Thank you very much for that warm introduction. I am very happy to be back home on the soil of Liberia – the Land of the Free – a country in which my navel string was buried.
Over the years, I have come to observe and realize that no matter where you are on this Planet Earth, no matter who you are, and no matter what you have become over the years, your heart still yearns for your natural point of origin and birth. And so, I am back home and very thankful to Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the people of Liberia for this great honor to serve as National Orator for this year’s July 26 Independence Day Commemoration. Times have changed as this instance demonstrates how far our country has come as a nation. We live in a unique country as exemplified by me, a simple and common man, standing at this podium to deliver what is one of the most honorable orations in this country. That is why I thank you, Madam President and the people of Liberia for considering me to speak to the nation and the world during this Independence Day Commemoration. At this juncture, I would very much appreciate were everyone to please stand so that we can observe a moment of silence for all our compatriots who lost their lives, most especially for the death which has hit this government in the last few days – Minister McClain’s passing.
Madam President, HE Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Mr. Vice President, HE Joseph N. Boakai
Honorable Chief Justice and members of the Judiciary
Members of the Legislative Branch of Government
Members of the Cabinet of the Republic of Liberia
Members of the Diplomatic Corps and other Foreign Dignitaries Here Present
Representatives of the Mano River Union (MRU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWA), the United Nations (UN), and UNMIL
Officials and Leaders of Political Parties here present
The gallant people, sons and daughters of Liberia here at home and in the Diaspora, People of Africa and Global human-collective
Ladies and Gentlemen
Exactly One Hundred and Sixty-Nine (169 years) ago, our founding fathers bravely declared Liberia’s independence to the whole world. As of this date in 1847, Liberia became a sovereign nation, making Liberia the first independent democratic country on the African Continent. History documents that Liberia was never colonized, nor occupied by any European colonial power. Today we gather in this great Hall celebrating another year into our existence as a sovereign nation. Men, women, and children in the villages, in the towns and cities all over this country and in the Diaspora are celebrating this historic day. Thus, we are gathered here mindful of the fundamental human principles upon which this nation was created – that is: freedom, justice, liberty, and respect for human dignity.
While I do not intend to lecture you on the History of Liberia, I nevertheless invite you to take a brief reflection of the struggles and the yearnings of our founding fathers for this nation. Freed or escaped from slavery, our fore-fathers returned for this beautiful and peaceful land to establish a country of free men and women in the 1800s.
Encountering series of conflicts and their resolutions for peaceful co-existence, Liberia was founded and our founding parents finally realized their dream of returning to their Continent of origin, free from slavery, free from servitude, and free from dehumanization in the Americas. From then on, we established a democracy and embarked on building a nation that was envisioned to be a replica of the socio-economic and political ssystem of the United States of America.
Throughout our history, we are reminded of what occurred among us as people and citizens of this nation. We witnessed series of conflicts between the “settlers” and the aborigines – we partially resolved that. We went through a period of the struggle for multiparty democracy – we made enormous progress at attempting to achieve it. We experienced the military coup d’état of 1980 which trampled on the little democratic footprints our fore-parents had established and this threw us backwards. Then came the 14-year civil war which rained death on the people and destroyed everything that this nation struggled to build: the civil war destroyed our infrastructure, destroyed the fabric of our society, destroyed precious lives, internally displaced our population, sent the Liberian people into refugee camps and dispersed Liberians all over the world.
We thought all hope was lost, but when the last peace accord was signed and our brothers and sisters stood at the Gabriel Tucker Bridge, laid down their weapons of civil destruction and shook hands with each other, we once again regained our hopes and acquired a renewed spirit, that resilient and passionate Liberian spirit which ushered in the rebirth of our democracy in 1997. Then, in October 2005 Liberians boldly demonstrated their will to bounce back again in a democratic election that produced the first female democratically elected President in Africa – Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
As we gathered in this great Hall today, we should ask ourselves: after 169 years of existence what have we done, what have we achieved, what accomplishment can we make better, what could we tell our fore-parents if they were sitting in this Pavilion today. You see, it took about a combined 142 year to build Liberia by ourselves without any colonial master. Then, it took us as little as 10 years to destroy 142 years of hard work. We inflicted maxim damage on ourselves in so short a time. So, how long do we think it would take us to rebuild this country and bring it back to its pre-war status? Let us think about it for a moment.
