By Jones Nhinson Williams |
Archbishop Michael K. Francis once told me at lunch at his residence in Mamba Point, Monrovia, Liberia that, “When few people are crazy it doesn’t mean that all of us should be crazy too”. The Archbishop’s statement was in response to several questions I had posed to him regarding why the Catholic Church of Liberia was not doing enough to address Liberia’s madness. The Archbishop’s response still resonates with me, and his ethics and value system are things I most cherish now and even then, especially during the time he educated and mentored me and the times I spent in his presence during my vacation days while studying for the Catholic priesthood. He was a great, blessed and extraordinary man!
Like most great men and women, the Archbishop is no more alive but the Liberia he cherished and tried very hard to sail to moral decency and upright civilization continues to face serious setbacks and challenges because few SELFISH people continue to create darkness for the country and the rest of the population continues to accept.
Liberia seems to be dark economically, socially, politically and even spiritually. However, for the purpose of this narrative, we want to dwell on the economic frontlines. No doubt the Liberian economy has a grave structural problem but the fact that the country refuses to acknowledge and/or allow experts and experienced individuals to revamp and fix it poses bigger problems than we can see.
One can’t use words, statistical data or even descriptive analysis to portray the state of the Liberian economy as well as explain the country’s social and political diarrhea. Things are really more than bad in the country, such that one can say things are really crazy. If anyone hasn’t understood and experienced real collective poverty, Liberia is the place to go and find it. Unemployment is beyond what civilized and developed societies understand it to be. The educational system is a “mess”, as former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf once described it. Healthcare in the country is beyond worse, and vices such as dishonesty, deceit, lies, greed, insincerity, public theft and widespread corruption and more are a way of life, especially amongst people of influence, most of whom are ‘statesmen’ and ‘stateswomen’.
All of these things disturb some Liberians and I am one of those people who is very worried about the continuous bad direction of the country. Some Liberians worried not because they have nothing to do; they are concerned because the rest of the world is moving forward, not backward. For instance, drones are now delivering medication in Rwanda; Kenya has a high-speed rail and a Silicon Valley prototype; Algeria and Tunisia are building quasi-medical capital cities; literacy rate in some southern African nations is reaching extraordinary appreciation; Ghana has become the model of African democracy, and Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, Liberia’s closest neighbors, are fast-paced in attracting foreign direct investments in every meaningful sector including leisure and hospitality. This means these four neighboring countries to Liberia will soon be destinations for profitable tourism. Yet, Liberia is in retrogression mood because we as a people refused to be patriotic.
The saddest aspect of the decline mentality in Liberia is the belief of several misguided Liberians that our country is the only terrain where nothing is possible. In addition, we have a nation where everyone is either a politician, lawyer, or chief or boss. The most lucrative and prestigious jobs in Liberia are political positions––elected or appointed. If one asks a Liberian any question, instead of answering the question, a direct opposite occurs. Questions beget another question; that is the Liberian way. The people who put obstacles in the way of their fellow Liberians, particularly Liberians with the education, skills, competence, qualifications and the much-needed experience to help move the country forward, are those in positions of authority. Businesses can’t succeed or be easily established because of a 10% syndrome and the ‘what’s in it for me mentality’ across most public sector functionaries.
The most worrying measurement to the terrible interplay in Liberia is the fact that the country is never short of progressive activists and blind loyalists. Many “educated” Liberians, including some youth and students, become progressive activists when they are not in the mainstream of power or in political offices. Once they become a part of the mainstream of power or are ushered into political offices then the other side of them comes out––blind loyalism. We clearly witnessed this when the flagbearers of all things progressive were mute while sharing in the booty of corruption in the past 20 plus years.
We, as a nation and people, can’t continue to be like this. This must stop! The bad judgments of some of our successive leaders and politicians as well as the imprudent actions of their followers should not deny the country and people the evolving opportunities emanating from the global village-ness of our world. Developmentally, we must seize the options of making our country equal to other nations. We can do this when we foster a sense of patriotism, starting today. We must reconcile our differences so that we have a united Liberia. We must apply the rule of law so that those who are denied justice can have it. We must give solemn duties and national responsibilities to individuals who don’t just have the qualifications and experience, but the track record and moral compass to ensure and protect the change our nation needs. We must put the country first and ensure that the interest of the Liberian people supersedes our personal interests. It also means we must support our president and government, but at the same time we must be honest in speaking the truth and pointing out mistakes when they are made.
As I reflect on global labor market issues in my office in the Baltimore–Washington, D.C. areas, contemplating and realizing that our world is likely to face another global recession by 2020 or later, few questions came to mind. Where will Liberia be or what will Liberia do when a global recession hits?
As a native born Liberian citizen and someone who works at a senior policy level in labor market information with focus on job creation, workforce development, industry innovation, occupational projections and analysis, business employment dynamics, and institutional governance, it saddens me to hail from a country where people seem or pretend to be clueless and indifferent to competing global, regional and even national realities.
Doesn’t Liberian officials, politicians and their likes know and understand that when a nation appears chaotic; is vulnerable to social strife and demonstrations; has no clearly defined investment and related public policies, and is also judicially insubstantial, that credible foreign investors wouldn’t dare waste their time thinking about doing business there?
It doesn’t hurt anybody but the Liberian government and the Liberian people when our streets are noisy, when our communities are chaotic, when few selfish Liberians enjoy the loot of the nation while the rest suffers, when a small band of opportunists defend what is morally indefensible, when a single individual or few persons decide to ruin an entire nation for decades.
On this day, every Liberian has a compelling duty to heed the warning of the late Archbishop Michael K. Francis of Liberia. The late Archbishop cautioned against sycophancy, lawlessness, incompetence, greed and corruption, misrule, and disunity. If we, as Liberians and a nation, do not let go of these vices, we will one day become foreigners in our own land, and few people will continue to create darkness for Liberia while the rest of the population will continue to accept. The signs are already on the wall, as the Liberian economy is now fully controlled by non-native Liberians. Our currency, legal tender, is said to be solely printed by a Lebanese businessman with vast business interests in the country. Immigrants from neighboring West African nations are said to have high jacked the multiplication of the currency as well. And we wonder why we have billions of Liberian dollars in the streets and inflation?
Instead of arresting youth and students, let the Liberia government and those in authority call on the youth and student leadership for dialogue. Equally, instead of the youth and students demonstrating in the streets, let their leadership present whatever grievances they have in writing to the Liberian government. After several wasted years, if not decades of public theft and misrule, Liberia can’t afford to give bad impressions to foreign investors that it is a lawless environment. Noise and demonstrations are bad signs that scare investors and donors away. And when that happens, many Liberians will continue to be without jobs and many more will live in abject poverty. Let’s learn to solve our problems rationally––and this must begin with those in authority.
About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is a Catholic educated philosopher and the U.S. trained public policy professional. Amongst his professional experience include serving as head of the U.S.–based Jewish Family Services international refugee resettlement and integration program; Maryland State Government Labor Market Information Manager during the recent global recession (2008 – 2010) and as State Administrator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics programs in addition to a global consulting work in institutional governance.