I am pleased to be here tonight at the invitation of the Organizing Committee of this event, ushering in the new leadership of the Press Union of Liberia. It is both an honor and a humbling experience to be recognized by members of the press, who many regards as the conscience of the society and by extension of the nation, especially at this unique period in our history—a period of building a new Liberian nation and a new Liberian economy. Let me congratulate you, Mr. Kamara, President-elect and the other newly elected leadership for your preferment. I also want to congratulate the outgoing leadership and the entire membership of the Press Union of Liberia for their invaluable contribution to the Liberian Society.
We celebrate tonight a Union strong-the PUL! And we can do that because we are a nation strong. And we are a nation strong because, among other things, we ascribe to the principle of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. So, the fact that we can come together in this fashion is a testament to the growing strength of our democracy, wherein a free press is vital to maintaining accountability on the part of those who govern, as well as vital building a national consensus on what we are as a people and why we exist as a nation.
And so, in celebrating the Press we have something else to celebrate as a people: Liberia, our country. Yes, problems abound; but I say that solutions come out of positive thinking. Solutions are the offspring of hope. And we must have hope that Liberia is capable of producing better days for her sons and daughters-better days for all Liberians. As the Press, you have a responsibility to help Liberians appreciate Liberia more and nurture that spirit of hope and that spirit of belonging, without which our commitment to rapid economic and social transformation will remain a façade. The Press as an institution is critical to forging our national identity; the Press as an institution is critical to bringing sanity to our national dialogue, by keeping us focused on the things that matter and on the things that unite us, while exposing the emptiness of those who dwell on the things that divide us.
Accordingly, the challenge we offer to you, members of the press, is that inasmuch as you are obligated to expose the wrongs of society—and you must not waiver from that-you also have a responsibility to be messengers of positive expectations. History shows that many countries have had their difficult periods, and have been able to overcome their problems. And they did it because their citizens were able to find within themselves the will to commit to a cause larger than their individual selves, their country. The Press can help us find such a national will. I say to you Liberia, too, can overcome its problems.
Countries that have been overcome seemingly insurmountable odds have also been helped by inspirational leadership. Why did the world recently go to South Africa? Was it because this was the first funeral of a former president that the world had ever seen?
I believe they went because Mandela was an individual who believed in his country, that it could be a better place, and he stood his ground at his personal expense when many others thought that he was standing on sinking sand. He chose forgiveness to save his country, when he could have pursued vengeance to suit himself. Why do we talk of Lincoln standing at the gates of history at the time of the civil war in the United States? Was it because he knew how to settle scores? I would like to think that Lincoln was a visionary who saw the United States as a Union that would stand the test of time as a democracy, and so at Gettysburg he laid out the great task remaining before his country: that his nation could have a new birth of freedom and that the government of the United States, established of, for and by the people, shall not perish from the earth. This was conviction and character that came across in trying times. Why celebrate the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights March on Washington with the airwaves being filled with Martin Luther King’s” I Have a Dream” speech? Was it because king put up his finger in the wind to see which way it was blowing when it came to the issue of civil rights? I would like to think that it was because he believed that breaking down the barriers of discrimination was the right thing to do. I say getting Liberians out of abject poverty is the right thing to do. I have said and will continue to say, poverty is not our destiny. Some said king was arrogant; but standing firm in defense of justice and fair play is not arrogance, neither is standing firm in defence of Liberian entrepreneurship. It s being principled-minded. And there are many other examples of great leadership, including the leadership of our own President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who continue to stir our passion toward greater patriotism and towards the goal of economic transformation. She has been the embodiment of tolerance being mindful that this is essential to our democracy. One common thread about leadership that makes a difference seems to be having the courage of one’s conviction; being able to see the conditions of the people with an uncommon eye; being able to feel the pulse of the nation with an uncommon touch. The Press can help us to understand more cogently that inspirational leadership can make the difference as we work to build a new Liberia, and also help to create the atmosphere that would encourage such leadership to thrive.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The history of the Press in Liberia is a history of fortitude and pride. The press has worked long and hard in our country not for fame or fortune. You have preserved because of pride in your work. What else would have kept you going, if not a sense of value. We salute you!