H. E. Milton Nathaniel Barnes
Ambassador & Permanent Representative
Mission of the Republic of Liberia
To the United Nations
On the Occasion of the
One Hundred Sixtieth Independence Day Celebration
Of The Republic of Liberia
July 26, 2007
Staten Island Liberian Community Association
Staten Island, New York
Mr. President, Officers and Members of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association, Esteemed Elders, Fellow Liberians, Ladies and Gentlemen, my dear friends.
I am today, indeed deeply honored and humbled to be here as your key note speaker. I thank the Staten Island Liberian Community Association for this honor which I will cherish for a long time.
My fellow Liberians, ladies and gentlemen, we, as human beings, hold certain truths sacred to our historical and national origins. Whether we choose to face the consequences of these truths or not, will be the test of our resolve to survive and prosper as a nation.
It is a sacred truth that our Very Liberia was born and has been shaped out of crises. The crisis of the inhumane acts of slavery; the crisis of the clash of cultures and values resulting in military confrontation and conquest; the crisis of social discrimination, exclusion and intolerance; the crisis of tribalism and inter-ethnic conflict; the crisis of tyranny and impunity; the crushing crisis of poverty, illiteracy and inhumanity; and most importantly, the crisis of denial. The denial within our national consciousness of the existence of these very crises that caused us to proceed to build a nation on a defective foundation of lies, deceit, injustice, ignorance, corruption, and ineptness.
It is a sacred truth that two and a half decades of national self-mutilation and self-destruction is a manifestation of the eruption of over one hundred and twenty-five years of suppressed tension and stress resulting from these many unresolved crises. This deep-seated self-loathing has been vented through war and strife. This “Mother of all Crises” has been simmering for generations in all aspects of our national life; and exploded with a vengeance unimaginable!
It is a sacred truth that as violent and destructive as our civil strife was; it was to a large extent, a massive “National Catharsis”. An explosive purifying release of the decades of suppressed hatred, envy, fear, doubt, and suspicion.
My dear brothers and sisters, the fact of the matter is the truth has caught up with us. It has cost us dearly. Massive loss of life and destruction of property and infrastructure; displacement of a significant portion of our people; disease and epidemics; illiteracy; marginalization and violence against women and children; an uneducated, untrained, violent, corps of youths and countless other ills. Our national catharsis, at some moments appeared to be fully embraced by the powerful arms of insanity!
Many of us are afraid of the truth! Many of us are ashamed of the truth! The truth is that we, as a people, are born out of the crises of slavery and tribalism. We bear the shame of an identity crisis in which we label ourselves in ways that demean us. We are products of an inherently corrupt, inequitable, and hypocritical society. Worst of all, we have proven ourselves to be capable of unspeakable brutality and inhumanity. When we admit such harsh realities, we are fearful for our future and ashamed of our past.
But, fear and shame can be overcome with pride and courage. Take pride in your origins, no matter how modest, as there are still many noble aspects of our heritage, culture and traditions; be courageous to instigate positive change regardless of the obstacles! In fostering this new pride and courage we must educate ourselves about where we have come from.
How many of our children know and appreciate the Liberian National anthem? How many know the counties and ethnic groups of Liberia? How many of us have taken the time to tell our children about the rich even tragic history of our Liberia? Re-claiming our national pride could be the beginning of our healing process.
At the end of the day, one can justifiably ask the semi-biblical question: “Can anything good come out of Liberia”? My fellow Liberians, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that the answer to this question is a resounding YES! As a matter of fact, many good things can and will come out of Liberia.
How can we as a people insure that good things come out of Liberia? After all, Liberians now yearn for a time where they can pursue their individual and collective dreams in an environment of freedom and justice, where access to decent education and health care is available to all, where one can pursue her dream of financial and economic independence unhindered by obstacles of injustice, illiteracy, prejudice and burdensome bureaucracy.
