Celebrating America’s Independence: Renewed Hope for Liberia

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On Thursday, July 3, scores of Liberians including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other government officials, heads of civil society organizations, business entities, religious institutions as well as envoys of diplomatic missions near Monrovia, international NGOs together with U.S. Ambassador Deborah R. Malac, U.S. Embassy staffs and a host of other U.S. agencies and corporations assembled to commemorate the 238th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America.  The Executive Pavilion situated on Broad Street—Monrovia’s bursting street—where the event occurred was a picturesque scene.  Security was stiffened, traffic thoroughly regulated, safety measures put in place, and security guards posted at strategic locations around the vicinity.  Hence, it was a great honor to have been invited.  

Due to heavy down pour of rain in the morning hours and being without rainwear let alone transport facilities, I figure out to put my ceremonial clothes alongside laptop carrier bag in a large plastic, and then wore casual dress code and headed for work.  Fortunately, close to the evening time, the raindrop cease.  Indeed, I was thrilled and amazed as I maneuvered to catch a taxicab and patiently sat in dense traffic congestion.  Once on Broad Street, I strolled to the Executive Pavilion and went through security check.  The receptionist presented a token and program souvenir.  As soon as I walked the hall, I met Ambassador Malac and other senior U.S. envoy to Liberia, who greeted and welcomed me.  Of course, I was pleased to listen, learn, and share experiences as well as expand my network.

Everyone clustered in a small group conversing with most familiar colleagues while wining and dining.  Hand sanitizers could be seen on each table, probably a preventable measure to the troubling Ebola virus. The hall was beautifully decorated with American flags and scenery of red, white, and blue representing the national colors of the United States of America.  A live band played American music and U.S. Marine displayed their best in a celebratory procession.  

United States Ambassador to Liberia took the podium and recounted the long-standing ties between Liberia and the United States.  Ambassador Malac cataloged the most recent U.S. assistance to Liberia and reaffirmed her country’s commitment to working with the government in helping to build a Liberia that is at peace with itself and its neighbors and offers economic opportunities to all of its citizens.  The U.S. envoy was quick to point out that building Liberia is not going to be an easy task, especially in the wake of devastating conflict; however, assured Liberians that it will take unity of effort, a shared vision and a commitment to the common good.   

For some who believe that Liberia is doomed, others who hold to the conviction that the country’s resources are being mortgaged, and a handful that attribute the deplorable economic condition to failure of the governance structure; Ambassador Malac stressed: “The wheels of progress cannot turn forward if they are constantly blocked by the stones of pettiness and personal attack whose sole purpose is to prevent things from happening or to preserve a political or personal advantage.”  She asserted that sustained and broad-based development and true economic prosperity happen through sustained commitment and concentrated focus and lots of patience.  

In the midst of extreme hardship, appalling educational system, dreadful healthcare, high unemployment, unacceptable inequality and unbearable cost of living; Ambassador Malac cautioned Liberians to help push other Liberians in helping them to succeed in their endeavors.  “This does not mean that there must always be complete agreement on every policy decision-alternative and dissenting views can drive innovative solutions and are a necessary component of a vibrant democracy-but it does require public discourse marked by civility and respect.  We can agree to disagree while continuing to work together in the best interests of the country” the United States Ambassador further noted.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who spoke on behalf of the Government and people of Liberia, expressed her deepest gratitude to the United States for its enormous contributions in the areas of education, healthcare, security, electricity, and many other developmental initiatives.  The President applauded the contributions of the Peace Corps volunteers and lauded the assistance to the Armed Forces of Liberia in the African-led international support mission in Mali with the deployment of the second platoon.

Perhaps, no country the world over has long-standing ties with the United States of America like Liberia.  We are the only country in Africa that was colonized by the American Colonization Society, an institution that repatriated thousands of freed slaves from the United States and also provided leadership for the colony.  It was the United States that appointed colonial agents and other influential decision makers as well as ensured the provision of humanitarian and educational supplies during the earlier formation of the country.

Hence, our founding fathers shared many things in common with the United States either through duplication or slight changes.   Liberia’s Declaration of Independence borrows much of its rhetoric from the United States own Declaration.  Moreover, our very first constitution and even other segment of our current constitution are practically replica after the United States.  Our Pledge of Allegiance and almost all of our national symbols depict our relationship with our historic and long-term partner.  Liberia’s capital city was named in honor of James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States and a staunch supporter of the American Colonization Society.  In addition, most of our streets, cities, townships, and many geographic features were named in honor of Americans.  In fact, our flag bears close resemblance to the American flag. And, both countries shared their Independence Day in the same month.

Like the United States of America that experienced revolution and bloody Civil War before arriving as a super power after World War II; Liberia, too, had tasted the bitter swill of calamitous strife that ruined every sector of the country. 

The 14-years intermittent conflict destroyed every sector of the country, most especially the human resource capacity, infrastructural facilities and caused scores of Liberians to be either participants or victims.  However, I am confident and very optimistic that Liberia will rise again, and the future of this country depends on patient, persistent, and perseverant young people who are willing to bridge the gap amidst the odd in remaking and rebuilding Liberia to become better than what it is now and takes its rightful place among the comity of nations.  

With barely weeks to Liberia’s Independence Day; Liberians must begin to demonstrate a special affection for their country, nurture a sense of personal identification, and learn to seek the well-being of the country. The people across the great land and those in the Diaspora should now begin to envision a “New Liberia” that is greater than religion confessed, dialect spoken,  county of origin, place of birth or family name.  Liberians have got to understand that the country is bigger than the sum of their individual ambition and greater than the quest for power or wealth.  The young generation of Liberians who constitute over 60 percent of the population, should be taught about the importance of giving back to their communities in whatsoever positive ways.  As a replacement for the US$3 compensation to young people to clean street corners, the Government has got to introduce service learning in the national curriculum at the secondary and tertiary levels.  Then, the amount allotted for stipend could be utilized to reduce tuition, build public library, construct and upgrade laboratory, provide up-to-date textbooks and enhance research activities so as to ensure the publication of more contextualized Liberian own textbooks.

Liberians have got to espouse a posture of strategic thinking and do away with politicking and politicizing everything, perpetually criticizing without any industrious venture, badmouthing campaign for little or nothing, and singing everlasting praises to the power that be.  Liberians from all walks of life must put their thinking cap on to cultivate the sense of oneness and love for their country while denouncing violence, self-aggrandizement, corruption, and other vices that have kept the country backward for far too long. This is Liberia’s time to shine and together let us all make it a reality for our generation and prosperity.

About the author:  Mr.  Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, voluntary and accredited nonprofit grassroots youth-led development organization.  For more information about our work in Liberia, please visit www.liberiayes.org.

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