Liberia: Address by Olubanke King-Akerele at The Twentieth Commencement Convocation of The African Methodist Episcopal University
Rev. Alvin E. Attah, Interim President, AME University, Dr. Timothy K. Kpoh, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Romelle A. Horton, Vice President of Academic Support Services, Member of the AMEU Cabinet and Council, Vice Chairs of the Board of Trustees, the Hon. Ansu Sonii, Minister of Education, the National Commission for Higher Education, Government officials here present, Dr Albert Coleman, President of the Associate of Liberian Universities, Dr. Julius Nelson President of University of Liberia, President of Adventist University, Emmanuel Kollie, Deputy Minister of Education & Ass. Min of Education, Representative of President of Cuttington University, the AMEU Administration, Faculty, and Staff of AMEU and the graduating Class of Success, 2020; Members of the Fourth Estate, Distinguished Platform Guest, Parents, Guardians, Ladies and Gentlemen, the class of 2020. Good Morning/Afternoon….
Moment of Silence
Let me begin by asking you all to please stand for a moment of silence for Rep. Muna Pelhan Youngblood; for Minister of Public Works Mabutu Vlahn Nyenpan, Minister Snorti Forh, former MOT, Minister Joseph Korto; Ambassadors Clinton, Fahnbulleh, and Edwin Seleh, Dr. Thomas Jaye, and Irene Brown-Mensah among others……
Last but not least, we also want to identify with the families of the recently dead auditors of LRA and the Head of Internal Audit Agency of the Republic of Liberia, (R.L.).
It gives me much pleasure to have been chosen, by the AMEU Administration and its Student Body to address your commencement convocation today. I am told that this invitation is because of my work for young people over the years.
Indeed, I thank you for this recognition. My work, my interest and passion are what I refer to as the next generation of leadership of the African continent. I refer to them as Africa’s “Emergent” Leadership. Why? Because they “are not there” yet. They must be prepared for that leadership – both academically and character-wise: correct values must be instilled in them – “character building” values such as integrity; honesty; responsibilities; critical thinking and accountability, and above all patriotism – leaders are needed at all levels and spectrum of our society, with the ability for discernment – knowing right from wrong!.
Rev. J. Emmanuel Bowier, Liberia’s foremost oral historian sums this up well. He urges the young to get serious, to prepare themselves for the future leadership. The future, he notes, is for those who prepare for it. Who amongst us is not aware of his “sitting on the old mat to plait the new mat” – there is a pattern of the old in the new. Hence; it is important to teach discernment – to know what is right, to be considered in decision making, hence my topic- What Legacy Is This, Our Generation Leaving for The Next – today’s graduates?
What are our actions telling them? How are we guiding them? This means, we must look at some of the challenges facing us today. How we deal with them or respond to them will leave a legacy that you, the graduates will have to build upon – that will then prove determinant on how you will act when you assume the mantle of Leadership. But how does one prepare? – What training? What is the genesis of this passion? I provided insights into this, earlier this morning as I addressed the undergraduates’ class. As such, I will not repeat it here- that is my journey to leadership-to “honing” the skills and preparing for leadership. You have to read that address I would like now to highlight the following as regards AMEU and my relationship thereto:
- Of significance to this opportunity to address the AMEU graduates is that it was at the AMEU on 13 December 2013 that the Liberian Institute for “Growing” Patriotism, of which I am the Executive Director, was launched by the Chair of the Board of Tax Appeals, Amb. Charles Minor on behalf of Liberia’s first woman Judge, her Honor, Judge Emma Shannon Walser who dared to call on Government under the Tolbert’s regime to show cause for imprisoning the alleged perpetrator of the 1979 rice riots, that in turn, sowed the seeds leading to the fall of the First Republic. She was removed from her judgeship by a Joint Resolution of the Liberian Legislature. We, Liberian women, protested the action. We took a 500 signatory to the Legislature, at which time, I read that petition.
- The Liberian Institute for “Growing” Patriotism
The Liberian Institute for “Growing” Patriotism was established in recognition of and as a tribute to the memory of Liberians throughout the nation, from all ethnic backgrounds and those of settlers or emigrant origins as well as Liberia’s unsung Heroes and Heroines from all walks of Life and all levels of society for their contributions over time, to nation-building and the development of “Mama” Liberia. It has been duly registered as a non-Governmental Organization under the Laws of the Republic of Liberia.
- The primary mission of the Liberian Institute is in two-folds:
Foremost: to provide informal training and education for “Growing” (development and promotion) Patriotism amongst Liberians.
The institute achieves this through a series of interventions that enhance the knowledge of the citizenry through specific actions and advocacy, thereby creating a sense of pride in being Liberia. Secondly, to promote the upliftment of the welfare and wellbeing of Liberians through support to project activities (ongoing and otherwise) that contributes to the transformation of the Liberian citizenry and the society.
