KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY
H.E. AUGUSTINE KPEHE NGAFUAN,
FORMER MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS/FORMER MINISTER OF FINANCE OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA,
AT PROGRAM MARKING THE INDUCTION OF OFFICERS-ELECT OF
THE STUDENT COUNCIL GOVERNMENT
OF THE GANTA UNITED METHODIST HIGH SCHOOL
15 JANUARY 2016
I feel truly honored and am therefore elated to have been given yet another opportunity to speak to an audience in the great county of Nimba. This is my fourth major speaking engagement in Nimba. In 2009, I served as Keynote Speaker at the induction of officers of the United Nimba Citizens Organization held in Sanniquellie; in 2012, I served as the keynote speaker at the first ever commencement convocation of the Liberia International Christian College(LICC) where I delivered the much talked about “Generational Change” speech. Almost two years ago, I served as the keynote speaker at a special pre-inauguration event sponsored by the incoming student council leadership of the Nimba Community College. Years earlier in 2000, when given the opportunity by my bosses at the Central Bank of Liberia to choose which county I wanted to be assigned in to help exchange the old Liberty banknotes for the new family of banknotes, I unreservedly selected, Nimba County.
I spent more than two months in Tappita, Nimba County performing a critical service and at the same time benefitting immensely from the Nimba hospitality. I consider it an act of providence that about a decade later, the young central banker, the money exchanger, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, would see his signature inscribed on the new family of banknotes in his capacity as Minister of Finance. Maybe, and just maybe, the blessings that made me transition from a money exchanger in Tappita in early 2000 to a Finance Minister of the Republic of Liberia in 2008 was gotten from Tappita.
Mr. President-elect, fellow compatriots, I must confess that I was overwhelmed with the welcome I received this morning as I entered the bustling city of Ganta. It was mammoth and tumultuous. But I was not too surprised because as I told the students of the Nimba Community College in February 2014, Nimba is a county known not only for its natural resources but also for its natural hospitality and generosity.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as I drove on the elegantly paved highway from Monrovia- to Gbarnga; and then from Gbarnga to Ganta, I could not help but be overwhelmed with positive emotions because in my former capacity as Minister of Finance and Co-Chair, along with the World Bank, of the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund (LRTF), it was my responsibility to lead efforts to raise the hundreds of millions of US dollars to fund the reconstruction and maintenance of the Monrovia-Gbarnga; Gbarnga- Ganta highway under a new form of contracting termed the Output and Performance-based Road Contracts (OPRC). It is my hope and my dream that many more highways of similar quality can be constructed all over this country in the not too distant future.
But today, I am excited to be Ganta, the city that never sleeps. Ganta is truly a resilient city, for it has been battered and bruised many times, but has always had the courage, the stamina and the character to bounce back and keep on moving. The many episodes of the Liberian Civil War battered and bruised Ganta, but they did not break Ganta; the recent mob violence that saw the burning of private and commercial properties triggered by the alleged ritualistic killing of two motorcyclists also battered and bruised Ganta; but it did not break Ganta. In spite of all its trials and tribulations, Ganta moves on ever evermore vibrant.
MOB VIOLENCE AND RITUALISTIC KILLINGS
The tragic turn of events in Ganta that ended in the burning of private and commercial facilities and the incarceration of some individuals was indeed a sad chapter in the history of this great city. I therefore categorically and unequivocally condemn mob justice in all its manifestations and call on all Liberians not to use mob justice as an option for redress of grievances. I feel that no matter the circumstances, it is difficult to find proper justification for mob justice. As sociologists would put it, in a mob environment people get “de-individuated”- they lose their individuality and take up the personality of the group, which sadly is driven mainly by the rashness and reckless rhetoric of a few individuals. Sadly, the mob acts before it thinks because mobs operate mainly on perception, hearsay, or “they-say”; as a result, sometimes innocent individuals are unfairly accused, maligned and victimized.
But as improper and unjustifiable as mob justice may be, we as a people and government should not give the perpetrators of mob justice an alibi or rationalization for their wrong behavior. Mob justice, in a way, reflects the public’s perception of the strength, integrity, swiftness, and fairness of the justice system. The more negative the public’s perception, the more frequent the incidence of mob justice. So as UNMIL scales down its security presence in Liberia and turns over to Liberians, I call on the Liberian government to invest more in security and take more robust action to ensure that the confidence of the Liberian public in the Liberian justice system is not eroded.
As I categorically condemn mob justice, I condemn in even harsher and stronger tone all forms of ritualistic killings in Liberia and anywhere on this earth. Ritualistic killing is fundamentally evil and must be fought with all our might and all our resources. Those individuals, whether politicians or businessmen, who feel that their tree of power and/or wealth can only be watered effectively with the blood of innocent souls are the very embodiment of evil. No position is powerful enough or no amount of money is big enough to be earned at the expense of the body parts of another human being. Those who feel that others must die before they live; that others must cry before they laugh; or that others must get poor before they get rich are heartless individuals that do not deserve the power or the wealth they crave. The rightful place for ritualistic killers is hell – not the Executive Mansion or the Capitol Building.
