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Building New Bridges For Unity in Liberia

By Syrulwa Somah, PhD (December 9th 2005)    

"... As one people, our conversations, emails, articles, songs, and debates must be dedicated to Liberia’s development. We can rebuild Liberia, and we can start today by looking at ourselves. Our eye sight should take us places we have by commission and omission overlooked. ...”

In 45 A.D, James, Jesus’ half-brother posed his famous rhetorical question as stated in James 1:4, “From whence come wars and fightings among you”? James was a different generation and his question was directed at the twelve ethnic groups who were forced into exile around the world for their Christian faith. However, the essence of his remarks is as forceful as ever in post-election clashes and verbal battles in Liberia. James simply was warning the Christians/brethren the need for maturity in the life of Christians who were not growing up.

I grew up in Liberia, followed the events of the civil wars, the recent election, and I can easily identify with James’ remarks having known for a fact that we as a people and nation lack institutional memories about ourselves. Anytime we choose violence and inflammatory rhetoric over dialogue, we sink deeper in socio- economic and political nightmares, which delay our national development. Anytime we believe that our nation and people do not have the right to determine their own destiny, free from coercion by great forces, we sink at the bottom of the pod of nationalism. Anytime we believe that questioning, criticism, and dissent must not be valued and protected or they are rights and values that must always be contested and must be fought for, we cause our nation stillbirth. Anytime we divide the Liberian people into “elites” and “country people” or “with out me Liberia will collapse”, we become myopic to our own historical demise and underpinnings.

Thus I call on all Liberia to RESIST the lack of institutional memories about ourselves that have been loosed throughout our historical journeying. We shouldn’t be like a giant computer with so many keys but we know one master key stroke “delete” or self-destruct. In other words, we are quick to forget how we got to the places we are today. It was just yesterday our nation decried the W. R. Tolbert administration which created the smoke scream that spewed into the air over our nation which led to the April 12, 1980 assassination. It was just yesterday our nation decried the Samuel K. Doe administration that led to his televised ear butchering and is subsequent death. It was just yesterday when self-appointed “liberators” turned warlords, with no unanimity from the Liberian people, attacked the lifeline of our nation, arrogated to themselves and their allies the right to our nation wealth, and rain down military force anywhere and anytime.

The brutal repercussions have been felt from America to Africa-Liberia, where carnages have left a terrible trail of death and destruction. It was just yesterday our nation appealed to the rest of the world to help one of Liberia’s most enduring, damaging, controversial, and Grotesque dictators Charles McArthur Taylor flee. It was just yesterday we watched with shock the appalling events of his administration and mourned the thousands of innocent dead and shook our heads at the terrible scenes of butchery from far and near. It was just yesterday Liberians were yearning for peace, free and fair election to put our past behind us and look to a new sweeping moon to bring us our best wishes. It was just yesterday that we said the Interim government must be replaced with an elected government, so we can regain our human dignity and begin re-building our lives.

The God of our parentage has answered our prayer with an election that went almost incident free. The international observers, other renowned organizations, and world leaders, including those of Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, USA, Algeria, including the chairman of the African Union didn’t mince words in declaration that the election was one of the best in the Black world. Instead of sharpening our “cutlasses” for the reconstruction of our nation, some of our brethren are creating “small mud” along the way that could soon turn into bigger ones capable of striping our nation to fall again. I have stated in my last article Elections 2005: Implications for the 2nd Round Balloting that we wish our candidate won, but we must work with who wins to make our nation better and wish not for what we should have had. My statement should not be seen as a support for leader who makes foxes who turn a blind eye and deaf ear in upholding the oath and administering the law into judges and make piranhas into soldiers. I am of the opinion that for democracy to take stronger route in our nation, there must be a loyal opposition to any ruling party in Liberia, including the incoming Sirleaf-Johnson administration. The Unity Party (UP) winning the presidential election must not mean legitimate political parties must pack up and close their operations. It does not also mean all Liberians must begin singing praise songs to UP. It will be a crucial mistake to the growth and development of a sustainable democracy in Liberia! In fact, there must be an active political force to focus on fraud, check-and-balance of government and to hold UP feet to the fire to deliver on its campaign promises to our people.

