Getting 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 plain stupid.

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 war.

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 States
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 of destruction.

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 person
Makes bad decisions does not make education in and of itself a vice.

We 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 will lose.

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.