Using Civil Dialogue & Civic Responsibility As Processes of Education in Liberian Democracy


Syrulwa Somah, PhD
Executive Director, Liberian History, Education and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE) Greensboro, NC


Associate Professor, Environmental Health and Occupational Safety & Health
NC A&T State University, Greensboro, NC

delivered at

Lewis Arthur Grimes Law School Palava Hut, The University of Liberia Intellectual Discourse Series
Monrovia, Liberia

May 22, 2008

Mr. Michael K. Kesselly, Executive Director, Mr. Secretary Emmanuel Charlie Morgan, and members of the Liberia Political Science Association; Mr. Tarnue Sherman, Chairman of the Political Science Department, administrators and members of the UL faculty senate; students, distinguished quests, fellow Liberians, ladies and gentlemen:

As many of you might already know, I have visited Liberia many times over the last couple of years to help implement a series of educational projects on behalf of the Liberian History, Education, and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), an organization I currently serve as executive director. In 2004, for example, LIHEDE signed a memorandum of understanding with AME Zion and AME University to commence the offering of the first bachelor’s degree program in Liberian Studies by a Liberian higher institution of learning. The AME Zion and AME University agreement was a culmination of a series of discussions I had with heads of Liberian colleges and universities, including the presidents of the University of Liberia, Cuttington University College, Don Bosco Polytechnique, the United Methodist University, about the need to establish a Liberian Studies program to educate Liberian students about the positive cultural values and norms of Liberia.

For the past four years, LIHEDE has effortlessly held conferences in the United States and Liberia on various topics of interest to the growth and development of Liberia. In 2006, LIHEDE, in collaboration with the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Liberian Ministry of Youth & Sports, and other public and private entities, hosted the first National Health Conference in post-conflict Liberia aimed at malaria prevention and control. The health conference was intended mainly to bring to the consciousness of the Liberian people and the world the magnitude of the impact of malaria on the lives of ordinary people in Liberia. During the conference, the U.S. Embassy invited officials of LIHEDE to witness the historic announcement made by President George W. Bush via satellite naming Liberia as a focused country to benefit from the President Malaria Initiative (PMI) funds.  And recently in Bomi County, Liberia and the U.S. government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, formalized agreement for disbursement of US$37.5 to Liberia under President George Bush’s President Malaria Initiative Program (PMI) at US$12.5 a year over a three-year period to combat malaria in Liberia.

The overall strategy of LIHEDE, though, is to develop an active civic society group of Liberians and friends of Liberia in the Diaspora to come up with plans and programs to assist in the implementation of the 2006 National Malaria Conference Resolution, in a bid to ensure that benefits from the PMI funds directly impact the vast majority population of Liberians who live in rural communities. And in line with this grassroots campaign LIHEDE has been holding a series of community forums across the U.S., particularly in the states of Maryland, North Carolina, and Rhode Island, to engage Liberians and friends of Liberia in those communities about the need for malaria control and prevention in Liberia. Malaria, as many of you know, affects the entire Liberian population and has been the number killer of infants and elderly people in Liberia for many years. And because these efforts are being coordinated with health authorities in Liberia, a representative of the Liberian government has always been present or actively engaged with LIHEDE in addressing the malaria pandemic in Liberia. LIHEDE has the vision and the inner fortitude to press ahead with not only efforts at malaria prevention and control in Liberia, but also to undertake other projects in Liberia, including the Liberian Studies Program cited earlier, a public malaria library project, and a malaria curriculum in Liberian schools, and so on.

Currently, though, I am in Liberia as part of a collaborative effort between LIHEDE and the Liberian Environmental Watch (LEW) to participate in LEW’s National Environmental Health Conference to coincide with commemoration of   World Earth Day in Liberia. While in Liberia, I will also address the Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden Forum hosted by the Press Union of Liberia, and the Daughters of Liberia Gathering, hosted by the Liberian Women Initiative. In addition, I will travel to Margibi County with the LIHEDE Malaria Soccer Team (Club Bassa) to continue the third phase of the LIHEDE Culture-Driven Malaria program, among other engagements. I am, nonetheless, grateful to you the officers and members of the Liberia Political Science Association for the opportunity to appear before you all at this famous Lewis Arthur Grime Palava Hut, which has been a forum for discussing pertinent national issues in Liberia for as much as I can remember for the brief time I stayed in Monrovia before traveling abroad.

