Liberians React To 172nd Independence Day’s Orator, Many Described Speech As ‘Fearless and to the Point’

Madam Leymah Gbowee (Photo credit: FPA)

Liberians who attentively listened to the live broadcast of this year’s 172nd Independence Day National Orator, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee have been speaking to the GNN about the speech; speaking out their feelings on the uniqueness and to the point, and how they were touched, especially when she asked in her speech:

“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?”

These questions asked by the National Orator were the focus of many of those who spoke to the GNN, noting that all of these questions being asked in her oration were factual in the daily lives of Liberians, and that they were overwhelmed that these issues were highlighted by a Liberian who is highly respected for her fearless speaking of ills in the society.

“Leymah’s speech delivered really touched me, I felt overwhelmed for speaking the truth. She’s really a true patriot; all of what she said are nothing but the facts,” Jonathan Z. Cooper, a resident of Barnersville speaking to the GNN noted.

Similar views were also expressed by several other Liberians who spoke to our reporter, while other taken the opposite line, noting that the Orator’s speech in the presence of international guests including some African leaders was degrading to the ruling CDC-led government; when she spoke about government officials enriching themselves overnight.

“Ms. Gbowee’s went too personal in her oration on this government, making reference of how people have built mansions in the shortest period time; I believed she was speaking about our President and other senior government officials who have built their houses in this government. What she failed to realize is some of these people including the President acquired their wealth before getting into government, I was indeed baffled of Madam Gbowee’s speech,” Samuel R. Dickson, believed to be a member of the ruling CDC speaking to the GNN said.

But what Dickson refused to note is the 172th National Orator did not only addressed the ruling government but also spoke of successive governments who she said did not see reason for the betterment of the livelihood of their citizens.

See below full text of Orator’s 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.

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.

(Visited 169 times, 1 visits today)
About Cholo Brooks 14931 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.