I often hear Liberians long for the good old days. Time and again, I wonder about the meaning of this as I do not personally remember a time in Liberia that can be considered good for the majority of our people. There may have been very good times for few and selected Liberians frequently at the expense of the vast majority. I say to those who yearn for the good old days… they may be good old days for you, but they must have been bad old days for many.
I boldly say to you sons and daughters of Liberia let us abandon the desire for the good old days and together forge ahead to create the good new days. A time in which all Liberians have the freedom and means to dream and aspire in an atmosphere where all are equal and treated fairly, where the only hindrance is created by the lack of one’s individual imagination. An era where each of our personal contributions will together form the basis of stability, self-sufficiency and economic prosperity. But how do we get to the good new days?
As a result of all of our national crises, everything is broken. Our institutions, our infrastructure, our systems, even our pride and self-esteem are broken. EVERYTHING IS BROKEN EXCEPT OUR SPIRIT!
We as a nation will have to search deeply to find anything good emanating from the madness of our civil strife. But I tell you there is something good, there is a wonderful gift presented to us! Amidst death and broken bodies…amidst the rubble of physical destruction…amidst the pain of illiteracy…amidst the idleness of ineptness…amidst the depravation of corruption…amidst all of the pain, tragedies, and hopelessness of being at “Ground Zero”…we have the incredible opportunity to build it up again from scratch. We have the chance to do it right from the start. Instead of a faulty foundation built on lies, deceit, ignorance, corruption, fear, mistrust, and worse of all denial, we as a people can now collectively build a nation on a foundation of truth, trust, freedom, justice, transparency, equality, and faith.
Fellow Liberians, ladies and gentlemen, now is the time for the REBIRTH of Liberia!
But let us not again delude ourselves into thinking that our national rebirth will be easy. The path to rebirth and renaissance is long, arduous, and demanding. To be effective and enduring, our national rebirth must include the participation of every single citizen of this Very Liberia. We cannot and must not fail this time around.
Allow me to suggest a comprehensive formula which if properly developed and implemented would put us on the path of justice, equality, better governance, poverty reduction, sustained economic growth and expansion and a better global strategic and competitive position.
My formula encompasses five key interdependent elements:
First, there must be national introspection. I mean a close, critical, honest, no-holds-barred look at ourselves. Yes! There is no doubt that we did not bring all of our misfortunes on ourselves; however, only we can change our present circumstances. No matter the magnitude of the aid dollars or the extent of debt forgiveness, only Liberians can change Liberia for the better. Only Liberians can determine that they deserve better and take the necessary steps to break the cycle of violence, mediocrity, and self-destruction. To accomplish this, we must experience this serious National Soul Searching that will instigate the paradigm of self reliance, pride and focus that will be the springboard of social, economic and political stability, growth and expansion. Our experience has shown that we are a people of great perseverance and tenacity. We must exercise these qualities in our quest for peace and reconciliation and taking our destiny in our own hands.
Second, Liberia, as a nation, must be prepared to adopt a mechanism of governance that will be best for all in the long run; one in which every citizen, regardless of her social or economic standing in the society will be an active participant. This also means that we have to set new standards of performance and expectations for our elected leaders- a significant step away from our past behavior. If we must entrust our leaders with our future and the future of our children, then we are responsible to insure that they are capable, honest, diligent, and focused on the needs of all especially the most vulnerable of our society. They must be held accountable for the sound and transparent management of our natural resources. They must insure equal and fair treatment for all under the law and full protection of our rights. Our leaders must be courageous as difficult decisions will be required. We must understand that in the face of these tough decisions, sacrifices must be made and things may appear to get worse before they get better.
Third, Liberia must be prepared to expend considerable resource and effort toward development of our human capacity. Education, in the most comprehensive and inclusive sense of the term, must become a national preoccupation. Not only must we foster primary, secondary and higher education that is accessible to all, we must provide literacy training and job skills to those who never had the chance to attend primary school when they were much younger. In our efforts to maximize foreign aid, our government should insist that aid is enhanced by the transfer of a sustainable knowledge and skill base that will remain within our country long after foreign experts have left.
