By Jones Nhinson Williams
Some sicknesses are physical and others are psychological. And when you talk to theologians or pastors, Imams, and Rabbis, they might tell you to add morality and spirituality to the list.
Liberia is a unique and pitiful environment because our real sickness is not that we are that bad a people, or that we don’t have a human mind and the five senses needed to think and solve our internal social, economic, political and lack of development problems.
Our real sickness is that we are, or have become a country of small and narrow minds.
Our leaders––past and present–– think small. Our bureaucrats think small. Our social and economic activists as well as our political strategists and supporters think small. Our neighbors and friends think small. And now we are encouraging our 2017 legislative and presidential candidates to think small, narrow, and even backward.
Of late, we see our fellow Liberians and others writing articles in various Liberian news outlets asking about how will we pay for certain things in Liberia when we advocate for, and implement them. Really??
Is this the question we ask our legislative and presidential candidates? Instead of applauding some of these legislative and presidential candidates for thinking big and even talking about these things, we are questioning them?
Didn’t we hear current Ghanaian president H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo say he will build a factory in every region in Ghana if the Ghanaian voted for him? This is just less than 12 weeks ago.
Of course, Akufo-Addo had to win the presidential election against incumbent President John Dramani Mahama because he thought big and encouraged his fellow Ghanaians to think big. Nobody in Ghana asks him how he was going to build the factory, or where he would take the resources from to do that. Unlike our Ghanaian brothers and sisters, we (Liberians) are using our so–called education to be pessimistic and petit, not just in thinking, but in our actions and arguments.
Here is the thing: how do other countries pay for the things they have? How do they get money to give us foreign aid? If their political leaders were thinking small and their citizens pessimistic, they would probably be like us in Liberia.
My international experience in the global private, nonprofit, and public sectors inspired me to know that countries that do better and provide basic services to and for their citizens don’t just print money because they want to give our country (Liberia) some free money through foreign aid.
These countries, including a small nation like Israel, have people who think big and challenge themselves to do big things. Singapore, for example, is a classic example of thinking big and acting bigger. Thanks to the country’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew’s big thinking and bigger actions, made Singapore the financial and shipping capital of Asia, and a donor nation while Liberia remains a begging country.
Right in our backyards, Ghana and Senegal, our friends there have started thinking big and doing some big things while we are retrogressing in the way we see things and act as a nation and people.
Dislike him either way, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings thought big and did big and bold things to put Ghana on the road to being the most progressive and politically matured nation in West Africa.
And that is why our officials and other highly placed members of our Liberian community go to Ghana for almost everything, including medical treatment, banking services, contract signing, consulting search and more.
Take for example, our students at the University of Liberia and other institutions of higher learning in the country have problems paying their tuition. We could solve this problem and afford every serious young Liberian who wants a college degree to do so if we had a government-backed student loan program.
In countries where people think and act big, all their citizens who need to attend college do is to willingly find a computer and sign up for student loans. As a Liberian, I did it while living in New York and I was able to attend NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service for another advanced degree; many Liberians who live in the US, Canada and UK have done it, so too are several Africans who obtained degrees from some of the best universities in the United States, Canada, and the UK.
The question is, what stops us from doing this in Liberia? It is not that we can’t or that we don’t have the resources to do it, especially when our lawmakers individually earn more than US$12,000 dollars a month––an amount that can pay the annual tuition for about twenty-five full-time students at the University of Liberia.
The only thing stopping us from achieving many basic needs programs in Liberia is our small and narrow mindset. Until we can begin to have lawmakers and officials of government who think beyond eating palm butter rice and fufu with a bottle of beer beside them, we won’t advance at the next level as a country.
Furthermore, how long and what will it take to have a national housing mortgage program, an unemployment insurance program, a workers’ compensation insurance program, a small business administration agency to provide guarantee for financial lending services rendered to our farmers, local innovators, and entrepreneurs so that more Liberians can take charge of the local economy and be able to create wealth and jobs for their fellow Liberians?
We don’t and we wouldn’t do these things because we are a nation that has political and social leaders with small and narrow minds. But that is not the only issue.
We also have a citizenry that doubts more than the doubting Thomas in the Bible, who doubted until Jesus had to personally rebuke him.
