A Diaspora Returns: Liberia Then and Now
Robtel Neajai Pailey
Sankofa is an Akan word from Ghana which, when translated literally, means: ‘We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; we must understand why and how we came to be to know who we are today.’ Standing at the apex of Ducor in central Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, one can see why the country used to be a beacon of light for the continent of Africa and its Diaspora. With lush green trees standing in stark contrast to an artist’s vision of modern chromed buildings, only the loss and destruction spurned by a fifteen-year civil war now emanate from the country’s recovering edifice. Liberia’s 160-year past is written in the history books as a tale of tragedy, a reminder of political, economic and social upheavals, as well as the failures of a system structured in dominance. Nonetheless, there are signs of hope everywhere if you take a second look: former child soldiers selling candles on the street; market women in the hot sun bartering their wares; the planting of poplar trees on Broad Street—a major thoroughfare in the country; and the hustle-bustle grind of daily life that evokes a sense of activity, movement, and progress. Another inkling of hope seems to be the wave of Diaspora Liberians who are returning, infused with the ‘Back to Africa’ ethos that buoyed up black nationalists such as Paul Cuffee, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois, all of whom saw Liberia as an outpost for their aspirations of cross-continental migration. It follows suit that Liberia’s history is a dialectical pattern of migration, opposition, exile and return.