By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
This Article, as indicated above, is directed, specifically and particularly, to the Announced Candidates for President of Liberia, with invited attention of the Liberian Voter. It is, also, our Response to 2017, the profoundly hyped campaign and expectations. The article is the edited, revised, updated and condensed version of our earlier Message-Reminder of the requirements-expectations of the Candidate for President, published on April 30, 2014.
Edited, revised, updated and republished now because several important socio-cultural, economic and political events have taken and are taking place in Liberia due to and consistent with Human History of Periodic Change, characteristic of the human condition. Examples are the Global Witness (GW) Report and allegations, with documented, validated evidence of bribery involving high-level officials of the Liberian Government; the indicted include politically-connected attorney-chairman of the ruling political party; removal-replacement of the indicted Speaker of the House of Representatives; appointment as Minister of State Without Portfolio and Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce for prosecution of this high-level, historic case of bribery, the convicted counselor-at-law who served time in prison for embezzlement; the Liberian people now demand to know the identities of Big Boys 1 & 2 who, according to the GW report were paid about a million US dollars in bribes; and the corruption-related death of Counselor Allison and the yet unexplained, apparent, murder of activist, Mr. Harry Greaves, Jr.
Indeed, we ask, as captioned above, “you want to be the next President of… “our nation, the Republic of Liberia? Congratulations!! It takes courage and determination to reach this momentous decision and make your desire public. At this point, we welcome you to this special club of distinguished Liberians, with wishes of success during your journey to the Executive Mansion, Liberia’s Presidential Palace.
With this question, we present compliments now that you have commenced or embarked upon the journey to the Executive Mansion. In the light of the Nation’s expectations/requirements, please permit us to give you the following Message-Reminder (Tuoh-Wlee, in our Kanneh, Krahn dialect), a message-reminder about which, no doubt, you are already aware, but a message-reminder, nevertheless, for emphasis.
President of Liberia
That which you seek from the People of the Republic is an honorable, high-profiled, public service Position of Leadership, a unique, pleasing/rewarding obligation, not only a well-paying job. The person chosen to occupy this Leadership Position will, must be Liberian citizen, who personifies the Liberian Personality,such that he/she will represent, meaningfully, the collective Voices, hopes and fears of the Liberian People. As such, the elected man or woman will and must possess impeccable character, integrity, maturity and stature, with particular emphasis on honesty, socio-cultural and moral rectitude, requisite education, training and experience.
He/she must, will be a citizen who has lived on-ground in Liberia the minimum of ten years prior to the election for which he/she is candidate; involved and experienced in Liberian political dynamics of “who says and/or does what to whom, when, where, why and context of thee dynamics”; not only a catalogue of fancy academic achievements, but also varied background of relevant experiences with age and wisdom; will and must be enlightened, open, rational, courageous, free, fair, decisive and firm; available and reachable, dedicated, loyal and patriotic to the nation and people, committed to the principles of liberal, progressive democracy under the rule of law.
The chosen person will and must be a listener open to counsel, respects and entertains the views of others, including critical opposition; a political leader who rejects the notion that opposition is an “eternal enemy to be destroyed by any means”, but that opposition is an indispensable, friendly adversary; and the knowledge that he/she - the President of the Republic - is a servant, not a master of the People of the Republic. Further, that the chosen man or woman will and must demonstrate willingness, with ability, for cooperation, unity of national purpose without ethnic/tribal discrimination; will and must recruit, appoint and surround himself/herself by relevantly-educated, trained and experienced staff aides (advisors) with commitment to truth and counsel with courage and confidentiality.
The Nation & People
The Republic of Liberia, now a nation of less than 4 million people, was born out of a NEED, an abiding, enduring need, the quest for human freedom, justice and equality; honor and respect for the dignity of the human person, and “the pursuit of happiness” – socio-cultural, economic and political well-being, a profound, human need which has grown, growing and grows, with each passing day up to our day and time, of today.
The founding Fathers of Liberia were of two groups, A and B, drawn together by this Need, a common need. They came from different backgrounds, historical experience, but had common socio-cultural, African traditional origin and economic, political Need.
