch, that during the rigorous nationwide consultations for the Vision 2030 launch, the issues of the national symbols were highlighted by several participants and it is now imperative (a must) that the symbols be reviewed (looked at again) in order to make sure that they tell Liberians’ collective stories to themselves and to the world.
The Liberian leader said that the revision of the symbols is a serious business because it has several political and financial implications and as such, should be treated with urgency and commitment by all stakeholders.
She urged an immediate consultative process between the three branches of government to ensure that the project becomes a reality.
She said that the project’s team should carry out a serious, but effective consultative approach that will finally determine symbols that will reflect the views and aspirations of every Liberian and will make them stand-up to say yes, this is what we want.
The project however brings several rhetorical questions to mind: Why take a look at our National Flag, our National Coat of Arms or National Seal, our National Anthem, and our National Awards? “Why is a review of national symbols important and necessary?
In response, the Coordinator of the project, Dr. Elwood Dunn said that the above and many other such questions will be tackled when a team of Liberians (through a campaign of civic education) engages our people in the weeks and months ahead.
Dr. Dunn said that there is a history of efforts and calls for symbols review. We have been enjoined by the TRC process to undertake a review, as we have been by the Vision 2030 process. Not many serious minds will deny that a close look at our symbols is an imperative of our time.
“As to the “why” of symbols review, the reasons are multiple. We undertake symbols review because we face a crisis of national identity, because we remain an un-reconciled people, because through prior national consultations the Liberian people are asking for this national introspection, and because we are in that historical moment to undertake a paradigm shift in service to the notion of “one people, one nation, united for sustainable peace and development.”
The “What” question: Historical narratives inform all symbols. To comprehend the meaning of our symbols, we must first appreciate the historical narrative out of which flow the current national symbols. Such a narrative plays as well a critical role in setting forth the identity of a people.
Dr. Dunn said that the present generation of Liberians knows less than their parents about the country’s history and founding ideals. “And many Liberians are more aware of what divides us than what unites us. We are in danger of becoming not “one nation indivisible” as our Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag says, but its opposite, “many nations” lacking a central core, a unifying ideal.
He said the one of the many purposes of symbols review then, is to advance a national conversation precisely on the subject of Liberia’s national identity, and to affirm the belief that “what unites us is far greater than what divides us”.
The NSRP boss, who was the 2012 national independence orator said, a sense of national identity is necessary to enable individual Liberians transcend self or ethnic group absorption and commit to the common good. Without it, Liberia can neither reconcile nor can it genuinely pursue the goals of Vision 2030.
It is appropriate to ask if the national symbols –Flag, Seal, Anthem, Awards, reflect this new concern to tell the full story of all Liberians; to ask if the symbols genuinely reflect the perspectives and values and aspirations and history of all of Liberia’s peoples. Are the symbols a source of division or a source of unity?
And finally, the “How” question: We propose to organize and lead a process that will be both knowledge-based and based on public consultation. This means that we will bring to bear on the process as full an understanding as possible of where the symbols come from, and what meanings their founders attached to them over time. Equally important will be the role of the Liberian people in freely and candidly expressing their views about the present set of symbols and where change or modification is desirable.
“Armed now with what our symbols are, why we are revisiting our symbols, and how we shall proceed, I express the fervent hope that we can soon begin in earnest, our national conversation on our national symbols,” he concluded.