Furthermore, we do want the political surge that cropped up during the election to quickly dissipate. Liberian political party standard bearers have a history of packing up their loads and leaving the national scene when they lost the election only to crop up again when new political season comes. For example, the 1930s election between than challenger Thomas J.R. Faulkner to incumbent President Edwin Barclays during the 1930s election after Faulkner disappeared and didn’t maintain “loyal opposition” captures how seasonal politics is not a good precedence in moving forward. Hence, seasonal politics should not be the modus operandi in the new Liberia. A genuine opportunity for “loyal opposition” should take root because Liberia cannot have a democratic society if all political parties turn everything over to the winning party. Anyone who expects the winning party to organize “loyal opposition” is in for rude awakening. W. V. S. Tumban made an intriguing observation during one of his taped interviews. Responding to the question why Liberia was a one party nation, the President averred that the reason Liberia has always maintained “one party” nation was defeated candidates do not maintain “loyal opposition” and no one expected him to organize on opposition to him. Tubman’s argument speaks loud and clear. If political party standard bearer remains mute during post-election because of the loss of election he/she betrays the trust of his/her constituents and nation. This new Liberia must be Liberia that begins with breaking this mindset of not maintaining formidable loyal oppositions. Hence, one of the standard bearers of the 20 plus political parties must have the will and the love for this nation to stand up to say to the Liberian people I represent the “loyal opposition” in Liberia.

Now, some Liberians are engaged in voicing their discontent safely and legally by challenging the election result before the Supreme Court of Liberia. There other Liberians who believe the Transitional Team appointments are not open and honest. While individual article here and there addresses the issue, “loyal opposition” should take the lead to bring to the limelight the friendship-based appointment, the notoriously unqualified and corrupt individuals named to serve on the Transitional Team. The “loyal opposition” should be making the argument for specialties or crucial positions to be occupied by Liberians who have the experience, knowledge, backgrounds, and education to help lunch Liberia forward. There is no need to be in such a hurry to start off with tainted characters and try to provide a questionable explanation such as the “embezzlers” in previous government are only serving on the Transitional Team but will not serving in the new government. This is such an oxymoron! Why should those with tainted records or “embezzlers” of our nation wealth be qualifying credible sons and daughters who are considering to home and work for their nation? The logical thing to do is to start fresh by reaching out to other competent Liberians be it their supporters or not. In other words, the incoming government should not put too much trust in friendship—it should cultivate the talent-pool of the “loyal opposition” and reap the reciprocal rewards. In fact, it is a healthy democracy to have the “loyal opposition” speaks truth to power as opposed to all “cheerleaders” administration.

Liberians fought and waited to long to get where we are. Therefore, the time for a caliber of competent Liberians who have their nation at heart to make a meaningful contributions to be a part of the reconstruction is now. I find their argument sample and just. And if any is dissatisfied with the manner in which the argument is made, it is that person responsibility to make other Liberians see otherwise. For the most part, the United States that we are overly glued to her as a “stepchild Nation” went through a long period of civil disobedience before Americans graduated to the level of peaceful or civil demonstration.
For example, the estimated 100,000 demonstrators or “loyal oppositions” that convened in New York during the 2004 Republican convention to showcase their disapproval of President Bush administration and the war in Iraq didn’t lead into stones throwing (

And when some Democrats publicly demonstrated against the U.S. Supreme Court bitter foray into the 2000 presidential politics that brought George Bush to power though Al Gore won the popular votes, no property was damaged. The recent German election had to go to the nation Supreme Court to settle the election dispute, yet no violence. The Germans too have graduated to level of disagreeing without violence. The examples of peaceful civil protests and flowing due process are elements of democracy that should accommodated and suppressing the willing of the people.

Suppressing free speech and assembly so as to not question any socio-economic and political achievements or victory is unhealthy for democracy in our nation. We should see public gathering, demonstration or “loyal opposition” as every Liberian having the opportunity to say what they want to say. Our challenge should be to be honest, open and build trusting relationship with each other. In retrospect, we will negate any radicalism or individual from promoting violence, becoming a clog in the system or hijacking our collective future his/her political ambitions.

I take an exception to the view of those who think that Liberians are going to sit back like the old days and say, “My hand is under it” or “Leave the people’s thing alone”. The Liberia as we knew it has changed so must we change so time doesn’t leave us behind. The heydays of one leader “Says it all” is in the dustbin of our nation. Too many times in history people have waited until it was too late to resist for better change. Therefore, our people should responsibly resist and disagree to voluntarily accept the change to change. We should not run out of patience, lose trust and start hitting on everybody’s head who we think is at variance. However, oppressing, causing suffering for the masses, disentrancing a segment of our society, interfering with the new administration ability to govern or acts that drive out new investors in Liberia, are not needed change. Equally so, we are one people, one nation so neither must, “You were not with us, you didn’t vote for us so you are against us”, should be the blueprint or healing message for our nation.

