Introducing the Brumskine Strategy for Economic Prosperity in Liberia

Liberia craves a functioning economy, and the Brumskine Strategy for Economic Prosperity offers a pragmatic path to achieving one. The Brumskine Strategy, pro-Liberian, pro-growth, pro-trade, and pro-business, policies posit an approach that will grow the economy, create jobs, and provide opportunities for all Liberians.

The Liberian economy continues to perform poorly and the Unity Party government has done little or nothing to alleviate the plight of the poor. Four out of every 5 Liberians are fighting to escape poverty. The short term economic outlook is not encouraging because of the failure of the Unity Party government to do strategic investments with the large cash windfalls received over the past 12 years.

In order to reverse the prevailing stagnation in the Liberian economy, the Brumskine Strategy will attain four goals:

  • Develop Liberian entrepreneurship evidenced by both the scale and scope of Liberian participation in the economy
  • Reduce the number of Liberians living on less than US$1 per day by half by 2023
  • Grow and broaden the economic base through improved environment for both domestic and foreign private investments
  • Expand and diversify trade within ECOWAS thereby strengthening the long-term relationship with countries within the sub region

These fundamentals goals will not be realized in a vacuum. Consequently, the Brumskine Strategy has developed a 10-point plan to boost economic activities.

  1. Put more money in the hands of the Liberian people by maximizing opportunities to increase the value of our local production and build a domestic economy
  2. Stop the old economic practice where plantation-style concession agreements take away the people’s land. Prior and informed consent of the owners of the land will be the way to go on all future concessions
  3. Reduce government footprint (control of public corporations) and encourage private sector to facilitate growth in the domestic economy
  4. Keep the US dollar as the dual currency with the Liberian dollar (working with the CBL) to ensure trade with global partners and keep Liberia as an attractive destination for business in ECOWAS
  5. Create a financing arrangement to help Liberians to build decent homes and add value to their land in and around our cities and towns
  6. Use Public Procurement opportunities to give Liberians more business and build Liberian entrepreneurship. Government will set realistic targets to buy goods and services from Liberians.
  7. Simplify the process for cross border trade towards ECOWAS countries and Africa; so market women and small business owners can move around the region more freely to do business
  8. Build a modern economic infrastructure—our roads, our telecommunications, our water and sewer, and affordable electricity.
  9. Create 49,000 jobs and livelihood opportunities to get more money into young people’s hands. Over the long term only the private sector can sustainably create jobs; but over the short to medium term and until the new economic policies and strategies bring growth to the economy, the government will help using public expenditure for the rehabilitation of roads, sanitation projects in municipalities, short-term teaching opportunities, etc. to expand employment.
  10. Redefine and reorganize the Ministry of Labor (MOL) is the final phase of job creation through workforce training and development. The new MOL will emphasize livelihood and employment promotion through skills training and certification programs and will work with businesses to identify, train, and certify youth for existing and future opportunities around where they live.

Liberians, economic prosperity can be our reality. But we need the right leadership to provide stewardship of the economy. The Brumskine Strategy puts Liberia and Liberians first. The Brumskine Strategy recognizes the intrinsic value and worth of every Liberian and aims to elevate our standard of living.

The Brumskine Strategy is for the Liberian people and about the Liberian people.  The Liberian people time has come.


The Case for a Brumskine Presidency: Part 1 – Character & Integrity

Charles W. Brumskine (CWB) has devoted his life and career to making the Republic of Liberia a fairer, just and equitable society. Generous with his personal resources, magnanimous toward antagonists, accommodating with dissenting and contrarian views, scrupulous in his jurisprudence, ever the willing and available public servant – not forgetting his commitment to family and faith – CWB represents a model of the caliber of public leadership Mama Liberia so desperately craves.