Fourth, we have only in recent times begun to appreciate the power of relationships. We are learning that it is best to build, nurture and grow sustainable relationships that are mutually beneficial as opposed to seeking short-term gratification- a pattern that emerged as a result of the limited agendas of corrupt leadership. Even some of our well intended leaders, out of desperation, have been known to succumb to the temptation of signing agreements which provide immediate relief at the expense of long-term benefits.
Fifth, we must have a clear and visionary plan for the future. Such a plan must reflect the reality of our human and natural resource potential, our geographical location and strategic alliances. Despite our present level of poverty and deprivation, we cannot afford to fail to plan for the future. Failing to plan will render us permanently wallowing in mediocrity and abject poverty.
Our role in the building and development of a new Liberia should be viewed as a journey and not a destination. A journey that is continually evolving with the focus on a better life for all Liberians. A key part of our evolutionary process should be not only establishing and meeting goals, but assessing our progress honestly with the flexibility to change as we see fit.
My question today, fellow Liberians, is what are you prepared to do to make the new Liberia a reality? We Liberians have a reputation for talk. The Liberian expression is we have “sweet mouth”! In asking this question in this specific gathering, I most likely would get a wide variety of responses; from grandiose to humble; but much of it would be “sweet mouth”! What really counts is what you believe in your hearts. Please indulge me as I take the liberty to make some suggestions as to what we must do.
First, prepare yourself; prepare your children.
YOU ARE LIBERIAN! Regardless of what you do to immerse and acclimate yourself into another culture or identity, you are and will always be Liberian. For those of us who have come to that realization, we must prepare ourselves and our children for our future as Liberians. We must understand and apply the discipline of work, study and time management. We must see and pursue the value of critical thought. All these things with a focus towards the actualization of an era of justice, equality and prosperity in Liberia. We must be responsible citizens regardless of where we are on the globe, and teach our children the importance of civic responsibility. Good citizens regardless of where they reside, make a stable and productive nation.
Second, Think Positively
We are largely what we think. In order to forge a new Liberia, we must think positively. We must see ourselves as an intelligent, productive, capable people with vision and patriotism, possessing a land of untold wealth offering a future full of unlimited possibilities.
I tire of the aged old “Crab in the barrel” syndrome among Liberians. We see only negative qualities in each other. Many of us have lived outside of Liberia long enough to rid ourselves of such attitudes and practices. There are many of what I refer to as the “New Breed” of Liberians in the Diaspora who have learned the valuable lessons of how to be successful. Why can we not transfer this knowledge to our beloved country? If we don’t do it, who do we expect to do it?
Third, Save and Invest
There can be no denying my fellow Liberians, ladies and gentlemen, our country’s future economic, social and human development will be driven largely by private sector initiatives. While there is incalculable value in relief and aid initiatives, they have their limitations as far as economic growth and expansion are concerned. This is especially true when one considers the critical element of self reliance.
There is presently a very strong drive by the Government of Liberia to attract foreign direct investment. This is evidenced by the fact that the government recently executed a one billion dollar agreement with Acellor-Mital Steel, the largest steel company in the world. This agreement provides an excellent catalyst for economic revitalization in Liberia. Additionally, the National Investment Commission (NIC) has been revamped and empowered with a focus towards creating an investment and economic environment that will attract external capital.
While these efforts are targeted at a global pool of potential investors, I believe that Liberians in the Diaspora should view this as an excellent window of opportunity.
According to the Central Bank of Liberia, for the three years of 2004, 2005, 2006, the net remittances of funds into Liberia, a good portion of which originated from the Diaspora totaled $139.2 million. Now, considering that these transfers largely represent disposal income of individuals sending gifts to their family, friends and loved ones in Liberia, one can only imagine the potential capital base of this segment.
