What’s the Matter with Us Is Us

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It was vice President Bene DeQuincy Warner who in the date 1970s first uttered this blunt and cogent remark: “What’s the matter with us is us.”

What did he mean?

He meant that all the ills afflicting our country can be attributed to ourselves.

How? Too often we respond to the challenges and problems of governance and Nation building with a terrible sense of inadequacy. And what are the elements of this inadequacy?

They are at least seven. First the lack of patriotism. We Liberians neither love our country nor one another.

Second, we are selfish, we think too much of ourselves and almost always place our own selfish interests BEFORE the interest of Liberia.

Third, just as one female Liberian thinker and writer once wrote, because we are selfish, we are also stupid. She actually wrote: “We are selfish because we are stupid, and stupid because we are selfish.”

The fourth element of our inadequacy is what appears to be and indeed is our propensity to be corrupt. Just recently a major non-governmental organization (NGO) which made a huge contribution to our fight against Ebola testified before the United
States Congress. That NGO told Congress that if ever they had any money to give Liberia, they should send their own people to spend it, because the Liberians are too corrupt to handle American or anybody else’s money. They will eat up every cent!

The fifth element of Liberia’s inadequacy is our consistent and determined LACK of worth ETHIC. Give any Liberian – be he or she a civil servant, a technician in any field – a job to do and he or she will delay, delay, delay the work, or not do it at all.

Worse, if he or she is paid in advance, you are in trouble, because not only will the job delay; often times he or she will elope. A young woman recently paid a cabinet maker on Benson Street, Crown Hill US$450 to make a bed. She was never able to find him again. And his co-workers who knew him always told her when she enquired, “the man was just here few minutes ago but we don’t know where he gone.” This is the constant habit of Liberians – covering up one another’s corruption.

All too many Liberian civil servants in most if not all government agencies will demand a bribe before doing their work. Many customers complain that they have had to “buy lunch” or give a financial inducement even to pay their taxes at the Ministry of Finance.

On arrival at the Robert International Airport, business people can get almost anything through customs only if they are prepared to “dash” the Customs Officers “something”, meaning little money. Imagine how much money government loses every day and night of the year!

At the higher governmental level, look what has happened to the National Oil Company (NOCAL). And the people who are in charge told the world they are doing their “best” there.

The sixth element of Liberians’ inadequacy is envy. Liberians normally hate to see their fellow Liberian prosper. Liberians behave like crabs in a bucket. Whenever one crab dares to escape and liberate itself, the other crabs gang up and pull it back into the bucket. We find it extremely difficult to help one another. Better help a foreigner than a fellow Liberian. Better patronize a foreigner business than a Liberian one.

There are certain people in this administration who have anointed themselves as chief defenders, promoters and protectors of foreign business people. They are prepared to cry down or fight any Liberian business person in favor of a foreign businessperson, be he or she Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, Fula or any other nationality but Liberian.

In the 1970s a Liberian young professional wrote a book on a critical national subject. The publishers of the book, a major United Nations organization, sent several boxes of the book to two relevant ministries of government –Education and Information, Culture and Tourism. When the author returned home to enquire about the books, neither ministry could give an account of them. Both ministries he was told had had the books discarded. Why? Because officials of these ministries, who had been over many years in the position to write the book but failed to take the initiative, become ENVIOUS. If they didn’t write it, who is he to write it?

The question is can any country be built on envy?

Yet we admire America, Europe and other countries forging ahead, without even bothering to know how these countries got to where they are.

Too many young Liberians, after winning fellowship to travel abroad for further studies, returned to their rural villages to say “goodbye.” Many of them never returned to Monrovia to catch the plane. They were afflicted by witchcraft and dies – all because of envy.

An aged woman in Cape Mount had two highly successful daughters who wanted to build a modern home for their mother. “Are you ready for me to die?” their mother asked them. “Why?” They asked. She replied, “The minute my neighbors see the work going up they will try to kill me because of envy.” The house was never built.

The seventh element of Liberians’ inadequacy is our failure to learn what makes some people successful. We did not learn business acumen from the Syrians, we have not learned from the Lebanese or Indians, nor from the Fulas. Because of this failure, we have not developed the entrepreneurial capacity.

This Newspaper has long complained of foreign domination of our economy. But who is to blame but ourselves? We have the ball in our own hands, but for all these reasons listed above, we have failed to play the game properly.

The Daily Observer was also often complained that the government has done and is doing little or nothing to change this dangerous and dehumanizing status quo. But we wish to make it crystal clear that government alone cannot do it. Yes, the government, through its macroeconomic policies, must establish the enabling environment for Liberians to play a meaningful, effective and profitable role in the economy. The rest is left to the Liberians themselves to take the bull by the horns and go running with it. Liberians must be serious and diligent about their business. They must invest, turn over the investment, open their stores on time, be courteous and faithful to their customers and manage their money with efficiency and integrity.

Unless we overcome these inadequacies, foreign business people will continue to be kings in Liberia, while we Liberians remain peons, paupers and slaves in our own country.

But we can overcome! Remember that in history, the Phoenicians, great-grand fathers of Lebanese, boasted that when they were ruling the seas, the English were wearing skins. But who built the British Empire that for nearly a century ruled three quarters of the world, including the lands of the Phoenicians?

The English.

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