The Dilemma of the Liberian youth

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William G. Nyanue

— Balancing issues of survival and of the future of a Nation

By William G. Nyanue

For the better part of two decades, several friends of mine and I have been engaged in a conversation about Liberia’s challenges.  We often widened the conversation to include the whole continent.  Why do we rank so low on the development ladder—infrastructural, educational, economic, technological, etcetera—and our people so poor despite our rich natural endowments and decades of interactions with the developed world, has been the question that we have been grappling with.

During the last four to five decades, several countries, particularly in Asia, made the successful march from dirt-poor-third-world status to the developed or developing country status.  Today, the world is celebrating what may be called the China miracle.  A third world country a few decades ago, China is today a rising superpower that is giving the West jitters and that has become most of Africa’s destination for investment and development aid.

What makes one nation succeed where so many others are failing is a complex question, but that political leadership plays a critical role cannot be in dispute.  And by leadership I do not just mean the guy at the top; I have in mind a team, that collective that conceives policies and plans and directs programs.  The Chinese philosopher Confucius taught that people are like the grass and their leaders are like the wind.  Whichever direction the wind would blow, he said, there the grass would bend.  Translation: as the people’s leaders go, so go the people!

In democracies, the question of political leadership is answered by the people; they determine through their votes who should be their leaders.  In today’s Liberia, it is what the youths say on this question that matters most since they constitute more than sixty percent of the electorates.  So, it seems to me, a serious conversation about Liberia’s challenges and future requires a civil conversation with Liberia’s youths, thus my reason for writing this piece.   I write simply to stimulate a non-partisan conversation with and amongst Liberia’s youths about how we might move our country to a better place.

By virtue of their numbers and our new democratic dispensation, Liberia’s youths practically hold the future of the country in their hands. Where they sit on our ship of state impacts its center of gravity and thus determines whether the sailing would be smooth or turbulent.  This is an enormous responsibility, even a burden!  Unfortunately, I learned from my interacting with and observing some of our young people during the last more than seven years that it is difficult for many of them to focus on this big picture—that the decisions they make on the issue of political leadership, local and national, do actually impact the future of the country.

One of the major blinders—the one thing that often prevents many from focusing on the big-picture issues—is not educated vs uneducated but rather the high level of poverty in our country.  Because so many of our people live in poverty, they are continually occupied with survival issues—money for school fees, food for today, rent for next month, etcetera — leaving little or no time to think deeply about big national issues.

Poverty is not a new phenomenon in Liberia.  I, for example, was one of the lucky few who lived on the University of Liberia’s men’s dorm on capitol hill when I was attending the university in the 1970s.  At that time, I attended the First Baptist Church of Oldest Congo Town, located on the Congo Town back road.  Many Sundays I did not have the 10-cents (20 LD) bus fare to go from the campus to church.  I also remember several colleagues who went through the university shacking with friends on the dorm because they had no stable place to live in Monrovia.

But three related things have made poverty a dangerous blinder today for so many.  The first is its sheer level; the civil war and the non-strategic management and investment of public resources since the war ended greatly increased the level of poverty in the country.  Second, the economy contracted for the same reasons, thus reducing most of the available employment opportunities to government jobs.  And third, the number of persons competing for those few government jobs has increased astronomically, making it difficult for many of the young people entering the job market today to get gainful employment.

We, the young people of my time, persevered through our poverty to get an education because we were reasonably sure of a better life after graduation.  About thirty days after receiving our engineering degrees, two friends of mine and I, for example, cashed our first salary checks at the then branch of the National Housing and Savings Bank on Bushord Island, located at the UN Drive and Caldwell Road junction.  Many of our liberal arts colleagues also quickly got employed. Today, the situation is starkly different.

So, understandably, many of the young people today have been compelled to turn to politics, the one thing that has been shown to give them a fighting chance to survive, get an education and pursue their dreams. However, this outlet, which has now become the surest path to wealth and luxury for a lucky few, requires a political patron—a political officeholder who will “push” the young person through to a government job.  That sponsorship often comes with a shackle that literally makes the patron the owner of the young person.  Where the patrons are unprincipled, the beneficiary young people are mentored/conditioned to often act against their long-term self-interest as they do their patrons’ biddings.  It must be this phenomenon that the Nobel Laurate, Oluwole Soyinka, had in mind when he said, “Only in Africa will thieves be regrouping to loot again and the youths whose future is being stolen will be celebrating it.”