CWB exudes a generous spirit, never holding back denying those who come seeking a gift for food, school fees, or medicine for a sick child. He does not trumpet his generosity to garner public recognition; rather he follows the teaching of Jesus who said, “Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.” Countless students across Liberia can point to CWB as the silent benefactor who kept them in school. He wisely employed his hard-earned resources to provide scholarships to students who agreed to spend their vacation in their home villages. He has been generous toward those with fewer opportunities. Market women can testify that he personally indemnified their loans to ensure capital for small businesses that provided food, tuition, funds for hospital visits, and a sense of security.

His deep and abiding faith teaches and demands fairness toward all antagonist. “Bless those who persecute you”, he was taught from an early age. And CWB is known to bless his adversaries. Though forced unnecessarily into exiled by the NPP-led government in 1999, he has never spoken negatively about any of his former colleagues. On the contrary, he has endeavored to build bridges, recognizing that reconciliation is the clearest path to national healing and sustained nation building.

The next shepherd of Liberia’s democracy must be tolerant and accommodating of dissenting and contrarian views. CWB radiates just the kind of personality and disposition required in our next president. He is calm, reflective, confident, assertive, accommodating – possessing a big heart and wide open arms. He welcomes a spirited debate and will hold his ground; he is quick to recognize and embrace a good idea even if it differs from his point of view – precisely the temperament we seek in our leader.

His jurisprudence exemplifies his devotion to his fellow citizens. Like his father – the giant and gallant legal hero of countless improvised Liberians, Hannibal Brumskine – CWB believes that the law must equally serve all citizens. He believes the law serves not just the purposes of the rich and well-connected, but, like the Cross, the law is the equalizer of all men. Consequently, CWB has represented both affluent and poor clients, always employing the law to advance quality of life for all Liberians.

Moreover, CWB is ever the enthusiastic and available public servant. On a sultry Monrovia evening in late 2015, he shared a plate of sushi with friends at a local restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Guinea. The ambience of the evening was appropriate for a couple of hours of conversation. They talked about politics, history, current events, food, faith and many other topics. Just before dinner ended, CWB shared elements of how he would govern Liberia when given the opportunity. His disclosure was a concise and thoughtful explication of his governing philosophy; it was evident that he had given much thought and prayer to his response. He spoke about King David, Israel’s greatest military and political leader, as a model of the kind of leadership required to lift Liberia. He spoke lengthily about David’s faith, David’s fairness, and David’s fortitude. Listening to him, it is evident that he places premium stock on public service. His heart radiates the kind of selflessness that we seek and demand in our next president.

He has spent the last 42 years with his college sweetheart; this is a man who stands by his commitment. Together, CWB and Estelle have raised three wonderful children.

Finally, the glue that holds his character and integrity intact is his unwavering submission to the Lordship of his Savior Jesus Christ. His deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ affords him a Kingdom perspective that informs his public service. CWB loves the Lord and he brings that love of God – and fear of God – to the presidency of Liberia.

Time to Fashion a Liberian Identity

Absent a clearly defined and articulated national identity, Liberia risks remaining a fractured and undeveloped society well into the 21st century. By national identity, I mean the belief that as Liberians we possess a sense of our nation as a cohesive whole; that we commit to a set of shared ideals and shared values, in spite of our diverse ethnicities and politics; and that we put Liberia first in everything we say or do.

In spite of measurable progress achieved in our post-war context, Liberia remains a nation inured in the depths of hopelessness and economic and social delinquency. Simply because we do not know who are. Liberia lacks a national identity.

Prior to the war, we celebrated our faux Americanism. We held fast to the dangerous illusion that we were Americans. Then came the war, which scattered us abroad. Now, we return home as Ghanaians, Nigerians, Europeans, Australians, and everything in between. I concede my oversimplification but you get the point.

Liberia lacks a unifying national identity around which we can coalesce to form a unifying vision. Consequently, we are a people languishing in the wilderness of incoherence. We are a people marching to a thousand drum beats. We slog in separate, uncertain directions.

