OPINION: Liberia is celebrating the bicentennial of the arrival of a band of freed slaves on the West African coast that established this country under a so-called philanthropy called the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1822. The official representative of the American government at the official launch said the ACS initiative was a racist experiment – that was all; but no bicentennial gift, no mini-Marshall plan for a country howbeit that bears in Africa the notoriety of being America’s love child or as Liberian say, ‘outside child’ yet grossly underdeveloped?
Admittedly a racist experiment, sadly it was not given the foundation for self-governance as colonial European powers did with their colonies hence the freed slaves quickly instituted the same discriminatory measures they suffered in the Americas against the natives resulting in a dangerously cleavage society. After over a century the surge of the natives for equal rights led to a bloody coup followed by thirteen years of civil war that ended in 2003 from which Liberia is slowly recovering.
In all its struggles Liberia has been a true child of the United States; whenever America frowns Liberia barks viciously – and most times against its own national interests. Liberia declared war against Germany in both WW I&II in solidarity with America. The merciless Germans sent a submarine that leveled Monrovia on each occasion. In 1944 the Germans could have obliterated the entire town had nature not interview with a heavy rainstorm. Quite recently Liberia has condemned Russia for the Ukraine war and sponsored all Resolutions against Russia at the United Nations; and at the same time this year at the United Nations Liberia joined fifty western countries, the only African country, in condemning China human rights records in a joint statement. As a direct result there is a slowing down of China’s development aid, for example the two overpasses at the Ministerial Complex and the SKD Boulevard Junction are reportedly stalled.
Liberia’s commitment to locking ranks behind the United States at all times is legendary: from fostering the Monrovia club of nations view against Nkrumah’s one African government proposal to the cold war Liberia has been a faithful child. The Dan proverb says when the young deer is grown the mother cannot die in any trap and so during the cold war Liberia strengthened the United States by generously hosting the Omega Satellite stations and the Voice of America radio station which were crucial assets for the America in its epic global struggle for control of the world order with the defunct Soviet Union.
Surprisingly while the Europeans received the equivalent today of 184.7 billion dollars in 1948 under the Marshall Plan for their recovery Liberia received nothing despite that fact that Monrovia was severely damaged by the Germans. The stated purposes of the Marshall Plan was to help cities that were damaged by the war to rebuild, to rebuild roads and bridges and to improve farming all of which Liberia was in dire need. Of course, Monrovia, severely damaged by the German submarine attacks needed aid just like Europeans and Japanese cities; and even more so because while the Europeans and Japanese were belligerent forces in the war Liberia was merely showing love to its father, the United States by following her directive.
In the exploration of its immense natural resources Liberia granted the American Firestones a ninety-nine-year lease for a million acres of land to plant rubber. Entire communities of Bassa and Kpelle natives were forcibly expelled from their ancestral homes for this company; and as if this was not enough violations of their rights, labors were forcibly procured by the Americo-Liberians government to work without pay to set up Firestone plantation. Then too Liberia granted it richest iron ore deposit to an American led consortium call LAMCO in the 1950s.
Yet Liberia under President Sirleaf and President Weah must lobby and stand in line for Washington’s attention when others are recipients of billions in direct aid, some of these countries have very less democratic credentials and terrible human rights records too. It is astounding that Liberia is not on the list of the ten highest recipients of aid from the United States; but while groveling for attention in Washington Liberia still finds time to stalwartly stand by America on the international stage to the extent that even when the entire Africa has a consensus on a matter Liberia will still go with America on the contrary.
When will the United States realized that Liberia cannot stampede into economic growth without an American Marshall Plan for roads, bridges, electricity, health and education facilities and that piece meal approach has failed to lift its love child out of poverty? America must come to grips with the implications that its greatest aid to any Liberian government was to the military government of Sergeant Samuel Doe, one of Africa’s bloodiest dictators, between 1980 to 1990 and accept that in this new era which it helped to jump-start by its great role in ending the civil war all Liberians look to her to spark its economic growth like she did for Europe after the war.
A case in point is the Obama presidency – ironically the first black President ignored Liberia completely even on his African tours! And Liberia must meet the strident conditions to even access the millennial fund he established, conditions that the highest recipients of American aid cannot even meet and do not even have to meet.
Two hundred years after the historic landing of freed slaves fleeing terrible conditions in the United States, Liberia still has enormous infrastructure needs and needs about a few billion to complete its road network for example, and this the United States can do as a bicentennial gift in whatever form. It must be noted that Liberia did not benefit the American post-World War II recovery program, the Marshall Plan, thus Monrovia still has outstanding demand under that program too as it was destroyed in that war.
One of the greatest needs is an all-weather road network. Liberia needs a full four lanes coastal highway, the expansion of the Monrovia to Harper via Ganta highway to four lanes, the construction of the Klay Junction via Bopolu to Voinjama via Foyah highway as key access roads to accelerate its economic and food security given its enormous natural endowments. The great agriculture potentials cannot take off without roads, historically Liberia did not depend on imported rice.
What better time for United States to unleash an infrastructure aid plan for its long-suffering love child who have never quarreled even when she did not benefit the Marshall Plan in 1948 though its capitol was leveled by the Germans all because of its support to the American led war efforts?
The Americans are surely aware of how Liberians revered its guidance; every petition on any imaginable issues besides development aid in Liberia go to the American embassy, even opposition political parties march with their dissatisfactions there too! I remembered in early 1990 marching too along with late Senator David Toweh and our county leadership to inform the Americans of the commencement of brutal ethnic killings of Dan and Maah people of Nimba organized by President Doe which tragically culminated in the Lutheran Massacre on July 29,1990.
True the United States has helped in small tranches, but it’s time the Americans realized that Liberia is its lovechild, borne out of its racism yet showing unwavering loyalty and use the bicentennial celebrations to do a historic uplift as Liberia lies in abject poverty directly caused by very poor roads, healthcare, and education facilities; thus, the Americans must come bearing gift. The gift of a new way, a plan of huge infusion of guided aid money to accelerate its growth is an urgent necessity, after all a significant portion of Liberians are Americans and above all Liberia has historical ties, and continues to show commitment to America leadership on the global scene and look up to Washington in everything.
Yes, Liberia has proudly never petitioned for development aid at the US Embassy but in every corner and every village this saying is common and prevalent: “When America is ready our development problem will be solved”. And I merely see the bicentennial as the unique opportunity for the United States to do something monumental and historic: give Liberia its own bicentennial Marshall Plan gift, after all, the Liberians say, “a love child is still your child”.
Worlea-Saywah Dunah served from 2006 – 2018 as a Member of the House of Representatives of Liberia and stood down in 2017, he served as the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Head of Legislative Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. Currently a Partner at Century Law Offices in Monrovia, Liberia since 2018. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org