By Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.
No other time in Liberian history compares to now. Liberia is a democratic state and has been for two electoral cycles. It is about to “peacefully” transition from one president to another. This will initiate the democratic consolidation process. Some might want to equate this juncture to the 1985 elections. An opportunity arose to set the country on a path toward democracy. It was squandered so wretchedly when the presidential election was rigged. Coups, counter coups and ultimately a protracted civil war followed. It shattered the people emotionally and plunged living conditions dangerously. The rest is a tragic contemporary history of a nation dubbed Africa’s oldest independent state. Liberia has failed to prove how worthy it is of such a unique accolade. In 2005, the damaged and disfigured shell of the nation after war started recovery. But it was not before its citizens went through the worse of humiliations and sufferings as displaced persons, asylum seekers, and/or refugees, essentially third rate occupants of other countries. Brain drain of unprecedented proportions resulted. Human and institutional capacities dropped sharply. After 12 years of democratic rule and continued peace, the nation is poised to test whether or not its fragile nature can be strengthened further. Or its infant democracy will be subjected to the stranglehold that misrule and poor political decisions have had on the nation.
Many young Liberians today exhibit consequences of the devastating conflict. Countless are functionally illiterate, pretending to be educated. High school graduates en masse fail college entrance exams. In the workplace, some college graduates and those with Master’s degrees from Liberian institutions cannot write a fitting sentence without numerous conceptual, grammatical and spelling errors. Repeated incompetence and poor work ethic cut across variety of professions daily. In politics, banking, law enforcement and even the public sector, the worse of these performance issues tend to recur. The depth of our national capacity crisis cannot be overstated. Left unattended, are the psychosocial effects of the conflict on intrapersonal relations. Additionally, infrastructural recovery continues gingerly. Schools, hospitals, clinics, roads, bridges, and most of the things that constitute the fabric of the society are still rudimentary. Law and order remains basic. Some offenders are still deluded that they can beat the system even when they commit the most egregious of crimes against the state and its citizens. The infractions that people entrusted with responsible positions create daily against others who have lesser stature and status are sometimes indescribable or beyond words.
It is time to take a meticulous stock of who we are as a people. Where do we want the country to go? Are we at the verge of self-destruction, feigning that all is well? The untold pain that so many Liberians have endured or are undergoing suggests that we are a brutally injured and offended society. These wounds are largely self-inflicted. We need to mend, heal, reconcile, and restore relations in all spheres of our lives. But reconciliation cannot be used as an empty word. It must involve intentional and meaningful activities designed and implemented to ensure that disparities are diminished and polarization is prevented. Only then, will all component parts of the society become mutually supportive and reinforcing.
The resilience, which made Liberians to surmount the assault on their humanity during the war, cannot be taken for granted. People entrusted with critical national responsibilities cannot continue to violate the law with impunity and not invite the wrath of the citizenry. It frightens me how we dare not see or feel the insurmountable and intractable weight of the growing disgust and distrust that the ordinary citizenry has toward the elites. Maybe we in the elite have become so numb in our egotism (self-centeredness) that we remain insulated within our respective bubbles. We keep refusing to accept our flaws or anticipate its pending dire consequences. We can embellish our respective or collective achievements to bring personal and collective comforts. But the reality is that Liberia and Liberians have not optimally utilized gifts and talents bestowed upon us. Imagine that Liberia was the first independent state on the African continent, and comparatively, its stock was matched up against or even better than many of the countries that we depend on today for support and technical assistance.
Whatever the case, the presidential election must be considered a pivotal point along our quest for recovery. No one should make any mistake reminiscent of the “most blatant vote frauds” in Liberian history, during which the National Elections Commission chaired by Emmett Harmon rigged the election in Samuel K. Doe’s favor. The rhetoric around giving the larger portion of Liberians say in governance, which the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) espoused, translated into deception, drudgery and despotism. It became difficult to distinguish conditions before the 1980 coup and its aftermath. By now, Liberians should know that all things within our reach are fragile and fleeting. The axis on which peace evolves is simply “Love for country.” UNMIL’s presence while helpful in maintaining peace and stability, does not guarantee them. If Liberians put their self-interest above the national interest and seek to replicate the barbaric deeds that marked the war, UNMIL’s presence will not match their cunning intrigues. We should never again let our beloved homeland weep uncontrollably because its dignity has been burnt by those it has given the most. Our country yearns for the patriotic spirits of all its citizens.
Yes! Tell me that I am speaking in generalities and I will be the first to admit. I have done so deliberately to invite you to do deep thinking about your individual and collective roles in the carnival of tragedies described above. Here are some questions that may start you on the path of reflection. Do you own a fabulous real estate in another country other than Liberia? Do you get your medical treatment from abroad when illness strikes and not Liberia? Do you have the largest portion of your wealth in foreign banks? Does your family reside in another country and you in Liberia? What have you done personally or in your current position to address the disinvestments in Liberian youth, and the slum and rural communities? What have you done to create employment opportunities for the high number of unemployed Liberians? What have you done to improve our schools or to educate a child whose parents cannot afford to pay for one? What have you done to draw attention to one of the greatest threat to our unity – using ethnic diatribes to divide and conquer? Have you given any thought to your role in letting the scale and scope of rape, corruption, and mediocrity take toll on our vulnerable children, brothers, sisters, and elders? The country has a permanent underclass – those who rot under the curse of acute poverty, what have you done to end their plight? Do you exploit those with lesser resources than you for your personal gain? If you are living abroad, have you made any contributions to the nation’s development from your comfortable perch in the Diaspora? Or do you go around nonchalantly saying “nothing will happen” as did many other Liberians living comfortably during the pre-war years who became shocked, even stunned by the sheer cruelty that Liberians meted out at one another during the warring years? Hopefully, we have learned that complacency and indifference are at the core of our condition.
If you are intentionally or unintentionally guilty of one or more of these factors that underlie gaping inequalities in our society as I am, then we all need to take a step back and think of the good of our other countrymen and countrywomen who cannot afford the luxuries that we tend to overlook. Instead of any form of feeling a pity for ourselves because we failed so miserably at making the best of the roost that was awarded to us, we can go back into our recesses and build and implement a robust strategy to redeem ourselves. We can make those who are foretelling our return to war ashamed. Naysayers said the war would not end. They also said Ebola would reduce the nation to rubbles. But something inside us emerged and turned the tide of the seeming impossible. We held together as a single unit. We did not ask people for their ethnic lineages. We crossed religious boundaries. We championed our rich diversity and came to the aid of those without the requisite resources or safety nets. If one Liberian was vulnerable, we all considered ourselves under grave threat. In doing so, we preserved peace and restored the stability of the state.
This election year is not a normal one. It is not a time to wait and see. It is a time for citizens to rise up and raise their voices, and most importantly vote their conscience. A vote this year must be for consolidating and deepening the roots of our budding democracy. Each Liberian has a role in fighting for the future of the only country on earth that is ours. This is the time for each Liberian to resist the temptation of treating the nation’s current direction and the transition from one government to another as just one ordinary moment in history. It is not. It is an extraordinary historical moment. If one thing stands in the way of a better future for Liberia and Liberians, it is making the most of this chance. I am certain that history will confirm the high expectation that we hold of this inflexion point in the not too distant future. It will be recorded as the tipping point in Liberian history. Democracy in Liberia has been given a footing, although tepid. We should not for any reason create a situation where the current political environment would be distinguished as our best. We can certainly do much better. Liberian history is replete with occasions when opportunities for change were dreadfully wasted. Let us prove the naysayers wrong this time.