I will begin this article with an excerpt from Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Hail” written on April 16, 1963: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and action of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless effort of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
As a child growing up in Monrovia, absolutely nothing would have convinced me then that Liberia, a nation with abundance of resources, would today be in a state of underdevelopment and backwardness. Notably, there are two fundamental reasons which account for this pathetic state. The first is the lackadaisical attitude adopted by our policy makers and planners towards implementing policies to positively impact the lives of ordinary Liberians; and the second is the attitude of passivity of ordinary Liberians in advocating for those basic rights and privileges denied them over the years.
Irrefutably, achieving national development requires commitment and dedication on the part of both the policy makers and planners, and ordinary Liberians. Obviously, the way forward to national development must be based upon Liberians from diverse backgrounds coming together and reconciling their divergent views and actions.
The blunt reality is that words are easily said than done. To embark on a new course, it is imperative we retrospect on Liberia’s past to discover where precisely our missteps occurred during our national existence. The question that naturally springs forth is, were the founding fathers of Liberia prepared to effectively and efficiently manage the nation? The answer is resounding, “No”.
Clearly, the administration of Joseph J. Roberts which led Liberia after the nation hastily declared independence on July 26, 1847 felt short of establishing a solid political foundation. Consequently, this created a unique avenue for corruption, nepotism and other vices which are still prevalent in the governance of the nation even up to today.
For the benefit of the reader, permit me to reveal an excerpt of a report of conditions in Liberia written by William Nesbit, a black American, who visited Liberia in 1854 during the era of Liberia’s first president Joseph Jenkins Roberts:
“And it is humiliating to me to say it, though it must be said, that the majority of them, even including some of his cabinet officers, cannot read and are totally ignorant of the simplest duties belonging to their stations. Every thing is and must be done by the President. He performs the duties of judge, counselor, justice and constable. He receives, disburses, and keeps the accounts, in short, he is the government, the embodiment of Liberia; and when you speak of Liberia, you speak of President Roberts.”
The problems in Liberia are aged old, formidable and seem to be defying solution. The case of forging development in Liberia is proving to be a stubborn one owing to the fact that many Liberians have become accustomed to behavior patterns which are counterproductive and anti-developmental. As Martin Luther King rightly stated in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.”
In other words, development will never be delivered on “Silver Platter”, it will come when Liberians from all walks of life are willing and ready to constructively engage in sacrificial services that put the interests of the nation and its people above the selfish concept of “I, me and myself”. Without the shadow of doubts, most government officials are involved in systematic corruption which had heightened the levels of poverty and misery amongst ordinary Liberians.
I definitely do not wish to discredit the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led administration, which had made some gains in the areas of health, educations, road construction, etc. but these gains have so little impacted the living standards of ordinary Liberians.
No wonder why almost every Liberian, you talk to will not hesitate to express the desires of seeking greener pastures in the U.S.A. or some advanced countries.
Many Liberians have simply lost hope and confidence in what the future of their country holds for them.
The way forward to national development is certainly not for ordinary Liberians to sit as spectators and leave their destinies in the hands of gluttonous government officials, but rather to play more pivotal roles in shaping or reshaping their destiny. Now is the appropriate time that all Liberians must work tirelessly to ensure that 167-year-old Liberia takes it rightful place amongst the comity of nations.
Let me close with these wise words from Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
About the Author
Jahbulleh C. Dempster is former Co-Chairman for Operations of Saye Town. He is currently the Interim Secretary General of the Union of Liberian Artists. His letters as well as articles, which are usually published in the Daily Observer reflect his ardent desire for socio-economic reforms in the Liberian Society.