In the seventies, many of the young people who followed Bacchus Matthews’ PAL and Tipoteh’s MOJA, the two main advocates for social and economic justice at the time, did so mainly on ideological grounds; they believed that they were working and sacrificing to change the Liberian society for the better; their leaders had no money to reward them with. They too were poor, but they apparently managed to look beyond their poverty to see the “better place” that their patrons advocated for.  Unfortunately, because that effort was aborted, all one can do today is to speculate whether their patrons could have brought them to this “better place.”

So, what is today’s young person to do, particularly those who truly desire to give attention to the big-picture issues—expanding the economy so as to create more employment opportunities, making sure the country’s resources are wisely  managed and deployed, improving the quality of education and healthcare, combating public corruption, etcetera?  How does a young person act today in a way that attends to his/her legitimate need to survive—get an education, pay rent, put food on the table, support a young family—and at the same time support our collective need for a country that lifts all its people?  On the one hand, the former requires the young person to be loyal to a political patron, often with little or no consideration for the requirements of the latter.  On the other hand, focusing on the latter often means losing survival support since it would mean being more attentive to issues that disqualify his/her patron for public office, such issues as qualification, competence, capability, etcetera.  The situation is made even more difficult because the young person today sees little or no evidence that focusing on the big-picture issues actually brings benefits since many of the “qualified” adults who talked this talk in the most recent past only lined their own pockets when they were given the opportunity to lead.  I concede that this is a difficult position to be in but let me share a few points that I suggest every young person consider as he/she thinks about this dilemma:

First, IT IS A FACT that the political patronage route, which we have been on now for quite some time, will only lift a lucky few out of poverty.  Any young person who doubts this needs only to look around and will see the number of people who continue to struggle without a job after investing time and energy doing their patrons’ biddings, often including badmouthing their patrons’ competitors on social media.  During the last more than seven years, I came to know many fine, smart and capable young people in the country, several blessed with quality university education, who were subsisting on the generosity of friends and family in foreign parts because either they had no patrons or their patrons could not secure for them a government job.  Others were in this helpless, dependent state because some insecure political officeholder saw them as potential competitors who needed to be suppressed.

Second, IT IS A FACT that the lucky few who the current dispensation lifts out of poverty become, as it were, islands of prosperity.  And islands of prosperity in an ocean of poverty will always be vulnerable to tidal waves of instability.  Thus, the political patronage route threatens our long-term security.

Third, IT IS A FACT that moving our country to that better place requires certain minimum qualifications, we deny this FACT at our own peril.  Unfortunately, we often limit our definition of these qualifications to holding university degrees.  As I use the word here, I have in mind more than just academic credentials, as important as these are; I am also talking about a proven track record of integrity (doing the right thing even when no one is looking), transparency, trustworthiness, fair-mindedness, empathy (putting one’s self in other people’s shoes),  hatred of public corruption, and a servant spirit.  I am not suggesting perfection, only a serious consideration for things that make for effective, accountable, and responsive leadership.

Fourth, IT IS A FACT that while it is true we do not have many adult leaders in our most recent past who exemplified the aspects of qualification alluded to above, people who possess these qualities do exist in our society; they might “bubble” to the surface if we put premium on these qualities when considering who we might support to be our leaders—local and national.

Lastly, IT IS A FACT that we will continue to linger in this wilderness of despair and wishful thinking until we realize, and act accordingly, that our redemption lies with our getting our most able to lead the effort to bring our country to a better place.

I realize that the issue of qualification for leadership is a difficult, complex one, but one upon which the future of any country rests.  The choices we make every time we are confronted with this question impact the future of the country, for better or for worse.

In today’s Liberia, the burden to get this thing right rests more heavily on the youths because of their electoral weight.  Their opting to focus on the big-picture issues may require some sacrifice in the form of possible loss of support.  But sacrificing to get our country to a better place will be well worth it, provided the choices made are based on demonstrated evidence of real qualification, as discussed earlier, and not just on sentiments.

11 COMMENTS

  1. What a rich food for thought! William, I know you very well from UL but I think you might not know me. I mean, you grasped the entire situation in our country and your solution is perfect as well. The problem is how to form this “team”. It is really, really sad.