When one brings a big idea to some of our fellow Liberians, the first thing they do is to express doubt and pessimism. In some instances, they tend to undermine the person, or disparage his or her idea simply because they lack the capacity to think and act big.
Instead of listening and embracing a big idea and vision, some Liberians (especially the so-called ‘bookish type’ whose education cannot find them a fitting job in the global labor market) would try to entice others to follow their weak mental capacity and usual culture of blaming the white man for Africa’s failure. How and why do we blame other countries because our officials and lawmakers are rogues?
In the 21st century, how do we blame colonial powers for poverty, massive unemployment, and the lack of development in our respective African nations when our officials in government are stealing public funds, and/or diverting other resources for personal gains?
How do we (Liberians) blame the United States, the UK, French, Germans, and others because our entire country Liberia lacks ambulance, good hospitals, good roads, 24/7 electricity, and even food to feed ourselves?
It is one thing to learn in school and in theory lessons about geo-political interplay and its effects on Africa. But those are matters of the past; these things occurred some five or more decades ago. Besides, Westerners respect anyone when they see smartness and dignity in them. No western official or business person will disrespect an African lawmaker or bureaucrat that is upright, just, and intelligent. In fact, those qualities may draw them closer to people.
On the contrary, when a foreign or western investor talks to an African lawmaker or bureaucrat, in most instances, those African lawmakers and bureaucrats are the ones who sometimes will propose to the foreign investor how to cheat his or her own country and government. It happens every day.
In Liberia, the Sable Mining case is a real-time example where our lawmakers, the people we trust to represent our interest were, in fact, allegedly concocting to dupe us as a nation and people. And then, we blame other people, in most instances, the white man when we don’t have development in our communities.
How long and what will it take for us to have toll booths on our highways; high speed rails that connect various parts of our countries and regions, advanced medical centers, and bio-medical institutions, as well as advanced food manufacturing plants?
How long and what will it take for our children to have better and generally acceptable academic environments that will motivate them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)?
When we pay doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers, teachers, and professors ninety-five times less than a six-grade drop-out who happened to be elected a lawmaker just because he or she comes from a popular tribe or is liked in his or her tribal district, we are simply saying to our kids that it is ok or better to be a tribal and uneducated political stooge than to pursue STEM education in a changing world where technology is fast-tracked.
In many developed nations, being a lawmaker is a voluntary job. In some US states, including the state of Texas, being a lawmaker is a patriotic service. It is not a career. Therefore, the lawmakers only receive small allowances, and not big fat pay check. Because we gave lawmakers big fat paychecks and unnecessary wealth, many in Africa, particularly Liberia, think and believe they are equivalent to or better than neuro-scientists. It is also one reason some lawmakers are involved in rituals to stay in office.
Imagine the countless ritualistic killings that have taken place in Liberia over the past decade. What for? Why all this? If lawmakers were paid less, we will have more people wanting to be teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, entrepreneurs, and farmers than performing rituals to be lawmakers.
In the USA, Canada, Israel, and many countries that have programs that benefit and ease life for their people, the leaders and citizens think big and act bigger.
And when leaders think and act big, they don’t act irresponsible, childish, or make thoughtless statements such as “we lawmakers need more salaries (in addition to a free US$12,000 a month) because we have to take care of our constituents who beg us for money.” Lawmakers are not NGOs. Giving aid is not why people are elected to be senators or representatives.
The role of lawmakers, among other things, is to put in place laws and support public policies and actions that create jobs for their constituents to work, earn good wages and improve their living conditions so that they will not become beggars, and so Liberia will not rely on foreign aid endlessly.
To his credit, Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai of the ruling Unity Party’s administration recently said that Liberia didn’t need foreign aid. He was and is right, that was a sign of thinking big, acting smart and being responsible as a leader. It tells me that the Honorable Vice President is serious and ready for an independent Liberia. That is what leadership is.
It also means he has gained some vital experience, after 30 plus years as a good public servant, that reliance on foreign aid not only breeds corruption but makes us dependent and lazy as a nation and people. And that is why we import even things like rice and pepper. I applaud the VP on this move. But guess what, there were people (Liberians) criticizing him because he thought Liberia is too old to be a nation of beggars––because he believes we need to change and be better.
