Liberia: Scholars, Peace & Rights Activists Proffer Road Map to National Unification

Monrovia — An array of distinguished Liberian educators, peace-building and civil society activists have stressed the need for Liberians to foster genuine national reconciliation, peace, unification and inclusive governance in the country.

Sister Mary Laurene Browne (OSF), President of the Catholic-owned Stella Maris Polytechnic University; Atty. Batholomew B. Colley, Acting Chairman of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR); Madam Christine Tolbert Norman, Founder of Isaac A. David School in Paynesville and Founder of Restoration of Education Advancement Program (REAP); Lawrence C. Norman, a senior citizen and former statesman; and Alhaji David Kiazolu, former Secretary General of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL) made the call at program marking the observance of the 56th National Unification Day, held on May 14, 2020, in the GSA Road Community in Paynesville, outside Monrovia.

The observance of this year's National Unification Day, which had as its Theme: "Reconciling Liberia for the 21st Century: Taking Ownership of National Unification," was characterized by a live podcast panel and interactive discussion, reflecting on the significance of the National Unification Day.

Serving as panelists at the occasion which was moderated by Prof. T. David Saydee, Director of Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation of the University of Liberia (UL), Sister Browne, Atty. Colley, Mr. and Mrs. Norman as well as Alhaji Kiazolu gave their diverse insights and perspectives aimed at sensitizing Liberians at home and abroad to forgive, reconcile, and take personal and collective responsibility for genuine peace and unification in the country.

The Unification Day forum, which was organized by the Better Future Foundation (BFF), proponent of Liberia Democracy Sustainability Platform (DSP), in collaboration with the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT), was broadcast live by FrontPageAfrica, one of Liberia's online global media platforms.

In her intervention, Sister Laurene Browne, while applauding BFF and KAICT, for the Unification Day program, which is geared towards enhancing national unification and healing, calls on Liberians to retrospect on the challenges of the past and to focus on measures, policies, and activities that seek to protect the socio-economic wellbeing of all and with discrimination against none.

Sister Laurene underscored the importance of improving Liberia's educational system with respect to not only promoting reading, writing and numeracy skills of students but also inculcating into their minds good morals that reflect Liberia's positive values and traditions.

For her part, Mrs. Christine Tolbert Norman pointed out that unification is a process and not an event; adding: "The process of unification must be led, at all times, by national leaders and other stakeholders."

"The process of national unification must also take into serious consideration appropriate methods, strategies and policies in addressing crosscutting national issues for the benefit of all," she further stated.

According to her, one of the factors impeding national unification in Liberia is the apparent lack of justice for all and that many citizens do not have explicit confidence and trust in the nation's justice system. She maintains that many Liberians are of the view that the nation's justice system has been awash by rampant corruption and that there is no justice for the poor.

According to Mrs. Norman, since the establishment of Liberia as a sovereign state, each of its national leaderships has had multiple gains and challenges, as such, succeeding national leaderships should take cue in consolidating and expanding those positive gains made by their predecessors for sustainable peace and unification in the country.

In his presentation, Atty. Bartholomew Colley, while concurring with Mrs. Norman, stressed that the promotion of unification in Liberia should be a shared national vision.

Atty. Colley emphasized that sustainable national unification and peace entails the participation of the citizenry in national governance, equitable distribution of state resources, access to justice by all, as well as adherence to transparency, accountability and probity in national governance and the rule of law.

For his part, Alhaji David Kiazolu, pointed out that the whole idea of national unification as initiated by former President William V. S. Tubman (late), was to bring all Liberians including the settler class and indigenous citizens together and to work for the common good of all.

He asserted that in the advancement of unification, transparency, justice and inclusive participation should be a hallmark in the nation's governance process and economic opportunity should be accorded to all. Alhaji Kiazolu said Liberia is a small country, endowed by God with natural wealth, which, when used prudently by its national leadership could lead to the improvement of socio-economic wellbeing of its citizens.

As for Mr. Lawrence Norman, he pointed out that unification in Liberia must be characterized by adherence to the nation's cultural and positive values system and that Liberians must see and treat each other with love and care at all times.

Earlier, giving a brief overview of the significance of National Unification Day, the convener, Augustine Arkoi, Founder/CEO of the Better Future Foundation (BFF), disclosed that the National Unification Policy was launched by Liberia's 18th President, William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman (late).

