Liberians from all walks of life commemorate National Flag Day in different forms and manners. The state usually organizes a parade of students in front of the Centennial Memorial Pavilion with the Commander-in-Chief alongside an array of government officials and thousands of onlookers rise to the occasion to pay homage to statehood and sometimes sing patriotic songs. Some citizens place the Flag on vehicles and other transport facilities, while several raise it on homes and offices. Still many display it in the public domain, while employee of the Monrovia City Corporation and General Service Agency intermittently whitewash street corners and some public buildings even though the heavy down pour of rain is capable of taking away the whitewash. Scores of Liberians decorate their homes and businesses with red, white, and blue as well as wear national colors to depict patriotism and nationalism. During each Independence Anniversary, national sporting festivities and state-owned programs a good number of
Liberians charm to such ceremonies with picturesque scenery of the Flag and state attire to portray nationhood and national identity. As a matter of fact, every morning during school days, students across the country assemble to pledge allegiance to the flag. Besides, it is mandatory that all citizens and foreigners alike be attentive and at standstill in the course of hoisting and dropping the Flag.
All the more so, from time immemorial the Government expends thousand of taxpayers’ dollars to festoon public facilities with national colors, undertake and dedicate variety of projects, and also deliver all sorts of thought-provoking, motivational and patriotic speeches in order to venerate the day. All too often, the most exciting, amazing and fascinating component is the parade of students and perhaps military and paramilitary personnel throughout the principal streets.
In spite of all the glamorous outlook of homes, office, and public facilities with state-owned hues as well as grandiloquent and silver-tongue speeches resounding loyalty to the flag emanating from state actors and stakeholders, there remain more questions than answers in transitioning the Liberian Flag from a mere emblematic symbol to patriotic citizens.
For too long, some prominent statesmen have argued to change the Flag to reflect indigenous emblems. Furthermore, Liberian historians continue to recount the inherent contradictions and falsehood about the historicity of the Flag. Consequently, lots of Liberians have since begun pondering on the essence of the Flag. Around street corners and university campuses, where people from the fountain of knowledge and young intelligentsias meet to flex intellectual muscles they ask each others: What difference will it make by changing the color and symbol on the Flag? Will it further divide or unite Liberians? What is the motive behind honoring a flag without a true spirit of patriotism? Why most Liberians are united only for a relatively short span of time and divided consistently on the basis of petty jealousy, recrimination, religion, tribe, social status, and location? How come the founding fathers hoisted another flag on the day of Independence? Where the warlords and architects of the 14 years of brutal and barbaric civil crisis ever conscious of the Flag being an icon of unity, national pride and freedom? With all these questions on mind and many more yet unanswered, a number of people are still wondering when Liberian will exhibit a true sense of patriotism and nationalism.
Beyond the Emblem
The Flag is not just a mere emblem or cloth with colors that someone is required by law to respect and honor. It is not about how long the Flag will keep flying on vehicles and transport facilities. It is not the beautification of buildings and streets with red, white and blue or eloquent speeches. Instead, it is an obligation, dedication and conviction to serve the country selflessly, tirelessly, and fearlessly beyond personal aggrandizement. It is a mark of good citizenship and loyalty to country, founding documents and respect for fellow citizens and constituted authorities. No matter what colors or symbols, the Flag should and must create a sense of hope, cultivate unity in diversity and foster pride and values among citizens. So, the argument about changing the Flag really does not hold water, because it is not the color or symbol on the Flag that matters most, it is the mindset of Liberians towards their own country and its people.
Liberians must begin to demonstrate a special affection for their country, nurture a sense of personal identification and learn to seek the well-being of the country and as well adopt the spirit of willingness to sacrifice for the common good of the country. The people across this great land and those in the Diaspora should now begin to envision a “New Liberia” that is greater than religion confessed, dialect spoken, county of origin, place of birth or family name. Liberians have got to understand that the country is bigger than the sum of their individual ambition or greed for power or wealth. The time for reform is upon this country and there should be absolutely no moment for “Native or Indigene” versus “Congo or Americo-Liberian”. In the same vein, recommendation from the Constitution Review Committee regarding dual citizenship and nationality status to people of only Negro descent as expressed in the 1986 Constitution should be carefully reexamined, before the proposed National Referendum.
