Liberia: First Impressions
By: Ezekiel Pajibo
December 18, 2003
As the Air Weasua landed at Roberts International Airport, and the 16 seater Soviet built plane opened its rear door and passengers disembarked, the hot and humid wind of the South Atlantic hit my face and the sweat began to stream from my bald head down my face, I knew that at long last, I had arrived home, sweet home. I left on February 12, 1986 and was making my first trip to Liberia. I finally returned to the blessed land of Liberty. Strangely, a line from the Liberian national anthem came to mind: “…We will shout the freedom of a race benighted…” Somehow the word benighted captivated my imagination for the first time. I can’t really say why but it did. What is clear in any case is that the physical landscape of Liberia that appeared lushed green from thousands of feet above is surely a “benighted” land once you set foot on it. Nothing can prepare you for what is today Monrovia and dare I say Liberia. The country is just simply one large dump - the level of destruction, destitution and wretchedness is not only overwhelming but equally daunting and depressing. The people have been so miserably pauperised and most of those who are pretending to be the new statesmen are largely a bunch of crooks and scoundrels. Welcome to the new Liberia, the one like the phoenix we, Liberians will have to rise out of the ashes.
It is not uncommon during a transitional period for individuals to lobby and seek positions in government. But the situation in Liberia, which is a shell of its former self mandates that those who seek public service must do so bearing in mind the welfare of the Liberian people. The statements emanating from signatories to the Comprehensive Accra Peace Plan (CAPP) and the calibre of persons being nominated leaves so much more to be desired. While one might find countenance in the fact that this is only an interregnum, the attitude and sense of entitlement on display is nauseating. But like their successors, “this too will pass away.” Liberians can only hold their noses and swallow this bitter pill. In a recent newspaper article about repair work on a burst manhole, the writer noted that “the hold your nose and pass” situation on Gurley Street will soon be something of the past.
Having said all of that let me tell you some of the good things I have returned to. My moms and pops are alive, although they have all lost everything like the majority of Liberians. So far I know that three of my brothers died during the war, another three are rebel fighters in two of the warring factions, all my sisters are alive. I have had dumball and soup, fufu and soup, check rice and gravy, plantain soup with bony in it. And yes, I have gone to Pepper Bush and dance the night away. No, I have not yet had toborgee and rice but it won’t be too long. The restaurant, where people go to see and be seen is Panache. It is quite elegant, given the condition in the country. But there is so much that can happen in the country. I was at the Beach too and there, with the water temperature quite warm, you could go swimming all night long but services in this sector are wanting as well.
The service industry, especially the tourism sector is severely underdeveloped and lots of potential there; telecommunication is another sector that could use more investors and players – the price of a phone call is ridiculously high – only one provider, the Lone Star. With the abolition of monopoly on a number of imports including rice, the possibilities and the potential are immense. Though the government is calling for a market economy, there will be in the foreseeable future, a dire need for the state to be involved in the economy especially in the provision of basic services including water, electricity, education, health and infrastructural development such as roads and bridges repair.
The air is still salty and sticky and the yanna boys, yanna girls and yanna children are all over the place. “Boil egg hereeee”, “Cold water: to cold your chest”, “Chiclet: to rock your jaw” “Sweet and juicy orange here” “President Pen, buy it and sign your signature” The cacophony of the market place is as vibrant as ever, and if anyone said that Liberians are not enterprising, they haven’t been to Monrovia yet. You can buy almost anything you want - not from in the comfort of a store but on the sidewalk. Monrovia is one huge flea market with live music; of the Jesus is Saviour variety and all. The informal sector of the Liberian economy and remittances from Liberians abroad are the driving force in the economy, especially with unemployment as high as 75 percent and the majority of those employed, not getting their salaries. The Armed Forces for example have not being paid for three years. I have run into a few returnees from the States who are acting like they have something useful to offer the country when the fact is they just are trying to get a piece of the pie.
Then there are the few committed Liberians who are working very hard to return the country to its former glory. I know some of you may be squeamishing about what former glory? Without a scintilla of doubt, Liberia, prior to 1980 and even up till 1989 was by far better off then it is today. Taylor’s legacy is a destroyed country and a vanquished people. But like the Eritreans of thirty years ago, Liberians will never kneel down. This is why all Liberians are called upon to put Liberia first.