    • William, evaluating your assumptions and hypothesis here, not only a social scientist, but any objective mind would certainly dismiss your position as inter alia, bias, deceptive, illogical, and doomed to futility.

      That is:

      (1) you display biasness, and deception, when you dare compare 1,439,323,776 people China comprising 18.47 % of the worldś population with a little Liberia which should not and can never be matched with China in terms of CAPABILITY ANALYSIS – whether economic, military, and natural resources, geography and demography, diplomacy, intelligence, power, etc. etc. YOU ALSO become illogical or unreasonable: when;

      (2) you want your audience to believe that the very aged old generation which plundered the country from 1847 to 2017 are the best of the best to move the country forward after this very ELITIST AGE OLD generation (Joseph Boakai, etc. etc, I also included) have taken this country a hundred years backward added to the extreme insensitivity towards the poor- the majority.

      Go around the world! Governments in power are generally run by the young! How old are Emmanuel Macron and his ministers in France, Most of Canadian ministers in government are far far younger. Go to Finland (PRIME MINISTER-34 YEARS OLD) and other Scandinavian countries, ages of cabinet ministers are generally under 40 years old! Many are 26, 27, 28, 29, etc.etc.

      You guys should give democracy a chance!!! WHY CHINA AND NOT ANOTHER PEER OF LIBERIA? BECAUSE HE MUST DECEIVE! POOR PROPAGANDA, NYANUE!!!

    • Monrovia June 28, 2020 – Three members of the Liberian Senate Saturday defected to the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) ahead of the December Mid Term Senatorial Elections. The senators are Henry Yallah (Bong), George Tengbeh (Lofa) and Victor Watson of Grand Capemount. CULLED FROM FrontPageAfricaOnline.

      This bandwagoning is indeed, the indicia that not even the phenomenon of the cyclicity of power(A beats B, B beats C, C beats A, and so forth) can ever prevent or stop the unstoppable force and power of the MIGHT CDC AND ITS COALITION from building Liberians a great nation!!!

      To be perfectly honest, such strategic bandwagoning is the obvious; considering the truth, fact, and reality, that THE MIGHTY CDC, AND ITS COALITION, BLESSED WITH THE ANOINTED NATIONAL HERO have long been set to remain the dominant and only truly revolutionary political following destined to lead at the pinnacle of national leadership for decades to come, as has been destined by God- Allah – THE GREATEST!!!

      Accordingly, with the already dominant power and influence of the CDC in The Peopleś Branch of Government, this bandwagoning or injestion of three senators (and as expected even more) into the CDC (out of thirty senators) is an idicia, and in fact, the factual reality that all this noise about who the appointed commissioners of the NEC should be, were mere rants from jobless and or unemployable misguided malcontents within the lawless and useless “noisy minority.”

      No wonder, President Weah, instead of taking advise from the Nobel Laureate Leemah Gbowee and others that he should appoint CDCŚ stalwarts as commissioners of the NEC, he president Weah rejected all such advise and appointed NON-CDC members to supervise elections!!!

      What A TRUE NATIONAL HERO with a democratic mindset, the philosophical and practical intelligence leading THE ONLY national party and national coalition drawing support from all groups within the society with the composition of an electorate broadly identical and similar to the composition of the general public and the whole country!!!

  2. This is a Masterpiece. Well written critical analysis of Liberia’s issue and a way forward. You hit the nail on the head.

    • So it is every single youth of William Nyanueś 60% youth vote weight casting their votes in the villages and towns throughout the whole country who are “shackled and owned by political patrons”?

      William Nyanue, whether youth or adult, people vote because they simply like or believe in this or that leader! And not because they expect anything in return!

      It is generally adults, journalists, partisans, religious and ethnic leaders, spin-doctors, fixers, pundits, pollsters, activists, etc.etc. who may be “shackled and owned by political patrons. And not the youths!

      What about the young market women, young farmers, young fishermen, young mine and agricultural workers and their families, the taxi drivers, etc. etc.? According to your reasoning, they are all owned and shackled by political patrons?

      No wonder you chose to use China as an analogy; when in terms of such TANGIBLES as geography, population and manpower, and natural resources you should not be making such an analogy or comparison viz China and Liberia.

