Nineteen years ago, we celebrated our Independence for the first time after fourteen years of civil unrest. Those fourteen unprecedented years remain a scar sketched in every corner of the nation and a testimony held even by those lucky enough not to live through such an experience. Like every nation in the world, recuperating from such a trauma can be daunting. On top of the fractured infrastructure, healing the broken system has taken us almost two decades. Amidst these things, we cannot bury our effort as much as we cannot sugar-coat the role we have played in our stagnation process. The signing of our Declaration of Independence remains a step toward our progress. Denying this is to be an ingrate to the people who fought our battles. In this op-ed, I look at some of our steps as a nation, our pride, and what lies ahead of us.
By: Prince Uriah Destiny Tardeh, Contributing Writer
It has been a long ride for us all. Excitingly, living in a period where we are not hiding from bullets nor held hostage by imperial powers can’t be overlooked. Wherever you are, you won’t be reading this if those days of atrocities persisted. I wouldn’t have had the chance to write it in the first place. The first thing we should hold close to our hearts is the freedom we continue to enjoy. Through this freedom, we remain accountable for our failures and successes. Even if we gambled it for which we experienced the war and haven’t learned our lesson, we can boast of controlling our governments and having a voice on the international scene through the over two hundred signatures we have on international agreements and treaties. Whether this freedom is a merit of a government or not, our state of existence since the Civil War lies in how we have used this freedom over the years. For instance, our freedom to vote has manifested more than we had imagined. Governments, even the ones we thought were saviors, have gone. Our problems live on. Our economy remains vulnerable. Our education system is shaky and shackled by insufficient resources for students and faculty. Most importantly, healthcare, food, and security remain scanty in a world driven by Sustainable Development Goals.
As James Kiawoin mentioned one year ago, these things are not at their best; however, we possess a freedom that still gives us hope that at 176, our better days are still ahead. With this freedom, we can find our various worship centers as a nation and pray that our leaders will someday put us above all else as they always promise. We can gather as one people, irrespective of tribal backgrounds, to celebrate our annual County Sports Meet without fear of bullets. Because of this freedom, our bars and video clubs boom during the weekends without harassment from anyone. To say that we don’t own anything as a nation is to be unappreciative of the work our forefathers did centuries ago to ensure that once we decided not to fight among ourselves, we would have our future in our own hands.
Importantly, we cannot speak to this freedom without bringing to light our past and present governments’ direct involvement in handling the freedom since the civil war. In the past nineteen years, we have had three democratic governments. These governments were all to provide us with quality infrastructure, good healthcare, better education, and an economy without coercion from imperial powers. To say that they did not attempt to do those things will be unjust. On the other hand, to say that they used this freedom to enrich themselves and the people who sang praises for them is an understatement. All of their regimes have felt like we do not have the free will to govern ourselves as a nation. Apart from being whipped like we were during the slave trade, we continue to experience suffering despite having our freedom in our hands. Our security system is far from being a protective system. Our justice system has failed. We remain vulnerable to the suppression of the law and the brutalization of our lives more than those described in the Declaration of Independence. Our right to quality education is on the line. On top of the unavailable resources, our brothers and sisters in rural high schools, community colleges, and universities remain guided by unqualified teachers and professors.
In addition, our healthcare system is a prerequisite for untimely death. Original counties like Grand Bassa and Sinoe can only boast of one government hospital that almost always has no medical supplies or electricity. Meanwhile, we have some of our lawmakers who studied Public Health as careers before transitioning to governmental positions. Interestingly, these things have been on their campaign platforms since we resumed post-war democratic election processes. Some who previously served tenures come back with these same platforms. Whether they accomplished the previous is a discourse for the next generation of freedom fighters. We can say many things about how our governments have used this freedom; however, the impunity they have exhibited, far above the ones of ordinary citizens, still reminds us of those dark days.
