Nation Building is a Cardinal Tool for Socioeconomic and Political Stability in Liberia

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Introduction

   Nation building is about constructing a national identity using the power of the state through the unification of people. The aim is to make the state remain politically, economically, socially stable and viable in the long run.


By Moibah Kortu, Contributor,  0886486927/0770403510, [email protected]


Liberian society has been a part of West Africa over two centuries, if we were to gaze back into history. As an integral part of the continent, it has been fostering coexistence with other nations. It is evident that this nation was not built as a result of historical accident, but by our mothers and fathers who crafted the vision of the country. Building Liberia, as I consider it, is a work in process because nation building is a continuous process. True Liberians committed to building this state will never rest because there will be evolving challenges to address adequately. The first and foremost thing we need in the nation building process is wisdom, coupled with common sense of purpose that tied everyone into common citizenship.

    In the nation building endeavors, it is important for Liberians to have the sense of national ownership—that this country is the only place we have on planet Earth and none else. This is our sovereign nation and we must be proud of it.

Another factor in the nation building process is taking interest in political reform, building a civil society, developing strong local provincial government and ensuring the protection of civil liberties. It may also mean improving the laws and Constitution in accordance with expectations of the public.

Security reform in nation building is also key, as it helps in guaranteeing citizen’s safe environment. This is interlocked with judicial reform which entails strengthening legal institutions, ensuring a functional and independent judicial for the state.

The concept of nation building generally assumes that the citizens are doing the building, and appreciating the evolutionary process that comes with it.

Nation building must be the foundation for social cohesion for our country. This takes a long time and is a social process that cannot be push-started from outside of our nation. It requires that each citizen plays a role by primarily focusing on common purpose for the state. As a student at Kofi Annan School of Conflict Transformation, University of Liberia, I was charged with the responsibility of building my country as a good citizen in line with national agenda.

The Challenge of History

The coming of the freed slaves (settlers) on this soil of Liberia created some challenges for the aborigines. Liberia was never colonized by any foreign power according to our history. The settlers were simply put on the shores of Liberia, triggering divisions between them and the natives of the land. Social tensions erupted as the rival groups fought each other for control of territory. Amongst the challenges faced by the settlers upon arrival were language barrier, land acquisition, social participation among others.

Despite the initial friction and disharmony, it is important to state that Liberians must never consider ourselves as victims of our history no matter what we went through. We have to see the challenges we face as a stepping stone in building this nation.

The citizens that want to build their nation must not forget where they started, where they are and where they want to be. The critical question to ponder is this: Who builds Liberia? Liberians must build Liberia. I am not arguing that other nations and organizations should not provide assistance to our nation building process. What I am saying is that Liberians should be in the forefront of its own development and stability, and they must do so with commitment, sincerity and patience.

    Nation building matters because government and citizens must together build the society, the economy and the polity that meet the basic needs of the citizens. All must work together in tackling and mitigating the effects of inequalities, poverty, unemployment and violence nationwide.

In our nation building process, we must allow the participation of civil society in our decision making processes, develop democratic institutions that will promote the well-being of all citizens. To create harmony and achieve that goal, the citizens must work together to solve the problems of language, culture, tradition, national colors among others which we should not allow to go extinct. These values are what we show others when we are out of this nation. It is our responsibilities not to repeat the errors of the past because history has challenged us to build Liberia.

The challenge of socio-inequalities

      One of the most important aspects of building Liberia is to ensure that all citizens are equally treated before the law, at work places and in institutions. This has been a fault cry from reality over the last decades. Socioeconomic inequalities have long expressed themselves in the marginalization of the majority of the people by the ruling elites. Many citizens were denied basic social rights such as right to education, health, employment, road and social services.

It is also observed that, over the years, there have been serious variations in the enjoyment of these rights across the country.  As a consequence, most citizens don’t feel motivated to support the country and society initiatives, because they don’t feel that the society is adequately concerned about their welfare. Secondly, socio-economic inequalities across the country had fueled fears and suspicion which have kept our people divided.

The ruling elites and development experts must understand that our common identity, as Liberians, should hold us together as a people irrespective of religion, ethnic, culture and other differences.

