Charles Dunbar Sherman, then Economic Advisor to President Tubman, used these words uttered by Hamlet, in Act 2, Scene 2 of William Shakepeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. It was the theme of an extemporaneous Address Sherman delivered to students at the Booker Washington Institute in 1957.
Mr. Sherman eloquently told the students he was quoting Hamlet, who had entered a room with a book in hand and asked by Polonius, “And what do you read, my Lord?”
Using Hamlet’s response, Mr. Sherman impressed upon the students the importance of words. A man’s word is his honor, he said. “And that is what we need in Liberia today–men and women with WORD. We need people with word as farmers,” Sherman averred. Alas, he went on to explain that too many people borrow money from government and from banks to make farms, but open no farms; and as a result, are unable to pay back.
We recall this story to address what seems to be a looming crisis in Lofa County: the people don’t trust their leaders. Our Presidential Correspondent William Harmon, who covered President Sirleaf’s recent visit to Lofa, reported that Lofaians were “deeply disappointed” that she had not mentioned her promise to pave the road from Gbarnga to Voinjama.
Frederick Jallah, a cocoa farmer was one of those Correspondent Harmon quoted expressing his disappointment with the President. “One of the most important things I was anxious to hear [was her position on the issue of this road, which is a major priority for the Lofa people]. The deplorable road conditions both in the dry and rainy season, make it difficult for citizens to move from one place to the next. Businesspeople and farmers spend days, weeks, on the road, especially during the rainy season, trying to get their goods to the markets.”
Mr. Jallah said Lofaians wanted to hear the word only from the President and no one else, because, in his own word, “We do not trust our leaders in this county. Some of them have repeatedly told us things that do not come to pass.”
Here lies the problem. Lofa leaders, be warned. Your people are not happy because they seem to have lost confidence in you because they say you have no WORD. A typical politician will make any promise,
just to get your vote or confidence. After that, they seem to have forgotten everything they promised, and return to business as usual.
Why is this so? Because there is, with few exceptions, a selfish instinct in all humankind. For most, even when saying or doing something good, there is often a hidden agenda that is only revealed when that which they are aiming at is ultimately accomplished. Then, as the popular 1950s and 60s American dance song says, it is “Back to the Madison!”
This is in distinct contrast to a STATESMAN, someone observes the deepest and longest-standing consensus, as expressed in literature and laws, in order to govern with the people’s consent. Abraham Lincoln made a speech in Philadelphia in 1860 declaring his belief that slaves in America should be freed. The people of North America believed him to be correct and later elected him President. On January 1, 1863 he signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. He paid his life for this and is today remembered as America’s greatest President.
Nelson Mandela committed his life to freeing South Africa. When, by God’s grace, he was released from prison, he wisely decided it was not for the black people only that he had suffered and sacrificed, but the white people also, because they, too, were South Africans. This decision immortalized him as one of the greatest statesmen that ever lived.
Madam President, you did a good job in Lofa: you made the people of Vahun very happy, and the Kolahun people, too. There you turned on the lights from the mini-hydro at Yandohun. The blessing of light is a blessing from God.
We pray that the rest of Lofa, yea the entire rural Liberia, will soon receive this blessing!
There is another blessing for which Lofa, the nation’s principal breadbasket, is craving: the blessing of a paved highway from Gbarnga to Vahun. Lofaians will forever remember this as one of your enduring legacies.