Liberian Elders Embark on ‘Nation Building Programs, Visit National Heritage Sites 

Members of the Liberian Elders of the Republic of the Bicentennial, 2022, with hangers-on posing with the Tour publicity banners opposite the Providence Baptist Church

MONROVIA — An informal body of Liberian septuagenarians (70-79 age bracket), including those in upper age range, has begun contributing to the rebuilding of Liberia through each person’s wealth of experience in education, agriculture, health, tourism, International Diplomacy, and other sectors.

Report by Samuel G. Dweh, Freelance Journalist, +231886618906/776583266

For name, the body has chosen “Elders of the Republic of the Bicentennial, 2022”. It comprise of former Government Ministers and Heads of Government Agencies, ex-officials of United Nations Agencies, Lawyers, Educators, historians, business persons, heads of religious institutions and Christian organizations, and of other professional backgrounds.

Individual senior citizens had come together as a group before the Liberian Government-sponsored  celebration of the Country’s Bicentennial first at the Providence Island—where the first batch of freed slaves from America settled—on Friday, January 7, 2022, and the second celebration held at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex on February 14.

The body meets every Tuesday, from 2:00pm to 4:00pm at the Joana Bar & Restaurant, owned by a member—Madam Joana Emerson—located on Ashmun Street, Monrovia. At some meetings members task one another to bring a friend to the next meeting, so that the person will be absorbed as a member.

The current membership of the group include: Sister Mary Laurene Browne, OSF, current President of Stella Maris Polytechnic University; Dr. Mr. Rupel E. Marshall (Meeting’s Facilitator), former Superintendent of Monrovia, and current Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) of the Government; Dr. Dwaboyea E. S. Kandakai, former Minister of Education, and ex-Chairperson of the West African Examination Council (WAEC); Dr. Olubanke King-Akerele, former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Madam Maurene Johnson Hutchinson (Secretary of the group), School Administrator; Madam Joana Emmerson (Cashier of the group), Business Woman; Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, writer, Journalist, and Publisher of Daily Observer newspaper (Liberia’s oldest independent newspaper) Others are: Mr. Thomas Peters, Mr. Alfred Tubman, Mr. Joshua Nma Bedell, historian & Curator; Mr. J. Kringer Harris, Madam Klarie Kla-Williams, Mr. Lester G. Tarpeh, Madam Elizabeth Tubman, Mr. S. T. Eugene Peabody, Mr. Hiliary Dennis, Mr. Charles T.D. King, III, Mr. Siafa Bondokai, Mr. Richlieu Mitchell, Madam Etweeda Cooper, and Mr. William Smith.

 Currently, the body runs a radio-based show entitled “This I Remember”, aired on Government’s Radio Station—ELBC (99.9FM) every Monday, at 6:00pm. The Show, which is the first platform for its contribution to nation building, is for each guest to tell the listening audience about what he/she knows about Liberia of yester-years, which much focus on how governmental leaders and civilians solved a particular national problem.

On National Unification Day (Saturday, May 14, 2022), the Liberian Elders of the Republic of the Bicentennial, 2022, embarked on a Tour (Field Trip) to some of Liberia’s historical/heritage sites and the office of the current Chairman of the of the National Traditional Council and Elders of Liberia (NTCEL), Chief Zanzan Kawor. The targeted places were: Providence Baptist Church (Liberia’s oldest Church, built in 1822), Providence Island (first place freed African slaves were settled), and the National Museum.

NTCEL was represented on the Tour by Chief  Swen Wleh, Deputy Vice Chairman for Administration.

The Liberia National Police (LNP) was represented (for security of the Elders) by officer Mark A. Sonpon.

The tour bus (15 seats) was provided by member (Dr.) Olubanke King-Akerele.

“Let’s all say a big thank you to Dr. Olubanke King-Akerele for the free bus that saved our one hundred and fifty United States Dollars as rental fee of a commercial bus for our tour,” the tour’s main spokesperson, Mr. Rupel E. Marshall, said to other members at the pickup point, and repeated same many times during the tour.

The first point of stop was the Providence Baptist Church on Ashmun and Broad Streets, Monrovia.

The group was received by Rev. Charles O.D. Diggs, Sr., Administrative Pastor of the Providence Baptist Church; and Rev. Laura Pritchard, the Director of Sister Church Relations and Assistant Director of Music, Worship & Information Technology—both representing the Church’s Leadership for the visiting guests.

One of the Church’s walls—in the worship segment—contained name and photo of the vision bearer (Lott Carey) and other leaders from 1822 up to present time.

Mr. Rupel E. Marshall started the interaction with introduction of members of the delegation, and ended on purpose of the visit—to be told history of the Church.

On the historical background of the Providence Baptist Church, Rev. Diggs, Sr. told his Church’s guests that the Founder of the Church is Lott Carey, an African-American Evangelist, in 1822.

He said brainstorming on the physical features and evangelical foundation of the Church started from 1821 and ended 1827.

The burning desire of carrying out his evangelical mission in the “Grain Coast”, later changed to “Liberia”, pushed Lott Carey to  “buy” his in America, Rev. Diggs, Sr. told his the guests.

“In Liberia, Lott Carey built another Church Brewerville,” the Providence Baptist Church’s Administrative Pastor added.

Only the Church’s pulpit and the pastoral benches are “original”, Rev. Diggs, Sr. said when he came to ‘reconstruction’ component of his historical narratives of the Providence Baptist Church.

He also said the Providence Baptist Church was used as venue of the Declaration of Liberia’s Independence.

“For now, the Church is getting no direct financial support from the Government. And we have not changed the external features of the Church and arrangements of seats in the service hall, due to their historical significance,” he added.

