Liberians discuss flag, other national symbols

President Sirleaf launches the project (Pic: Liberian Government)

President Sirleaf launches the project
(Pic: Liberian Government)

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently launched the National Symbols Review Project to lead a national discourse on official symbols like the flag, seal, among others.

The president urged that more consultations be held to ensure broad-based participation, including with the leadership of the three branches of government and the entire citizenry.

“There still needs to be more consultation to agree with the process, to be a part of the process, to also guide and lead the process,” the Liberian leader stressed, adding that although there have been some consultation, it is not sufficient.

According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the assertion when she launched the Project at the Paynesville City Hall, outside Monrovia, on Thursday, February 6.

The National Symbols Review Project, spearheaded by the Governance Commission, was established to coordinate an informed consultative process that will draw upon Liberia’s energy and creativity to promote a national conversation on the official symbols – National Flag, National Coat of Arms or National Seal, National Anthem, and our National Awards – of the Republic of Liberia.

It will solicit input from Liberians across ethnic, regional, religious, generational, gender and educational divides. This broad-based inclusive process is expected to yield timeless symbols reflecting Liberia’s past, present, and future.

The Government of Liberia has prioritized this national imperative, and national projects such as Vision 2030 and the National Reconciliation Roadmap, among others, have raised the issue of national symbols in a manner that necessitates  heightened national conversation which might lead to national consensus about the status today of our national symbols.

President Sirleaf said that the project is serious business, considering the political and financial implications, and stressed the need for all Liberians to get involved and begin to think about it.

“This is something that requires getting a large group of people together to be able to start thinking of this and then going around the country in all the nooks and crannies so that everybody can have a say, and when we finally determine what will be our future symbols, it’s something that everybody will stand up and say: ‘Yes, this is what we want. This is what we like. This is what will bring the Liberian people together,’” she said.

Speaking earlier, the project coordinator, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, hoped that the project’s launch will mark the beginning of a national introspection.

“Such a critical look at the national self could lead us to clarify for ourselves why we call ourselves Liberians, and then what national self-image we wish to project to the world beyond us,” he said.

Touching on the need to engage in a national symbols review, the project coordinator said there is a history of efforts and calls for symbols review, enjoined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process to undertake a review, and as seen by the Vision 2030 process.

“Few serious minds will deny that symbols review is an imperative of our time,” he said.

He added that the review is necessary because Liberians face a crisis of national identity, because they remain an un-reconciled people, because through prior national consultations the Liberian people are asking for this national introspection, and because they are in that historical moment to undertake a paradigm shift in service to the notion of “one people, one nation, united for sustainable peace and development.”

Dr. Dunn stressed that another purpose of the review is to advance a national conversation precisely on the subject of Liberia’s national identity, and to affirm the belief that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. “A sense of national identity is necessary to enable individual Liberians to transcend self or ethnic group absorption and commit to the common good,” Dr. Dunn said, pointing out that without it, Liberia can neither reconcile nor genuinely pursue the goals of Vision 2030.

The project coordinator said historical narratives inform all symbols, and to comprehend their meaning, we must first appreciate the historical narrative out of which flow the current national symbols, which plays a critical role in setting forth the identity of a people.

He said the present generation of Liberians knows less than their parents about the country’s history and founding ideals, and many Liberians are more aware of what divides us than what unites us.

Dr. Dunn noted that the challenge now, in light of the 1980 coup d’état, the civil war that followed and attempts by Liberians to reconcile their historic differences, is to construct a new national narrative, a new synthesis that seeks to have all of Liberia’s children share the spotlight, to acknowledge the contributions of all.

He said it is appropriate to ask if the national symbols reflect the new concern to tell the full story of all Liberians; to ask if the symbols genuinely reflect the perspectives and values and aspirations and history of all Liberians; to ask if the symbols are a source of division or unity.

On how they propose to organize and lead the process, the project coordinator said it will be both knowledge-based and based on public consultation. “Equally important will be the role of the Liberian people in freely and candidly expressing their views about the present set of symbols and where change or modification is desirable.”

The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hans Barchue, who proxied for Speaker J. Alex Tyler, urged the Governance Commission to extend its consultation to every nook and cranny across the country and educate ordinary Liberians about the Project.

Unless this was done, he cautioned, in the same way that the referendum was defeated two years ago, this project could turn out that way as well.

“The Executive and the Legislative branches have a determination to use this process to see how well our people will accept this new concept and create a new identity for us as Liberians,” he said.

Earlier, a Commissioner of the Governance Commission, Mrs. Elizabeth Mulbah, who welcomed the guests to the launch, hoped that, as a result of the exercise, if one’s choice is not that of the majority, that person will support the decision of the majority of Liberians so that all Liberians are identified and are proud of their identity.

Liberian Government