The interesting question is how we can have a common identity when some one’s living condition in Kambolahun is radically different from another person’s life in Kini Town. This problem began and was known from the very beginning of Liberia’s founding.  It becomes puzzling as to how successive governments over a century failed to adequately address the problems of inequities and marginalization of the society.

For example, immediately following independence in 1847, one of the focuses of President Joseph J. Roberts was reacting to the charges abroad that the elite of Liberia was guilty of injustice, unkindness and unfaithfulness to tribal inhabitants according to Gabriel Williams (2002).

   The Challenge of Building Institutions

   One of the greatest challenges with respect to nation building is the building of institutions that are contributive to human capacity building and democratic governance. Liberia must take interest in building institutions upon which to advance the nation building process. This includes setting standards to measure the performance of public institutions and how they impact the lives of ordinary Liberians. There are a number of public institutions established by the government of Liberia over half a century. Booker Washington Institute was established in 1929 and its products have performed remarkably over the years but it remains a mere certificate offering for all this while. Similarly, LIPA was established in 1969 and is still offering certificate and diploma to graduates. Besides, LIPA is sending Liberian students to Ghana Institute of Public Administration (GIPA) to pursue higher education. 

  In nation building, we should seek the advancement of critical institutions for better and efficient standard of performances for the state. Our failure to advance these institutions will create many gaps in the future. It is an exigent national duty to build the capacity of the citizens and this can only happen when government invest in important institutions of the state. Providing people with higher education, giving technological capacity to citizens, is the surest way to yield better work performances for nation building. If we do not advance these institutions to degree granting programs, the nation will continue to import specialists into our nation building process which will be very cost intensive. If these institutions are not elevated, nation building will be hard to achieve through the human resource performances.

The challenge of Leadership

Leadership is a critical factor in nation building. Leadership is based on honesty, integrity, commitment and competence. It requires ability of leaders to deliver the nation to the next better level. Our leaders should not see themselves as masters of the Liberian people. They should consider themselves servants. Our leaders must understand the political, social, economic, education, health, justice and governance problems of the society. They should not preach this and do the opposite but should respect human rights and the rule of law in the country. Based on the above, and as it is often said, “a single tree cannot make a jungle” and so a leader cannot perform all of the duties without accommodating others. Remember, those who surround the leader are people from almost every part of the country who must do what is right for Liberia. .

Over the years, one of Liberia’s major problems is the kind of leadership that takes over national building process. Not many of them exhibit the qualities of integrity, honesty, commitment and competence. From time to time, there has been the problem of political exclusion, corruption, marginalization and the failure to apply the rule of law of the Republic. The issue of the above practices had led this nation into political failure many times, as far as our history has shown. Do these problems exist today? You can be the best judge.

Being a leader in Liberia is not just about holding an important position in the government. It is principally about carrying on national duty as responsibly and expertly as possible. This means, the leader must be accountable to his/her people especially the elected ones.  The problems of governance in this nation have left costly repercussions for the nation. And this comes from the poor management of public resources and failure in policy implementation by leaders who lacked commitment, integrity and the relevant knowledge. In the framework of responsible national building, leaders are expected to be able to contribute constructively and to be directly involved in formulating, implementing, controlling and supervising policies that are specifically designed to address the problems of their citizens according to the right order of promotions.

There are many good rules on our books, but their implementation has been the problem. As a result of bad leadership, the nation became fragile. Indeed, no country builds its fabric by dodging its problems. We have to confront the challenges of reconciliation as painful as it may be. Reconstruction must be buttressed by investing and development all over equitably.

The Characteristics of Fragility

As a result of mounting pressure made on the state over a century, some citizens resulted to demonstration, coups and attempted, coups, which eventually resulted into the civil conflict. Liberia failed in three dimensions that led to civil crisis. Firstly, authority’s failure which means Liberia lacked the authority of protecting its citizens from violence of various kinds in the country. Secondly, there was service failure where the government could no longer ensure that citizens had access to basic social services from their government. Thirdly, legitimacy failure, where the state lacked legality, enjoyed only limited support among the people, and which was typically not democratic. As a result of the above, there loomed uncertainty for peace amongst the people. Then came the prolonged violent conflict which was triggered by the rigging of 1985 presidential election in Liberia.

