History, according to Robert Penn Warren (a poet, novelist, and literary critic), cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a full understanding of ourselves and our common humanity, so that we can better face the future. Professor J. Corfield also pointed out in her article that revisiting a country’s history helps us to understand the linkages between her past and present. Understanding a nation’s history is not just ‘useful,’ it is essential (royalholloway.ac.uk). I will endeavor in this article to reflect some of the remarks made by distinguished Liberian orators, namely Madame Leymah Gbowee (2019), Professor Didwho Twe (1944) and Professor Wilmot Blyden (1857), respectively.
In one of my articles, I reflected that since President Weah belongs to one of Liberia’s ethnic groupings – the Kru or Klao – it is important to draw inspiration from some of the forbearers that preceded him, especially Professor Didwho Twe and Professor Blyden. They were some of the individuals who struggled politically against the Liberian founding fathers’ hegemony (https://www.liberianobserver.com/opinion/commentaries/president-george-manneh-weah-must-succeed-for-the-sake-of-our-forefathers/).
In my view, understanding Liberia’s history, for example, will help us, especially the administration of President Weah, to rebuild our socioeconomic and political institutions, and as may well be necessary, to change those behaviors that are not congruent to nation building. What we have become today in Liberia is the result of the seeds that were planted by Liberia’s founding fathers, many, many years ago; founding fathers that failed to heed the advice and wisdom of previous visionary personalities.
The recent National Oration by Madame Roberta Gbowee, on the 172nd Independence anniversary, July 26, 2019, followed the tradition of selecting a Liberian annually to be National Orator. Madame Gbowee eloquently expressed her concerns and said in her speech:
“The values that kept coming up time and time again in my listening tour are transparency, truth, equality and love for country above self. Transparency is something that we heard repeatedly.
Mr. President, members of the Legislature, the fight against corruption is not in words, it is in action. You must walk your talk. You cannot preach against corruption and then not declare your assets and keep it locked up. Show us what you came with so that in a few years when you’ve got two houses, we can know that you already had those resources in the bank.
Second, truth. Truth has evaded us in this country. We lie to gain prominence, to gain positions of authority. Let us stop lying. Truth will bring unity. From generation to generation, our leaders have been fooled by religious and traditional leaders. Bishops have become partisans. Pastors and Imams have become praise singers. Traditional leaders repeatedly twist our cultural practices to please a powerful few, giving unmerited traditional titles. It’s time for us to bring truth back into the national history.
Third, is the value of equality. Liberia is not a political party. Liberia is a nation for all Liberians. In order for us to move forward together, we must recognize that men as well as women, the blind, the physically challenged, and youth groups are equal parts of the society. Mr. President, I will address this to you directly. It is not acceptable for us to have only two women in cabinet. I, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, Nobel Laureate challenge any Liberian to tell me that the men in this country are smarter than the women, hence the men should be given prominence in jobs and elected position. I believe that it is high time that the women who fought through tears and blood from the founding of this country to the bringing of peace to this nation should be given positions of leadership based on their competence. As a self-declared feminist in chief, you are being called out to walk your talk. It’s time to stop the old boy’s network.
Finally, love for country above self. Liberia is our “Land of liberty”. The reality is that despite our differences, this is our home and we share a common duty to move Liberia forward by taking responsibility as civilians and not expecting government to take on the tasks that are in our own hands. A typical example could be taxi drivers putting bags in their cars to help passengers stop throwing rubbish in the streets. We, all 4.5 million of us are called to use our unique gifts and talents in service of Mother Liberia” (https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/172nd-independence-day-oration-together-we-are stronger/?).
Professor Didwho Twe, (One of Liberia’s indigenous intellectuals) as Liberia’s orator on July 26, 1944, delivered his speech entitled: The Future in Liberia and said. “EDUCATION—In considering the future in Liberia the first item that comes up one’s mind is education. The greatest indictment against the Republic today is that the governing classes have studiously prevented the education of the masses and have also kept them dependent; and that it is for this reason that ninety- nine and half percent of the people are illiterate. Whether this indictment is true or not, I cannot say, but it is the opinion of majority of our critics and they have to their opinion. All I have to say is, no nation has ever been able to establish and maintain a strong government with a poor ignorant population. Much of our progress in the future will depend upon the rapidity with which we mass educate our people now.
In spite of China’s struggle to survive under the heel of the conqueror, her mass education program is turning out one million students annually out of high schools. This report from backward China should be an inspiration to us.