Did we make any PROGRESS? I pose the question in this way …. specifically highlighting the word “PROGRESS”, because I see the glass as half-full and optimistic about the future of this country called “LIBERIA.” Some may argue “YES” and some may say “NO”. To me, either answer is relative, because we have made some progress, yet still there is a lot to be done in our democracy, in our educational system, in our health care system, in our economy, on gender issues, and in many aspect of the lives of the Liberian people.
On my way here to the great Republic of Liberia I met a young, bright fellow at the airport in the Washington DC area. He lives and works in Liberia. While waiting to board our flight to Brussels, I engaged in a candid dialogue about Liberia and its future. He confirms that some progress have been made, but there are challenges.
Thus, when asked to speak on the topic, “Consolidating Progress Towards Transformation”, I quickly came to the realization that our discussion should not be fixed in this direction. Instead, I rearrange the theme to open up a national dialogue utilizing an upgraded topic “Requirements for Consolidating the Progress Towards the Transformation of Liberia.” I believe that by this, as a people emerging from a civil war, we will set guidelines and benchmarks, and properly suggest practically approaches for consolidation and transforming Liberia to meet the challenges of our time.
First let us look at from whence we recently emerged. For a long time, the Liberian people have opted for a peaceful and non-violent democratic change transformation of government when in April 1980 the military intervened and ruled the country for about 10 years. Then, in December 1989, a civil war was launched in this country that led to the killings of over quarter of a million innocent people in Liberia and lasted for about 14 years. Did these events solve any problem or did they only create a vicious circle of blood-shed, agony, despair, destruction of infrastructure and national set-back in our onward advance to progress?
The guns have since been silenced, refugees have been returning home, and people have been trying to rebuild their lives. As we can see, this country is on the path to progress however steady the pace may be now. As one of the notable achievements, every Liberian can undeniably point to the fact Liberians have lived in peace in the last 10+ years. Madam President, we whole heartedly thank you, the people of Liberia and the international community for keeping the peace. Peace is what we needed. Peace is that we cried for. Peace is what we got when our African brothers and sisters and the international intervened.
Now that we have peace, we must strongly protect it as a precious commodity. We cannot allow this peace to be threatened by anyone. That is why the Liberian people must unite against individuals who will attempt to start another war in this country. In River Gee, Maryland, Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe, we want no more war; in Nimba, Bong, Lofa, Gbarpolu, and Bassa, we want no more war; in Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Rivercess, we want no more war. All we want is peace. If you want to fight, then fight poverty, fight ignorance – let the pencils be our guns and the papers our bullets; fight diseases – let the syringes be our guns and the solutions be our bullets; fight corruption – let sincerity be our guns and honesty be our bullets; fight against hatred – let love be our guns and peace be our bullets. Let us encourage each other with progressive ideas so as to rebuild this country and once again make Liberia the pride of Africa and envy of the world. This is the Liberia we must continue to build.
The achievement of peace provides us an opportunity and at the same time imposes upon us the obligation of rebuilding our democracy. In the process of raising this country from the ashes of war, we have encountered numerous challenges as a nation. These challenges are not a Unity Party challenge, these are not challenges of the Congress for Democratic Change and these are not challenges for any of the opposition parties alone, but these are challenges for all Liberians to brave and address so as to uphold our institutions and maintain our national existence.
We are aware that throughout history, democratic nations have grown and societies have survived, because they have been able to establish governing institutions and strengthen their administrative structures.