Yet, other issues that I wish to flag as I address this class of the Graduate school are the following:
- My first interaction with Dr. Alexander Cummings (in whose honor the Graduate School is named) was in his then capacity as Head of Coco-Cola Africa. This was at the first AGOA meeting in Ghana. I was Minister of Commerce and Industry then and had worked on getting Liberia into AGOA (the US Africa Growth & Opportunity Act). I went up to him and introduced myself. I told him that I wanted his assistance for Liberia’s entrepreneurs to benefit from AGOA. He asked what I needed. I said $50,000.00USD. Mr. Cummings gave it. We put it into ECOBANK which their matching grant scheme doubled to US$100,000.00.
- Can we have a big hand for Mr. Alexander Cummings? I had never met him before and he did not know who I was. But he gave assistance to Liberia’s entrepreneurs to capacitate them and enable them to be eligible to take advantage of the AGOA. Liberia was commended by the US for successful entry, in record time of six months to AGOA.
In short, Mr. Cummings had contributed in 2006/2007 to the “Growing” of Liberia’s Future entrepreneurs. What are we saying?- – – – -Namely that there has to be facilitation for the “Growing” (development & promotion) or materialization of the future that we want. It does not just happen.
- Yet, another dimension I would like to highlight, is the collaboration underway with Dr. Augustine Konneh, Director of the Graduate MA International Relations Programme here at the AMEU. Dr. Konneh was originally with the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) as its Director at Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) under my tenure as Minister there. How did that happen? Again I simply scouted out Liberian expertise from wherever and made sure he returned from Morehouse University where he headed the African Studies Department; under, once more UN arrangements-the TOKTEN programme.
- More recently, the Angie Brooks International Centre (ABIC) and the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT) at the University of Liberia have engaged some of the students in his programme, in the exciting work of Sustaining Liberia’s Peace. They are contributing to the development of a Sustaining Liberia’s Peace Educational Board Game. One of your students at the Masters level in international Development, Mr. Shem Saywrayne in particular, had made highly commendable contributions thereto, for which we say “thank you” plenty.
I am pleased to announce that the honorarium received from AMEU today, will constitute the first institutional contribution to the development of the Sustaining Liberia’s Peace Educational Board Game that is expected to prove an important instrument at all levels of the educational ladder as well as other layers of Government (Legislature and Executive branches) and the society at large, in contributing to Sustaining Liberia’s Peace.
- Other participants from the Graduate International Relations school have been part of a 3 months training at the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT), University of Liberia and the Angie Brooks International Centre as KAICT’s Young Diplomats for Conflict Prevention and Realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They were certificated in August 2019 and August 2020. They will constitute a reservoir of Liberia’s “home grown” Peace makers and Conflict Preventers. A training supported by UNHCHR and UNFPA regional programme from Dakar, Senegal. Some 90 (ninety) young diplomats have already been certificated – over the past 2 (two) years. This is part of the Kofi Annan Living Memorial (KALM), in honor of the late UNSG Kofi Annan under whose tenure-ship of that world body, played a key role in sending the largest UN Peace Keeping Force to Liberia. It was the UNMIL that brought our nation back into the Comity of Nations, following the 14 years of civil crisis, and the critical role of ECOMOG before then.
Others of AMEU’s undergraduates are similarly participating with us, amongst whom is Leila Cooper.
- Then there was the portfolio of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and clearance of the prerequisites for Liberia’s admission thereto. One of our then young entrepreneurs – Amin Modad – did an extraordinary job in playing a critical role under both my administration and subsequent Ministers, in arriving at positive culmination of that portfolio and Liberia’s eventual entry to the WTO.
- Yet another issue is the potential for you, MA graduates. Your challenge in terms of the economy is major. But you have the skills and talents and are empowered. It will be for you to make Government do what is necessary for you to be effective participants in the economy. All the areas of Graduate Studies are greatly needed to propel our nation forward. You do not need to wait for Government jobs. Be creative, show your skills.
I propose to you all to constitute yourselves into a consultancy group that offers technical services to GOL and others. Promote yourselves and your expertise. How about a Consortium of AMEU Graduates offering services that cover your various skills set and expertise?
Lastly, I want to turn now to the Referendum as the subject matter of what legacy are we leaving for the next generation – all of you! Does Prohibition hold or not?