 Fragility is defined as the quality of peace been easily broken or damaged The Failed State Index by Brad Amburn in 2005 reported that Liberia was one of the fragile countries in Africa. Liberia is fragile because public services could not be met by the citizens.

Unemployment     

Unemployment, especially chronic joblessness amongst citizens, is a present and clear danger for any country. And Liberia is not exempted. It is a result of lack of opportunity to create jobs or to build the capacity of people to be job-marketed. In the absence of programs for job training and human resource capacity building, citizens’ ability to find a job is difficult; their psychological wellbeing and contribution to nation building is scanty. When citizens are unemployed, the more difficult it is for them to be useful citizens. Some turn to criminal acts as alternative livelihood.

During these difficult post-conflict days in Liberia, youth employment is extremely vital to the economic and social development of nation building. It is important that the youth are engaged into worthwhile undertaking, such as working in private and public life, starting businesses and gaining the required skills and education to participate in this era of post-conflict reconstruction. The high unemployment rate in Liberia has had a direct impact on the social and economic development of the youth. It has impact on the larger society.

Unemployment brings despair, unhappiness and anguish. It forces people to live their lives in a way they do not wish to. Unemployment has increased in Liberia as a result of the civil war that devastated the social, economic and political fabrics of the nation. 

To address the adverse effect of unemployment in our society, it is advisable that the government should encourage more foreign direct investment which will create more jobs. The government must build the capacity of citizens, empowering business people, and providing vocational and technical education for people to be skilled in various vocations and marketable for jobs. If the above steps are taken, the economy of Liberia would bolster and citizens will take control of the economy in the future.

Poverty

Poverty, as a social problem, is a deeply embedded wound that permeates every dimension of culture and society. It includes sustained low levels of income for members of a community. It includes a lack of access to services like education, markets, health care, lack of decision making ability, and lack of communal facilities like water, sanitation, roads, transportation, and communications. One of the most fundamental drivers of poverty is inequality. The understanding of the word poverty is a person living in our society without money, unable to pay bills and struggling to provide the necessities to life. Poverty has been in existence since the founding of the nation. Poverty got exacerbated as a result of the civil conflict, leaving nearly everybody in abject want. Poverty is widespread because there are no entities for employment; there are no good loans for marketing, and government is not in the position to employ everyone. The solution to reducing poverty is to provide education and build the capacity of the people so that many can be self-sufficient and self employed   

Corruption

Corruption is motivated by the possibility of securing something of value for oneself and one’s allies.  The impact of corruption on Liberia cannot be overemphasized, because the result is often disastrous. The fourteen year conflict in Liberia was largely attributed to pervasive corruption in all spheres of governance. A poor condition of service as is the case in Liberia opens the door to bribery. Corrupt officials often accept substandard services because of kickbacks thus depriving the country of value added services from people, investors and others. This makes provision of health care, electricity, education, water, telecommunication and many others inadequate to the population. One of the greatest impacts of corruption normally arises out of the choices and priorities of government.

   This occurs when the real development priorities of Liberia are often neglected in favor of those that generate the greatest personal gains for the decision makers. Loans taken before in Liberia by government on the pretext of undertaking development project were diverted to unknown account. For example, President Edward J. Roye borrowed a loan from the British Bank valued at US$500,000.00 in 1871 on behalf of the country. Out of the amount,  $100,000.00 was to be used to buy outstanding government papers of any kind. Also, 100,000.00 was to finance the printing of new treasure notes and the rest was to be deposited in a bank as an emergency fund.  For an unexplained reason the full amount never reached the Liberian treasure. This was the first major corruption issue in Liberia according to Kenneth Y. Best.

   Today, corruption has been given various names, as public enemy number one, vampire, container among others. One of the unresolved past in this country has been the issue of corruption. I must appreciate the efforts of GAC, IAS and other institutions fighting corruption but more efforts must be applied to minimize this epidemic in the nation building process. The impact of corruption on Liberia has been severe over a century. It continues to eat the fabric of the society. In order to minimize corruption, clear rules must be established to fight with and persecution power to the integrity institutions. Moreover; those found guilty of corruption must get out of the box of impunity.

