Liberia’s Finance Minister Amara Konneh has called on Liberians to face the growing threat of ethnicity and social exclusion to the country’s progress. In a sobering reflection of his life and early childhood, the Konneh evoked emotions in the sold-out Bronklyn Park Community Activity Center, when he challenged Liberians to come “face to face with our struggle on the question of unity and a common national identity.”
Konneh spoke at the observance of Liberia’s 26 Independence Celebration organized by the Organization of Liberians in Minesotta.
Embracing the challenge to openly discuss ethnicity, class struggle and religious and social exclusion, he warned against glossing over these threats “hoping that despite our disinterest, healing will come by default…hoping that some noble generation will answer the hard questions for us, touch the sensitive subjects, say the politically incorrect, and at least begin to resolve that struggle.”
Apart from urging Liberians to reflect on who they are as a people, where they have come from, and on where they are going, as they celebrate a proud, yet troubled history as Africa’s first independent republic, he reminded that all Liberians were equal and entitled to equal protection under the law.
According to the Finance Minister, the impacts and relics of colonialism still remain firmly rooted in our past and reflect the evolving challenges the country faces in dealing with all forms of tribal, religious, social and economic stereotypes.
The Minister narrated that upon the emancipation of these freed slaves, they drew upon the values enshrined in America’s Constitution and braved the Atlantic Ocean to build a nation just for them where true freedom, dignity and prosperity would no longer elude them.
However, Min. Konneh explained that that settlers made a mistake which consequences Liberia is still suffering today.
“The mistake the settlers made, in the years leading up to independence, was to repeat history and create a democracy as imperfect as the one they had left behind.
“But they also made of Liberia another dual-society: they politically and culturally marginalized those of our forefathers who had never left the continent and, for a long time, denied them citizenship and an equal stake in the republic.
“A bitter seed was sown then that would bear fruit in 1980 with a bloody coup and, later, a protracted civil war that killed approximately a quarter of a million of our fellow citizens,” he lamented.
Why acknowledging more progress was needed to address expectations amongst the population, significant progress was being made under the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Meanwhile, Konneh says the lack of unity remains a major challenge to achieving reconciliation in Liberia. “If we have faltered as a people my fellow citizens, that lack of unity has undeniably been at the root of the problem. From our founding to our present, unity has eluded us,” Min. Konneh told the gathering of Liberians in the US.
The Minister blames the lack of unity on hurtful stereotypes and biases, which in many cases turn into tribalism – primarily based on ethnicity, religion, geography, among others. These, too, the country’s finance administrator believes are relics of colonialism.
“In fact, all of Africa is made up of regionally dispersed ethnic groups; and the territorial borders that define our lands are arbitrary colonial lines that do not by any means reflect our cultural and ethnic affiliations. If you were to cross the border at Voinjama into Guinea, you would see identical villages and peoples on either side. The same is true at any border crossing point.”
Konneh indicated that these issues can easily be overcome when Liberians realize their own beauty and uniqueness.
“In fact the beauty and uniqueness of Liberia is not only found in our common colloquial tongue, or in our exquisite cuisine, but also in that our ethnic and cultural makeup is representative of all of Africa and of the entire black world.”
The event was attended by Minnesota State Governor, Mark Dayton; Brooklyn Park City Mayor Jeffery Lunde; Brooklyn Center City Mayor Tim Wilson, OLM Executive Director, Wayne Doe and many others.