All Liberians must refuse to be a party of the divides and we repudiate any inference that splits of our nation. President-elect Johnson-Sirleaf needs to speak to these issues and extend a hand to those outside the arena of her party. Such gesture will show her solidarity in word and deed. For the most part, “saving face” is one of the most important election strategies that all Liberians must promote. Allowing one to “save face” after an election loss can also offer a tactical advantage that the winner side to take advantage of. Therefore, creating a fostering environment for our brothers and sisters to “cool off” and “save-face” must now be the new bridges we must build for unity. Singling out certain individuals for unequal treatment, booing, public remarks that inveigle discords between Liberians are forceful ingratiation which is unhealthy proposition for our fragile democracy.

Instead of fomenting winners, losers, returning of the “children of the pioneers” innuendo, now is the time for those who are bent on to take back in the 15 century to cool down the rhetoric, sit down together, and reason for Liberia to move forward. Imagine what could be accomplished as a nation and people if all of us direct our energy to combat malaria that kills an Africa child every 30 seconds. Imagine what we could accomplish as a nation and people if we reverse 6000 malaria deaths and 35-40 million dollars annual medical bill. Imagine what we could accomplish as a nation and people if we collectively declare war on poverty and embark on the LIHEDE proposed agriculture blueprint for the largest banana-plantain the world has ever seen in Liberia to buttress our staple food. Imagine what we could accomplish as a nation and people if we summon our effort in supporting the Liberia Studies program to learn something of the different cultures that make up this so-called Land of Liberty. Imagine what we could accomplish as a nation and people if all of us support your dreams for a better Liberia. The age of corruption must never caught up with the 4th Republic or leave us in our dream-bed! No election, whether fair or fraudulent, can build us a great nation if we cannot disagree and still see eye to eye or sit side-by-side as a people.

Let me tell you a story that reminds me about our state of mind: The Bassa legend about the “Strife Owl” or Giohgbohun, a leopard bird of the thicker famous for its quavering and lugubrious wailings call "hoo-hoo-hoo. According to the Legend of Giohgbohun or Popgun, another name for owl, in the fullness of time sibling strife or bickering over thing didn’t destroy their siblinghood but made the owl family the hunted of the wild. In other words, owls didn’t sit together, work together, hunted together, but most importantly, never agreed on anything. Mind you they have good eye sight, but they never saw their enemy approaching. They have supersonic hearing, but couldn’t hear the sound of imminent danger approaching because the noise from infighting crowded their judgment. The “Owl Family” has become like the proverbial rich man who die of hunger. How can a rich man with all the money, rich soil, diamonds, gold, cars, homes, children, wives, and children die of hunger? Your answer is as good as mine.

It was similar predicament that the nation of owls found themselves webbed as day came and night followed. One day Minnaa, very small birds with a very long tail summoned the nation of owls: all kinds, males and females, big and small, old and young to an isolated island. It was in that assembly where a drop of pin is heard that Minnaa said to the sons and daughters of the nation of owls: “I am about to show you something for you to see!”
“What is it?” asked the owl nation. I am about to reveal something about you that you do not know about yourself but I know.” Minnaa then told the gathering owls, to look as far as they could to where they couldn’t recognize an object. All the owls did without delay. “How far did you see”, Minnaa asked.

“Hundred times the sight of human beings”, they responded.

“It is good!” said Minna. Minna then told the gathering owls to listen attentively as they could to all the ambient sound. Again, the assembly did without hesitation. “How far is the distance of the farthest sound your hearing pickup”, asked Minnaa.

“Ten times than human beings”.

“It is good!” said Minna.

Minna then told the nation of owls to look in the darkness. Again, they did. Minna asked,

“Did the darkness stop you from see anything.”

“No, we see in the dark.”

“It is good,” said Minna. When Minna finished instructing the owl nation in “measurement of their senses,” he said, “No bird can boast of a swivel toe like you. Look at your toe.” They did. No bird feather is the subject of man’s parables and songs than owls. Listen to man’s songs and parables.” They did. “No bird raises lower eyelid, lower the upper eyelid, and move their eyelashes as human do, except owl. Raise your lower eyelid, lower your upper eyelid. They did. No bird outer toe turns backward to help in perching, or forward or sideways to help in grasping their prey. Look at yourselves.” They did. “No bird has the ability to see in darkness and obscurity like owl. Look at your selves. They did.
At last Minna says, “Sit closer and look at each other.” They did. What do you see?

