Dear Fellow Compatriots:
A week ago today, at exactly 12:00 noon, the 22nd constitutionally and democratically re-elected President of Liberia, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and her Vice President, Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai, took the constitutional Oath of Office, marking the first time in sixty years that an incumbent President of Liberia has peacefully and democratically succeeded himself or herself.
Monday, January 16th therefore was and remains a really big and special deal and occasion. Firstly, it is by any measure an historic day, because this is the first time since 1944 when President William V.S. Tubman succeeded his predecessor and mentor, President Edwin J. Barclay that Liberians have witnessed a democratic presidential transition from one incumbent administration roughed out of free, fair, transparent, and credible elections to another democratically elected administration. In 1985, there was a half-hearted attempt at democratic elections followed by an aborted military coup. The 1985 experiment with multiparty democratic elections was believed to have been undermined when a 50-member special committee was constituted and sequestered outside the ambit of the elections commission and the Constitution of Liberia to tally the ballots and announce a “final presidential election result”. The rest of this story has been well documented and therefore needs no further elaboration.
My Fellow Compatriots: The January 16 Inauguration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is therefore a moment and a day to savor and celebrate. It climaxes a presidential election in which 16 political parties participated and which significantly was decided in a run-off. Yea, it was difficult arriving at Inauguration 2012. The environment was poisoned and precarious. In fact, some believed that this day would not be possible because there were Liberians who worked to ensure that it never happened. There were Liberians who schemed and are still scheming to undermine our democratic transition. There are Liberians who worked hard, day and night, to create violent conflict in order to abort efforts at our democratic transition and take Liberia back to its inglorious past. Some have anguished and continue to anguish because defeat, when it visits the politically naïve, democratically immature, and the inordinately ambitious, can be difficult to accept. Such persons forget that a true democrat accepts and celebrates defeat in the same manner that he or she accepts victory. Defeat however is difficult, especially if the person comes to the process too confident of victory. Then, defeat can have the force of a Tsunami, can be devastating, can be humbling and shaming. This is understandable, but what is not understandable, at least to me, is when the defeated person behaves as if they had won, or begins to scheme and to maneuver to undermine the peace, security, stability, and progress of the Motherland.
My Fellow Compatriots: So much about democracy and democratic elections. Let us talk a little bit about President Sirleaf’s Inaugural Address. In the address, the President sounded key themes. She spoke about the challenges that lie ahead in continuing the development trajectory on which Liberia was launched on January 16, 2006, exactly six years ago. The President spoke about our individual and collective aspirations and hope. She spoke about the future role of youth in nation-building and national leadership. The President spoke eloquently – and passionately about our country and our duty to it.
Then, the President struck what seems to me to be the most significant theme: Patriotism, which is broadly defined as love for country. The President provided her conceptual definition of patriotism. I encourage each of us, Liberians, and friends of Liberia, at home and abroad, to access the President’s speech and read, reread and reflect on the section on “patriotism”. It was profound; it was powerful, it was timely, it was needed, and it was moving.
Why do I think and believe that the President’s statement about patriotism was apt? Simple! I have traveled to neighboring African and other countries, and I have seen the passion and loyalty and love that citizens in those countries show toward their flags and their countries; how they fiercely defend their country’s name and honor; how they respect their national leaders even when they disagree with them; and how they love and promote their fellow countrymen. I have heard those citizens recite time and again the timeless mantra, “Above all else, country.”
Now, my Fellow Compatriots: Look at our country. How many of us stand at attention when the National Anthem of our country is played? How many of us stand at attention when our flag is lowered at occasions? How many of us know our National Anthem? Let’s look in our individual hearts. How many of us truly love our country – and fight to defend her name and honor when challenged by others? How many of us love our fellow countrymen that when we are privileged to secure prestigious assignments with international organizations ever look back to help other qualified Liberians, those who are not directly related to us, considered for employment opportunities in such organizations? How many, just how many of us? See other countries?
