The Ebola scourge will wane and it will eventually go away. When it does, and even before it does, we should ask ourselves these two crucial questions: what lessons have we learned from this ferocious attack and what do we do, moving forward, so that we are no longer crippled by events like this and as the Prophet Joel said, make sure that the damages the locusts had caused are restored?
I will try to present my views in a plain ordinary manner without all the academic jargon and nuances of language and logic. I submit to you that what we need now is plain ordinary language that all can speak, hear and understand and help to solve problems for now and for the future.
It is disheartening that while Liberia is asking for international help of money, materials and personnel, some Liberians, in high administrative positions, who should be home heavily and deeply involved in solution strategies and helping to formulate and implement policies to combat this ugly scourge, have left (some say, fled) the country. They expect an American, a European, a Ugandan or an Asian to come and help while they are securely ensconced in a safe, far away, country. It is a shame and it will be a real test of leadership how the President deals with such unpatriotic and recalcitrant persons. I was one of those excited about the President's election. Dr. Amos Sawyer had sent me an urgent note about the election and we were both utterly elated and excited about it and the possibilities of the new era that was dawning. I am still excited but still anxiously waiting for the deliverance of the goods. I am not unaware that development takes time, long time sometimes, and that there is a process of accretion involved, but it seems time is running out in Liberia. If the goods are not delivered in a timely and an even and fair manner, and when the cost of the delivered service far exceeds its true cost because of the “middle-man” siphoning effect, even what is delivered is not appreciated and a negative perception of what is delivered and what can be delivered in the long run, sets in. And that is not good for confidence in government and in governance.
Liberia is blessed with enormous human and natural resources and even excellent soil for agriculture. One lesson we should learn, I suggest, is that if we do not effectively and honestly husband these resources in developing the infrastructure and our country, issues like Ebola and other catastrophes can always debilitate, if not ruin us completely. To me the infrastructure involves intense focus on education, health, entrepreneurship and roads and communication. We should learn from this Ebola trauma that developing our health, education and road infrastructures, using the enormous resources with which we are blessed, should be of utmost priority.
But we have not been able to do those things properly, consistently, diligently and well because of the crippling and demoralizing effects of the big elephant in the room, CORRUPTION. It is my humble and considered opinion that until we can curb and abate the corrosive, demoralizing and debilitating effects of CORRUPTION, we cannot see or go the way forward. There will be little or no development and we may even see ourselves going backwards or retrogressing. And that is not good.
CORRUPTION is the enemy we should look for first and fight and defeat. But WE are the enemy we are looking for. WE, collectively, are the cause of CORRUPTION. My good friend and colleague, Dr. W. Penn Handwerker, once started his article on corruption with an apt fable. I will summarize and abbreviate it here in my own words:
Once upon a time there were three brothers from a small village in a big county in a small country. They were all working for the government. The first son got tons of money from corruption but spent all of it on himself with wine, women, fine clothes and stuff like that. He never did anything for his extended family or his village and people. He wanted to be chief but his people turned him down and when he died, none of them came for his funeral. The second son was very honest. He refused every bribe and was not involved in any corruption. He managed well what the government paid him and was frugal and took care of his immediate family by loving his wife and parents and making sure that his children are well educated. Because he lived a Spartan life, he was not able to help his extended family, village of people as they wanted him to do and even refused to help some get scholarships that they were not qualified for. When he died, no one attended his funeral except his immediate family and some friends who thought of him as an honest saint. The third son was the epitome of corruption. There was no bribe too small or too big for him to turn down. He was a wheeler and dealer and was known all around town. He sent tons of money to his village and people; he gave lucrative contracts to his immediate and extended families; built schools and gave scholarships to many young people whether they deserved it or not; he built roads and brought power to his people; he gave huge sums of money to churches and mosques and the pastors and priests and imams all knew how he made his money. Everybody honored and looked up to him, sought his help and wanted to be related to him. Everybody knew how he made his money. His village and county begged him to become a chief or senator and when he died, his whole village, his whole county and the country came to his funeral and he was given several honors.
The point Dr. Handwerker was making is that we are the real ENABLERS of corrupt people and CORRUPTION. We adore them and we go to them for help. We give them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Once this happens, it becomes a self-feeding process. We go to them to meet our needs illicitly and they feel good for how important they now are or have become, and they do for us what we want and we feel good and go to them and so on and so on. We are truly the enemy we are looking for to eradicate. As we blame those who are corrupt we should also blame ourselves as enablers of CORRUPTION. My corrupt official is really not corrupt. It is the other official who is lining her/his pockets and those close to her/him who are corrupt. We accept the corruption of our woman or man and reject and condemn the corruption of the other person's woman or man. We are the real enablers. We are, indeed, the enemy we are condemning. We should recognize it and try to rid ourselves of it.
We have attempted to identify two of the three legs of corruption. We who, in order to meet our needs illicitly, look up to and feed the ego of the corrupt official and the corrupt official whose ego, now being fed, continues the corrupt practices. The third leg is the international community. The developed countries know how and where those ill-gotten and stolen monies are used and kept. They recently helped Nigeria, even in the smallest of amounts, with the stolen monies of President Abacha. They can help Liberia enormously in our development efforts by exposing and repatriating some of those monies and ill-gotten goods that have left the shores and development of Liberia to their shores and their development. As an aside, I may also suggest that they help us out as we wrestle with issue of dual-citizenship. They know which Liberian is also a citizen of their country. They can either identify them for us or make it possible for us to find the way to identify them. I am cognizant of diplomatic nuances but when countries they want to help are facing real and possibly destabilizing issues and issues related to their health, growth and development, they have the moral and philanthropic obligation to help.
I submit to you that if we restrain ourselves from enabling the corrupt officials and the international entities help us to expose and repatriate their stolen monies, we will be on our way to true, vibrant and enduring development. Liberia will be an oasis of health, wealth and development: the Switzerland of Africa with every mouth fed, every body clothed and every individual with excellent healthcare.
Finally, I will recommend to you the recent Commencement address at Cuttington University given by the respected journalist and the doyen of journalism in Liberia, Kenneth Y. Best. It truly explores and recommends that one of the significant ways forward for Liberia is by educating ourselves, learning to manage our resources and not selling them, our lands and even ourselves, to outsiders and foreigners. It is a seminal presentation that should make us wake up and do the right thing for ourselves and for our country. It should be required reading for all.
Liberia is enormously blessed. It is the management of the resources that is at stake. With our abundant resources and a population of our size, less than four million, we should be the Switzerland of Africa where there is enough for everyone and not all for a few and none for the rest of the people. If our resources are canalized, corralled and husbanded well, we should truly be a rich, prosperous and thriving country to the honor and glory of the Creator who endowed and blessed us with such abundant land, human and natural resources. We owe it to ourselves and, especially, to the generations to come to be true, productive and honest custodians of our resources, like the seed that fell on fertile soil, producing multiple harvests for now and for the future.
Dr. Igolima T. D. Amachree is a retired professor of Sociology and former head of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, USA, and also a former professor and head of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Liberia in Monrovia, Liberia. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.