Written by: Stephen B. Lavalah
For far too long, the government and people of the Republic of Liberia have celebrated Independence Day in different forms and manners. From time immemorial, it has become a tradition and norm for the government to showcase a fancy and expensive Independence Day celebration.
Millions of Liberian dollars from high-earned taxpayers’ resources are expended on various programs designed to befit the day each year ever since Independence. Conversely, the government dedicates projects that are mostly funded through foreign aids or loans. However, a large portion of the amount allocated is spent on ensuring that presidents of other nations and high-profile dignitaries are being invited to grace the occasion. Bustling street corners, intersections, and boulevards are decorated with the Liberian flag and the flag of every political sub-division. Intercessory prayers are conducted for the nation in two of the world’s most populous religions—Christianity and Islam. There is an honoring program for some Liberians and other nationals who have demonstrated great deals of service to humanity.
Well-attired men and women of the Armed Forces of Liberia and other national security institutions parade the streets. One of the country’s best and brightest citizens is selected from a pool of inspirational speakers to serve as a national orator. Extravagant banquets are staged and grand receptions hosted. Musical, cultural and sporting extravaganzas are organized to venerate the day.
Besides, Liberians from all walks of life also celebrate Independence Day in grand style. Liberians usually love to cook their favorite dishes, consumed their preferred alcoholic beverages, travel from one point to another in the country, and participate in various recreational activities and other initiatives of interest. Nevertheless, some Liberians hold to the firm belief that there is nothing to celebrate while others are convinced that Liberia’s Independence was premature. Many Liberians still think that if Liberia was colonized, the country could have become better than what it is now.
Howbeit, Liberia gained its Independence over a century and seven decades ago, therefore it is somewhat difficult to directly connect with struggle, tussle, and hustle of the founding fathers. To make matter worse, Liberia history is inundated with lots of historical myths that make it even more complicated and complex to appreciate the high-earned freedom our forebearers fought for. But one thing for sure is—freedom and sovereignty are integral ingredients every country needs to transform from poverty to prosperity. Accordingly, after over 170 years of existence as a country, the question before this generation of young Liberians and those yet unborn is: What it means for a country to gain independence and becomes a sovereign nation?
Reflecting on Independence Day
As a country that has tasted the bitter swill of bloodshed and civil conflict, Independence Day should and must be more than the picturesque decorations, the extravagant banquets, the divine intercessory prayers, the fabulous honoring ceremonies, and grandiloquent speeches. It is beyond the dedication of foreign aid-funded projects or the musical, cultural and sporting extravaganzas. It is above the parade of military and paramilitary personnel who carry the National Flag on their right arms. And, it exceeds the huge budget apportioned to commemorate the Independence Anniversary.
Furthermore, Independence Day should and must not be only the usual rhetorical utterances and cosmetic fanfares. It must contain a great meaning with a deep sense of loyalty, peace, love and the eagerness to make Liberia the best nation on Earth. This is not an exaggeration or an illusion. It is definitely achievable if we begin to start thinking clearly for the common good of all putting away petite jealousy, recrimination and blame shaping mentality.
Liberia’s Independence Day demonstrates the country’s ability to defeat its adversaries with a sense of common purpose in spite of all the odds. This day should remind us that we have the power to change our destiny and right the wrongs of a brutal and bitter past. Instead of concentrating on elaborate programs, the government should endeavor to empower young people to undertake voluntary initiatives in their communities from cleaning up a stockpile of garbage to engaging into agriculture, to participating in science fairs, to conducting reading programs, and partaking in environmental restoration.
Taxpayers’ resources expended on celebrating Independence Day should be used to build more bridges that connect towns, construct more houses that shelter people, erect more clinics that provide healthcare services and create more schools that educate people. It should also be utilized to formulate more factories that foster job creation, engage in commercial farming activities that feed the already hungry people, craft more research institutions that project a clear roadmap for the country’s future, and ensure the provision of water, electricity, and transportation.
For a country where over half of the population is under 30, there is a need to stop expending the country’s limited resources on the national events to commemorate Independence Day and support young people climb the ladder to success. As Africa’s oldest republic, Liberia cannot afford to leave any segments of its population behind most especially, the younger generation.