Group A was the African-Americans who fled from slavery, human bondage and servitude, settled on this land in search of freedom, justice, equality and the “pursuit of happiness” on the land of their ancestors – now their own.
Group B was the African-Africans, already here on the land – had always been here, their own - but ruled and governed by despotic, African traditional Chiefs, Monarchs - slave merchants - who sold some of their own people to foreign, slave traders and preyed, harshly, on the masses of others; therefore, they, too, fled from socio-economic and political tyranny, in search, similarly, of freedom, justice, equality and the “pursuit of happiness”.
Thus, the need – and reason - for the birth of our Nation. However, it has not been an easy-going. Our nation’s history has been and is punctuated by dis-satisfactions, protests, ethnic/tribal conflicts, violence and, even, armed hostilities. During our time, for example, the 133-year rule suffered a profound, deadly interruption by the 1980, military coup d’état against the-then ruling group.
But the ruling group responded by the 14-year nightmare of a civil war that battered and brought the nation on its knees, face-to-face, with near-total collapse, destruction and, eventually, elements of that ruling group took political, economic an administrative power. We note these painful mistakes of history, mindful of the wisdom that “those who ignore the mistakes of history are likely to repeat them”. The Nation is still struggling to regain clarity of its political purpose, awake from the century-long slumber and the scars inflicted by the divisive, ethnic/tribal tragedy of the civil war.
The Majority of the Liberian People
The Liberian people, particularly, the overwhelming majority, Honorable Candidate for President, are descendants of brave, fabled, legendary leaders, traditional warriors, who fought, diligently, in defense and protection of family and nation and, above all, for freedom, justice, equality and “the pursuit of happiness”. Thus, this Liberian citizen, of today, was born and bred in our Traditional Society, committed to fair-play, respect for and obedience to the rule of law, constituted authority and the Elders. For example, although out-planned, out-organized and out-gunned by armed insurgents who invaded our nation, captured and occupied an estimated 75% of the nation’s territorial jurisdiction, during our time, it took the bravery, resilience and, especially, the quest of the patriotic citizens for freedom, justice and determination, to deny and forced the superior-armed insurgents to the proverbial “conference table” for peaceful, negotiated resolution of our political differences, rather than the insurgent’s desired “clash of arms” on the battlefield and, finally, drove the insurgent leader out of the country into exile and . . . the rest is known history.
But, Nation is still at war . . . with itself
Honorable Presidential Hopeful, it is important that we note, for your information that your, theirs and our Republic of Liberia is at war with itself.
That Liberia, the first self-governing, African Nation on the Continent of our pride; “first among equals”, so to speak, historic fact about which we, rightly, boasted and boast today, beating our chests; “this glorious land of liberty” of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Edwin J. Barclay, William V. S. Tubman and of legendary, traditional Paramount Chiefs - Gblorzuo Toweh, Dahn Gborwein, PC Kpangbai, Beddah Beh, etc. - socio-cultural and political icons who, with vision, courage and dedication shaped the destiny of modern Republic of Liberia - the nation - is at war with itself.
Yes, this socio-cultural, political entity and ancestral home of the Liberian People, is breaking at the seams, due to graft, greed and dishonesty, division, jealousy, rivalry, fear, in-fighting, power-plays, abuse of power, mismanagement, incompetence, and withdrawal among, by and between the people, elected and appointed officials of the Nation. Moreover, there is, apparently, wide-spread antagonism, non-attention to major, priority, public policy issues, absence of coordination/cooperation/consultation, disorganization, etc. at, almost, all levels of our national administration.
Poverty, Hunger, Decease . . .
Meanwhile, the majority of the nation’s population – the body politic or voting-age citizens – is un-informed and relatively illiterate; lives in abject poverty, hunger, and disease. Some of the citizens and patients die of curable ailments, because nearby or available clinics or hospitals are without approved drugs for diagnosed ailments, poorly-staffed and inefficient/ineffective operations.