“We see all owls, we see ourselves sitting closer”. It was then that Minna said, “You are indeed all owls”! “You are distinctive among birds and have everything in common”. Why do you not use your sight, intelligent, beck, wings, ears, eyes, toe and sit closer to bring glory and honor to the owl kingdom. Children of owl, you should be the hunters not the hunted,” Minna continued. “You are more powerful, more invisible---this is the new world I have created for you to see.”

Seeing their “new world,” the owl nation felt a stunning move to reverse their yesteryear sibling rivalry that has stopped them from paring or sitting together. From siblings rivalry, they transformed and became citizens of their new world Minnaa revealed to them. The fact that owls became the goddess of wisdom in Greek and Roman myths is not a coincidence. The fact that owls are called Lukimbi or compared to a “half Eagle Owl and half Lion” in east Africa is not a coincidence. The fact that owls are called Popgun, meaning “bird of salvation or bird with the ability to heal, is not a coincidence.

Today, Giohgbohun picture is embossed on libraries, publishing houses, and bookstores. And this is why the Bassa “College of Elders” would say, “Son owls never lacked a full belly in unity.” If you ever wandered why owls always sit in pair and “stomach always full”, now you know. Let Minnaa who assembled the owl nation to see themselves, the international community has taken Liberia throughout one of the impressive election the world has seen in recent time. Can we now see ourselves? Can we now use this election as the beacon of peace to build a nation of prosperous optimism where democracy can work and the use of violence and picking one another unnecessary? Can we use this election to employ the best brains---sons and daughters of Liberia? Can we use this as a united force and not dividing us into winners and losers? I’m probably the only one who feels a less-than-perfect free election for the sake of peace is better than none? I know we are not owls but can we be like or learn from them who were haunted by discord and racked by turmoil? From this island of election, we can learn to build a nation where teachers out number policemen and soldiers. From this island of election, we can learn to build a nation where drum majors, writers, radio personalities for peace out number “there will be no peace in Liberia” banner carriers?
In retrospect, we all can become major architects of the 4th republic and build the next “Costa Rica”----“rich coast of Liberia”---and lead the generations of our nation to live happily. This is simple to do if all our writers, radio personalities, activists, pastors, Imam, community leaders, and so forth educate and encourage those stone throwing youth not to spend a dime or minute on violence for the election loss. Moreover, we all can be the architects if we now turn to Liberia’s most beauteous natural resources to offer sanctuary to all Liberians if encourage the new administration to hold conferences in the USA and Liberia with professional Liberians to submit qualified Liberian names for positions and justification for the recommendation, meaning what have the person done or potential of doing for our nation.

In previous article Rebuilding Liberia’s Tourism Industry for Economic Growth, I averred that I have yet to find a nation of people whom God has copiously bestowed on them so generously as Liberia. Her earth’s finest climate and fertile soil can grow all fruit-bearing flower stalks like bananas of all kinds. Potato greens of the finest vibrant colors--- green, white, and some of which are distractive curved to be coined “five fingers”, are in abundance. Varieties of Cassava (white and brown) are naturally tailored for sandy and brown soils for our nourishment. Eddoes, rice, cacao, corns (white brown, and multi-colors), coffee, kola (white and brown), mango, plum, okra, oil palm, papaya, bread nut, guava, wild cherry for wine making, lemon of all kinds, and much more flourished on these shores of our nation that can re-charge our post-election economy at the speed of light.

Why can’t we say our nation is not the “Israelites” on the West Coast of the Black Continent, considering having the largest of the Upper Guinea Tropical Rainforest? The God of our forefather, in its beneficent and generosity, sumptuously mapped out a land full of “milk and honey” with the potential for manna to fall from heaven for our use, but our lack of institutional memory about ourselves has made us the laughing stock of the world in recent time.

Citizens of the rest of the world traveled far and wide to Liberia not only to taste the sweet nectar of liberty and socio-economic blessings: iron ores, gold, diamonds, logs, agricultural potential that flowed throughout the land, but our rich culture and history unknown to us. For the most, we quarrel for everything---even where the international community has praised rated our effort as the record to beat like the gone election. Even then, we find something from somewhere or our leader contradicts their vision and creates a condition to be the orbit of self-hatred. All of must now dance to the drum beats for peace regardless how tempted are to be a fence sitters.

