Liberian-American Relations: Do Liberians Really Know and Comprehend the Spirit of America?

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By Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor

Mr. Yorgo Mullenax, a realtor, said in one of his blogs, when someone asked him whether he agreed with the saying: “Show me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are?” He responded in affirmatively: “your current friends are a reflection of you, and are 100% your choice. The people you choose to be around shape your personality, the way you think, the way you speak, and the way you perceive the world.

Ms. Christine Convey in her article entitled: Lives of Settlers in the American Colonization Society Experiment pointed out that Americans naively expected that Liberia would fulfill the dreams of all involved; that repatriates would create a black unified version of Republican America, reinforcing the racial order and proving that colonialism could work – that it would become a civilized reflection of America in Africa.

But, the Liberia that surfaced in West Africa in 1847, as a sovereign nation, is not a replica representation of the United States of America, it was very different, its values and visions are not congruent to the spirit of America. In fact, Liberia’s founding fathers’ blueprints were completely contrary to America’s spirit of governance of progress, ingenuity, excellence in education, health, road development, upholding the rule of law and using governance as an opportunity to be of service to the nation.

It is interesting for a nation like Liberia who is very close in bilateral relationship with the United States, one of the most developed nations in the world; yet continues to be one of the poorest countries, baffles my mind.
In fact, over the years, most Africans perceived and called Liberia as ‘Petit- American’.

Dr. Nancee Oku Bright said it best when she wrote and produced a Liberian Documentary Film. Dr. Bright is a Liberian writer and Firm Producer and Director based in New York. She is best remembered for the short documentary film: Liberia: America’s Stepchild, which premiered on PBS in 2002.

It is the sixth offering of World Story and ongoing series of specials on PBS. The film echoed the series of ‘parallel stories of America’s relationship with Liberia, the settlers’ relationship with the indigenous people and explores the causes leading to the Liberian civil war.’

Even, Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden said in one of his speeches: “What are the moral causes of the present evils in Liberia? As a people, we have been in too much haste to be rich. Relinquishing the pursuit of those attributes that would fit us for the faithful discharge of our peculiar duties as men, as Liberians, as an infant nation, we have used every possible measure to enhance our pecuniary importance; and in the precipitate efforts at wealth, we have not been careful as to what means we have employed. The desire to be rich, or to appear to be rich, pervades all classes.

The love of money… has grown upon us to such a degree that all other avenues of distinction seem but trifling in comparison of those which lead to the acquisition of money. To be rich seems with many ‘the chief end of man.’

Hence, no talents, no endowment of the mind, no skill or knowledge, no amount of education, is appreciated only so far as it will pay…. This fact has operated greatly in retarding the literary progress of our youth…” (On July 27, 1857, he was Liberia’s Independence Day Guest Speaker in Monrovia. He spoke on the following topic: Liberia As She Is; And the Present Duty of Her Citizens).

Yes, indeed sadly, Liberia is like an old taxi, with different drivers, but obtaining the same result, ‘growth without development.’

In previous listed articles, I alluded that the first leaders such as Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Stephen Allen Benson, etc., were individuals whose mindsets were rooted in the act of domestic servitude and not in the act of politics. They were not prepared intellectually and politically to set up a wholesome functioning political institution.

They viewed politics from a narrow perspective that was not inclusive. Because of this mindset, they proceeded to set up a government that created a line of demarcation between itself and the indigenous Africans. The indigenes were never a part of the political arrangement; they became integrated into the political realm after many decades.

In fact, indigenous Liberians became integrated into the political realm around 1940, 93 years after the declaration of independence in 1847.

The recent newspapers’ reports detailing widespread alleged malpractice at the regulator in a currency scandal has undoubtedly gripped the Liberian nation. Subsequently, announcement of the arrest of one of the sons of Liberia’s former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, alone with two central bank officials on Thursday, February 28, 2019, is embarrassing and a disappointment.

After 14 years of civil war and over the deaths of over 150,000 people, and millions of US dollars spent by the international community as aid to Liberia and for some Liberians to perpetuate alleged “financial malpractices”, especially during this particular time of financial difficulties in the nation, is most unfortunate.