My dear friends, I believe that “the proverbial ball is in our court” perhaps it is high time that we consider organizing ourselves to harness this capital potential.
Imagine with me fellow Liberians, the existence of the Liberian Diaspora Investment Corp. or the Liberian Diaspora Fund Management Group. Entities established with the specific objective of maximizing and channeling capital of Liberian equity holders resident in the United States into Liberia in a professional, efficient and most importantly, profitable manner.
I can envision a Savings and Loan institution or a Credit Union with branches in Harper, Gbarnga, Tubmanburg and other locations in Liberia addressing the needs of farmers, miners, and other entrepreneurs of the country.
I envision agriculture, electricity, mining and other cooperatives improving the lives of inhabitants while generating profit. Or a construction company providing affordable housing for citizens; or a fishing company addressing the demand for local consumption and the export market. Why not?
It can be done ladies and gentlemen. The Market is there, and the resources exist. However, I believe that there are two mandatory elements. First is the burning desire to do this right. And second is a core of credible, reliable and trustworthy trailblazers captivated by this vision.
Today, I challenge this organization, the Staten Island Liberian Community Association, and all Liberian organizations in the Diaspora to fully and actively participate in the development of Liberia through direct capital investment in Liberia.
My fellow Liberians, this is the genesis of how we create the elusive “Middle Class of Wealth” in Liberia; arguably, the most important corner stone in a rock solid foundation of sustained peace, stability and prosperity in a new Liberia.
Fourth, Give something back
As important as investing in development may be, never forget that some of us need an unconditional hand in order to begin to climb out of the deepest bowels of poverty. I believe that the best way to help someone is to help them to help themselves. An education is something that will enable an individual to sustain himself for a lifetime. I challenge each of us to contribute in whatever way we can to the education of a fellow less fortunate Liberian. Also, the concept of volunteering may be foreign to many of us, but in great nations of the world, volunteering one’s time and/or expertise has made all the difference in the lives of those who find themselves in difficult situations. Volunteering not only changes the life of a victim of unfortunate circumstances, it greatly enriches the life of the individual who gives of himself. Any of you who have ever opened your hearts and reached out to help will attest to this!
Fifth, Attempt to leave a legacy
The person who is conscious of what will be said of him long after he has passed from this life is one who carefully plans to leave a legacy of having made a difference. If each of us can make a positive difference in some small way particularly as Liberians, I have no doubt that our country will be richer and greater for our efforts. What will your legacy be? Will the people of your family, village, town, county, nation, continent or even your world be able to so say in a truthful and meaningful way, she was a good Liberian woman? Or he was a wonderful example of Liberian fatherhood at its best? Why not plan your legacy starting now?
First, prepare yourself; prepare your children.
Second, Think Positively
Third, Save and Invest
Fourth, Give something back
Fifth, Attempt to leave a legacy
Sixth and finally, Believe in Liberia again
There is a popular gospel song in Liberia sung by Ambassador Marion Cassel. Whenever, I have heard it sung, I, along with so many others, have felt our spirits soaring. The singer says, “Liberia, sweet land of liberty, you will rise, you will shine, you will prosper in Africa, yeah the world!” What a powerful sentiment. Imagine if we all fervently believed this profoundly positive prophecy. YOU WILL RISE; YOU WILL SHINE; YOU WILL PROSPER IN AFRICA, YEAH, THE WORLD. My friends never underestimate the power of positive thinking. The team that wins is the team that knew from the start of the match that no matter what obstacle the opponent presented, they would ultimately be victorious. The student who achieves is the one whose parents, teachers, mentors believed they would achieve and transferred that confidence to the student herself. Believe in your country, Liberians. She will rise. She will shine. She will prosper in Africa, yeah the world.
Happy Twenty-Six! GOD BLESS LIBERIA! GOD BLESS US ALL!