I humbly present the following 10 elements of a Liberian national identity:

  • We freely engage in elevated civil discourse and devotedly uphold the rule of law
  • We passionately care for one another
  • We liberally invest in our shared prosperity- health, education, infrastructure development
  • We intentionally plan for the well-being of our posterity
  • We lavishly celebrate our heritage
  • We valiantly refrain from larceny of our common treasury
  • We faithfully protect our waters and forests, our hills, valleys, and coastlines
  • We respectfully honor the strangers among us but do not permit them to abuse us
  • We are a proud and sophisticated people who promote the sciences, arts, history, and literature

It is our national identity that clarifies our purposes and priorities; it is our national identity that dictates to the current generation what institutions and systems to build for our common posterity.

I acknowledge that an articulated national identity will not necessarily solve all our problems – it is not a panacea for all of Liberia’s deficits. However, my aim is to trigger sustained dialogue about who we are and what our purposes and priorities should be.

I am convinced that an articulated national identity serves as a compass for our common journey.

STATEMENT ON THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY By Charles Walker Brumskine Political Leader, Liberty Party

On March 8th of every year, we celebrate women and their achievements that they have made in every household, community, nation and continent. We recognize the great contributions that women have made to human development. Women of every race, religion, and ethnicity have contributed to the world as we know it today, and for that, the world stands in recognition.

Here in Liberia, we have much to be proud of. We recall great women like Chief Suakoko, the first female Paramount Chief, who played a major and strategic role in having areas, which are today known as Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties, being incorporated into Liberia during the late 1800s. We cannot help but mention women like Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman, the first female president of a university in Liberia and Africa; and, Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Laureate. And Liberia is home to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s and  Africa’s first female president, and also a Nobel Peace Laureate.

The list is long, bearing the names of many who we might never know. The list includes mothers, daughters, and sisters, many who could neither read nor write, but they conducted the mass peace action in the rain and heat of the sun in the quest for Liberia’s peace. There are the female doctors, nurses, medical assistants, who led the campaign against Ebola Virus Disease in our country. There are so many more who led the community mobilization efforts to educate households and save lives. Then there are those women who head households and sell in the markets or on the streets to ensure that their children go to school. We must honor them all!

This year’s theme for the International Women’s Day is, “Be Bold for Change.” The change that is required for gender equality and gender equity remains the responsibility of all leaders, men, and women, of our country. That change should not just be about a demand for a female quota in decision-making positions, but it must start with education, understanding, and appreciation of the value of women in our society. Aung San Suu Kyi once said that “the education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.” Women and girls must be protected from all forms of abuse and harmful practices that limit their ability to fulfill their potential and turn their dreams into realities.

I join all well-meaning Liberians today and every day in the quest for taking Liberian women beyond gender identities. Women of Liberia have proven that given the opportunity, they will break down the walls and ceilings, which add no value to human existence. Imagine what our daughters, sisters, and mothers could achieve if we were to remove the obstacles that impede their development. Liberia could be home to the first African female astronaut. Our country could be home to the female, who discovers the cure for AIDS. It is possible! The Liberian woman is a strong, beautiful, and tenacious being. With the fulfillment of her rights, she is an unstoppable person. Let us all work together to ensure that every Liberian female is given the space and opportunity to excel, and the right to define what excelling means for her.

On this day, I step aside to also honor the three most important women of my life: Ethel, my mother; Estelle, my wife; and Charlyne, my daughter.

Primary Education in Liberia Should not be Privatized

In an unprecedented move, the Liberian government plans to outsource the entire primary education system to a private company, Bridge International Academies ( The deal will obligate the government to pay approximately $65 million over a five-year period; public funding for education will support services subcontracted to a company driven by profit motive. That equates to over $13 million annually. The government is conceding that she does not know how to spend $13 million dollars annually to educate our children.

A private for-profit US-based education firm cannot provide the education our children need to become competitive global citizens. We must resist government’s plan to outsource the education of Liberia’s children. Absent any national dialogue, a supremely consequential decision has been made about our children’s future. If this plan is consummated, it will represent a phenomenal failure of imagination by our leaders. What is the point in having a government that cannot fulfill its basic duty of educating the next generation?