Besides, transportation to and from the “hospitals” or clinics is a major impediment. In fact, there are no roads, transport and communication facilities in the small country of ours; no social and economic services to enable the people to engage, at least, in traditional, subsistence agriculture. Given this prevailing condition, there is no adequate production of rice, the nation’s staple. Traders in the villages and the county capitals do brisk, successful business in rice, cooking oil and several, tropical food items imported from foreign lands, although there is more land in the country than there are people.
In the context of this life-threatening, local condition, the NGO approach, a recent innovation and foreign-aid policy revolution is a joke. For, the people of the Liberian Nation, the NGOs have changed little or nothing, in terms of food production and food security.
Thus, over-all, the painful result has been and is massive migration of residents from the towns and villages with some to the county capital cities, including the Nation’s Capital City of Monrovia, without the skills necessary for urban survival. This condition created and continues to create a source for recruitment of the unemployed, poor, hungry and angered young people for drug-dealing, abuse and high crime. Other young, able-bodied men and their wives end up in illicit, gold and diamond mining camps in the forests to earn a hand-to-mouth, living-income with children left in the villages with aged parents, grandparents unable to relocate from some of the villages that are, unfortunately, without schools for these children. Therefore, it is highly likely that these children, potential future leaders, born in abject poverty, ignorance and disease, will live in abject poverty, ignorance and disease, and will die in abject poverty, ignorance and disease!!
Like all war-torn countries, Liberia suffered the nightmare of a cruel, devastating, civil war, but unlike the others, the Country was subjected to historic, atrocious, inhumane excesses and near-total destruction of its meager political and economic infrastructure, including the fabric of its socio-cultural foundation. Moreover, the city of Monrovia, the nation’s Capital, highly-populated and thriving city, was laid in ruins, including several other cities, towns and villages, during the armed insurgency. Therefore, the on-going process of the post-conflict, re-construction and development is our government’s response.
But national economic development – social, economic and political - of any political community is the primary responsibility of the government of that community which, in our case, is the government of the Republic of Liberia. This development, of a political community, begins with transport/communications and education/information. At this time, the nation stands in dire need of all of the above. In order for one to build a clinic, hospital, college or any commercial/industrial complex anywhere in the nation, one must, first, travel in safety and comfort to get there. Therefore, Transport/communications - all-weather roads/highways (the Premier, multiplier Effect in national economic development) - facilitate not only “get there” and mass-movement of people, but also effective/efficient production, distribution and exchange of goods and services which, in turn, facilitate industrial and agricultural development, inter-intra-county, national and international trade and commerce.
But today, “the citizens of southeastern Liberia are stranded and cut off from the rest of the country due to bad roads . . . about 70 trucks . . . are stuck in the mud for the past six weeks . . . can’t get their way through to Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee and other counties . . .” (The New Dawn, October 13, 2016). “The same (condition) is true of the Monrovia – Voinjama Highway, but there is ‘Unending multimillion Fraud’ at (the Ministry of) Public Works” (New Democrat, October 13, 2016).
Because of the absence or lack of this necessary infrastructure for national development, there is critical need for priority, public policy attention to the construction of all-weather roads/highways, linking all counties, major cities, towns and villages in the Country. Meanwhile, the Country is, now, faced with rapid population growth, urbanization/migration and consumption without production.
Efficient/Effective & Transparent Governance.
Research information shows that county administrations, nationwide, are saddled with policy contradictions and confusions due to administrative decisions and policies made by and dispensed from bureaucrats sitting in Monrovia offices, creating more and more new sub, sub-structures such as clan and paramount chiefdoms, townships, administrative and statutory districts, in addition to existing sub-structures created by ancient, Liberian Law governing Hinterland Liberia, without the benefit of current, on-ground and in-county research information.
In her Annual Message delivered on January 28, 2013, the current President, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, drew national attention to this disabling condition when she observed, “. . . The challenges of the Decentralization Policy . . . the present local (in the counties) governance structures are bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe (County) . . . 93 Administrative Districts; 251 Paramount Chiefs; more than 689 Clan Chiefs; 1,410 General Town Chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners. The government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 Towns and Villages. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .”
The negative impact or consequences of these socio-economic and political, public policy confusions are numerous and devastating. Therefore, the national Government must guard against this intrusion, Honorable Candidate for President, in your, possible government.
