Embrace One Another
16 May 2012
Last Updated on 26 January 2013
-President Sirleaf UrgesLike Nelson Mandela who endured untold pains during the period of apartheid, and yet, upon ascending to the South African Presidency, entreated South Africans to embrace each other and called on his compatriots to accept the fact that despite their humiliation, all South Africans had the right to live in the country, passionately arguing that the country cannot forge ahead in the absence of genuine reconciliation, so too is President Sirleaf who endured immeasurable hardship in her struggle for good governance and freedom of expression is similarly admonishing her fellow Liberians to forget about the dark past and embrace the future with reconciliation in the center of their hearts, noting that Liberia cannot move forward when its citizens are divided; our staff writer glances through the Unification Day ceremony at the providence Island.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on the occasion marking the 51st celebration of National Unification and Integration Day on Monday, May 14, encouraged Liberians to unite as one people despite their differences in order to foster peace, unity and development in the country.
Unification and Integration Day was set aside by an act of the National Legislature in 1961 during the 27 years rule of the late President William V.S. Tubman, and is celebrated on May 14 of each year as a national holiday.
President Sirleaf highlighted that the magnitude of discrimination and deprivation of basic human rights led to the promulgation of the national unification and integration policy.
The Liberian leader stated that because of the introduction of the unification and integration policy some 51 years ago, there is today, the undisputable emergence of a new order of socio-economic and political integration and transformation by which Liberians are able to cross previous lines of division of inequality in the body politics, to foster a new and inspiring sense of common purpose and shared values.
“Today, we befittingly celebrate our right to be different without enduring previous strings of prejudice, marginalization and exclusion.
“We celebrate our difference in tribe, in gender, in religion and association knowing that we must stand together in the pursuit of the purpose of our nation,” President Sirleaf said.
She indicated that this year’s theme of celebration, “Together we stand,” is a statement that is obvious and one that Liberians have not always practiced, thus leading them to division and conflict.
“We know that there is strength and power in numbers. When everybody unites around the national table, and we work together as one, we’ll thrive,” President Sirleaf noted.
She said that celebrating national unification deepens the roots of democracy and the unhindered flow of freedoms; freedom of expression and of the press, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly and of association.
The Liberian leader however used the occasion to caution Liberians never to forget, notwithstanding their physical and other perceived differences nationally and spiritually, that they are indeed the same people.
She added: “We show the same value of citizenship and it is about time that we stand together; we stand together not only for a moment but for a life time not only for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children.”
President Sirleaf concluded her message by saying that in standing together as one people, no single group of Liberians can lay claim to Liberia and that it is a nation that belongs to all Liberians.
Former Information Minister J. Emmanuel Z. Bowier who also spoke during the occasion, recalled that since the founding of Liberia in 1822, there has always been a stumbling block keeping Liberians from truly uniting themselves as one nation and one people.
“The historical cause of deadly conflicts in Liberia, leading up to the civil war, are well-documented and need not be outlined here. But it is no secret that from 1848 to 1871, Mulatto settlers dominated power and discriminated against Black settlers and the indigenous people they met here. When Black settlers came to power in 1878, they excluded the indigenous people from meaningful participation in government,” Rev. Bowier pointed out.
He added: “It was not until 1904 that Liberian citizenship was extended to indigenous people. However, they had no right to vote at that time, and were therefore denied participation in choosing their local and national leaders.”
Rev. Bowier said, “Although a committee of seven women designed and made the Lone Star, the Liberian Flag, women were denied the right to vote, denied the right to own property or to hold political positions in government locally and nationally. Such was the time, such was the condition. When, in the 1950s, Mrs. Etta Wright served as Acting Minister of Defense for three years, she could not be admitted as a Cabinet Minister because she was a woman in a male-dominated society.”
He continued: “Professor P.G. Wolo, the first Liberian to earn a degree from Harvard University, could not become a member of the cabinet in Liberia because he was married to an indigenous woman who wore lappa, and the rest of the cabinet wives would not have a ‘lappalonian,’ as they called them in those days, associating with them at garden parties.
“To attend a garden party, in those days, you had to have ordered your dress from National Bella Hess in the United States, Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward, because you had to stand by your counterparts who wore tailcoats and top hats. Such was the situation, such was the condition,” Bowier recalled.
“Today, those things have passed. The indigenous people are not just voting, they are in the very center of everything. And if you take a roster of our National Legislature, you will find out that they constitute more than 99 percent of those in the House and the Senate,” he noted.
Information Minister Lewis G. Brown, for his part observed that in Liberia today, one needs not to come from a particular political party to serve the country, adding, “All that you have to be is a Liberian, who is qualified, ready and able to work.”
He assured Liberians throughout the country that they now have a government that is working in their interest, taking into account the difficult terrain they have traveled.
This year’s Unification and Integration Day celebration was held on the historic Providence Island near Monrovia under the auspices of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
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