Front Page Africa reports that under the public-private arrangement, Bridge International  will design curriculum materials from April to September 2017 while phase two will have the company roll out mass implementation over 5 years, “with government exit possible each year dependent on provided performance from September 2017 onwards.”

It appears that Bridge will not be the only foreign commercial interest running primary education in Liberia. The government plans to eventually contract out all primary and early childhood education schools to private providers who meet the required standards over 5 year period.

This decision has largely flown under the radar since Education Minister George Warner first announced government’s inclinations in January. That was the case until last week when the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, criticized the government’s plan as “unprecedented at the scale currently being proposed and violates Liberia’s legal and moral obligations.” The UN official and human rights expert noted that provision of public education of good quality is a core function of the State. “Abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education,” said Singh.

The decision to outsource primary education in Liberia is wrong on many levels.

First, it is an abrogation of duty. The government’s decision to vacate her responsibility to educate our children is both morally reprehensible and legally questionable. It is not much for citizens to ask their elected government to fulfill a most basic duty. We do not object to the government seeking outside assistance – in fact, every government since independence has sought external assistance to fulfill this basic duty. What we loathe is this total surrender.

Second, the government is reneging on a commitment to free universal basic education for all of Liberia’s children. Bridge’s model is not free; theirs is a profit motif. They are in it to make money, and they will make money on the backs of poor Liberian children because the government does not care or lacks the competence to perform its constitutional responsibility.

Third, Bridge’s school-in-a-box model will not provide the kind of education our children need to be competitive global citizens. While the use of technology is commendable, the model leaves little room for teacher innovation and spontaneity. Here is a line directly from Bridge’s website: “Our scripted curriculum includes step-by-step instructions explaining what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class.” In this model, teachers are robots, simply regurgitating pre-ordained – rigid – curriculum developed in some far-away office tower in the West.

Given the right support, experienced Liberian educators can develop appropriate curriculum for Liberia’s children. Instead of investing in teachers to grow capabilities, which they have not done over the last ten years, our government is choosing a US$13 million annual capital flight, mortgaging the fate of our students and educators to people who don’t understand our students, problems or culture.

Furthermore, Bridge’s model is not free nor is it cheap, in spite of their propaganda. In Kenya, where Bridge currently operates several schools, families pay $6 per term per child. A father and mother with 4 primary school aged children can expect to pay $24 per term. This will engender undue hardship for a country with 85% unemployment and ranks the top 5th poorest country in the world (2015).

Finally, Bridge’s model will put a lot of Liberian teachers out of work. So far the government is yet to unveil any plans for redundancy or retirement benefits for these teachers who will lose their jobs under this appalling scheme. Some of these teachers have served for many years or decades in some cases.

Since Bridge offers a “scripted curriculum”, there is little need for college-educated teachers. In fact, teachers do not need certification from a teacher’s training institute. Bridge teachers can be certified in five days. It is all about “mastering” the pre-ordained Bridge curriculum.

Before we surrender our children’s education to an unproven for-profit organization, let’s step back and consider all alternatives. At the minimum, let’s encourage a national dialogue and create ample space to hear all relevant stakeholders.


Mob Justice Ain’t Justice

It was an unbearably hot morning in Mamba Point. The calm ocean breeze tried but failed in its attempt to alleviate the scorching 7 am heat along the Atlantic Coast. I had just walked outside my hotel to join colleagues in a van heading to the Ministry of Health for a day’s work. An unexpected commotion annihilated the morning peace. I couldn’t see from my vantage point, so I ventured to ask a young man standing at my hotel gate what the noise was about. “Dey man den wanted to jeek the woman bag, but God see them.” Just as he ended that sentence in one breath, he joined a chorus of voices, “Your take them to the beach and kill them!” Another young man in full strides like an Olympian sliced his way through onlookers with no regards for fellow pedestrians.

