Is this Liberia? No, things have changed.
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why … I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” So said Robert F. Kennedy as a way to describe his passion for positive change.
Amid the peculiarity of happenings in Liberia, such as rape, ritualistic killing, armed robbery, inflation, injustice, poverty and unemployment among others, too many Liberians are saying, “This, too, is Liberia.” This is now a popular saying.
It was coined and introduced by a Liberian journalist in 2003. While the journalist did not inform the public about the exact meaning of the slogan, with time it has become popular because of the peculiarity of happenings in Liberia.
After some months of reflection, I wish kindly to suggest that the wording of this popular saying be restructured into a question: “Is this Liberia?”
The question evaluates why things are so different in Liberia, rather than likening the present happenings to the past happenings.
To think positively and raise critical questions about happenings in Liberia, people should begin to clearly see the difference of how things were from the way they are.
In the 1970s, during the administration of one of the upstanding presidents of Liberia, William R. Tolbert, I am told that Liberia was known as a developed nation with durable roads, quality hospitals, good governance and many other signs of healthy progress.
We had running water in various private and public buildings as well as the privilege of 24/7 electricity. Commercial vehicles were used to pick up and drop off people at their various homes.
The streets of Monrovia were very clean. People could walk through the street without seeing and smelling the gathering of garbage along the roads.
The educational system was such that only qualified instructors were permitted to enter the classrooms. There were academic competitions among students. The current popularity of bribing teachers was the last thing a student could think of.
Looking back, it is evident that things have changed in Liberia. Oh, the sweet Liberia we miss! One day, I hope to see Liberia like that.
History records that after nearly 10 years of prosperity and progress, things began to collapse.
Civil war broke out in 1989 and lasted until 1997. After a brief respite, war resumed in 1999 and lasted until 2003.
Liberia has been rebuilding its nation in the wake of these conflicts. Yet, as I and others have written about previously, the Ebola virus has created many crises and hindered progress.
Faced with many challenges, I ask myself, “Is this Liberia?”
Are we a country with foreign-run businesses demanding customers to buy their goods with U.S. dollars, thereby devaluing the Liberian currency?
Are we a country in which children under the age of 18 sell goods on the streets of Monrovia as breadwinners for their parents? A nation in which the rate of teenage pregnancy is as high as unemployment?
Is this Liberia?
Most of our teenage girls are out of school because of childbearing. They have to care for their babies while their parents hope that they go back to school one day.
Most of the schoolboys are spending their vacation gambling, while schools are yet to open.
Yet our people are contentedly saying, “This, too, is Liberia.”
Is this really the Liberia we knew? Not at all. Perception affects the way we think and act.
Richlue O. Burphy, a Liberian commentator, confirms, “What we think affects the way we live our life; it affects our emotions, our attitudes and our behaviors. And what we say shows to people who we actually are.”
To ask the question, “Is this Liberia?” is a needed challenge to the status quo.
In Ruth 1:19, upon the return of Naomi from Moab to Jerusalem, the bystanders posed an astonishing question, “Is this Naomi?”
This question suggests that either Naomi had come from a good situation to a worse one or from a worse situation to a good one.
The story narrates how Naomi was once rich but later became poor. Most of her friends were shocked about the heartbreaking news.
Liberia is facing a similar situation, having lived through a change from an improving situation to one in which new challenges have emerged and old challenges have resurfaced.
I am certain that positive change will come to Liberia. I hope for it. With many Liberians, I dream of healthy change, such as improvements in our infrastructure and in our health-care system.
For these positive changes to happen, we must change the language we use to describe our present circumstances.
We must also change our minds and attitudes positively about happenings in Liberia.
“This, too, is Liberia” simply allows people to accept things the way they are. Posing the question, “Is this Liberia?” urges people to think about what dreams are made of and encourages them to live out those dreams.
Fayiah S. Tamba is a senior student at Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary in Paynesville City, a region of Monrovia, Liberia. He is from Foyah in Lofa County, Liberia.