Although our governments have used this freedom their way, one group of people continue to stand against this status quo – the young people. For the past nineteen years, the young people of Liberia have taken intentional steps toward restoring the growth and dignity of the nation at both the national and international levels. At the international level, Abraham Keita raised the Liberian flag when he won the International Children’s Peace Prize Award, Phil Tarpeh Dixon remains Liberia’s pride as Africa’s number one at the World Quizzing Championship, Satta F. Sheriff, and Linda P. Lloyd continue to raise their voices for young girls and women across the globe, etc. Through the hard work of this young generation, it is no longer strange to see Liberians in elite private and public universities/colleges around the world. Moreover, young Liberians continue to embark upon different leadership, entrepreneurship, and advocacy roles to help shine a light on the freedom our forefathers provided. For example, in addition to her entrepreneur programs, SMART Liberia has sent about eighteen students to acquire quality education in the US. Additionally, TRIBE-Liberia has adapted modern models to get students grounded in start-ups and empowerment programs. Similarly, YONER-Liberia, for the past years, has introduced a vast majority of us to tech education and employable opportunities to enhance our learning processes.
Furthermore, the Liberian Poet Society, We Write Liberia, Young Scholars of Liberia, and Youth for Change are doing all they can to improve young people’s literary, intellectual, and research skills. While the unavailability of resources makes most of these opportunities centralized, young people who believe that Liberia deserves better than our leaders have provided constantly engineered these opportunities. On the other hand, some young people remain blindfolded to the reality of our suffering. They have not come to believe that politicians keep the vast majority of the population in poverty in order to harness their vote the moment they [politicians] provide bags of rice and a thousand dollars to the people whom they know will be in dire need of such support. Nevertheless, I believe that young people are capable of using this freedom the way our freedom-fighters had dreamed it to be once we changed the mantra of our politics and prioritize their style of leadership.
It has been nineteen years since our parents last walked from Buchanan to Monrovia, Ganta to Buchanan, and distances normal humans wouldn’t walk. Unfortunately, the difference between those times and now is the absence of bullet exchange and the opportunity to be free. Interestingly, we fail to realize that we are not the only African country to have experienced civil war. Other African countries with the same scar of civil unrest continue to take steps towards development. For instance, it took Rwanda twelve years to reach an 8% rebound in her economy. Even their infrastructure development process remains promising to date. Likewise, Angola took two years to hit 11% economic growth after its civil war, which lasted longer than ours. Regardless of the magnitude and duration, other countries like Kenya and Tanzania that have had some type of conflict have gained admirable rebound in their infrastructures and economies. But nineteen years ago, today, our country, the oldest Independent country in Africa, is yet to be admired for any form of development.
Now into another turning point in our lives as a nation, our upcoming election will determine the shape we will take. Whether we will draw close to the so-called “Vision 2030” we sang years ago is tied to this election. We should become very intentional about the change we have seen in those countries we have heard about and traveled to. We need to revert from the claims that advocates aren’t supposed to get involved with change-making processes and raise our voices like usual. Plus, it makes little sense when we sit there and allow the wrong people who we know have not lived up to our expectations to continue to hinder our growth. I think that the best time to advocate is now. Let us scrutinize our candidates in tandem and tell the older people in Plebo and Grand Kola not to be carried away by rice and money. We need to market those candidates who can do the deal but lack the political popularity our country’s style of politics calls for.
Too often, I hear the saying: “you can’t fight the hands that feed you.” On the other hand, you can make the hands that ‘feed you’ understand that you would have fed yourself had they done the right things. We are on a trajectory that will either keep us in the dark we are not already far from or closer to our neighboring countries doing better than us. The ball is now in our court. It seems like our last shot. Our elections have always mattered to us, but this one matters even more. With selflessness and concerted effort, this election can give us much more than kitschy T-shirts and face caps. We may talk ten thousand times about how much we love Liberia, but if we can not chew on ourselves to do the right things, we are doing to ourselves self-deception, and lavishing the freedom we have as a nation. We are free! More than ever before, it is time that we think and live like people who can govern their own affairs as a reward for our freedom fighters.
Happy 176th Independence!!!
About the Author: Prince Uriah Destiny Tardeh hails from Grand Bassa County. He is a rising junior at Swarthmore College.