Honorable Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) party says he can rejuvenate the Liberian economy and ensure that accountability and transparency are primarily. That too is a sign of thinking even bigger.
Coming from the global corporate world, Cummings knows what he is talking about and he knows that in the global corporate world one only excels if he or she thinks big. He knows it, lived it; and benefitted from it enormously as a senior vice president for Coca Cola, a worldwide manufacturing corporation based in the United States.
Liberty’s Party’s leader Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, for his part, has laid out several blue prints for a changed and better Liberia, as he envisions it––according to him, a Liberia for all and one in which everyone, irrespective of tribe, age, religious affiliation, or social status, will benefit and live comfortably. Isn’t this what we all want? Isn’t this that makes the United States, the UK, France, Australia, Canada, and other developed nations strong and prosperous? That their leaders think big and do big things.
From creating thousands of jobs, powering / electrifying the entire country to ensuring development in infrastructure, medical services, and research, agricultural – food production, and small business development so that Liberians take control of their economy to improvement in and access to education and social services, including taking care of our disabled people and the elderly in our community, Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine outlined his goals, and has a valid and admirable plan.
Is it perfect? Probably not, but it is far better than what we have ever heard from anyone running for elected office in Liberia, including the office of president. After all, nothing is perfect.
Brumskine’s plan is more than thinking big; it is a vision. It is what other countries do and that is why we line up to get visas and struggle to visit those countries to seek medical care, attend better schools or even live well.
If we have a better and improved Liberia, as our presidential candidates are promising, we too will have people lining up for visas to come to Liberia. But for now, even the people from Papua New Guinea would think twice before getting a visa for Liberia because life is just not okay in our land for ordinary Liberians.
Our lawmakers, ministers, and directors in Liberia all go to the US, Canada and some even go to Asia for medical treatment––for simple things such as laboratory testing and dialysis analysis and treatment. There others who even go to place like Ghana and South Africa etc. So, Ghana can have dialysis center, diagnostic facilities, but we can’t. To our doubters, talking about a dialysis facility in Liberia is impossible. Even a school feeding program is also impossible. But what is possible is corruption––and a system where just 100 lawmakers are expected to use up more than US$500 million (half billion) dollars in twelve years on salaries for they and their whoever.
The only reason this happens is because we think small and narrow as Liberians and as a nation.
Cllr. Brumskine’s vision was laid out in his platform and we await the other candidates to present their platforms––something which they are soon to do. We look forward to seeing and hearing the good ideas of Honorable Alexander Cummings and Vice President Joseph Boakai, two fine gentlemen.
Instead of us embracing these big ideas from the Liberty Party’s leader and his opponents so that we make a sound electoral decisions, some Liberians are retreating to the usual mindset of just being Liberians as usual where we live in pessimism–––the idea that nothing is possible for us.
No one in their right mind should ask how will social services for our elderly and disabled brothers and sisters in Liberia as well as infrastructural and related developments be paid for when he or she is not asking why do we spend US$50 million dollars on just 100 lawmakers every year, when they are not asking why do we spend US$10.2 million dollars on the offices of six Liberian officials every year? There is just one thing we say to those who ask these bizarre questions: if you don’t know something then keep quiet instead of writing about things you have no idea about.
Every day, some of us see how and why other nations do well. Some of us are living it and do it every day. We know how things are paid for in developed nations like the United States, Canada, the UK, Israel, France, and Germany. Even Rwanda is making marked progress too.
We guide policy makers and political leaders with public policy analysis that lead to how good governance takes root and occur. We know the fundamentals of trustworthy and strategic governance and the role of good economics and sound public policies in ensuring job and wealth creation, better wages, and improved living standards.
These things are not isolated events; they happened because some political leaders, officials and citizens think and act big. They happened because activists in those countries don’t compromise their values and principles for personal gains–and because their statesmen and women are honest brokers, not traitors and deceitful elders who compromise when it suits them and complain when it does not.
Having big ideas is a value added political characteristic that is good for any country. U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi just remarked in recent days that when the Democrats take back the legislature in 2018, they will increase minimum wage in the United States to $15 an hour. That is thinking big.
