Liberia: Anchoring the Bicentennial in Unity

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The Oxford dictionary defines bicentennial as “the two-hundredth anniversary of a significant event.” This definition barely scratches the surface of the bicentennial Liberians are now poised to commemorate. A country’s bicentennial is a momentous milestone. Two hundred years of existence and survival against extraordinary odds.  Liberia’s bicentennial is a feat of no small measure for this republic had labor pains that few countries could have survived.  Battered, bruised, bowed, in a world that was once eager to write Liberia’s epitaph before its birth. Liberia trod gingerly amongst nations intent on its demise. Our country bargained, gave up territories (parts of Guinea, Ivory Coast, and the Gallinas), bowed to world censure, was forced to take sides in a war not of its making (WWII) and suffered global humiliation. Yet, Liberia stood. This is truly a cause for celebration.

Yet, there has been little enthusiasm from the Liberian citizenry to the up-coming bicentennial celebrations.  The haphazard arrangements and exclusionary character of the celebration has weakened the “glorious pageantry” that Edwin Barclay once acclaimed. Efforts must be made to include every portion of the citizenry in the celebration.  A strategy should have been mapped out months ago to plan the inclusion of ALL Liberians from cape to cape and the diaspora.

Although precious time has passed, it is not too late to start from where we are.  Poetry, essay and speech contests should be held in schools focusing on the bicentennial and its importance to our national soul and teachers should encourage class discussions on national unity. Media houses should hold televised contests for students to compete on historical knowledge and panel discussions by local Liberians.  Artists should be encouraged and enabled to paint murals of unity throughout the country.  A bicentennial anthem should be composed by national musicians and billboards should adorn the streets, signaling to strangers and citizens that this is a year like no other.  There should be tours to historical sites, speeches not only by officials but the average Liberia and our elders who are living repositories of history.  Counties should be encouraged to submit paintings that can then be used as images for stamps as President C. D B. King did in 1922 to mark Liberia’s centennial celebration.  

There must be an overarching theme to these two hundred years, an anchoring of national unity and oneness.   Legacies of pain and questions must give rise to a frank discussion of past complicated histories and an acknowledgement to forge ahead in unity.  “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not be lived again,” writes Maya Angelou.  We must use the bicentennial as a gateway, a bridge that will bring us together as a nation to stand as Liberia has done. Two hundred years strong. Jackie Sayegh is a Liberian and co-host of Focus on Liberia Literary Hour. She is an alum of the University of Liberia and Cornell University

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