In many respects, for Liberia, the 9th of May will be memorable – a date to be forever etched in history. Liberians will complete our 42nd day of living with no new confirmed transmission of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, an outbreak whose toll included 4,000 of our compatriots, rendered over three thousand children orphans, collapsed our recovering health sector, and crippled the economy.
Aptly referred to as the “greatest threat to public health that this generation has faced”, Ebola presented us with a little more than a “threat to public health”. The disease robbed us of our way of life. We who are afforded divine blessings by caring for our elderly – we who cherish the opportunity to spend the last of our days surrounded by family and loved ones; we who pride ourselves and believe our duties to each other extend to burying our dearly departed through traditional rituals and religious practices of care by which we console ourselves that our loved ones are journeying to a better place – we were often limited to watching and restricted from touching, as our forefathers taught us to do.
Some have found it hard to bring proper closures to the deaths of fathers and mothers as well as brothers and sisters because for many, the last time we saw our sick or dying relatives, they were being taken in ambulances with blaring sirens to ETUs, and as the bodies piled up, posing additional risks to all others especially ourselves, they were disposed of by cremation – not buried as we always have. Indeed, Ebola changed our way of life.
And we will never forget – we must never forget.
Under these dark clouds, understandably, it is hard to fathom a silver lining. But just as Ebola has altered our lives, it has afforded the opportunity for a new beginning – a beginning that counters historical myths. One such myth which has haunted the body politic is that Liberians cannot come together. Some have stretched this to repeatedly suggest that we cannot even be sustainably enjoined in cooperatives or in doing business – that Liberian partnerships are unsustainable.
The truth is that since our fabled Declaration of Independence, we have been suspicious of each other. It is still safe to say the Declaration meant little, if anything at all, for many who were increasingly suspicious of the intentions of the declared State. Some historians have suggested that we were a country struggling, over several generations, to become a nation – that although we possess a beautiful and blessed country, we were too divided along superficial lines of tribe, religion, gender, and even age, to be as committed as we should be, to a common purpose of building a nation in which all would thrive, if they try, and in which all would share equally in opportunity.
Perhaps this gnawing sense of inequality in citizenship accounted for the fact that parts of the country were comparatively more developed than others. What is more, overtime, we have fashioned our politics not necessarily on the competition of ideas about how we can improve our society for the collective benefits of all of our people but on the narrower interests of tribes in which we not only harness our identities but into which we feel compelled to retreat to either compensate for our lack of ideas or simply for political cover.
Dangerous as it was, perhaps Ebola has given us a new way. As its death stings stalked our communities all across the country, we came together in ways that we have not done before. Perhaps collectively threatened as we came to be, we realized that Christians and Muslims can come together – that we can work together; that we can look beyond even the long-held practices of our faith and appreciate the important values of our beings. We saw that the old and the young – that males and females can work together each bringing the innate values of their intrinsic beings and talents to bear in resolving a problem with which all were confronted.
And we saw communities shed their suspicions and fears. We saw communities stand up with their government, and fight back, often with nothing more than just the will to not die. Our communities, ordinary and regular folks alike, big and small, rich and poor, together, owned the problem and became the solutions.
And so today, here we proudly stand, just four days away from conquering a predatory disease whose unprecedented outbreak, including in our most populous urban areas, would have brought many nations of our world to their knees. Here we proudly stand, once again inspiring the world into the belief that Ebola can be overcome – that it can be stopped at its source before it infects the rest of our human family.
Of course we have lived through our historical myths. But we have also recently experienced the empowering spirit of coming together – of standing together; of being more than just the geography that is a country. We have seen the force of a nation – the collective will of a people to overcome, and to survive. We have seen that each of us owes a duty to the other. We have seen that each of us can play a role wherever we are and whatever our station.
This is nation building – becoming increasingly aware of our differences but looking beyond, and working through our differences, for the common good of all others. We are more than a country – the geography of land blessed with rivers and lakes and monsoon. We are people. We are Liberians – a special people blessed with the gift of resilience – the collective power to “meet the foe with valor unpretending”.
So, this, truly, is who we are. This is our DNA which is laden with a resilient character. We no longer have to accept that we cannot come together – that we cannot work together; that each of us can necessarily succeed without and at the expense of the other. Over this trying period, we bear proud witnesses that we can rise together. Or, sadly, we will all fall together.
Let us own this character that is ours. Let us walk with this character. Let us talk with this character. Let us attend to our challenges with this character. And let us rebuild our country with this character.
On May 9, therefore, as we are declared Ebola-free, let us also celebrate our rebirth. Let us lay just claims to the national creed of dutifully applying our “hearts and hands” to defend the causes of our country. And let us always strive to afford it the true meaning it deserves. For, if nothing else, this is why we live. And this is why beyond our religion, gender, tribe and age – beyond our political aspirations – we are Liberians.