By Martin K. N. Kollie, Youth Activist
The economy is taking a nosedive. Prices of main export commodities are falling due to global macroeconomic shocks. Inflation is high – youth unemployment is heightening – purchasing power is low – real wage of civil servants is being highly impacted by inflation – poverty has rendered our people hopeless. In this 21st century, Liberians are the 8th unhappiest group of people on planet earth according to UNDP 2018 World Happiness Report.
I woke up this morning to a sunny day wondering whether there is still hope for my homeland and its people after almost 171 years of nationhood. Nothing could really convince me that our nation is waking up from the ashes of extreme poverty and the vestiges of inequality.
For almost 10 minutes, I could not shake my lips as I began to soberly contemplate on our horrible past. The country I cherish so dearly lies in ruin as vast majority of its citizens remain under a devastating canopy of misery. The desperation of most Liberians to embrace a new destiny of socio-economic parity remains a compelling priority. The campaign to ensure inclusive development in all fifteen political subdivisions of our nation is an imperative.
The future of Liberia is gradually slipping downward evident by Liberia’s position on the Human Development Index. In 2015, Liberia ranked 175th on the HDI. After 2 years, it has dropped to 177th position according to UNDP Human Development Report. How come Liberia is the 4th poorest country in the world after 170 years?
Even the Gross Domestic Product per capita of Sierra Leone (US$496.05) is higher than Liberia (US$455.37) according to World Bank, April 2018 Report. The number of slum communities and shantytowns are increasing. Good governance through public accountability, transparency and openness is becoming a taboo as the people drown in uncertainty and dilemma.
Looking across the landscape, I see a misguided and idled generation whose future is predominantly knotted to alcohol abuse, drug addiction, shisha smoking, prostitution, gambling, beaching, begging and a very low appetite for education, innovation, and excellence. When we refuse to build a nation of leaders with vision and integrity, we have no choice but to accept a generation of liabilities.
Today is Unification Day, but are Liberians really unified and reconciled especially after 15-years of carnage and 15 years of uninterrupted peace? Is there any reason to observe a day that has lost its meaning? Why must we celebrate Unification Day when there is no middle class? Why must we celebrate Unification Day when vast majority of our people still live on less than US$2.00 a day? Why must we celebrate Unification Day when Liberian kids are found selling cold water during school hours?
Why must we celebrate Unification Day when the economic gap between the haves and the have-not is expanding readily? We cannot commemorate Unification Day because existing realities contradict the true essence of this day. Declaring May 14th of every year through an act of Legislature in 1960 as a National Unification Day was a step forward to defeating disunity and deep division between the Americo-Liberian elites and the indigenous majority.
During this era, there was total disintegration between forces of the minority class and the majority class. One group felt more supreme than the other and thought Liberia was a family plantation or empire. As a result of their cruel and inhumane actions against vast majority of the people, our nation was bewildered and befuddled by all forms of injustices.
We could not afford to coexist in a country where less than 5% of the population had exclusive authority to decide the political fate and economic paradigm of 95% of the people. As a result of this divisive tendency and anti-democratic precedence, President William V. S. Tubman, who led Liberia from 1944 to 1971, saw it prudent to introduce the Unification Policy.
This national plan was intentionally meant to foster unity and brotherhood among all Liberians irrespective of culture, creed, status and background. There was a pressing demand for reconciliation between Americo-Liberians and indigenes. National integration was a matter of urgency.
Finally, the PEACE PIPE was blown in 1960 between the majority and the minority after a prolonged era of vicious suppression, discrimination, and segregation. Many Liberians including foreign partners thought that the Unification Policy would have integrated every sphere of the Liberian society; unfortunately, this has never been the case even after more than five decades since this day was first observed on May 14. The country has been through a lot of hard-hitting and horrible experiences and the masses have been mostly affected during these terrifying times. Sometimes, it becomes really sickening to recount our ugly past.
Our sweet land of liberty has been torn apart by greed, nepotism, corruption, inequality, patronage and all forms of human degradation. What is the significance of celebrating Unification Day when those who we have entrusted with political offices are compromising our interest every day? National Unification starts with patriotism. Integration comes through public transparency and integrity. It must begin with the proper management of the people’s resources. How can we expect unity to prevail when over 86 percent of Liberia’s fiscal envelop (budget) is spent on recurrent expenditure? How can we celebrate Unification Day when the rate of illiteracy and youth unemployment is disturbingly high?
Public discontent is taking center stage as our people are compelled to hustle every day just to survive. A good number of them go to bed hungry even though their country is currently hosting dozens of multi-million dollar concession companies and foreign businesses. Instead of making genuine progress like other countries, our nation is still struggling to crawl out of the dust of underdevelopment and economic deprivation. It is a big shame for Africa’s first independent nation to be one of the poorest nations on planet earth.
We can only become happy to observe Unification Day when rampant corruption is minimized and economic pillagers are severely penalized for looting public coffers. Unification Day can only regain its real meaning when access to quality education becomes a practical priority. There can be no national unification when access to justice for victims of war crimes is denied.
It is unfortunate that a few handful of cruel individuals continue to drink imported mineral water while vast majority of our people lack access to safe drinking water. In fact, most of our people are still fetching water from creeks, unsanitary hand-pumps, unsafe wells, and drainages. We live in a country of equal citizenship, but socio-economic equality is invisible. How can unity prevail when they (State actors) are spending millions of dollars on their children and grandchildren to obtain foreign education, while our system of education in Liberia still remains a mess?
Our people deserve to live a better life too, like anyone else on earth. They deserve a life beyond the slum. Our children who are working currently on goldmines in leeward counties deserve to be in school like the grandchildren and children of those who are in authority. Our young sisters who are currently involved with prostitution deserve empowerment and educational opportunities.
There can be no national unification when a huge number of young people in Liberia currently depend on gambling, rock-crushing, sand mining, and car-washing for survival. There can be no integration when the only option for most high school graduates is motorbike-riding. It is time for national stakeholders to initiate genuine steps and aggressive pro-poor policies to promptly mitigate some of these prevailing challenges that are hampering national development and economic growth.
National Unification is worthless and unachievable when over 80% of our population lacks access to the following services: quality education, better health care, good roads, social security, improved sanitation, employment and empowerment opportunities, electricity, better housing facilities, etc.
The quality of life index of Liberia is 0.381. Just 103 Liberian Lawmakers are receiving 8.4% of our national budget while 48,000 inhabitants of Clara Town live in zinc shacks and have access to only six latrines. The generator rooms of our lawmakers are far better than those zinc shacks in Gibraltar. The budget of just 103 legislators is US$44.9 million when 75 percent of Liberians lack access to safe drinking water and 640,000 of them are food insecure (WaterAid International and FAO Report). Youth unemployment is as high as 83 percent.
The people have lost hope as a result of a failed system. They have become close companions of poverty and misery. There can be no unity in any democratic nation until public welfare becomes a matter of national imperative.
About the Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, student leader, an emerging economist, and a columnist. He is currently a student at the University of Liberia studying Economics and a stalwart of the Student Unification Party (SUP). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org