His first sentence stirred my interest, but it was his second sentence that really aroused my senses, “Dey will die this morning,” he said. I quietly inched my way toward the gathering crowd of mostly bear-chested, muscular young men. I confess these brothers challenged my masculinity with their well-toned bodies; no doubt I have access to better servings of nutrition than they, but somehow they are better sculpted than I could ever dream.

The scene that emerged before my eyes, however, betrayed my admiration for bodies that seemed hue from igneous rocks. Yells of “Your go kill man den!” filled the air with relaxed calm, as if killing suspected thieves was a routine event. Two young men, twenty-something is my best guess, were suspended in the air, held by two groups of four men – hands and feet stretched out – while others punched, kicked, slapped, stoned, spat on, and did whatever seemed appropriate to do to suspected thieves. Just like that, these two young men were being led to the beach to be killed.

Fortunately for them, the lone female officer on duty at the US ambassador’s residence heard the commotion and came running down the hill. Her intervention kept those thieves alive. She handcuffed them and assured the mob that she would take them to the nearest precinct.

In subsequent conversations after that incident, it became clear to me that mob justice was more common in my beloved Liberia than I could ever imagine. In fact, in the five weeks that I was in Liberia, the media reported at least one instance of mob justice per week. For example, there was the Ganta incident when businesses were destroyed after a motorcyclist went missing and his peers took the law into their hands to avenge his death. There was also the incident of two missing boys whose lifeless bodies were found in the backseat of a car belonging to a local Nigerian businessman. The man’s house and several used cars were burned by a mob consisting primarily of his neighbors. In addition, a suspected thief was found lying dead on the street outside LBS studios in Paynesville.

In each of case, the mob’s action indicates a lack of faith in law enforcement and, by extension, the entire legal system. These acts of barbarism reflect a dangerously weak legal architecture that exposes citizens to a myriad of vulnerabilities. In such a dismal context, citizens are compelled to take matters into their own hands. Subsequently, and the ensuing emotionally charged encounters can engender disastrous consequences.

We, as a democratic society, cannot afford persistent mob justice. It weakens the foundation of our society – moral, economic, social, and political, – compromising our strength and our unity. It renders all of us susceptible to this illogical and highly temperamental street justice. There is no established rule about how sanctions are determined and executed under a system of mob justice; as such, all citizens are at the mercy of a mob.

The remedy is formidable but not impossible. There are small steps we can take to mitigate mob violence, and we can begin today. First, the hour is ripe for a national dialogue about the dangers and illegality of mob violence. We need to talk among ourselves; we need to have an honest, open conversation about this plague that has besieged our nation. Led by our elected leaders as well as leaders from the civic and religious communities, we must engage in open, honest, and thoughtful national dialogue about mob justice.

Second, we must hold people accountable through a process of restorative justice.

In addition to sustained national dialogue, it is important to build an independent and resilient judiciary. This is far too important to be left to chance; it requires a deliberate plan with clear strategies and benchmarks.

All Liberians must recognize and affirm that mob justice is antithetical to our values and our interests.

Mob justice ain’t justice!




