28 November 2012

Liberia: Debating National Holidays On Tubman's Anniversary


Tomorrow, Nov. 29, Liberians are expected to celebrate the 117th birth anniversary of President William VS Tubman whose 27-year rule over Liberia spanned 1 January 1944 to 21 July 1971 when he died in London following a prostate gland surgery.

Liberians have continued to celebrate the birth anniversaries of first President Joseph Jenkins Roberts (March 15) and Tubman (Nov. 29) nonstop for decades since the National Legislature passed acts declaring these dates as national holidays. Between first president JJ Roberts and 18th president Tubman, the birthday of no other president is declared and celebrated as a national holiday. Tubman's successor William R. Tolbert successfully resisted attempts to declare his May 13 birthday as a national holiday. A debate why and why not the birth anniversaries of all past presidents are not celebrated surfaced and momentarily died down just about this time one year ago when Tubman's birth anniversary was here for national celebration.

Some citizens argued that celebrating the birthdays of presidents Roberts and Tubman were selective over other past presidents, thus suggesting that Samuel Doe must be amongst deserved honorees. Otherwise, opposing sides were loosely all agreed for the legislature to pass a bill for an All Presidents Day on which citizens honor all our past presidents. Their argument is: There are no big presidents or small presidents; all of them served as presidents and must be given similar honors.

On the onset, thousands of citizens informally discussed last your at entertainment joints, in commuter transport vehicles, Hatahi shops and radio talk shows, and even in official circles, the need to use one national holiday to honor all past presidents.

Unfortunately, theirs have faded without any concrete action to end the debate until we are again celebrating another birth anniversary of Tubman, which, perhaps, could renew the debate. Unsurprising, this is business as usual in a country where reports of many important national commissions remained unpublicized following dissolution of those panels.

Perhaps, persistent calls for an All Presidents' Day may materialize sooner than later just as Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh and other progressives previously persevered until Matilda Newport Day and Pioneers' Day were deleted as national holidays.

However, it is noteworthy to mention that our founding fathers weighed many deeds and virtues by JJ Roberts and Tubman before enacting their respective birthdays as national holidays.

As a philanthropist, President Roberts donated all his real properties under the J.J. Roberts Educational Foundation to the United Methodist Church for use to advance its missionary work.

On the other hand, Tubman, experiencing that Liberians lacked nationalism, initiated action two decades after his first inaugural address on 3 January 1944, to integrate and unify them.

He believed nationalism could be inculcated through a policy of unification and integration nurtured amongst the people after noticing that bitter tribal divisions in rural areas run by governance appointed and sent from Monrovia stifled extention of his rule throughout the country.

Another disturbing factor he saw was how some citizens of settler origin living in costal areas kept themselves aloof from rural inhabitants, and clinched their identity to family names as trademarks that deserved extraordinary reverence.

This was when Liberia was divided into five counties and four territories, while the mass hinterland was under three administrative jurisdictions - western, central, and eastern provinces.

District commissioners sent from Monrovia into the hinterland ruled with iron fist in apparent dictates from the president, in disregard for participatory governance.

Having strong beliefs that unification should begin with making political subdivisions to have equal status, Tubman created Lofa, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh counties, in 1964, out of Western, Central and Eastern provinces, to be run by superintendents as was done in other counties and territories.

He swiftly declared the national unification and integration policy with the dedication of Unification Monument in Voinjama on 14 May 1964, warning that he no longer wanted to hear people introducing themselves as: "I'm So, So and So, Lorma by tribe, Mano by tribe, etc." But said, he henceforth wanted to hear: "I'm So, So and So, a Liberian citizen."

That powerful unification and integration policy and Liberia's long stability under his rule, are perhaps, amongst major factors that encouraged the national legislature to pass a law making Tubman's birthday a national holiday.

However, it is a pity today just as then, that Liberians at home still identify themselves by their tribe, elite group or county, driving me to surmise how Tubman is peeved over the failure of his cardinal legacy policy to permeate citizens 48 years after it was proclaimed, despite heaps of wreaths expected tomorrow on his tomb at Government Square.

Our failure to heed unification haunted the nation when marauding gun totters hunted and massacred thousands of fellow Liberians only because the assailants and victims were not members of the same ethnic group or tribe.

In fact, scholars have found that our reluctance to unify appears to be so ingrained in the minds of every Liberian ethnic group, making them to label other tribal groups with names other than what that ethnic group calls itself. And, in fact, the name one ethnic group calls the other is debased, all against Tubman's declared unification policy.

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