Traditionally, self-determination or self-governance has been more frequently used in a diplomatic and political context to describe the process a country undergoes to assert its independence.
However, in my perception, self-determination also has a much more personal and psychologically relevant meaning today: the ability or process of making one’s own choices and controlling one’s own life; handling his/her own affairs with corresponding responsibilities. The behavior of some Liberian leaders, with reference to governance in the affairs of our country, continues to raise questions around the world as to whether Liberians are really custodians of their nation.
According to Wikipedia, “Self-Governance is perceived as a person or a group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority that they cannot themselves alter.” Interestingly, when one talks about self-governance of nation-states, it is classified as national sovereignty, which is an important concept in international law.
When I moved from my grandfather’s village, Bargblor Blee, Grand Gedeh County, in eastern Liberia, and relocated to the Liberian-American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO) mining area in the political sub- division of upper Nimba County in northeastern Liberia, I was only in the 4th Grade at the time. My late brother, Mr. Joseph G. Bargblor, was an electrician employed by LAMCO. When I arrived, my brother at the time resided in a town called Old Yekepa. By the next year, 1967, we relocated to an area called Area N, one of the areas built by the LAMCO.
Interestingly, I was fascinated to see pipe borne water, and electricity had also been installed, all for the convenience of LAMCO’s employees. I attended at one of the segregated schools set up; one for the children of laborers and one for the staff and employees respectively. I was enrolled at the Area ‘C’ School, in the beautiful City of Yekepa.
I also realized that LAMCO operated an effective vocational and technical institution, VTC, in the city of Yekepa. This school was designed to train young Liberian boys and girls of age for gainful employment. By 1970, Yekepa became one of the most beautiful cities in Liberia, operating electricity and running water around 24/7, all for the convenience of its employees, staff and laborers. This also included modern facilities, such as banks, planned city-streets, school buses for laborers and staff schools, a modern hospital/clinic, entertainment centers, an effective security system, PPF, an effective radio network for information and entertainment, etc.
These facilities were created by the management of LAMCO Company, solely from financial resources generated from the sale of iron ores. LAMCO, unfortunately, is now a defunct corporation that mined for iron ore in Nimba County, in Northern Liberia. LAMCO was founded by American and Swedish investors, around 1955. The company also operated Ore Palletizing and Washing Plants in Lower Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
But how was the management of LAMCO able to set up an effective operational city in the remote part or interior of Liberia, with modern facilities for their employees, especially Liberians, who, at the time, were unable to read or write?
LAMCO successfully operated an adult education program, designed to help its laborers to be able to read and write, even in the City of Buchanan as well.
Mr. Siahyonkron Nyanseor, a Liberian community leader in the diaspora and a prolific writer, pointed out in one of his articles relevant to his experience while in the employment of LAMCO when he wrote:
“Right out of Laboratory High, which later became Tubman High, I enrolled at the LAMCO Vocational Training School (LVTS). That was my first time living outside of Monrovia. I was nineteen years of age.
“LVTS taught mechanical technology, welding, electricity, Iron Ore Handling Plant Operations, and many other technical skills. After the nine-month intensive training, we graduated and were assigned to LAMCO Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. Our group was part of the ‘Liberianization scheme.’ We were supposed to gradually replace the European/American expatriate employees.
I was assigned along with my classmate Jacob H. Willis, III (now residing in Minnesota, USA), to ‘Station 8’ Ore Handling Control Room as Control Room Operations Technician (http://theliberiandialogue.org/2015/09/25/my-lamco-buchanan-experience/).”
The question is how did the LAMCO management ably and effectively set up an operation that was tailored to meet the needs of the employees and management successfully and where the Liberian Government has failed over the years, since 1847, to develop a comprehensive plan of action to develop Liberia’s schools, hospitals, agricultural sectors, etc., irrespective of the rich natural resources available to the nation?
Economy Watch, in one of its articles regarding Liberia’s underdevelopment, wrote: “During the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, the important iron ore sector attracted substantial foreign investment; and by 1975, Liberia had become the world’s fifth largest exporter of iron ore. From 1946 to 1960, the Tubman Administration attracted over US$500 million in foreign investment; while exports rose from US$15.8 million in 1948 to US$82.6 million in 1960, an increase of 422.8 percent. Government revenue during this period also rose from US$32.4 million in 1960 to US$69.9 million in 1971, an increase of 115.7 (Economy watch, 24 November 2012).”
Subsequently, Economy Watch added: “This immense economic growth, which was rivaled only by Japan at the time, was considered by some as no less than a miracle. Yet as Clower et. al. (1966) would recognize, this had been “growth without development”.
Sadly, the remarkable miraculous economic growth that took place in Liberia was not translated into inclusive economic development, which set the agenda for future political and social instability and the subsequent 14-year civil war that took place from 1989 to 2003. As successive leaders and governments went on without correcting the wrongs of the past, Liberia went from a period of prosperity to becoming one of the most underdeveloped and poorest nations in the world today (Economy watch, 24 November 2012).