The Persistent Ebola Threat

Ebola is over, but it is not really over! That is the crux of preliminary findings of a study done with 82 Ebola survivors in Liberia. The Ebola outbreak did not only diminish an already weak healthcare system but also left significant long-term health challenges among survivors. According to the study, large numbers of Ebola survivors had developed weakness, memory loss, and depressive symptoms in the six months after being discharged from an Ebola treatment unit. The average age of the 82 Liberian survivors in the study is 35.
In addition, other patients were “actively suicidal” or still having hallucinations. About two-thirds had body weakness, while regular headaches, depressive symptoms, and memory loss were found in half of the patients. Two of the patients had been actively suicidal at the time of the assessment. Furthermore, other symptoms, including eye problems, indicate damage to the brain, which may not heal.
Dr. Lauren Bowen, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said: “It was pretty striking, this is a young population of patients, and we wouldn’t expect to have seen these sorts of problems. When people had memory loss, it tended to affect their daily living, with some feeling they couldn’t return to school or normal jobs, some had terrible sleeping problems. Ebola hasn’t gone away for these people.”
Infection with Ebola ravages the body. Some of the symptoms could improve with time as the body heals; others may be due to social trauma as many survivors are ostracized from their families and communities.
Prof Jimmy Whitworth, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The findings show high levels of mental and neurological problems in the survivors and from the clinical neurological findings these appear to be very real problems.”
At the same time, data presented previously at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, raised concerns about sexual transmission of the virus in survivors. It indicated 38% of men had tested positive for Ebola in their semen on at least one occasion in the year after recovering. And in the most extreme case, Ebola had been detected 18 months later. Yet most survivors reported being sexually active, with only four in every 100 using a condom.
Clearly, there is much to be done immediately and in the future. This cannot be a burden shouldered by the government alone. Our national resources are limited, but our priorities are many. We must assume a whole-of-society posture to fully tackle and mitigate the risk of post-Ebola health challenges. The government has taken the lead in developing a policy framework for program and services for survivors. Now, all of the society must contribute in terms of program implementation.
Individuals and families need to start where they are, work with whatever they have and do what they can. Do what you can in your neighborhood. Do what you can in your village, town, or county.
Houses of faith must join this common national effort. Churches and mosques have tremendous resources to bear on this problem. Their encouragement, prayers, comfort, and guidance can help assuage the apprehension and sense of defeat common among survivors. Do what you can in you church or mosque.
Businesses also have a role to play; they can make financial contributions to community-based organizations providing services to Ebola survivors.
Civil society also has a role to play in this effort. Youth groups, women’s groups, traditional elders, and all of the civil society must stand squarely with our brethren who have survived Ebola. Our collective voice must preach a message of acceptance and inclusion.
Together, we can guarantee a healthy future for all Liberians.

For a healthy Liberia,
Peter Paye

The (Better) Way to Form a Christian Nation

There is a particularly disturbing paradox in Liberian society, one that has co-existed with the republic since prior to independence. On the one hand, Liberians love their faith, especially the Christian faith; on the other hand, Liberians also love their transgressions. The people who complain about government corruption are the same people who honor corrupt government officials with elaborate pageantry on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day ceremonies. Right now, across the land, churches are preparing for this year’s four-to-five-hour long celebrations of unrighteousness.

You can search from now to eternity and you will find a proposal from the church for poverty alleviation, though the majority of their constituents struggle mightily with poverty. Liberians inordinately suffer from poor health – with rising levels of chronic diseases – diabetes, heart disease and stroke constitute a triple threat. Does the church have a plan to address these issues?

Consider how much time we spend at wakes and funerals and repasses. Death inhabits our land with a choke hold.

The church speaks with a muffled voice because her iniquities keep her timid. Statements of condemnation against political corruption and social disarray are anemic at best.

It is in this context that independent and mainline churches have forged a partnership to advocate for a Christian nation. The goal is to amend the constitution and statutorily declare Liberia a Christian nation. Of course, no one will provide lucid explications of what a “Christian nation” would look like.

Christianity on paper!

It seems innocuous enough, and I am sure the proponents are energized by good intentions, but no single action would do greater damage to the church and the republic than this myopic, uninformed, and unspiritual attempt to dilute the Christian faith. Look forward to a meaningless, powerless, and tasteless Christianity in a few decades.

A Christian nation formed by a constitutional amendment will lead to a greying of the faith. We will end up with a faith that is neither bright nor dark, a shadow – what New York Times’ Ross Douthat calls a “Christian penumbra”. Christianity in Liberia under the “Christian nation” paradigm will be less of a belief system, and degenerate into a social club – something to belong to, a place to find friends, business associates, and potential mates.

Prayer and scripture will diminish in value and practice. The faith will further weaken over time and a messy Christian-ish residue is all we will have left for future generations.

The Christian faith isn’t about where you are born – it is about being born again. It is about active, vibrant participation in community, not mere affiliation or nominal belief.

So, we can form a Christian nation, but not through constitutional provision – “not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit says the Lord. The power of the constitution is too weak to form a Christian nation.