Critical Elements of National Development
Given the prevailing, Unitary structure of our national government with all administrative, economic and political power rigidly centralized in and dispensed from Monrovia, despite the declared policy of National Decentralization & Local Governance for efficient/effective and transparent governance and delivery of socio-economic and political services, the national government should and must be lean, strong, dedicated, competent and transparent, while consistent with the national population:
No nation, Honorable Candidate, can become truly prosperous without sustained development and expansion of its economy – Education, transportation/communication, agriculture, industrial development, production, distribution and exchange of goods and services or trade & commerce. The Republic is located and situated in the rich, alluvium flood-plains in the valleys of several rivers, many creeks and streams rich in several species of fish, suitable for the establishment of fishing enterprises, including on-land fish farming as well as mini- and major-hydroelectric power generating plants, a potential source of revenue for economic development and growth, with a great pool of human resource of trained/experienced and trainable citizens.
Trade, Commerce & Communication
The Country, Liberia, is strategically located at the “hub” or center of Mid-West Africa’s network of communication and trade routes; the nation borders on the southwest Atlantic Ocean, with ocean-going, containerized vessels from all over the world, modern port facilities; the Republics of La Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso on the northeast; Republics of Sierra Leone, La Guinea and Mali on the northwest; the extension of La Cote d’Ivoire, Republics of Ghana and Togo on the southeast. This important network of trade, commerce and communication routes is critical to the success of regional/national as well as international trade and commerce. In this connection, it is, also, very important that modern, all-weather, safe, efficient/effective roads/highways system, linking all major cities, trade centers, towns and villages be undertaken, as a major priority. Specifically, it is compelling that we link Southeast and Northwest Liberia with La Cote d’Ivoire and, La Guinea and Sierra Leone, respectively, by all-weather roads to facilitate and improve trade, commerce and travel.
Agriculture is not new in and to Liberia, indeed, the African Continent. Subsistence agriculture has been, throughout history, the country’s (and the Continent’s) major economic activity.
Agriculture is, should or will be the reasonable, primary, economic rebirth to be followed by industrial development and, thus, form the base or foundation of the country’s modern economy. For sustainable, economic development and growth of agriculture, the Republic of Liberia possesses the major, natural (and human) resources necessary for successful achievement.
As indicated earlier, the Country lies in the rich-soil valleys of several rivers, including the Cavalla River, from its northeast source to its southern entry into the Atlantic, with many creeks and tributaries rich in several species of fish, suitable for the establishment of fishing enterprises, including on-land fish farming. Properly organized and effectively/efficiently managed, agricultural development will, eventually, make the Counties, indeed, the Republic, not only food-sufficient and food-secured, but will, also, produce varieties of agricultural commodities and by-products for export trade. It is the nation’s responsibility to provide the enlightened leadership to encourage and support agricultural enterprises to grow, process and provide Rice, Cassava, Yams, Eddoes, Sweet Potatoes, Ground Peas (Pea Nuts), Cocoa, Oil Palm, Oranges, Grape Fruit, Leaf Lettuce, Onions, Cucumbers, Papaya (Pawpaw), Banana, Plantain, Coffee, Pepper, Pineapple, Beef Cows, Goat, Pigs, Poultry, Fish-Farms & Fishery, Tomato, Corn, Cabbage, etc. , etc.
Again, the alluvium, flood-plain valleys of the Cavalla River, the alluvium, flood-plains of other rivers and creeks provide the Republic with enormous deposits of gold and diamond, an excellent, potential opportunity to develop and improve the nation’s historic gold and diamond mining industry. There are, also, several hills and mountains with high-grade, great deposits of iron ore, including the newly discovered, much-desired liquid gold (oil and potential, natural gas). These are assets of enormous potential for capital formation required to generate revenue for national, economic development.
Challenges. Honorable Candidate, as you embark upon the journey to the Executive Mansion, the foregoing Messages/Reminders are routine, administrative undertakings required of you, if chosen President of the Nation, to perfect and improve public policy development/implementation necessary for socio-economic and political progress. Whereas, the following are challenges that arise from and due to socio-cultural, economic, political and historical change. These include Population growth & Urbanization; Public/private Dishonesty (corruption); The Rule of Law; Decentralization; Customary Land Tenure; and Dual Citizenship.
