HIS EXCELLENCY MR. MILTON NATHANIEL BARNES
AMBASSADOR AND PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE
PERMANENT MISSION OF LIBERIA
TO THE UNITED NATIONS
LIBERIA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATION
HOSTED BY LIBERIANS IN OHIO, INCORPORATED
JULY 25TH 2008
Dr. Boikai, President of Liberians In Columbus, Inc.,
Officers and Members of Liberians in Columbus, Inc.,
Honorable Officials and Council Members of this beautiful City of Columbus,
Honorable Officials of the Great State of Ohio,
My fellow Liberians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
First and foremost let me say Happy Independence Day or as we say in Liberia “Happy Twenty-Six” to all Liberians and friends of Liberia.
My wife Dawn and I are deeply honored and pleased to be here in your beautiful and vibrant city, Columbus. Beautiful Columbus, which has over time developed and maintained an inviting, warm, friendly and relax personality, while effectively embracing many aspects of our global community. Your pursuit of the arts, music and culture balanced with economic viability and environmental responsibility truly reflects your city’s respected place in these great United States and its rising prominence in the world. Thank you again for your warmth and gracious hospitality.
It was about thirty years ago when our collective Liberian world began to physically unravel. It started with a rice riot. Soon there was a bloody coup d’etat. The brief period of political stability which followed was actually a masking divisive tribalism. Within ten years, a gigantic violent eruption occurred resulting in loss of life, complete destruction of property and infrastructure, massive displacement of defenseless and helpless people and untold social, economic and humanitarian ails: a phenomenon which, in my opinion, represents a catastrophic catharsis after generations of national self-neglect, self-hatred, self-mutilation and denial.
Regardless of agenda or motive, I have observed that many Liberians have always harbored a strong desire to make a contribution towards the growth, development and future of Liberia. Many of us, in what I refer to as the “forties” generation - that is those born in 1945 or later- have lamented the lost opportunity to make a contribution to Liberia. Over the last several decades, we have languished in a peculiar state of ambivalence. That is, while many of us have immersed and acculturated ourselves into the diverse diasporic opportunities in which we find ourselves, we have longed to contribute to the growth and development of our homeland.
We of this generation can all be likened to the Olympic marathon runner who has audaciously worked, prepared and disciplined himself for the gold medal competition only to find that his nation has made the political decision to boycott the games. Yes, we may find other competitions, in fact we may even win other championships, yet the ultimate gold medal …the opportunity to give something back to our beloved Liberia…continues to elude us.
For example there is the forty-five year old physician and researcher at a major American Medical Center, a recipient of a very prestigious internationally recognized award who left Liberia at seventeen years of age. She cherishes fond memories of growing up in Liberia; yet her dreams of serving her country were shattered one morning when M -16 toting young rebels took over the Government of Liberia, victimized her family and forced them to leave. Even after years of academic and professional excellence this young Liberian woman longs to be able to give back to her native land.
There is the 53 year old talented, hardworking and ambitious auto mechanic who owns his own business in a major American city. Initially, he was quite hopeful for his future in Liberia because he perceived these same rebels as revolutionary saviors who would give the masses of Liberians greater access to power and self-determination. Unfortunately, this ambitious young man eventually became disillusioned by the colossal failure of these so called saviors who instead of bringing hope fanned the flames of tribalism. He left Liberia broken hearted and poured all of his energy and talent into success in the great United States; yet he longs to be able to give back to his native land.
There is the 52 year old executive vice president of a billion dollar multi-national corporation who first came to America to get an education with all intentions of returning to Liberia as his father before him had, only to find that when he had completed his studies, his country was embroiled in a downward spiral. His climb up the corporate ladder has taken him every where on the globe and afforded him an enviable lifestyle; yet he longs to be able to give back to his native land.
There is the 63 year old college professor who did not leave Liberia throughout most of its civil unrest. He was determined to continue to try to mold the young minds of Liberians toward creativity and productivity. Unfortunately, even he was forced to leave when he has seen as a threat to a tyrant. Instead of writing his memoirs in Liberia, he now has a major book contract with a publisher in America. His expertise is Liberian history and culture, yet it was outside of Liberia that his gifts were finally recognized. In spite of all of this, he too longs to be able to give back to his native land.
My dear brothers and sisters, distinguished ladies and gentlemen: while the aforementioned examples may appear to portray extraordinary Liberians, they are no different from you or me as we all still carry a burning desire to change Liberia for the better.
There is an old adage which says that God does not close a door without leaving a window ajar. I am here to testify to you today that our generation can and should now take advantage of this small window of opportunity.
The hostilities have ended in Liberia and we now have peace even if it is still fragile. If ever there was a time that we would consider making a contribution to Liberia, now is the time. How do we do this? Allow me to take the liberty of suggesting five ways in which we can make our long desired contribution to our beloved Liberia.
First, no matter where we live, our lives must exemplify what we would like the Liberian legacy to be. That is, we must be upright, upstanding, law-abiding citizens. We must teach our children through instruction and by example our rich Liberian heritage, culture and values which hold respect, dignity and courage in high esteem.
Second, we must invest in Liberia. We should not expect others to do for us what we are not prepared to do for ourselves. We keep looking for investment for Liberia while we may hold the key ourselves. When we start to seriously invest our money, time and talents in Liberia, believe me, others will follow.
Third, we must be advocates for Liberia. No one knows the Liberia story better than Liberians themselves. At the end of the day, no matter what your perspective might be, we all need to market Liberia as a nation, not unlike a phoenix rising out of the ashes of self destruction with the focused purpose of a new dispensation. A dispensation of freedom, justice and economic prosperity for all. Yes, the challenges are many but they can be overcome in unity, reconciliation and common purpose.
Fourth, we must participate in Liberia. Whether we like it or not, it is our collective future. The primary cause of the “crash and burn” of Liberia, was the absence of full participation of all of our citizens in determining our common destiny. Let us not let history repeat itself. You may not be physically present currently. However, you can still play a pivotal role in the process that empowers us all economically, socially and politically. Remember those who sit idly by and do nothing, are just as bad as those who wreak havoc through mismanagement, corruption, intolerance, and impunity. Get involved in Liberia
Fifth, we must be proud of Liberia. Liberia is all we have. Let us rebuild it, sustain it, and be darn proud of it. Patriotism is the fuel that drove America to greatness! It can be the same for our beloved Liberia.
I should mention here as a side note, that our Legislature in their wisdom has begun to consider the matter of dual citizenship as a catalyst that would allow Liberians globally to quell this burning desire to make a difference in their native land.
Now finally, a word to our esteemed American brothers and sisters; our historic friend, ally, protector and host. There is no reasonable doubt that yours is the greatest and most powerful country in our world today; arguably, the greatest nation in the history of the world. This greatness has been attained through visionary leadership, very hard work and self discipline, sacrifice, innovation and creativity, and unbelievable tenacity in an unquenchable quest for freedom and democracy. American leadership, vision and sheer power have impacted the direction and possibly the destiny of every aspect of our common humanity in recent history.
Globalization, as it is referred to have made our world smaller and the impact and influence of the only Super Power, the United States of America in our world is inevitable.
Fortunately, you, America have exhibited understanding of the concept that “with power comes responsibility”. It is clear that despite some “missteps”, after all no one is perfect, your leadership of our world has been enviable.
Now, our world is changing. Changing in such a way that any American voter who believes that the selection of his or hers political leaders is based on their ability to effectively address domestic and national issues alone is naive. In this era of American might, when Americans vote, even in local and municipal electoral processes, they must consider global issues. That is ironically the benefit and responsibility of being our world’s only Super Power.
Allow me, a humble diplomat from a poor, post-conflict country to challenge America, our world’s only Super Power, to continue its lead in an unwavering quest for freedom and democracy. But also to understand that as you change the world, the world will also change you. True greatness in leadership entails taking the bold and courageous actions in effecting positive change while exhibiting humility to embrace those aspects of experience that have a positive impact on you. Even our enemies may teach us important lessons.
It is incumbent upon America as a world leader to make an honest effort to understand even the minute nuances of all peoples of the world be they social, cultural religious or political.
Whether we are world leaders, or a part of the global Diaspora, we all have a role to play in effecting positive change in our common humanity. The greatest legacy which any individual or nation-state may leave is that of having made a small contribution towards improving the lives of others. In the words of Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things…only small things with great love”.
God Bless Liberia…God Bless America, and God Bless American/Liberian Fraternity.