      The same is the case with such INTANGIBLES as the political, economic, and social structure, the educational and technological level of China, its national morale, and or international strategic position on the grand chess board of geopolitics.

  3. Mr. William

    A very well written piece. My only question is this: should we hold the youth blameless for his actions?

  4. What is this writer actually saying here? Where in the world, whether within, between, or amongst, nations the phenomenon of “political patronage” is not the means to survival!?????

    In fact,extrapolating from the writerś own confession or admission, as he refers to the young people who “followed Bacchus Matthews’ PAL and Tipoteh’s MOJA,” IN THE THIRD PERSON (THEY), it is evident that at the ideological divide during that era, he William G. Nyanue paid patronage to the benefactors of the minority single party political system in Liberia.

    For of course, making possible his employment as a graduate engineer, had to be facilitated by and through a big political stalwart of the True Whig Party Government!

    THAT WAS THE WAY OUT! WE CHALLENGE ANYONE LIVING OR DEAD TO DISPUTE THIS FACT! WE ALSO CHALLENGE ANYONE LIVING OR DEAD TO DISPUTE THE FACT, THAT CORRUPTION THEN, WAS NOT EVEN MORE THAN NOW, EXCEPT THAT NOW, INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY, AND MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY BIRTHED BY THE MOJA AND PAL FACTIONS, AND THE FOLLOWINGS OF THESE PROGRESSIVES, HAVE MADE CORRUPTION EASY TO EXPOSE AT THE CLICK OF A MOUSE! SO, NYANUE YOU NEED TO HAVE A RETHINK!

    Secondly, is Mr. Nyanue pretending not to know that within the comity and community of nations, periphery nations (or small nations) MUST pay patronage to center nations (USA, Great Britain, France, China, Russia, etc.etc.) they small nations must benefit from the carrot and not suffer the stick at the decision of these regional, continental, or sphere of influence powers?

    Or is he pretending not to also know that during the cold war, we lived in a BI-POLAR WORLD competition between the Soviet communism and western capitalism, in which each of the two powers did not hesitate to pour in millions of dollars or whichever currencies to their beneficiary countries who paid patronage to them on the world stage at the UN and elsewhere?

    Mr. Nyanue, you err when you make this assertion (referring to the young people and the Moja and Pal faction (or the progressives in short) that: “Unfortunately, because that effort was aborted, all one can do today is to speculate whether their patrons could have brought them to this “better place.”

    Mr. Nyanue, the efforts of both the young people and the likes of Baccus Matthews, Togba Nah Tipoteh, Dew Mayson, Dusty Wolokolie, Conmanny Wisseh, James Fromoyan, Marcus Gbobeh, etc. etc. brought Liberia and each and every Liberian to the better place which in toto is MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY, as opposed to the one party TWP minority rule system to which you Nyanue paid your patronage as a beneficiary of such semi-apartheid system!

    So, Mr. Nyanue, fast forward, you must rescind that notion that the INHERITED economic hardship defines the capability of the young generation or the current political leaders to bring milk and honey to Liberia as it was during the hey day of the cold war, when both the capitalist and the communist blocs of geopolitics, were ever ready to economically support (through massive investments, trade, etc. etc.) smaller countries which toed the line of their respective national ideologies whether communism or capitalism!

    As a matter of fact, it was the result of the end of the cold war when the Soviet Union did not have the economic muscles to support (through investments, aid, trade, etc. etc.) those countries that paid them patronage that the gap between the poor and the rich became wider and wider, as the USA and or its capitalist bloc saw no compelling national interest of theirs to economically support (through investment, aid, trade, etc.) those countries (eg. Liberia, Kenya, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Algeria, DRC, countries in Asia, and the Arab World, etc.) which paid them patronage!

  5. “I am also talking about a proven track record of integrity (doing the right thing even when no one is looking), transparency, trustworthiness, fair-mindedness, empathy (putting one’s self in other people’s shoes), hatred of public corruption, and a servant spirit.” William G. Nyanue

    ” We have many adult leaders who exemplified the aspects of qualification alluded to above, people who possess these qualities do exist in our society; they might “bubble” to the surface if we put premium on these qualities when considering who we might support to be our leaders—local and national.” William G. Nyanue

    William Nyanue, point out just one country within ECOWAS, on the continent of Africa, the Arab World, Asia, within the very China, or in fact the whole world where you can manufacture such “adult leaders”; since of course, you cannot find any such “adult leaders”.

