The first country with which Liberia can compare herself is the United States of America—why? Three reasons: first, it was out of her belly that Liberia was born. Second, it is the country with which we have had the longest association. Third, being the world’s most advanced, most industrialized and richest nation, most people, including many Liberians themselves, strongly feel that some of America’s greatness should have rubbed off on Liberia.
Has it? Hardly. Why?
Many will ask why compare Liberia with the USA, rather than with another African country. The reason is simple: The main independent African nations that existed at the time Liberia gained its independence in 1847 were the Ethiopian Empire and Egypt, known as “the cradle of civilization.” Both nations, at that point, were each already several thousand years old. Most of the other African nations, especially in sub Saharan Africa, were not yet even colonized.
When in 1946 the United States turned 170 years old, Harry S. Truman was President, having succeeded the great American leader President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who by the time he died in April 1945 had made the USA the world’s first super power.
Why was the USA considered a super power at that point? Because she was fully self-sufficient in food and could also feed the world; was almost totally industrialized; boasted sound education, having at that point some of the world’s great universities—Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Cornell, etc.—and, of course, the USA had also become the world’s first atomic power on July 16, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was successfully tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
So it may be argued that it is foolhardy to compare Liberia’s 170 years with the USA’s first 170 years. The comparison is incomprehensible (beyond understanding).
But remember, we said many, including some Liberians themselves, strongly feel that at least some of America’s greatness should have rubbed off on Liberia. But we cannot realistically make that claim. Why?
The world knows that Americans are a very serious people. Can we say the same about Liberians? Let us cite but a few examples. Many Americans took very seriously their ingenuity. Take Henry Ford, who produced the world’s first automobile; Thomas Edison, electricity. Take the Wright Brothers—the world’s first airplane. Take Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.
And what did Liberia do with its outstanding men? The Booker Washington Institute National Alumni Association of North America (BWIAANA) just last month honored BWI’s Class of 1959 in Dallas, Texas. Perhaps the most celebrated member of that class was airline Captain Prince A. Page, the first African pilot to fly solo TWICE across both the North and South Atlantic! But Prince Page was never recognized for that feat in Liberia—or anywhere else. Instead, Finance Minister Steve Tolbert, because of a minor dispute in the early 1970s with Captain Page – President W.R. Tolbert’s pilot – attempted to send Prince Page to Belle Yella!
Look, on the contrary, at what the Americans did when Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly the North Atlantic solo in 1921 (from New York to Paris). He became an instant celebrity and many Liberians learned about Lindbergh in elementary school!
Next, who remembers Albert Einstein’s letter to President Roosevelt in 1939? He told the President, “A few of us think we have found the nuclear secret. Put us to work and will produce a nuclear bomb. But we understand the Germans are also working on one. If they get it first, the rest of us are finished.”
Did the President take Einstein’s letter and place it on the shelf to collect dust? No! President Roosevelt immediately took Einstein and his colleagues very seriously and put them to work. The result: the world’s first atomic bomb, by which America won the ferocious war with Japan. Suppose President Roosevelt had played with Einstein’s letter? See how the history of the world would have been very different!
We ask one more simple question: How many serious proposals have some serious Liberians over the years submitted to Liberian Presidents? Remember George S. Best’s letter to President W.V.S. Tubman in January 1944, urging him to start canning Liberian fruits and vegetables? Over 75 years later, Liberia still cannot can a single orange!
A quick follow-up question: What did President Tolbert do with the Report of the Brownell Commission following April 14, 1979? (See Kenneth Best’s book on Albert Porte).
We pose these questions to demonstrate the seriousness of leadership—or lack of it. Is there any wonder why America’s greatness has “not rubbed off on Liberia?”
All ye who are running for President of Liberia, how happy are you that Liberia is turning 170 this week? Are you content with our level of development after all those years? What difference can any of you make, if and when you get there?