Liberia: Sanitation and Unification
Lekpele M. Nyamalon
On May 14, Liberia commemorated National Unification Day, the brainchild of President William VS Tubman; Unification Day was intended to foster integration between people of different social divisions as part of his government’s goal of promoting national unity.
In the wisdom of President Tubman, pressing issues then and perhaps still border on national cohesion, social integration and other divides. The fourteen-year civil war has left in its wake a country deeply divided along many lines of polarization.
It is important to note, however, that the greatest threat against a nation is disunity. Disunity eats away at the fulcrum of nation building and makes it vulnerable to internal or external shocks. For a nation to thrive, it must look across the fault lines and embrace the commonalities that unite its people. The Liberian experience, unfortunately, has exacerbated its fault lines to devastating proportions and blurred the unique characteristics that bind us together. Therefore, the need for national unification cannot be overstated. It should also be noted that nations unite at times when they face a common enemy that threatens the existence of the state. In the words of President William R. Tolbert Jr, these enemies are: ignorance, disease and poverty.
One of our contemporary enemies in the current Liberian reality is the overwhelming presence of garbage in almost every corner of its capital, Monrovia. The presence of uncontrolled waste invading the country is a huge public health problem and a catalyst for one of the enemies championed by President Tolbert: disease. The role of sanitation in the prevention of certain negligible tropical diseases is paramount; sanitation is therefore at the intersection of public health. It is extremely important that the state-led sanitation policy is strengthened and implemented.
An effective civic and local approach to understanding the importance of clean cities and communities through appropriate education and punishment for offenders is essential to ensure that we develop a psyche of responsible citizenship towards maintaining clean communities.
The current sanitation nightmare before us represents our collective national disease that must be fought with all hands on deck. Normal cleaning exercises would require the merging of different tools and skill sets to get the job done. Traditional cleaning exercises require rakes, brooms, wheelbarrows, food and water, and in some cases entertainment to stimulate the mind. These realities represent how we confront our common enemy – uniting to expel what threatens us all. Some waste must decompose with the soil and provide fertilizer. Figuratively, this trash represents lessons from the past that need to be psychologically broken down, giving us a fresh start. Some waste must be recycled for future use; we cannot reject everything from the past, but use some as building blocks for tomorrow.
Sanitation affects our image, threatens our collective existence as a country and damages our civilization as a people. The role of community leaders, city governments and other stakeholders in recognizing our common enemy, forming a united front to fight it, and imparting lessons to posterity is a test of time. We cannot ignore this or relegate it to external forces. History has proven that even the best army of strangers cannot champion a cause without the hands and hearts of those whose existence is threatened. This is our war – a war on our image, our pride, our very existence, our public health and our country. Now is the time to recognize this and direct our energies to combat this threat. The purpose of unification is to come together when attacked and defend against forces that tear our social fabric, destroy our image, or obliterate us all.
The call for collective action to address the wanton dumping of waste down sewers, on street corners and everywhere by passers-by in taxis etc. must end with city governments and community leaders in the lead. I led a small group of young people on Unification Day to raise community awareness of the need for proper waste disposal in our community and general drain cleaning to prevent dirt clots from forming. Our approach was symbolic of the need for local ownership and how together we can fight the enemy of dirt and disease. The fault lines of each society will remain, but the causes that unite us must eclipse these fault lines and call the people to action to save the state from impending collapse. As President Tubman envisioned, we can take unification to another level by solving the sanitation problem and keeping our communities clean. In the words of President Tolbert, the enemies remain: ignorance, disease, and poverty. One of them wants us all. Let’s tackle it now.
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a poet, writer and speaker, OSIWA Poetry Fellow and 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.