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Vice President Victor Foh’s speech at Cuttington University convocation

27 September 2015 at 13:56 | 2282 views

Keynote address by Ambassador Victor Foh at the 54th commencemnet convocation of the Cuttington University of Liberia at the graduation stand on Saturday 26th September 2015.

I bring you warm and fraternal greetings from my President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the Government and people of Sierra Leone. I also bring exceptional felicitations from the leadership, faculties and the general student population of the Universities in Sierra Leone. As I stand here, I can see, in my mind’s eyes, the beaming youths of these two countries, nay of the West Africa sub-region Africa, surging with unlimited potential, capacity, commitment and determination to take Africa to the next level of development. I salute you, and I must let you know that I am proud and gratified to be part of you this moment, as we endeavour to create opportunities, to equip our future leaders with purposeful knowledge, and together build a strong and productive Africa. I know my lovely wife and the rest of my entourage are equally delighted to be here today, to be part of this history-making event.

As we sit and reflect on our individual and collective achievements, I know that we also share the grief of the demise of our compatriots, who would have benefitted from the new knowledge acquired, but who perished under the scourge of the Ebola Virus Disease. Therefore, before I proceed with my Address, I ask, with utmost humility, that we all rise and observe a moment of silence in honour of our fallen compatriots. ……….. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Let me continue my Address by thanking the President, Board of Trustees, Management and Staff of the Cuttington University of Liberia for inviting me to attend this 54th Commencement Convocation in multiple capacities – as a Guest, as a Guest Speaker and as a Graduand of the Class of 2015, even though mine is one of Honoris Gratia. I accept the invitation with humility and delight, and I am proud to be awarded by an institution as prestigious, and as outstanding as the Cuttington University. It is not every day in one’s life that one has the opportunity and, may I say, the privilege such as that conferred on me today. I will endeavour, at all times, to do you proud. I have no doubt in my mind that I say so on behalf of all those graduating this year.

Having said that, let me extend my very special felicitations to the members of the Graduating Class of 2015 for their arduous effort to accomplish their academic tasks and achieve laurels in this University. By doing so, they have prepared themselves to embark on their individual journeys and in their different ways. They have at the same time done us the honour of having us here with them today. I could sense their anticipation, the same I had on the day of my graduation and the felicitations extended to me on that occasion over four and a half decades ago. Although quite a distance of time between the events we are witnessing today on this Graduation Stand of this campus and my own graduation, the impression I had on that day in 1969, as a young graduate of the University of Durham, could not have been much different from what, I imagine, our present new graduates are experiencing today.

The admonition I had then was that it was a good thing to acquire knowledge, but that it was better to utilize the knowledge acquired for the service of your community, your country, and above all to humanity. Always remember that you are a product of the Cuttington University of Liberia. I entreat you give off your best to serve mankind. Endeavour to do us proud! To those coming behind us, there is no greater motivation than today’s ceremony. I will leave you with an age-old inspiration, which is, “Learning is better than Silver and Gold”. Go for the proverbial sky!
Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, when I received the invitation to be here for this graduation ceremony, I could have done anything possible to avoid missing the opportunity to visit Liberia again, as I always regard this country as my second home, more so to come here to receive such a distinct honour as the one conferred on me today. I thank God for the honour. I also thank God that I did not have any difficulty in receiving the consent of my President for my attendance at this ceremony. His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma asked me to extend his kindest regards to the organizers of this event. This I now do.

