Historical Sores Must be Exposed to the Sunshine of Critical Debate

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H.E Joseph Nyuma Boakai

Vice President of the Republic of Liberia,

Honorable Gbehzongar Milton Findley

President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate,

Professor Dr. Elwood Dunn

Project Coordinator of the National Symbols Review Project and other Members of the Project,

Our Keynote Speaker

Sister Mary Laurene Browne, 

Officials of Government present,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Representatives of International organizations,

Representatives of Civil Society Organizations,

Members of the Press,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

I want to begin by extending profound thanks and appreciation to the Governance Commission for organizing this meaningful symposium which aims to expand the conversation and increase the level of awareness and people’s participation in the National Symbols Review Project.

I also want to express gratitude to Sister Mary Laurene Browne, whom I couldn’t agree with more, for her insightful and instructive keynote address on the theme: “Reviewing Liberia’s Symbols to Renew National Identity,” and to all of you who are supporting and participating in this process which I like to term the ‘Redefining of the consciousness of our nation’.

National symbols are very important to national identity. The importance of national symbols can vary, depending on the strength, history, and political environment of the nation.

Symbols are elements, which can be easily identified, and are utilized in directing, recording, organizing, and communicating the values of a people. National symbols are elements that hold psychological and cultural significance for any people, that is why it is imperative to garner widespread consensus and eliminate real or perceptional imbalances or traces of partiality when deciding what symbols a people should bear.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Change itself is a paradoxical phenomenon because it is the one thing that is constant but at the same time the one thing that is most feared. Therefore, the National Symbols Review Committee will have to encounter the debilitating effects of inertia, a law of physics which says that matter at rest will remain at rest until acted upon or yanked and matter in motion will remain in motion until stopped. Don’t be surprised when people say that these symbols have been with us for more than a century; therefore they must be maintained. You must be bold and forward-looking and do not allow familiarity with these symbols to be the enemy of the good.  If one has to undergo a critical lifesaving surgery but keeps subjecting it to postponement because of fear, the disease will only become more virulent and may lead to his destruction. We have some historical sores that must be exposed to the sunshine of critical debate. The Symbols Review Committee must jar our historical river and bring to light the crocodiles and deadly sharks that have undermined unity and nationalism for so long. I don’t feel good that even our national flag does not testify to national creativity. It makes us appear like copycats.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

You know our history all too well, so I will not attempt to bore you with a trek down our historical alleys to peep through the windows of the past onto sceneries of a coast once described as barbarous and its people backward or to relive the overwhelming sensation of joy felt by others who after many years of dehumanizing experiences in other parts of the world, at long last, felt that by coming to these shores they had found a place to call home even if it was “barbarous and backward.”

The history of our country is, in a nutshell, like a puzzle to which we must add correctly, all of the pieces if we must form the correct image.

What can be considered the inclusive and correct national symbols must come out of decisions made by a plurality of the people and must be the reflection of cohesion among the varying ethno-national sensitivities, as well as the tribal, religious and other leanings of the Liberian people as a collective.

The move by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to launch the National Symbols Review Project on February 6, 2014 was of itself recognition of the need to, as a people, take a clear-headed, frank, swift and meticulous look at our national symbols including our Seal, our Flag, the titles and brooches of our national distinctions. We must begin to ask ourselves some fundamental questions: Do our symbols represent their original spirit and intent? Do they truly serve as rallying objects for all Liberians? Are they representative of our diversities? Do they harmonize us amidst our diversities? Do they elevate one segment of our society and debase other segments? Do they inspire the psychology of nationalism in us? Should our national motto be, The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here or The Love of Liberty Binds Us Here? Should there be an Order of the Veritable Indigenes just as there is an Order of the Knighthood of the Pioneers? These are questions we have shied away from far too long as a people and it’s high time we addressed them with a view to honestly redefining our national personality.       

A large part of the attachment that people have to the nation comes from the common understanding and the feeling of belongingness to the symbols of that nation. It is however difficult if not impossible to unite people around symbols that ought to reflect their nationhood if those symbols do not mirror their collective image.  

In this day and age in our country, there can be no room to wax in self-denial and make-believe that the current Liberian symbolic mirror emits an image of shared national identity, which is why the National Symbols Review Project under the administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is undertaking a comprehensive review of our national symbols as a way to renewing our national identity, an identity, that will do justice to our rich ethnic, religious, and cultural diversities.

Mr. Project Coordinator and members of your Committee, I assure you of nothing less than the fullest cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as you embark on this project of huge national significance.

I thank you.

Authors

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