Independence Day Celebration’s Oration Delivered
By Cllr. H. Varney G.N. Sherman In Tubmanburg,
Bomi County On July 26, 2013
Your Excellencies: Madam President, Mr. Vice President and Members of the Cabinet,
Your Excellencies: Mr. Speaker and Mr. President Pro Tempore,
Your Excellencies: Honorable Members of the Legislature,
Your Honors: Mr. Chief Justice and Justices of Supreme Court,
His Excellency Chief Olusugun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whom we wholeheartedly welcome back to Liberia,
Foreign Dignitaries and Foreign Residents,
My fellow Liberians:
To you, Madam President, Mr. Vice President, Honorable Members of the Legislature and Justices of the Supreme Court, I recall only once in my lifetime that I have been privileged to address so many officials of the Liberian Government in one room; and that was at the National Conference sponsored by the Taylor Government about two years after President Taylor was elected President of Liberia. However, even on that occasion, unlike this occasion, the President of Liberia himself was not present. More important is the fact that I have never been privileged on a “26 Day” to speak to a room of so many “Very Important Persons” who are responsible for the governance of our country. This therefore presents to me the opportunity of asking, for the first time in my life, for my “26”. So Madam President, Mr. Vice President, Honorable Members of the Legislature and Justices of the Supreme Court, my “26” on you oooohhhhhhh.
Asking you for my “26” is indicative of what our Independence Day means to every Liberian; for all of us Independence Day is a day of joy, a day for celebration; for all Liberians, Independence Day should also be a day of remembrance. It should be a day of celebration because we should rejoice for the freedom, liberty and justice that independence has bestowed on us as a people. Independence Day should be a day of remembrance – a day when we honor the visionary and courageous men and women who, faced with all odds and difficulties, declared this land a sovereign state, when everywhere else south of the Sahara was under European colonial rule.We should not only remember them on Independence Day, we should also honor them. We must not only honor them, but for the future of our country, we must learn from their vision, courage and boldness. For it is only through well-defined vision, mixed with courage to take decisions and boldness to implement those decisions can Liberia be transformed to a safer and better place for all Liberians.
For today’s Liberia, Independence Day cannot be merely a day of remembrance and celebration. Even after nearly ten years of the absence of gunfire the wounds of our civil war are still fresh; for you know that peace is not necessarily the absence of war. Even after two circles of general and presidential elections, the social and development challenges which face our people are still very daunting; some of our people appear to give up all hopes for the betterment of their situations during their lifetimes. Restoration of our patrimony appears so overwhelming that we, as a people, cannot afford to merely remember those who sacrificed for July 26, 1847; we cannot merely rejoice in the tremendous benefits of their actions.
As I stand here today, I am conscious of the sacrifices which were made by the founders to declare our country’s independence as a sovereign state; I can visualize how awesome and difficult it was for them to officially break ties with the American Colonization Society and step out into the world on their own. I stand here today very aware of the debates and the arguments which took place between the years of 1845 to 1847 to make the independence of our country possible; I can’t help but feel the risks they took; and all Liberians everywhere should be grateful for their vision and their courage during those uncertain times.
There are so many of us who don’t know the major factors which motivated the Commonwealth of Liberia, as dependent as it was on the American Colonization Society for its very sustenance, to declare this part of the world a free, independent and sovereign state 166 years ago. Among other things, the Government and people of the Commonwealth of Liberia were challenged by the slave traders who continued to engage in that heinous crime of slave trading right within lands claimed by the Commonwealth of Liberia to be part of its territory. The Government of the Commonwealth of Liberia was also challenged by the captains of British merchant vessels who refused to pay taxes or to accord any courtesies of a colony or the semblance of nationhood to the Commonwealth of Liberia; these British merchant vessels insisted that what was referred to as the Commonwealth of Liberia was nothing more than a trading post in Africa. They contended that under international law and the practices of states, the Commonwealth of Liberia was not even a colony or the possession of another nation state, as its creation and authority did not derive from the action of another nation state. So, they refused to pay taxes and dues imposed by the Commonwealth of Liberia; they refused to ascribe to the Commonwealth of Liberia the prerogatives of a colony or semblance of nationhood; they arrogantly did whatever they wanted, settled in the belief that there was no basis in international law or international relations to deter them in their actions.
Cutting the umbilical cord that attached the Commonwealth of Liberia to the American Colonization Society was only possible through the actions and commitments of a bold and courageous people, who debated the issue for more than two years; but anybody who is familiar with Liberia’s pre-independence history would not be surprised by their actions and commitments. It was the same vision and courage that caused them to leave the United States and seek a home in Africa that was manifested once again when the time came for the declaration of independence. The fact that they took that decision is why we are hereto today, celebrating that momentous occasion and honoring them for their courage and boldness.