Indeed, one of the pressing national issues we face in Liberia today is democracy (and its twin partner, patriotism), or better yet how to sustain our system of democracy amid mounting problems in health, education, agriculture, employment, and so forth. Hence, this morning, I want for all of us to examine our roles and responsibilities as citizens and friends of Liberia in building the kind of democracy we want in the new Liberia. First, in building or sustaining Liberian democracy, it is very important for each of us to understand what democracy means to you and to me? Second, we need to know if there are forms of democracy called Liberian democracy, French democracy, German democracy, or American democracy, or does democracy mean the same for every country in the world? Third, if we agree on a common definition or meaning of democracy, then what values do we or must we assign to our brand of democracy in Liberia to make it unique? And finally, what should be our responsibilities under a Liberian democracy?

Fellow Liberians and friends, these are some of the pertinent issues we will discuss and some of the key questions we will attempt to answer this morning on the central theme or topic: “Using Civil Dialogue & Civic Responsibility As Processes of Education in  Liberian Democracy.” However, before we begin our discussion, please permit me to digress a bit to introduce to you the distinguished individuals who graciously accepted to accompany me to this forum. I am pleased, therefore, to introduce to you Mr. Morris F. Koffa, executive director of the Liberian Environmental Watch (LEW), USA (Representative Victor Quiah); Mr. Augustus Menyongar, LIHEDE Regional Coordinator, Liberia, and Mr. George Towi-Towi Varkpeh, LIHEDE Technical Liaison, Liberia. I am also pleased to introduce Dr. Holin Carter, Sr, LIHEDE African-African-American Affairs Director, and Mrs. Henrietta White-Holder, LIHEDE New England Region Coordinator, both of whom accompanied me from the United States.

I also want to recognize the roles of Liberian students, teachers, clergymen and women, public servants, government officials, and ordinary Liberians played in the past in creating the favorable ambience or environment for the level of democracy we enjoy in the new Liberia today. Please clap for yourselves and all the people who have struggled over the years to build our democracy to the current level where it is. Indeed, I know and you know that our democracy is not perfect, but we have come a very long way as a nation and people from our first democratic experiment in 1847 to the dramatic political change in 1980, and onward to the 1985, 1997, and 2005 general elections in Liberia as part of the efforts at creating a system of democracy in Liberia that we all can be proud of. We all witnessed the difficulty of exercising our constitutional rights in Liberia for a very long time, and when we finally tasted multiparty democratic elections in 1985 for the first time, we convinced ourselves that all of us could become president of Liberia at the same time. As a result, the 1997 and 2005 elections saw almost two dozen or more people running for president. But more importantly, each time the elections commission declared a winner of the presidential race in all three national elections, the losing candidates never conceded defeat, so it became difficult for the country to move forward as suspicions always hung over the results of those elections.  And these suspicions among presidential candidates have spilled over into civil and political demonstrations in Liberia.

Indeed, I want to recognize the recent misfortunate that led to the closure of the university. And I should tell you that I feel good this morning to sit under this palaver hut with you to speak with you about democracy, patriotism and the individual responsibilities associated democracy. I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you because I really wanted to come to UL to talk to you about recent development of violent demonstration that led to the repeated closures of your beloved institution, and the arrest of Mulbah Morlue, as well as demonstration by students of the Kendejah High School using grass fire.  My brothers and sisters, I can tell you that during the last ruling Republican Party (GOP) Convention in New York, USA, more than 250,000 people demonstrated in the streets without window glasses being broken. The police did not also beat up people for demonstrating in the streets. But all public demonstrations held in Liberia since 1979 have always produced fireworks where the demonstrators and government security personnel are always clashing. In fact, for most public demonstrations held in Liberia, the demonstrators either breakdown public properties, smash car windows, or  carry out other acts far removed from the original objectives of the public demonstration, while government security personnel have yet to learn to watch the demonstrators from sidelines and execute arrests only if the demonstrators begin to destroy public property. There always seems to be suspicions everywhere and these suspicions must stop if we are to promote democracy, good governance, civil liberties, and rule of law in Liberia.

