By Siddiq Konneh
A nation with a weak judiciary, an inactive and uninformed citizenry is an unstable nation. An informed citizenry and a strong judiciary are two catalysts for sustainable growth and development in any modern nation. For democracy to flourish and for government to be held accountable, citizens must take initiatives and be active participants in every aspect of governance; they must learn those basic democratic principles that are necessary for their survival and the growth of their nation. We must go further by demanding that our leaders also adhere to these democratic principles. Informed citizenry will ensure that before one is put in a leadership position, he/she is adequately prepared and suited to lead them. They will also choose leaders who will have respect for an independent, strong and vibrant judiciary. As brilliantly put by President Andrew Jackson, who says: “All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous Judiciary”. We can have all the best laws in the world, but if we do not have an impartial judiciary, they will not serve any purpose for the ordinary citizens.
These two, informed citizenry and a strong judiciary, must work in sync for any nation to develop and achieve its full potential. Liberia as a nation has never been fortunate to have these two catalysts for sustainable growth and development working in sync, at any point in its 171-year history. We seem to have an abundant of callous leaders with no vision for the country and its people, and an inactive citizenry that gravitates towards these ineffective leaders. A nation is as good as its citizens, everything must center on the furtherance of life, liberty, and social and economic upward mobility of its citizens. According to Adlai E. Stevenson, “…citizens of this democracy, you are the rulers and the ruled, the law-givers and the law-abiding, the beginning and the end”. There will be no nation without people, and as people we must be informed enough to know that we are in charge of our democracy and we decide who leads us. We must also demand that those who lead us be informed, because they are ordinary citizens like ourselves before they are chosen. It is a disservice to self and country not to seek the best to lead you.
As free citizens under the right circumstances, we decide who leads us, who represents our collective interest and values in and outside of Liberia. When it comes to political participations in Liberia, our choices in leadership are hardly based on tangible leadership qualities; they are often based on short-lived inducements like- few bags of rice and a little cash, tribal and religious affiliations. Aligning with individuals with similar tribal and religious background is not a crime, but when such alignment undermines our ability to appreciate those qualities that a good leader must have, then it becomes a societal issue. We have institutionalized our tribal and religious identities into political parties in Liberia; it has created over-zealous sycophants and cult-like institutions and figureheads. Sometimes out of sheer ignorance, we follow individuals who are not prepared enough to become leaders. These choices have prolonged negative consequences that do not end with us; they trickle down to generations yet to come.
One can argue that being an informed and active citizen is part of our civic duties and responsibilities. An informed citizenry sets standards for its leaders, understands the roles of its leaders and how their actions can either positively or negatively impact the lives of every citizen. In countries where citizens are cognizant of their rights and the responsibilities of their leaders, there is peace, stability and development; there is unity and respect for the rule of law. They often keep their leaders in check and hold them accountable. For so long our nation has been led by men and women with selfish agenda; they take advantage of the gullibility of the electorates most of whom are driven by ethnic and religious sentiments, instead of substantive issues that are vital for nation building. That’s why it is important that the few good people don’t sit and let others dictate their affairs. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, he writes: -“As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State “What does it matter to me?” the State may be given up for lost”. And like my mentor Shaykh Mohammed Ayoud Dukuly always tells me, “When the qualified are not available, the unqualified become the available”. We must stand up and add our voices to others in calling for an end to the devaluation of our identity and nation.
We hardly critically engage people who come to us to be our leaders, we don’t ask them hard questions, their views about governance, rule of law and nation building; we do not examine their values and moral uprightness, and past accounts. We cannot move forward and secure a better future for our children if we are bent on electing spineless and clueless individuals to lead us. Thomas Jefferson once said, “An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy”. Nations are built by conscious citizens who are informed and able to identify those prepared individuals from amongst themselves to lead them. If we respect and value ourselves, we must select people who will respect and value us. We have to be willing to change our attitudes in order to change our condition. An alien will not come to our aid; we must petition our leaders to govern us justly and with respect.
We’ve all heard the saying that goes,” Rome wasn’t built in one day”. Sure, no nation can be built in a day, but neither it is built by unconscionable criminals nor bastardized advocates. Liberia has been around for some 171 years and we are one of the least developed nations in the world. Even though, we have the natural resources that can bring sustainable growth and development to us, but we have never been able to transform our lives and live in peace and harmony. One may ask why? The answer is simple: we have refused to be informed and active citizens; we have surrendered our rights to hold to account our leaders, we have relegated good governance and equal opportunities in exchange for instant gratifications and satisfying our few momentary urges. That’s how low we’ve allowed ourselves to stoop. In the long run, these actions ferment public discontents and agitations against leadership; they cause conflicts and civil upheavals.
Citizens of all great nations go to great length to fully learn and understand the responsibilities of their leaders to them, and they are active participants in the governing process. They petition only individuals who will deliver the most dividends. For them, choosing an effective leader does not begin and end due to similarities in ethnic and religious values, it goes beyond those boundaries. They take honesty, integrity, wisdom and past interactions into account when choosing their leaders. That’s why their leaders deliver on their promises. When these leaders are vetted, it is done not just to offer few jobs to their loyalists but to actually bring social and economic transformations to everybody. The advocacy of a good leader doesn’t begin or stop when they are given the mantle of authority. It is a vocation for them.
We all must stand up and engage those of our compatriots who are not informed to be cognizant and actively participate in their governance, because they have the means to change their social and economic condition by being informed and through participation. If you can contribute by writing one sentence or speaking a word, do it. If our actions convince an individual to become an informed and active citizen, I think, that can be counted as a success.