HOPE IN MIDST OF STORM- A RESPONSE TO PRESIDENT SIRLEAF’S STATE OF NATION

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s 2016 SON, in my analysis, is a forward leaning message, in spite of the ups and downs in the last decade of the UP led coalition. As I listened to the Harvard trained Public Administrator on Monday afternoon, I found a lot of symbolism in her annual message, while driving around a very distress section on the Southside of Chicago, ten minutes between my residential block to that of President Obama’s Chicago residence in the Hyde Park Neighborhood. For a brief description, these blocks once served as the famous Robert Taylor Housing complex, later becoming a hotbed for crimes and drugs infestation. However, it has now being transformed from decadence to redevelopment with new schools, residential buildings and public parks.

I also reflected on the message from the visiting pastor at my church, the St. Mark United Methodist Church, a sermon taken from Exodus 17:1-6. The premise of the pastor’s message concentrated on leaders who are often out of touch with their people and offended when the people complain. Moses was annoyed that the Hebrews did not appreciate the 38 years of wandering in the dessert under his leadership—where he claimed God rescued them from slavery, provided manna and other miracles. However, the pastor brought a new perspective to the narrative—the people complained about their present conditions because —their cattle were dying, they were thirsty, and their children were malnourished, yet Moses sought to justify the old miracles rather than to listening firstly to their pleas. Like the biblical passage, the people in Chicago complained about the high crime rates and joblessness in these urban ghettos, under Mayor Daley, and he took the appropriate steps by demolishing these units for new urban redevelopment.

In Madam Sirleaf’s 2016 message, these parallels were present and in a sense, a forward leaning pronouncements, I gleaned and summed up: “I may not like everything you are saying, but demand them as your rights, with facts on your side—I am open to listening and acting collectively with you.” It was such hopeful optimism that emboldened my resolve that Liberians must remain farsighted for a better future, requiring the collective effort by all rational Liberians—home and abroad, and like the fourth estate, presenting these facts and realities on the state of the nation on a daily basis.

Since Madam Sirleaf’s ascendency to the presidency, Liberia has gained frequent international attentions beyond the war years as a fragile democracy, with hopes and promises, as well as frustration and disappointment—from debt cancelation and double Nobel peace laureates to the deadly Ebola crisis and societal corruption. The quintessential question before the Liberian people in President Sirleaf’s lame duck years, what can Liberians do collectively for the common good of the nation? The President’s message did offer us a roadmap—that even her worst critics, with a sense of realism, can unpeel the many layers and perceive the way forward beyond her regime. And in this regard, let me list ten pertinent issues in a two parts write-up (at least for the decade of her regime) in the President’s SON that are essential prescriptions for Liberia.

#1 President Sirleaf can rightfully take full credit for fostering a public space where freedom of speech is flourishing unprecedentedly. The only comparison to such period was the first eighty years of the formation of Liberia, when such freedom thrived (1822-1880) immensely. As a major tenant of democracy, it too can become meaningless, when such institutions that provide formal education and sustainable jobs are not seriously prioritized—from the academic to the technical. This fault lies with all aspects of the Liberian population—electing or appointing leaders who are poorly educated and lacking the very requisite for critical thinking; to the misplacement of appointees to positions of authority due to nepotism rather than merits. Prescription: Create a Liberian Global database—tapping into the vast diaspora population and the homeland and redesigning curriculum that is Liberia specific in dealing with the many challenges to genuine nation-building. For example, the President mentioned the numbers of healthcare workers but how many Liberian doctors were amongst these workers especially after losing three of these giants to Ebola? Can the Ministry of Health list Liberian trained doctors since the regime started in its database? The mantra: “Your health is your wealth.”