AGRICULTURE—The second and most vital point in the future in Liberia is agriculture. The nation is now facing conditions hardly distinguishable from famine, not for the lack of many agricultural products, but for one staple diet only—Rice.
The greatest question in the country today is—What is the basic cause for the shortage of rice? The answer to this question lies in the investigation of our population. During the past century someone conjectured that the population of Liberia was two and a half million. From that time up to the present we have tenaciously held on to this figure without investigation and without making allowance for increase or decrease. That is, the number of our population has been stationary for more than fifty years. This is incompatible with the law of population, unless the state of our agricultural development has reached the point of diminishing return. (Taken from Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Liberian History Archive).
Finally, one of Liberia’s great orators, Professor Edward Wilmont Blyden, on July 27, 1857, was Liberia’s Independence Day Guest Speaker in Monrovia, 162 years ago. He spoke on the topic: Liberia As She Is; and the Present Duty of Her Citizens. In his speech he said:
“What are the moral causes of the present evils in Liberia? .. as a people, we have been in too much haste to be rich. Relinquishing the pursuit of those attributes that would fit us for the faithful discharge of our peculiar duties as men, as Liberians, as an infant nation, we have used every possible measure to enhance our pecuniary importance; and in the precipitate efforts at wealth, we have not been careful as to what means we have employed. The desire to be rich, or to appear to be rich, pervades all classes. The love of money…has grown upon us to such a degree that all other avenues of distinction seem but trifling in comparison of those which lead to the acquisition of money. To be rich seems with many ‘the chief end of man.’ Hence, no talents, no endowment of the mind, no skill or knowledge, no amount of education, is appreciated only so far as it will pay….This fact has operated greatly in retarding the literary progress of our youth…
“Another cause of our adversity may be seen in the unjustifiable extravagance in which we indulge; in that luxury of expenditure for houses, for dress, for furniture, for food, constantly made the reprehensible remark by thinking foreigners. We are in dreadful error regarding our country, if we suppose we are truly prosperous. Our prosperity is not real; it is false; it is fictitious. The prosperity of a nation is real when the springs of the prosperity are contained within itself, in the hands of its citizens; when it depends for its existence upon its own resources; when it is independent.
“But this is not the case in Liberia. We are, as a nation, upheld by foreigners. We are entirely dependent upon foreigners for our schools, for churches, for preachers, for teachers. Most of the talent of the country is in the employ and at the control of foreigners. Those thus employed must ever hold their talents and their efforts subservient, not to what they conceive to be the interests of their country, but to the desires and direction of foreign employers…What we wish to bring before our minds today is the humiliating fact, that nearly all the talent of Liberia—talent not in ordinary men, but in our principal men—is supported by foreign means and controlled by foreign influence. And yet, in the face of these humbling realities, we boast of our civilization, of our prosperity, of our independence, and indulge in unjustifiable extravagance…the money lavished upon houses, which add nothing to health and comfort; upon dress, which does not increase the dignity and beauty of personal appearance; the large sums laid out in expensive furniture…the great amount consumed in the luxuries of the table would go a great way in keeping our streets clear of weeds, in felling the dense forests around us, in reclaiming the wilderness, in cultivating the soil, in civilizing our…brethren…Look at the numbers who…to advance to, or maintain this [extravagant] style of living, flock to the fostering arms and sheltering wings of these [foreign] societies. (https://www.liberianobserver.com/opinion/commentaries/edward-wilmot-blyden-the-man-who-saw-liberias-tomorrow/).
The legacy of Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden and Professor Didwho Twe has challenged every Liberian, especially those in the highest office of the land, to help Liberia live up to her true potential as a sovereign African nation. Liberia’s past, even the relatively recent past, is in the minds of most of us, shrouded by mists and only very vaguely perceived. Interestingly, some of the ‘evil attributes’ that the various orators spoke about, continue to take place in contemporary Liberia today. Let us endeavor as Liberians to foster the spirit of ‘nationalism’ and ‘love of nation’, ‘true national reconciliation’, and embrace all Liberians (including those in the diaspora), be it Americo-Liberians, Mandingoes , Krahns , political parties or ethnic persuasions, for Liberia belongs to us all.
Indeed, our ignorance of the past is not the result of a lack of information, but of our indifference to its lessons.
Mr. Edmund Zar-Zar Bargblor is an Educator. He is a graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia; Howard University, Washington, D.C., and Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He can be contacted at: [email protected]