What is the reality of the Supreme Court’s decision? So much unclarity! So much confusion! My heart is heavy! My soul is perturbed. I am, like many others, dumfounded on this. I am amongst those who believe that the Referendum is not timely at all. So many interest groups in the society have called on the Government and NEC to suspend the holding of the Referendum: Civil Society, the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), Political Parties, Student Groups, Women Groups, the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and the Press Union of Liberia-yet, their pleas have gone unattended. What I ask is, why the Rush? We have 4 items before us of the 25 recurring recommendations that the Constitution Review process under the then Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott spent two years all over the country on? Why only these eight propositions, bundled up into three? Why of all the others-the interests of women have not even been taken up and this, under our Feminist-In-Chief? There needs to be proper consultations and sufficient time to undertake adequate civic education to the populace.
Why is the Government not listening to the citizenry? Why are the Advisors not talking “truth’ to the Executive Head” of Government? The people, not only opposition politicians, are not ready, they have spoken. The constitutional requirements have not been sufficiently met. The Supreme Court made a decision to the effect that the Court admitted that there were glaring errors in the Gazette that must be corrected. Yet, we learn from the Solicitor General and the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs that the Referendum is still on! Pray tell me how? The Constitution provides for the people – all of us – to play a role in Constitution making. We are being asked to vote on issues that people are not properly educated on. How can one be threatened that if you don’t vote “yes”, you do not love your country? This is unacceptable. I love my country and am amongst foremost patriots! But people must not be threatened!
What is wrong with asking the State, our nation, to abide by the Constitution? Is this the legacy our generation will pass on to you all-the next Leadership of our nation? The theme of my address: what Legacy are we passing on to the nation’s future leadership is at “bay”!
- If indeed we have an obligation to the future of “Mama” Liberia, we must do a second take. Madam Chair of the NEC-please, please, re-look at what you are doing. Is NEC empowered to do the work of the Legislature? According to the Act that established the National Elections Commission, the primary duties of NEC include inter alia, administering and enforcing all laws related to the conduct of elections throughout the Republic of Liberia.
- Now, under our laws, The Legislature through a Joint Resolution has to adopt the proposing of a Constitutional Referendum to amend the various articles. This has to be approved by the President and further published and printed into handbills by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Can the NEC take over the function of the Legislature by separating propositions for printing?
NEC has also further decided to interpret the ruling of the Supreme Court. In my mind (and a non-legal practitioner), NEC may need to take time to review its actions in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling as one would not want its actions to be, ultra-vires!
- My question is, how do you, as an ordinary citizen, understand the Supreme Court Ruling which states “The alternative writ of prohibition issue is sustained and the peremptory writ prayed for is granted”. I leave it with you to decide. Liberians –we must Protect the Constitution! Moreover, must the Liberian citizenry take the Government to the ECOWAS Court again or to the African Human Rights Commission in Gambia? Must this be the only recourse for the citizens of Africa’s oldest republic? Ah meh-Ah meh Ah meh!!
What is our obligation to the next generation of Liberia’s Leadership? Must we, in good faith, keep silent? I was advised by so many persons “not to go there”-but yesterday morning, I got a message from one who is a mentor and who I hold with high respect, Sister Mary Laurene Browne, praying that my address be guided by the Holy Spirit. I called her in tears and thanked her. Yet another colleague said “may God speak through you and to our nation”.
Hence, my inspiration to proceed, notwithstanding, all the caution that my address may not be appreciated or taken kindly by certain sectors of the society. I ask again and again-What is the legacy for the next generation? If the future belongs to these young graduates today, then, we have an obligation to them! What is that obligation?
In the words of the Jewish Rabbi Talon “one is not obligated to complete the work but neither are we free to abandon it”. The “work” in this instance is nation-building; upholding and protecting the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia; to uphold the Lone Star (both the flag and its attributes) and then turn over to the next generation the wherewithal and a legacy that does not constrain them; one that will motivate the young people to ensure that “Mama” Liberia continues to regain its status among the Comity of Nations. In the words of the national orator of our 153rd anniversary, at the dawn of the millennium 26 July 2000, Dr. Romeo Horton
“From 1847 to 1999, our Lone Star (Republic of Liberia) has remained afloat; sometimes at full staff. On occasions, the storms of nationhood have bent the staff to breaking point but never broken, never tossed to the ground. We have had our birth and growing pains. Our Camelot and recently our Nightmare, but the Lone Star still flies over land and over sea.”
As I conclude, I assert in no uncertain terms that Patriotism remains my mantra, and one that I urge all of you to adopt. If you do, then you can but exercise diligence in protecting the Constitution and demand that Government also abides by it.
As such, I now ask you all to stand and salute the Republic of Liberia by singing lustily our foremost patriotic hymn “The Lone Star Forever”
“The Lone Star forever,
The Lone Star forever!
O long may it float
Over Land and O’er Seas!
Desert it! No never!
Uphold it forever!
O shout for the Lone Star
Banner all hail.”
I Thank You!