We celebrate Independence Day at a time when we have successfully moved our country from a fifteen-year civil war, which almost destroyed it. It has been said very often that the worse of all wars is a civil war; it is that time when people who know each other well and who have otherwise lived together in peace and harmony take up arms against one another and commit some of the most heinous and egregious crimes against each other. It is the time when properties are destroyed and public infrastructures demolished by one side so that the other side would not be able to use them in pursuit of the conflict or for its own comfort and convenience during or at the end of the conflict. It is a period when the instruments of war are used to target innocent people with such viciousness that the civilized communities wonder whether the combatants were ever citizens of the same country. Liberia had its share of these experiences. So many, many people were killed or injured during the course of our civil war; so much of our properties and infrastructures were destroyed; no village or hamlet, no matter how far away from Monrovia situated or located, was spared the ravages of our civil war.
Recently while travelling through Grand Cape Mount County, on reaching one of the remotest areas, I wonder aloud in the vehicle whether the combatants ever reached that part of my county. People sitting in the vehicle with me said that the war reached every part of Liberia – every nook and corner of our country; everybody suffered one way or the other. And I then recalled my days in intermittent exile in Ghana during the heat of our civil war when I listened to the BBC’s Focus on Africa reports on the ravages and atrocities committed in Liberia. With tears in my eyes so many years ago, I wondered whether the rest of the world had forgotten about us; I wondered whether the rest of the world was not listening to what was happening in our country. Thank God for the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Ghana and other West African countries, who heard the cries of our people, and in response mobilized their armies and their resources to restore peace to Liberia.
When we thought that some semblance of peace had returned to Liberia the October 1992 Octopus Invasion took place; it was then that the White Plains water plant was destroyed so that Monrovia would not get portable water. It was then that the Mount Coffee Hydro-Electric Power Plant was destroyed so that Monrovia would not get electricity. “What kind of people you are who will take away the dental chair from a hospital during war – to do what with it?” asked a foreign friend of mine during the course of our civil war? “What kind of people you are, who during the course of combat will attack a hospital from which any of the combatants could easily need medical care?” asked another foreign friend? I could go on and on enumerating the atrocities committed against each other and the wanton destruction which took place and I will never exhaust the list. Each Liberian, especially those of us who lived here and personally experienced the civil war, has a story to tell. Today, there are so many of us who pretend to forget that these things ever happened; there are so many of us who have never asked why these things ever happened; there are so many of us who have never asked ourselves what can be done to ensure that never again should this country and its people ever experience a civil war.
Today, after nearly ten years since the last gun was fired, we celebrate Independence Day with the theme “Consolidating Peace and Reconciliation for Transformation”. But my fellow Liberians, peace and reconciliation in Liberia can never be fully achieved if we ignore what caused our civil war and if we don’t resolve to remove those causes and change ourselves and our country around for the better. Does the mere absence of war in our country constitute peace? Have we really reconciled our differences among ourselves? Have we carefully examined the ethnic, religious and economic schisms of our society and bridged them in order to enhance genuine national unity and integration? If not, do we have the quality of peace and reconciliation that we could consolidate for transformation of our common patrimony?
As cynical as these questions might appear Madam President, Mr. Vice President and Honorable Members of the leadership of our country, there is no doubt that much has been accomplished and achieved since we heard the last gunfire in 2003. The rule of law, respect for human values and adherence to generally accepted principles of human conduct and behavior have been restored to our country through Madam President’s persistence and tenacity; the freedoms and liberties reserved by our Constitution to our people are enjoyed by them without any prior restraint, oftentimes exposing yourself, Madam President, to insults and disrespect from some members of the public. Investment in infrastructures, such as road networks, which have direct impact on economic and social development, available, efficient and affordable public utility and social services, including but not limited to, power, portable water, sanitation, transportation and telecommunication services as the foundation for economic recovery and national reconstruction are being vigorously pursued by your Government in several parts of Liberia, Madam President. Tremendous progress has been made in restoring the credibility and integrity of our country with the international community and getting the international community to waive our daunting foreign debts and to allow new credits to us.The reinstitution of political governance, especially the holding of two presidential and general elections in a rather harmonious way, the restoration of normality in social interactions among our people and the resort to the courts of law to settle grievances are all indications that we have come a long way from the days of our civil war. The accolades and honors which have been bestowed on you, Madam President, by governments, academia, international governmental and non-governmental organizations and other institutions attest to the success of your policies, programs and endeavors. I am however concerned that enough information about these achievements and accomplishments has not flowed to the Liberian public at large and too many people, even within Monrovia and its immediate environs don’t know enough about these achievements and accomplishments. The absence of information to the Liberian people about these achievements and accomplishments is a serious deficiency that must be remedied immediately. It should be acknowledged that these accomplishments and achievements contribute to peace and reconciliation in our country. I therefore recommend very strongly that the information dissemination structure and process of this Government be revamped and adequately supported to provide all information about the accomplishments and achievements of this Government; a dissemination of information in a way that it permeates every sector of our country.
