I bring you greetings from the masses of people whose desperation for economic freedom and equality remains unquenched since our flag was first hosted in 1847. After all these years of independence, they continue to salute the flag of Liberia in deepening poverty and misery. This is the highest demonstration of love and loyalty that can be shown by any group of vulnerable people who have known the harsh meaning of marginalization and exclusion from the very formation of this small, but rich space called Liberia.
Truly, they are the real patriots of the land who have sacrificed to maintain peace, stability and tranquility. As emerging leaders in this generation, the task is ours to bridge this widening gap of inequality if we sincerely hold in high esteem those basic values that come along with human dignity and human rights. History could crown us as generational change-agents if we collectively pursue this mission and dutifully accomplish it with oneness of purpose and a sense of mutual coexistence.
I want to congratulate youth leaders-elect of this great community. The confidence reposed in you must never be betrayed even when the struggle seems tough. I encourage Chairman Kelvin Zaymah and his team to remain dedicated to the cause of the people. It is an honor for me to serve as the guest speaker on this historic inauguration of young and aspiring leaders of the A.B. Tolbert Community. Whenever I have an opportunity especially on an occasion such as this, it obligates me as a young patriot to evoke our common resolve and rekindle our hope to chart a new course of economic freedom, social justice, genuine peace and national unity.
Whenever these fundamental creeds and democratic tenets are threatened especially after 170 years of hosting our flag, then we have a duty to soberly reflect and critically reassess ourselves. I am even finding it difficult to say HAPPY FLAG DAY, because what good it is for our flag to fly high when citizens are flying low as a result of economic paralysis. Even as our flag flies this moment, there are thousands of Liberians who are unable to smile. Yes, I know this for a fact, and the expression on the faces of our people clearly interprets the struggles they endure every day.
They are at the verge of losing hope. Optimism has gone far away from them while misery remains their closest ally. They are unable to celebrate because destitution is fast crushing and depriving them of those basic immunities they deserve to live a decent and dignified life. I know what they go through every day and I, too, share similar trauma sometimes, but again we have no choice, but to wave our flag and reflect because this day symbolizes our sovereignty as a republic that is engrained in liberty and indivisibility.
Mr. Chairman elect and our distinguished audience, it will interest you to know that while I was en route to this program, I did not see too many flags in front of the homes of Liberians. What I saw while passing through the suburb of Red Light was a marketplace of street vendors, marketers, car loaders, cold water sellers, push-push riders, motorcyclists and street sweepers. Even on holiday like this when most of our people are supposed to rest, reflect and recreate, they have no choice, but to hustle. This further justifies our argument that Liberia is a rich country only for the minority, and not the majority.
Why is it that most of our people have lost appetite in waving their flags? Have they lost hope in our flag? Why aren’t they hosting our flag above their homes as they did before? The major factor triggering this low momentum is the poor economic condition of our people in the midst of abundant natural resources. This low momentum sends a message of discord, displeasure and public discontent. It validates the United Nations 2017 World Happiness Report that our people are the 8th unhappiest in the world. Who is ever proud or happy to be in such condition?
But with God on our side, we are observing yet another flag day and we have every reason to muster the courage to pledge our allegiance to the flag of Liberia, which is our symbol of national solidarity, sovereignty and commonality. While we go through this inauguration program, let us not forgot to memorialize Susannah Lewis, Matilda Newport, Rachel Johnson, Mary Hunter, J.B. Russwurm, Conilette Teage, and Sara Dripper who designed and sewed our flag. Though they are no more with us, but we still see them through our flag whenever we have an opportunity to say “I PLEDGE”.
Let us observe a moment of silence in memory of our fallen heroes and heroines in whose legacy we shall march together towards a triumphant height of prosperity for all. With this sense of hopefulness, permit me to speak to you briefly on the theme “Charting a new course through patriotism, democratic maturity, tolerance peace and prosperity – The Liberia we want beyond 2017”.
Everywhere I go to speak, I often interact with young people most of whom have an unquenching desire to see a NEW LIBERIA in their lifetime. And I guess all of you sitting under my voice today would be eager to see and live in this Liberia I am about to talk about. If we truly believe in ourselves as a generation of young thinkers and patriots, then the burden to make this Liberia possible lies on our shoulders. With just 47 more days to go for Liberians to decide Liberia’s fate and future, I beseech you to chart a new course through patriotism, democratic maturity, peace and prosperity.
The Liberia you want beyond 2017 can only be a Dream-Come-Through if you wisely cast your ballots on October 10 or November 8. Only Liberians, especially the youth, can make this SUCCESS STORY possible. I know all of you have big dreams to accomplish, but how can your dreams be accomplished when the collective dream of our nation remains unfulfilled. For your dream to be fulfilled, the dream of Liberia must be fulfilled first.
Beyond this end, all of us must make the sacrifice once and for all to make Liberia different and better beyond 2017. The choice is ours to either help Liberia or harm it further through our ballots. I am happy that our future as a country is no longer tied to the bullets of AK47 rifles, but the ballots. You must use your ballots wisely to bullet those who have economically enslaved you. The days of clashing with explosive grenades and firearms are over. Now is the time to clash with good ideas, deep vision and genuine options.
The days of beating war drums are over. The days of saying “papay or oldma sit down on the ground” are over. Those days are gone, and never must we return to our ugly past. Dancing ethnic music and parading with religious rhetoric is a recipe for national disintegration and public chaos. We have too many lessons to learn from our civil conflict. Now is the time to blow the trumpet of peace and heal the tragic wounds of our bitter past. Never again must you allow self-seeking politicians to use you as conduits to fuel violence, conflict and hostility.
