Liberian Government Officially Launched Bicentennial Celebrations - what are we actually celebrating as a people and country?
By: Rufus S. Berry II, MBA
As a nation and people, we failed to understand that our forefathers’ final resting places and historically significant sites will contribute to our nation's cultural and economic well-being, and could attract thousands of tourists each year. Maintaining these historical sites is more labor-intensive, thus creating more Liberian jobs. It’s a win-win for our beloved republic.
What exactly are we celebrating? Where’s our pride as a people and country, when our 1st & 7th President - one of the founding fathers, Joseph Jenkins Roberts’ final resting place at the Palm Grove Cemetery is a dumpsite.
What in God’s name are we celebrating when the historic gravesite of our 3rd President Daniel B. Warner and the author of our National Anthem - located at the intersection of Warren Street and Camp Johnson Road is the neighborhood motel and dump site..
Oh yes, we will be celebrating 200 years of the formation of the nation. A nation that was the beacon of hope for the black race, but what will we tell our African American cousins, when we failed to preserve the final resting place of Martin Henry Freeman, an educator. In 1856 Martin became president of Pennsylvania's Avery College, the first African-American in the United States to achieve such distinction.
Freeman also served as a professor at Liberia College (now University of Liberia) and became its acting president in 1885. He was appointed president shortly before his death on the 26th of May 1889 and is buried at the Palm Grove Cemetery.
What will we say to our children and grandchildren about the Unity Conference Center? In July of 1979, 48 African national leaders and 3,000 delegates gathered at the Unity Conference Center for the 16th annual summit of the Organization of African Unity. This prestigious conference complex was designed by some of Liberia’s greatest architects and architectural firms; yet, we failed to care about our heritage preservation. Why and what exactly do we cherish as a people?
The Historic Unity Conference Center with its amazingly beautiful artworks and priceless paintings worth millions, is physically linked to our past. It's not just about saving bricks, but about saving the layers and layers of information about our lives and those of our ancestors. Without that, we have erased the story of what occurred in 1979, as if the people who came before us never existed. SHAME on Us as a people..
What exactly are we celebrating when our elected lawmakers have failed to effectively maintain the people’s building - the Capitol Building - the Rotunda & Dome to the point where Madam Mary Broh says it is a ‘stink place.” As a student at the prestigious Monrovia Demonstration Elementary School, our 6th grand class went on a field trip to the Capitol building and we felt so proud walking in the building that was the international symbol of the Liberian people and our representative democracy.
Regrettably, the Liberian people’s building hasn’t been properly maintained or painted in years and the smell from the rotunda would scare away our children or tourists. What do we hold dear to our hearts as a people?
We will be celebrating 200 years of formation as a state on the shores of Africa, but what exactly do we have to showcase to the world and the thousands of people that are already here or anticipate visiting the country?
What will we be proud when we can’t effectively sell Liberia as a tourist destination, when we have lawlessness on the streets of Monrovia. We can’t have people selling everywhere and kehkeh and Pehm Pehm driving recklessly and expect to have tourists flocking to our country.
Let’s get our act together. No tourist will go to Libassa or our amazingly beautiful beaches consistently when we have complete lawlessness at the Marshall junction. The Marshall junction is perhaps the first thing that’s seen after leaving the Roberts International Airport and it’s a national disgrace. No tourist will go to Providence Island, when you have lawlessness at Vai town and Broad Street. No tourist will visit Providence Island with all the trash in the water on the shores of the island.
Yes, we will be celebrating the Land of Return – Commemorating 200 Years of Freedom and Pan-African Leadership”, but what exactly will we be showcasing to the world as our accomplishment and heritage?
You can tell a great deal about a country and a people by what they deem important enough to remember, to create moments for — what they put in their museum and what they celebrate. What have we really preserved as a people? Our forefathers started migrating to this land called Liberia in the 1200s. What historical artifacts do we have to show for that? There have been archeological discoveries in Gbarpolu that depict how our people lived in those early years? How are we showcasing that history? How do we celebrate our forefathers who came through the thick forests seeking peace and a new land? History and preservation are critical to our future and the development of a tourism sector.
Oh Yes, we have failed our young people; therefore, I have absolutely nothing at all to celebrate.
Rufus S. Berry II, MBA
Lover of History & Former President of the Liberian Community of Northern California.
"Whereas Mr. Berry does not need my affirmation, I totally agree with him and would like to add the following quote:
“You arrive in Liberia at Robertsfield Airport on one of the international planes from America, Europe and South Africa. You…reach Monrovia, the capital city. The first thought a person has after seeing Monrovia is if the plane which brought you is still on the ground at Robertsfield, you would like to throw in the towel just then and leave Liberia.
You begin to smell the city as soon as you arrive—a pungent, cutting odor—open garbage ditches, bodies needing a bath, garbage in the streets, the streets used for toilets by both men and women, rotten fish for sale everywhere.”
Liberia, The Inside Story, A Travel Report of an American Union Man, by Luther Henry Lemley, Exposition Press, New York, Page 79, 1962
When Lemley wrote this book in the 1960s, President Tubman banned it in Liberia, and declared the author persona non-grata. I believe he either left the country or was deported – the end result was the same.
In 2021, an EU personnel broached the topic of Monrovia cleanliness and an apology was “beaten” out of him.
Lesson learned – Don’t talk about how dirty we are." Comments submitted by a reader of Mr. Berry's Article.