The church needs to do two things to properly form a legitimate Christian nation, one that is enduring and honors our Lord.

First, make disciples. By making disciple, the church transforms believers in to devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and gives them the tools and skills to replicate themselves among their families, friends and associate. Now, multiply those people in every village, town, and city in Liberia in the next few years and you will have a true Christian nation.

Second, multiply healthy churches. Instead of the pathetic, money-loving, prosperity-preaching iniquity-hugging, shameful caricature that currently exists, let’s determine to plant healthy, Jesus-serving prayer-loving, righteousness-seeking churches. Watch and see the difference when we do just that.

The Inestimable Value of Speech

Free speech is an inalienable right assigned to mankind by their Creator. It is not a gift from our parents or our communities. It is most certainly not an endowment from the government, whose sacred duty it is to protect any God’s bequest of free speech to humanity. There is a need, however, to balance the palpable tension between the exercise of a citizen’s right to free speech and the public’s right to protection. I contend that society should always bend toward protection of free speech at all cost.

Yet, like everything in life, speech has its limits; in fact, those limits exist to protect all of us. We engage in great disservice to one another when we neglect those confines. As U.S Chief Justice John Roberts opined in a recent majority decision, speech can cause harm; it can and does hurt, wound, and damage, and our law should not pretend otherwise. Our constitutional commitment to free speech does not mean that speakers, thinkers, and writers have an absolute license.

Because of its inherent potential to cause harm, speech must exist within limits. Writing recently in the Boston Globe, Harvard professor Steven Pinker delineated the acceptable limits of speech, stating, “That is why we carve out exceptions for fraud, libel, extortion, divulging military secrets, and incitement to imminent lawless action. But these exceptions must be strictly delineated and individually justified; they cannot be an excuse to treat speech as one fungible good among many”.

It is our sacred duty as a democratic society to protect the most offensive, vile, vulgar, intimidating, repulsive, and unpalatable speech. It is the speech that angers us, the speech that hurts more than “ma cuss” – because ma cuss hurts more than “pa cuss” – it is that speech that stands in need of greater, vigilant protection. Speech that scares the living daylight out of us is the speech that stands in need of our best defense measures.

Speech is as divinely-bestowed as the air we breathe. Consequently, it demands our loyal allegiance and devoted stewardship.

Speech, free speech, is a fundamental right — one which, though not absolute, should be abrogated only in carefully circumscribed cases.

I can think of many reasons why speech is such a fundamental right in our democracy. For our purposes in this post, let’s consider three cardinal reasons. The first reason is that speech is indispensable for exchanging and evaluating ideas. And ideas are important building blocks for any successful society. Imagine for a moment what happens to the society that does not encourage the proliferation of ideas; such society has little prospect for prosperity and peace. I bet you would concede that Liberia has not been a society of ideas, at least not the kinds of ideas that move a civilized people forward. Speech, then, provides the ecology for ideas to be nourished and to flourish.

Second, speech is the best antidote to a so-say-one-so-say-all society. It is always best to encourage a plurality of voices because no one person has all the answers for society’s problems. Imagine a Liberia where oracles, soothsayers, prophets, pastors, medicine men, visionaries, imams, or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which the rest of us would be foolish, indeed criminal, to question. That is not the Liberia any of us would want to call home. In fact, the Liberian parable, “Two heads are better than one” explicitly argues for plurality of voices in public and private discourse.

A third reason that free speech is foundational to human flourishing is that it is essential to democracy and a bulwark against tyranny. How did the monstrous regimes of the 20th century gain and hold power? They squelched speech; they silenced their critics and adversaries. In fact, one of the proven weapons in the arsenals of totalitarians is the ability to not only silence but also criminalized any dissenting speech. There is a plethora of evidence in Liberian history for the suppression of speech. We cannot return to the dark days of anti-democratic practices that set the stage for the type of mayhem that commenced on December 24, 1989.

