Special Feature

VP Boakai, Your Apology to the People of Lofa County Is Twelve Years Too Late

VANCOUVER, CANADA, SEPTEMBER 20, 2017: From the looks of things, Lady Momentum is rapidly kissing your campaign good bye and shifting to a footballer. Your party is in complete disarray -- split right in the middle between those who support you, Party Chairman Wilmot Paye and Cllr. Varney Sherman who is having an acrimonious relationship with Madam Sirleaf in one corner and those who support the President in the other. You are finding it harder and harder to persuade and convince Liberians why they should give you another six years given the twelve years of hardship and suffering your administration has brought to bear on the people.

Campaigning is getting increasingly difficult and so desperation is setting in for which you are calling on Liberians “not to vote for a footballer.” That call speaks to the level of frustration I am referring to. FrontPageAfrica newspaper attributed a statement to you in its August 25th edition under the heading, “’Don’t Vote for Footballer’ – Vice President Boakai Admonishes Supporters,” you warned supporters: “If you vote for a footballer you will be kick (ed) (past tense mine) like a football because that is the work of a footballer.”

Really? No, Honorable Boakai, George Weah will not kick the Liberian people around like football. He loves the people and they love and believe in him. During his illustrious football career, he combined mental and physical toughness with skills to outsmart and dribble opponents, chip goalies, outrun defenders, and score goals that were incredibly breadth-taking and spectacular by kicking the ball only and not people. That is why in 1995, he conquered Africa, Europe, and the world in football. If he did not kick opponents around in the past to win those laurels in football, he will not kick his own people around, plain and simple. In a game of football, if you kick your opponent instead of the ball, you will be shown a red card and that ultimately means automatic ejection. The funny thing about your statement is that you are berating a football icon yet here you are, going on soccer fields, taking kick-offs and asking players to vote for you. In other words, you are telling them that they are bunch of nobodies because they play football but hypocritically you want them to vote for you.

George Weah took a little over six years – from the closing stages of 1988 to 1995 – to reach the zenith of his foot-balling career. Therefore, when he takes the Presidential Oath of Office in January 2018, his first order of business within the first six years will be to give you a proper retirement package and not kick you around, that is a promise. Thereafter, he will build the Menokona Road so that when you are travelling to Monrovia to pick up your pension check, you will have a smooth ride and not get stuck in the mud as is presently happening. Remember, Sir the Menokona Road project was started by your former boss, President Samuel Doe, from Gbarnga to your home county of Lofa, but you and your present boss, Madam Sirleaf did not dare touch it for almost twelve years which prompted you to apologize to the people of Lofa as was reported in the August 28th edition of FrontPage Africa under the heading: “VP Apologizes to Lofa County For Not Addressing Critical Concerns.”

Uncle Joe, sorry Sir, but that apology came twelve years too late. For almost twelve years you have been dutifully playing second fiddle to Madam Sirleaf but abandoned your own people of Lofa County only to apologize to them and unconscionably promised them thus: “Let me simply and humbly apologize and ask that we continue to believe that the time for it to happen is at hand. God willing it will be done soon.” How can you, with straight face, look in the eyes of the people of Lofa County and ask them to vote for you after you abandoned them for twelve years? Where were you, Sir? That is a hard sell and you know it, Uncle Joe. I am not sure whether you can redeem yourself.

For almost twelve years, you and President Sirleaf have presided over a government with failing schools, endemic corruption, poor healthcare delivery system, bad roads and in some areas, no roads at all, which make the southeastern region and other parts of Liberia seem like a region in the 17th century. Pictures from Rivercess, Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Sinoe Counties and parts of Nimba are horrible. And now you want the people to give you and your party another six years? What you did not do in 12 years, even though you had the opportunity but shirked that responsibility, cannot be done in six years. You had your chance but blew it.

Another thing, Uncle Joe, you keep playing the victim by stating that the President never asks you to recommend anyone for any ministerial post and also insinuating that she does not consult you on major policy issues and so you are fighting tooth and nail to distance yourself from the government’s failed policies. But you want to take credit for some of the good things that the government has done; for example, the roads constructed from Monrovia to Ganta and from Harbel to Buchanan? That does not fly. If you want to distance yourself from Madam Sirleaf for the failed government policies, you cannot and should not take credit for the good ones either. You cannot have it both ways.

