2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee and this year 172nd Independence Day national orator, Madam Leymah R. Gbowee has publicly spoken of several issues that are derailing the growth and development of Liberia despite of natural resources.
Addressing hundreds of celebrants and visiting African leaders who have come far and near to grace the occasion at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, noted that Liberia’s progress and development continue to be retarded because too many mistakes continue to occur from regime to regime.
She said current and past leaders of the country have rottenly played what she called “A don’t care attitude” towards progress, noting that they have also ignored every aspects of development; but rather enriching themselves at the detriment of the majority.”
She lamented that officials of government are often vindictive and carriers of hate messages, stressing that development agenda of the government is well written on paper but poorly implemented in most cases.
She decried the appointment of incompetent individuals to public offices which is often based on partisanship. This, she said, is a major impediment to the country’s development.
Madam Gbowee lashed at members of the opposition bloc, noting that they claim to know all the solutions to Liberia’s problem, yet they form a major part of the problem, adding, “The opposition bloc often failed to cooperate with the government for the common good of all Liberians.”
Madam Gbowee in her oration also blasted the Weah led for having only two women in cabinet minister position, despite declaring himself as the chief feminist in the country, noting that women have played important roles in the country beginning from the birth of the Republic. She urged the President to promote gender equality.
The Nobel Peace Laureate further admonished President Weah to be realistic in his fight against corruption. She cautioned that corruption cannot be fought on paper.
She called on political actors and public servants to exercise their functions on the foundation of truth and not falsehood as has been the norm.
SEE BELOW FULL TEXT OF HER SPEECH
H.E. George Manneh Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, H. E. Jewel Howard Taylor, Vice President Republic of Liberia, His Honor Frances Korkpor Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, Hon. Bhoffa Chambers, Speaker and Members of the National Legislature, Hon. Albert Chie, Pro Temp and members of the Senate, Dean and Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Officials of Government, women of Liberia – women oh women – members of the religious community, members of the traditional council, foreign guests, business leaders, students, members of the fourth estate, fellow citizens.
This is another great day the Lord has made and I will rejoice greatly and be glad.
Every year, a Liberian is given the task of being National Orator. When you sit from outside, it seems like a really beautiful and colorful experience; which in fact it is. The pressure that comes with this national duty is beyond description. Everyone has a piece of advice on how you should proceed. I have a sister who asked me to include everything in this speech from how to be better Christians as Liberians, to morality and infidelity, to domestic violence issues, just about everything. I have received emails on different thematic concerns and what I needed to say. People have asked me to come and speak the truth, others just wanted it to be the typical Leymah style speech straight from the heart. These requests added additional pressure to the already mounting expectations.
July 26 is one of the few moments where almost all of the population and diaspora community gather to listen to the National Orator, hopeful that the message will speak to issues that are important to their daily existence, the future of their children and the growth and development of the nation. Many also listen to this moment hopeful that the designated speaker will recommend solutions to national issues and that government will take strides to implement some of the recommendations.
When gathering my thoughts in preparation for this speech, I drew on a daily practice that I frequently use to guide my steps – which is to sit back and do an analysis of the situation that I am confronted with or my interactions. What I deduce from all these requests back and forth is that Liberians are generally concerned about their nation and all they wish for is the very best. This concern cuts across all counties, ethnic, gender and financial lines and it is not aligned to any political party or movement.
The theme for today’s celebration is really befitting for the times that we find ourselves in, “Together We Are Stronger”. We are at a place in our national’s life where it is very important for us to begin to speak the language of unity, this language of unity and togetherness is a language that we have used from the founding of this nation. Our national anthem propounds this message of unity, our pledge to the flag speaks of it, in our traditional and native languages we have very special ways of speaking about togetherness. The Kpelle people say “Kukatonon”, the Lorma people will say “Zeewelekeze”, every tribe in this country has a special way of speaking about togetherness.