One way to achieve this is by ensuring mutual respect. The rule of law must supersede individual status in society or position; it must respect the rights of the common man; tribalism and ethnic politics must give way to our common national interest; the role of watch-dog groups must be increased. Institutions like the press, advocacy group, civil society groups are all entities that have a critical role to play in sustaining our democracy. The expression of free will and political demonstration should not take the form violence or of the destruction of the properties of innocent people and businesses.
As we discuss transforming the Liberian society for a better future, let us look at an important indicator of development, the challenges we face, and how we can mitigate them. One such challenge in our population is the very high illiteracy rate. UNESCO 2010 data show Liberia with a youth literacy rate of 54.5%, with 64.7% for males and only 44% for females. The adult literacy rate is 47.6% with 62.42% for male and 32.8% for females. We know that low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world. We agree that the devastating civil war led to the destruction of educational infrastructures and flight of trained teachers, thus contributing to the poor quality of primary, secondary, and tertiary education in the country.
Far more concerning is the increasing gender gap, whereby the female gender in this country is lagging behind. While international aid agencies may help to address these problems, we cannot surrender our responsibility to these outside agencies. We should establish programs that will address this situation. What we need is the requisite financial and material support, and the proper accommodating atmosphere here at home. This will attract highly skilled Liberian educators who are capable of performing the identical task of educational reform so that this important aspect of our nation’s life is not dependent on aid agencies. We must ensure that the teachers who teach our children are themselves well-trained to be in the class room. When trained, teachers should then be given good incentives to keep them in the class rooms at their places of assignments throughout the country. We have to invest in our Teacher’s Training Institutes.
The educational system must transition to producing graduates with employable and marketable skills; it must also focus on vocational education. In this vein, I proposes the establishment of a program that will recruit skilled Liberian educational experts from around the world, provide them with incentives and bring them back home to work in curriculum development, teacher-training, engage in teaching and the overall reform and transformation of the Liberian educational systems to surpass its pre-war status. Liberians are smart people. Whatever any foreign expert is brought in this country to do, I believe that there are Liberians of equal or better expertise to perform similar duty.
Over the last century and a half, we have been bridled with a silent question about our national outlook. We are Liberians and that I know very well. But, have we ever discussed or thought about examining what our national identity is, that is what defines us as Liberians? What really binds us together as Liberians? What can we point to as that single most uniting force, principle, or philosophy that connects us to each other? These are important questions that we must ponder over. At this critical juncture in the national existence of Liberia, we cannot wait any longer on theories, instead we must act and take practically steps in defining our national identity.
But allow me to suggest this if there is none that we can really point to, then we need to mobilize around the spirit of “UNITY.” For, we need unity more than ever before, as we have recently emerged from a period of self-destruction during the civil conflict. I believe that there is much more that unites us as Liberians or people of Liberian origin than that which divides us. For if we are united, we can draw up enough strength, work together to consolidate any progress we accomplish and build a viable nation that generations to come will appreciate. My fellow countrymen and women, UNITY is a required element and a driving force in the transformation of this society for a better Liberia. So, let us unite!!!
Liberia and its growing democracy has come a long way. Significant strides have been made towards the goal of consolidating a workable democratic process and culture that the Liberian society is now experiencing. After the brutal civil war, we have had two successive democratic elections, elections in which several political parties participated. With over 20 political parties in a population of about 4.5 million people, Liberia can literally boast of practicing multi-party democracy during the last 10+ years. This is something we should be proud of and which demonstrates a notable achievement by all Liberians.
In Liberia’s political past, opposition political parties were seen as enemies and banned from operating. Opposition leaders were often imprisoned or forced into exile. Today, we are witnessing an emerging atmosphere and a period wherein political parties are operating without fear of being banned. No democracy is prefect. What we now have is working and can be built upon. Political parties and their leaders have to be committed to democratic values to make Liberia’s democracy better. Also, we must institutionalize the core values of democracy and deepen its practice in order to avoid another breakdown of our society.