Just to refresh your memory, Honorable Vice President: in 2014, during the Montserrado County senatorial election in which President Sirleaf’s favorite son, Robert Sirleaf was pitted against Amb George Weah, the Unity Party, through its then Secretary General (now Chairman) Wilmot Paye, called a press conference and made a scathing attack against Robert Sirleaf. The Party disavowed Robert Sirleaf in no uncertain terms and went as far as barring partisans from voting for him by over-emphasizing that any partisan who supported Robert Sirleaf would be doing so at their own risk. Unity Party publicly disgraced him and figuratively threw him under the bus. In that election, Robert Sirleaf went on to be embarrassingly trounced by Amb Weah. That began the watershed moment between the Sirleafs and the Party. Madam Sirleaf blames you partly for that. An aide close to President Sirleaf has said that the President will not support you and the Unity Party simply because you did not rein in Mr. Paye.

Senator George Weah will win this election because the Liberian people are behind him. He is battle-tested and has better organizational machine this time around. You have a humble beginning just as he is but what sets him apart from you is that he is younger and his message of hope is resonating with Liberians, especially the young people who make up majority of the voting population. They love him, believe in him and will vote for him. The Liberian people see you and Madam Sirleaf as one of the same – ones who they sincerely believe have failed to meet their socio-economic needs. Therefore, they will not give the Unity Party another six years.

By. Jerry Gbardy

The need to Transform LBS into a Public Service Broadcaster is Ever Present

A bill to transform state radio – the Liberia Broadcasting System into a Public Service Broadcaster, has been tabled before the House of Representatives for the second time in nine years. The new establishment to be known as the Liberia National Broadcasting Corporation (LNBC), was introduced by Bong County Representative, George Mulbah on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 on behalf of the working group.

It was first submitted to the 51st Legislature together with a bill to establish an Independent Broadcast Regulator and the Freedom of Information Act in 2008 by the Press Union of Liberia and partners. But only the FOI got passed in 2010. The three media legal reform instruments were recommended after an assessment mission to Liberia by a group of experts under the egis of the ‘Partnership for Media and Conflict Prevention in West Africa’, just as the Liberian civil war was ending in 2003.

The partnership brought together national, regional and international media development and free expression organizations as part of global efforts to restore lasting peace, stability and democracy to the war-ravaged country. The group included: Article 19, Free Voice, International Federation f Journalists, UNESCO, UNDP, UNMIL, International Media Support, Canadian Journalist for Free Expression, Media Rights Agenda (Nigeria) and Media Foundation for West Africa among others.

Overall, the mission sough “to assess the media environment in Liberia, with the intention of prioritizing and renewing the media support activities of the partnership together with the local media community within the broader perspectives of post-conflict reconciliation and democratic development.”

Renewed Effort The current bill is a modified version of the original draft, revised with technical support from the USAID funded Liberia Media Development Program (LMD), implemented by Internews and its sub-contractor, Albany Associates.

There is no question the issues that obtained long before that assessment mission was undertaken in 2003, is ever present. The Partnership observed then that, “The Government needs to demonstrate its appreciation that the LBS is a national resource which should serve the interests of all Liberian citizens, regardless of …… political affiliation, religion or other backgrounds.”

This call was somewhat a harsh reminder to successive governments beyond the transitional period, to uphold one of the tenets of democratic governance - freedom of expression. Sadly, Article 15 (d) of the Liberian Constitution has not even been strong enough to guarantee unrestricted access to the State radio. The provision warns that “Access to state owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas expressed. Denial of such access may be challenged in a court of competent jurisdiction.”

I cannot remember any instance where the Station has been taken to court for denying anyone access to the Radio - thanks to the diversity of radio stations today. Even at that, the State Radio should not be the exclusive reserve of a segment of the society regardless of their power. That’s the message the Partnership was sending in 2003.
Yes, the timing of that call was appropriate - the country was in transition from a violent conflict [partly blamed on the marginalization] that left thousands of Liberians and foreign residents including peace keepers dead. Its people had been subdued and humbled into silence. But the problem of LBS being dominated by the ruling government or more appropriately, the Executive Branch, to the exclusion of other citizens, is still present. Hence the need to transform the station.

The Psychological Siege and Undue Influence In the 2011 elections, the Director General of LBS, Ambrose Nmah was suspended days after the station granted a live broadcast to an opposition figure. In 2014 senatorial elections, the same Director General was dismissed only after a live broadcast by Ruling Party officials who were opposed to the President’s son bid to contest the Montserrado County seat. As recent as September 8, 2017, the Standard Bearer of the All Liberian Party, was surprised to be on the State Radio. When asked by Director General, Ledgerhood Rennie who was hosting him on the ‘Supper Morning Show’ as to why he was surprised, Mr. Benoni Urey said because the station has always been used as a political tool for some people. Ledgerhood tried his best to disabuse the notion, but it really did not worth his time and effort because it was like trying to ‘prove or disprove the negative.’ There are countless number of instances in which members of the opposition and other citizens have complained of either been denied or censored on LBS. So the question is why lawmakers have not acted on this bill with urgency when it could answer the cry of many Liberians including themselves? Irony!

Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anna was on point when he said these words about the power of the media “…By giving voice and visibility to all people – including and especially the poor, the marginalized and members of minorities - the media can help remedy the inequalities, the corruption, the ethnic tension and the human rights abuses that form the root causes of so many conflict.”

Without questioning the professionalism of the Management team at the Station, one should excuse them for the apparent psychological siege and interferences they have had to endure. We are talking here about the State Radio especially in a Country where even if the President wanted to be tolerant in the minimal, sycophantic loyalists who don’t see the bigger picture, prevail.

The renewed call therefore to transform LBS into a Public Service Broadcaster is all the more timely. Incidentally, the Country is in transition again, but a different kind from the one we had 2003. Our country is going through a groundbreaking political transition when a sitting president will hand power over to a democratically elected president. This is simply a defining moment in our democratic development that should make sense to all the political players and the entire citizenry to study how to sustain this democracy. I have no doubts that once created, the Liberia National Broadcasting Corporation (LNBC) is a sustainer of our fledgling democracy - but also an enabler of our development agenda.

The Point of Departure
“The objective of the LNBC shall be to provide independent, nonpartisan, credible, professionally efficient and accountable public broadcasting service that will cater to the needs of the Liberian people and thereby promote a vibrant, open, stable and democratized society. “

In order to guarantee its independence, the Board of Director shall be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The composition of the Board shall be drawn from nine registered Liberian professional organizations and relevant Government bodies.” Four of those institutions including: The Ministry of Post & Telecommunications, the University of Liberia (Mass Comm.), The Press Union of Liberia and the Liberian Bar Association will serve as statutory members, while the National Teachers Association, The Liberia Chamber of Commerce, the Health Workers Association and the National Civil Society Council will serve two renewable two-year terms each.

The Board of Directors, and not the President, shall then recruit the top Management Team of three “including Director-General, Deputy Director-General for Broadcasting and Deputy Director-General for Technical Operations after an open and competitive recruitment process for a renewable term of four years based on performance.” Of course they will be hired with a service contract.

The LNBC shall not compete with commercial stations for advertisement. It shall be fully funded by tax payers through the National Budget. The bill proposes half of 1% of the National Budget to be appropriated for the operations of the stations each year.

With these and other safeguards in the bill including its programing structure should make it all too difficult for any government to compromise the independence and objectivity of the broadcaster. Conclusion Is this too hard for us to do as a people who are profoundly intent on developing our democracy? Honestly, there are too many stations here for the Government to worry itself holding onto LBS. We are in an era where every uncleaned propaganda is reproved. So it makes little sense for a government to manipulate a station and/or any outlet that is seen as bias.

I should therefore commend Representative George Mulbah for accepting the vision and his courage to sponsor the bill with absolutely no indecision. I believe there are other lawmakers who feel very strong about changing the status of LBS, we urge you to add your voices to this call. But this call should also claim the attention of all political leaders and Liberians keen on rewriting our democratic story – this too matters.

Peter Quaqua is President of the West African Journalists Association, Former President of the Press Union of Liberia and focal person on the media law reform pillar of the Liberia Media Development program.


President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Executive Mansion, Monrovia
C/o The Foreign Minister
Sept 7, 2017

Dear Madam President,
Please permit me to write you this letter through the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs.I am Ralph Z. David, an aggrieved Liberian, hailing from Nimba County (passport OR/00717xxx) and living in the city of Parma, Italy writing to complain the extortion scheme carried out by the Head of the Embassy of Liberia in Rome, Mr. Harano Rashid Kromah for your motherly attention and intervention.

Madam President, many of the Liberians in Italy are being exploited, coerced and extorted by the Acting Ambassador, Mr. Harano Rashid Kromah and his girlfriend at the Embassy. I regret to tell you Madam that this corruption has been happening at the Embassy in Italy since this man took over and many of Liberians here are afraid to report because of threats, blackmail and intimidation. They continue to charge us even for a simple nullo osta for the police declaration. Lessez passez is sold to us for 100 euro by the embassy and they don't give us any receipt to show that we have paid. Most of the time Liberians are not issued receipts at all. Even the people who are given visa in their itaslian passports, they use some kind of ink pad stamp with no receipt. When you ask for receipt, they get vex and threaten to call police on you because they feel that we are all clandestine immigrants. Please help us.

We have just come from Libya by boat. Me and my friends travelled to Libya by land through Mali and underwent severe suffering and maltreatment in the Libyan capital where we were detained and underwent hard labour.

