Why the Flag means everything and nothing

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As we celebrate Flag Day, we reflect on this prized symbol, its meaning to us as a nation, the sentiments it evokes in our hearts, and its impact on our future.

Our flag was, at the point of its creation, prophetic – a symbol of a people shining the light of education and faith to a dark continent. And, indeed, Liberia stood at its inception as a beacon of hope to Africa’s colonized peoples who craved self-determination and socio-economic empowerment.

Many Liberians, however, see the flag as a symbol of settler oppression against the indigenous tribes occupying Liberia, from 1822 until present; and understandably so. The effects of the dual society that prevailed here are still evident today, as the majority of our population still lives in abject poverty, without food, clean water or electricity. Under these circumstances, we cannot expect them to embrace the flag.

But, rather than considering a futile change in flag design, we must recognize that the widespread distaste for our flag is just a symptom of Liberia’s failure to live up to its identity as a liberator, both domestically and continentally.

To have truth of Liberia’s leadership in the African liberation movement disregarded by a referendum favoring change of flag would be crying shame. But the real shame is that Liberia, early on, lost its right to be called the Lone Star. In the beginning,
Liberia spearheaded Africa’s drive for political freedom, helping its brothers forge a continent of proud and sovereign nations. But while we were pushing for Africans’ self-determination in other territories, we disenfranchised our own indigenous peoples. How long did it take us to allow them to vote, or to hold public office? Through our hypocrisy, we blackened our own image and allowed deep-rooted divisions to rip our country to shreds.

As we now work to rebuild, we have discovered that economic freedom is the next frontier to be conquered; and the East and West are fighting us tooth and nail for everything we have. Our restored standing in the global community shows that Liberia still has a major leadership role to play, to usher our continent into economic empowerment. But that drive must start from within; all Liberians must feel entitled and enabled to carry J.J. Roberts’ torch of freedom.

If our children do not have access to universal, high quality education, how can they each become qualified to usher in a new wave of African liberation through thought leadership and innovation? If the growth of our small and medium sized businesses is stunted by a government and banking system that takes pleasure in financial strangulation and procedural inefficiency, how can we build make multimillionaires and billionaires that can compete with the Lebanese, Indians and Chinese, who are making a killing on our continent and giving nothing back?

If all Liberians do not feel empowered to cross over from darkness to light through education and access to infrastructure and basic services (like the ever exasperating LEC), then our flag will continue to mean nothing to most of us.

Liberians do not need a referendum on national symbols, or a different flag. We need a government that can make us believe in the one we already have – the one that constantly reminds us of who we are.

The only way to national self-(re)discovery is to follow the star: bring the big light that Ellen promised us – not just electricity, but quality education. Bring the roads from farms to markets. Give us access to finance, and support for farmers and fishermen to expand their operations; and (God, please) give us some homegrown rice!

Then, all Liberians will agree that “the love of (political and economic) liberty brought us all here – to a place of prosperity.” Then, we will stop allowing our chief national symbol to remain a rain battered rag, flailing in the front yards of the Capitol building, Royal Hotel, and countless ministries and agencies. Then, we will show the Lone Star the respect she deserves, as a symbol of freedom waving “her glowing form on Montserrado’s verdant heights!”

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