In this 21st Century, when other nations are designing and implementing innovative programs to help their youth succeed, Liberia cannot be branding its vulnerable and marginalized youth as “Zogos”. When the majority of the youth are motorcyclists, tricyclists, wheelbarrow boys, shoeshine boys, car loaders, and drug addicts with limited education and vocational skills and no hope for a better and prosperous future, Liberia’s leaders and policymakers must rethink and initiate programs that directly address the many youth-related issues. Without educated and skilled youth, Liberia’s future is doomed and conflicted. Hence, the government needs to redirect and restratagize the celebrations of Independence Day.
On the other hand, some Liberians believe that there is no need to celebrate Liberia’s Independence Day; when civil servants who keep the wheel of government turning cannot get their justifiable pay on time. When diligent and gallant men and women in uniform do not obtain their manageable salary and accompany benefits on time. They proffered that prices of everything on the market have skyrocketed, and profits margins have become extremely low due to high import taxes, exchange rate, and other factors. They emphasized that the country’s education system is below acceptable standards and its healthcare has failed too many. And, they echoed that many of their countrymen and countrywomen go to bed hungry without any hope to get a meal the next day. Obviously, these are indisputable and unarguable facts.
For the most part, what is even more welcoming and amazing is the government willingness to listen, dialogue, and hear the cry of her citizens. Therefore, the people are still hopeful in the government, and they are desperately and patiently awaiting “Hope for Change” and the actualization of the “Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development”. Nonetheless, the people must take appropriate actions and initiatives to help themselves out of poverty first instead of relying and waiting on the government for everything.
The government cannot continue to clean stockpile of garbage constantly being dumped by citizens on the newly paved roads, in marketplaces, around street corners and community alleys. The government does not have the resources to continuously renovate and build new police stations and magisterial courts when citizens will persistently choose to take the law into hands, and burn down police stations and courts. The government would not be able to provide an enabling environment to create the much-needed jobs when citizens routinely vandalize properties of concessionaires under the canopy of protest.
Rethinking Independence Day
Make no mistake; no country in the world can succeed without the active participation of its citizens. Unless every Liberian demonstrates patriotism and nationalism in taking action to solve some of the most pressing issues in the country nothing will change. Throughout the ages, it has been the very citizens in all the world’s most powerful and wealthiest nations that have initiated changes. In the wisdom of President Barrack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the one we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.
We must change the way we do things from reliance, dependency syndrome, handout and begging mentality, and begin to work very hard with our hands and innovate with our minds. It is our time to do away with the usual tussle and hustle for political jobs and employment in the public sector and fighting over the small jobs in the private sector which in most cases are short-term, because of the massive redundancy strategy. We need to become the maker of our things, author of our history, producer of our stable food, and creator of our destiny.
We cannot just be end-users and final consumers of various commodities most especially our stable food. Take a moment and ask: Why farmers in India, Pakistan, Japan, China, and other populated countries should produce abundant food to feed themselves, and then supply us with rice amidst our rich soil and climatic condition rated favorably to agriculture? One can only ponder for possible answers. We must begin to engage in mechanized farming of rice and other edible crops. The government and the people themselves must provide the enabling environment and opportunity, where the people can be mobilized and motivated to become agriculturalists with different specializations and conviction of competing with and exceeding other nations in term of food production. This is our time to reorganize, rethink, reinvigorate and reclaim our future to become one full of opportunities and successes.
The change we seek would not come on a silver platter or within a relatively short span of time or extreme dependence on aid or blame shaping mentality, but rather it must come from ourselves as people united in the truest sense of patriotism, discipline, and hard work. As articulated by Nelson Mandela, “There is no easy walk to Freedom”. The road may be rocky or muddy or rickety, however, we should never lose focus and give up along the way. We should continue our journey to prosperity, lifting each other, helping each other, and standing up for each other.