We need to ask ourselves in Liberia why more than 250,000 people can hold a peaceful public demonstration in a US city without much problem, but we in Liberia cannot hold a single demonstration of at least 100 people without trouble. Perhaps, the answer to the question is that Liberians are not educated in the practice of democracy enough to know their rights and responsibilities under a democracy. Liberians need to be educated about democracy and the whole business of peaceful public demonstration. I believe all of us in Liberia —students, teachers, labor unions, the police, and government security personnel—have to learn that peaceful public demonstration should not lead to destroying private and public properties or beating up people. Public demonstration should be about channeling legitimate public grievances to a government, school, community, or management  authority in the hope of solving a pressing problem that has the potential to  undermine the viability of the community, government, or institution, if not resolved urgently. This is what public demonstration is supposed to be in a democracy, and this is why public demonstration is different from mob action, vandalism, or police brutality. Mob action, vandalism, or police brutality only appeals to individual or group emotions and inflames a pressing situation rather than ameliorate it. Hence, what we need in Liberia is thorough education in democracy, as we can never settle our differences and disagreements through violence.

Indeed, if we must build a flourishing system of democracy in Liberia, then we must define not only what democracy means to us in Liberia, but we must also teach the fundamentals of democracy such as voting, political platform development, political party core values, political debate, electoral conflict resolution, accepting defeat at the polls, and public demonstration. I believe that if the Liberian people are educated about these basic fundamentals of democracy, then the ruling party and the opposition parties will not see and treat each other as enemies, and no public demonstrations will be held in Liberia to result in demonstrators breaking windows and the police beating demonstrators.

Now, the big question is: How do we teach democracy in Liberia to avoid unnecessary conflict? Mind you, I deliberately used the phrase “unnecessary conflict” to warn you that no democracy is free of conflicts, although conflict is not necessarily the preoccupation of peaceful demonstrations and elections in a democracy.  In fact, in the U.S. and other western democracies, public demonstrations are held regularly, and demonstrators are usually arrested by police and taken to court if they break the law in the process of demonstrating (i.e. fighting the police or destroying public or private property). But the police does not beat up and arrest demonstrators simply because they are carrying placards or making statements in public that the people in power do not like. And this is the point at which the system of democracy in Liberia has yet to develop. In other words, democracy imposes certain rights and responsibilities on both the Liberian government and Liberian citizens which both must take the time to learn if we are to develop the kind of pluralistic multiparty democracy we say we want in the new Liberia.

 Defining Liberian Democracy and Processes of Education in Democracy

By the way, if we say we want multiparty democracy in Liberia, what does that mean? Do we develop our own system of Liberian democracy, or do we copy the American system of democracy? Okay, let us agree that we want to develop a Liberian democracy, then what should Liberian democracy look like? What should be the core values of Liberian democracy? What should be the rights and responsibilities of the Liberian government and people under a Liberian democracy? These are some of the pertinent questions that we must ask ourselves as Liberians interested in the practice of democracy in our homeland. We should not take for granted that democracy is democracy because democracy varies from country to country, as US democracy is different from British democracy, and French democracy is different from both British and American democracies. Therefore, Liberian Democracy, as we want it or see it, should be taught in Liberian schools, from grade school to college, with the commitment in  time, intensity, and sincerity with which we teach  French, English, geography, and science and other subjects in Liberian schools. Liberian democracy should not only be taught as an academic subject in Liberian schools, but also Liberian students should be encouraged to practice Liberian democracy through student council elections, issue debates, and community service.