Let’s flip the coin and listen to some of our political national leaders, the venoms and threats that they pour on our nation. Some speak from both sides of their mouths. On the one side, they claim to work and speak for the people. On the other side and in the same breath, they threaten the nation and its people with violence, as if more than 14 years of unmitigated violence was not enough. “We will make Monrovia ungovernable,” some of our so-called political leaders declare. “We will divide Monrovia, rule a section by our party and the other section by the democratically and constitutionally elected President and her Party,” others speak in tunes reminiscent of the years of civil conflict when loud mouths and big guns ruled Liberia. “We will make Monrovia bitter,” some of the same “leaders” declare. Then, I ask, “bitter” for whom, the people they profess to lead?
My Fellow Compatriots: These are not utterances of patriots, men and women who genuinely love their country. These are statements either of men and women who are political neophytes or dangerous anarchists who prefer the destruction of their homeland to its preservation, security, stability, and prosperity.
Yet Liberia, our Liberia, is an interesting country and place. Some of these trouble makers and anarchists, who should be languishing, even in the most democratic of nations, in maximum prisons, find themselves sitting as lawmakers, while others seek exalted positions of national leadership in the public service. Then, we hear it said time and time again, reconciliation, reconciliation. I am all for reconciliation, don’t misconstrue, but reconciliation must be based on a heart willing to make peace, not a heart that holds a people and nation ransom for its own selfish purpose, including political power. Reconciliation should be achieved for one purpose only: the common good and peace and security of our nation. It should not be bargained and be achieved because a price was paid, whether that price was for material good or otherwise.
The reckless speeches and pronouncements that some of our citizens make are not consistent with our Constitution and with the tenets of genuine democracy here in Liberia or in any other democratic nation. I learned many years ago in my Communications Law Class that if a free citizen walks into a jammed packed theater and screams fire and a stampede ensues that leads to fatalities, that free citizen bears responsibility for the abuse of his right to free speech and for trampling on the rights of other citizens. In a word, freedom, in whatever forms carries, responsibility. Freedom is not license to say or do anything as one pleases. And while each and every one of us should be tolerant and accommodating of our democratic transition and its manifestations, we cannot and must not sanction impunity, because to do so is to undermine our fragile democracy.
So, when the President speaks of the need for “patriotism”, I fully understand where she is coming from, where she wishes to see our beloved Motherland go, and how she would like to see our political and other national leaders conduct themselves. Our political, socio-economic and other differences and diversity are important. Safeguarding them is equally important. But, in expressing our differences, we must always remember that our nation’s cause remains supreme, greater than any of our individual interests and preferences. In our disagreement, if civil and decent and respectful and couched in love of country, we could build a more robust and thriving democracy that becomes an example for other emerging democracies.
My Fellow Compatriots: Even as our President eloquently speaks about patriotism, patriotism, as a national virtue, we have to recognize and accept that cannot be willed or wished. We must teach it in our schools – and even in our tertiary institutions of learning. Our educational system is being transformed, I acknowledged. I hear our education administrators speak of curriculum reform, too. As an educator both at home and in the United States, I often ask myself, what are the core values that undergird our national curriculum? The answer is not difficult to discern in our current environment: They should be imbedded in the teaching of Civics, because Civics imparts patriotism, love of country – and discipline. Our nation is imperiled by acts of indiscipline: on our streets among drivers, in the workplace, and everywhere. This subject itself could be the topic of another letter to you, my Fellow Compatriots. However, what I believe should be done and done immediately is the reintroduction of Civics in all Liberian schools and tertiary institutions, whether they are public or private.
Further, many years ago, when I attended elementary school, I was taught Liberian history and Civics. I was also taught Bible. I attended a Catholic high school. In high school, I studied Doctrine. My Catholic high school also taught its students the value of service to country. The point I am making is that removing Civics and the Bible from our National Curriculum has contributed to the mis-education of our children and the lack of understanding of our nation and its purpose. If the argument is that “Liberia is a secular state”, then I argue, teach both the Bible and the Koran. A country loses nothing for being a country of believers as long as we are tolerant and accommodating of non-believers and people of other faiths.
In closing, I congratulate our President, Her Excellency Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, on this historic milestone and celebration. I pray that the God of our Nation and the God of all nations will continue to bless the President, guide and protect her and Vice President Boakai, as they lead our country to increased levels of national development, prosperity, peace, security, and stability.
Congratulations to you, my Fellow Compatriots, both at home and in Diaspora, on making a sound democratic choice.
Morris M. Dukuly, Sr.
Former Speaker/Transitional Legislative Assembly/TLA