The flag of any nation is a symbol of pride and unity. A nation’s flag can also be a symbol of disunity. Liberia is such a country whose flag it has been argued in many quarters is misrepresent instead of uniting its people. The Liberian flag is a symbol of what I referred to as “misrepresentation”. By misrepresentation, I mean its so-called national colors – red, white and blue (horizontal stripes of red and white and a blue field with one star) are a copy of the American flag plagiarized by Susanna Lewis who thought she was Betsy Ross, who is credited with making the first American flag. This irritation represents only a segment of the Liberian society and excludes the rest. And as such, the symbol doesn’t arouse the united front of the Liberian citizenry like the American flag.
The Liberian flag is not only divisive, but it also is an insult to African Liberian culture, devalues their heritage, and questions their sense of national pride. Liberia is the only country in Africa with a replica of the American flag as its national symbol. What does this say to us? It is the lack of national pride, creativity and originality – to copy a flag that does not represent the Liberian reality, instead, it represents past experience of less than a fifth of its population. Moreover, this flag has been used time after time as an instrument of oppression. Only in Liberia can a person be arrested and jailed for walking while the flag is being raised, lowered or dropped, without due process of the law.
Any future attempts to reconfigure and redesign a new Liberian flag that truly represents the wishes and aspirations of the Liberian people would not only be a movement in the right direction, but it will also make all Liberians proud and inject into our national consciousness a true sense of patriotism. However, an attempt was once made by the Deshield Commission on National Unity. This Commission was established by an Act of the Legislature on July 22, 1974, authorizing the president to set up a commission. The Commission came into existence purposely due to persistent calls from citizens who felt that certain national symbols were divisive; therefore, they needed to be revised in order to include all of the citizens of the Republic of Liberia, Ellen Sirleaf also set up a commission to review Liberian symbols, yet the divisive symbols are still in place.
The guidelines by which the Commission was mandated to review the motto, flag, anthem, and constitution. This mandate empowered the Commission to review the motto, flag, anthem and constitution “with a view of stamping out every idea that may suggest class distinction, separateness or sectionalism among the people of Liberia.”
The fifty-one member Commission consisted of the following: Montserrado County – McKinley A Deshield (Chairman), C. Abayomi Cassell, E. Reginald Townsend, R. I. E. Bright, Luvenia V. Ash Thompson and Nathan C. Ross, Jr.; Grand Bassa County – G Flama Sherman, Lawrence Morgan, Joseph Findley, Martha Dunn and Joseph M. N. Gbadyu; Sinoe County _ Harrison Grigsby, H. C. Williamson, E. Richmond Draper, Charles A. Minor and Florence Ricks Bing; Grand Cape Mount County – Charles Dunbar Sherman, M. Fahnbulleh Jones, Abeodu B. Jones, Eric David, Evelyn Watson Kandakai; Nimba County – Jackson F. Doe, Michael J. S. Dolo, David M. Toweh, J. Railey Gompah and Phoebe A. Logan; Lofa County – E. Sumo Jones, Milton K. Freeman, Moima K. Morris, William W. Momolu and Robert K. Kennedy; River Cess Territory – John Payne Mitchell; Maryland County – David Hne, J. Daniel Anderson, H. Nyema Prowd, Nathan Barnes, Jr. and Janet Cooper; Bong County – Harry A. Greaves, Sr., Elizabeth Collins, Melville Harris, Sr., Joseph G. Morris and Bismark N. Kuyon; Grand Gedeh County – Salis Rue, Harry Garngbe, Yancy Peters Flah, E. Yeda Amafili and Albert T. White; Marshall Territory – Emma Campbell; Bomi Territory – C. C. Dennis, Sr.; Sasstown Territory – Joseph S. Nimene; Kru Coast Territory – S. Edgar Sie Badio.
Instead of carrying out the mandate given to the Commission by the President, Chairman Deshield took an arbitrary position by issuing a warning statement in a national broadcast during the launching of the Commission. In that broadcast, Deshield stressed that the President’s mandate was “to give consideration to possible, I repeat, possible changes… the Commission does not conceive neither interpret the President’s mandate as an authorization or directive to necessarily change it is not the intention of the Commission to merely propose changes apparently to satisfy the whims and notions of a few purported academic detractors.”
Having made such statement, the Commission never got down to actually examining the issues. Since there were those on the Commission who did not care to as he put it “change history,” no matter who these symbols offended. Those who held this belief were the ones who constituted the ruling class. This approach rendered the whole exercise as a sham.
After three and a half years (July 22, 1974 – January 24, 1978), the Commission submitted its recommendations. The recommendations did not mention any basic changes to the flag. Regarding the constitution, the Commission “indicated a disposition to certain changes, which were never specified in the report.” On the national anthem, it recommended that the word “Benighted” be replaced with “undaunted.” It also recommended that the national motto is changed to “Love, Liberty, Justice, Equality,” replacing “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here.”
However, it is alleged that one of the reasons why no changes were made to these national symbols was due opposition to changing the motto by Commissioner C. Abayomi Cassell. Commissioner Cassell made his opposition known to the President through a memorandum after the Commission had submitted its final report (Historical Dictionary of Liberia, 1985).
Now the question is, can the Liberian flag be changed? Certainly, it can. However, for this goal to be accomplished, it has to be accompanied by an aggressive populist agenda and education, which will address the plight of all of the people of Liberian. But if vestiges of oppression continue as we have seen over the years, presided over by this insensitivity and leaders who believe wholeheartedly that Liberia the Liberian people are their slaves, confidence in the leadership will remain low, as we have seen over the years. With this “don’t care” attitude that the leadership exhibits; the Liberian people shouldn’t expect much from them. Our leaders lack the commitment to resolve these burning issues.
Based on such the division regarding what should be our national pride and inclusion, I doubt that most Liberian will be that patriotic to unite behind a government that is against unity and is credited with the deaths of 250,000 of its citizens, imprisonments, disappearances, and intimidation. We have witnessed its disinterest in providing much-needed resources like safe drinking water, proper sanitation condition, electricity, equitable health and educational facilities for its people. Instead, the Liberian people continued to experience repression, starvation, national and international condemnations.
A question was asked not too long ago by a Liberian opposition politician whether Liberians were willing and prepared to die for the Liberian flag. The politician said, “Thinking about it, I am doubtful as to whether Liberians are willing to shed even a once of blood for a piece of cloth that is not only oppressive but doesn’t represent them”. But sadly and ironically, our flag which should symbolize unity and pride has become commercialized. This article [updated version] was first published in 2001 in the Liberian Dialogue. Read the original piece here
By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh
MONROVIA, Liberia, Jan. 26 (Agence France‐Presse)—President William R. Tolbert Jr. has declared that Liberia’s Constitution, flag, national anthem and even her national slogan—“Love of Liberty Brought Us Here”—must be changed.
The President, in a three‐anda‐half‐hour speech on Wednesday to a joint session of the Liberian Congress, said that the present symbols no longer appropriately reflected “our national aspirations and concepts.” He recommended that a national committee be established to study possible constitutional changes.
To loud applause, Mr. Tolbert said that Liberia “can rightly boast of its heritage, which has stood the test of time and has, served as a beacon to our brothers in Africa, being the first black republic on the continent.”
President Tolbert’s proposals reflected demands in recent years from Liberian youth that the present flag should be discarded. The flag was produced by freed American slaves and based on the American flag but with only one star. READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE