Liberia, The Pearl of Africa : An Elegy On A Nation In Extremis
By: G. Yanquoi Lavela, Esq.*
Doctor of Jurisprudence
Oooh Liberia! My Liberia. Our Liberia. That “sweet land of liberty” and the pearl of Africa. ‘Tis for thee that I weep. And I do so sincerely from the bottom of my heart. As a son the blood of whose ancestors has soaked the soils of this nation in hopes for a better country than what we have before us today, I am ashamed of the public spectacle and laughing stock that you have made of yourself among the family of nations. But, if I had a choice of the place of my birth, I would have chosen none other than thee. You have been the subject of dreams yet unfulfilled. Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” could have been written about you. It is a story about a small town in a bucolic community, whose residents were characterized as perpetual daydreamers, lay back and withdrawn from the rest of the world, and were slower to think and move along with the passage of time, with their hopes and aspirations pinned only on supernatural forces to determine their fate in life. You are the object of ridicule and public scorn and the “Rip Van Winkle” of African nations, when you slept for ninety-seven plus one hundred years, basking on the sun-baked beaches of the west Atlantic, as the world moved on into a new millennium, while you slumbered with colorful dreams that defy your ability to attain. Your pristine beaches and crystal blue waters, glistening against the tropical sun and golden moonlit skies in the dark of night, have lured strange visitors from distant worlds with long hairs hanging beneath their helmets, swords dangling from their waists, and dark secrets lurking in the dusty recesses of their depraved hearts that only you did not know. Yet, you greeted them with song and dance of the African drums; Barefoot virgins leaping in the air with breasts pointing to the sun; dust clouds from their dancing feet concealed the dark secrets of their guests even more, while wise old men coughed in suffocation from the dog-like smells of the strangers who entered the village. When the strangers left, they never said “Thank you”; instead, they burned the village which hosted them and took many thousands of its sons and daughters and the very best of them in chains, never again to be seen here bathing in the creeks, climbing the mango trees or fishing and swimming in the Mesurado River or the Atlantic Ocean.
Four hundred and fifty-eight years thence, there came upon these shores a very different kind of strangers; they wore black faces and had dark, woolly, and kinky hairs and look tired and weary, as if cast at sea for a destination unknown. You heard their cries and listened to their supplications to lay down their burdens and gave them a place to sleep. When these dark-faced kinfolk awakened from that deep Negro sleep, after a restful African night, it dawned on you that they were not your ordinary chickens coming home to roost. That borrowed place in your house where they slept and on the very mat on which they laid their tired heads and wearied bodies, they planted a flag and called it their own and off limits to you. They were birds of a different feather; you were the “savages” and they were the “civilized” ones; you were the heathens and they were the benevolent Christians; and, like Prometheus in Greek mythology, they saw themselves as bearing the gift of “Light to a benighted” continent of Africa. With top hats and frock coats, these grisly caricatures with weather beaten black faces in empty suits, pounding the pavements in their rundown shoes, with droopy shoulders and scraggly beards, all staged to mimic their former slave masters masters, seemed like a bad dream to the noble savage who knew not what to make of this bizarre and ghostly sight. When you spoke Kru, Bassa, Kpelle, Gola, Grebo, Krahn, Gio, Loma, Kissi, Mano, or Vai, they spoke jive; When you thought of one race, one nation and one destiny, they practiced a Jim Crow based on pigment-ocracy; Your ancient traditions of altruism and sacrifice for the common good, as a noble aspiration of all your children, have been replaced with a self-centered materialism; when you knelt by the graves of your dead ancestors in hommage and honor to them in death, they snubbed you as heathens and idolaters. Honor thy father and thy mother so that thy days may be long upon the earth which the Lord has given thee, so sayeth God in His Ten Commandments to mankind. That is the only Commandment given by God to man with a promise. Africans have practiced that virtue for thousands of years before Christ. We not only respect our ancestors in life but also in death. They are our bridge to God and Heaven. These strange, scraggly-looking, and woolly haired “wanna be white” black faces, tricked you to bow down to worship a dead man nailed on a tree, with long hair and a white face, in whose very name they were taken as captives in centuries past. With the Bible in one hand and the gun in the other, one way or another, by coercion or persuasion, they got you to abandon your African roots and ancient traditions and to acquiesce in your own cultural genocide. And while your eyes are closed, they are busy plundering your rain forests, stealing your gold, diamonds and precious minerals and exploiting your natural resources and selling your inheritance to their former slave masters in exchange for mere crumbs to sustain their artificial European lifestyles all for naught.