We have to practice the kind of constructive politics that encourages the Liberian people and allows for popular participation in national life. Therefore, fellow Liberians let your voices be heard through the ballot box without resorting to violence. All of us have the responsibility to consolidate and maintain the peace. The oppositions have been doing well thus far, and there is a role and contribution of the media, civil society and state political institutions in consolidating this democratization process for the transformation of the Liberian society. I have hope that the interest of Liberia shall prevail. Let us put Liberia first.
As I said previously, none of us can claim that our growing democracy has been all perfect. Yet, let us come together and unite with the singular purpose of sustaining this new democratic path to our future so that generations to come will treasure it. With all the problems our democracy have experienced in the past, and what we see occurring in other African countries today, let us take pride in the fact that Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf respected the presidential term-limit of the Liberian constitution and did not run for a third term. This single most important act by our current president did not plunge this nation into a constitutional crisis as we are seeing in other African countries. Instead, everyone is now gearing up for the next presidential and legislative elections in 2017, the third since 2005 at the end of the civil war. As the next electoral season draws nearer, I caution all leaders of political parties against making inflamed statements that have the propensity of leading to violence or intimidating the voting public.
Remember that you as opposition parties have a big role to play in nurturing our growing democracy. Your contribution to the transformation of this country requires opposition political parties to constructively critique the government, analyze government policies without malice; you can criticize in a mature way, using facts and evidence (not innuendos); you should also suggest practical solutions that will move this country forward. This requirement is fundamental to consolidating peace and progress in this country’s transformation into a viable democracy.
Consolidating the democratic gains and transforming our society must go hand-in-hand with good governance. Our governing structures must fully empower the Liberian people so that the people are able to express grievances, seek justice and fair play, as well as demand and shape better policies. Marching into the future, we must ensure that public institutions are able to effectively and honestly manage public resources and conduct public affairs in a manner that is free of corruption and abuses, and upholds the rule of law. We must boldly hold leaders accountable for their actions as public servants when they abuse their power or indulge in corruption. And that is exactly what the Liberian people have witnessed in the last several weeks when the government initiated legal actions in the Sable Mining Company Corruption Case that involved several government officials. Both the Liberian people and the international community have applauded the government for the actions taken in this case, demonstrating that no one is above the law, and that Liberia belongs to all, not a few.
I applaud the efforts of our fellow Liberians who have returned home to help in the rebuilding-process of this great nation. It takes sacrifices and love for country to leave the luxury of Europe and America, Australia and other advance countries to come home to contribute to the rebuilding-process of our country. You have endured and stood the test of time. And for this I say thank you again. I also say thank you to other nationals who have come to contribute to the rebuilding process of Liberia. To Liberians living in the Diaspora, I admonish you to evaluate your individual circumstances and consider returning home to contribute to the reconstruction and transformation of the country. This is the one and only Liberia we have – a once peaceful and steadily prosperous nations. Our skills and expertise in business, medicine, science and technology, agriculture, education, law enforcement, etc. are needed to help propel Liberia through the challenges we are faced with. As this is a two-way avenue, the government of Liberia should play its part by creating the atmosphere and condition that will encourage or incentivize Diaspora expertise to return.
This is not to say that the Liberian Diaspora has been neglecting Liberia. Far from that, the Diaspora has played and continues to play a crucial role in supporting the transformation of this country. Our efforts should be recognized for more than just the monetary contribution to the Liberia economy through our remittances.
During the Ebola outbreak, for example, many Liberian organizations and groups came together under the umbrella “Liberia Diaspora Emergency Response Task Force on the Ebola Crisis” in order to help the country and the region fight the Ebola epidemic. We collaborated with several international and local groups including philanthropic and peace organizations and assisted Liberia and the sub-region with medical and relief supplies.