Investment

Investment is essential in order to buttress government efforts in creating employment opportunities for citizens, reduce poverty in nation building and to improve people’s living standards in Liberia when employed. It plays an important role in achieving high economic growth rates.

The commercial sector of this nation is in the hands of the Lebanese, Chinese, Fulani, Mandingoes and Nigerians. Whenever these merchants shut their shops in observance of their centenaries, the nation suffers in obtaining basic consumable goods. They are doing well in Liberia because they are fully committed, sincere to their businesses and business partners.  However; one of the best ways for Liberians to control the economy in the future is when the Government of Liberia will fully empower the citizens to venture into business initiatives and to establish factories for production. 

President William V. S. Tubman had the Open Door Policy and promotion of the free enterprise system to attract huge foreign economic boom. The United States Dollars made the country a haven for international trade and its per capita income for example grew from the 1950s to the 1970s. The nation mined the iron ore in Bomi Territory, ore in Cape Monut County, ore in Nimba County and ore in Bong County according to E. Reginald Townsend. During this era of economic prosperity, however; the country simply experienced growth in the economy without much development because resources were not even semi processed. Moreover; we did not have the mind of industrializing the resources of the country. 

The majority of the population remained in abject poverty because it was without much planning for the state in concession agreement. The Open Door Policy in Liberia for investment was widely opened without a screen of scrutiny. In order for nation building to forge ahead we must have a screen on every investment and concession agreement in the country. Can you imagine an opened door policy has let into our concession agreements? Corruption, fraud, omission, transposition, theft and you can help me name the rest. The issue of underdevelopment which we have borne through several generations has been a burden on the state according to Bill Frank Onoye.    

Tubman launched the Operation Production in 1963 that was geared toward increasing food production in the country. After several years of existence, it became operation without production because the succeeding president discontinued it. Similarly, president Doe launched the Green Revolution as a means of encouraging farmers to increase food production particularly rice. This also was discontinued leaving it with a revolution with no green. Today projects have been launched in the interest of the state. The question is, will our next leaders abandon projects of their predecessors and run their own projects by their undertakings?

 I believe that this should not go on because government is continuity. Our next leaders should first exhaust projects they meet on the national desks at their new offices.  Foreign investment in post war Liberia had been a difficult task because of the high risk of insecurity for investment. 

   Underdevelopment

   The burden of underdevelopment which we have borne through several generations has been more a burden of such attitudes than of meager resources and lack of opportunities to translate them into a commensurate level of prosperity. Corruption, poverty, crisis are some of the factors responsible for Liberia been underdeveloped. Our history revealed for the last fifty years, to be precise- suggests that we have had nearly everything a nation needed to work with toward the attainment of an acceptable level of nation building from our natural resources.

The way forward in Liberia’s nation building process

   Nation building goal will not be met with various challenges in existence. It is therefore necessary for Liberians to be engaged in activities that will prevent national self-destruction. In this respect, we need to breed a generation of new nation builders. We should not see sycophancy and call it loyalty. We should not see limited vision and call it foresight. We should not see mediocrity and call it excellence. We should not see exploiters and call them partners in progress. We should not see callousness and plain wickedness and call it benevolence. We should not see hypocrisy and call it concern. We should not be driven by morbid self-delusion according to Bill Frank Onye. Government should ensure that at each level of government office, the boss should be made to provide exemplary leadership on the basis of civil service regulation, unflinching patriotism and fear of God.

 The purpose is to strengthen the foundation of the nation and build the capacity of the citizens and their leaders. As mentioned above, the overall chief should prioritize anti-unemployment, anti-corruption and prioritize inclusion in the affairs of the state as solution to national society. The participation of citizens in the governance process by choosing a system that serves them best, selecting their leaders and playing active roles in decision making is the way forward in nation building. The therapy is that socioeconomic equalities are the best candidates for nation building in Liberia.  

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