On this 166th Anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Liberia I commend you, Madam President, very highly for the achievements and accomplishments of your administration; and to you Mr. Vice President and Honorable Members of the leadership of our country, we thank you for collaborating with our President for these achievements and accomplishments. But I submit that all of these achievements and accomplishments, including the many others which I have not mentioned, are not enough as a foundation to transform our country. I believe that some of those things which made it possible for us to go to war against one another are still simmering; and I rush to suggest that at every Independence Day we, especially the leadership of Liberia, should examine ourselves and every aspect of our country and ask whether enough of the fundamental differences and long-standing problems which caused our civil war were addressed during the previous year and we should evaluate the extent to which our success or failure in addressing those differences and long-standing problems may have enhanced or affected our country’s progress. Simply stated, as much as you have done and accomplished, Madam President, your Government, like our founders during the years of 1845 to 1847, has a singular responsibility and obligation to be just as visionary as they were or even more visionary than they were, to be just as bold and courageous as they were or to be even bolder and more courageous than they to tackle head-on our fundamental problems and differences so that genuine peace may be used as the foundation to restore our country to its pre-war status and genuine reconciliation may be the fulcrum for its transformation.
Especially for you Madam President, in a country where nearly every successful political program or action must be driven by the highest political office, I submit that you were elected to set the examples for good governance – examples that would be worthy of emulation by your successors. You were elected because Liberians believe that of all the contestants for the Presidency of this country, you were the best prepared and most qualified to be the trendsetter and pacesetter for the progress of our country and for the fulfillment of their individual and collective dreams. This means that as much as you have done, it is imperative, absolutely imperative that your Government engages in one, two or three policies and programs which make significant difference in the lives and livelihood of ordinary Liberians – policies and programs for which your Government will be long remembered and many of the people of this country would be able to say that it is because of you that our country is where it then is or they are where they will then be. I submit that among other things public service gives the public servant the greatest opportunity to do good for so many people in the shortest possible time, to change the lives of so many people and to make fundamental difference in how things are done.
At this stage, let me tell you some of the things that I have dreamed about for peace, reconciliation and progress in Liberia and asked why not; and let me suggest to you, Madam President and other Members of the leadership of our country, that you consider whether the things would not consolidate the gains that have been made so far and set the foundation for the transformation of our country.
There are some who believe that the major cause of our civil war was strife between two counties or two tribes of our country. While I don’t disagree with them in the entirety, I suggest that the major cause of our civil war that is too often ignored is the abject poverty, socio-econimic deprivations and drudgery that too many of our people suffer from; they considered themselves to be the disadvantaged of our society and they therefore distinguish themselves from the rest of us. Abject poverty, socio-economic deprivations and drudgery are fertile grounds for unrest; it is abject poverty, socio-economic deprivations and drudgery that unscrupulous people take advantage of when they employ violence as the instrument to make a difference in the lives of a people. Let us make no mistake that the greatest unspoken cause of our civil war is the extreme poverty, socio-economic deprivations and drudgery that too many of our people suffer from; it is the reason why a civil war that appeared to have started on the basis of differences between two counties or tribes eventually involved and engulfed the entire Republic of Liberia and affected every nook and corner of our country. Had it not been extreme poverty, socio-economic deprivations and drudgery which are the major cause of our civil war, then tell me why people from every tribe fought in our civil war? Tell me why the civil war went to Lofa County, or to Bomi County, or Gbarpolu County or Grand Cape Mount County. Tell me why combatants concentrated on depriving our people of their possessions and destroying what they could not take away.
As much as this Government has done to reduce extreme poverty, to improve the lives and livelihood of our people and remove them from the experience of drudgery, there is still much more to be done; and some of the things which need to be done are not too expensive or too difficult to be done.
For example, Madam President and Members of the leadership of our country, we all know that the large majority of our people do not have clean pipe-born water and human waste disposal facilities even though these are an absolute necessity for their health and well-being. Too many of our people have never had the comfort of electric light; and I need not tell you the transformation that the electric light brings to any community. As much as we all appreciate the big infrastructure development projects carried out since an appreciable level of peace returned to Liberia, I suggest that small projects such as the installation of water pumps and solar lights in all the villages of Liberia – projects which directly impact the lives of the greatest majority of our people – be implemented as one way of alleviating the extreme poverty and drudgery that they live in. These undertakings, even though insignificant in their appearances, will make tremendous difference in the lives of the Liberian people and will cause them to renew their loyalty and commitment to the Republic of Liberia. If our Government were to invest in such things, we will be considered a pacesetter and a trendsetter; this is what the Liberian people elected you for, Madam President. So I call on you, Madam President and other Members of the leadership of our country to explore the possibility during this current six-year term of office to make a difference in the lives of a majority of our people by installing hand pumps and solar lights in each village of Liberia.
