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.

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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.


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 (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 Pathology of Power

A few days ago, His Holiness Pope Francis delivered his annual Christmas message to 300 bishops and cardinals gathered in a 16th century chapel at the Vatican. While previous Pontiffs have used the occasion to thank and praise the cardinals, the radical and truth-speaking Pope Francis chose to put his finger on the deficits that ail the leadership of the church. He listed 15 ailments, inviting the leaders to diligently search their souls, confess their sins, and seek forgiveness. Greed for power was among the Pope’s 15 ailments. Leaders who suffer the pathology of power fail to deploy power to advance opportunities for their people.

Though spoken to the curia in the Vatican, the Pope’s admonitions echoed loudly in Monrovia, Liberia. There exists an entrenched pathology of power that asphyxiates life, progress, and development in the nation. In the last two generations, Liberia’s political leaders have consistently been sub-par in dispensing the benefits of state power.

Our recent political history is replete with examples of the powerful – and those enjoying proximity to the powerful – engaging in power hoarding. This is evident in public corruption that proliferates with impunity; evident in suppression of constitutional rights; evident in impregnable, surreptitious inner circles that mislead our leaders for their personal gains.

We can enumerate a litany of consequences of the pathology of power; it is not a victimless disorder. In Liberia, victims include the countless children who receive mediocre education every day in mediocre schools; the victims are the 3,300 babies who die every year during birth or in the first 24 hours after birth, as well as the over 700 mothers who die in childbirth; the victims are the unemployed, hopeless youths who roam the streets of our cities in search of stability. Need I say more?

But it does not have to be this way. The failure to properly exercise state power can be remedied. Those who suffer this dreadful disease must confront the plague in their own hearts. Liberia deserves better. Those who possess state power now – or in the future – must embrace our better angels and seek improved quality of life for all Liberians.

Your friend,

Peter


In Union Strong

The week I have been thinking a lot about unifying principles, especially about the unifying principles that hold Liberians together. What are the unifying principles that glue us together as a nation? We hold ethnic distinctions – assigned to us by the Creator – and we have no need to be ashamed of those distinctions. We entertain a diversity of political philosophies, and that is a good thing. We even interpret our common history from varying perspectives, again not so bad, because these differences enrich our national discourse.
In spite of our diverse ethnic and philosophical idiosyncrasies, I believe there’s a need for some unifying principles, foundational truths that glue together the fabric of Mama Liberia. The word principle can be defined as “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.” To unify is to make or become one; to unite. Consequently, unifying principles are those fundamental truths around which a people coalesce, regardless of ethnicity or political dispositions.
For example, the French people identify liberty, equality, and fraternity as their unifying principles. In the United States, the American people, regardless of racial, regional, ethnic, or sectarian difference, rally around life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, other unifying principles can be enumerated as well.
Unifying principles give a people a sense of common purpose and common destiny. Unifying principles underscores a sense of “we are in the same boat”.
So, what are Liberia’s unifying principles? Maybe it is “The love of liberty brought us here.” Yet, liberty has been in short supply throughout our 168 years of national existence.
Today, I wish to suggest five unifying principles for Liberia: democratic governance, rule of law, free market economics, individual freedom, and opportunity society.
In subsequent posts I will further develop each of these principles. In the meantime, send me your suggestions for Liberia’s unifying principles.

Your friend,
Peter