My sisters and brothers, we cannot develop a Liberian democracy without working hard at it. Our concept of Liberian democracy must be translated into the national languages of Liberia and taught to our people so they can know what do in cases of elections or public demonstrations. Every Liberian man, woman, or child must be taught the dos and don’ts of Liberian democracy, and Liberian politicians or political office aspirants and their political parties must be trained in Liberian democracy by attending or hosting quarterly workshops on Liberian democracy in the wake of any scheduled national elections in Liberia. Indeed, I believe that if Liberian democracy is a structure meant to reflect and support the aspirations of the Liberian people, then the process or structure requires active engagement of the Liberian people to keep it alive. We in Liberia ought to realize that no one form of democracy fits all cultures, so we need to develop and promote Liberian democracy by educating ourselves to the basic functions of Liberian democracy. And because we Liberians have not taught our democracy nor patriotism but suppressed it since our foundation, we continued to blame our failure on things like ethnicity when ethnicity only remains a source of our material and cultural richness and showcases our diversity as a nation and people.
Fellow Liberians, we, as Liberians, have not done a good job in designing the form of democracy or governance structure that fits our culture and teaching it to ourselves and future generation of Liberians. As a result, we now exist in the world like a big balloon being pushed around by every nation that gives us penny, by telling us to undo ourselves and our culture and be like them. And we have bought into this idea so much so that if we have any national elections in Liberia, we are never satisfied with the results unless some so-called “international observers” tell us who has won. Yet, when these countries are having their own national elections, they do not invite us to watch their elections. But even if they do, they do not rely on Liberians to tell them the results of their elections. We seemed to believe in Liberia that all national elections have a single formula, even though the electoral processes in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Germany, Israel, and India are not the same, nor do they have the same form of governance structure. Unlike Liberia with less than four million people but went to war twice in 23 years (1985-2003) over results of our national elections, India, with over one billion people is known as the “largest democracy” in the world in that India has installed twelve prime ministers in its history and at no point did the armed forces of India or ragtag militia groups intervene to overturn the elections results by plunging their country into a protracted civil war as we did in Liberia.

And the difference between Liberia and India is that India has clearly defined values and principles of its democracy, whereas we do not have any clearly defined values and principles of Liberian democracy, if at all we have something called Liberian democracy. Unlike India, we in Liberia have yet to accept the values of our democracy, in that we do not know what to do and what to expect in our democracy as a matter of our rights and responsibilities. In Liberia we try to be everything to every nation. We want to carbon copy American, German, Japanese, Chinese, and French democracy at once without looking at these forms of democracy to cutting out the one that best fits the socioeconomic and political conditions and aspirations of our society and teach the selected concept to our people. But nothing in a democracy works out like a love movie script in which everybody lives happily ever after. A democracy should uphold certain traditional elements—political, social institutions, arts, belief systems, etc.—that underpin the survival of the people. And to create lasting social change, our nation must have political structures in place that help all of us to preserve and promote Liberian democracy. We must realize that democracy, as a form of government, has universal values of good governance with attached elements of respect for human life, rule of law, and freedom of press and expression for all embedded in it. Liberian democracy must therefore seek to apply these universal principles of democracy within the context of Liberian cultural values rather than attempt to carbon copy how democracy is practiced in other countries.

Training and Education in Liberian Democracy

So far, I have spoken about the need to design a system of democracy in Liberia that is directly linked to the cultural values of Liberia. I have said that in order for the Liberian people to fully participate in the democratic system in Liberia, the people must first be educated about their rights and responsibilities under Liberian democracy. But, then, what are some of the means by which the people can be educated about Liberian democracy and what are the concepts underpinning such system of education? Well, this is something we will explore shortly. But first, I want to remind you that democracy, whether Liberian democracy or American democracy, is like a plant that needs and relies on soil, fertilizer, water, and a gardener in order to grow. In other words, no democracy can flourish without clearly defined core values backed by a system of education to transmit those core values to people who are direct beneficiaries of that democracy.

