This Sunday, July 26, Liberia will turn 168 years old. We indeed have little to show for being Africa’s oldest republic and, after Ethiopia, the second free African nation in modern times.
All the other African natons have been colonized at one time or another, but not Liberia. Even Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest surviving empire, was colonized on the eve of World War II by Italy’s ruthless dictator, Benito Mussolini. History records that this invasion was Mussolini’s reprisal against Ethiopia’s (Abyssinia’s) defeat of Italy at the Battle of Adowa in 1896. But Italy’s colonization was short-lived, thanks to the 1945 defeat of the Axis Powers—Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan—by the Allied Powers, led by the United States, Britain, France and other nations, including Liberia, which declared war on Germany in 1945.
Following their defeat, Germany and Italy lost all their African colonies. Germany’s were Cameroon, Southwest Africa (now Namibia) and Tanganyika (now Tanzania); and Italy’s, Ethiopia.
Perhaps Liberia’s most important attribute and contribution to the world is her survival as Africa’s oldest sovereign and independent republic, which has served as the inspiration for the rest of the continent to strive for independence and self determination from colonial rule.
It was in recognition of this that President William V.S. Tubman invited Gold Coast Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah to Liberia as early as 1951. It was a means of encouraging him on to self government and independence, which Ghana achieved on March 6, 1957. It became a republic on the same date in 1960.
In that same year so many other African nations gained their independence from Britain and France, followed by many other African nations
Liberia also served as an inspiration for the oppressed peoples of Southern Africa—Angola, Mozambique and the other Portuguese colonies, as well as Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Southwest Africa (now Namibia) from racist English and South African rule, respectively, and eventually South Africa from apartheid, by far the most brutal and dehumanizing form of racist rule. Liberian prelate, Canon Burgess Carr, General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), in 1974 predicted that South Africa would be free by 1990. The prophesy came true with Nelson Mandela’s release that year from 27 years of prison. He went on to win a landslide victory and became South Africa’s first black President.
As with Ghana, Liberia played an encouraging role with all the other nations in their quest for independence. During the 1960s President Tubman declared a national holiday each time an African nation declared its independence.
Alas! Though as the forerunner to independence—1847, when most of these African countries were not yet even colonized—we are still among the most backward African nations, near the bottom of most of the development indexes.
But Liberians, take heart! We, too, came near to colonization following the Berlin Conference in 1885, when European powers carved up Africa for themselves. Liberia suddenly found itself bombarded on the north, east, central and south by French and British colonial powers, both of whom chopped off huge sections of Liberian territory, while our so-called “mother country”—the United States–out of whose belly Liberia was born, turned a blind eye.
But by the grace of Almighty God, we survived!
It was to President Tubman that all the other new African leaders came for guidance. Prime Minister Nkrumah invited Tubman to the first African Summit of Heads of State and Government in 1958. And he was the only Head of State present. This followed Tubman’s own invitation to Prime Minister Nkrumah and President Sekou Toure to the Sanniquelli Conference in 1959—that became the forerunner to the Organization of African Unity (now African Union-May 25, 1963).
And yet, survival is not enough. Liberia must speed on to full development, when we can answer Yes to all the development indicators—an educated and healthy people, with maternal, infant and child survival up and mortality down; with self-sufficiency in food, to the point of export, plus self-sufficiency in beef, pork, poultry and eggs; to paved roads, which President Sirleaf has now begun throughout the country; to manufacturing of wood, rubber, other tree crops, and steel products from our iron ore, turning Liberia into a manufacturing nation, in control of its own economy.
It is within this spirit of faith, hard work, patriotism and self reliance that we will see many more and skyscrapers like the one President Sirleaf and Governor J. Mills Jones dedicated on Wednesday as the new headquarters of the Central Bank of Liberia.
There is more to come—the Ducor, the E.J. Roye, the Housing Bank Building, the reopening of the Executive Mansion and housing complexes throughout the country to transform the Liberian habitat from thatched huts into aluminum and roofing tiles, equipped with electricity, with safe running water, inside toilets and electricity.
These we can accomplish within a few years. All we need is good, selfless, patriotic, focused and committed leadership.
This is the kind of leadership we must aim and elect in 2017!