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 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,
Peter


Together, Let’s Imagine an Opportunity Society for Liberia

Imagine a Liberia that boasts first-class public schools with vibrant learning spaces and well-equipped educators in every corner of our great nation.

Imagine a Liberia that gives every child in every county a platform to flourish and be the very best citizen she can be.

Imagine a Liberia where everyone who needs to see a doctor can afford the visit and the care; a Liberia where pregnancy is not a death warrant and every newborn has a fighting chance at life.

Imagine a Liberia with a small, smart, and efficient government and a thriving private sector where every family can access the good-paying jobs and social investments that support a secure, middle-class life.

Imagine a Liberia where Liberians own and operate businesses, and have a bigger stake in the economy, a Liberia that actually belongs to Liberians.

Imagine a Liberia that invests significantly in Agriculture and feeds her population, and a Liberia that invests in roads, bridges and a decent airport.

Imagine a Liberia where the courts work for everyone regardless of socio-economic status, political posture, or sectarian affiliations.

Imagine a Liberia that is environmentally conscious, caring for her rain forest, her rivers and wetlands, her beautiful beaches, and her diverse animal species.

This Liberia is possible. Liberian Solutions seeks to advance policy solutions that shine a light on how we can realize this Liberia together. And the work continues in 2015.

As we begin 2015, we are committed to promoting responsible policies that strengthen Liberia’s economy one family, one student and one business at a time. Using rock-solid research, we will help shape the most important policy debates of our time.

So, what do you imagine for Liberia?


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