Meeting the Stars
Minister Samuel Woods fourth from left with officers of the University Students Union.
Liberia’s Future Demands New Thinking And Character Renewal
In a speech that calls for personal integrity and quest for reformed public service, Liberia’s Labor Minister, Kofi Woods, tells university students that a better Liberia demands a radical departure from the culture of Liberian public service. Below is full text of Minister woods’ speech delivered at the University of Liberia on February 6, 2009.
I am overwhelmingly proud to return to this University after several years. There must be something right that I am doing, have done and might be expected to do for such verdict to be reached by your invitation. Whatever mystery brings me here, I intend to share with you my thoughts on the question of leadership in our country and the direction in which I think it must proceed.
My Dear Friends, I was here in 1998 to serve as keynote speaker at the inauguration of Augustine Ngafuan now Minister of Finance. At that inauguration, I bemoaned the nature and character of Liberia’s Leadership. At the time, I examined the nature of a leadership bereft of the credentials to govern and render Liberia’s transition possible. This was just before my journey in exile.
I was here again in 2005, as keynote speaker at the inauguration of Mr. Patrick Mbayo after my return from exile. In that speech, I bemoaned the predatory nature of Liberia’s leadership under Mr. Gyude Bryant.
Today, Charles Taylor is in The Hague, Gyude Bryant is in Liberia but in our courts. Both of them are subjects of legal proceedings because in our advocacy, we called for due process and respect for the rule of law not a violent overthrow of their regimes.
This time I have come as a government official in the current government. I have been consistently accused as an internal opposition and a non-conformist because of my departure from the traditional line of sycophancy. I understand that there might be some consistency of principles that drives you to me and insist that I must be heard.
I am very happy to be here today for a number of reasons. The most important reason is because this is my home. The student political party is the oldest political party in Liberia and the party to which I belong.
This place, these walls, the corridors, the palaver hut, gave me the foundational elements that inform my conduct, my allegiances, and my interventions and give rise to my abiding faith in the People of Liberia, that we can do better and we must do better.
So here we are today, once and now foot soldier of this nation. This place, this audience remains the collective conscious of our country. This is the place our country meets and we all seem or in the least appear to be equal. This is where our ideas of our national polity are contested, where our values are critiqued, recreated and reviewed. This is the place where we meet and begin to work together to build a different Liberia, a new Liberia, indeed a Liberia that stands up to its definition of a land of the free. The potential of a free people is boundless and can only make us more prosperous.
Our most immediate history suggests that we may be the only country in Africa, where we were able to remove two hated dictatorships within a decade and a half. The Doe dictatorship of the early 80’s came to a gruesome end in 1990 and the Taylor Criminal Enterprise was brought to it’s kneel in 2003. In both instances, the tried and tested constituency of our nation, the student movement, played the important roles of refusing to surrender or be cowed into submission. Indeed our predecessors, ourselves and now you all here, undertook to struggle and expose the debauchery at work, impair the relentless attack on our national wealth that has blotched this beautiful country of ours. Ultimately we were part and parcel of efforts that removed from power those who think that they have the right to run roughshod on this land of liberty, to pillage and to destroy, to kill and to rampage. We said no to them then, we will say no to them today and tomorrow and forever.
To build a new Liberia means we must breakaway from the past. This is where I generate the courage and strength to speak to you on the
TOPIC: LIBERIA: BREAK FROM THE PAST AND BUILD A NEW FUTURE
The future I speak about must be a future for promise, hope and nobility for all of our people. The breakaway from the past is not a statement that says the past is not good - was not glorious. It is not to say that there were no proud moments in the past.
In previous speeches in this country, I have spoken of the three types of people currently in Liberia and as we talk about the future I would like to anchor my thoughts on these categories of People in our country: The Spoilers, the Preservers and the Reformers.
The Spoilers and warlords are those who thrive on lawlessness, traumatized by violence, brute force and naked power. The warlords have waged their wars, they have proudly marched our streets, villages, and towns leaving trail of blood, suffering, and misery for 14 years. They may have boasted of their military prowess or their ability to mutilate women and children. Some of them continue to convince themselves of how great they had been at war, but one thing that is certain none of their military prowess won this nation nobility nor did it restore our economy and our place in the world.
