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The Impact of Oratory in National Crisis and Nation Building

By Paul Jeebah Albert     

 

As the nation gradually approaches an historic inauguration when president-elect George Oppong Weah is sworn in as Liberia’s 25th president, I begin to reflect on the life of the late Dr. William R. Tolbert, and how he used the efficacy of his eloquence during the early days of his administration to articulate a new vision for the country as Liberians yearned for change after Tubman’s 27-year rule.

A quest into the life-sketch of the late Dr. William Richard Tolbert will reveal that he was regarded as one of Africa’s most eloquent statesmen. Upon his ascendancy to power and remembering his first inaugural address, he challenged the nation to wake up from its crippling state of inaction. In an effort to build a “wholesome, functioning society” he articulated his mission through a platform of “Mats to Mattress; Total involvement for Higher Heights; and Rally Time.” Tolbert’s skills as a masterful orator and a wordsmith certainly created a new awakening and a new zeal among Liberians.

It is in the same traditional spirit that our newly elected President, George Oppong Weah, will be resuming office on January 22nd. As he grapples with the challenges of winning the hearts and inspiring hope and courage in all Liberians, this first inaugural address will be one of his defining moments. The president’s first national oratory will set the tone and create a template for how the nation will move forward.

Liberia has just experienced a very grueling election and the results reveal the bitterness, divisiveness, resentment, and frustrations of a nation that is disenchanted with the old order. The president takes over a government whose reputation is saddled with scandals of corruption; citizens’ loss of faith in their legislators and the government; food privation; lack of infrastructures; joblessness; unmitigated poverty; intractable issues of race and class division, and so forth.

The tasks before the new president are most certainly colossal and will not diminish overnight. It will take years to put Liberia on the proper trajectory. However as the commander-in-chief, the ball will be in his court to give a new impetus to the country and challenge the citizens towards a new beginning. One way forward is to use the power of being the orator-in-chief and make a convincing case to the public that even though things are like the way they are now, but Liberians have always conquered their adversities through a spirit of great resolve and unity.

And for this reason, a line must be drawn between oration and public speaking. In the “Art of Manliness,” the author wrote: “Oratory is not mere speaking, but speech that appeals to our noblest sentiments, animates our souls, stirs our passion and emotions, and inspires virtuous action. It is often at its finest when fostered during times of tragedy, pain, crisis, fear and turmoil. In these situations it serves as a light, a guide to those who cannot themselves make sense of the chaos and look to a leader to point the way.”

A very relevant excerpt also extrapolated from the “Art of Manliness” goes like this:

“…these speeches lifted hearts in dark times, gave hope in despair, refined the character of men, inspired brave feats, gave courage to the weary, honored the dead, and above all (emphasis is mine) changed the course of history.”

The annals of history is replete with the profiles of great men and women whose oratorical skills have impacted their societies and changed the course of history. During the Great Economic Depression, the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was eager to convince the nation that he was capable of bringing the economic paralysis to an end. And during his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933 he delivered the inspiring lines that elevated the spirits of his fellow compatriots and impel the nation to action. He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is recorded as an extraordinary figure in world history because of his uncanny oratorical abilities, and the great fortitude he demonstrated in championing the cause of civil rights and making the case for the improvement of the working condition of American of all walks of life.

A famous note from his memorable “I have a dream speech” delivered on August 28, 1963 says, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

Liberia and the world will be anxiously waiting to hear from our new orator-in-chief. His oratorical style, substance and impact will encompass a worthy theme. Additionally, it will appeal to the cherished ideals and values of the Liberian people – ideals of self-determination; social and economic justice; and freedom and equality for all under the law. And in an attempt to alter hearts and minds, the president will muster the courage in convincing the nation towards some lofty goals, ideas or principles.

Congratulations, Mr. President-elect George Oppong Weah on your hard- earned victory. The Liberian people have entrusted the highest office in the land into your custodianship. The tasks at hand are huge. Notwithstanding, the most supreme bully pulpit has now tilted in your favor. Your successes or failures will depend on how you use it to chart a new course for the country.

Paul Jeebah Albert lives in Spencer, North Carolina. He can be reached at albrtpaul@aol.com; ph. 704-636-7868.

 

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