It was once touted as a shining example of US investments in Liberia and the willingness of foreign businesses to invest in Liberia. Moreover, it was purported to be an investment by famous black entrepreneur and millionaire, Bob Johnson, and, for this reason, according to the government of the day, there was virtually nothing worth more its weight in gold than the Bob Johnson investment.
It promised jobs for Liberians, a healthy infusion of cash into the Liberian economy and above all, the opening of new windows of opportunity for local investors. In this scheme of things, there was nothing so sacrosanct that could not be sacrificed to accommodate Bob Johnson’s investment. Soon it became known that the government of President Sirleaf had selected no other spot other than the site hosting the National Cultural Center, home of Liberia’s National Cultural Troupe consigned by former President Sirleaf to a most unkind fate.
There were promises, lofty promises indeed that the National Cultural Center would have been relocated to a choice spot reflecting a truly rural setting, epitomizing the total of our cultural diversity. But that was not to be and those lofty promises would remain promises only. But, the National Cultural Center was destroyed to make way for the Bob Johnson hotel and with it, the death of the National Cultural Troupe, an institution that had made Liberia proud, winning a medal at the 1966 All African Arts and Cultural Festival in Algiers, Algeria as well as the 1978 Festival of African Arts and Culture(FESTAC) held in Lagos, Nigeria.
There was hardly any official foreign visitor to Liberia who was not treated to a full menu of traditional Liberian arts and culture. Thanks to the farsighted wisdom of President William V.S. Tubman the National Cultural Center was erected and a National Cultural Troupe organized. President Tolbert had continued in his stead and stood out in this regard as a genuine promoter of Liberian culture. This newspaper holds the view that never in the wildest imagination of President Sirleaf’s predecessors had they ever pondered the destruction of the National Cultural Center to make way for a hotel.
Whatever may have motivated former President Sirleaf to destroy the National Cultural Center to accommodate a hotel remains a subject of much speculation. Suggestions were at the time rife about the involvement of the former President in the Bob Johnson hotel investment. According to sources, the sister of the former President, at a point in time, exercised a lot of leverage at the hotel which according to them was highlighted during investigations surrounding the mysterious killing of Harry Greaves.
Whatever the case may have been, it is clearly obvious that the destruction of the National Cultural Center and the relegation of its artists, dancers, folklorists, traditional drummers etc., to a status of virtual oblivion has rendered immeasurable harm to the national psyche. Attempts by the past government to mitigate the harm by substituting the National Cultural Dance Troupe with that of the privately owned Cultural Ambassadors had only added insult to injury.
President Sirleaf is now history but the damage she inflicted continues to haunt the nation; for a people without culture is like a tree without roots. Her actions spoke of contempt, utter contempt for traditional Liberian values and culture. No sooner had she left the Presidency, she returned to sporting chic western style outfits rather than the traditional style outfits including her trademark larger than life headgear which the public had grown accustomed to seeing.
Chapter II, Article 5 b of the Constitution under the caption, “General Principles of National Policy” states “The Republic shall preserve, protect and promote positive Liberian culture, ensuring that traditional values which are compatible with public policy and national progress are adopted and developed as an integral part of the growing needs of the Liberian Society.” That the past government miserably failed to respect and in fact disrespected this provision of the Constitution is plain and clear.
The destruction of the National Cultural Center is a clear example of such disrespect to the Constitution. Few and just a few would for example argue against the fact that the National Cultural Center served as a great repository as well as a disseminator of our diverse cultural values and heritage. The onus is now on President Weah to correct this anomalous situation. The restoration of the National Cultural Center or the erection of a National Center for Arts and Culture should be considered an exigency.
The negative effects of the prolonged civil conflict have had a devastating impact on traditional values and culture. Disrespect for elders, hardly known in traditional society is gradually becoming a norm amongst the nation’s youth today. This is indeed a disturbing trend that needs to be checked and one way in which it can be done is to impart new values through arts and culture and through activities people can more easily identify with. As many have observed, today’s youths tend to have easily frayed nerves and are prone to very violent tendencies.
Many grow up in environments plagued by violence and crime and infested with dangerous drugs where unemployment is rife. But, as hopeless as the situation may appear, we must yet remain hopeful as a people. Our forward march into history will be meaningless without a sense of history of who we are and from where we come. Culture is one vehicle and perhaps remains the most viable tool to undergird, guide and enhance the growth and development of the requisite national social consciousness required for nation building.
The reconstruction of a National Arts and Cultural Center together with the reformation of the National Cultural Dance Troupe should be considered a national priority. President Sirleaf, miserably failed in this regard as such matters, it appeared, concerned her in the least. President Weah, unlike his predecessor, has his roots in the ordinary people. He also has their unflinching support and will sure stand by him if demonstrates he is worthy of such implicit trust and confidence. This is why he must rebuild the National Cultural Center and reorganize the Liberian National Cultural Troupe.