Leading Liberia to peace
Since my graduation, much has transpired in my life spiritually, intellectually, and physically. I fondly remember my years at Cornell College and in Mount Vernon, Iowa. I cherish the strong ties with the administration under the leadership of former President Dr. Philip Secor, excellent staff and faculty, and close friends. By the grace of God, I am alive and a beneficiary of the innovative liberal arts education that shaped my world view and prepared me as an agent for change through Christian ministry.
My current assignment came in July when president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed me as the National Peace Ambassador of the Republic of Liberia. This appointment provides the opportunity for me to continue working with other Liberians and foreign partners involved in peaceful and just societal transformation. I also serve as pastor of the Zion Praise Baptist Church, Bentol City, about 25 miles northeast of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.
National reconstruction is underway in Liberia following more than a decade of conflict that adversely affected the other Mano River Union countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. As a result of consultations with local stakeholders and international partners, the Liberian government has identified these three priorities to sustain the process: security sector reform, strengthening the rule of law, and promotion of national reconciliation.
While there is linkage in the three priorities of national reconstruction, at this critical juncture national reconciliation will be my focus as National Peace Ambassador. This is important because during the decades of crises and in the aftermath, the majority of Liberians remain traumatized, and all have experienced division by ethnicity, socioeconomic level, education, and political and religious affiliation. Historically, Liberians have focused on dissimilarities. It is time to acknowledge diversity as a unifying similarity.
Now, more than ever, it is important that the process of national reconciliation be sustained with active stakeholder participation, especially with presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 2017. Every Liberian at home and abroad needs to remain committed to dialogue and other constructive engagement that will maintain the peace and security in Liberia and throughout the subregion.
Prior to commencing work in this office, I co-facilitated interreligious collaboration with faith-based organizations in West Africa for close to a decade. Religious leaders, women of faith, and youth representing various faith communities worked together with other societal actors to positively transform conflicts in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Cote d’Ivoire. Now we advance sustainable development and maintain advocacy for peaceful and just societal transformation.
There is much to do in Liberia as we progressively rise out of the ashes of despair with hope and optimism. We must reaffirm our collective aspirations, become an inclusive and forgiving people, and become reconciled. We must learn from our tragic history, never again to engage in devastating conflict. Looking ahead, let us plan for education in Liberia that is both inter-generational and holistic to impact all beneficiaries.
The Rev. William R. Tolbert III ’77 was appointed National Peace Ambassador of Liberia in 2015 and currently serves as pastor of Zion Praise Baptist Church in Bentol City, Liberia, a position he has held since 1998. He is the son of Liberia’s 20th president, William Tolbert Jr., who was killed during a 1980 coup d’état that led to decades of civil war and instability. From 2002 to 2010 he managed an eight-country West Africa conflict transformation program for the African Council of Religious Leaders. Other positions include pulpit supply minister for the American Baptist Church in metropolitan New York City (1986-1993) and youth development aide for the New York State Division for Youth in Wingdale, New York (1994-1997). He holds an M.A. in Christian education from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an M.B.A. from Pace University.