Liberians, both at home and abroad, marked another National Flag Day on August 24, 2023. This day is purportedly dedicated to honoring the nation’s flag, a symbol of independence and unity. With 176 years having passed since the official adoption of the red, white, and blue flag as the emblem of a free and sovereign nation, it’s worth examining the authenticity of our celebration and the true essence of nationalism. In this article, I argue that the desecration of our National Flag undermines the sincerity of celebrating National Flag Day.
The Genesis of Our Flag
Liberia’s history traces back to the 19th century, when the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) conceptualized the idea of resettling previously enslaved black individuals from the United States to Africa. This project aimed to provide them with better prospects for prosperity and freedom. As the 1800s progressed and the slave trade was abolished, thousands of freed and free-born black slaves from America and the Caribbean made their way to Africa. Landing in what is now The Republic of Liberia, they sought complete liberation from their former oppressors and declared independence in 1847. This pivotal moment in history marked Liberia as Africa’s first independent nation and the oldest modern republic on the continent. The need for a national symbol arose, leading to the creation of the Liberian flag. Conceived by eleven determined women, the flag, resembling that of the USA, features a single star representing Africa’s sole sovereign state. Officially approved on August 24, 1847, the flag became a cherished emblem, much like in any other nation worldwide.
Respecting the Flag
During my adolescent years and grade school days, National Flag Day was a momentous occasion, eagerly anticipated by students and even some parents. It was a grand event where students proudly paraded with the national flag, often accompanied by the revered Armed Forces of Liberia. This day occasionally turned into a competition among schools, with prestigious awards granted to the best-dressed school and most impressive display of respect for the flag. These activities instilled a profound sense of patriotism and connection to Liberia among the youth. Through quizzes and artistic endeavors centered around the flag, students absorbed its history, significance, and proper handling. The curriculum included a subject called Civic, a subset of Social Studies, designed to cultivate a foundation of nationalism and a sense of being Liberian.
Historical anecdotes unveil that in bygone eras, state security personnel used to ensure that every household prominently displayed the flag at their front entrance. I remember in circumstances where the actual cloth was scarce, my brothers and I, residing in the countryside, would ingeniously sketch the flag on paper and exhibit it on our front door. During the ceremonial hoisting of the flag, a collective hush would fall upon the crowd, and fervent citizens would render eager salutes to the emblem. Prior to commencing our classes on school days, we would gather in solemnity, standing at attention to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as the flag gracefully ascended – waving into the morning skies.
Through this pledge, we affirmed our unwavering loyalty to both the Flag and the Republic it symbolized. We echoed the mantra that the flag epitomized an indivisible nation, standing resolute for Liberty and justice for all. This profound dedication to the Flag served as a catalyst for elevating the populace’s sense of national identity and commitment. For example, in our esteemed institutions (Malema Public School and Guthrie Plantation School in Bomi County), the honor of hoisting the flag would be bestowed upon a senior student. This significant responsibility, owing to the profound reverence associated with the flag, transformed those who raised it in accordance with the pledge into embodiments of patriotism. Evidently, their expressions radiated this deep sentiment, reflecting the pride of true patriotic heroes.
It was commonly understood that permitting the flag to touch the ground or allowing it to be defiled equated to a grave transgression. Should the flag accidentally brush the earth, swift measures were taken to promptly restore its dignified position. In essence, the national flag commanded deep reverence as a sacred embodiment of identity and was handled with the utmost veneration.
Disregarding the Flag
Regrettably, today’s reality is starkly different, as demonstrated in the blatant disregard for our national symbol. This attitude of disregard for the national flag has defined the era, particularly since the end of the civil war in 2003, and has evolved into a cultural phenomenon. Whenever an attempt is made to remind people about their responsibilities to the flag, someone will defiantly exclaim “Go to hell…” Public spaces, including government offices, witness the mistreatment of our cherished emblem. Many of the customs and practices we once valued have eroded. A significant portion of the younger generation perceives the flag without truly comprehending its significance for them and the nation at large.
It is disheartening that even those in positions of leadership fail to set the desired example. Consequently, much of the citizenry, especially the younger demographic, follows suit. This mirrors the saying, ‘If the head is rotten, the body is equally rotten,’ as exemplified by the unfortunate incident in 2016 when the flags representing the 15 counties and the national flag deteriorated and frayed at the Capitol Building. This edifice serves as the seat of the National Legislature, composed of representatives entrusted with the people’s interests. Their indifference was noticeable, and it took the intervention of a representative aspirant, Fubbi Henries, who donated new flags to rectify the disgraceful situation. His act of respect for the flags was a direct contrast to the dishonorable legislators. Instances such as this amount to a desecration of our flags, a practice that should be counteracted by emulating individuals like Fubbi Henries.
A Call for Change
While our red, white, and blue flag endures as a symbol undulating in the breeze, its true significance is being eroded by our own actions. We insult, curse, defile, and disrespect it, treating it no differently than a piece of cloth in a marketplace or a baby’s diaper. This degradation is a shameful betrayal of our national heritage, identity, and symbol.
Nonetheless, there is a glimmer of hope for redemption. Even if we fail to honor our flag in the manner it deserves, it still holds significant global value. Serving as Liberia’s distinctive emblem, it commands widespread respect internationally, and this should claim the attention of us who own it. For example, our nation’s flag proudly adorns thousands of vessels worldwide. According to a Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry’s report in May 2021, a staggering 4,750 ships proudly flew the Liberian flag. Regardless of the perspective one adopts about this, I contend that this statistic stands as a powerful testament to the profound importance of our country’s flag – an importance that often eludes our recognition and comprehension.
We must remember that the Liberian Flag embodies the nation’s independence, a cause worth celebrating. It stands not just as a piece of fabric or a drawing, but as a testament to our journey to nationhood. Every August 24th, we should reflect on the inspiring story of how former slaves forged their independence on the African continent. This day should serve as a reminder of our history, a symbol of triumph, and a representation of Liberia’s enduring commitment to independence and justice. Unfortunately, our current path does not align with these ideals, rendering the celebration of National Flag Day a mere semblance of the genuine nationalism it should reflect. Until we return to the values of old, treating our national emblem with the respect and honor it deserves, our observance of National Flag Day remains a deceptive gesture, obscuring our true claim to nationalism.