Monday, May 16, 2011
Nyei's Speech at the US Embassy Public Diplomacy Section
Speech Delivered at the Interactive Panel in Commemoration of Young African Leaders Forum at the United States Embassy Public Diplomacy Section in Monrovia, May 12, 2011by Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, President of the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia
Her Excellency Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Officials of the US Embassy, Members of the Panel, Invited Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
I bring you greetings from the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia. I am personally gratified and honored by your invitation to speak at this Young African Leaders Dialogue. This day also falls in the month we celebrate what has been popularly dubbed as ‘African Liberation Day’. I have been one of those who have continuously challenged the limited concept of African liberation under the guise of territorial sovereignty. But as an Afro-optimist encouraged by the emergence of progressive intellectualism in the African youth, and the wave of democratization of African politics, I am filled with the hope that one day Africa and its people will be free of the scourges of poverty, bad governance, and neo-imperialism.
Two days from now (May 14) we will be celebrating in Liberia what we call ‘Unification Day’. As we meet here today my fellow panelist and distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we must in mutual exchanges make attempts to understand ‘Unification’ in the context of developments in our country. I am particularly pleased by the theme of this occasion: ‘Unification – a meeting of the minds’; because it is only through meetings of the minds we will be able to discern the complex problems of our country, and derive sustainable solutions.
What then is Unification in the context of Liberia? And what do we have to show as a symbol of Liberian identity that serve (s) as the natural magnet that pulls us together and portray a Liberian affinity amongst us in Liberia, and amongst Liberians in other parts of the world. What distinguishes a Liberian from other people of the black race?
Our country has suffered years of marginalization in its political and socio-economic spheres since independence. In fact, the foundation of the Republic of Liberia was rested on separatist and segregationist premises which are historically responsible for the cultural confusions, and class divisions we have. We have been haunted by this segregationist establishment, and today we find it very difficult to neutralize those forces that keep us apart. With freed men and women from the United States of America imposing American traditions on African people, two different cultures and traditions in addition to the numerous different African sub-traditions existed in Liberia and in constant confrontations. The result today is a nation with a people in lost identity. This is probably why Prof. Amos Sawyer has launched an enquiry into the kind of civilization in Liberia. Prof. Sawyer has asked “is Liberia an outpost of American civilization or an element of African civilization?” I hope from this forum we will be able to answer this question, and not only that, but to popularly promote the kind of civilization that we find common to our heritage, and which is appealing enough to unite us as Liberians – children of African ancestry.
Language is the lifeblood of every culture and civilization. It constitutes a significant instrument of identity which every society cannot afford to lose to the uncontrolled wave of modernity. We have English very unique to us, and up to now we have not developed and popularized a script on our Liberian English. This Language could be an effective means of official written and spoken communication in promoting a unique identity and unity amongst us. We also have languages in Liberia that have written scripts to promote a language identity for this country.
In some countries Like Kenya, Swahili is popularly spoken in addition to English, and in Rwanda Kinyarwanda, French and English are all used as official languages. This is happening in other African countries, and there are many parts of Africa with a common general language that promotes unity, even if not for official transactions, like the Tri language in Ghana, the Mende in Southeastern Sierra Leone. So I join those in Liberia who advocate for the teaching and popularization of a Liberian language, and I implore those carving our national vision to consider the issue of language as an instrument of unity and identity.
It is true that we do have multiple identities, many of which are competing identities. One of the challenges of governance in Africa, particularly Liberia today has to do with how we manage our various ethnic, religious, and other identities. We are too divided in Liberia on the basis of ethnic and religious identities – and in most cases at the expense of our national identity. We do not simply want to stop considering our diversity as stumbling blocks to development; we want to begin to use our diversities as building blocks for development and democracy in Liberia. With a common national identity and a sense of Liberian unity beyond ethnic and sectarian considerations we can develop a progressive and democratic state in Liberia.
Now my fellow countrymen let me remind you that we cannot discuss unity in the face of mounting national challenges and in a country rolling on shaky political foundations. Let me remind you that after 14 years of civil war we are yet to reconcile our differences - and to date - the necessary political leadership is lacking in addressing looming political crises that still hang over us as vestiges of the civil war.
We still have a constitution that needs to be generally overhauled as part of our post-conflict governance arrangements, but today we see a quick-fix process attempting to patch the constitution to suit electoral conveniences; we have an emerging citizenship crises: some of our countrymen are coming back and want to regain their Liberian citizenship in addition to other citizenship they obtain when they were forced by circumstances back home. We also have other African nationals who have had children and are growing their own communities here in Liberia. Those children know other home, but Liberia, and very soon they will begin to make demands for citizenship.
We have an overly centralized political governance system that still concentrates power and wealth in the capital and at the presidency. We need to find solutions to the above and the many other crises that hang over this country. That way, we can easily unite our people and build a progressive country.
The civil war exposed the deep-seated grievances and divisions that exist in this country even beyond the Native-Settler divide. After the civil war, we ought to learn lessons and build on our shortcomings.
I say again that we have not yet reconcile the various forces to forge this country ahead. And I believe that unity in postwar Liberia will highly depend on how deep we reconcile our people. Reconciliation and unity cannot be donated by any donors. Reconciliation and unity depend on our emotional attachment to our country. Our love, loyalty and readiness to serve our country are emotional elements that serve as bedrocks in building a progressive state.
Thus, for us to be united we must be nationalistic. Nationalism is gravely undermined by tribal, religious and class interests, individual or sectarian motives. Our national renewal and rebuilding therefore must be characterized by love for our country and countrymen which supersedes class or individual interests. Former American President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, ‘’I am an American, a Texan and a Democrat – in that order’’. He meant his love for America was beyond the others. We, too, in Liberia must learn to rank our Liberian nationality above all other connections and identities.
I thank you all