Forum For Societal Change

How Can We Liberians Achieve Our Own “Great Leap Forward”?

I am motivated to write this article as a result of my many travels abroad in Africa and other parts of the world that have left me very troubled and depressed upon my return home after I have observed the level of development in these countries and see our own stage of development.

In this connection, I heard the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, upon her return from the African Union (A.U.) meeting in Rwanda recently, heralding the tremendous progress made by Rwanda since her last visit there.

There are five countries in Africa with recent history of civil strife, namely Liberia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. But only two of these countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone are lingering at the bottom of the development ladder, while Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Ivory Coast are making great strides in economic development. Why has this not been the case for Liberia? Even in West Africa (our own backyard), we have been overtaken by countries like Ghana and even little The Gambia. We are considered one of the poorest countries on the planet. Why?

We Liberians who are concerned about our location on the ladder of economic development must reflect on where we are now and how we intend to accelerate our pace of economic development, our own form of the “Great Leap Forward.”

I have been doing some reflection and reached the conclusion that unless we Liberians experience a revolutions of the mind that leads to positive behavioral or attitudinal changes (changing minds, changing attitudes – Larry Bropleh), our development will continue to proceed at a snail’s pace and we will continue to be left behind by other countries, as in the case of Ghana and many others. This article is intended to serve as food for thought or to provoke thoughts and generate serious discussions following the recent celebration of our 169th Independence Anniversary (after having achieved relatively less than satisfactory performance in progress and development) and as we proceed with the ensuing presidential and general elections, and consider alternative strategies to mobilize support for the pursuit of accelerated development efforts.

We hope this article will usher in the formation or the consideration of a new vision for Liberia and enable us to ponder ways to transform this vision into reality, thus transforming our society. This thought process, in my opinion, should, inter alia, involve how to go about remodeling our national psyche which will bring about a change in our mindset at all levels of society, thus making governance easier and more effective.

It is hoped that the content of the article will lead us in the direction of achieving our own form of the “Great Leap Forward.”

This article is intended to sound a wakeup call, a call to develop a national sense of purpose and good governance for speedy development and progress, or a call to form strategies for actualizing the phrase, “The Great Leap Forward,” a phrase that connotes a concerted series of actions designed to achieve economic, social, and infrastructural transformation, the all-encompassing transformation of a society from a state of backwardness to advancement in the shortest possible time. It is a phrase which originated from a series of programs initiated by the Chinese under the leadership of the late Chairman Mao Tse Tung, which was continued by Deng Xiaoping, who added a bit of capitalist flavor. This program propelled China from a backward country to the position of the second largest economy in the world today, second only to the United States. Even though this phrase originated from China, however, other countries have embarked upon their own form of Great Leaps Forward. Notable among these is Singapore, a small and backward city state, devoid of natural resources, which today is known as one of the most developed and cleanest countries in the world, thanks to its late Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew.

In our own backyard, one such country that readily comes to mind is Ghana, which was once worst off economically than Liberia.

Some might recall the days of empty supermarket shelves in Ghana and when many Ghanaians came here in search of basic commodities, in search of employment and the U.S. dollar. Today, Ghana is the subject of admiration by Liberians. Some have purchased second homes in Ghana. Some go there for medical reasons. Some have even left Liberia and are residing there permanently. Others go there as tourists.

The Great Leap Forward, as in the case of China, may be considered extreme or leftist in nature.

The Chinese people experienced great pains, self-denial and sacrifice during this period. There were great upheavals and displacement in the Chinese society. Other countries such as Singapore, however, achieved the same objectives with less upheavals and pain. Each country must determine its own nature and levels of intensity and resulting disruption in society depending on its context within which it operates as it strives to achieve its own “Great Leap Forward.” But the common thread flowing through all these development efforts aimed at societal change is a well-thought out national plan of action which is a subject of focus and an unfailing commitment to its implementation by the government of the day. Such a plan must have clear measureable targets and timelines, which harness all available resources in the direction of societal transformation and progress. This program involves moving the people in the direction and support of progress and development.

The people are the basic raw material which must be processed and transformed through quality education and training. A well-motivated, educated and trained populace produces valuable goods and services and transforms their environment in terms of infrastructure and aesthetics, making it well ordered, clean and beautiful. Look at Japan. It has far less natural resources when compared to many African countries; but today, Japan has the world’s third largest economy and is one of the most advanced countries on planet Earth. Its main resource is its people; its engine of growth and development in whom huge investments have been made. Some of those investments that will help propel Liberia on its Great Leap Forward are: well trained, paid and motivated teachers and educators; comfortable learning environments; well-equipped laboratories and libraries in schools; a national library system throughout the length and breadth of Liberia; a functioning internet system in the learning environment; emphasis on math, science and technology, to name a few.

We, too, must be prepared to commit huge investments in our people if we are to achieve our own “Great Leap Forward.”

How does one go about driving or moving the people in the direction of the needed societal change? In my opinion, one may opt for the use of the Chinese model, which requires the use of excessive force, resulting in massive societal upheavals to obtain compliance, or one may use less force by altering, redirecting or readjusting the psychology or mindset of the people. This, in my opinion, involves identifying those negative values, attitudes and behaviors, which serve as obstacles to development, and developing programs to discourage them while at the same time promoting the opposite of those negative values.

While expertise in the technical areas is greatly needed in Liberia, the need for social scientists such as psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, etc., should be given priority. These social scientists must be assembled and employed on a full time basis with the expressed task to reconfigure or reorder our society and alter the national psyche or the mindset of the Liberian people in the direction of supporting and bringing about the needed positive change in our society. A change of the mindset must precede societal change because the present state of our mindset has flawed our society in many ways and will obstruct efforts at making change.

The obvious results of these flaws are: our body politic, in which everyone wants to be president at the same time, leading to over twenty five (25) political parties seeking power. Our private sector is largely in the hands of foreigners. Dishonesty and Indiscipline are the order of the day. Institutions are very weak, many things that work well in other countries do not work here because we always want to do things “the Liberian way,” which means cutting corners and doing things the wrong way, to name a few. Listed below are a few of the negative values which are prevalent in our society today. These must be discouraged and replaced with positive values if we are to achieve meaningful progress and development. These values are inter-related and are by no means exhaustive.