Matching “The First” With Concrete Actions

By Atty. Philip N. Wesseh

One of the stories that caught my attention in the past few days from Liberia was the one from the Executive Mansion about the President’s trip to Europe to attend the summit of the G8 Summit. In that press release, it said that this was the first time Liberia has been included among African leaders. The lead (first paragraph) of that press release issued on Sunday, June 16, said, ”President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has departed the country to participate, at the invitation of British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a luncheon meeting of the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland – the first time that Liberia has been included among African leaders invited to the Summit of the world’s leading economies where the Liberian leader will join three other African leaders invited to the Summit: the Chairman of the African Union, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn; the President of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana  Dlamini Zuma; and President Macky Sall of Senegal.”

Furthermore, the release said this year’s G8 Summit took place at the Lough Erne Golf Resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, from June 17-18, has as its theme: “Taxes, Trade and Transparency.” President Sirleaf was invited to speak on Transparency And Trade. It added that the gathering of the Group of Eight (G8) will be the 39th meeting in a series which began in 1976. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland hosted Summits at London (1977, 1984, and 1991) and Birmingham (1988) in England, while the 2005 Summit was held at Gleneagles, in Scotland. The G8 and the Summit are part of a consultation process intended to resolve differences among members. Its core members are the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the European Commission and the European Council.

Frankly, those who wrote the press release did mention “first” intentionally as a public relations piece for the government, especially the President for being invited and selected to speak. Indeed, they are right and very smart. This is good public relations in that this was the first time, according to the release. Liberia has been invited to such gathering. For me, I am not surprised from the angle the story was taken as the issue of ‘first’ makes the story fit in one of  the criteria for news reporting, which is ‘unusualness. Because this was the first time, this is news worthy, and therefore, the angle was the most appropriate one. Kudos to the team-press secretary, Mr. Jerolinmek Piah, and his assistants, J. Wesley Washington, Christopher Sslee and others at the Executive Mansion for such good public relations, and also for highlighting this for public knowledge. But this is not the crux for this piece of article on the issue of ‘FIRST’.

In the Liberian society, many times we speak of always being the first in many situations. We vaingloriously brag about this whenever there are discussions in some places. But have we asked ourselves as to whether we have been able to match these praises of always being the first with concrete actions for the development and growth of the country? Rightly, we always say that our country is the first black independent country on the African continent; we are always proud to say that we produced the first female President of the United Nations General Assembly, Madam Angie Brooks Randolph; additionally, we rightly boast that we produced the first African as the world’s best footballer, George Weah and can say rightly so, that we have produced the first female President in Africa. Moreover, we can boast of being a country endowed with enormous natural resources. Also, we can now say that for the first time, a Liberian President has been invited to attend the G8 Summit. These are not fabrications, but facts. Notwithstanding, the issue or question that comes about is whether we have done those things to live up to the issue of first that others will follow.

Considering the age of Liberia and where the country is today, as the first independent African country, what can we really boast of as our achievements? What can we show to indicate the long years of existence? Incontestably, newly independent countries are far ahead of Liberia in terms of growth and development. Unimaginably, despite the enormous natural resources of the country, we are still living in abject poverty because of bad governance and lack of national development blueprint. The disposable income, sometimes referred to as the “take- home-pay” cannot even take the people home. After more than 160 years, many parts of the country remain isolated and inaccessible because of lack of roads. Many of the people still feel marginalized because they feel that they are not benefiting from the many resources of the country.

Because of the lack of health facilities, simple illnesses are taking the lives of people, while in other areas; sick people have to walk for hours to seek medical treatment. In some cases, according to reports, some of them die before reaching such point for treatment. In the next few days, the University of Liberia will be administering its entrance and replacement examinations to thousands of candidates, desirous of acquiring higher education, but the institution may not cope with the number of persons desirous of entering. This is another serious problem because of the lack of educational facilities to accommodate the number of persons seeking higher education. Thank God that we have realized the need for community colleges in parts of the country. But this is not the solution to the number of persons seeking higher education as those leaving those institutions still require more higher education. Plans should be afoot to deal with those leaving these community colleges.

Regarding football, as stated earlier, we produced the first African as the world’s best footballer. But how far have we gone with our sporting programs, despite the many talents in the country? To date, there is no plan for the various games. We are only involved in haphazard programs whenever there is an international match. Our local soccer league is discouraging. By now, we should not only be talking about producing the best footballer in the world at some point, but also boasting about better sporting programs. But thank God that Lenn Eugene Nagbe, a lover of the game, is now in the driver’s seat. We are watching and waiting to see.

Yes, it is good to beat our chests to proudly speak of Liberia being the first in certain things in life but equally so, we as a nation and people should be able to match the issue of first with actions to put us ahead of others. We should not continue to be lagging behind. National polices should be geared towards taking the people from mat to mattress, and moving the country from backwaters to prosperity. As leaders, we should see ourselves as servants of the people and the country and therefore, do everything that will be beneficial to all. Concessional agreements should always be scrupulously reviewed for the benefit of the country and people.

Today, we should not only be happy that for the first time, a Liberian President has been invited to attend the G8 Summit but we should begin to think what this means for the country and what the international community expects from us as a people and nation. Surely what the international community expects, is good governance, freedom of the press and speech, the rule of law, the due process of law, equitable distribution of the resources of the country, so that a few will not undeservedly benefit, while the bulk of the people live in poverty, as well as decentralization of development programs to bring about needed development projects in all parts of the country.

To conclude, there is nothing wrong with us bragging of being the first in some situations, but at the same time, we should do those things to bring about growth and development in this country. As someone afar, I am happy to see the President in the international media at the Summit, but there are still challenges; we should not be complacent over this issue of “first;” we should press forward by doing those things in the interest of the country and its people, by putting country and people’s interest above all other things.