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Why Kenya and Not Liberia

In the midst of all the jubilation for the Obama victory shouting “we did it,” a concern sprout up amongst us coming from a female voice “we didn’t do it; Kenya did it.” In clear words she lamented “It’s a shame that Kenya was the one to give America their first black president, what a shame, Liberia should have been the one to do this a long time ago.” On the surface, she looks like a loner who is only struggling to ruin our celebrations or like a jealous woman spewing hate at a competitor’s success. As immigrants from Liberia (and I believe all descendants of African) we were in our seventh heaven witnessing the history that was made and how the political, social landscape in the US has changed forever and so a harsh off-the cuff reaction to her assertion would be justifiably understandable. And why not a rough repudiation for not seeing the big picture? Even Rev. Jesse Jackson who once covertly threatened to cut off Obama’s private for “talking down on black people” broke down in tears of joy. Everyone seems to be on board, so where was this lady coming from with this wierd Liberia-Kenya comparison while emotions were still high? But I believe, if we must all share in the Obama victory, we must be prepared to tolerate disenting views and prop what this historic moment underscores –a new era of cooperation between what is and what is not; what was and what is to come; what we share and what we differ on. With that in mind, I believe such thinking was not entirely out of place or untimely and I am constrained to scribble a sober response.

I recognize that such feeling of “why not Liberia” is hard to address without first understanding what such suppose to mean. Why should it be Liberia? Second, it is impossible to draw those parallels between Kenya and Liberia without also understanding all the historical, economic, and political details about those two countries that make them similar or set them apart. I am not certain if this lady has analyzed the history of both Kenya and Liberia and taken into considerations those factors that may likely be responsible for “Kenya’s success.” It is important to understand what have been the parallels between Kenya and Liberia and how those social, political, and economic realities compare in both Liberia Kenya. Without comparing and contrasting those factors in the two countries, we will only be relying on guts feeling and guess work. But for the sake of argument, let’s consider a few. Obama’s father, as we all know, came to the USA on a scholarship to attend Harvard University. For Liberia, we need to find out who are those that have been benefitting from opportunities to study abroad. Minds quickly run to undeserving beneficiaries with ties to gatekeepers and other decisions makers. For there to be a President Barack, a brilliant economistcalled Barack Sr. must have gone to Harvard and not some mistress benefitting who would never step foot on the school campus. Unlike Kenya, Liberia has had a step child-step father relationship with the USA. Maybe that could play a role.

The way I see it, it couldn’t be Liberia, at least not just yet. While I don’t claim any absolute knowledge on the subject or know the progress Liberians and those Americans of Liberian descent are making here in the USA, I can point to reasons why I believe Liberia has a long shot to what Kenya has done. First and foremost, as old as we ware as a country, it seems to be as if we are just beginning. Up till now, we have not been able to establish our own identity. Unfortunately, we adapt to whatever way others define or label us. We tend to admire every foreign trait and scramble to copy whatever will make us look like other people. This is a chronic problem that makes it hard for us to move ahead with the speed that is required for a major leap. For Obama to win, he had to be the best. His campaign was extraordinarily out of this world. He did everything better than all his competitors. That raises the question about our copy cat ideology. How is it possible to stand out, beat, top, win or do better than someone you are trying to copy or model your life after? Not normally an easy thing to accomplish.

We Liberians don’t seem to take much pride in our country or its people that much. I don’t want to put the blame on our purported founders and first leaders who saw themselves as coming from another place and saw Liberia as a settlement or temporary dwelling where they don’t have much to lose if it was broken down. That line of thought and belief tend to drive the way we all looked at our own country as less than adequate. I have lived my war years in a number of West African countries before migrating to the USA. One striking difference I found was how other peoples took pride in their countries, their cultures and languages unlike us. In Guinea, the pride words were “this is Guinea, not Liberia” to stress that their country was a place of laws. In Ivory Coast, they proudly referred to their capital city as “petit Paris” or little Paris. Ghanaians say “we are the best in the whole wide world,” and the Nigerians bask “a country as great as Nigeria….” It is needless to mention how America thinks of herself as “the World.” When it comes to Liberia, I don’t see that pride coming out. In areas where we think good our selves, such pride only comes with our association with other nations thinking that our completeness lies in another persons or nations. Evidently we boasted of being the 51st state of the USA; we bragged about the use of the US dollar, how much we wished to be like other peoples like for example, how our footballers are like top Ghanaian or Brazilian soccer stars! We often have some demeaning stereotype of each of the 17 ethnic groups. So if none of the parts (tribes) making up the whole are no good, it is impossible that the whole (Liberia) be of any good. See my point? Values that we seem to have consensus on as unique Liberian values are the negative ones like “Liberian people don’t respect time.” Amongst us, “a typical Liberian man” characterizes infidelity and spousal abuse. These are examples of how we look at ourselves and if that doesn’t change, we may have a long way in producing an Oprah Winfred or a Barack Obama. Of course, your house must sell you before the street buys you.

It is true statement that if we don’t appreciate where we are coming from, we may never get where we want to be. In our vain effort to put away who we truly are in exchange of foreign cultures, we have nothing to use a backdrop against which to compete and learn new things. Some time ago, we were made to believe some of our intrinsic values and traits as a people as undesirable and exalted or strove to emulate those ones that we were tricked to adopt. Strangely enough, we oddly measure civilization, progress, and intelligence using standards that continue to pull us back up to day. You will agree that even in this 21st century, we continue to use those standards or traces of those awkward criteria. Living, schooling or working in a foreign country no matter the kind of work or quality of education were priced so highly. You will agree that as late as the 2005 elections, the major difference that set our candidates apart was which of them had the best foreign travel, work or schooling experience or who other countries would prefer. It was never about us because from the old days, anything Liberian was not credible or good enough. And how can we move forward with a thought that speaking the language God gave us was a show of backwardness or illiteracy? Back then, even the food we ate was a demonstration of how civilized or uncivilized we were thought to be. Pusawa not country rice was the way to go; apples were better than oranges or the social scale; we would publicly eat bread with mayonnaise and soft drink but wouldn’t want to be seen eating GB and soup with GB medicine. O how much we struggled to adapt “civilized” names that we even could not pronounce correctly! Or how much we adjusted “country” names to satisfy the taste of strangers and others whose lifestyles we were suppose to copy! Taking after other peoples without presenting ourselves as having anything worth copying disarmed us of our competitive spirit and made others to despise us. I can’t imagine how much proud and coveted we would have been if peoples from other nations were learning Kisi, Grebo, or Mende or flocking to Liberia to attend Poro classes or learn how to play sankpa or sasa or dance waya.

We can uniquely identify how Ghanaians, Sierra Leoneans, or Nigerians call certain words. But know how others do it but never how we do it as Liberians. Anytime I asked my teachers how to pronounce certain words, he presented to me how the British call it and how the Americans call it. He would go further on how Sierra Leoneans or Nigerians took after the British but when it came to us, I was never told a clear way for us. Some went one way, while others went the other way or no where at all. That is why I was happy when President Sirleaf finally resolved that her government needs to decide on a system to deal with corruption. If we are now putting mechanisms into place in this late age, you will agree that we have some work to do.

All along, we have been scrambling all over the place but Kenyans and other African countries have found a path to take. Since the good results we are seeing today do not just happen in the blue, we as Liberians need to establish ourselves now as a people if we must have our own Obama. Kenya did it and Liberia can do it too but Liberia must put in the time and work Kenya put.

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