This brings me to suggest a practical and simple example of governance and accountability for our leaders to follow.

America’s Spirit of Governance

The Y Scouts Firm outlined Ten Ethical Leadership Characteristics that are in line with America’s Spirit of Governance. As Liberians, we need to integrate these attributes in the formation of the governance of the Liberian Nation.

1. Justice

“An ethical leader is always fair and just. They have no favorites, and treat everyone equally. Under an ethical leader, no employee has any reason to fear biased treatment on the basis of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or any other factor”.

2. Respect others

“One of the most important traits of ethical leadership is the respect that is given to followers. An ethical leader shows respect all members of the team by listening to them attentively, valuing their contributions, being compassionate, and being generous while considering opposing viewpoints.”

3. Honesty

“It goes without saying that anyone who is ethical will also be honest and loyal. Honesty is particularly important to be an effective ethical leader, because followers trust honest and dependable leaders. Ethical leaders convey facts transparently, no matter how unpopular they may be.”

4. Humane

“Being humane is one of the most revealing traits of a leader who is ethical and moral. Ethical leaders place importance in being kind, and act in a manner that is always beneficial to the team.”

5. Focus on team-building

“Ethical leaders foster a sense of community and team spirit within the organization. When an ethical leader strives to achieve goals, it is not just personal goals that they’re concerned about. They make genuine efforts to achieve goals that benefit the entire organization – not just themselves.”

6. Value driven decision-making

“In ethical leadership, all decisions are first checked to ensure that they are in accordance with the overall organizational values. Only those decisions that meet this criterion are implemented.”

7. Encourages initiative

“Under an ethical leader, employees thrive and flourish. Employees are rewarded for coming up with innovative ideas, and are encouraged to do what it takes to improve the way things are done. Employees are praised for taking the first step rather than waiting for somebody else to do it for them.”

8. Leadership by example

“Ethical leadership is not just about talking the talk; this type of leader also walks the walk. The high expectations that an ethical leader has of employees are also applicable on the individual level. Leaders expect others to do the right thing by leading from example.”

9. Values awareness

“An ethical leader will regularly discuss the high values and expectations that they place on themselves, other employees, and the organization. By regularly communicating and discussing values, they ensure that there is consistent understanding across the organization.”

10. No tolerance for ethical violations

What I admired about the spirit of America is her spirit of Volunteerism. This means, people helping people through privately initiated, rather than government-sponsored, agencies. American Volunteers are highly motivated people; workers organized themselves and others to solve a particular – be it community problem or meet an immediate social need rather than wait for someone else or for the government to do it.

Volunteerism reflects Americans’ optimistic pride in their ability to work out practical solutions themselves.

Conclusion

The spirit of America was captured by the words of President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961.

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you– ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Although Liberians have been in contact with Americans for a very long time, we have learnt nothing from the Americans in the area of financial transparency. As a saying goes “Show me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are”; those positive attributes of America, especially in governance, the nation has done nothing to integrate some of these policies to help us move forward economically.

Mr. Yorgo Mullenax, a Realtor, as I reflected above said: “your current friends are a reflection of you, and are 100% your choice. The people you choose to be around shape your personality, the way you think, the way you speak, and the way you perceive the world.”

He added, “Whether we are aware of it or not, the people we choose to pay attention to and consider friends frame our reality. They are a barometer of what is normal, what is possible.”

The Author:
Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor, is an educator. He is a graduate of the Cuttington University; Howard University, Washington, D. C. and Israel Institute of Technology. He is a former deputy managing director of the National Port Authority of Liberia, NPA, and former chairman of the department of mathematics, Bong Town High School in Bong Mines, Liberia.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Human beings are driven by survival instincts. They have the tendency to do things in their own interest, many times disregarding how others and their environment may be disaffected. Therefore, we can’t leave it to humans to voluntarily be fair.