There is no doubt that the transformation of Liberia has begun as there is an appreciable level of peace and stability within Liberia; regional peace and cooperation with West Africa and the African continent is vigorously sought by our Government. All of these achievements and accomplishment for peace have been done andare being done in cooperation with the international community. In this regard, Madam President, your Government has done a tremendous job; Liberia is indeed on the forward march because of your personal commitment and work to achieve such level of peace and stability within our country and in our neighborhood. It unfortunately however seems to so many of our compatriots that after having succeeded in getting our international debts waived and new credits afforded to Liberia, it would be sufficient for this Government to concentrate on foreign direct investment, the repair and restoration of our major infrastructures and the construction of new major infrastructures. Not that these are not necessary for sustained and balanced economic development of our country, but I submit that more needs to be done to establish a strong foundation for the transformation of Liberia after our civil war. Some of the things on which genuine peace and reconciliation after our civil war are dependent are factors, such as reconciliation of all our people and rehabilitation of the victims of our civil war, new and robust approach to political governance, emphasis on nationalism and our social and cultural values and promotion of individual initiatives and Liberian entrepreneurship. And for each of these dependencies for genuine peace and reconciliation, Liberians believe that you, Madam President, have the capacity and ability to achieve and accomplish them and they expect that you came to the leadership of our country with new ideas directed at making the desired difference in their lives.
For political governance, Liberians ask themselves whether the Government of Liberia is sufficiently pluralistic, transparent, accountable and responsive to their needs. They especially thirst for strong policies, programs and sanctions against corruption and the establishment of effective institutions and mechanisms to give effect to those policies and programs. We know this to be true because, as much as this Government has done to stamp out corruption from Liberia, including the enactment of a special law against corruption and the establishment of an anti-corruption commission, all the time and everywhere we hear the Liberian people’s cry against corruption. There must be something that we have not done right or something that we ought to do that we have not done that makes our people, including some members of the very anti-corruption commission itself, to criticize us for corruption in our society. I know what you, Madam President, have done so far; I know your abiding commitment to eradicate this cancer from our society; and I also know that some of the accusations of corruption have no basis; but I submit to you that our country cannot be transformed when public service is evaluated by the Liberian people as the place where corruption exists, persists and is practiced as a matter of course and with impunity. All the good you do, achieve and accomplish will not be recognized and appreciated if corruption remains on the lips of our people the day you retire from office in January, 2018. So, Madam President, you must remain resolute and strong in your convictions and actions to stamp out corruption from our country or to minimize its incidence; you must not be deterred by the indifference of others or by a failure to get a legislation or two passed to enhance the work against corruption. For example, while I don’t think that we need a special court for corruption as one any of the existing criminal courts could be designated by law to handle corruption cases, I strongly believe that prosecutorial powers to the anti-corruption commission will expedite the management of corruption matters. So, I recommend to both you and Members of the Legislature to re-consider the actions you have recently taken in this regard and pass the necessary law to enable us to more vigorously fight corruption in our country.
There are several countries in the world, including some in Africa, who are reputed to have considerably reduced the incidence of corruption or even stamped it out forever. For example, in Singapore (which is known as the “Third World Country” which is now a “First World Country”, the laws and system were overhauled and, among other things, it was provided by new laws that if a government official were determined to be liable for corruption, not only was the person dismissed from his position but such person immediately had to face the courts of law. And in facing the courts of law, the principle of burden of proof in Anglo-American criminal jurisprudence was turned around so that the burden is on the individual to vindicate himself from the charges; it is he who must prove his innocence beyond all reasonable doubts and that proof must be satisfactory to a court of competent and reliable jurists and other professionals. Lawyers and investigators were employed and set to work on nothing other than investigating, reporting and prosecuting corruption matters; and they were given unflinching moral, material and financial support for their work. Something similarly new, different and aggressive must be employed to tackle corruption in Liberia, Madam President, or else the “talk and talk” about corruption will overshadow all our achievements and accomplishments since the guns were silenced in 2003. Certainly, the effectiveness of the work against corruption is undermined when a report of the anti-corruption commission on a small matter such as the failure of a government official to properly declare his or her assets is challenged by that government officials in the media and a tussle ensues between that government official and the anti-corruption commission on who is right or wrong.
I therefore recommend, Madam President, that we conduct a study of how countries once similarly situated as ours managed to reduce the incidence of corruption or stamp it out completely. Our anti-corruption commission should be staffed by men and women, who are not only capable and qualified, but in whom you have the strongest confidence and with whom you are prepared to take a political risk so that you will give them the maximum support to tackle corruption. We need for the Liberian people to talk about your achievements and accomplishments in tackling corruption just as they talk about your achievements and accomplishment in getting our international debts waived. In the next couple of years, we need to change the subject matter of the public debate or discussion from corruption to genuine peace and reconciliation and to development and socio-economic progress. We must be aggressive, tenacious and consistent against corruption, or else our legacy as the political party (the Unity Party of Liberia) which took over the helm of office of this country after the civil war will be marred forever; and neither we, as a political party, and you, as our Standard Bearer, can afford that. Now is the time for strong and decisive policies and actions; waiting for “tomorrow” is not an option; it will be too late.
