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.


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 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


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