Hence, John J. Patrick, a professor of education at Indiana University in the U.S. declared in a paper in 2003 that the core values of education for democracy include “civic knowledge, cognitive civic skills, participatory civic skills, civic dispositions” (Patrick 2003). He added: “The four components of education for democracy are congruent with teaching and learning the core concepts by which we define, compare, and evaluate democratic and none-democratic governments.  Effective education for citizenship in a democracy dynamically connects the four components of civic knowledge, cognitive civic skills, participatory civic skills, and civic dispositions.  Effective teaching and learning of civic knowledge, for example, require that it be connected to civic skills and dispositions in various kinds of activities. Elevation of one component over the other—for example, civic knowledge over skills or vice-versa—is a pedagogical flaw that impedes civic learning.  Thus, teachers should combine core content and the processes by which students develop skills and dispositions” (Patrick 2003).
Well, Professor Patrick has laid out the case for us that an informed and active citizen participation in any democracy, whether Liberian democracy or American democracy, is essential for the development, growth, and sustainability of that democracy. In essence, there are certain things about Liberian democracy that the citizens ought to know if they are expected to actively participate in local and national elections in Liberia, and join political parties or civil groups in Liberia. After all Liberia, with a tiny population of fewer than four million people not only had 22 political parties participating in the last national elections. But more important each time any individual or group of individuals hold or express a different point of view or opinion from the position taken by the government, a rival political party, or social group, that person automatically becomes “dead meat” as the government or the opposing party will do everything to discredit that person in public. We should not have any form of democracy in Liberia where people are not free to express themselves on local and national issues for fear of being the target of smear campaigns, insults, and outright character assassination.
Over the next two decades or so in Liberia, we are going to see an enormous challenge to the value systems of the past, being replaced by the new value systems of globalization and the new information age. I believe that the pendulum toward multiparty democracy has barely begun to swing in Liberia, so to avoid any form of future conflicts and to develop and maintain a stable and prosperous nation, there should be a direct connection between Liberian educational system and the democratic values to which Liberia subscribes. In other words, the kind of democracy we identify with and practice in Liberia must be supported by an education system that transmits the social norms, culture, and ideals of Liberian democracy from one generation of Liberians to another.  Now, let’s see how we can fit Liberian democracy in the four core areas of “civic knowledge, cognitive civic skills, participatory civic skills, civic dispositions” identified by Professor Patrick as pivotal in an education scheme aimed at generating the active participation of citizens in the democratic process in any country, including Liberia.


Civic Education

       The first area of training we need in Liberia is Civic Education. Civic education is very important now and in the future for Liberian democracy because all young Liberians, including those Liberians at the marginal ends of society, need to be taught to become knowledgeable and engaged participants in Liberian politics, community development activities, and civil rights promotion. Liberian children need to be taught the values of Liberian democracy from grade school through college for active civic engagement and to participate in conflict resolution and conflict transformation through the rule of law, election management, good governance, and the concepts of human rights monitoring and promotion.

Once we design a form of democracy in Liberia that underpins the social etiquette, cultural values, and political doctrine of Liberia, then we will have no problems in educating our people about how to organize and participate in a peaceful public demonstration to express their grievances whether at the school, government, or community level without breaking windows, and without the police and security forces beating and hurting demonstrators. The civic education component of Liberian democracy must also educate officers and members of political parties in the arts of political platform development, identification and promotion of political party core values, and inter-political party cooperation, realignment, and empowerment.
Liberian schools, with the right curriculum, can capitalize on several positive trends related to citizens’ civic education.  Our schools can help address disturbing trends and some of the ills of Liberian society, including violent demonstration, human rights abuses; lack of respect for rule of law; lack of people’s interest in political discussion and public issues; people’s political cynicism and alienation; declines in voter participation rates, and so forth.  Liberian schools can also teach about the importance of political party platforms during national elections, and what platforms should mean to Liberia in terms of national development and leadership accountability.  Through civic education about Liberian democracy, Liberians can learn to believe in Liberia just as American democracy has taught Americans to love, cherish, and defend the United States as the greatest nation on the face of the earth. And because every American child has been taught over and over about the values of American democracy, Americans remain very proud of their homeland even in the most daring of circumstances.
For example, such education in American democratic values and freedom made American professional football player Tillman to abandon a multimillion contract by voluntarily joining the U.S. army to fight in Afghanistan where he later died in battle. In essence, the civic education about American democracy has been the mainstay of the United States as a powerful and prosperous nation, as many American sons and daughters are always willing to fight and die for U.S. democratic values anywhere in the world. Now who among us in this palava hut can say for certain we are willing to die for Liberia by turning over backs on millions of dollars? Well, I think it will be difficult to find someone in this audience because values of Liberian democracy have not been taught in Liberian schools and reinforced in community life as the Americans have succeeded in doing. And this is why Liberia is in need of a vigorous civic education scheme to teach the values of Liberian democracy to all Liberians.
Civic Engagement and Civic Skills

