Rev. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, former Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, with an insight about National Unification Day:
Thank you very much. With due deference to your person and position, Madam President, members of the podium, the head of the Traditional Council, representative of the Muslim community here present, ladies and gentlemen:Today is National Unification Day, and we have come here to celebrate. Our National Anthem is crystal clear when it comes to unification. It says, “In union strong, success is sure, we cannot fail. With God above, our rights to prove, we will, over all prevail.” Our challenge, as regards national unification centers around the concept of mutual respect and appreciation for the socio-cultural realities of people outside of our immediate close circle of relationships.
Since the founding of this nation in 1822, there has always been a stumbling block keeping us from truly uniting ourselves as one nation and one people. The historical causes 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 the government.
From 1847, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, I do not need to remind you that the person who we now look up to as President, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, is not a man, but a woman! So, we have come a long way.
There was a time in this country that the young people were excluded from political participation. Young people could not vote. In fact, the first time I ever voted was last year, because when I was young I could not vote. I had not attained the age of twenty-one, and even if I had attained that age, I would not be the owner of property and therefore I could not vote. So I had to wait until I was sixty-one years old to vote in this country. Today, it has changed. Our young people can vote at the age of eighteen, and they do not have to own property to vote!
Despite all of these achievements, a voice is heard in Ducor – and for those of you who need to be reminded, Ducor refers to this place we call Monrovia. Ducor was the original name before it became the City of Christ, before we changed it to James Monroe, Monrovia. So Ducor was the name of this place called by the Kpelle people. Dubor was the name of this place called by the Bassa people. All of that refers to the Du River.
A voice is heard in Ducor. It re-echoes from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas; from Mount Nimba to the Atlantic Coast of Montserrado, Bassa and Sinoe. The voice is heard, weeping and with lamentations because Mama Liberia cannot be comforted; her children, indeed, are still divided. Despite all that we experienced, we have to admit that we are still divided. And that is why it is necessary to be reminded, over and over again, of the necessity for National Unification Day.
The person who launched this day, President Tubman, explained. Last night I went to the Official Papers of President Tubman to find out why we have Unification Day. He said that when he became President in the 1940s, in 1944, he traveled from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas. There were no road, and so people had to carry him on their heads and their shoulders, in hammocks. He said he felt bad that these people would stump their toes against rocks and stumps, scorpions and snakes would bite them. He said that sometimes they would get fed up and would throw the hammock down and run into the bushes. One time they were carrying him and they were singing, and he was interested in what they were saying, and they told him: what we are saying is that we are telling you how we are suffering; we are singing about our suffering. That touched him, and he decided that this thing has to stop. And because of that, he decided that we can no longer keep a certain group of people outside of the government.
In those days, only the coastal counties were counted – Cape Mount, Montserrado, Bassa, Sinoe, Maryland. Those were the counties. Up north, anything above 45 miles after Kakata was the rural area or what they called the hinterland. People from those places were not supposed to be seen in the Senate. They allowed them to come to the House. Some argued that these people cannot be sitting with the Legislature because they don't understand English. Tubman said, OK, I will give them interpreters. So that's how they came to the House. But they could not go to the Senate because they were not a county.
After this happened, Tubman decided and recommended to the House and Senate that the interior should become counties. And so in 1964, we had five counties and we added four more: Bong, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh. And since that time, people from those areas have been coming down to represent their own people. But Mama Liberia is still crying because we are still not united. We are still not unified as we should be.
Today, we celebrate Unification Day. And if we look among ourselves, we will find out that, basically, there is only one branch of government represented here -- one, the Executive. What happened with the rest of the people?
At least the Judiciary Branch did very well when it removed from its wall the saying that “Let justice be done to all men.” Since 2006, the Judiciary has removed the word “men,” and so now justice should be done to all. That's an improvement.
But Mama Liberia still weeps because we are not together. We cannot pretend to be together. We have been blessed that since we came out of this state of family feud that we called the civil war, God has blessed this nation to the extent that we are among those who can talk about being a potential member of the oil-producing countries of this world. But what do we do? How are we behaving ourselves? How are we planning to use our resources so that our people will benefit and so that we do not have to have any second-class citizens around here? What do we do with the young people in the streets that are demanding jobs that we are trying to arrange for them? What hope do we send out there to them?
People want to go abroad on scholarships. What programs do we have to ensure that each county in this country will get their due portion of the scholarships and that we do not have to have people coming down with goats, cows and chickens to arrange for scholarships behind the scene? What can we do with these young women that we have in the streets who want to be business women? How can we empower them with the resources we have, so that they do not have to go and do things that are not of good repute?
So, today, 2012, our challenge of national unity has to do with thinking about the small things – I don't want us to think about the big things – think about the small things that will make the common people happy. And when you do these things, you will not only have unity, you will have peace and prosperity.
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