It seems the dust is settling from that dark era in which warlords roar like beasts from Cape Mount to the beautiful shores of Cape Palmas. The tide with which they swept every decency, every civility, and every intelligence from the shores of Mother Liberia is fading. We have had three years now of sustained struggle to pick up the pieces, to find our place again amongst civilize people, and to say we too are a pride people.
In our transition, they now hibernate in forms of intimidation, threats of war, armed robbery, theft, rape of our young in dastardly ways; they want a return to violence and impose their culture and way of life. To these spoilers, we are breaking from the past and building a new future of hope and promise.
To deal with this, we are building our legal systems and consolidating due process, challenging our government to be civil and we will enforce the law with superior and legitimate force. Liberians are exhausted with war and violence.
With fading dust and stilled tide come new rays of hope. We are again being ushered in an era of nation-building. This is an era for competence, character, and unity. It is an era when the frontier of fear gives way to the frontier of hope and courage. This is the new future we must build.
The second group of people are the Preservers: Those who remain uncompromising in their perception of our nation. They say Liberia was all good and there were good old days: Days I don’t remember struggling in squalor. They have frozen in the past without any courage to dream and face the future. They lack the will and live in denial with the mentality of old. The call to break with the past is not to suggest self-induced amnesia. We must sift through the debris of our bloody and divided history and write a new narrative: One that would move us to action, to reclaim memories with which we would redeem our pride memory that will galvanize our energy to rebuild the broken walls of Africa’s beacon of self-rule.
What we must break with is the military frenzy, with social and political exclusion, the arbitrary use of power, corruption, skewed development policies—all of which dragged our nation into a war of attrition and barbarity. I call on us to wage with tenacity new war for the mind. We must cease to be spectators in decisions that define our future. We must transform each of us into civic persons. This is how we will build a new future: A future of hope, promise and nobility.
We are ever more determined to fundamentally change the way politics and civic duties are treated in Liberia. Heaven forbids us to will this state of decadence and mediocrity to our children. It is in these times of immense challenges that we look to the University of Liberia to produce men and women that will stand in the gap of history and win. Learning here must be framed with reference to our country’s realities. Anything short of this call would relegate the products from this University in what John F. Kennedy once described as “perfect futility”.
The Third Group of people are the Reformers. These people have asked God for the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference and break with the negatives of the past. The Reformers have a vision which prohibits fraud, waste and abuse as the Auditor-General calls it. Reformers build institutions rather than reinforce personality, resist corruption and dishonesty, promote accountability and transparency in public service, arrest corruption in all spheres of life…in political life, social life, economic dealings, judiciary, and family life and imbibe a new value based on mutual respect and integrity. A reformer must demonstrate the courage to catch and punish corrupt officials and social deviants. When the fisherman goes to sea, he is determined to catch fish not just many fish but a big fish.
A reformer/our government must use the anti-corruption web to catch, sanction and punish the big fishes and set example on those perceived to be untouchable. There must be no patronage, no nepotism and no discrimination in our fight for justice. Reformers don’t stoop to sycophancy and political deceit. They speak the truth and differ with leaders in conscience where necessary. Reformers do not practice their democratic franchise by moving from one political party to the other. In our new democracy, we must frown on those who over the years have become mobile political turncoats and have changed political allegiances and loyalties from one party to the other because they are a ruling party or might have the possibility of winning. We cannot build a new future on this kind of foundation. It is this past that we must break. We conscious of your right to freedom of association but this is different from sycophancy and opportunism. It is sheer opportunism that we must reject.
Indeed there were giants who walked these lands. There were giants before whom we came and allowed our parched minds to be watered and nurtured. We sat at their feet and imbibe the wisdom they hurled at us. We understood that “monkey work and baboon draw”. We agreed that the struggle was about “Rights and Rice”. We noted that the divisions in our country were more superficial and thus lent itself to posturing, grandstanding and obsequiousness.
The politics we embraced and perhaps unquestionably pursued appeared to be saying what was wrong with the system but not necessarily informing us about what we needed to do to make it right. In other words, we learned about what we were against but never educated about what we are for.