In 2010, that is, five years ago, I was in Liberia to support my younger sister, Ambassador (Rev) Marie Jilo Barnett (Nee Foh), who was then Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the Republic of Liberia, as she was decorated with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Honoris Causa) by the United Methodist University (UMU) of Monrovia, Liberia. By divine intervention, my sister, Ambassador Marie Jilo Barnett, is part of this ceremony today, this time round, to give me support, as I am being decorated by the Cuttington University. I left Liberia after the ceremony, with very good memories, and I have always looked forward to visiting this beautiful country again. Therefore, on my receipt of the invitation for this event, I was in utter expectation for the arrival of this day. Apart from my personal encounter with this country, most Sierra Leoneans have grown up to regard Liberia as second home. They have learnt and grown up to know that probably not one single Sierra Leonean is more than one generation away from Liberia, and also probably not one single Liberian is more than a generation away from Sierra Leone. We only need to look at the outward signs of the friendship existing between our two countries and our two people. It is friendship and relationship that go back long, long in time and in history. It is a relationship that did take that long for the various influences which today unite us and which we can refer to as our Sierra Leonean-ness and our Liberian-ness. It is a relationship that has taken a long time to mature in our being and in our ways of doing things. It is that relationship that brings about the wholesome person in us which others admire and, perhaps, even like us or hate us for, depending on the view point taken. Our present generation is not responsible for the relationship and we make no apologies for having it. I can only say that it is that relationship over the years that has stood us in good stead and which is mutually beneficial to our two countries and our two peoples. Our hope is that generations after ours may maintain it and even improve upon it.

Providentially, history and geography have put us together and this fact has itself produced in us a whole lot of influences which contribute to making the fraternal bond between Sierra Leone and Liberia, and between the Sierra Leonean and the Liberian. Because of this bond, which through geography and history unites both countries, it can properly be stated that the two countries deserve each other and so do their citizens. The destinies of these two countries are intimately and intricately interwoven and intertwined. This is a fact of history and geography which cannot be disputed or denied.

The bond between Sierra Leone and Liberia is not only based on geography. It is also, in every sense cultural, economic and ethnic. The citizens inhabiting particularly the border districts of Pujehun and Kailahun in the South-East of Sierra Leone and in the South Eastern Districts of Liberia regard themselves as citizens of the same country. They exhibit well and long established family ties. They speak the same tribal languages, Vai, Gola and Kissi, and inter-marry freely. They move with ease from one political territory to the other on a daily basis in order to cultivate their farms and undertake other economic and social activities. In those areas, the currency of one territory is used as much informally as legal tender as it is in the other. Their relationship is such that they do not concern themselves with political or official land boundaries between their respective counties.

Like the geographical and cultural links between Liberia and Sierra Leone, the historical links between the two countries are not too dissimilar either, especially in the case of the capital cities of the two countries. A historian will have no difficulty in discerning who the original inhabitants of Liberia were and how the territory acquired its present name. A study of the origin of Sierra Leone and how the capital city, Freetown, acquired its name will be an object lesson to be studied together with the case of Monrovia, and how Monrovia evolved and became the lovely and respected city that it is today.

Another feature which Sierra Leoneans and Liberians share is a common official language, the English Language. Everything being equal, language promotes a harmonious relationship between peoples and it makes social and official contact easy. It facilitates communication between people and strengthens the bond existing between them. This is what the English language has done for Sierra Leone and Liberia. Hence, my address to this august gathering is direct, and understood without the aid of an interpreter, as if I am addressing an audience back in Sierra Leone.
There are yet other admirable traits which other citizens outside the two countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia, often refer to whenever they have contact with Sierra Leoneans and Liberians together. They credit Liberians and Sierra Leoneans with the ability to regard and treat each other as brothers and sisters and, where necessary, to help each other to accomplish something without the other first asking questions. This was manifested in May 2015 during the election in Abidjan of the president of the African Development Bank (ADB). The Editor of the Sierra Leone Newspaper, “The Politico”, who witnessed that election, said this in his paper of the 19th August 2015. “At some point, I wondered what interest the Minister of Finance of Liberia had in the Sierra Leone Minister of Foreign Affairs (who was a candidate in that election). Mohamed Amara Koneh, the Minister of Finance of Liberia campaigned as if he was the Minister of Finance of Sierra Leone and not of Liberia…..”