Patriotic Liberians who voluntarily joined the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberia National Police, the Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization, the National Fire Service, the Executive Protection Service, the National Service Agency alongside other security apparatus carrying the Flag of this Republic on their right arms should be treated with dignity and respect and given all due courtesy in a timely, and unique manner. The children and even those outside the family of the gallant men and women serving the security sector should and must appreciate that it is honorable to be a soldier, respectable to be a police officer, and admirable to serve the country. Therefore, the Government should provide appropriate accommodation, logistics and better incentive to commensurate with present-day realities. The hoaxes and empty promises have got to stop and the welfare of the valiant and astute state security personnel must be highly prioritized. Moreover, civil servants who keep the wheels of government turning deserve better living conditions and an environment conducive for working. The threats and humiliation emanating from presidential appointees and well-connected supervisors can no longer be tolerated and need to immediately end.
The younger generation of Liberia should be taught to give back to their communities in whatever positive virtue. As a replacement for the US$3 as stipend to young people to clean street corners, the Government must change to introduce ‘Service Learning’ in the national curriculum at the secondary and tertiary levels. Then, the amount allotted for compensation could be utilized to reduce tuition, build public libraries, construct and upgrade laboratories, provide up-to-date textbooks and enhance research activities so as to ensure the publication of more contextualized Liberian textbooks.
Patriotism should and must not be only through the usual flamboyant utterances and cosmetic fanfares. It should contain a great meaning with a deep sense of loyalty, peace, love and the eagerness to make Liberia the best nation on Earth. It is not an exaggeration or illusion; this is achievable if Liberians begin to start thinking clearly for the common good of all.
Liberians must begin to harness or reap their God given and inalienable right to possess and enjoy their wealth instead of a few elites and higher-ups. The people have got to stop begging for handout, bailout or rescue package, rather they should wakeup, shakeup and standup to acquire what belong to them. This should not be done through the use of vehement force or antagonistic attack to gain political capital; however, it must emulate and assimilate a nonviolent approach of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and lately the Egyptians in Tahrir Square. Liberians must be willing to call their government to change the status quo of nepotism, sectionalism, favoritism, tribalism and partisan posture to being a government for all Liberians irrespective of creed, status, tribe, religion and background.
Liberians have got to espouse a posture of strategic thinking and do away with politicizing everything, perpetually criticizing without any industrious venture, badmouthing campaign for little or nothing and singing everlasting praises to the power that be. While Liberians are quite busy with all sorts of trivial issues, the foreigners are making use of every single opportunity to enrich themselves at the detriment of the already penury Liberians. Though Liberia needs more “Socrates” and “Plato” to deliver all types grandiloquent speeches and masquerade the corridor of the majority as “activist” or “down trodden”, but the challenges before the country is voluminous and require sober, mature and dedicated people to drive the change through hard work, perseverance, integrity and honesty. Liberians must be willing to take up the task at hand and many more ahead, not through proliferation of intellectual forums or regular calling or texting on famous radio talk show or constant creation of civil society organizations, but with the formation of think-tank of young Liberians and older folks cluster in community strategizing to move Liberia forward. The think-tank would produce engineers to compete with the Chinese, entrepreneurs to surpass the Lebanese, Fulani, Nigerians and Ghanaians.
Furthermore, doctors, nurses, economists, environmentalists and other professionals would be nurtured and equipped to perform any assigned duties in their areas of specialties.
As the country struggles to transition from conflict to tranquility and from Ebola to recovery, every Liberian needs to rethink, restrategize and remake the broken fabrics of a country torn apart by war, poverty, disease, and human suffering. Liberians should begin to celebrate and appreciate their own country, culture, music, arts, and clothes. Nowadays, setting a day aside for flag adoration has become obsolete in many countries. Accordingly, the Government should alter Flag Day celebration to initiatives that foster patriotism and nationalism in every nook and cranny of this country. The Constitution must be taught in all institutions of learning as enshrined in the 1986 Constitution of this Republic. Likewise, civic education and community sensitization regarding the importance of being patriotic should be carried out.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots accredited youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org or http://www.youthexploringsolutions.com