Grade Schools and universities are on the Church’s list of educational institutions that had come to the Providence Baptist Church to learn about the Church’s history, Rev. Diggs, Sr. said. 

“We have also supported “Spoken Word” (poetry) competition, by Liberian High Schools on Liberia’s history,” he said. This information was his response to questions from some Elders and a High School student, Romeo Marshall, Jr., son of one of the  Elders—Mr. Rupel E. Marshall.

On her part, the Church’s Director of Sister Church Relations and Assistant Director of Music, Worship & Information Technology, Madam (Rev.) Laura  Pritchard, said: “Racism, Tribalism, and Colonialism have stolen the common identity of African Countries.”

“Liberia is Africa’s Melting Pot—freed slaves of other African Countries were brought here,” she said.

She told the guests that she had lived in the State of Michigan, United States of America, over decades. But she decided to come home to her ancestral Land, Liberia, to contribute to Her Spiritual and educational growths.

To achieve her nationalistic dreams, channeled through the Providence Baptist Church, she said, she has established a not-for-profit organization that focuses much on changing Liberians’ negative mindsets on their compatriots liiving in the Diaspora, and to instill a spirit of national service in her compatriots living in the country.

She said one of the projects being undertaken by my organization is named “Liberia Leads”. “Under this project, we train young Liberians on proper leadership, and connect U.S.-based Africans with Liberian ancestry to their paternal or maternal country, Liberia,” she said.

The meeting ended with questions/comments from the guests and responses from representatives of the host Church, followed by taking of group photos.

At the National Museum, located few meters from the Providence Baptist Church, the next stop, the group was received by Mr. Albert S. Markeh, Director, with his assistants.

The National Museum’s ground floor hosted the Photo Gallery; the upper floor hosted the Reading Room. On a huge banner directly opposite the only entry point contained information about the Museum, some portions praising President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for ‘updating’ the Museum in 2017. The information was on a huge banner, with “Waves of Time” as title of the information.

The visiting group’s main spokesperson, Mr. Rupel E. Marshall, introduced the body and its mission—like he did at the first ‘Heritage Site’—Providence Baptist Church.

“The National Museum is under the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism,” Director Albert S. Markeh informed his guests. “The responsibility of the leadership here is to suggest to the Ministry what is needed, in terms of art work or photo,” he added.

He said an American Archaeologist—Carol J. Alexander, CEO of MaBu, a U.S.-based Culture-promotion Company, provided some of the materials during the American’s visit at the Museum.  The American’s name was under the information on the banner.

Later, the guests were taken on guided tours to the Museum’s only two sections: Arts works/ Photo Gallery and Reading Room. The tour guides were      Mr. Abraham E. Gartoe and Mr. Kollie Kennedy.

During a brief meeting after the tours, some of the guests expressed their concerns and made recommendations.

Dr. Olubanke King-Akerele, an author of more than three books, complained about “small number of Liberian Authors’ books and higher number of foreign writers’ books on the book shelves in the Reading room.”

“The reason is, many Liberian writers are not bringing their books to the National Museum to be displayed. However, we continue to encourage Liberian authors, through management of public libraries, and during our remarks at books launches I’ve been invited to” the Museum’s Director, Mr. Albert S. Markeh responded to Author King-Akerele’s complaints.

Later, Dr. King-Akerele made a personal financial donation to the National Museum, given through a cheque.

Mr. Rupel E. Marshall praised the Government and the Museum Management Team for a photo he had seen in the Photo Gallery: of Liberia’s 18th President, William V.S. Tubman, with a white kid during the Liberian Leader’s visit in England over 70 years ago.

  When its interaction with the Leadership of the National Museum ended, the body of Elders and hangers-on moved to the Providence Island.

Another organization—Liberia National Culture Union (LINCU), headed by Mr. Kekura Kamara—was having a program in the main event hall of the Island. So, the elders’ body waited for their turn of using the hall

Like the Nation Museum, the Providence Island is under the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism (MICAT), through the Tourism Department of the Ministry, the head of the caretaking Leadership’s, Mr. Joe F. James, informed the guests.  

The Director’s narratives, which followed introduction of the visiting body by Mr. Rupel E. Marshall, focused most on the Government-stipulated “space use fee” for any institution that should be released first before being allowed to “occupy” any part of the Island, and “challenges” facing the caretaking committee of the Island.

“Many of the electric light poles and bulbs the Government installed here during the Bicentennial celebration have been stolen by fishermen who do their fishing business in the Island’s water,” Director Joe F. James explained the challenges.

Later, he led the visitors around to see historically symbolic objects in the compound. Two were “Queen Elizabeth” and “May Flower” (both symbolic objects, built with woods)—the “Ships” that brought freed slaves to Liberia and landed here (Providence Island)

This writer queried, during an exclusive interview, Director Joe F. James, this about being-applied method to prevent theft of the electrical things on the Island, and the Journalist called the Director’s attention to the huge grass covering the entire space of the Island, unlike on the  first Bicentennial celebration was held here (January 7)

“My answer to your first question is: the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism, has brought in some men to beef up the security of the Island. To your second concern about plenty grass, my response is this: “The number of persons responsible for sanitation here is four. The grass mower provided by the Ministry months ago has spoiled, not working.”

The body of tourists couldn’t reach the grave site  of 1st Head of State, Joseph Jenkins Roberts and the Chairman of the National Traditional Council and Elders of Liberia— Chief Zanzan Kawor—due to limited time.

After lunch of jollof rice (with parts of turkey), bottled water, and canned soft drinks, members went back to the parked Tour bus, to later disperse to their respective homes.