Liberia is indeed in a predicament as Professor Amos Sawyer rightfully pointed out in his recent interview with the Daily Observer. And this predicament, according to him, is that “there were some freed people who wanted to live a free life and enjoy their freedom. But, they were caught in the trap of not being fully integrated into the civilizations on the ground and not being fully supported by the people who transported them over here. That worsened the predicament and this is why our society is what it is today”.
His insightful analysis comes amidst feverish preparations by the Government of Liberia to celebrate the landing in 1821, on the shores of what was to become Liberia, of the first settlers from the United States of America.
There have been a number of accounts suggesting that those who landed here in 1821 were forcibly repatriated to Liberia following manumission. Many of them were illiterates and the only life they had known prior to their repatriation was one of servitude. There were others however, who were freedmen prior to their repatriation, suggesting that theirs was a conscious decision to repatriate.
It was this mix of freedmen and manumitted former slaves that had to confront the realities of an environment far different than what they had known. Along that was the challenge of forming partnerships and relationships with those they met upon arrival. In a sense, it was a clash of civilizations, western values and governance systems vs traditional values and governance systems.
Be it as it was, slowly the idea of a state run entirely by black people began to form. On July 26, 1847, twenty-six (26) years later, they proclaimed themselves as an independent nation, the first black republic on the African continent.
There is no evidence anywhere to show that the founders of this nation had a longing or desire to have Liberia incorporated as a state of the United States of America. In view of this, suggestions by Finance Minister Samuel Tweah that Liberia is to become the 51st state of America is indeed anathematic to the raison d’etre of Liberia’s founding as an independent nation.
Although Liberia was never formally colonized, it is safe to say that the country was indeed a colony of a private organization, the American Colonization Society (ACS) in the United States of America, whose membership included a number of leading Americans. During the period between 1821-1847, the repatriates were governed by an agent of the American Colonization Society.
At independence, a constitution, said to be written by American Professor Simon Greenleaf but patterned after that of the United States of America, was adopted. The country’s flag was also patterned after that of the United States and bears a very close resemblance to the US Stars and Stripes.
A narrative woven around these facts has been used by critics to claim that the founders of the Republic were incapable of writing their own constitution, let alone creating their own narrative, telling their own story.
However, in the preamble to the Greenleaf constitution, the founders of Liberia told their story, making it plain and clear to the world why they founded the nation to be known as Liberia and subsequently declared its independence just a quarter of a century later.
“We the people of the Republic of Liberia were originally the inhabitants of the United States of North America.
In some parts of that country, we were debarred by law from all the rights and privileges of men -- in other parts, public sentiment, more powerful than law, frowned us down.
We were everywhere shut out from all civil office.
We were excluded from all participation in the government.
We were taxed without our consent.
We were compelled to contribute to the resources of a country, which gave us no Protection.
We were made a separate and distinct class, and against us every avenue to improvement was effectually closed.
Strangers from all lands of a color different from ours were preferred before us.
We uttered our complaints, but they were unattended to, or only met by alleging the peculiar institutions of the country.
All hope of a favorable change in our country was thus wholly extinguished in our bosoms, and we looked with anxiety abroad for some asylum from the deep degradation...”.
Liberia has since come a long way, making halting progress at times but yet taking several steps backward. In many ways it appears that Liberians, especially our past and present national leaderships, have lost the independent spirit of the founding fathers and have instead developed a dependency mentality.
What, for example, can explain the sad fact that successive Liberian governments have consistently relied heavily on donor funding to finance its budget? Gradually, it appears, we are losing our self-confidence as a nation, preferring to look outside rather than inside for solutions to our problems.
Even the sense of what it takes to be a Liberian including the attributes of citizenship, meaning rights, duties and responsibilities and, correspondingly, the rights, duties, responsibilities and obligations of government appear lacking. Civics was once taught as a separate subject in Liberian schools, although the curriculum had some shortcomings.
It is no longer being taught in Liberian schools, probably due to the lack of an updated curriculum and relevant textbooks to guide its teaching. This suggested a critical need for appropriate intervention. Thanks to the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Education and a special thanks to President George Weah for rising to the occasion. The Weah government has, according to informed sources, supported efforts by former UL Professor Amos Sawyer to produce grade specific civic textbooks for Liberian elementary, Jr and Sr. high schools.
According to Professor Sawyer, the textbooks also include provisions on conflict and conflict resolution, democracy and elections, as well as contemporary issues and potential challenges to our future march as a progressive nation. Indeed, the days of having foreigners design and publish civics textbooks for Liberian schools are over. The Daily Observer is proud to associate with such a noble undertaking.
For years, its publisher, and revered icon of journalism in Liberia, Kenneth Yarkpawolo Best, has been urging Liberians to do just that -- to tell their own story. The Civics texts will certainly go a long way in telling Liberia’s story.As we wish you a speedy and successful recovery, we, at the Daily Observer and on behalf of all Liberians, also say thank you Professor Sawyer for this noble endeavor.