My 11-years old daughter who has strong interest in US politics and is a Democrat, thinks Leader Pelosi’s vision of increasing minimum wage is the right path. But this is a 11-years old girl who, having been inspired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president of the US in 2016, decided to run for her elementary school student government, and won. My daughter’s campaign speech in a video is online on Facebook.
At 11, my daughter told her schoolmates how her administration, as president for her fellow students, would change programs in the school and will encourage parents and teachers’ engagement. She also said she would ensure that the students got more involved in public service. After she won, parents and teachers in the school have undertaken more than seven major clean-ups events in Delaware.
When my daughter gave her big speech, no one doubted her. Her schoolmates did not doubt her. Her teachers were not pessimistic. In fact, her younger sibling, who too was born in the U.S., felt her sister’s speech was limited because she wanted her sister to say that her senior class will visit NASA Space Station in Arizona.
And guess what? Some members of the senior class from the school, along with my two daughters, will be visiting the NASA Space Station in mid-June 2017. This costs lots of money from parents, but no parent asks how and why, and that includes me. It does not mean we have money, it just means we live in an environment and society where people are encouraged, praised, and paid to think big and do big things.
That is why we have Apple -iPhone, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, PayPal, Khan Academy, GoToMyPC and more. All these are things that were developed/created by people who live in a country where people are encouraged and commended to think big and do big stuff.
In Liberia, every big idea is doubted and every small and narrow idea is praised and considered as acceptable. Therefore, we always hear “we tried” and not ‘we did it’ in all that we do as a nation and people.
So, why young kids in the US are thinking big, grown men and women in Liberia are thinking very small and narrow. This is funny but very sad for a nation 150 years since independence.
The truth is, everything in Liberia can and will be paid for if we have a government with leaders and officials that think big and act big. Leaders who will lead with conviction, clear direction, focus, and seek to do the right thing no matter what.
We don’t need people with narrow and small minds as leaders, as that will set Liberia backward increasingly. We also don’t need leaders who put themselves and their families first than the nation and the people they serve or work for. We really don’t need leaders who will surround himself or herself with sycophants, because it will render them paralyzed. And we really don’t need leaders who give excuses.
When I decided to run for president before I withdrawn from the race for family obligation etc., my plan was to create a larger private sector and make sure we had over 5,000 CEOs in the private sector; build five regional capital cities etc. The idea was to have one major city for major commercial activities, another for advanced medical services, one for information technology and related, another for manufacturing, and one for financial services. These are big ideas. Are these difficult things? Yes. Impossible to do? No. Others have done them so can we.
This is precisely why we need legislative and presidential candidates that will promise that they will eliminate poverty in Liberia; eradicate malaria; make sure our old people don’t die begging and untreatable.
We need legislative and presidential candidates that believe in themselves and in the Liberian people, that together, we can become the financial and commercial capital of West Africa; the center of information technology and bio- medical research.
This is also why when people with no real experience in the global labor market questioned and positioned themselves as questioners of why certain things are not possible only in Liberia, but are possible in other countries, it baffles me.
As Liberians, we need to ask ourselves a question: why should a country like Rwanda have unmanned drones deliver medical supplies in remote villages and Liberia can’t?
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda did not go to Harvard, NYU, Columbia, or Cambridge, but he thinks big and very big too. And because he thinks big, he does bigger things. For example, Rwanda today has a mini Wall Trade Center called the Kagali City Tower. Rwanda also has a health care system far better than ours and most African nations. And by the way, drones are delivering medicines and medical supplies to remote villages while some officials in our country don’t even know what a drone is. Isn’t that a shame?
In Liberia, we tend to doubt every big idea. It is self- defeating, and a classic example of the lack of confidence as a nation.
We must give chance to our legislative and presidential candidates and other political leaders to think big and do bigger things. It is time we keep to ourselves the small and narrow minds that take us nowhere.
This small and narrow mindset makes our officials in government to see leaderships as being a sign of might. Some of them will give you an appointment for 9 am but will be available at 1 pm. We can change this and ensure a better country. We have Liberians with the knowledge, skills, talents, and dedication to help make our country a better place to live and work only if we all start thinking big and doing big stuff.
About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian (from River Gee County) who studied philosophy under the Catholic Church; and is also an American trained public policy, labor market information, strategic management, and workforce development professional. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org