You have advocated decentralization of political governance to make local government responsive to the people whom they serve; and I need not delve into the obvious enormous benefits and ripple positive effects (political, social and economic development) that inures to a people who subscribe to this principle. And given your years of experience as a public servant, Madam President, you are also aware that decentralization of political governance, like most matters political, is a process, not an event. Especially for our country, which has a long-standing history of a “unitary government with a vertical system of administration”, which is enshrined in the Constitution, decentralization of political governance is a “tall order”. So it would seem very easy for any person, who is interested in maintaining the status quo of overly accumulated power, to play the political card by suggesting that decentralization of political governance is not possible without amendment of the Constitution. But, Madam President, amendment of the Constitution by itself alone cannot institutionalize decentralization of political governance; and I submit that decentralization of political governance can only be actualized through a combination of amendment of the Constitution, revision of our laws and changes in the practices and attitudes of our leaders and people. Here again, as everything political must be driven by the Office of the President in this country in order for it to succeed, the onus is on you to begin to develop the mechanisms and processes, within the limits of the laws and the Constitution, to promote the successful decentralization of the political governance of our country. You must be the pacesetter and the trendsetter in this regard; Liberians expect nothing less; and as malleable as they are, they will follow your good policies, actions and practices.
For example, it is provided by the Constitution that nearly every member of local government administration, except the chiefs, should be appointed by the President of Liberia. But I suggest, Madam President, that you now consider some level of decentralization of the governance of Liberia under a formula which provides that those who are appointed by you are first vetted and agreed upon by a local council of each county and that you will appoint whomever is nominated, subject to exercising the authority to dismiss him or her or otherwise sanction him or her if the local council recommends and proves to your satisfaction the need for dismissal or other form of sanction? While this formula, which could be initiated by an executive order and later transformed to a legislative enactment, would appear to be a sharing of your constitutional prerogatives with the local people of each political constituency of Liberia, it is my considered opinion that it would not violate the Constitution; you know I am a lawyer and you know that I am not a “falkajay” lawyer. More importantly, I dare submit that such new process will begin the experience which will be necessary to make political decentralization a success in this country.
I dare also suggest that decentralization of political governance does not consist merely of granting local people the authority to choose or participate in the process for choosing their local leaders. Were that to be the case, decentralization of political governance would be equated to the grant of authority without the power to exercise it or the responsibility that is attended to it. In addition to a change of the selection process for local government leaders, certain defined responsibilities should devolve on local government officials as their exclusive domains, with only supervisory responsibility reserved to the President of Liberia. I dare also suggest that independent sources of revenue (e.g. property taxes) to finance certain local government operations should be reserved to local governments; and I would suggest that we go even another step further to adopt the policy of “revenue sharing” insofar as the revenue is generated from natural resources exploited from a political sub-division. And when I suggest revenue-sharing, I hasten to add that I don’t subscribe to certain provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, which require that all revenues for the Liberian Government should be deposited into a consolidated fund at the Central Bank of Liberia in the name of the Ministry of Finance. I suggest that revenue sharing should actually be what the expression literally means – that a certain percentage of the revenue generated from the exploitation of natural resources will be for the county where the deposits are located and that the payer of the revenue will pay that percentage directly to the local government administration, obtain a receipt and report the payment to the Ministry of Finance for the purpose of appropriate record-keeping and accountability. I make these recommendations even while I recognize and give credit to the policies and programs of county development funds and social development funds, which no government before you even thought about. I make these recommendations fully aware of the problems associated with the management of the county development funds and social development funds. I still make these recommendations because I believe that these recommendations facilitate more direct participation of the people in deciding their destinies and in determining what is good for them; and such more direct participation of the people in determining what is good for them enhances peace and reconciliation as a foundation for transformation of our country.
Revenue sharing will be an impetus for sustained economic development all over Liberia; it will make local people responsible for the development of their own areas; it will encourage and facilitate competition between political sub-divisions; it will promote the return of qualified people to their localities to live and find employment. I submit that were revenue sharing employed during the years that iron ore was exploited from Bomi, Nimba, Bong and Cape Mount counties, those political sub-divisions would have been markedly different from what they are today. Similarly, if revenue sharing were in place when trees were felled from the forests of Sinoe, Grand Gedeh and Bassa, those political sub-divisions would have also been markedly different from what they are today. And I can only imagine now the significant difference that will be made in the lives of our people were we to adopt real decentralization of political governance through, among other things, the sharing of revenue generated from the exploitation of natural resources instead of retention of the antiquated system that requires that all revenues must come to Monrovia to the Ministry of Finance, which will then decide what goes where and when.
