As Liberia enters its second decade of peace, its music industry continues to gain popularity. Artists like Takun J have a national following and have leveraged this platform to speak out against injustices at all levels of society. The Accountability Lab, an OSIWA partner, has been working with Hip Co (the genre of Liberian urban music) musicians in Liberia to promote integrity and combat corruption. With an overwhelmingly young population, almost half of whom are under the age of 18, Liberia’s Hip Co stars are uniquely positioned to raise awareness of key social and political issues.
Takun J, responsible for two of the biggest Hip Co hits of the year, recently served as a judge for the Lab’s Integrity Idol campaign, an ongoing initiative seeking to highlight high-performing civil servants, while Amaze, an upcoming Hip Co star, has been the public face of the #CorruptionMustGo musical campaign undertaken with the support of OSIWA that seeks to harness Hip Co to combat corruption by teaching that “corruption starts in the home.”
On a recent Friday evening, the University of Liberia’s (UL) auditorium was packed with a raucous group of students ready to hear Amaze, a business student at UL, set their weekend off. The Student Unification Party, UL’s oldest student government body, had just celebrated its 45th year of existence earlier in the day and a vibrant atmosphere of activism charged the campus of one of West Africa’s oldest institutions of higher learning, situated just across from Liberia’s Legislature, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs which also hosts the offices of the President of Liberia.
Before the screening of the music video for “Corruption, Corruption” (the centerpiece of #CorruptionMustGo) a number of protocols were observed in typical Liberian fashion. Daniel Woart, President of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU), which co-hosted the event, noted that “for 168 years we have been lagging behind.” He observed that ULSU’s cultural programming has typically revolved around the production of the government-funded Miss University of Liberia Pageant and that the Union would increasingly do more to recognize talented student artists with a social message.
As a prelude to the musical festivities, Kloh Hinneh, of SMART Liberia, another OSIWA beneficiary working with the Accountability Lab, gave an advance screening of a short dramatization on the many challenges that UL students endure to register for classes. The clip concludes with an alternative ending, showing a student successfully registering for classes online via mobile phone, a scenario that received thunderous applause. With the support of OSIWA and the Accountability Lab, SMART Liberia, a student-run organization, is undertaking a quick impact project on the need for timely and updated government websites, a commitment that the government of Liberia has made as part of its membership in the Open Government Partnership.
As thoughts of dysfunctional websites (the UL website has not been updated since 2011) faded, the beats kicked in. Amaze performed “Corruption, Corruption,” a song that highlights the importance of good parenting in forming a society where individuals conduct their public actions with integrity. The video for the track was filmed at the Ducor Hotel, which served as the seat of the interim government in the early 1990s during Liberia’s civil war – and was subsequently looted and destroyed. Its shell looms over Monrovia’s skyline, a glaring reminder that much remains to be accomplished as part of Liberia’s postwar reconstruction.
A range of performers followed Amaze. Nasseman, Liberia’s most popular reggae musician performed his pan-African anthem, “All Africans.” Nasseman warned the student audience that it will take decisive action to break the cycle of graft, stating that “corruption brings separation and it is because of separation we have corruption.”
As the students filed out of the auditorium, the atmosphere was animated, with spirits charged by several hours of high-tempo performances. With student activists like Amaze and Kloh taking the initiative to push for accountability and more effective implementation of policies, the future of Liberia will likely achieve separation from the unfortunate legacies of its past.