I testified before the United States Congress on September 17, 2014 on behalf of the Diaspora Task Force on the Ebola Crisis to mobilize material support for the Ebola-affected region, advocated for the establishment of a Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa (mainly in our sub-region) and advocated for a sustainable post-Ebola recovery support. During the same time President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sent out an SOS call to the world. Through the combined efforts of the government and the Diaspora, Liberia and the other ebola-affected countries received huge assistance from the US, China, Cuba and other countries who committed either military and medical personnel to help fight the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and sub-region; ultimately, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for Africa was established and situated in Addis Ababa.
Diaspora medical and scientific expertise (including myself) worked with other scientists and doctors during the PREVAIL Ebola vaccine clinical trials. We help to ensure that the clinical trials were conducted within ethical and internationally acceptable standards. We must applaud the Liberian government for its undaunted courage to participate in the PREVAIL Ebola vaccine trials. This was an exceptional contribution to global health in the search for a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus disease. The people of this great country Liberia and all those who were in the frontline deserve a big thank you for your resilience and determination to defeat the Ebola virus disease. This is the Liberian spirit that I know. This is the Liberia I know we must build.
But the Ebola virus is not gone away completely. We have seen some flare-ups in recent months which were contained. We are also confronted with a multiplicity of other infectious diseases in this country and the region – malaria, thyphoid, Lassa fever, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, just to name a few. And we know that the Liberian health care system still has many challenges, but is slowly recovering. That is why we also propose that Liberia commit a lion-share of the national budget to health in general and financial resources for the establishment of its own Center for Disease Control and Prevention. We need to train public health professionals at least at the Master’s Degree level. We should not be contended with these haphazard short-term 3-4 months training of people in the field of public health. That is absolutely not sufficient. We need to train Liberia’s own corps of scientists who will devote their time to the biomolecular studies of infectious diseases, including Ebola, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Zika, etc. etc. We need to closely collaborate with other countries in the region to conduct effect infectious diseases surveillance and exchange vital public health information; we need to develop our own rapid diagnostic capability for early diagnostic testing for infectious diseases. We need to study the Ebola virus ourselves and study the survivals of EVD ourselves.
Well, we do not need to look too far, for standing before you is your son, who has invented a simple, rapid, and affordable test that can detect many infectious pathogens and tell the differences between and among the pathogens at the same time in just 10 to 40 minutes. In consultation with my research Team, I am proud to declare that we are prepared to make my invention and our technology available to Liberia, the Mano River Union (MRU), and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to invest in the development, production, and commercialization of my diagnostic technology which will contribute to the fight against infectious diseases in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Africa, and the whole world. This government should act promptly in working out the mechanism, for the diseases are not waiting on us, but can strike any minute and cross international borders again. This is a practical path to contributing to the transforming Liberia’s diagnostic capability and that of the other countries and improving the health care systems here in Liberia and the world.
As we celebrate this our 169th Independence Day today in this country, it will not be fair if we ignore the concerns of our women. There is a situation of the challenging quality of life of our female gender in Liberia. This is manifested in the form of educational disparity and other uncountable problems. We have to collectively address these problems. While government is charged with the responsibility of providing a programmatic framework to address the gender question, government alone cannot solve this problem. First, it has to start from the decisions made in the homes about available opportunities, within the family unit which is the basic structure of human society. In the family, parents will have to understand that girls have the right to education just as boys. Girls must be given the same educational opportunities as boys. We must remove adverse cultural practices that create barriers toward schooling for girls, and reinforce the importance of investing in the future of our young women for the benefit of the country and its future. Women can do anything that a man can do. God did not make women to only be bear our children; why can’t we still see that woman can be ministers, doctors, lawyers, legislators, pilots and Presidents too. It comes down as a challenge to our Liberian men to ensure that our daughters, our wives, our sisters, our mothers, our aunties are first respected and provided the same opportunities available for the male gender in our respective families. Women I am with you all the way. Men we know each other…I will keep my radar on you.