Madam President, I am aware of the “naysayers” who suggest that our political sub-divisions don’t have the human capacity for an effective process of political governance decentralization. But if we will wait for all the members of our political sub-divisions to earn graduate degrees and obtain years of experience in public administration, business administration or their related disciplines before we initiate the decentralization of the political governance of our country, it is my humble opinion that we will never ever start and we would definitely lose out on the opportunities for the transformation of our country. Now is the time and this is the opportunity for us to be bold and courageous to do what is right with the little that we have to develop the mechanism and set the process in motion for a dramatic change in the ways we do things – the way we govern the Republic of Liberia-so that all our people can feel a part of the governance process and take responsibility for their respective communities and their future.
Madam President and other Members of the leadership of our country, even with all that has been done so far by this administration, there continues to be serious ethnic, religious and economic schisms in Liberia; we must bridge these gaps in order to enhance genuine national unity, integration and reconciliation. What the Tubman and Tolbert Governments did are commendable and we are grateful for what has been achieved and accomplished in the eight years since Madam President’s first election to the high office as President of this nation, but we must go beyond merely having all our people represented in the National Legislature, the building of monuments and the establishment of a national holiday to commemorate the laudable policy of national unification and integration. After a civil war, we must do something new and dramatic about bridging the gaps and making everybody feel that there are opportunities in Liberia for self-actualization and self-improvement. You have made tremendous progress in this regard, but I suggest that more needs to be done.
For example, we are all aware that an academic degree arouses expectations in the graduate – expectations in this Liberia that a job will be available even though some of them are not as qualified as desirable. But if this expectation is not met or satisfied, frustration and disgruntlement set in; and it is almost always the national government that is blamed. Frustrated and disgruntled university graduates are not good for a country coming out of a civil war. Some new policies and programs ought to be put in place to address the situation of the thousands of graduates who are unemployed and perhaps languishing as part of the disadvantaged of our country. For starters, I suggest that we consider a program where all university graduates, regardless of tribe, social status or otherwise, be deployed to counties other than their counties of origin, to live and work for a period of three years, with the option reserved to them for extension for another period of two years? Such program will immediately relieved the pressure on the Liberian Government to find or create jobs in Monrovia for these thousands of graduates from universities each year; such program will help to provide staff for local government administrations and services (health, education, etc.) with young university graduates. And these young Liberians will educate and assimilate themselves into the cultures of other local communities in which they are submerged but about which they knew so very little or nothing before then; some might even get married partners or make life-long friends from there; others might decide to live in their new “homes” forever; and more importantly the social, ethnic and religious schisms will be bridged substantially. So I suggest that we try something like this to achieve peace and reconciliation throughout our country, knowing fully well that the fruits of such program will not be fully realized until 20 to 25 years of its implementation; but now, not later, is the time to begin it.
After a devastating civil war, we, as a country and people, must also adopt special training programs to provide skills to the thousands and thousands of our young people, who either never had the opportunity to continue their education in normal schools or who are too old to continue with normal schooling? We must begin to wonder whether all the community colleges we have established and continue to establish are serving Liberia well when they concentrate on providing courses for degrees in business administration, pubic administration, sociology, anthropology and other social sciences, instead of training electricians, plumbers, mason, etc. – peoples who have marketable skills and will be able to meet the demands of a country on the verge of a growing and expanding economy.
Some of untrained and unqualified young people were combatants in our civil war; others were merely victims of the civil war; and they are in their thousands. Accelerated skill-training programs could make the difference in their lives. They are the “Shoeshine Boy” whom the singer, Eddie Kendricks asked many years ago, “Where will you be ten years from now”? Where will they and their children be ten years from now? By providing marketable skills for this category of our people, we directly address the issue of reconciliation because we give them hope for a better future in Liberia; we make them stakeholders in our common patrimony. We might not capture all of them; but those who we capture will become a part of the force against recurrence of civil strife in our country. If we ignore them and as their numbers grow bigger and bigger, they will overwhelm us, if not us, then our children or grandchildren; and we all risk the terrible possibility that their frustrations will be manifested in ways that are undesirable for our country and its future. These disadvantaged youths of Liberia are just as important as any of us who sit here today is; and none of us is more Liberian than any of them.I am convinced that by addressing the plight and situation of these disadvantaged citizens of our country, we assure ourselves that the peace and reconciliation are being quietly realized in our country.