    Individuals holding power are more likely to act corruptly. Think about it, without some power or authority, can corruption take place? Liberians do not take queue from others, not even America unless we are forced to. In Liberia, the norm is to skirt the law. To mitigate these cognitive influences, information flows about the costs of corruption and the rewards of ethical behavior must be promoted.
    .
    Integrity standards must be advocated and exemplified from the top of the pyramid to have the desired trickle down effect.

  2. Well, having read this post; “Do Liberians Really know and comprehend the spirit of America” ? I believe, that the Americo-Liberians who founded the western form of governmental system knew and comprehended the spirit of America; but our indigenous fathers didn’t know what is the spirit of America. These settlers were brought from America to Africa, mainly Free Town Sierra Leone, at the Shebro Island. The came 1822, on the ship called “Elizabeth the mayflower”. They were brought by the American Colonization Society as free slaves children, but who knows if they were form
    West Africa. Anyways, while residing at the Shebro Island, they were experiencing different kinds of sickness, which killed many of them Due to this situation, some of them decided to leave Shebro Island to seek safety in Liberia, specifically Monrovia, while some decided to come back to America and some remained in Free Town. Those very group that entered Liberia landed on the Providence Island and were we received by our indigenous fathers and offered them free lands to build homes and establish farms. With the freedom provided, they began to discover that the country is rich with manerial resources which values our indigenous fathers never knew about. As such the settlers decided to use the ignorance of our indigenous fathers to claim superiority oven them to come back to America and registered the entire country as their own personal property, which moment they called independent of Liberia, but without the knowledge of our indigenous fathers. They learned this behavior from their slave masters, who took over the native Americans Land and claimed independence from Great Bratain without inclusion. Now, because of the self imposed independent of the settlers in Liberia, they called themselves the “founding fathers of Liberia”, which I strongly disagree with. These people did not found Liberia, but only established the western governmental system to rule over the indigenous people. Before their arrival to Liberia, there was Liberia. There were towns where the indigenous people instituted a form if transitional government to direct citizens behavior. There were traditional laws of governing where violators are punished equally to whatsoever violation committed. To conclude on “the cause of the present evils in Liberia”; The evils are caused by the creation of the very strong line of demancation which determines who should be who in Liberia. The settlers drew demancation between the indigenous people and themselves to place less values on the indigenous people; just as their slave masters treated and subordinated them. The demancation dehumanized indigenous and left them out of governmental positions, as such, children of the indigenous with quality education equal or more then the settlers decided to stand up for equality of rights in Liberia.

    • Your whole diatribe is completely inaccurate and one-sided, which is typical people of the leftist political spectrum. It is popular to tout the image of the poor oppressed natives against the brutal settlers, but it is not a true or historically accurate representation, but rather a distorted one.
      The Native Americans were, more often than not, constantly at each others throats fighting. They did not even BELIEVE in the concept of land ownership! How could the settlers have stolen something that the indians didn’t even think belonged to them in the first place?! As the country became more settled, clashes with the Indians was inevitable. What is evil about settlers roaming the west as had the Indians for centuries? The clash between the Indians and the settlers was over a clash of ideologies. The belief in land ownership. The settlers believed in it and the indians did not. The history is not so lopsided as you try to portray it.
      As far as slavery is concerned, the majority of colonists did not own slaves and many were abolitionists who were morally opposed to the institution of slavery. Eventually a destructive and bloody war that was fought to end it. Slavery is done and over with. Forget about it.
      Liberia was founded with good and honest intentions in mind. Giving newly freed black slaves a chance to return to their continent and transform it for the better. Unfortunately it did not work out like that.
      Instead of acting in a way that was benevolent and progressive for the society, the founders chose to mistreat and exploit the indigenous tribes. The was short sighted of them, without a doubt. They were truly people without decency or moral character. You would think that former slaves would be more sensitive and aware the evils of mistreating others, but they did not. Unfortunately, this trend would eventually result in the unrest conflict that lasted decades.

      Liberia needs to move forward. e We need to look to the future and rebuild or else there will be no future for us.