As with civic education, no democracy can survive if there is no civic engagement. Civic engagement is like the drive shaft unto the car engine.  It sets everything in motion, but unless one is trained to drive a car one cannot get in a car and begin to drive safely. Hence, without civic education, civic engagements by citizens unfamiliar with the core values of Liberian democracy will be like an untrained driver jumping in a car and proceeding to steer the wheels of a car, check car’s brake system, and perform other basic driving functions. Of course, such an untrained driver is bound to crash the car anytime. And such is the nature of politics in Liberia, especially elections, where everyone seems to operate like an untrained driver. And this one reason why we have so many political problems in Liberia because we have a bunch of politicians and political party members who are clueless about what their rights and responsibilities are under Liberian democracy. Yet we expected our people to drive our vehicles of democracy to safety when they have not been trained in the democratic values of Liberia. In other words, civic engagement entails disciplinary transformations in upholding the public good within the context of the democratic values of Liberia.  Hence, Liberia needs to take a conscious, long-term planning and well funded education in the social, cultural, and political lives of the people if active civic engagement in the Liberian democratic process is what we hope to see in Liberia on the road to building a sustainable system of multiparty democracy.

Brothers and sisters, civic skills do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger set of ideas about what is believed to be necessary for citizens to be engaged in our Liberian democratic life. The notion that in addition to knowledge some types of “skills” are required in order to effectively participate in Liberian democratic process makes sense. Education will make our people to engage in public debates about Liberian democracy and the steps that ought to be taken to sustain our form of democracy. Civic engagement will also enable the Liberian people to develop and apply social, analytical, and advocacy skills that are the prerequisite for thoughtful participation in local, community, and national issues as citizens of Liberia. 

Participatory Civic Skills
Democracy is like a soccer team with lot of talented players. In order for the team to win, all the players must know the purpose of each position on the team, play together as a team, train together as a team, and know the dos and don’ts rules of the soccer game. My point here is that in Liberia we have not done the same playing together as a team so when we get on the political playing field everybody seems to be purposelessly running all over the place hoping to score a winning goal. But this is not how any game is played, even a political game. To succeed in the political game, politicians must learn to train together as a team and teach one another how to play the political game by the rules of the game. There is no other way. And this brings me to my other point which is that for our democracy to succeed the intellectual and participatory civic skills of the Liberian people—politicians and non-politicians—must be developed in line with the rules of democracy as defined in Liberia. The Liberian people must be taught the skills and rules of political debate, political demonstration without violence, and how to accept defeat at the polls without becoming rebels or engaging in character assassination of political oppositions. We need to launch “partisan education” and “vocal or loyal opposition” awareness programs in Liberia as part of building participatory civic skills of Liberians in Liberian democracy. We need to build in Liberia standing national political institutions and political parties that do not revolve around the wishes of one individual or cult personality.
Liberian democracy must transcend the wishes of any single individual whether or not that individual is head of state or head of a political party, civil society group, religious group, or community group. No serious political party in Liberia should worship its standard bearer to the extent that the life or death of the political party is tied directly to the wishes of the standard bearer. This sort of thing, my friends, is the very cult personality that has made it impossible to sustain a vibrant system of democracy in Liberia. The roles of partisanship and vocal or loyal opposition and critics should be welcomed without a ruling party partisan and a vocal opposition party member seeing each other as mortal enemies. This sort of unnecessary infighting between opposition party partisans and ruling party partisans in Liberia must stop if the country must move forward with building a system of democracy in which every Liberian is free to express himself or herself without being branded enemy of the state.
We cannot claim to value freedom of speech and assembly in Liberian democracy at the same time that the police or army is usually called upon to forcibly disburse or beat people up for expressing their views on particular issues in society through public demonstrations. Indeed, it is irony that Liberians had one of the most peaceful elections in African and the world in 2005, yet Liberians still do not know how to demonstrate in public without violence or confrontation. The government is usually uneasy about public demonstrations that are critical of the government, while the public demonstrators are known not to hold a peaceful demonstration without destroying or attempting to destroy public or private properties. Well, both the government and organizers of public demonstrations must come to grips with the facts that vocal opposition and peaceful demonstrations are major hallmarks of any democracy, so the two groups must learn to respect the rules of Liberian democracy if the rules are available and known to all participants. Otherwise, steps must be taken to educate the Liberian people—students, teachers, community leaders, government leaders, and ordinary citizens—about the rules of Liberian democracy so everyone can know the extent of his or her rights and responsibilities under Liberian democracy.  In fact, if by the time a student graduates from high school in Liberia he or she is well versed in Liberian government operations and politics or “democracy,” there will be less need for the continuing confrontation between government and demonstrators in Liberia. 
In other words, a well-informed Liberian citizen with the necessary participatory civic skills will be in the position to monitor and influence public and civic life by working with others, clearly articulating ideas and interests, building coalitions, seeking consensus, negotiating compromise, and managing conflict that need not always turn our government against the people. These civic skills will help our people to identify, describe, explain, and analyze information and arguments, as well as evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues of national development and political decision-making. Hence, the new knowledge or intellectual skills developed through participatory civic skills will enable Liberians to learn and apply civic knowledge in their many and varied roles as citizens in confronting and coping with the many daily political challenges in a constitutional democracy like Liberian democracy.
Liberian democracy must be clear about the role of citizens in the democracy. For example, if our democracy say people should not talk back to the president or demonstrate against the president’s policies and programs in public, then the Liberian people must be taught that provision of our democracy in our school, so by the time the child gets old enough to enter politics, he or she would have been well familiar with that provision, both in practice and in logic. In essence, the rights and responsibilities of each Liberian citizen under Liberian democracy must be taught in Liberian schools and community centers, in order to prepare the Liberian people for full participation in Liberian democracy without any unnecessary tensions between the government and would-be demonstrators or opposition politicians. For too long the Liberian people have been deliberately excluded from sharing power and participating in the Liberian political process such that the entire Liberian nation and people have sunk into a state of ignorance, apathy, and a babel of arguing voices.  We need to reverse this trend in Liberia if our nation must prosper. Vocal opposition or civil participation in Liberian democracy must be encouraged and not discouraged in Liberia. The government must take steps to demystify public demonstrations and critical points of view. And if vocal opposition and public demonstrations are not part of Liberian democracy, then the Liberian people must be educated about the limitations of Liberian democracy so as not to claim rights they do not have.