Even for those of us who are not a “Shoeshine Boy”, we too need to be reconciled with ourselves and among ourselves; we too need to have a stake in the future of Liberia and to realize that a better Liberia provides opportunities for all of us. A strong private sector, with maximum participation of Liberians (including special incentives or affirmative action programs for Liberian entrepreneurs, especially as it relates to government’s purchases of goods and services), as the engine for the growth of the economy, for creating value, capital and wealth, as well as for energizing national development, must be pursued by the Liberian Government. The loans by the Central Bank of Liberia to the Liberian Business Association and the Marketing Association of Liberia, even though in my view outside of the purview of that agency, is a good beginning; but an affirmative action program which reserves certain business transactions with the Liberian Government exclusively to Liberian entrepreneurs and the out-sourcing of certain governmental activities (for example janitorial services and messenger services, etc.) on contracts exclusively to Liberian entrepreneurs will further enhance genuine reconciliation of the Liberian people. And when I talk about an affirmative action program, I am not talking merely about reserving to Liberians block-making business or fuel servicing station business, I am talking about substantial business activities which affect our economy and generate substantial revenues. By empowering Liberians through providing them opportunities from Liberian Government business transactions so that they can be more pro-actively involved in private business initiatives, we create a core population that will never want to experience a civil war again. The dream for peace and reconciliation will be a reality if by our actions and policies we create a real middle class of Liberians; and we can start this process by not only enabling and capacitating Liberians to become entrepreneurs but by also providing them the business opportunities which flow from their government.
Madam President, Mr. Vice President and Members of the leadership of our country, we should encourage private entrepreneurship as a career, not merely as a convenience. Liberians who first go to public service, “acquire” wealth from employment in the public sector and then veer into private entrepreneurship, are nearly always suspect of corruption, even though not all of them may have been corrupt; but other Liberians almost always ask where the money was obtained from to enter private entrepreneurship. I don’t begrudge them; but I propose that public support for private entrepreneurship should distinguish between that set of Liberians who first seek employment in the public sector and the other set of Liberians who make private entrepreneurship a career. It is the latter who sets examples worthy of emulation by the generations which will follow us.We need to encourage this process and incentivize Liberians to become private entrepreneurs irrespective of the profession each chooses to get his or her training in.
Complementary to private entrepreneurship should be an “Own-A-Part-Of-Liberia” policy; a policy which encourages, facilitates and capacitates each person to acquire his own land and house, to establish his own enterprise (even if it is just a small farm in his own name), to, in general, be a stakeholder in Liberia and its future. Especially to you, Honorable Members of the Legislature, how do you account for representing a people from your district when you don’t own even a hut in that district? When a person is a stakeholder in Liberia’s future, he or she will never subscribe to or condone any attempt by disgruntled people to destroy it; but when he or she has given up hope and sees no betterment for the future, he or she can be easily manipulated into destroying Liberia. We can avoid a recurrence of our civil war experience by creating as many serious stakeholders in Liberia’s future as we possibly can; and there will be no greater measure for peace and reconciliation than that since they will eventually be the “middle class” of our society.
As the overwhelming majority of our people are engaged in subsistence agriculture and are generally the most victimized by tropical diseases, Liberia should adopt policies and invest substantially in the areas of agriculture and health, which directly impact the lives of these people. Unification, integration and reconciliation are not issues which are on the minds of hungry and diseased people; but it is these same hungry and diseased people who are easily manipulated into believing that violence change of government or the system will bring relief to them. If we can seriously address the issues of agriculture and health and thereby give most of our people some hope in the future of our country, we can all get the comfort that our differences are behind us and that the prosperities of our country are for all of us to enjoy and benefit from. It is this type of comfort that facilitates reconciliation. And Madam President, I am confident and I trust that you can make it happen for Liberia; you must make it happen for Liberia.
Another group of people whom I believe are essential for true reconciliation is the nonresident Liberians, especially those who have been deprived of their Liberian citizenship only because they assumed the citizenship of another country. Make no mistake that these people influence politics, including elections in Liberia; the financial remittances they make to their relatives and friends in Liberia certainly influence how these relatives and friends think and act. If we insist that they are foreigners, then we must accept that their remittances, followed by their telephone calls to relatives and friends (especially during election time), are illegal. But you know that all major candidates in every Liberian election seek the support of these nonresident Liberians and they give their support to elections in Liberia. What then is the rationale for the retention of a law which makes them foreigners? These nonresident Liberians can be a fulcrum for peace and reconciliation and empirical evidence suggests that tremendous economic benefits are associated with those nine ECOWAS countries (including Sierra Leone, our neighbor) who have adopted dual citizenship for themselves. Why are we different from these nine ECOWAS countries; why don’t we see what they see?
I suggest that we begin with a “Once-a-Liberian-Always-a-Liberian” policy, through which every Liberian citizen, wherever he may be or whatever his circumstances might be, can feel a part of and be a stakeholder of Liberia – a nation where a natural born citizen’s right and benefits of citizenship cannot be alienated or obliterated merely by his assumption of residency or citizenship of another country. And you, Madam President, as usual, could be the driver of this policy to ensure that it succeeds; and I urge you to drive the dual citizenship as quickly as you can. If dual citizenship is not accomplished during your term of office, Madam President, it is likely that your successor will get it done; and then it will be your successor, not you, who will be determined by these nonresident Liberians as the real reconciler.
