Another July 26 has come to celebrate our Independence Day, a day on which we recall how eleven men representing three commonwealth counties (Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Sinoe) signed the Declaration of Independence in 1847 and thus leading Liberia to becoming the first African independent state.
No female was among the eleven signers of independence, although we know from history that women played key supportive roles in the drive to independence amongst which was the design of what is known today as the Liberian flag made up of eleven stripes representing the 11 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
As the nation looks back today reflecting from whence we have come as a people and what we have so far achieved in terms of the quest for dignity and justice and equality as enshrined in the Preamble of the 1847 Declaration of Independence. It reads thus:
“We the people of the Republic of Liberia were originally the inhabitants of the United States of America. In some parts of that country, we were debarred by law from all the rights and privileges of men-in other parts, public sentiment more powerful than law frowned us down.
We were everywhere shut out from all civil office. We were excluded from all participation in the government. We were taxed without our consent. We were compelled to contribute to the resources of a country which gave us no protection. We were made a separate and distinct class and against us every avenue to improvement was officially closed.
Strangers from all lands of a different color from ours were preferred before us. We uttered our complaints but they were unattended to, or only met by alleging the peculiar institutions of the country. All hope of a favorable change in our country was thus wholly extinguished in our bosoms, and we looked with anxiety abroad for some asylum from the deep degradation.
The Western coast of Africa was the place selected by American benevolence and philanthropy for our future home. Removed beyond those influences, it was hoped we would be enabled to enjoy those rights and privileges and exercise and improve those faculties, which the God of nature has given us in common with the rest of mankind”.
These words written 171 years ago, basically a litany of complaints, in effect constitute perhaps what is the longest duration anywhere of unlitigated complaints against the Government of the United States of America. Those unlitigated complaints notwithstanding, after nearly two centuries of existence as a nation, what can we as a nation truly celebrate aside from the fact of our independence declared 171 years ago?
Truly speaking the quest to establish an independent nation was in fact a quest for equality, justice and the freedom to enjoy all those rights denied the founding fathers in the land of their birth that propelled them to seek succor on this piece of land now otherwise referred to as the Republic of Liberia.
In establishing the Republic, the founding fathers established a form of government akin to that of the United States of America with a government made up of three separate independent but coequal branches, namely the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative. Indeed the founding fathers had a lofty vision of a future Liberia built on the foundations of justice and equality.
But nation building, being a human endeavor, is prone to mistakes and even failure. In this vein we acknowledge that successive leaders of this Republic have betrayed the vision of the founding fathers. And they have done so by creating a hydra-headed monster of an Executive branch that is very corrupt, dominates and even emasculates the others.
Through the influence of the Executive for example, over 60 bogus concession agreements have been midwifed into existence through corrupt means. For its part, the Legislative branch has willy-nilly accommodated the hunger of the Executive to bend the rules for personal gain, and passing into legal existence concession agreements in violation of the laws of Liberia.
For much of its history, it (the Legislature) has been nothing more than a rubber stamp body approving and indulging the Executive in its breach of the laws of the Republic. For its part the Judiciary rather than being a guardian of the People’s trust have also over the years accommodated the Executive in abusing the rights of the people leaving the mass of the citizenry completely bereft of trust in the Judiciary.
Bribery and other forms of corruption have taken hold and threaten the very independence of the Republic. Courts of law, rather than being Holy Altars of Justice have been instead desecrated and presided over by mean, vile and corrupt men and women thus placing Justice far out of reach of the ordinary Liberian today.
As if by Providence, what remains of the Republic after encroachment by colonial powers, is a land mass not as large as before but richly endowed with a wide variety of natural resources. But as if by Satanical intervention, citizens of the Republic remain mired in abject poverty with virtual predators manning its machinery of government and for personal gain, selling for few pennies any and everything they can lay hands on including their own birth rights.
So after 171 years of existence, the Republic finds itself at a crossroads of history, where every step forward has to be carefully measured. But we must also ask the question what is there to celebrate against the backdrop of dismal national statistics such as 85 percent illiteracy, very high infant and maternal mortality rates, 1,072 deaths per 100,000 live births (2013 DHS), a broken and dysfunctional education system, over 80 percent unemployment, a very corrupt judiciary, a compromised Legislature and an overbearing and corrupt executive.
This 171st Independence anniversary should be a time of deep national reflection. Liberia is in crisis — very deep crises and uncertainty appears to have gripped the nation amidst mounting economic hardships, to which real solutions appear elusive.
Rather than merry-making and basking in the fantasy of promised but false Hopes, Liberians should instead engage in deep reflection on the future. And we must ask ourselves the all-important question What is there to show after 171 years of existence as an independent nation?