The question that kept coming to my mind is: for a nation that has so many ways of preaching togetherness and so many symbols of national unity, why do we need to focus on this now and why do we find ourselves drifting further and further away from the dreams of our founding fathers and mothers? Why has unity evaded us? Why is unity like a mist in this land, we preach it, we proclaim it but we unfortunately cannot hold on it?
To help me answer these questions, I did a mini tour of different communities in our country, trying to get views of Liberians – technically seeking help from ordinary Liberians to craft this speech. I wish my team and I had created a video documentary for everyone in this room to watch. From Bong to Bomi, Cape Mount to Center and Randall Streets, students, teachers, religious leaders, petty traders, sex workers, also our neglected brothers and sisters commonly called Zogos and Zogees. I wanted to hear from all of them about how we as Liberians, can be stronger together.
The themes were consistent. The recommendations were synced. Some wanted to go straight to the point whilst others thought it was important to talk about why we are not together in the first place. Others felt it was important to define “togetherness” before we could even proceed. The youngest respondents were between 10 and 13 years old.
The tour also had a very interesting spin. On many occasions, I was being questioned by my participants:
How can we be together, Madam Gbowee, in the presence of very harsh economic conditions? How can we be stronger together when corruption is still at its peak?
- How can we be stronger together when individuals who were poor yesterday are now living in mansions and driving cars that cost enough to fund good schools for our children?
- How can we be stronger together when women are still dying in the hundreds during the process of giving birth?
- How can we be stronger together when there is a serious war on the bodies of women without any legal recourse in many instances?
- How can we be stronger together when there is a prevalence of selective justice?
- How can we be stronger together when political appointment is based not on competence but party affiliation?
- How can we be stronger together when our educational system is a huge challenge? How can we be stronger together when we can’t feed ourselves?
- How can we be stronger together when interests are never national but individual?
My 13-year-old, very intelligent friend asks, “how can we be stronger together when too many wrongs are never corrected and are allowed to continue from one regime to the other?”
One question in particular resonated with me and has stuck with me as I prepare my remarks. The question was: how can we be stronger together when our country is divided in three parts – the Ruling Position, the Opposition and the No Position – and each comes with rhetoric and hate messages that are worse than the war rhetoric?
I pondered on the three divisions that were mentioned and decided to probe further on what those three equal parts really represent in our society.
Let me start with the first category, the No Position:
This is the biggest group, but it comes with the mentality of the smallest minority. No Positions are the ones that suffer the most in our society. Their children are the key recipients of the messy education system. They are the ones who suffer the poor health care system. Justice for most No Positions is nonexistent. They live in abject poverty and can barely afford a meal a day. They are the everyday Esau’s: their political alliances and choices are never developmental driven but driven by stomach infrastructure. They fail repeatedly to look at the plans or even ask for plans from politicians. Rather, they take cash, t-shirts and bags of rice.
I agree things are tough. Life is hard. People are hungry. But if we fail to ask the hard questions when we have the power, why are we surprised when we elect SGGs: “Steal, Grab and Go”.
No Position has the “government must” and “that the people’s thing attitude”, and they refuse to get involved constructively and creatively in national issues, including issues affecting their daily lives. No Positions hold government responsible for everything including the garbage they throw out the windows when seated in public and private transport.
The ‘No Position’ group feel that they are separate from politics and decisions. But this means they have allowed themselves be played like a game of tennis or a soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid. By having no position, they tell themselves they are excused from the dilemma we face as a nation.
No Positions are the ones that suffer the most in our society. Their children are the key recipients of the messy education system. They are the ones who suffer the poor health care system. Justice for most No Positions is nonexistent. They live in abject poverty and can barely afford a meal a day. They are the everyday Esau’s: their political alliances and choices are never developmental driven but driven by stomach infrastructure. They fail repeatedly to look at the plans or even ask for plans from politicians. Rather, they take cash, t-shirts and bags of rice.
– Leymah R. Gbowee, Liberia’s 172nd Independence Celebration National Orator