#2 President Sirleaf cannot wholly be blamed for the rampant corruption in Liberia especially within all sectors of the society. While she has her fair share of the blame for not being forceful in curtailing this enemy number one, Liberia is a rotten society—from the family unit to the church and other segments of the Liberian society. The three branches for the most part, compromised the integrity of the nation—signing contracts that didn’t serve the interests of Liberia, to inequality in salaries and wages—wherein these senior public figures receive astronomical remunerations while the rest of the population staggers in poverty. No wonder the so-called FDI of $16 billion has basically vanished in thin air. Prescription: The good news to this impending tough economic time, is for these senior officials to accept fifty percent reduction in benefits while Liberians demand that all major concessions contracts within the extractive industries be nullified and that that all branches of the Government be fully audited and investigated for any economic mismanagement and crimes committed within the last decade and those found guilty be made to restitute—no immunity for those who gave and received bribes! Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria are pacesetters.

#3 Madam Sirleaf is on point for demanding a greater participation of all Liberians—from the diaspora to the homeland, and ethically demanding the end of all forms of discriminations—from racial, religious, and gender biases and prejudices as enshrined in our laws. This pronouncement in my view, is the seminal highlight of her speech. How can a nation founded on the principle of liberty for all be incoherent to the universal principles of freedom and justice espoused by the many organizations that she is a founding member? The irony is the very descendants of sons and daughters who have complained for over a century of being marginalized are now the very lawmakers blinded by their new found powers, to turning back the clock of progress. Prescription: Full amendment of the Liberian Constitution to meet universal standard, national referendum, or a challenge through of the Supreme Court to those in authority blocking such transformation.

#4 President Sirleaf vision on taxation is accurate—we can’t build a nation when citizens do not pay taxes. The extractive based economy is a Dutch disease, flirting and fleeting as we have seen with the closure and flights of these multi-national companies that are rightfully interested in making profits. They are not charitable organizations. They will leave Liberia but the ampersand Liberians will always be attached to their homeland. That is why for the last decade, Diaspora Liberians are the biggest investors and losers in Liberia’s economy—far surpassing the international community—according to the 2015 World Bank Report on Remittances and Migration. These Liberians who have invested with members of their families and friends in Liberia or attempted to buy a piece of plot, run a transportation business, or build a home—only to discover that their hard-earned capitals were diverted or misused. Prescription: There is a need for the establishment of a Family or Economic Crime Court to deal with these fraudulent activities. There is a need to accelerate the Liberianization Policy to full implementation in order to build a Liberian entrepreneur class. The Port of Entry (The Freeport) must begin to implement a one-stop shop and avoid the unnecessary delays of containers. We appreciate the President for mentioning this age-old corrupt practice that have affected so many Liberians and businesses. Guinea has implemented such policy to avoid unscrupulous assessors and brokers who are the killers of commerce.

In addition, the GOL must mandate a bio-metric system for all of its citizens and non-citizens with comprehensive social security system. This process must also extend to the thousands of Liberians who are currently economic migrants residing in the vast diaspora—for example, the over Two hundred thousand Liberians in the USA who are on Deferred Enforcement Deportation (DED), at the mercy of the US Justice Department and annual appeal by President Sirleaf to the American Executive since her tenure. These Liberians as well as Liberian permanent residents in the diaspora are bio-metrically documented and ought to be part of the Overseas Voting Process (Absentee Voting), as implemented by 145 nations of the world including our immediate neighbors, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. Imagine if these Liberians were deported, the socio-economic impact on the 4th poorest nation would become astronomically burdensome on an already fragile economy. Liberia must begin to track the high capital flight especially from this poor nation—with nationals from Guinea remitting $20 mil, Ivory Coast $11 mil, Nigeria $17 Mil, and Lebanon $38 mil in 2015, according to the World Bank report out of Liberia to their respective countries.

In the spirit of the Hebrews, we must continue to complain when the facts and reality are on our side, while remaining respectful to the offices of our leaders—who are at times surrounded by firewalls that prevent them from listening to our appeals. Thus, we must uphold two important rules: #1We must not give up on Liberia #2, we must always remember rule #1.

Artemus W. Gaye, PhD, Chairman, (ALDC)
The All Liberian Diaspora Conference (ALDC) is Liberia’s premier run think tank of professional organizations and individuals outside of Liberia, tapping into the vast social, cultural, religious, political, economic, scientific, and educational fabric of Liberian Diaspora and its seminal relationship with the homeland of Liberia. ALDC is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Gaye can be reached at liberiaaldc@gmail.com

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