Touring Red Light, a commercial suburb outside Monrovia, was a painful experience for me on Unification Day. Even on this National Holiday day, there was no space for pedestrians to easily travel or pass through as street peddlers and petite traders flooded Red Light in pursuit of economic survival. A teenager, age 15, selling coldwater said to me:
“I have been selling coldwater now for about 3 years. I am not in school, because what I do can only put food on our table. It is not easy to wake-up every morning and sell this water until evening. Sometimes, I go home by 7:00pm. Whether rain or sun, I have to sell coldwater; otherwise, we will not eat. I have to do this business because my parents are poor and have no money to send me to school”, Little Varney said.
After hearing this troubling revelation on Unification Day especially from a child whose future is already being jeopardized as a result of poverty and lack of opportunity, I was provoked to pen these thoughts. Beyond every speck of doubt, hopelessness is increasingly evident in Liberia – what a hopeless unification day it was! Like little Varney, thousands of Liberian children as well as youth and elderly citizens are going through this terrifying and dehumanizing experience. After 170 years of sovereignty, the gap between poverty and prosperity remains wide. A handful of self-seeking characters continue to prosper and bath in opulence at the expense of the ordinary masses. How then can we celebrate Unification Day? There can be no UNIFICATION in the midst of increasing economic disparity and inequality. There can be no UNIFICATIION when POVERTY is eating up Liberians like EBOLA virus!
Even on a national holiday like Unification Day, the masses were selling coldwater and crushing rock under hot sun while bourgeoisies and elites lavished the nation’s wealth at Royal Grand, Boulevard Palace, Palm Spring, Havana Lodge, Kendeja Hotel, Golden Key, etc. Is this how Liberia will be unified? How can we celebrate Unification Day when drug abuse, gambling, rock crushing, sand mining, pen-pen riding, prostitution and begging have become the order of the day?
How can we brag about Unification Day and a Nation of Indivisibility when the best jobs for Liberian youth are store boys, container off-loaders, motorcyclists, zogos, security guards, street peddlers, car boys and coldwater sellers? How can national unity exist when civil servants are receiving between US$100 and US$150 per month while high-ranking public officials are becoming millionaires overnight? We cannot celebrate Unification Day when slum communities are increasing while a handful of pseudo-patriots and capitalists live in palaces and mansions. Our people cannot be happy or unified when:
1. Liberia is the 8th unhappiest and most miserable nation in the world (United Nations World Happiness Report, March 2017)
2. Liberia is the 4th poorest country in the world after 170 years of independence (Global Finance Report, February 2017)
3. 81.86% of Liberia’s population is poor while 83.76% live on US$1.25 (UNDP 2015 Human Development Report)
4. Liberia was ranked as the most corrupt country on planet earth (Transparency International GCB Report, 2013)
5. Liberia only has 298 doctors. This means that Liberia has 1 doctor to 15,100 patients in contrast to WHO’s doctor-patient ratio of 1 doctor to 5,000 patients (Ministry of Health, 2017 Report).
6. Liberia has a teenage pregnancy rate of 38% (UNFPA Report, 2012)
7. Liberia has a National Budget of US$600.2 and a Direct Foreign Investment of over US$16.9 billion, but youth unemployment is as high as 85% (UNDAF Report, 2013-2017)
8. Liberia had 554 rape cases just in a period of 12 months (Ministry of Gender Report, January 2015)
9. Liberia spent US$55.3 million between 2006 and 2013 just to purchase expensive cars for public officials (LIPI 2013 Report)
10. Monrovia is the least capital city with a City Prosperity Index (CPI) of -0.313 (United Nations HABITAT Report, 2015)
11. Only 25% of Liberia’s 4 million people have access to clean, safe drinking water (Water Aid International 2016 Report)
12. Over 80% of Liberia’s population lack access to a decent toilet while 3.7 million people lack access to adequate sanitation (Water Aid International Report, 2016)
13. Over 500 children die every year in Liberia from diarrhea due to unsafe water and poor sanitation (Water Aid International Report, 2016)
14. Six (6) public offices are receiving over US$10.2 million in Liberia in a period of just 12 months while infant mortality rate is 65.8 deaths to 1,000 live births according (CIA World Factbook)
15. Update to date, no one is yet to be held accountable for signing 66 bogus concession agreements. No one is yet to give account for NOCAL’s bankruptcy, EU’s US$14 million to reduce maternal mortality, over US$14.9 million meant to renovate the Executive Mansion and AG John Morlu’s dozens of audit reports.
16. Education is a mess and food insecurity is increasing.
I could go ahead outlining those scaring statistics in regards to the appalling living condition of our people, but what is of essence now is for all of us to find concrete and sustainable solution to these sickening realities. It is no secret that the country we 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.
Declaring May 14th of each year through an act of Legislature in 1960 as a National Unification Day was a unique step forward to defeating disunity and deep division between the Americo-Liberian elites and the indigenous majority. During this time, 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 action against vast majority of the people, our nation was bewildered and befuddled by visible 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 precedent, 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 or creed. There was a pressing demand for reconciliation between Americo-Liberians and indigenes. National integration was a matter of national emergency.
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 our society; unfortunately, this has never been the case. Even after more than five decades since this day was first observed on May 14, public discontent due to bad governance remains a common phenomenon across Liberia.
Our sweet land of liberty has been torn apart by greed, nepotism, corruption, inequality and patronage. Our sweet land of liberty has become a bitter land of misery. What a hopeless unification day! In fact, 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 and equitable distribution of the nation’s resources. We cannot keep celebrating this day every year when the condition of our people is worsening.
Martin K. N. Kollie