Madam President, Mr. Vice President and Members of the leadership of Liberia, genuine reconciliation is not possible unless we squarely face the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report, legally discard those recommendations which are unconstitutional and in conflict with our laws, and implement those recommendations which will foster the unity, integration and reconciliation of our people. We should not ignore the TRC Report and pretend that it does not exist; this will not augur well for us as a people and for our country. There can be no genuine reconciliation without disposition of the TRC Report; and I am one of those who believe that after setting aside the unconstitutional and illegal recommendations, some portions of the TRC Report are very useful for the transformation of our country. And it should be recalled that some of us have already offered our services to challenge in the courts of Liberia, if necessary, the unconstitutional and illegal recommendations of the TRC Report. We should seriously pursue implementation of the legally and constitutionally implementable recommendations of the TRC and we should make sure that the Liberian people know that we are doing just that. I submit that we can never claim to have accomplished genuine peace and reconciliation in Liberia without appropriate disposition of the TRC Report; and every day that we delay in the disposition of the TRC Report, we give the false impression that we are afraid of its content; and you know that we are not. Therefore I recommend that serious and consistent attention be paid to the systematic disposition of the TRC Report; it is a facilitator for genuine peace and reconciliation which could be used for the transformation of our country.
Specifically to you, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen of the Legislature, even though I have conceded that in our part of the world national political policies and programs are driven by the highest office of the country in order to be successful, you know that this was never the intention of the founders of this nation; they intended and enshrined it in the 1847 Constitution and it was reiterated in the 1986 Constitution, that the Legislature would be just as active and responsible for the leadership of Liberia and for championing the cause and interest of the people as the Presidency should be. The principle of coordination of the three branches of the Liberian Government mandates that the Legislature works and cooperates with the President and the President works and cooperates with the Legislature to ensure that Liberians get the most beneficial and effective governance of this country; it means you too should shoulder the responsibility of being original in your thoughts and tenacious in your actions; it means that the unnecessary bickering and antagonism between the President and the Legislature that often erupts into negative reporting in the media must be minimized; it means that our system of governance works best when these two political branches are cooperating with each other, not when they are fighting each other. You too can therefore promote genuine peace and reconciliation as a foundation for transformation of Liberia through the adoption of new policies and programs and better and more effective cooperation with the President to achieve good governance for the Liberian people. Such change in the course of your conduct would exude the confidence we need to attract foreign investments in Liberia, which, you know and I know, is necessary for the development of our country. So, let this 166th Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Liberia be the occasion at which you resolve to generate new ideas and programs for peace and reconciliation, to promote cooperation between you and the President and minimize antagonism between and among yourselves.
With this last recommendation, I promise to wind-down this National Oration; but as I wind-down this National Oration, let me tell you a personal experience I had and that I will never forget as long as I live because it has affected my life since then. It was in the mid-1990s (hostilities had been suspended in our civil war) that I took my usual walk one work-day morning from my apartment at Snapper Hill, Ashmun Street to my offices at the corner of Ashmun Street and Mechlin Street. A child of about 10 or 11 years old hailed me: “Counsellor Sherman, Counsellor Sherman”. I stopped, turned and looked at him sitting on the top of a rock; he greeted me and I greeted him in return. Then he made this profound remark: “Counsellor Sherman, I admire you soooh!”I said thanks with a wide grin and continued my walk down to my offices. As I sat at my desk that morning, I momentarily became very sad as it dawned on me that that child might never become me. I wondered what kind of country is this that we have where a child can admire somebody he will never become. For on that school day that child was sitting on that rock and for each school day that he sat on that rock he would never become a lawyer like me. Our country needs to give hope to people like that child – hope that he can become whatever he wants to be. And when we can give all our people that hope we can then say to ourselves and the rest of the world that never again, thank God Almighty, never again will our country experience the devastations of civil hostilities.
Finally, I reiterate that much has been achieved and accomplished in the areas of peace and reconciliation, but there is so much more to be done for genuine peace and reconciliation to be realized in Liberia and used for the transformation of our country. It is highly commendable that Madam President chose to dub the celebration of the 166th Anniversary of Independence Day as a day to reflect on the urgent need for genuine peace and reconciliation and how we can use our achievements and accomplishments in this regard for the transformation of our country. It is a thought worth exploring and I can only hope that I have done justice to the subject matter.
I have spoken to you today in the context of some of the dreams I have for Liberia and asked why not? I thank you, Madam President, for the opportunity to share my thoughts about important topical and relevant issues relating to the future of our common patrimony with you, the Vice President, other Members of the leadership of our country and our citizens at large. May God Almighty always inspire and guide our thoughts about Liberia and bless the works of our hands. And may He bless this Republic of Liberia.