As it can be noted, I have tried to avoid any direct mention or discussion of the horrendous experience both Sierra Leone and Liberia had towards the close of the last century and extending into the beginning of this century. This was the rebel war, which engulfed the two countries. It was a blight on these countries and caused unimaginable havoc, suffering and death to otherwise peaceful people and the upsetting of their ways of life. That war was man made. We thank God that it eventually came to an end and the two countries had since resumed their peaceful existence and normal lives.

Another blight which infected Sierra Leone and Liberia occurred last year. It was the Ebola Virus Disease Epidemic. That was not man-made but it was as disastrous on the population as the rebel war, and caused the death of thousands of citizens on both sides of the border. That too is now on its way out. These two ‘plagues’, because of the inglorious memory they invoke and left in their wake, do not, strictly speaking, belong to the happy and harmonious hymns which we are singing here and which had always marked the relationship between Sierra Leone and Liberia. They do not need to be narrated on an occasion such as this. They belong to their own ignoble time in history. Their only relevance here is to stress that, as a human situation, the good and the bad would always happen to Sierra Leone and Liberia to attempt to affect the peaceful existence of the two countries. The references to these unpleasant matters and occurrences further underscore the fact that the destiny of the two countries, as already stated, is always together.

I have attempted to describe the nature of the enduring friendship and even kingship that have always existed between Sierra Leone and Liberia, how that relationship originated, how well they have served the two countries and how they have been nurtured over the years and brought to fruition. I have also narrated the benefits which both countries and people have derived as a result. I and so many others on both sides of the border have been beneficiaries of that relationship in a number of ways. We are here seeing one of the practical realizations of the benefits of such good relationship as we witness in this Graduation Stand and in this University campus the conferment of an Honorary Doctorate Degree on me. I have already profusely expressed my profound appreciation for what we are witnessing here today. I accept this singular honour on behalf of, and in the name of my fellow Sierra Leoneans and, may I say, Liberians as well. I am certain that our relationship such as it is, and as ever as before, will continue to blossom and grow from strength to strength.

Mr. Chairman, Graduands, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, allow me to register my very special thanks to the President and Faculty of Cuttington University for innovations in the curricula of the University. Reading through your brochure, I am particularly impressed with two programmes at this University. These are:
(a) The peace and conflict programme
(b) The service learning programme.

These programmes are not only important, but are also very useful, as they respond to the challenges of development in present day Liberia and Africa at large. This is what I call purposeful education for Self-reliance and national development. They are among that very special knowledge-based education that we need to rebrand and transform Africa. By purposeful education, I mean education that makes you relevant to yourself, your community, your country and to humanity. It is knowledge that equips and allows you to be selfless and to be of service to mankind. It is knowledge that earns you the respect of society and the love of children. Finally, it is that type of education that instills in you the fear of God, which the Good Books say, is the beginning of wisdom. It is this type of education that we need to build ourselves, and by extension, to build a strong and capable Africa. The University of Cuttington is, by all indication, on the right path of providing knowledge for the new Africa. May God bless your endeavour!

The University of Cuttington was also, at a point in time, at the forefront of Inter-and Intra-University collaboration not only within Liberia but with other institutions in the West Africa Sub region. Many years ago, there was student exchange programmes with Njala University of Sierra Leone. Such efforts broadened the students’ outlook beyond their immediate borders and prepared them better for modern day challenges. It was mutually beneficial to both Universities and to our two countries. I look forward to resuscitating this mutual learning exercise and taking it to another level.

My fellow graduands, as I conclude this Address, let me admonish you to moderate your expectations. Do not vainly compare yourselves with others. In almost all developing economies like ours, Government is often the largest employer. It could be helpful to know that Government simply does not have the capacity to absorb everyone. This is about time for us to be creative, to be innovative and to endeavour to be self-reliant. Do something meaningful which others would not. You are products of the Cuttington University of Liberia. Rise up, make a difference and earn the respect of your compatriots. Be of service to your country and to humanity. That is what I leave with you; and this is what I pray you live God bless us all.