The tendency of blame shifting for Liberia’s misfortune must be eradicated and a rebirth of a new paradigm shift introduced. It is about time that Liberians begin to avoid the propensity of eulogizing individuals whose actions and supports contributed to the prolonged civil war, as well as those who embezzle the nation’s much-needed revenue. The era of praise-singing for people that steal public resources, commit atrocities and make use of unlawful wealth to swindle the common people under the disguise of being self-proclaimed humanitarians is over. Liberia has got to change and cannot continue to trend on the same path of hailing former warlords, belligerent citizens, and corrupt officials just because of pseudo developmental initiatives or somewhat benevolent assistance. After all, if the nation’s resources were equitably distributed for the common good of all, no one would strive to entreat the few that are wealthy.
Liberians have got to embrace an attitude of strategic thinking and do away with perpetually criticizing everything without any alternatives, badmouthing campaign for little or nothing and singing everlasting praises to the powers that be. While Liberians are quite busy with all sorts of trivial issues, the foreigners are making use of every single opportunity to enrich themselves at the detriment of the already poverty-stricken Liberians. The foreigners see the opportunities in the midst of the crises and Liberians only envision the dangers. Throughout the country, legal and illegal immigrants are in all sectors especially dominating the private sector.
The economic power of our country is now in the hands of the Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, Pakistanis, Syrians, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Guineans and Malians among other nationals. Since our organic law prohibits foreigners who are not Negro from being citizens and owning land, these foreigners have swiftly learned to acquire real estate property through long-term lease agreements or marriage or allow other Liberians to front for them. From the largest commercial district of Red-light Market, to the budding Tubman Boulevard, and in the heart of our nation’s capital, new buildings are being constructed by these foreigners while we sit and wait for the next election to obtain political power and engage into negativism against our own country under the canopy of flexing intellectual muscles and political campaigns.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with foreigners doing business in Liberia, but Liberians need to get involved in business and entrepreneurship in order to create more jobs and compete with the foreigners. If we are not careful and continue to trend on the path as usual, in the next ten to twenty years, our political power too will be in the hands of foreigners, because one who has economic power in any country controls the politics and determines who becomes what in the government and even influence laws, policies and regulations. So, we need to work overtime to catch-up and even surpass the foreigners in every aspect of business. We need to exhibit a high degree of trustworthiness and believe in ourselves. It is up to us to change our mentality and adopt a new approach to foster economic growth and venture into different businesses to change the future of Liberia.
We will also need to fix the problem in the education system and turn it from mess to best not just in words, but through a revolutionary and aggressive overhaul of the system and it should not be about perpetual criticism or blame shaping or continuous excuses.
Instead of wining and dining every Independence Day, the must utilize a portion of the national revenue to investing in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education. Investment in STEAM education will create jobs, lift people out of poverty, develop the middle, and give “Power to the People”.
Now is the time to ensure accessible, affordable, effective, efficient, and state-of-the-art education for all irrespective of creed, status, gender, and affiliation. With education for all, young minds will be developed to build new roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals across the country. Education for all will ensure the construction of factories to produce goods with the inscription “Made in Liberia”; on top of those basic infrastructural facilities to better the standards of living and improve clean energy and provide safe drinking water. Furthermore, education for all will fill the knowledge gap through the development of human resource capacity of young people thereby yielding more medical practitioners, engineers, business tycoons, entrepreneurs, lawyers, social workers, educationalists, scientists, and other specialists to tackle the difficulties now and future challenges that lie ahead. Investment in the development of human resource capacity within the public sector will decrease the government’s expenditure on consultancy and provide employment opportunities that boost the economy.
All this we can do; if Independence Day is replaced with a day of Community Service as Tanzania did in 2015 to grip the Cholera epidemic. The money being spent on every Independence Day celebrations could go directly to helping young people become better and prosperous, as well as active and educated citizens capable of lending their voices and talents to transform the country. Our leaders and policymakers should not be merrymaking while a large portion of citizens is suffering and hustling. We the people deserve better and it is opted to our decision-makers and policymakers to listen and hear our cry.
The time has come for every Liberian to set their sight higher and begin to think about solving our problems and not just talking about them. It is time for us to begin to teach every man, woman, and child about the importance of Independence Day. It is time for us to put aside petty jealousy, partisanship, corruption, greed for power and quest for wealth and change the future of our country. And, it is time for us to teach the younger generation about what it means for a country to gain independence and becomes sovereign. Together, we can ensure that no one is left behind in achieving their full potential and measures of happiness.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent YES.