By Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor
The legendary United States leader, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was correct when he wrote: “It is time for a new generation of leadership to cope with new problems and new opportunities.”
His words still ring true today in contemporary times. Liberia’s new generation of leaders need to address the issues and problems of Liberia from its historical perspective; especially leaders who appreciate and understand the history of the republic since its inception as a sovereign nation in 1847, using the lessons of history as a conduit to foster national unity and reconciliation.
According to history, the settlement and founding of Liberia in the early 1800s was motivated by the domestic politics of slavery and race in the United States as well as by U.S. foreign policy interests. In 1816, a group of white Americans founded the American Colonization Society (ACS) to deal with the “problem” of the growing number of freed blacks in the United States by resettling them in Africa. The resulting state of Liberia would become the second (after Haiti) black republic in the world at that time (Wikipedia).
Prominent Americans such as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Randolph were among the best-known members of ACS. Former President Thomas Jefferson publicly supported the organization’s goals, and President James Madison arranged public funding for the society. The motives for joining the society were vast and included a range of people from abolitionists to slaveholders who counted themselves members. On the other hand, many abolitionists, both black and white, ultimately rejected the notion that it was impossible for the races to integrate and therefore did not support the idea of an African-American colony in Africa. Still, the ACS had powerful support and its colonization project gained momentum (Wikipedia).
The first leaders such as Joseph J. Roberts, Stephen Allen Benson, etc., were individuals whose mindsets were rooted in the act of domestic servitude and not in the act of politics. They were not prepared intellectually and politically to set up a wholesome functioning political institution. They viewed politics from a narrow perspective that was not inclusive. As a result of this mindset, they proceeded to set up a government that created a line of demarcation between itself and the indigenous Africans. The indigenes were never a part of the political arrangement; they became integrated into the political realm after many decades. In fact, indigenous Liberians became integrated into the political realm around 1940, 93 years after the declaration of independence in 1847 (Wikipedia).
A new generation of Liberian leaders must help Liberians to learn from the lessons of the 1980s and the 1990s which produced unfortunate historical events. Yes indeed, said new generation of leaders must be able to reconcile these historical missteps and help all Liberians to develop a new frame of mind that will be reflective of the values and cultures of Liberia and develop a sense of oneness as an African nation.
The term “leader” is used generously these days to signify someone in a leadership role. But there is much more to being a true leader than achieving a leadership position. Every able-bodied individual has an opportunity to be a leader, whether he or she is working with clients, representing victims of crimes, providing pro bono legal services, or volunteering for community and charitable organizations.
There are different views on the attributes of a true leader, but Edward Pappas, an American writer, has identified the top ten: a true leader understands and listens to people; a true leader enlightens people; a true leader guides, but does not dictate to, the people; a true leader enables and empowers people; a true leader motivates people; a true leader inspires people; a true leader credits people; a true leader helps people; a true leader leads people by example; and a true leader serves his people.
In his book, ‘Toward a Meaningful Life,’ Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson wrote: “A true leader should be judged not by what he has, but by what he has not— ego, arrogance and self-interest. A true leader sees his work as a selfless service toward a higher purpose…When it comes time to take credit, he makes himself invisible; but he is the first to answer at the time of need, and he will never shrink away in fear…A true leader wants nothing more than to give people pride, to make people stand on their own, as leaders. Instead of trying to blind us with his or her brilliance, a true leader reflects our own light back to us, so that we may see ourselves anew.”
Let us hope the people of Liberia will not be let down once again with the upcoming leadership that will eventually emerge at the end of the 2017 presidential and general elections. It is anticipated that the new leadership will perceive the Liberian presidency as an opportunity to be of service and a leader that will lead the people of Liberia by example. Yes indeed, Liberia needs a leadership that will engage the Liberian Diaspora communities by focusing on creative mechanisms through which they can contribute to political, economic and social growth; a leader that will embrace the concept of dual nationalities for all Diaspora Liberians.
In this election therefore, Liberians must elect an individual who reflects their African-ness, values, their culture and rich African heritage. Liberians are crying out in the wilderness for a leader that will awaken their African-ness both mentally and psychologically. Yes, indeed, this election must produce that special leader – a leader that will have the fortitude, the resolve and imbued with the sense of service. Said elected leader must demonstrate in his/her actions that employment opportunities will be awarded to those Liberians with the requisite qualifications and skills, irrespective of their tribal or sectional persuasions. Liberia needs a leadership that will help her people to review the mistakes of her past, and critically reassess the status of Liberians’ misguided historical mindset, and from a sociopolitical perspective.
Liberia needs a leadership that will help her citizens to address and eventually eliminate the ‘Congo-Country’ divide that has engulfed the nation for over 150 years. And finally, Liberia needs visionary leaders that will curtail the influence of corrupt practices by government officials and employees in public or private institutions.
History, according to a western writer, cannot give us a program for the future but it can give us full understanding of ourselves and our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.
As the leader of Rwanda, President Kagame, once said: “African countries need a new kind of leadership – one that has a vision for the country and a passion and commitment for its rapid development, as well as the wellbeing of its people.”
About the Author: Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an educator. He is a graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia; Howard University, Washington, D.C.; and the Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.