By Lekpele M. Nyamalon
Monrovia- May 14, 2020 would be some 50 years since President William V.S. Tubman launched his signature program of national unification and integration. The initiative was to further integration with Liberians from all walks of life, from members of the settlers dwelling mainly along the coastline of Liberia and members of the largely indigenous class from the deep parts of the interior of the Country.
More than Fifty years on, genuine unification for the small west African nation remains wanting. Liberia, a country with close to 5 million people, 16 diverse ethnic groups and a small settler population is still hugely polarized along new and dangerous lines.
In February 2020, I delivered the keynote address at the Liberian Chapter of the Global Leadership Summit with a theme: ‘The Liberia we want’. During my address I highlighted a few scenarios that represent the Liberian experience, and a story that sums up the Liberian reality:
I asked the audience to recite the Liberian Pledge: ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of Liberia and to the Republic for which it stands. One Nation, Indivisible, with Liberty and justice for all.’
‘One Nation’ was stressed, Not the Kissi Nation, the Kru Nation, the Mandingo Nation, the Congo Nation or the Kpelleh Nation and this nation should be ‘Indivisible.’
The story: ‘A local hunter had killed a red deer; he chopped a piece of it and roasted while in the bush and brought along with him the whole red deer carcass. Upon reaching his home, the hunter dropped the carcass outside and came in with the small roasted portion and shared with his children and told them that the full deer was outside in the Kitchen. The children couldn’t agree on the proper distribution of the meat their father had brought and thus went to war with each other. The children fought for hours over the meat and then with each other for several days. While they were fighting, the huge meat outside was abandoned under a pour of rain. Meanwhile, strangers began to come and chop pieces of the meat and opened a barbecue chain, others opened a meat soup chain, while the real owners were fighting inside over few pieces of barbecue.’
That story sums up the Liberian experience, while we’re fighting in Monrovia and the major towns and villages of Liberia, foreigners are mining our gold, diamond, and other valuable minerals, sometimes illicitly.
Former Liberian President Pro-Tempore and Senator of Grand Kru County, Cletus Wotorson in his memoir ‘Acceptance’, highlighted his experience as a young man from Grand Cess and his struggle for ‘Acceptance’ into mainstream Monrovia. However, he was able to triumph and became a prominent professional serving both the private and public sectors in Liberia. His story mirrors the struggle of class and privilege that characterized Liberia for most of the 1930s and beyond. However, there has to be a cut off point when those stories would become a rallying point of Unity, soul searching and national renewal. Honest truth telling of the past in all its fulness is required to move forward. Liberia’s division today doesn’t only rest on the realities of the 1930s but on the realities of the haves versus the have-nots, the illiterate versus the literate, the Liberians at home versus the diasporas, the tribes of the interior versus those from the coastal lines, the main tribes versus the subsets, the subsets versus the units within and the divide keeps widening.
Attempts have been made by members of the same county to divide the county up solely for political reasons and sharing in the largesse of the state.
Everyday seems to present a new direction of a nation further dividing itself along dangerous tribal, political and sectional lines.
My address at the Global Leadership Summit concluded with a story based on my real-life story of survival at the Phebe Massacre that occurred at the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing in September 1994:
‘When the rebels had entered the hospital and were killing indiscriminately, we were holed up in the record room located at the back of the Hospital, hoping and praying that we didn’t get caught and killed. We remained there until someone was able to see a small light behind a cabinet, when the cabinet was removed, lo there was a door! The door was opened and it became our outlet of escape. Interestingly, the person who found that door was not a formal leader of the group but an ordinary person who was able to see the light. ‘
As we move into the New Liberia, hopefully as a United People, may we be able to find that the door and the light as our common destiny and when we step out, we shouldn’t shut it behind us but lead others through it and together, we will reaffirm our pledge of ONE Nation, Indivisible with liberty and Justice for all.
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer Speaker an OSIWA Poetry Fellow and a Mandela Washington Fellow. He can be reached at [email protected].