The distinction is important; it is easy to be against something. It is difficult to be for something, especially when that something is anchored in values; the kind of values which puts the human person first, second and center. The kind of values that has animated my life and the lives of so many patriots, those I would like to refer to as the unsung heroes of our sojourn into a better and prosperous future. I am thinking of those fellow students, who came out of these walls; who were felled by the assassin bullets during the brutal civil war; I am speaking of those who once upon a time animated these halls, these corridors and these platforms.
Here on this site, our nation’s heart pulsates, the national challenge is upon us, and we can not waiver. While here and while preparing ourselves for the national task of resurrecting the proud moments of our history, while contemplating the necessary and important undertakings that must happen in order that we may live freely in this land of liberty, we can not but accept the challenge of moving this great nation to another level, one that is worthy of the respect of Africa, and is a place of pride among ourselves.
That is what I am speaking about when I say breaking with the past, daring to envision a new future, one that is build on hope and promise. As I said before, we are walking in the shoes of giants who have come before. I know that some of these giants are still among us today and I recalled one of these giants telling us once upon a time, that their “generation has failed”. Please step aside and let our generation take the mantle.
Indeed, each generation is called upon to take the mantle and move the national project to another level, one in which the common good of us all is the general and focus concern of us all. How can we not accept this challenge thrust upon us by history, by war and the inadequacies that surround us? Inadequacies which constrain our potentials, pauperize our people, and make the nation prostrate before the comity of nations. We do not have to look too far to appreciate what I am speaking about.
The recent plague that has put our people on the run is a sorry case in point. After enduring a most destructive 14 year of civil strife, caterpillars are now ravaging the crops of our people, destroying the livelihood of our kith and kin. When caterpillars destroy the livelihood of our people, we can not be detached, we can not be unconcern, each of us, and all of us need to find the extra means to express concrete solidarity with those who have worked but are not spare the vagaries of our environment. We must help that farmer, that peasant, that Liberian in Bong County, in Lofa County, in Gbarpolu County. Indeed when the plague goes across our border into the sisterly republics of Guinea and Sierra Leone, we must do the same, in words, in deeds, in concern, in the spirit and in our hearts of hearts.
It is not about those in the rural areas and us safely in Monrovia. Oh fate of indifference and hardened hearts! I sometimes stand in amazement when I watch houses or communities on fire and criminal gangs would seek to loot rather than assist the victims. These values of brutal indifference and self aggrandizement bring national shame and disgrace to our national conscience. It begins with admiration we accord to those who loot and plunder and the condemnation we impose on honest people. These are the values we must break!
My dear friends, those we lead are agents of leadership and continue to maintain values that undermine the growth of our nascent democracy. We applaud greed and glorify dishonesty. We are self-centered, lack nationalism and patriotism and we are corrupt. It is not only the leaders; it is the people and our values we must change. In this country we have changed several leaders and probably we will continue. What we must recognize is that this nation has sunk in corrupt and twisted values. Each time we change leaders, each time we change government, we end up with the same script and same fate. It is our people, all of us that must seek to change and break with the past.
Leaders too must have the political will and courage to lead and not to be led. To take responsibility and not shift, to act against friends and allies who break the law and violate the public trust.
To build a new future: we need a new value order. A radical paradigm shift on how we govern and lead.
That is what we want to let those who have come before us know, that were once upon a time the giants, they were great and they brought us to where we are.
For our part, for this moment, we want to say, thank you very much. However, standing on your shoulders, see so much more for this country, we see beyond the horizon of what is possible and must change. We know that we can become again, the beacon of this beloved continent, our Africa; we know that the nexus of those who were forcibly removed from this continent and dare to return in the hope of building a land of liberty and those who did not leave and continue to struggle for a life of dignity is anchored on these shores. Liberia can do better; it is time that our generation accepts this onerous challenge, stand up to the plate and seizes the moment. “Shakespeare mentions in Julius Caesar. Where the dialogue between Brutus and Cassuis ensued: “We, at the height, are ready to decline. There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in the shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures”.
My dear student leaders! Each time I walk through the gates of this University I am reminded by the very purpose to which it was called. The founders had envisioned “veritable cross-roads of learning, where men and women learn for the sake of knowledge itself, where books are written, where research is carried forward, where imagination bursts forth into creativity and where both faculty and students develop the habit of objective thinking and scholarship that may be practically applied to the problems of Liberia.”
