#LIBTAKEOVER: A Reflection

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A week before the 26th of July, Liberia’s independence day, a storm hit Social Media. The indomitable storm that was #libtakeover could not be ignored as I scrolled down my Facebook and Twitter news feeds. As the hashtag depicts, I too was taken over by admiration upon reading the numerous Liberian colloquialisms and parables; some old and others new, all bore a semblance of uniqueness and humor about them – a uniqueness Liberians have come to be known for. Throughout that week, it became a front on which Liberians, both at home and in the diaspora united towards one common goal, whose purpose was yet unknown, aside from the entertainment it delivered. Although I didn’t participate, I followed closely for days and wondered where the hashtag came from and what inspired its genesis. I wondered if the creator was just caught up in the celebrations or “jolly-jolly” associated with that time of year. Could the hashtag have arisen from the founder’s desire to see a new and transformed Liberia, or did it emerge from a feeling of homesickness while basking in Minnesota’s Brooklyn Park, Staten Island’s Park Hill, or Ghana’s Buduburan Refugee Camp? Did its inventor think that #libtakeover would actually take over the internet that week?

Those thoughts lingered for days as the ’26’ celebrations heated up, and were reinforced when it became impossible to see regular Facebook posts from Liberians, other than those relating to the phenomenon. Scrolling through this time, I was struck and in awe – Liberian humor was certainly undeniable and at the core of every Liberian; perhaps this could be attributed to our ability to bounce back after every setback. Yes, we just laugh and shake it off! Taylor Swift must have heard about a group of people called Liberians when she made the song “Shake It Off”- that’s what we do — we shake off our trials and tribulations effortlessly. That quality, though heroic, plagued me with several questions: Are we stuck in the resilience and shake-it-off mode, waiting for our next trial to overcome, or are we waiting for the next “did-well-trophy”? Have we gotten so accustomed to shaking it off that we often ignore the recovery process of looking our challenges straight in the eye and working towards getting them completely out of our system, in order to prevent a recurrence? Yes, we are strong people, but is that all we want to be known for? Those thoughts were further emphasized when I played back a point made by
U.S Ambassador to Liberia, Her Excellency Deborah Malac, while sitting next to her at the National Policy Makers’ Dialogue held at the Monrovia City Hall in May of this year. Throughout the dialogue, several Liberian speakers applauded Liberians as being a “resilient people’’. It was as if the word “resilient” was the theme of the day. Every time they’d use the word, Amb. Malac would look rather disappointed. At one point, I leaned over to chat with her briefly, and she said “It’s high time Liberians do something about the word resilient. Yes, we know and agree that you all are resilient and strong people, but how can that resilience lead to actual results? To me, using resilience to describe Liberians indicates that they’re just sitting around and waiting for the next catastrophe to befall them so that they can overcome it, instead of taking steps to ensure that they don’t happen again. Liberians should replace that word with another word that speaks to action and results.

Before the close of the independence week, I began to reflect more seriously on what a true takeover would look like as Liberia turned 168 years old, with the clouds of war, Ebola, and infrastructural challenges still hanging over us. Several days after the holiday, I glanced through my feed this time, startled to discover that the #libtakeover hashtag had ended as quickly as it started, right after the independence festivities. I waited patiently to see if the same enthusiasm would resurface for the August 24th Flag Day celebrations, but the #libtakeover had vanished from our news feeds for good, thus leaving me with the conclusion that it was yet another fanfare meant for social media that week. Maybe, like the ambassador, I too had expectations and had every right to, as I yearned for the Liberia of old — the one the older folks spoke so passionately about. The one captured in Yorel Francis’ “The Wealth of Liberia Restored”, which brought me to tears when I first saw it. I, like many of my peers did not see that Liberia, because we were too little when the country’s civil war began, and we’d lost 14 years of our childhood living through those tumultuous years. The last ten years of peace in Liberia were seemingly the only peaceful years many of us had known in our lifetime – our version of “normal days”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Takeover” as “an act of assuming control over something.”

