Burned With Fire - Liberia's
By! Boto K. Bradford
Published: 17 October, 2005
It can be said that the biggest disease plaguing
the nation right now is a mental one: ignorance.
And ignorance can be defined as a lack of knowledge
or the choice to ignore knowledge. And how can
one tell that a person is ignorant? By the decisions
he or she makes in life.
If you knew about fire, you would know not to
put your hand in it. But if you didn't know, you
could stand close to it, feel the heat, register
the lesson and walk away. And by the way, it warns
you-the closer you get, the hotter it feels. It
also talks: it crackles loudly. So if you still
decide to put your hand in it, then you are just
In other words, getting burned with fire is a
decision-making process. But even getting burned
could be a lesson in itself for those who did
not fear the heat. I write this way because this
is a parable Liberians can understand. After all,
we light our coal pots everyday.
So let's think of this in terms of Liberia. Let's
take the critical decision of choosing our next
president. What have we learnt in the past 15
years? Our people are still making crucial political
decisions based on ethnicity, fear and a false
sense of security. In 1980, we welcomed Samuel
K. Doe: "Country woman born soldier, Congo
woman born rogue."
Ten years later, we welcomed in Charles Taylor
whom we thought would liberate us from Doe. But
when he wreaked havoc in our nation, we decided
to pacify him in the hopes that war would end:
"You killed my ma, you killed my pa; I will
vote for you!"
There are reasons behind those slogans, the argument
has been made. From independence in 1847 up to
1980, Liberia had had non-inclusive governments
comprised mainly of the Settler elite.
The indigenous majority had been shut out. But
Samuel K. Doe, as it turned out, was not the one
to unify the nation. We found out too late that
he was not equipped with the right tools for leadership.
It turned out that his desire was born of greed
and envy, not love of country. And when he seized
power, he further divided the country by appointing
many of his
own tribesmen to p! ositions of power, whether
or not they were qualified for the jobs.
The argument behind welcoming Taylor, who had
not only killed tens of thousands of our people,
but effectively destroyed the nation's infrastructure,
was that Liberians thought that voting him into
power would end the bloodshed, disarm the combatants
and restore the peace.
But this did not happen. Instead, this terrible
decision we made gave him more time to loot the
country, terrorize the people and yes, bring more
There is an old saying that If you continue to
feed a monster fresh meat, it will never die.
Taylor had to be removed by international peacekeeping
forces, and by the personal insistence of United
President George W. Bush.
Today again, it seems as though we are going back
to the fire. It seems we have not learnt anything
and will get burned again. We are back in the
streets singing slogans: "You know book,
your country dirty!" What
is the reasoning behind this one?
Chairman C. Gyude Bryant was chosen to be our
transitional head until the winner of the recent
democratic elections was announced. During his
term, we got another look at leadership. What
did we learn?
Have we even been watching and deciding what we
want in a leader? Or are we too lazy to engage
in the thinking process?
We have had the 'book' educated and the uneducated.
Samuel Doe was uneducated; Taylor claimed to have
obtained a master's degree in Economics. But both,
one after the other, led the nation down a path
Chairman Gyude Bryant has a degree in Economics
from our very own Cuttington University. He is
by trade a businessman. But
neither Liberia's economy nor her people's quality
of life has improved. Just take a look at the
streets of Monrovia. That is why people had to
take note when the partisans of one party were
singing, "You know book, your country dirty!"
So we can surmise that it has to take more than
academic education to run a country successfully.
Education is only one wing, however indispensable,
on the Liberia Airways flight out of corruption
and mismanagement, which has always led us deeper
into the quagmire of poverty, ignorance, disease
and backwardness. But just because an educated
Makes bad decisions does not make education in
and of itself a vice.
still believe in education-otherwise we would
all stop sending our children to school. Education
in a president is good. Liberia needs a president
who is well spoken- one who is experienced in
working with the international
community on matters of social, political and
economic development and who will represent the
nation well. Even if a leader loves his or her
country to death-without the knowledge and experience
that go hand in hand with leadership, tha! t country
will be cheated out of its resources, and that
leader will have a limited ability (if any at
all) to play the international community at their
own game, on their own turf, and win.
In soccer terms, the presidential game is not
for novices-it's the World Cup, Stupid! When you
get on that field, you bring your A game and you
come to win. We need someone who has a proven
track record, who has the country at heart and
who will use his or her academic education to
develop the country.
If we do not elect such a person, we will cheat
ourselves because no nation is an island any longer.
This is a global world-a "global village."
If you go unprepared to a soccer match with Oppong,
you will lose. In the same way, if Oppong goes
to an international showdown on behalf of Liberia
unlearned and unschooled, he will lose. Liberia
In our case, we did not have to choose between
education and experience. We had to choose between
education with experience and no education, no
experience and an alleged love of country. And
what have we done to ourselves? Only God knows.
So what happens now? Is it too late, since the
elections are over? Well, there are two theories.
One is that we have already been through enough,
and perhaps the Good Lord will spare us from our
own folly. Perhaps the right leader will be elected
after all. And when we begin to see development
in every part of our country and even begin to
lead the way in Africa, then we will look back
and realize the mistake we almost made.
But God may decide that yes, we have one more
lesson yet to learn. Like Israel, God may give
us the leader we think we want, and put us through
that one more self-inflicted, painful, disastrous
and bitter lesson, until it educates us on how
to choose a leader.