This week our beloved country turns 167 years old and what, besides our survival, do we have to show for it? Here again we face the age-old question, “What does the age of Methuselah have to do with the Wisdom of Solomon?” The answer is nothing.
And yet, we must thank God for our survival through all these decades of challenge. We started from scratch in 1847, just at the time we almost lost it, as the British were challenging our sovereignty. They were refusing to pay custom duties at our seaports. That is when Joseph Jenkins Roberts, with vision and passion, stepped up to the challenge and in January 1847 convened the Constitutional Convention.
The result was the Declaration of Independence, proclaimed on July 26, 1847, followed by the first elections, when Roberts defeated the Convention, Chairman S. Benedict, to become Liberia’s first President.
The British, who had earlier challenged our sovereignty, were the first, in 1848, to recognize our independence. The British Monarch, Queen Victoria, invited President Roberts to Buckingham Palace and sent him back home with two gunboats.
But the young nation was yet to face some very serious challenges, not only the deadly tropical diseases, malaria included, that were decimating the small population; but also many boundary disputes, prompted by gunboat-backed encroachments on Liberian territory by the British on the Grand Cape Mount side (known historically as the Gallinas Country), and the French, on our Nimba-Grand Gedeh-Maryland sides. That is how we lost so much of our territory while our so-called Mother Country, the United States, out of whose belly Liberia was born, looked the other way, lifting not a finger to protect the beleaguered country.
And yet, here we are today–having survived 167 tough, demanding years, during which we experienced the most serious national test, the 14-year civil war. By the grace of God, we overcame it, and now face the challenge of maintaining and sustaining the peace and the democratic governance that have emerged. This sacred charge we must do EVERYTHING to keep.
We can do so by putting RELENTLESS and sustained PRESSURE on the national leadership and on ourselves, to abide by ALL the rules of good governance. We must, with all our might, fight and conquer corruption, greed, nepotism, selfishness. We must remind ourselves and the people in power that these vices DO NOT PAY. All the people and regimes that practiced them in the past, where are they now, how did they end, and how much of the loot did they retain?
We must encourage, even compel our leaders to LISTEN actively and responsively to the people’s cries.
We believe it is, at this point, important to reflect on some of the historical facts about our great Mother Country, to remind ourselves that we as a nation still have promise that we should work very hard to fulfill.
America gave many ingenious gifts to the world. The United States was 100 years old when, in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; 127 in 1903 when Henry Ford invented the world’s first automobile and the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. The USA was 169 when in 1945, following the end of World War II, she became the world’s first super power! The second was the Soviet Union, but the USA was far more powerful because she could feed herself and much of the world; was the world’s richest nation and also the most industrialized.
In 1969, when the USA was 193, she landed a man on the moon, the only country yet to do so.
Liberia, too, has geniuses. One of them was Edwin J. Barclay who at the age of 19 composed the words and music of The Lone Star Forever, one of the world’s greatest anthems. We have had and still have many more. Our challenge is to find, train and refine them and give them opportunities to excel in their various avenues of endeavor.
Now that we face the prospect of striking oil, here is yet another opportunity God has given us to leapfrog into development. Let us do everything this time to make the best possible use of this and all other resources for the development and advancement of our country. The hope is that when, 33 years hence, in 2047 we strike 200 years old, we will have much more to show for it.