THE FORMULA OF SUCCESS
To the many young men and women who are students of the Ganta United Methodist High School, I know sometimes you ask yourself the question, who will I be or where I will be ten, twenty, or thirty plus years from now? Those were the same thoughts that raced through my mind as I exchanged money in Tappita in 2000. Maybe, just maybe, some young student in this audience will, in the not too distant future, be a Minister of Finance, Foreign Affairs or even President of the Republic of Liberia; a multi-millionaire business tycoon or become very successful in some other track of life.
I also know that many of you are also asking the question, “What is the formula of success?” Others may give you many different formulae, but for me, this is simple formula I know: Success = Hardwork + Grace of God. I feel other formulae are dangerous and permanently destructive, although they may be temporarily attractive. “Hardwork” is represented by hard study, hard preparation; or to put it simply, sweating. So, my young students, we will break up two interesting words in order to understand the formula of success. The first is the word “SWEAT”. When we take away “SW” from the word “SWEAT”, we are left with the word “EAT”. What this means is that sweating is the basis for eating; or to eat, you must sweat. The second is the word “LEARN”. When we take away the letter “L” from LEARN, we are left with “EARN”. What this means is that to “earn” we must “learn” or that learning is the foundation for earning now or in the future. When you are sweating or learning, you are engaging in hardwork, which by the grace of God will lead to success.
Attributes of Good Student Leadership
Now, Mr. President and other officers-elect, as you take the mantle of power, I want to express my deepest congratulations to you on winning the confidence of your colleagues. But the power you have assumed today is an interesting thing. To quote from a speech I delivered some years ago, “whether power is a good thing or a bad thing depends on whose hands power is entrusted in. Power in the hands of the dedicated, honest, selfless, prepared leader is like a trophy in the hands of the champ; but power in the hands of an incompetent, selfish, dishonest, and dictatorial individual is like a bomb that not only destroys the holder but also those who are around him/her.”
To be called a student leader is to wear a badge of honor and to be elevated to a premier league. But who is a good student leader? To answer this question, I will again quote from my speech to the student leaders of the Nimba Community College in February 2014.
“A good student leader is a person that is not reckless or shamelessly opportunistic. A good student leader is a person who possesses foresight, thinks and plans strategically and never loses sight of the primary reason why he and his colleagues are called students – to seek ye first the kingdom of knowledge so that all other things can be added unto them; to acquire knowledge in order to contribute more effectively to the forward march of our dear country, Mama Liberia. A good student leader may not necessarily have to be at the top of his class, but cannot afford to be at the bottom of the class because such lowly academic position is serious evidence of lack of leadership. Ultimately what amount of “militancy” can a student leader pretend to possess when he or she cannot confront his courses with similar militancy?
My dear students, a good student leader genuinely represents the interest of the student community by forging strong, mutually respectful partnerships with other stakeholders including the administration, the faculty, and external actors. However, a good student leader is not just a pipe or a conveyor belt of whatever that comes from the students, no matter how potentially disastrous to the long- run interest of the institution and the very students themselves. So a good student leader is a double ambassador- ambassador of students to the administration and faculty as well as ambassador of the administration and faculty to students. A good student leader is a distiller – distilling the raw messages of the students to the administration/faculty and the raw messages of the administration/faculty to the students and passing such messages on in language and context that are more palatable or contribute to harmony on campus instead of disquiet”.
Mr. President and members of the newly inducted student council government, I hope that at the end of your tenure, your colleagues and all the pundits will say in a loud and undivided voice that once upon a time, the Ganta United Methodist School Student Government was led by good student leaders, great young men and women who left behind tangible and intangible evidences of positive change. I hope that after you leave power, everyone would say that power in your hands was a trophy that brought pride and joy to the Ganta United Methodist School, not a bomb that brought disgrace to you, your colleagues and your school.
2017 PRESIDENTIAL AND LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, your country, my country Liberia will be going to the polls to elect a new President, a new Vice President and a slate of 73 members of the House of Representatives in October 2017. Altogether, 75 positions will be up for grabs in 2017. The question that is dominating the Liberian political space is who will win the 2017 presidential and general elections?
What is sure is that no matter what happens in 2017, one person will win the presidential election and 73 persons will win the 73 legislative elections. But while it is true that some candidates will definitely win in 2017, what is not sure is whether Liberia will win in 2017. This may sound confusing and paradoxical, but the victory of an individual or group of individuals may not necessarily translate into a victory for Liberia and Liberians.
Liberia and Liberians will win if the individuals elected to public office in 2017 are individuals who possess the requisite qualities and character to deliver on the key priorities of the people. Liberia and Liberians will win if those elected in 2017 are men and women of character- individuals who will ask not what is in it for me, myself and I, but will ask what is in it for Liberia and Liberians? Liberia and Liberians will win if those elected in 2017 are individuals whose ambition is to actually do something positive or progressive instead of individuals whose only ambition is to be something. Liberia and Liberians will win if the elections result lead to true, positive change rather than only reflect what the chemists would call a Replacement Reaction, where nothing actually changes other than the fact that one individual replaces the other. In a replacement reaction, if a particular vice was an issue before the election, it remains an issue after the election, only that it is now being perpetrated by a new person.
Again, Mr. Principal, Mr. Student Council President, I say thanks for inviting me to Ganta United Methodist School. May the good Lord shower you all with His blessings of wisdom, good health and success.
Thank You Very Much.