I would offer this exemplary Liberia a benediction from Minna’s advice to the “nation of owls.’ Liberia look at yourself! You are blessed women of unparallel beauty--- “ring neck” among the Vai, Loma, Kpelle, and Gola peoples, and the “coco-la waist” among the Belle and Loma peoples. In the height division, Mandingo and Gio women represent our nation very well with their tall and slender sexy physique. As to complexion or skin color, Liberian women can showcase a variety of skin tone from very dark to very light, with particularly the Kissi (dark skin) and Grebo (light-skin or chocolate color). Other cultural attractions include the Bassa Ghna-ghna, the Gola Gbe-tu, the Dan giraffe-like Spirit dancers, the Mende ngafa, and the Dan female acrobatic dancers or “snake girls.”

Liberia look at yourself! Your institutional ingenuity is captured as a founding member of the League of Nations, now the United Nations, a country that produced the first female President of the President of the United Nations General Assembly in the person of Angie Brooke Randolph, a nation that cast the decisive 33rd vote for creation of the state of Israel, and a country that is founding member of the Organization of African Unity (now African Union), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (ADB), the Mano River Union (MRU), and the Non-Aligned Movement. Moreover, Liberia didn’t only play a key and critical role in the fight against fascism that almost obliterated its existence at the hands of Nazi Germany, but it also led the touch of the independent movement of Africa and fought, defeated and sent apartheid to the dustbin of human history. We have no memory of these heroic achievements!

Liberia look at yourself! You carried the touch of the 1960s when the people of Congo had their own civil war. Moreover, between 1966 and 1967 when the Biafra war threatened to split up Nigeria, you carried the touch and Nigeria remained one country today. Besides, as the oldest independent African country, you helped with money and other resources to promote the liberation and independence struggles of Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Guinea -Bissau, Cape Verde Island and a host of other African countries.

Liberia look at yourself! Your unique history as the first black African republic and a haven of peace and the land of the happy medium where the rest of the world came and learned and became their nation’s president, i.e. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria and “Titan of African politics” .

Liberia look at yourself! Your contemporary education of blessings reveals some of the best writers or the authors of our time. We can now boast of excellent doctors with specializations from generalists to neurologists. From educators of all kinds, musicians, lawyers, sport legends of our time. Liberia, your net sum in term of education is now 450,000 degree holders according to what I read not too long ago. Liberia look at yourself! You show the world that glass ceiling doesn’t exist for women in Liberia by electing Africa first female president. And one of your sons became one of the football legends other nations wish they had. You are a great nation, great people, and trendsetters. You must grow up, mature with level of education and age by saying never again must our custom of silence- not using our education for our own liberation disgraces the very essence of God within us.

The Way Forward

As one people, our conversations, emails, articles, songs, and debates must be dedicated to Liberia’s development. We can rebuild Liberia, and we can start today by looking at ourselves. Our eye sight should take us places we have by commission and omission overlooked. Our education, therefore, must:
1. Must respond to the basic biological needs of all Liberians
2. Must provide for the production and distribution of goods and services to our nation
3. Must enhance reproduction of new generation of laws and orders
4. must provide for the training (education, apprenticeship, passing on of values) to our fellow Liberians
5. Must provide for the safeguarding of internal and external order
6. Must provide dialogue over inflammatory rhetoric

If you and I can do this, when the history books are written in the future, historians will have to look at our indomitable will, our courage, our endurance of the severest privations, our resourcefulness and inventiveness in the face of tremendous odds.

If we fail, the God of Liberia will never forgive us as a people and a nation if engineers, lawyers, economists, doctors, professors, president, agriculturalists, environmentalists, former president, current president remain kids in the head. Never again must our influence and education be used to deal noxious blows to the lifeline of our nation. For the God of Liberia will never forgive you and I if our ideas, education, and conversations are the flashpoint of igniting rivalry to our never ending detriment. No election or who wins must make us “kids in the head” or spoil our potential and the deep-seated love we now say we have for ourselves and our country. We must look at yourselves---we are Liberians and Liberia is for Liberians.



About the author:

The author, Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D, is an Associate Tenured Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is the author of several books, including, The Historical Resettlement of Liberia and It Environmental Impact, Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality, and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa (a book about traditional Bassa leadership and cultural norms published in 2003). Dr. Somah is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He can be reached at: or

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