Civic Dispositions

The fourth aspect of the four core values or components of education for democracy is civic dispositions. By civic dispositions, we mean the intrinsic or unique value on which a particular system of democracy is based. For example, we cannot talk about Liberian democracy without knowing or defining its core value. Now, let me turn to a passage in the Christian Holy Bible as way of illustrating this point about civic dispositions. In Proverb 22:6, it is written: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it." This passage, of course, can be interpreted to mean if Liberian democracy must be planted in the sanctum of each and every Liberian heart to become a habit, then Liberian democracy must be sustained and respected by all Liberians. In other words, when something becomes a habit, it can be easily seen in the act or action of people, whether in sporting events, social events, books, theater plays, movies, television programs, and radio scripts. For example, in the US, every child is taught to believe that the US is the greatest nation in the world. To young and old Americans, no other nation is better than US and that the US form of government is the best anywhere in the world, even if non-Americans felt otherwise. But every American—old or young—has been taught to believe in American democracy as representing the best that mankind can produce, and also trained to be willing to die to protect and defend American democracy. And very recently, a seven year old little boy’s father had died in the war in Afghanistan, and the child was left with his mother to take care of him. However, when the little boy was asked in an interview if he missed his father and if he taught his dad died for a good cause, not only did the little boy say his father died for a good cause, but also he said that when he grew up he would join the military like his father in the defense of freedom.
Okay, can any one of you in this audience raise your hand and state truthfully that you will make the same statement as that little boy if you found yourself in identical situation? Well, maybe, but I doubt it seriously! I believe that because we have not been taught the values of Liberian democracy either as children or as adults, we have no true commitment to Liberia that will make us willing to die for Liberia without any dangers to our lives and the lives of our families and friends. And this is the level of civic dispositions that we do not have in Liberia, and this is why the government thinks it can beat up demonstrators with impunity, and this is why demonstrators think looting and destroying public and private properties are marks of a successful public demonstration. Indeed, we have a fundamental problem of mistrust, confusion, and violence on our hands in Liberia, if steps are not taken to educate Liberians about the values of Liberian democracy and the corresponding rights and responsibilities of Liberians under Liberian democracy. 
As we saw from the story of the seven-year-old American boy, Americans go to great length to teach each American child the core value of American democracy—freedom—such that every American is willing to give his or her life at anytime in defense of American freedom and democracy. Each Liberian man, woman, or child must be taught to become an independent member of society, to respect the individual worth and human dignity of each other, to assume the personal, political, and economic responsibilities of a citizen, to participate in civic affairs in an informed, thoughtful, and effective manner, and to promote the healthy functioning of the kind of Liberian democracy we want. In other words, Liberians must be trained in the kind of civic dispositions that pervade all aspects of Liberian citizenship. My friends, brothers, and sisters, the rights and responsibilities of each Liberian under Liberian democracy must be taught in order to help sustain and advance the ideals of the Liberian body polity by creating a strong civil society that will hold the government and the private sectors of our society accountable in every respect. And unquestionably, knowledge and skills are building blocks for true civic engagement in our democratic process, so the Liberian educational system must be redesigned to educate Liberians about the core values of Liberian democracy, with direct help from the families, ethnic groups, colleges and universities, religious organizations, NGOs, voluntary associations, and community leaders.


