[Editor’s note: This guest column is written by Wilton Zuo. Wilton is a senior; he is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Business.]
I was born in Liberia. If you are not familiar with it, it’s a small country on the west side of Africa. Liberia was founded by some free and some formerly enslaved black men and women who migrated from the United States and landed in Liberia in 1821. This was partly the result of a white-run organization, the American Colonization Society (ACS), which believed free blacks should have their own country. (This organization was not completely altruistic– some members did not believe black and white people could ever successfully integrate, while other members were slave holders who wanted to see free blacks leave the United States.) The blacks who first colonized Liberia came to be known as Americo-Liberians, and they were the dominant group in local government and politics for many generations.
In 1841, Liberia got its first black governor, Joseph Jenkins Roberts (Liberia had been under the control of the American Colonization Society until then); in 1847, Roberts declared the country to be independent from the ACS, and became its first president. The Republic of Liberia was the first African nation to gain its independence without fighting for it; but most importantly, Liberia embodied a vision of changes that would occur in Africa in the years to come. However, this vision didn’t last long. Liberia’s hope of being a prospering nation came to an end because of government corruption, and the conflict between Americo-Liberians and the native populations who also lived there. Sadly, these problems have persisted, and to this day, Liberia has massive financial, economic, and social problems looming over it.
Liberia’s many problems have caused economic stagnation and prevented it from reaching its full potential. Over the last hundred years, Liberia has had two civil wars. The first civil war occurred from 1980-1989 and the second occurred from 1999-2003. The first civil war killed 600,000 people and displaced thousands more. Both civil wars destroyed the country’s economy and left many people homeless.
Liberia also has an unstable health system. The country has few functioning hospitals, it’s high in pollution and trash, and lacks clean drinking water. The 2013 Ebola outbreak destroyed the health infrastructure even more. The outbreak killed thousands, and closed down schools and agricultural practices such as farming, trades, and fishing. Agriculture is huge in Liberia; it’s the main source of the food that Liberians depend on daily.
As of today, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Liberians live more in the past than the present. It’s a country that still idealizes old traditions, even if those traditions stop its development. For example, there are many people who still believe in voodoo, and because of poor education, they are not exposed to critical thinking. The very future of the country lies in the hands of the younger generation, but because of illiterate adults, and the struggle to survive, the country has so far been unable move forward. Governing Liberia remains a challenge: not only has corruption persisted, but the country itself is not always unified: Liberia has a population of more than four million, and has 16 different ethnic groups who speaks more than 30 different languages.
And yet, despite the problems, the love that I have for my country is immense. Liberia is where I grew up, and it’s where I hope to spend the remaining days of my life when I am old. But I don’t only want to live there: I also want to make a difference. I want to be president of Liberia someday. I believe that I have the people skills, the education, and the desire to accomplish my dream.
However, with such a massive dream, also comes fear. To be honest, I am scared to be president. I know it’s going to be a difficult job to transform a country that has been tormented by so many decades of corruption and war. Liberia should be successful, but it is one of the many countries in Africa that is said to have a “resource curse.” In other words, despite being rich in resources, most people there live in poverty. I believe one reason for Liberia’s underdevelopment is the selection of presidents over the country’s history. The majority of Liberia’s presidents have been warlords, whose only purpose was to take all of its resources (such as gold, rubber, iron and diamonds), and leave the people with nothing. I have the dream that through good and honest leadership, I can improve my country, even if I can’t replenish all that was taken from it. But although I am scared of failing, that will not stop me from trying to make my dream into a reality. My experience as a student has shown me that I can develop into a well-educated and confident man, the kind of person who can become part of the new leadership Liberia needs. My hope is that one day, I will be able to change the course of Liberia’s history, and lead the nation into a new and prosperous future.