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.


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 (www.bridgeinternationalacademies.com). 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.

 


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.


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?