But rumor has it that Jesus was a black man who was lynched by a white Mob. The bearer of His cross, Simon of Cyrene, was also a north African black Man who rescued Jesus from the beatings of the mob. If Jesus forgave his White tormentors and murderers, when he said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing”, He certainly would not forget to give a little blessing to descendants of the black man who came to His rescue. They beat a brother to death and forced another brother to carry his body to the graveyard called Golgotha. Ain’t that a trip? Whites have lynched Blacks since Christ. So, let no white man talk to you and me about Jesus and God, or give us lectures about savagery. We were building pyramids and temples and had invented astronomy to predict the ebb and flow of the Nile River, while they lived in caves butt naked and ate raw meats when we cooked over fire. We had a coherent and unified system of laws and customs, arts and architecture, religion and divinity, rights and duties. The educated African must clearly and forcefully articulate his culture, and what it means to be an African, beyond the realm of mere physicalities of our bodily features, if we are to gain our rightful place in the catalogue of world cultures. That was Mary Henrietta Kingsley’s and Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden’s dream for Africa and for Liberia in particular. That is the essence of African Nationalism, not empty political slogans, artificial banners nor any cheap imitations of whites. We are neither free nor independent if we must walk in the shadows of white people.
Liberia, you have been raped again! But this time, not by aliens of a third kind, but by your own children. That is the cardinal sin of incest. As you lay naked from the waist down, chain saws and bulldozers, drunk with gasoline and diesel fuel, uproot your trees, tear down your sacred mountains and pollute your streams. All this for a paltry sum of money for a greedy few. Thousands have perished in a war of sheer attrition and still thousands more will die from disease, malnutrition and abject poverty. Thousands are still refugees uncertain and unable to return home, or to resettle, out of fear of the unpredictable future because the root causes of the wars are still very present in the country. And thousands are internally displaced or maimed, while others simply line their pockets, turn the blind eye and wallow in the plague of moral degeneracy, intellectual paralysis and a carefree life. And worse still, no one has been held accountable for the war crimes against Liberians. And yet, a weak and feckless legal system that preys on the poor and the powerless citizens has only emboldened public officials to continue political malfeasance with impunity and brazen disregard for the rule of law. Where do we go from here? Who will lead this nation to the promised land of justice, equality, and fraternal solidarity? Who among us is not infected by greed, graft, pilferage and a culture of corruption? Who can say in the loudest voice possible, without fear of self contradiction, that “I’m as clean as a hound’s tooth”, or say that “I have always put my beloved country above my selfish interest?” This is what it takes to build a nation. When asked why he walked around in the streets in broad daylight with a lighted candle, the philosopher Diogenes once replied: “I am searching for an honest man.” Liberia needs honest men and women who can speak truth to power, not more sweet talking sycophants. But where are they? Who has the guts to say that the emperor is wearing no clothes? Which rat in the pack has that testicular fortitude, or the ovarian audacity, to bell the cat? Finding them is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Kings are not always wise. Sometimes they are just there as a symbol of the state and the unity of its people. They must depend on honest counsel from able assistants on matters of state and the public good. Wise leaders deserve and often demand honest advice to better enable them to govern properly. The sycophant of today is the traitor of tomorrow. Ask Julius Caesar about his best friend Brutus. Ask the late Presidents Tolbert and Doe, or any other fallen leader about the dangers of flattery as the ultimate betrayal. They can not answer you from the grave, but their silence speaks volumes. In trying times, it is better to die for something than to live for nothing. As Dr. King once said, you judge a man not in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of conflict and controversy. The prophetic voices of Alexander Crummell, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Mary Henrietta Kingsley, Benjamin Joseph Knight Anderson, Daniel Edward Howard, Alfred Russell, and others, who called for inclusiveness as the final destiny of this nation have been silenced forever, as the peace of necropolis comforts them; but the days of reckoning are now upon us; the nation is in dire need of a bold and visionary leader who loves this country and ALL of its people. May God bless the Republic and enlightened the minds of those who live in it towards the common good, until there comes a new messiah to lead us out of the darkness to a bright new beginning to shine like the pearl of Africa that we are. Are you the one? Are you really the Messiah? Are you? If not you, who? And if not now, when ? The clock is ticking. Liberians can wait NO MORE!!!!
*[The author is a lawyer and a Liberian citizen residing in the United States, who occasionally comments on events taking place in or about Liberia. He obtained his Juris Doctor degree from University of Detroit School of Law (now Mercy College of Law) in Detroit, Michigan; a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy with honors from Rutgers University, with minors in sociology. He was admitted to the Liberian bar in 1981 and served briefly as judicial assistant to the Chief Justice of the Liberian Supreme Court before joining the legal staff at the Ministry of Justice, from which he resigned to return to the United States to serve in the Law Department of the City of Detroit. He subsequently relocated to Minnesota and passed the Minnesota Bar in 1996.]