|T. Q. Harris, Jr.|
My journey from Los Angeles to Liberia with stopovers in Amsterdam and Accra ended at Roberts International Airport with a rousing welcome by friends and supporters. The impressive homecoming organized by the Friends of TQ brought thousands onto the streets. Though I have come to run for the Presidency, the reception – I must admit – was overwhelming.
Immediately upon exiting the terminal, Bellah – an adorable 5 years girl – presented the traditional kola nuts as the crowd burst into deafening applauds. Thousands lined the route from the Airport all the way to Sinkor where our campaign office is located. They seem to be sending a clear message: Liberians are ready for a change!
On the drive into Monrovia the convoy made several stops along the way so that I may greet well-wishers. The largest gathering was at ELWA junction where traffic flow literally came to a standstill. Even the Police on duty joined in the festivities, which included singing and dancing to rhythmic African drumming as well as dazzling performances by masked dancers. A number of the performers – I was told – traveled from as far away as Bong County – a distance of approximately 150 miles.
Next stop: Pioneer Memorial Baptist Church on Capitol Hill where we attended an inspiring intercessory service.
Following the church service we headed for the campaign office to participate in the welcoming program. Speaking at the event were legislative aspirants who have opted to run on the TQ Harris ticket as well as community leaders. The Youth Parliament leader, Widows of fallen Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers, and leaders of Friends of TQ based in the various counties also made remarks. Refreshments were served as the festivities continued well into the evening.
Allow me comment on my initial impression: Stepping out the airplane to take my first gulp of the Liberian air, I was overcome with shock and dismay. It was a wakeup call. The airport looked like a makeshift military base during a lull in fighting. The sight of U.N. military hardware – helicopters, armor carriers, trucks, etc. – and a scattering of unattractive structures was a glaring reminder that Liberia is still a war zone. Also, the level of backwardness and underdevelopment was greater than I had expected. There hasn’t been much improvement since 1997; in some regards, the country has regressed.
Symbols of modernity such as the high technology aircraft on which I travelled seemed out of place. It was as if such objects were flashes that appear only for a moment then suddenly disappeared…they just didn’t fit in. But it didn’t matter, I was happy to be home.
Amid the sights and sounds of arrival day, the human misery was clearly evident. Trapped in abject poverty and injustice, many in the welcoming party struggled to look happy. It showed on their faces. Like a good mirror, the faces of these people reflected their true feelings: smiles diluted by deep sadness. Seeing this, I also became emotional and began feeling their pain. It hurt.
Liberia has a long way to go in order to catch up with other African countries, needless to say comparable nations in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Yet the leaders and those in positions of authority seemed totally oblivious…or might I say, they don’t seem to care.
As I settled in for the evening and assessed the day’s activities the conclusion was obvious: Liberia needs more than a president; more importantly, it needs to regain its SOUL! The country is lifeless.
It doesn’t take long to realize Liberia is only inches away from total disintegration. The problems are numerous and daunting. They range from abject poverty to mass illiteracy; moral decadence to a bankrupt economy; devastated infrastructure to a traumatized population; lawlessness to rampant corruption. But the most troubling of all is COMPLACENCY; this more than anything else is likely to doom this beautiful African nation if HOPE is not restored soon. That’s why I am here.
Seemingly, Liberians in general have lost the zeal to grow and compete. They are unwilling to sacrifice for the betterment of our country. Hope is a scarce commodity. The reasons are many, including widespread apathy and disillusionment; lies, mistrust, greed and corruption have also contributed. Above all, it’s the brutal 14 years war which devastated the population and is responsible in large part for the current disposition. Not one family escaped the carnage that ripped out the very soul of this nation. Now no one believes change is possible, so they settle for anything. The fight is gone…the inner fire extinguished; complacency is now the order of business.
At the moment a small group of Liberians have effectively seized control of the country and are ruling over the masses. The people have been reduced to common beggars. They now live from one moment to the next seeking instant gratification. In Liberia today, no one does anything without requesting money; figuratively speaking, not even the wind blows without money changing hands. The idea of investing for the future is nonexistent. It is within this climate of utter despair that Liberians are expected to engage in free, fair, transparent democratic elections. Is this realistic?
Can Liberia hold credible elections under the current circumstances where top officials in the three branches of government have been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity but have refused to cooperate? Is the President fit to seek reelection after the internationally sponsored Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has recommended that she be barred from holding public office for 30 years? Are we yet again heading for a political crisis and prolonged instability? Does the current conflict in the Ivory Coast offer any lessons?
If the 2011 election was issue-driven rather than candidates attempting to feed a starving population the focus would be on national security and lasting peace, so U.N. Troops that have been in the country since 2003 may finally leave in order to begin sustainable economic development. Also, this would be a referendum on rule of law and the country’s 85 percent unemployment and illiteracy. The vote would compel the incoming government to repatriate tens of thousands of Liberians who fled the war since 1990 and are now living under horrible conditions throughout West Africa and beyond. Moreover, this election would decide once and for all whether to end the era of violence by holding persons accountable who are responsible for the rape, torture and murder of tens of thousands of unarmed civilians or continue with business as usual. And the year 2012 will no doubt mark the beginning of national healing. But as it stands hunger, rather than issues, might be the deciding factor.
T Q Harris’ entry into the presidential race has made a big difference. Many who had lost hope in the democratic process and decided not to participate in the 2011 elections have begun to reconsider. However, abject poverty still poses a serious challenge. The vast majority of the population lives on less than 60 cents a day and unable to invest in the change they desire. On the contrary, those in Liberia who are able to fund a political campaign are the very people responsible for the disaster. They are impeding progress.
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