Friday (July 26) marks Liberia’s 166th independence anniversary. For Liberians in the United States, the celebration began Saturday with festivities on the grounds of the Liberian Embassy in Washington.
For many of those in attendance, the occasion was not only a time to celebrate, but also a time to reflect on whether 166 years of independence was worth celebrating, particularly after the nearly eight-year administration of Africa’s first-elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Jeremiah Sulunteh, Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States, said the country has made some progress under President Sirleaf in spite of many challenges.
"For me, I feel strongly believe that we have done a lot. Even though we still (have) got challenges, we have come a long way. We had an unfortunate situation where we fought years of war. We destroyed the entire fabric of the country. To rebuild takes time, and I think that there has been steady progress made, even though there are still challenges ahead. But, I feel the peace we now have to be one thing to celebrate," Sulunteh said.
Assistant Minister of Labor for the Sirleaf administration, Miateh Gonoglay, agrees that one of the challenges the government faces is high youth unemployment. But, she said this was not unique to Liberia.
"Unemployment is a critical issue, but we are doing our best to put in mechanisms in line with the president’s own broader national development agenda. We’ve been working on quick impact employment projects that will stimulate the economy. I do believe that, in the near future, we will be able to solve some of those problems, or be in the direction of solving of those problems. But, it is a tedious thing," Gonoglay said.
Veteran journalist Kenneth Best said, while there has been some improvement in infrastructure development like the rehabilitation of some roads and bridges, Liberians have been disappointed in President Sirleaf’s performance in fighting her self-declared war on corruption.
"The president herself once told the people that corruption is endemic and it’s hard to get rid of it. Unfortunately, she hasn’t done enough to fight corruption because one of the big problems is that she gave her son, Robert, a high profile position and people accused her of nepotism, which is the one thing that she criticized (former presidents) Tolbert and Doe about," Best said.
Best said that, despite the accusation of nepotism, President Sirleaf has been steadfast in her determination to keep her son in the position as head of the National Oil Company of Liberia.
Speaking last year in the Netherlands, President Sirleaf defended her decision to put her relatives in government positions. She said, “We have to place certain people close to us in positions to carry out our mandate of reform at the level of competence and honesty that is needed. There are times when you have to hire relatives, even when it’s a temporary measure, to achieve your objectives.”
Attorney and former journalist Kwame Clement, and a possible presidential candidate in the 2017 election, said Liberians have every reason to celebrate their independence because 166 years of independence is a reaffirmation of what Liberia as a country means for Africa.
But, Clement said Liberia still has a lot more to do to fulfill its development potential as a nation.
"I think it’s clear we need reconcile our people, we need to put our shoulders to the wheel, and need to do the things that matter when it comes to development, innovative approaches to health care, bringing education to the people, galvanizing the entire country, and instituting a national bias in favor of education. May be some of these things are easier said than done, but the work has to be done," Clement said.
Liberians danced to the music of local Liberian musician Friday the Cell Phone Man and ate a variety of their national cuisines.