How then can we assume responsibility and take charge of the task of building a new Liberia? How do we build upon the legacy of the glorious “normal days” and move towards a brighter future? How do we reclaim our place amongst nations, as that nation which was once the beacon of hope for the rest of Africa? How can we live up to the captivating legacy of a country once considered home to the likes of the Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, and Jazz great, Hugh Masekela, who, upon visiting Liberia in the 70s was granted Liberian citizenship and passport, when he was exiled from his country due to his outspoken stance against apartheid? Intrigued by the beautiful culture and people of Liberia, Mr. Masekela would remark that our country had “some of the most beautiful women I’d seen since my return to Africa.” What was that thing that kept Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom fascinated with Liberia, to the extent of paying several state visits to the small nation? True to its name, Liberia (land of the liberty), it was indeed a land many flocked to, particularly Africans and other peoples of color, to experience what was called “Small America’’- supposedly an African equivalent of western democracy. A land whose beautiful women were lauded once more in the Michael Jackson’s hit song, “Liberian Girl”, as being “more precious than any pearl.” A land that many borrowed from and a place founded to be the safe haven for all blacks across the world. Even in its troubled days, many still cannot get enough of the fascination that is Liberia. Why is that so?

I envision the #libtakeover hashtag as more than merely a spectacle, but the birth of a movement – a new renaissance born out of patriotism; a call to action that compels us to quit the “blame game” and take full responsibility for the development of Liberia. I visualized it as being a movement that unites and boldly propels us to be the change we so fervently seek. I envisage #libtakeover as a force that would resurrect us from the pits of complacency and stagnation, into a new era of transformation. To mention that the hashtag blazed a trail on social media would be an understatement, but how can we take that same zeal and enthusiasm off of social media, turning it into a movement that is as powerful as the #blacklivesmatter movement, which was also born on social media, but became an actual force of change that’s making waves across the U.S and the world? How can Liberia (LIB) takeover in the true definition of the word “takeover’’?

LIB can only takeover when we invest in our educational sector, while training and producing qualified teachers to mold the young minds of our children, inculcating in them the value and importance of education.

LIB can only takeover when we inspire the youth to take on the task of leadership, by educating and empowering them to become the next generation of Engineers, Doctors, Teachers, Lawyers, Geologists, Economists, Historians, Writers, Business Executives etc., to steer her into a productive future. By doing this, they become vehicles for development, not instruments of violence.

LIB can only truly take over when we rebuild our roads and infrastructure, thereby strengthening regional trade and collaboration with other African states.

LIB can only take over when we strengthen and equip our justice system to allow the rule of law to take its course, without fear or favor, thus reducing the culture of impunity.

LIB can surely takeover when we work towards building a sustainable economy that serves as the catalyst for a strong private sector and middle class, while ensuring economic growth and equal opportunities for all.

LIB can only take over when we stop cutting corners and taking the easy ride of corruption to the top, leaving the masses to suffocate at the bottom.

LIB can only take over when it becomes the hub of entrepreneurship and social innovation on the African continent, boasting of ventures that are driven by young and progressive visionaries who are passionate about its future.

LIB can only truly take over when basic social services are available to all regardless of socio-economic status.

LIB can only take over when we strengthen our healthcare system, to reduce the high rates of infant and maternal mortality, while meeting the needs of the poor.

LIB can take over when we’re able to look past religious, tribal, and political differences and work towards the common goal of nation-building.

LIB can only truly take over when Gender Equality is no longer a “taboo” but a reality that enables women to thrive, while maximizing their full potential.

LIB can truly take over when our Farmers are equipped to go back to the soil to grow more food, to ensure a self-sufficient Liberia.

LIB can takeover when our security sector stands firm to protect and uphold the sovereignty of the state, while maintaining the peace we all enjoy today, even as UNMIL draws down next year.

LIB can genuinely takeover when we are fully integrated into the 21st century’s technological revolution, equipping our young people to become the next generation of Programmers, Civil Engineers, Software Developers/Engineers, Systems Analysts, etc.

LIB can completely takeover when we’re proud to identify as Liberians, embracing our beautiful cultural heritage, promoting arts & culture, and discarding the belief that we aren’t “African enough”.

LIB can only takeover when we stop looking at the government as a separate entity from us, and start acknowledging the fact that we, ordinary citizens make up the government.

Lastly, as the 2017 elections approach, it is important to note that LIB will certainly take over when we value the power of our votes and stop selling our “rights for rice.”

In the words of British Playwright, George Bernard Shaw, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

With the Agenda for Transformation as our roadmap towards achieving the ‘Liberia Rising Vision 2030’, it is my hope that this new era of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) marks a shift in our mindsets, as we work collectively, backing our actions with renewed faith and commitment to undoubtedly usher LIB into an age of sustainable economic dominance and true developmental takeover.

Patrice Juah is a Mandela Washington Fellow for President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Creative Entrepreneur, Writer, Girls’ Education Advocate and Former Miss Liberia. She currently sits on the Advisory Committee for the 5th annual African Creative Economy Conference to be held in Yaoundé, Cameroon in October. Ms. Juah can be reached via email : [email protected]

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