Indeed, because the acquisition of knowledge and skills and the development of civic dispositions are likely to take place within a variety of contexts, including the homes, schools, communities, and counties, we must diligently strive in Liberia to educate our people to acquire the requisite knowledge and skill sets necessary to actively participate in elections, voting, public demonstrations, and political debates without creating mortal enemies of one another.  First, we need to consider or define “What is Liberian democracy?” “What are the core values of Liberian democracy?” “How can every Liberian agree to respect, defend, and die for the core values of Liberian democracy?” “What are some of the things that may constitute violation of the core values of Liberian democracy?” “What are the penalties for violating the core values of Liberian democracy?” “What are the core steps in becoming a patriotic Liberian?” My point here is for you and me to define Liberian democratic core values and teach those core values to ourselves and our children so that when we grow up we do not depart from them or not allow one person to undermine our core values and go free.

I am totally convinced, fellow Liberians, that if we need peace, health, agriculture, technocrats, and a democratically conscious and peaceful Liberia, then we need to equip our schools to teach not only the values of Liberian democracy, but also to address the cognitive aspects of good citizenship—civic and political knowledge and related skills such as critical thinking and deliberation that are non-violent and non-confrontational. If we do not want our arguments about politics and disagreements over national policies and programs to lead to abuse of one another, fist fights, military coups, and invasions, and outright civil war, then we must go to our school communities to teach the core values of Liberian democracy because the schools are the nurturing grounds for young Liberians who are likely to become the future leaders of Liberia tomorrow. As a result, the schools remain the best avenue for promoting the core values of Liberian democracy so that today’s students and tomorrow’s future leaders of Liberia can learn to interact, argue, and work together with others to cement  the  important foundation for future citizenship tolerant of political oppositions, public demonstrations, and critical points of view from people across society. A sound education in the core values of Liberian democracy will promote the kind of civic beliefs, civic character, and civic involvement that are absent in Liberian society today. Students must be taught to coexist peacefully and efficiently with others in a democratic society by engaging in civil activities such as regular reading of newspapers, books, and magazines; by training in voting and mock conventions, by meeting with and establishing contacts with public officials, and by participating in school and community-based service learning activities. From our gathering at this famous  palava hut and defining moment in our history, let us now build a platform of Liberian democracy that we can all stand on, at once, and contentedly -- proudly singing out “All hail, Liberia, hail! (All hail!)” in chorus, its unison so unmistakable and commanding that no full throated voice, no “cold water”, no samba beats, no oratorical tower, no showmanship will be able to silent the echo of the truth.  

And, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, friends of Liberia, for the good of all of us, for the love of this great nation and our unborn generation, please think of this -- the family of the new Liberia must think of this: If we are to succeed in this endeavor as a nation, every Liberian, whether educated or uneducated, has to be welcomed to participate in this process--how futures and democracies are built.
I thank you.


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