The international community has and continues to be aware that Liberia is one of the nations in West Africa that is richly endowed with natural resources including iron ore, gold, diamonds, natural rubber, vast forests for logging, timber harvesting, and vast agriculture land for ensuring food security.
Mineral Resources of Liberia:
7. Palm Oil
8. Sugar Cane
11. Silica Sand
13. Phosphate Rock
The Rwandan Experience
There have been some African countries like Rwanda that encountered unfortunate similar experiences to those of Liberia.
But since the 100-day massacre, in which 800,000 persons were killed, the people of Rwanda have endeavored to deal with their challenges, especially their social-economic problems.
The Government of Rwanda has implemented stringent measures to improve access to education and the country can boast that reportedly 97% of its children currently attend primary school; the highest rate in Africa. UNESCO, interestingly, has perceived Rwanda as one of the top three countries globally for improving access to education (theguardian.com).
The Guardian.com pointed out the gains of Rwanda: “Born in the years since the genocide, children in schools are strongly encouraged to desist from using potentially divisive labels. Pupils are discouraged from identifying themselves as Hutu or Tutsi and are instead asked to focus on building the future of a common Rwanda (theguidian.com).”
Pertinent to the economy, The Guardian disclosed that Rwanda’s determination to rebuild its economy since the genocide has been driven by three main sources: “the export of tea and coffee; foreign aid, which constituted 20% of gross annual income in 2011, and the tourism trade.
Most of this plays out in the rain-forests, which are home to a 1,000-strong population of mountain gorillas, some of the last surviving on the planet. Although 7 million people, close to two-thirds of the country’s population live below the poverty line, more than 1 million have crossed this threshold in recent years. With economic growth hitting an average eight percent since 2001, the World Bank has chosen to name the country as its top reformer for business in 2010 (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/03/rwanda-20-years-on-how-a-country-is-rebuilding-itself).
In my previous article (Daily Observer, 31 January 2018), I reported that some African scholars continue to express that, “despite Liberia’s reputed gains in political and socioeconomic renewal in the past 12 years, when President Weah takes over from Sirleaf, he will be inheriting high levels of unemployment and domestic debt, a depreciated currency, donor aid fatigue, growth projections of 4 percent (before the Ebola epidemic the country recorded an average growth rate of 7.5 percent), corruption with impunity, including a secret tax waiver for logging companies and declining human development indices” (Robtel Neajai Pailey & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor ,19 Jan 2018).
Robtel Neajai Pailey & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor pointed out in their article that the initial thing that President George Weah needs to do is to ensure that 25 percent of government contracts go to successful Liberian-owned enterprises through competitive bidding. Because the country imports more than 80 percent of its food – including the staple, rice – preference should be given to Liberian agribusinesses operating at scale.
Emphasis was stressed that the Weah Administration needs to cancel contracts with poor performers, renegotiate agreements that may be violating Liberian national laws and international human rights standards in the oil and gas, oil palm, rubber and iron ore industries. The revised agreements should generate improvements in tax collection, value-addition, employment, and corporate social responsibility obligations to affected communities.
I was impressed when these young scholars suggested that President Weah would have to build an industrial base in Liberia by insisting that foreign companies work with the Liberian Government to establish wood, rubber, palm oil, and steel rod processing plants in regional hubs throughout the country. Extra revenue generated from these activities should be invested in road reconstruction, electricity expansion, water and sanitation services’ (Robtel Neajai Pailey & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, 19 Jan 2018).
Mr. Walter Lippmann, an American journalist, defined the word custodian as “a keeper, a guardian, or a caretaker. It is a proactive word that implies action on the part of the bearer. Custodians hold something in trust on behalf of others. It is not a behavior motivated out of self-interest”.
A true custodian of the Liberian nation therefore, is an individual who upholds what is best for all people of Liberia, even if it may not be in their own interest to do so. A Liberian custodial role must be approached as a temporary role, preserving something greater than the self-principles of enduring and lasting value. All Liberians should cultivate this attitude of mind that focuses on the task at hand and not on what the leader may gain from the position. It implies a caring and concerned relationship between leaders and followers; individuals motivated by their constituents’ best interests.
Indeed, our ignorance of the past is not the result of a lack of information, but of our indifference to its lessons. Our view of history shapes the way we view the present, and therefore it dictates what answers we offer to solve our current socioeconomic or political problems. President Leopold Senghor of Senegal was correct in his reflection when he said in 1960: “To build a nation, to erect a new civilization which can lay claim to existence because it is humane, we shall try to employ not only enlightened reason but also dynamic imagination.”
My fellow Liberians: Are we Truly Thee Custodians of Our Nation?
Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an Educator and an Author. He worked as an Educator, in Providence Schools Department, RI & Washington, D.C, School System, United States; Bong Education System, as Head of Department of Mathematics in Liberia . He is a graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia, Howard University, Washington, D.C, and Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He is a former Deputy Managing Director of the National Port Authority of Liberia, NPA. He can be contacted at: [email protected]