"The Unification Policy was aimed at reducing the social and political differences between Americo-Liberians and indigenous Liberians," Mr. Arkoi said.

Fast forward, from 2014 to present, BFF and its collaborating institutions including the KAICT of the University of Liberia among others have been actively involved in advocacy aimed at not only sustaining Liberia's peace and stability but also advancing concrete recommendations promoting genuine national reconciliation and unity in Liberia.

Mr. Arkoi said BFF believes that the Unification Policy remains a critical challenge 56 years after its formal launch by the late President, William V. S. Tubman in the country.

He asserted that BFF's annual celebration of the Unification & Integration Policy, which, in 1964, gave birth to the legislative creation and subsequent integration of Bong, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties into the Republic of Liberia under one system of governance, is in recognition of the shared desire to create national awareness and rally public support for genuine national healing, peace, unification and development.

The BFF CEO added: "The Unification and Integration Policy initiated by the late President Tubman, among others, bridged the social, political, cultural and economic differences between the settler and indigenous populations in Liberia."

According to Mr. Arkoi, the occasion presented another opportunity for the Liberian nation to not only review and reflect on the history of National Unification Day but to also regenerate in the minds of the citizenry the significance of this Day in building, expanding, and maintaining bridges of genuine national reconciliation, peace and unity.

The BFF founder further narrated that the celebration of the Unification Day was intended to remind Liberians, particularly the people of Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties, that the creation and subsequent integration of their counties into the Liberian state was a significant political and peace building milestone geared towards building a more unified and progressive Liberian state in which the rights and freedoms of all of its citizenry and residents, including the basic rights of women, for the first time, to exercise their democratic franchise.

"It is the candid view of BFF and its collaborating partners that many Liberians still hold the view that since the country's independence in 1847, true unification and integration of its entire people are yet to be realized,' he stressed.

The organization is of the opinion that "To a large extent, Liberians are primarily divided and segregated by class, ethnicity and religion. This is usually hidden under the so-called 'country-Congau' divide, which is a major impediment for our country to move forward."

Moreover, BFF is of the view that although the Tubman Unification and Integration policy was a renaissance for a peaceful Liberia but since his death, changes in the attitudes of Liberians, especially amongst the upwardly mobiled social and economic classes towards the disadvantaged, poor and indigenous populations leave much to be desired as sentiments of brother and sisterhoods including citizens having mutual respect for each other remain sadly low in Liberia today.

"This situation is one of the major factors for Liberia's continued socio-political suffocation, stifling growth in its economy without significant development," the BFF CEO told the gathering.

Mr. Arkoi, therefore challenges Liberians including the peoples of Lofa, Bong, Grand Gedeh & Nimba Counties, to remain constructively engaged in harnessing Liberia's peace and reconciliation.

In other words, he asserted that Liberians must work sincerely to remove any and all barriers to their co-existence; take concrete steps to promote positive Liberian culture to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.

"We must endeavor to strengthen and restore trust within our communities and amongst our leaders for the benefit of all.

"We, as Liberians, must inspire the recognition of our common traditional values, increase collaboration amongst our leaders and strengthen our national commitment to equality, justice and fairness for all," he further said.

The presentations by the panelists were followed by an interactive questions and answers session, which was moderated by Professor T. David Saydee, Director of the KAICT of the University of Liberia. Some of the questions which were addressed by the panelists were as follow:

What areas of national unification have we fulfilled as a country; and the aspects of our unification that are yet to be achieved or actualized?

Who should play the role for unification to happen? {Or what are the roles and responsibilities to be played or not being played for unification to be actualized?}

Can Liberia achieve genuine national unification? If yes, how? And why have we not achieved unification more than half a century after the Unification Policy?

How have traditional practices and processes supported national unification over the years; or in what ways have traditional processes not supported national unification?

What opportunity of unification does the COVID-19 pandemic present to us as a country in terms of our response and containment mechanism? Are we seizing the opportunity?

What options should we consider as we look forward to sustainable national unification?

Better Future Foundation (BFF) is a civil society organization dedicated to the postwar reconstruction and development of Liberia. BFF's mission primarily involves initiating programs and activities aimed at promoting educational development; peacebuilding, socio-economic, and international cultural understanding and cooperation.

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