Growing up in this country, we lived in multiethnic communities, played with and went to school with children of other religions and Christian denominations. We saw the Jehovah Witnesses distributing the “Watch Tower” booklets in our communities, we also saw some of our friends of the Seven Days Adventist going to church on Saturdays. We ourselves went to Church on Sundays. It did not affect anyone of us. Also, we saw our friends and their parents going to the Mosque on Fridays for prayers. In Liberia, marriages between Christians and Muslims are common. This relationship has been peacefully accommodated by both sides over the years. And so, one virtue we have to require ourselves is “tolerance”. Our founding fathers were mindful of the freedom of religion and separation of Church and State. This has worked for our democracy over the years. Therefore, we should not invite or create a Christian-Muslim conflict that does not exist in this country. In the interest of Liberia, let us advocate for a Liberia in which our republic has no religious designation – not an Islamic/Muslim Republic and not a Christian Republic, but the one and only Republic of Liberia.
When we look around us, we see other societies moving ahead and advancing in science and technology. They are progressing so much that when you look at our situation, you wonder what is holding us back. Thus what interest me recently is my interaction with few of our educated friends on a social media, Facebook. There was a post showing an Ethiopian weaving the traditional fabric using a weaver traditionally constructed made of sticks or woods. From my observation, the reaction I posted in part was, “This traditional African technology needs to be modernized….” Then I saw someone replying to my comment saying, “we don’t need to modernize an authentic African tradition….” Then another person replied in support of the one who replied to my comments and said, “agreed! The authenticity of tradition remains “As Is”. Although change is good, we lose the richness of our heritage with modernization and upgrades.” Well, I was totally shocked about these two responses to my simple comments.
Then I quickly realized that our desire to progress as a society is sometimes held back by the resistance of some members of society who do understand contemporary need for technological advancement. Here, I am advocating for technological advancement, while two other educated people are promoting backwardness and stagnation. They would want our children to use slates and chalk, instead of notebooks and pens; they would want us to still be using typewriters, instead of computers; they would want us to ride on a donkeys and not in automobiles; and, they would want us to use telex, instead of email. The interesting part of this is that these two persons were communicating their messages using high-speed internet and computer to argue against advance technology. Nevertheless, we must be continue to be innovative and determined to implement new ideas that will promote the advancement of our society and country.
Madam President and people of Liberia, in order to be able to compete in almost every aspects of global activities, we need to technologically equip our people. May the government please continue the good efforts of rehabilitating the Mount Coffe Hydro Plant (which is almost completed) and other electrification projects so that electricity will be expanded to other areas of the country; please continue the hard work in the pavement of the roads to extend them from Ganta to Maryland (Cape Palmas) and from Bong to Lofa; In addition, the peace and democracy which have been achieved are valuable assets that we must all protect. Let us take into consideration all of outlined requirements as enumerated in consolidating progress towards the transformation of the Liberian society.
We have suffer for too long for this country. When I say we, I mean all the genuine human rights and democratic advocates, student activists, journalists, leaders of political parties in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and the progressives who played a major role in the process for the democratization of Liberia over the years. For standing with the poor and the oppressed people of Liberia, we were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and some of our compatriots executed. We have committed no crime other than persecuting the struggle for socio-economic justice in Liberia and supporting the liberation struggle of the Southern African countries from colonialism.
Progressives are advocates for the oppressed and for equal rights in society. We dedicated ourselves to the struggle with passion. We made enormous sacrifices during our time in the fight for democracy and social justice against the military dictatorship of the 80’s. We dedicated our lives for the attainment of fair play in this society. We put our lives on the line day-in and day-out for a peaceful and democratic change of government. Take a look at the current progressive trend in the Democratic Party of the USA that has sharpened the debate on equality and social justice in America this year. So, being a progress is something to be very proud of and nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for. We did what was right and we will do it all over again for our people. Long live Liberia, God bless Liberia and our people.