Population Growth & Urbanization
Honorable Candidate for President, the phenomenal, rapid increase in the population of our nation, particularly, with massive, rural-to-urban migration, is a serious, socio-economic and political problem that calls for priority, public policy treatment.
On December 5, 2011, the FrontPageAfricanewspaper reported that “Street Sellers” – market men, women, and teen-age boys and girls – within the city of Monrovia and its environs, under threat of forcible removal from street-selling, with a deadline of December 15, 2011, by the Police, responded, “let this new police director leave us alone; where does he want us to go now? . . . his December 15 deadline will not hold, where he has to take us? Let him leave us yah”.
This statement and question raised by the Monrovia Street Merchants are, indeed, loaded and profound, in terms of our national, economic policy-making choices and the challenges that we must face in 21st century Liberia. Given our (nation’s) privileged, special-favored nation relationship with the world’s most technologically-developed nation (the USA) since 1847, and that we have enjoyed socio-economic, political and humanitarian benefits throughout the years, we could have cris-crossed our small country of less than 4 million people with all-weather, super-highways and roads for effective/efficient, national transportation, the “premier, multiplier effect” in national, economic development. From this foundation, we could have provided all necessary, public services - electricity, water (for safe drinking) and sewer, telephone, urban transport and other, necessary, economic developments throughout the nation – cities, towns, and villages of the sub-regions.
But we concentrated all that could be done only in Monrovia, Montserrado County, with little or no meaningful educational and economic development in rural Liberia, home of an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population. Therefore, other county dwellers, mainly rural, flock to Monrovia for employment and economic livelihood, although a majority of these rural migrants were and are unprepared to cope with the demands of urban living, in terms of marketable skills necessary for economic survival; hence, street-selling, while others seek educational opportunity for personal development.
Adding “insult to injury”, an unprecedented exodus of refugees from all over the nation into Monrovia, then the only safe haven from the brutalities of the civil war, compounded not only the socio-economic constipation of the city, but also rendered it extremely over-crowded and un-governable, due to congested, population increase that is far greater than the city can hold, safely and economically.
Making matters worse are that the city streets and roads built (paved and unpaved) some 45-50 years ago that cannot, at this time, now, hold nor facilitate efficient, smooth and safely, orderly flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, because of the phenomenal increase of automobiles, much more than the volume of traffic for which the streets/roads were designed. The result is traffic jam 24/7. Apparently, all motor vehicles imported to Liberia are concentrated in the Monrovia area because there are no safe and efficient roads/highways in rural Liberia.
Mr. Candidate for President, the questions raised by the Monrovia Street merchants constitute a magnitude of our national problems - social, economic and political - arising from this condition and demand rational, positive answers, with action and commitment. Therefore, it is now, about time that we create, by rational policy prescription/implementation, the desirable, economic incentives in the Nation’s Regional Political Sub-Divisions (the counties), designed to attract the Monrovia migrants – political or economic - back to their home counties. This includes not only the street sellers, but also doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, economists, business persons, professional technocrats, information technologists, politicians, educators, bankers, etc., etc.
Public/Private Dishonesty (Corruption)
A universal phenomenon, corruption is a vice found in every country, culture and society, irrespective of socio-cultural, economic and political development and level of affluence. Corruption is, apparently, intrinsic in human nature. As such, Liberia and Liberians do not have a monopoly of corruption.
However, it is shown clearly that corruption has been and can be controlled, minimized and, eventually, eradicated through rational, public policy development, the political will for diligent application and efficient/effective enforcement. But the Liberian corruption is now developed into a thriving, successful, big business, an industry, so to speak, by a corps of MBAs, LLMs and PhDs, well-placed in government, such that it has become Corruption, Inc. which may be likened to the Mafia. Moreover, corruption has become, so much, a threat to successful management of our macroeconomic process that many leading, knowledgeable personalities, including the nation’s current President, to declare corruption as “Liberia’s public enemy No.1”.
