Konneh speaks at Mandingo Agenda Conference

Richmond Mohamed Konneh says Mandingos should be open to other Liberians

Speech delivered by Richmond Mohamed Konneh at the 2017 All Liberian Mandingo Agenda Conference in Philadelphia, USA
April 28, 2017
What are the problems affecting the Mandingos of Liberia? Are our grievances different from the concerns of the vast majority of Liberians? What exactly is a Mandingo agenda? What are the path to understanding the roots of our problems and resolving them?
The Mandingo tribe is a part of one of the largest ethnic groups in South Saharan Africa. Based primarily in West Africa, the tribe is represented today by approximately 11 million people.
The history of the Mandingos in the place that later became Liberia goes back many centuries. But to listen to the accounts of some of our compatriots, it may seem like the presence of the Mandingos in Liberia is a recent occurrence.
Over the years, our religion, values and other cultural practices have set us apart and caused a vicious circle of resentments of our fellow Liberians and vice versa and have led to ethnic stereotypes towards the Mandingos, which have been exploited by some politicians for their own electoral ends.  This has frustrated the Mandingos, leading some to believe that we are not treated fairly in Liberia.
Are the resentments toward the Mandingos within the larger Liberian Community grounded in legitimate concerns about the ways we conduct ourselves as Liberians?  My opinion is Yes.
We the Mandingos of Liberia cannot afford to ignore this reality. The challenges we face as an ethnic group in Liberia is different from those faced by Mandingos from the neighboring countries and beyond.  
One of the major problems that has and continues to haunt us is the pervasive academic achievement gap between the Mandingos and the other tribes of Liberia. It will be a huge mistake to ignore this fact and understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point.
Many of the problems that exist in the Liberian Mandingo Community today can be traced directly to inferior education and a culture of not intentionally investing in education, especially girl’s education. If we must make progress, we need to make girls education a priority.
The culture of early marriage and exclusion of girls from education has had a devastating impact on the Mandingo community. We need to create an opportunity for Mandingo girls to have access to quality education from early childhood to college. Emphasis should be placed on girl’s education through ample scholarships at all levels of the learning curve.
Unlike the Mandingos in the Ivory coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Gambia etc., historically, education has not been a priority in the Liberian Mandingo community. If the Mandingo refuse to intentionally and collectively invest in education, the intellectual landscape for us will be bleak, for we shall have failed to move our children and grandchildren toward a better future and thereby making the same mistakes of our forefathers.
The refusal to invest in education was somehow passed on from our forefathers and this phenomenon has and continues to haunt us today, leading to the lack of economic opportunity, political frustration and a perpetual labeling of Mandingos as foreigners in our own country; hence the humiliating and uneven application of immigration practices at the various check points in Liberia.
The pervasive culture of self-exclusion by forming Mandingo-only organizations has helped to discourage the Mandingos from joining the other Liberian organizations, be it county, district, clan or town organizations. These and our unyielding attachment to Mandingo cultural activities and events in Guinea have led some to question our loyalty and citizenship, sometimes using stereotypes and other derogatory terms.
As Liberians, we all did not come from the same place, but we all ought to hold common hopes for the future of our country. We should endeavor not to view our challenges through tribal lenses.
We need to adopt a Liberia-focused agenda. The Mandingos’ concerns are part of the broader concerns of the vast majority of our fellow Liberians. Let not religion separate us from our nation and/or our fellow Liberians. Moving forward, let’s be inclusive in all our activities. This will lead to an engaging interaction for the good of not only the Mandingo community, but the larger Liberia nation.
The current generation of Mandingos in Liberia is the most educated generation. Now is the time to join our fellow Liberians and together, strive to solve some of the monumental problems our country is facing- weak economy, education, inferior schools, health care, land reform, poverty, corruption, rule of law etc.
These problems are all Liberians problems and must be addressed collectively.
Blaming the others for the misunderstanding that exists between the Mandingos and the other tribes of Liberia distracts us from facing our own complicity in the problems facing us and this has prevented us from forging alliances with our fellow Liberians in order to bring about the change we want in Liberia.
Let’s face it. Historically, the Mandingos have not always treated our fellow Liberians with the courtesy and respect we are demanding of them. Our actions have not always matched our rhetoric of love and acceptance of the other tribes. How do you expect the other tribes to love us if we do not love them?
It is fair to say that we need to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. These are uncomfortable truths we need to begin to ponder in our quest for a real meaningful and long lasting peaceful coexistence and reconciliation.
The truth is what ails the other tribes about us and causing resentments are real and rooted in our treatment of our fellow Liberians over the years and must be addressed, not just with words, but with deeds; making our organizations more inclusive, and getting involved in the development initiatives in our local communities in Nimba, Bong, Lofa etc.
There is no legalized discrimination against the Mandingoes in Liberia. We’ve never been prevented from going to school, from building Mosques, from owing properties or getting any jobs that match our qualifications.
Where do we go from here?
1.     We need to bind the grievances and concerns of the Mandingos, such as -land reform, immigration issues, voter registration, religious tolerance-to the larger aspirations of all Liberians, which are better health care, good schools, anti corruption, poverty, jobs and the rule of law.
2.     We need to provide our children and grandchildren, especially girls, with the ladders of opportunity that were not available for previous generations.
3.     We need to intentionally and collectively invest in the education of our daughters and our sons. If possible, we must go door to door in our communities to encourage our parents to send their children to school.
4.     While we are encouraging our young women and young men to go to school, our educated elites, who overcame the odds, acquired education and are in the position to help, must help to find meaningful employments in the system for those who have completed their studies and are ready and willing to contribute to the national development of Liberia. This will help to widen the circle of success in our community.
5.     We need to endeavor to join and participate in the broader Liberian organizations at all levels
6.     We need to insist on a full measure of religious tolerance by building alliances and/or coalition with other tribes to push for a more faire religious holidays in Liberia
7.     We need to lobby for the reinstitution of a national identification card registry that began in the 80’s. Not many of you know that once upon a time, Liberia started a national identification system; I believe in the early 80’s.
In order to carry out the changes we need in the Mandingo community, we need leaders to drive the change. We as a community must also be willing to adopt to the changing reality of our time. People we consider our leaders must be committed to the advancement of the Mandingo people and must have a clear vision and be able to articulate our aspirations. While we must support and show loyalty to our leaders, they too must demonstrate love and commitment to us as a community.
We should no longer celebrate anyone simply because they are Mandingos without any demonstrated commitment to the advancement of our community. We need not be afraid of being objectively critical of anyone in a position of trust, Mandingos included, whose actions and behaviors do not conform to our aspirations as a group. In order words, let’s not be blind loyalists. Let us respectfully challenge our leaders when it becomes necessary to do so.
We cannot afford to have zero expectations of our leaders and giving them free pass. The communique from this Mandingo agenda conference and subsequent conferences should serve as a road map or yard stick with which to measure the effectiveness of people considered to be our leaders.
As far as I am concerned, anyone, who champions the issues dear to us is our leader, Mandingo or not.
In conclusion, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you as the keynote speaker for this very important forum for the advancement of the Mandingoe community in Liberia. It is always a rewarding experience to have the opportunity to interact with our community. May God bless our motherland, Liberia and may God bless our community.
About the speaker: Richmond Mohamed Konneh is the director of special and inclusive education, Ministry of Education, Republic of Liberia.