By Salia S. Sheriff
Liberia, the oldest independent republic on the African continent, symbolizes by the Lonestar on the dark blue field in the uppermost right corner of our national emblem. The great land of my ancestors whose valour for freedom, justice and independence of her compatriots gave birthday to great sons like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Mazee Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Madiba Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Amical Cabral of Congo, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Sheikh Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea and the list goes on. These revolutionists shouldered the tasks of adulthood when they were youth to protect their forefathers who they have learnt from and to give their progeny a life better deserving for their own protection when age comes as always in the cycle of life. In our great Mande kingdom, it is often said, the youth of today are the leaders for tomorrow. Sadly, as expressed below, being first is not being fore:
“THE LOST YOUTH IN MY MOTHERLAND”
I was born abnormally beautiful
I was grown and youth abnormally
I was not asked of my father as the need for child overshadowed my legitimacy
I was celebrated not coached
I was a pride of freedom, not a price
I took pride in freed do; as first of a childless mother
I grew development passive; pride of praise
I grew growth stunted; a painted example for my siblings
I gave when I don’t have; I took all I was given
I am a common; exploited by comers
I am a common; uncommon by comers
I am aged superbly; unequal of the customary wealth of grey hairs
I am aged greatly proving freed do
I am aged seeking belated traits
I am aged, looking for what I have; and losing what I need
Whenever I reflect on these great words, especially the last line of this poem, my heart blends with an air ton of blood. From its foundation, this great nation has strived for patriots in leaders who would govern, lead and bring out the zest of Pan Africanism, but regrettably, it is losing its national asset-the YOUTH. Reckoning our roles from the recent past to date, the question, ‘Why Always the YOUTH?” keeps resonating, barely unanswered in the geopolitics and socioeconomic of Liberia.
Why always the YOUTH? From 1979, April 14th rice riots, 1980 coup d’état, 1985 post-election violence to the brutal civil unrest, that took the lives of about two hundred fifty-thousand Liberians, including my late father and grandfather, Sekou Omar Sheriff and Sheikh Omar Abdullah Sheriff, respectively during the Barkedu Massacre, Thursday, July 12, 1990. An ordeal of history, whose scar is unerasable of a nation largely divided on multiple socioeconomic and political lines.
“Let the sleeping dog lies”, the scars remain and peace has been restored; about 17 years now, the guns are silent, the warring factions are dissolved, child and youth soldiers went through the so-called disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR). The international community spent millions of dollars to ensure that peace prevails, though justice is yet to be served. The thousands of crimes committed against humanity and economic sabotage including mass murders, rapes and extrajudicial killings whose perpetrators have continuously enjoyed state clemency through alignment and realignment of political affiliation.
Notwithstanding, many people are baffled as to the successes of the DDRR program; evidenced by the numbers of disadvantaged youth in various parts of Liberia. Regrettably, these numbers do not reflect the only former child and youth soldiers of disbanded forces but a great number of them were recruited from the war-tailed violent orientations of our communities, induced-trauma of parenthood, and above all, lack of better education and deceit of so-called educated people who seek all but for themselves. It’s often said the” American Dream” has brain-drained Africa of some of its brightest daughters and sons; paradoxically in Liberia, it is the “Political Dream”, to own and control state power at the detriment of the common people that have imbibed the minds of the youth. The purported educated, enlightened, affluence and elite have brainwashed the youth of the zest to strive for quality education, apprenticeship and entrepreneurship to mere political battle criers at intellectual centres, under the Palava Huts, under the Sycamore trees and political parties’ headquarters. Ironically professing Aristotelian virtue and Method of Elenchus when themselves are philosophically illogical. What has been taught at these places for years is replicate of the society we have.
A modern-day German philosopher and educator, Prof. Friedrich Nietzsche Friedrich, once said: “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those whose think differently”. This is the state of the republic, as clearly manifested by the trending hashtag, “#WEINSIDE” amongst the 65% youthful population of a nation with 4.5 people. The sycamore always sees a sycamore; a Carey street always sees a Carey street; the most khaki always sees a most khaki and the pairs do so even in the darkest illusion of unconsciousness and ignorance. As the midterm senatorial election draws near, December 8, 2020, our political attachments have begun glooming our independent minds and impairing our visions to put would-be candidates under the radar and dissect them politically in seeking patriots, not patrons. Let our votes reflect the leaders we want to be and bring the change we deserve. The philosophical reasoning of “born here, die here”, sweet Liberia, the land of liberty… These phrases have not and would never work for us. They misled our recent forefathers who bought a bag of rice for $ 10, a plot of land for $ 100 yet still could only boast of the many girlfriends, children of different mothers, and memorable weekends. It is about time that the youth wake up from their slumber and demand for rights deserving of quality education and mentorship rather than devoting times to praise-singing and doing political battle cries at their own detriment. Have we not realized as youth from this part of the world, how frustrating it can be when our degrees can’t cross borders despite the University of Liberia was founded in 1862? Have we not realized that the best carpenters, masons, mechanics and drivers in Liberia come from Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire regardless of the millions of dollars devoted into TVET program? THE TIME IS NOW, AND NOW THE BETTER, TOMORROW IS NOT AN OPTION.
It is highly commendable to call for and appraise YOUTH inclusion in national leadership but the emotional question is, “are the YOUTH prepared?” Let’s take a reflection on a few youthful leaders in public service on the continent, who are doing great contributions impactfully to advance their countries, for instance: Rt. Hon. Adebo Ogundoyin (Youngest Speaker), Oyo State House of Assembly (Nigeria); Dr Ahmat Jidoud, Ministry of Finance (Niger Republic), Hon. Francis Ben Kaifala, Anti-corruption Commission (Sierra Leone), Hon. Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Ministry of Information (Ghana), Hon. Kirsty Coventry, Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation (Zimbabwe), Dr Shakira Choonara, Public Health, (South Africa) and Hon. Kondo Moussa, Accountability Lab (Mali). It is interesting to note, that these youthful leaders are not rewarded public service as compensation for singing battle cries at political rallies but rather for being readily prepared. The few youths listed above from different African Countries, that we (Liberia) aided them in getting political independence, and even some of their fore-fathers used our passports to travel and where natured at the University of Liberia with a high-quality education, today, we are at 173 years look at us, look at our youth today completely hopeless.
This generation, characteristically youthful, must drive in the opposite direction to pay the ultimate price for the “free do’s” of its predecessors through an alliance of patriot’s youth wanting to be qualified, developers, innovators, entrepreneurs and agents of real positive change in the private and public sectors. Now and until, we, the youth realize the potentials in ourselves, the narratives at political parties’ headquarters, debates in street corners and discourse under the Sycamore Trees and at the Palava Huts will only make us see one side of the coin, even if it has faded. Let’s consummate these youthful energies to fill our souls rather than deplete the minimum energy balance in us. To my fellow youth, THE TIME IS NOW, AND NOW THE BETTER, TOMORROW IS NOT AN OPTION.
Salia S. Sheriff
Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of Environmental Health
University of Eldoret, Kenya
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