When they ask you to get on the street to violently protest after election, tell them to bring their families from abroad to lead the protest. Tell them to put their wives, children, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunties ahead of the protest. Tell those politicians to leave their comfort zones to go and clash with the police themselves. You have to be sensible to know that most of them have foreign passports even though they are claiming Liberian citizenship, and they would leave you in a big mess if you decide to ignorantly instigate violence in order to protect their parathion interest. Never again must they misuse your energy, intelligence and youthful exuberance to create havoc. This kind of Liberia has no space in our collective dream.
I hope the lessons we’ve learned between December 1989 and August 2003 are enough for us to say NO TO VIOLENCE, and YES TO PEACE. The only way you will listen to those greedy politicians to create chaos except you are not bothered by the number of child soldiers, youth at risk (zogos) and persons with disability created as a result of our most recent conflict. Except you are not bothered by the over 250,000 of our countrymen who died in cold blood with thousands of women raped. The prize for violence is terribly painful and we must never travel this road anymore.
This is why I believe that the recommendations of the TRC must be fully implement. We cannot continue to fertilize impunity at the expense of war victims. There can be no genuine peace and reconciliation in the absence of impartial justice. The young people of this country have known poverty for some time now. They have been economically choiceness and powerless for decades, but this demeaning situation can only change if we make wise choices during this electoral period. I know that unemployment and poverty have made it difficult for some of you to reject US$20 or US$40 in exchange of your voter’s cards. But I can assure you that if you refuse to sellout your franchise to unpatriotic politicians and political hustlers, there are greater rewards far beyond US$20 and US$40.
The Liberia you want can never be a reality in your lifetime if you continue to sell your votes for short-term and monetary gains. Politicians owe you no answer when they pay for your votes during election period. They are not accountable to you when you accept money to cast your ballots in their favor. Commercial and corporate politics has to end and end now if you truly envision a prosperous nation for all of our people.
Today, our generation has survived to witness the highest rate of political prostitution and the highest transfer of political prostitutes in our country. For the first time since 1847, we have 1,006 candidates contesting for just 75 seats in a small country with only 2.1 million voters. When, why and how did this appetizing desire to ‘serve’ by seek political office in our country increase so sharply? Though some of them have good intentions to transform Liberia, but most of them consider government as the easiest conduit to amass illicit wealth.
Isn’t it a fact that public service in Liberia nowadays is the easiest and fattest medium through which one can become a millionaire, live like a queen or a king, and even own palaces/mansions? You must be smart enough to detect those false prophets, distant political beauties and prostitutes. Never compromise the interest of this country for them. The Liberia you want can never be tied to greed and self-interest, but patriotism, nationalism and collectivism.
We want to see a Liberia of prosperity, equality and justice firmly built upon the pillars of: quality education for all, better healthcare, improved housing, good roads, food security, youth empowerment, social security and welfare, electricity, safe environment, job opportunities and lastly, we want to see a Liberia of LOVE, PEACE and RECONCILIATION. This is the kind of nation all of us must vigorously pursue and aspire to build together.
Mr. Chairman, the Liberia we want must revive the hope of our people everywhere and place their interest at the center of national development. The Liberia we want must distribute the nation’s resources equitably for the good of all citizens. The Liberia we want must guarantee unhindered access to good roads, hospitals, electricity, quality education, jobs, sanitation, environmental safety, social security, safe drinking water, improved housing, public transportation, entrepreneurship and industry. We want a Liberia that will bridge the widening economic gap between the peasants and the bourgeoisies. We want a Liberia that will protect the rights and seek the ultimate welfare of our women, children, persons with disability, youth at risk and other vulnerable groups.
We want a Liberia where the rule of law will prevail no matter what. We want a Liberia that will reduce imports and increase exports through strategic investment in both the public and private sectors. The Liberia we want must prioritize agriculture and industrialization. We want a Liberia where Liberian businessmen and women will take full charge of our economy both in the formal and informer sectors. We want a Liberia where our leaders will seek medication in country, and not abroad.
We want a Liberia where their children also will attend schools in country, and not abroad. The Liberia we want must cut down the high salaries/benefits of senior public officials by 30%. We want a Liberia that will build state-of-the-art regional universities and polytechnics. We want a Liberia where civil servants, health workers, teachers, engineers and security officers will be paid well. The Liberia we want must consider corruption as an outcast. We want a Liberia that promotes human dignity, girls’ education, maternal health and the prevention of natural disaters.
This is the kind of Liberia that all of us must seek. This is the kind of Liberia that the leadership of A.B. Tolbert Community must pursue. Pursuing this Liberia would mean pursuing a great nation of proactive, resilient and prosperous people. Even though we may have different political views especially during this tension-packed election, but I encourage all of you to demonstrate maturity, tolerance and peace. Beyond this election, Liberians deserve a peaceful Liberia. We can disagree with each other, but our disagreement must never lead to violence.
This must never happen again. Never again must the path of violence be an option. A violence-free election is the way to go. This is why it would be very important for the National Elections Commission to conduct a free, fair and transparent electoral process. By doing so, our 14-year-old peace would be guaranteed.
Mr. Chairman elect and other code of officers, if we can achieve this Liberia in our lifetime, our nation shall rise again and all of our people shall unite for the common good of this generation and generations yet unborn. With these words, I encourage you to remain steadfast, selfless, serviceable, disciplined and humbled. As you serve the people of A.B. Tolbert Community, leave no one behind. Get everyone involved with every community project. With this spirit of unison, A.B. Tolbert Community can become second to none across Liberia. May God bless you and bless our nation. I thank you.
Extract from a speech delivered at the Inauguration of Youth Leaders of the A.B. Tolbert Road Community.