We meet here today nearly a century after those great minds defined the destiny of the University of Liberia in dire need of its essence. We are desperately in need of new knowledge, new discourse, new research as to the nature and character of the state we must build for ourselves. We are in dire need for scholarship and along with it the character necessary to turn our politics of greed and mediocrity into politics of hard work and nobility; our drowning despair into hope, the brokenness into fortresses of prosperity, and our ignorance into outburst of knowledge and creativity.
I am also reminded of my own time here. This is where my deep search for justice and reverence for the dignity of the human person and the inalienability of freedom was consummated. I learned within these walls that freedom does not come easy and justice is not a giving. I made the tough choice not to stand and recognize tyranny, not to hail mediocrity. I knew it was a choice whose consequences would be grave but I made it anyways…in me there was no room to dine with evil, to choose the easy way. Samuel Doe instructed both private and public companies to deny me opportunity to work. I was banned from working in my own country. It did not matter to the President then whether I had the skills and character needed to contribute to society. It was a price I had to pay and many more after that. I am not bitter and vain. But the learning and clarity of the cause that I derived from my time here have not diminished. I have remained steadfast in the path no matter the cost; I have continued the deep search for a more just, equal, and cohesive nation. I remain obligated, even in government, to be in critical solidarity both in thoughts in action with you and our people.
It is here that I also learned that the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality could not be won in silos. It must be carried by a tide of collective action, collective “soul force”. No time in human history has obstacles and challenges endured the tide of collective action.
At this crossroads of history, I call on you and all Liberians to break with the past. This country is in dire need of not those who wallow in cynicism and despair…it is in need of those willing to muster the courage, break from the past and seek a new future. We are called to play our part in the making of a new nation, one that would celebrate the diversity of its people. We are called to narrow the gap between promise and reality, between courage and action; to deliver inspiring, reconciling, and visionary leadership—not business as usual.
You must be different. The late Jackson F. Doe said, Student Government is a National Government in miniature…He was right in his ideals. The evidence is clear. Look in our government today. This is where it must begin. You must offer something different. You must set on a new path of respect for law, discipline, hard work, honesty and integrity. Our nation yearns for these values. It thirsts for honesty and we must look here for hope.
Finally as leaders, we must change the way we do business. We must account to those we lead. We must show passion and care. Too often arrogance sets in. This country and our government can do better. The University must have its share of our progress and prosperity. This University must never close simply because it the lack of money to fund its operations nor because of violence. The funds committed from our protection of the national interest allocated in various concession agreements must come to the University and be used wisely. The scholarships already allocated must be given to deserving in set objective criteria not nepotism and patronage. In this age poverty reduction, our resources will be well spent by investing more in education and making us all stakeholders. Do not be deterred from your advocacy and your questioning of the status quo. There are problems, there are inadequacies but this little ship called Liberia is big for all of us.
OUR GENERATION MUST NOW RESPOND TO THE CALL! WE MUST BUILD A NATIONAL MOVEMENT THAT VOLUNTEERS TO REBUILD OUR COMMUNITIES IN INFRASTRUCTURE, AGRICULTURE, WASTE AND SANITATION, AMONG OTHERS. IT IS NOT BE CONSUMED BY THE VANITY OF THE ACCUMULATION OF WEALTH AND POWER BUT RATHER SELFLESS SERVICE. THIS NEW MOVEMENT MUST BREACH THE POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DIVIDE. IT MUST BE A MOVEMENT THAT MUST NOT SUBMIT TO THE POLITICAL DIVIDE AND AFFILIATIONS OR COUNTY OF ORIGIN. IT IS THIS NEW MOVEMENT THAT WILL REDEFINE AND RECONCEPTUALIZE THE NEW STATE AND LEADERSHIP.
THERE IS A UNIVERSAL CONTEST BETWEEN GOD AND EVIL. GOOD WILL EVENTUALLY TRIUMPH OVER EVIL. GOOD WILL NOT TRIUMPH BY RETREATING FROM EVIL. GOOD MUST CONFRONT EVIL. BY CONFRONTING EVIL, WE OFFER SOCIETY A MORAL ALTERNATIVE.
CONTINUE CONFRONTING EVIL! ALL IS NOT WELL YET!
I THANK YOU!
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