    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Winston Tubman who because according to you inferior and selfish and elitist mindsets, such “adult leaders” are from CWA and Harvard?

    Or is it Benoni Urey who is the most notorious thief in Africa? Or Alex Cummings who together with Joseph Boakai and Benoni Urey are promising their supporters every single job in government?

    Or is it Is it your “adult leader” Joseph Nyumah Boakai who you Nyanue voted for, though you knew that he had ghost names on his payroll as VP, and fake companies in contract with government with those fake companies financing his campaign?,

    My friend, the best and most appropriate thing well meaning Liberians (whether adult or young) should do is realize that after you so called “adult leaders” have damaged this country, restoring its ante-1990 or 1950 to 1970´ booming economy is A PROCESS AND NOT AN EVENT!

  6. So-called True Nationalist, you are some of what is wrong with Liberia. What is your problem with Mr Nyanue’s article. Please read very well and stop ranting.

    This man is not being biased against anybody nor is he siding with anybody or political party. He is lamenting the many, many problems our country and mainly many of our young and bright people face today: Hunger, unemployment and worst of all hopelessness. And Mr Nyanue is advising that the young people who as you agree, are the custodians of the present and the future, should take courage, not despair but strive to do better.

    My Nyanue is challenging the “doer instinct” in the youth, even those in government right now or who hold any responsible position in their community, to do their level best to want to see their country improve. It’s not late. But I understand your argument to mean that all is well; and you know all is not well. It’s like as I literally hear some young Liberias say; “ You give me chance, I’ll do the same. It’s the people pa lo tan to ee”. I just hope you are old like me; because you have a very negative mind set.

  7. Mr. Nyanue,

    Receive my heartfelt greetings and highest esteem. You are an oasis in the Liberian desert. I wish my country Liberia could have 20 people like you lecturing at our highest institution of learning (UL), or consulted regularly to define our policies and channel our development plans.

    Sir, show your head above the waters, Liberia needs you dearly! Your intellect is rare and unmatched, your understanding abounds richly, and your knowledge enlighten true patriots.
    Our country Liberia is left vulnerable without brains like you. We are at the crossroads; we need the best of our intellectuals. Liberia is bleeding, help it heal!

    The youth in Liberia now has no likes on planet earth: its understanding of the sacred book, the Bible, is scaring; its comprehension of education brings tears to the eyes; its conception of politics is iniquitous from the rest of the world; its interpretation of leadership is grim; and its perception of morality and probity bring bewilderment to sanity.

    You the graduates of the 70s, 80s and 90s with probity need to rise to the challenge lest our country Liberia be doomed!
    Sir don’t sit there and do nothing to see government put policies in place to graduate a student who make a pass in just 1 subject at the WAEC, now WASCE.

    May God forgive Liberia for all sins committed by past and present generations!

  8. T.G. if you did not have extreme limitations when it comes to analyzing, deciphering, or comprehending, what are written or uttered, you would have long known that all Nyanue is ranting is that the decadent, corrupt, wicked, and selfish, rotten OLD GENERATION (of which he Nyanue, corrupt Boakai, roguish Urey, and I are a part) should be the group voted to power after the very OLD GENERATION has taken our country a hundred years back, carried out their massive killing of the innocent, and destroyed the country.

    When Nyanue was a young man in high school and at the university, he supported and bowed to the rotten and semi-apartheid TWP tyranny, because he Nyanue was a beneficiary of such a wicked tyranny. During such times, Nyanue had his hey day because of his political patronage to the wicked TWP tyranny of the OLD GENERATION which ruined the country in their ELITIST CONVICTION.

    Today, a progressive young generation is in charge (having inherited a deteriorated economy from the OLD GENERATION) and old Nyanue is on pension or on his way to retirement, he wants to reverse the democratic will and choice of the MASSES! But he is dreaming. After President Weahś twelve years, Liberia will give the next twelve years to the very young progressive young generation proper.

    So, go and tell him Nyanue and old and ugly Joseph Boakai that one true nationalist say: any wish or thought that the OLD GENERATION (corrupt Bokai etc) will ever sit at the round table of the NATIONAL CAKE is a MIRAGE!

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