The Rule of Law
Mr. Candidate for President, there is a great deal of “transformation” awaiting you or whoever will be chosen to lead our country; that is respect for, observance-support of and obedience to the Laws that we made and in full force and effect. Although we are told and preach to the outside world that the Liberia is a democracy under the rule of law and, therefore, a country of laws (not of men and women), but weflout, disregard, disrespect and disobey not only enacted laws, but also, the organic constitutional laws of the land.
For example, Article 30 of the Constitution provides that (only) “Citizens of Liberia . . . are eligible to be members of the Legislature”, but today a significant membership or leading members of our nation’s lawmakers are citizens of foreign countries; that confirmation hearings, ratification of investment contracts/agreements, enactments of laws or amendments thereof, of state-owned enterprises submitted for legislative action are major, lucrative sources of bribery, often termed “lobbying fees”. The NOCAL US $50, 000.00 & $150,000.00 or there about is a case in point, including the recent, disgraceful issue of confirmation hearings of the LTA Chair, with alleged illegal irregularities in which the Ministries of Justice and Finance were, also, allegedly involved. Now, corruption is not, any longer, “rampant”, but “roaring”.
Decentralization – Political, Economic & Administrative
All of this talk about “transformation” is, in fact, about Change and Reforms – effective/efficient delivery of socio-economic and political services. No doubt, Honorable Candidate for President, you have read the Preamble to declared National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance. If not, we entreat and advise that you should and must be informed. Decentralization is comprehensive “Transformation” – reform, change, improvement of the Nation’s (the People’s) socio-economic and political Order; decentralization is all-weather, safe, efficient roads/highways, high schools, colleges, universities (education), hospitals, agriculture for food security, effective/efficient service delivery; decentralization is government that is close to the people, understands their problems better and serves them, responsively, best; yes, Mr. Candidate for President, we believe that Decentralization is modern, representative democracy!!
Customary Land Tenure
Elsewhere we wrote and to Land Commission that “Land is human life or that human life depends on the Land is so obvious and self-evident that it needs no proof”. It is necessary to cite a few examples for emphasis: “From the Land comes the food that we eat daily to sustain life; on the Land, we build villages, towns and cities in which we live, and from the Land come the mud, timber, thatch, cement, zinc, iron and related materials used to build huts, houses, mansions in which we live for shelter; the clothes that we wear; the automobiles, trains, railroads, airplanes for rapid mobility are made from primary products from the Land; and so are the telephones, television sets, computers and paper products, including the very money (banknotes and coins) that we use as the medium of exchange for the acquisition of all of these life-supporters and life-givers come from the land. More importantly and favorably, there is more land in Liberia than there are people; our small nation of less than 4 million people is, indeed, sparsely populated”.
However, Mr. Candidate for President, our country is falling apart under the burden of deep-seated, land conflicts arising from disputes regarding land ownership and boundary demarcations. From Lofa County in the Northwest to Maryland in the Southeast, and from Nimba County in the Northeast to Montserrado County in the South, these disputes and conflicts are numerous and increasing, with particular respect to Traditional, Customary Land Tenure. Socio-cultural, economic, and political observers/analysts of recent, Liberian political order caution that un-resolved land disputes/conflicts are likely to be the vehicle for another round of national, disastrous tragedy in Liberia !!
Finally, Candidate for President, we believe that you are aware of the passionate argument, advanced by Liberians in the Diaspora for legalized adoption of Dual Citizenship in Liberia. As you, perhaps, know, dual citizenship is illegal in Liberia.
In his presentation on behalf of a ULAA-led/sponsored Pro-Dual Citizenship Conference held in Washington, D. C., USA., entitled, “Making The Case For Dual Citizenship in Liberia”, December 7-8, 2012, Liberia’s Dr. George K. Kieh, Professor of Political Science and former Dean of the University of West Georgia, USA, argued that “The Political Economy of Liberia (historically controlled and dominated by the ruling groups who were and now are dual citizens) provides the context (or bears the major responsibility) for some Liberians who migrated to other countries . . . and acquired (naturalized) citizenship”.