The national security argument is too often a decoy employed to suppress speech that is considered unpalatable or unfavorable to the powers that be. In fact, a society is secured to the extent that it values and protects free speech because the suppression of speech gives occasion for gossips, innuendos, misinformation, guesses, and as we say in Liberia, “They say.” An environment in which any of the aforementioned thrives is insecure and ripe for discontent.

Unfortunately, speech is too often viewed as an accelerant that ferments social unrest. It is rather the suppression of speech that agitates negative emotions. Speech is so integral to our national success and well-being that we have an obligation to safeguard, preserve, and defend it.

Imagine for a moment a Liberia in which speech did not exist, a place where no one spoke a single world. Imagine if we were all “gbo-gbos”, unable to communicate through the power of words and spoken language. How bizarre!

When we and our children cannot speak, we will not be able to think; when we cannot think, we will not innovate; when we fail to innovate, our economy incurs the consequences – it does not grow. We will be perpetually under-resourced and cannot meet the needs of our people. But as we exercise our right to free speech, be mindful that to whom much given, much is expected. Let’s speak freely with what the Creator has endowed us with, but not in a way that destroys the lives and country we either seek to change and preserve.

Your friend,

Turning the Unimaginable into Routine Realities

My hometown NBA team, the Atlanta Hawks, are currently on an unimaginable roll this season. A recent tour of the West coast saw three wins and zero defeat. The Hawks have swept the Clippers this season, defeated the Cavaliers, the Heat, The Nuggets, the Spurs – just about every legacy team has fallen to the Atlanta Hawks. In fact, as I write this Saturday morning, the Hawks won their 15th straight game last night, and impressive win over the talented Oklahoma Thunder. The Hawks are number 1 in the Eastern Conference. Unimaginable! Everything the Hawks have achieved this season was unimaginable at the beginning of the season! It is not by luck or chance; something change – a radical change in culture and attitude explains the Hawks’ winning spree.
The Hawks’ success has me thinking about Mama Liberia, a land that excels in mediocrity – a land with rehearsed expertise in failure. Liberia is a land of “unimaginables”. It seems unimaginable to offer quality, basic education to our children; it seems unimaginable to offer adequate primary health care; it seems unimaginable to correct the vices that are unquestionably evident in every sphere of the Land. These vices continue to deter Mama Liberia from making the necessary strides needed to make needed progress.
So, how do we depart from this reality of “unimaginables”? How do we position ourselves so that our dear patrimony turns the “unimaginables” into routine policy victories? I have a few humble thoughts to offer.
First, it is about leadership – leadership that inspires excellence. I mean the kind of leadership that sets expectations and demands results; the kind of leadership that inspires a team to succeed; the kind of leadership that holds people accountable for the absence of effort. Such is the leadership the Hawks possess, and such is the leadership that continues to evade Mama Liberia. Oh, and I am not just talking about executive leadership. The dearth of leadership in our country is seen in our towns, clans, districts, and counties; it is seen in our schools and faith communities; it is seen in civil society as well.
Second, we need a strong, committed team that supports the leader’s vision – a team that has a mixture of thinkers and doers. We need a team with a can-do, no-excuses, failure-is-not-an-option disposition. Anything less and victory will continue to elude us. The Hawks do not have a single “superstar” but, as a team, they have defeated every star-studded team in the NBA this season. Liberia needs a team that is tired of failure and desperately wants to win for the Liberian people.
Third, we need leadership and team that lead with policy prescriptions built on data. The time for “by-heart” policy is long over. In the 21st century, Liberian cannot afford any public policy not substantiated by data. Management by data ought to be the norm.
Finally, citizen participation is indispensable to moving to the country forward. In fact, it is an important constituent of our democracy. Citizen participation involves volunteerism and self-help initiatives in our communities. Citizens who patch potholes do their part to move the nation forward. Citizens who plug a leaking roof on their local school also contribute to our forward march.
Together, we can turn the unimaginable into routine realities, and allow Liberia to claim her true heritage. In union strong, success is sure!

Your friend,