From the day I entered elementary school, (I am tempted to say pre-k, but I don’t want to stretch it), I was always reminded of July 26, as Liberia’s Independence Day. On this day in 1847, we Liberians were told that our country was founded by “freed black slaves” from the United States.
Unfortunately, the minority freed black slaves from the United States did not treat us, indigenous Liberians as humans. They enslaved the majority indigenous population for over a century until 1980, when the killing of a president by some members of the military ended their one-party monopoly of state power.
However, from jr., high (middle) school on to the 12th grade, Liberians in general were always told to celebrate this day, and celebrated it with fervor.
Celebrating July 26 also meant joining other students nationwide to parade or drill many miles in the streets before government officials and other important people.
Often times we marched rhythmically to the sounds of a band or no band at all in a coordinated move that allowed our marching leader to say “I – right.”
That coordinated movement of footsteps towards the designated finished line allowed the frontline student drill leader to march in the direction of the line before government officials and say those magical words, “I-Right” to thunderous applause or boos, if the individual misses the line or gets his right foot on the line with precision and style.
That part of the day was the most anticipated because it allowed us to celebrate the “I-Right” ritual and have fun on empty stomachs, even as we got ready for the main program of the day, listening to boring and empty speeches by government officials and non-government officials.
Students in my day did not care anything about the speeches given on this day either, but preferred hanging out with friends to drink alcohol or smoke dope, and were missing in action immediately after the mandated parade was over.
Other than marching to a band in Liberia’s hot or rainy weather to say “I-Right,” we students also naively anticipated this day not because of patriotism or because we really care about the meaning of July 26, but because the national occasion allowed some to be out of school for a day.
Since the national government did not provide transportation for students to get to the designated parade routes, students had to fight their individual way on to commercial buses or taxis to get home at the end of the national ceremony.
Often times, many (students) had no bus fares, and had to jump out of vehicles to make a quick run home after the vehicle made a stop to drop off a passenger. Often times, it was the student and the “car boy” (the fellow collecting the bus fares sitting at the end of the bus) fighting it out in some back alley for the fare owed the bus owner or bus driver.
That’s Liberia; a country that hasn’t changed a bit since my school days there, except that it has a new leader at the throne who has since repeated the bad and visionless policies of her predecessors that made life unbearable and extremely difficult for Liberians of this generation.
Throughout the years, however, it has been about giving speeches on this day – speeches sanctioned by a national government interested only in empty speeches with no significance, except that the speech often showcased the speech giver’s oratorical and intellectual prowess, which doesn’t put a meal on the table of a Liberian, or pay a bus fare for a student to go to school for a day.
Another troubling thing about this day is the process that selects the national guest orator. As usual, the powerful President of Liberia makes the decision unilaterally, which hurts the democratic process.
The question is, why not turn the selection process over to a July 26 Independence Day Committee? Why continue to gave the President of Liberia so much unilateral power?
Since this day is about Liberia and the people of Liberia, the most patriotic and prudent way to celebrate this day also is to make it a day to volunteer and gave back to the nation and its people.
Instead of giving speeches, which often falls on deaf ears anyway, cabinet ministers, their deputies and assistants, students and others should be dispatched to various parts of the country or community to volunteer their service for a day
These individuals should be encouraged to “own” or embrace a school for a day, mentor those kids, tutor them, teach them life and team-building skills, clean the beaches, clean the rivers, clean the waterways, clean the communities and environments, teach gardening skills, visit the prisons, visit seniors, provide assistance to the mentally disabled, volunteer in the hospitals and clinics, etc, etc., and gave back any which way the individuals can.
The annual July 26, Independence Day celebrations shouldn’t be about celebrating the President of Liberia, and shouldn’t be a day to celebrate the national guest orator’s academic achievements either. July 26 should be about Liberia, and the people of Liberia.
A reader alerted me to an error I made in this piece when I confused Independence Day, July 26, with Flag Day, August 24, the day students are required by the government to march (drill) in the streets for the occasion. I apologise for the error, but stand by the suggestions that the annual July 26 Independence Day celebration be set aside as a day to promote volunteerism and service to the nation and the Liberian people.