By David K. Dahn
Intellectual Point of Departure
A junior colleague of mine thought to gauge my view on the June 7, 2019 protest coordinated by the Council of Patriots (CoP). He asked me very respectfully: “Chief what do you make of the just ended protest? I knew he was dragging me into a long haul of discussion but as usual I would whet his appetite by my libertarian thoughts. So I said to him let me throw a double dose of shots here — first at the CoP and then at the Government of Liberia. On the CoP’s narrative, I said the organization (CoP) missed out on a glorious media opportunity. When the entire world’s cameras, microphones and pens were turned to them, they should have seized the moment to uninterruptedly speak to the world with all the eloquence at their command. By that, they would have laid bare their demands at the foot of the Liberian government. In my humble opinion, the sacredness of the gathering was what the world was to hear from the CoP ad verbatim, and not who really receives the petition. However, did the protest send a caveat out to any reasonable creature? Of course yes, I think!
Second, turning to the Liberian government, I thought the government should be commended for creating the enabling environment from the historical period of mobilization of the protest to its implementation conclusively. This is the fiduciary responsibility of the government which, again in my opinion was fulfilled. However in my opinion the unraveling of a huge physical security presence around Monrovia an its immediate environs inadvertently contributed to the success of shutting down businesses and schools. You ask me how? There is an axiom that “that which protects also terrorizes.” Two things are at play here subject to debate, however. Firstly, it can be rationalized by organizers of the protest that some businesses and schools were closed against Government’s assurance because they stood in solidarity with them. Arguably that may not be the case but it is a subject of reasoning. Secondly, some businesses and schools may have had no intent to support the protest but remained closed because of fear of unusual security presence. So the axiom of “that which protects also terrorizes” holds true in this instant case. But we can further intellectualize this.
Again my junior colleague threw in another stimulant for discussion by asking “What do you make of the President Weah’s call for a national dialogue”? I jumped on it by saying “I haven’t heard or read the full text of the President’s message but I have no doubt in the sincerity of the President’s call and it is, again, in my opinion a realization that something is not just going right and all ‘hands are now needed on deck.’ But how?
The premise of this article is steeled in searching for the ‘how’ that brings me to this article “Now That We Changed the Guard; How Do we Guide the Change?”
It is incontestable that the current administration has the popular mandate of the Liberian people as far as the 2017 presidential election results are concerned. With no intent to burden you with obvious history, the Unity Party lost because, in the view of the electorate, there was need to change the “Guard” who then steered the affairs of the state. The “guard” here could be elevated to the ruling establishment or the President.
I may not be privileged to the “National Dialogue” as has been proposed by the President and so may I humbly proffer ways by which I think we can guide this ‘popular change’ that Liberians have to endure for the constitutional period of six years. In a quote spuriously attributed to Thomas Jefferson, it says “When the government fears the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny.” In order to guide this popular change, the government should lend listening ears to the people. And an attempt to compel the populace to into cowardice of submission by the ruling establishment may suggest that an omen of tyranny is beginning to unveil its cruel face. And if only a ruling establishment will reflect on why the opponents lost to it, it will be reminded constantly that all free government is constituted by the people. So who should be feared — the people or the government?
One way we can guide our ‘popular change’ is grounded in the words of the Human Rights Lawyer and President of the Liberian National Bar Association, Cllr. Tiawon Saye Gongloe. He insists that “public officials should demonstrate consistency by matching what they say with what they do.” And I join him as a ‘lover of the state and not the wrong characterization as an enemy of the state’ that status in society carries with it a code of conduct. Concerns such as these should not be suppressed under the wings of pride. So we can guide this change by how public officials conduct themselves in the public domain and in the discharge of the responsibilities to which they have been empowered.
It crossed my mind that in order to ‘guide the change’, public officials have to tame their appetite from instant to delayed personal gratification so that their actions may become gloriously exciteful and not inadvertently inflammatory in the face of stringent economic realities. An anonymous Ghanaian journalist writes “when the poor gets hungry and finally left with nothing to eat, they may end up eating the politicians.”
Insightfully, I hold to the view that we all can guide this ‘popular change’ if only those entrusted with state craft will humbly admit that things are not all rosy and seek a consultative solution through public opinions. I am tempted in this case to plead with all Liberians, but more profoundly the intellectual gentry, that “the enlightened must return to the cave to assist those still imprisoned in the darkness of illusion and shadow.” (-Socrates)
I hold dear to my heart that the need to guide our ‘popular change’ carries in its wavelength the realization that “respect for the rule of law” remains the pillar upon which any change can be fortified. Bluntly stated, the opposite of respect for rule of law is a chaotic and brutish community of people. It is by gingerly upholding the rule of law that the governors and the governed and, in human rights terms, both the duty bearers and the rights holders, can have their actions guided. The freedom of any individual under a functional democracy must never come under attack by any powerful force outside the remit of the law. Henri-Benjamin Constant writes “Freedom is an organic phenomenon: to attack it in any particular way is to attack it generally.”
Whether it involves crossing the double barreled lines in the traffic to offering a preferential treatment not guaranteed by law, all citizens must submit, not some of the time but all of the time to the guiding ray of the law. From a readable material I mulled through concerning “Baha’i Teaching”, humanity is reminded that “Discord and injustice occur when we allow ourselves to become fragmented in such a way that we are in a condition of internal warfare or turmoil.”
Finally, in guiding the popular Liberian change, I come to realize that a leader’s (whether president, minister, commissioner, director general, etc) ears and eyes should be beyond his/her immediate economic, political, cultural and social environment. Reach out and observe — hear and see for yourself. Those in your immediate reach, with whom you are fraternizing, by all human standards will tell you ‘glamorous lies’ and not the ‘corrective truth’. The simple reason is that they need your perpetual economic and political protection. So they tell what you ‘like to hear and not what you really need to hear.’ Those who fake leaders are the real enemies of both the leader and the state, not the opponents who say exactly what is being wrongfully done so that an amend can be made. To guide the change, I challenge our leaders to go into their personal “Garden of Gethsemane” (as a Christian I think that should be a place of personal reflection) at this critical time in our national life and ask oneself: What is it that I am hearing? It is all right out there? Am I secure physically with my people or do I fear them and why? What will be my personal life, my son’s or daughter’s life beyond public service? Are you concerned about ‘reputation risk’ now and in the future?
I remain a nationalist who rejects the view that the ‘mug of sadness or suffering’ has now reached an absorptive capacity in Liberia to the extent that adversity has closed in at the frontiers of our 43,000 square miles of territory. Hopefully this popular change can be guided through a full flowering of patriotic consciousness on the part of our ‘national managers.’