  3. Totally stupid article. This slavishly dependency make the Americans laugh at us. 99% if Anericans do not know Whete Liberia is. Other African countries are fixing their own countries and Liberia still begging and talking about special relationship. The relationship was special that is why the US say for 14 years while we kill each other. Liberians need to get from their lazy behinds and build the country. Talking about ancestors America Liberians. Only Liberia like to talk about slaves build the country. Shame on you

  4. Hello Moses, I am in agreement with you 100%; after a century and several decades we are still obsessed with somehow being connected to America. We really do need to be proud of ourselves while we excel to building our nation, as we leave the past alone and move towards our future.

  5. As much as I love you, my people (who are Liberians and Africans – on the continent or abroad), sometimes I do wish that I was of a different race (not white or Chinese or European or any of these types). Just a different race with no affiliation to you. But with all the races in the world, God made me to be like unto you. He could have made me an American, a Chinese, a Russian, Korea etc… but instead He made me like you – a black African. And for that I love you and will never trade you for any other people. Whether you know it or not, even in your lowest state, you are still the most honorable people on the face of the Earth.

    But lets call this article for what it is – blatant display of ignorance and stupidity.

    Today, if I was to ask any Liberian – would you like your child to be like Charles Taylor? Many would be outraged and refuse instantly. Why? I would hear things like, Charles Taylor is a rebel. He destroyed Liberia and kill a lot of people. And you know what, they may be right too.

    However

    Today, if I was to ask any Liberian – would you like your child to be like America? The same people would be quick to say, yes. It would be a BLESSING for my child to go to America and be an American. Interesting…

    May question is this:

    How long was it when the Americans dragged your forefathers across the Atlantic ocean with fetters of irons around their necks – beat, raped, killed and dehumanized them? up to this day, they still have your brothers and sisters scattered all over the globe.

    Some of you live in America. You see how young black men and women are being treated killed by the American police force. Nowadays with the internet, you’re able to see these things on videos. Yet, American would justify their action for killing your own. And these are the people you want your child to be like? And you wonder why African leaders always oppress their nations? Liberia of all nation should understand better the SPIRITS OF AMERICA. And it is nothing like what the writer of this article is trying to portray but rather it is the spirit of oppression, manipulation, theft, enslavement of others, destabilizing nations, lying etc…such is the SPIRIT OF AMERICA.

    Both Charles Taylor and America are bad for any people despite what they may claim to be. America was built with the blood of our forefathers. There’s no major company or learning institution in America that didn’t benefit from slave labor. You have access to computer so you can research these things yourself if you don’t already know. Its no secret but that’s nothing, right? Sooner they started realizing the potential of the nation our forefathers have built for them, they wanted them to leave hence program like your American Colonization Society (ACS). And you’re a fool to think the ACS was meant to do you any good. And most of our Forefathers knew it which is why they decided to take their chances in America. It was another form of colonialism. No, it was colonialism but just using a weapon they have built. And that weapon was our forefathers who took take bait (unknowingly), and were repatriated to the continent. Guess what was the first thing our forefathers started doing when they got on the continent, yes, they started thinking they were better than their brothers and sisters on the continent. Everything the colonizer (our forefathers) did then, and up to this day, is to the heart intent of America. And any leader who comes in power and try to do otherwise, you’ll see, they’ll remove him immediately. And they’ll use your own brother (such as Charles Taylor to do it for them). Behold, your civil war and coups.

    Any nation that wishes to be like America, will embody those spirits of America. And yes, this is the very reason African leadership will never do its people any good. Because all our leaders get their training (education) from America/Europe. What monkey sees monkey do, thats how it goes.

    Tell you what,

    Until the day we start looking into our past for guidance (yes, we have a royal past and great leadership history that we can learn from)
    Until the day we want our children to be Africans
    Until the day we start electing leaders who has the SPIRIT OF AFRICA (which is a spirit of unity, love, caring for each other, sharing wealth, respect for human life etc…)
    Until the day we start electing leaders who understands and rejects the SPIRITS OF AMERICA (oppression, manipulation, theft, enslavement of others, destabilizing nations, lying etc…)

    We’ll forever be a slave and a puppet in this world.

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