About a decade and the half ago (from 1990 -2003), Liberia was politically and socially a disaster. It produced thousands of refugees that included many of the so-called politicians and bureaucrats in the country today; witnessed the deaths of thousands of innocent people and the destruction of properties as well as a major decline in foreign investments and the cessation of basic services. Internationally, the country was rated as a failed state.
The presence of the sixteen-nation Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) peacekeeping force (ECOMOG) and the United Nations’ peace monitoring group could not even contain the country’s brutal dictator, Charles Taylor, nor salvage the nation because they failed to deal directly with the real problem at the time. Most Liberians in the country were hopeless and their choice was to live with Taylor, accept tyranny, and human rights abuses. In the midst of this scenario, various humanitarian groups, international volunteers and missionaries sought to aid suffering Liberians, especially women and children. Among these groups were five American Catholic nuns from the U.S. state of Missouri with whom a seminarian Jones Nhinson Williams had briefly worked in the Archdiocese of Monrovia while completing his philosophical study for the Catholic priesthood in the early 1990s.
Soon the five Americans nuns were savagely murdered by Charles Taylor’s rebel forces in the chaos and greed for state power and wealth by various Liberian factions. The killings of the American nuns, the suffering of Liberian children, women and the elderly led Williams to the most crucial decision of his life: abandoned his vocation to the priesthood to save the country. He engaged Liberians from all walks of life into a strategic popular uprising that was strongly supported by his aggressive international and regional diplomatic efforts until Charles Taylor (now in prison in the UK) was ousted in 2003.
To usher in a normal functioning political and democratic atmosphere in Liberia as is experienced today, Williams worked with various disgruntled Liberian politicians, civil society groups, the Inter-Faith Council of Liberia, the Liberian Council of Churches, the Liberian Muslim population, the Liberian media, and a cross-section of Liberian refugee populations throughout West Africa.
Despite being offered the opportunity for senior level positions in the post Taylor interim government, including the suggestion during a meeting in Rome as to whether he would accept to serve as an interim president after Taylor’s departure, Williams, unlike most Liberian politicians and activists in the country’s history, turned down every offer on grounds that he wanted to set a good example for other Liberians and West Africans to follow, that one does not need to put personal ambition and interest as a reason to stand for a just cause.
During that same period, Williams set up programs that aided Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and other parts of West Africa. He ensured the resettlement of hundreds of Liberian refugee families to Australia, Europe and the United States. He was also instrumental in the disarmament process of Liberia after Taylor, from encouraging the appointment of both the Executive Director and Operation Director of the UN-backed National Commission that disarmed ex-Liberian fighters to heralding the need for international support and commitment to the process. Later, he focused on his promise of ensuring that most Liberian refugees around the world return home post Taylor’s era. Since 2003, he has been working with Liberian and other refugees as well as displaced immigrants from around the world gain opportunities. He also focused his efforts on issues of food security and reconciliation in Africa with the aim of building consensus and stability for communities that are usually most affected during political and social turmoil.
After more than twelve years of relative stability, Liberia is at another crossroad, this time it is economic and social deprivation, poverty and extreme hardship with no end in sight. The future of Liberian children is gloomier than ever before due to extreme corruption, greed and unpatriotic political mindsets. Even the U.N Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Liberia highlight corruption as Liberia’s biggest problem for poverty.
Liberians are weary of who to trust but at the same time they are forced by economic starvation to accommodate those who have and continue to subjugate them in harsh poverty and hardship in the first place. However, Liberians are also gradually looking for someone to do what Williams did several years ago by restoring the entire nation from a failed state to a functioning society, but to find such a person who embodies the moral capacity, vision, credibility and selfless attitude like Williams seems incomprehensible, particularly that some Liberian politicians are keen on using religion and tribalism to build constituencies and to cling to power. The question now is: Can Williams restore Liberia from its current and future economic and social doom?
Last week, Williams who is also the president of the New Liberia Foundation said Liberia needs a fundamental change and Liberians have to take responsibility in leading that change through the decisions they make going forward. Williams said the path to Liberia’s bright future and prosperity lies in the kind of leadership that the citizens of the country will usher in after the terms of the Sirleaf’s administration ends in 2017. He said Liberians have an opportunity to see their country change from a third world country to a first world nation wherein small but effective governance, transparency, accountability, the rule of law, and security will be blended with investment in science, technology, engineering and math. He said his view is for Liberia to be positioned as the Singapore of Africa.
He believes advancing a bright future for Liberian students and workers means positioning Liberia as a nation that manufactures, invests in infrastructural development, healthcare, medical research and agricultural food production. He said that as a nation rich with almost everything including fertile land and a coastal area, importing eighty percent of the country’s staple food is not just an economic disaster but a serious moral and social failure.
Williams said the chronic economic and social problems in Liberia, especially the widespread massive poverty, underdevelopment and backwardness the 150 plus years old nation undergoes are all not the fault of President Sirleaf’s leadership syndrome; but the abject ignorance and stupidity of most Liberian politicians, so-called activists and criminal-minded lawmakers and bureaucrats. Williams said if Liberians do not want to continue to see their nation degraded; their country men and women suffer from excruciating hunger, unimaginable unemployment and psycho-social abuse they must resist the temptation of asking for or receiving gifts and money from some of the same politicians and people who have exploited the country’s resources through corruption and public theft. He said nowhere in the civilized world will one see individuals who manage a country economy and fiscal resources use their offices and the national wealth to run political campaigns. He said instead of advancing sound economic policies that would attract foreign investments, create jobs and wealth, and improve the lives of the Liberian people, every bureaucrat in the Liberian considers themselves a future president and so they are running campaigns with tax payers’ money instead of serving the people.
Williams believes President Sirleaf may have had good intentions for the country prior to seeking the presidency, but those intentions are being taken disadvantage of by most of the people she appointed to assist her administer the country. He said the fact that people that should be helping the presidency meet the demands and needs of the Liberian people are self-seeking, and are also personal political campaigners there is no way the Sirleaf’s administration would realize the full potential of the President’s national agenda. This, he said, is exactly the case and for this the President is constantly blamed by both Liberians and non-Liberians despite her best efforts and intentions in some instances.
Williams called on all Liberians to desist from mixing religion and tribalism with politics. He said doing so means using religious faith and tribal hegemonies for political aims. He believes that in today’s world, everyone who is raised in modern democratic nations, something which Liberia aspires to, realizes the utmost imperative of separating religion and politics, and all Liberians must learn to do so. He said Liberia needs genuine reconciliation, jobs creation, transparency and accountability and urge President Sirleaf to stay true to these necessities by working with the right people and not just people she would prefer. He said he has reached out many times to the Sirleaf administration urging them to prioritize peace and reconciliation as well as job creation strategies but the President and her team for some reasons have placed these efforts secondary. He said Liberian politicians and officials should be ashamed of themselves whenever they run to Ghana where they seem to prefer doing for official Liberian government business.