As suffering Liberians seeking for greener pasture, we risked our lives by jumping on boats from Libya to Italy and through God’s Grace, some of us were among several other Liberians and other African brothers who safely made it to the Italian shores of Lampodosa and was rescued by good people. Many others didn’t make it alive.

Having spent several months in isolation camp in Italy, we were finally granted the temporary permit to stay on humanitarian consideration. We were issued papers to stay but were requested to seek valid document from our embassy or renew our passports so that we can be granted a permanent status. As desperate as we were, I proceeded along with some colleagues to the Liberian Embassy in Rome, Via Medaglie doro 7. Upon arriving at the embassy, we were not given any good reception which other Liberians have always complained about when they visit the embassy. The harsh language of Mr. Koroma in fact makes you afraid of him for anything assistance you may need. And fees charged to give simple documents are very expensive with no receipts given. He is very rude and impolite to Liberians visiting the embassy.

On March 24 this year, three of us went to the Embassy for the renewal of our passports and to be issued documents and were charged exorbitantly. We were each charged the amount of 150 euro which is about 175 dollars for renewal. Each of us paid to Mr Koroma in his office where he personally stamped in our passports the renewal without giving us receipts. But to our surprised, this was only a simple ink pad stamp placed in our passports for the huge amount charged. Please see my passport here attached for your review.

When we asked if it was possible to get a new passport, he told us that the new passport would cost each of us about 400 dollars. Because we couldn’t afford the 400 dollars each, we decided to pay the 150 euro each which he even said he was helping us because the Government of Liberia has stopped renewing the old passports. When we asked for a receipt, he got angry by saying if we request for any receipt, then we must pay the full amount of 200 euro for each renewal. He threatened us that he will call the police on us if we didn’t leave quietly. We bitterly and unsatisfactorily left his office. As we went downstairs, the Italian lady working in the embassy felt so sorry for us and even helped pay our way. She herself was not happy and she told us that this man is always doing this to poor struggling Liberians who can’t afford to spend so much. She told us that she used to handle passport renewal under the old ambassador because Mr Koroma was only doing receptionist job but since he got this job, she doesn’t handle that again. She suggested that we travel to Brussels but we had no valid travel document.

My friends are afraid to make any complaint against this man but I have decided to do so because, my passport was not accepted by the Italian immigration because it expires on September 23 of this month. We were also told that the embassy usually issues a renewal adhesive sticker so why didn’t they put the adhesive sticker in the passport? I also met one other Liberian fellow who renewed his passport at the same embassy and an adhesive sticker was placed in his passport but not the ink pad stamp. He paid the amount of 250 euro for this renewal and this renewal was honored and accepted by the Italian immigration because they say it was genuine. This very passport of mine was renewed before in Abidjan where I only paid 50 dollars to one Mr. John Jallah at the Liberian Embassy in Abidjan. Madam, why should we be treated like this Madam President, considering how desperate we are seeking for better life?

Liberians in Italy are suffering too much Madam President since this man took over the embassy extorting money from everyone. In fact, he borrows and takes money from poor hardworking Liberians and he doesn’t repay them back. Whenever you ask him for the repayment of your money, he tells you that he is the Embassador and related to the Foreign Minister so no one can do anything to him. Many Liberians say this man used to do the same thing even when the old Ambassador was here in Italy. Mr. Kroma has always frightened Liberians whenever he was asked to repay back their money. Please ma, help us because we are suffering too much as I have already stated. Many of our friends making this journey died in the sea and for us who have made it, our own government is not punishing us by taking our hard-earned money. On behalf of myself and my countrymen, we are begging you to please listen to our cry to help us before you leave office.

Madam President, we know how hard you have tried developing our motherland and we thank you. Many of your citizens in this country are suffering because there are no jobs so everyone who comes in try to migrate to France or northern Europe like Sweden. But with no valid travel document, you are compelled to stay here and work in the tomato farms exploited and paid with small money. We have families back home that we have to help even with the small money that we receive so please tell your embassy people to feel sorry for us. We are poor and catching hell Madam.

Thank you very much for reading my letter and we have the hope that you will take an action to relieve us of this heavy load. Please see my address below.
Ralph Z. David
43121 Parma (PR) Italy

How to make the green revolution a reality in Africa

In this interview, she speaks on the seventh African Green Revolution Forum, taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from 4-8 September 2017; how to mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture; the Bank’s Feed Africa Strategy, and other key issues.

What are the goals of the AGRF-AfDB Partnership?

The African Development Bank’s Feed Africa Strategy is to transform African agriculture over the next decade into a competitive and inclusive agribusiness sector that creates wealth, improves lives and secures the environment. The goals of Feed Africa are to help eliminate extreme poverty in Africa by 2025; end hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025; make Africa a net food exporter; and move Africa to the top of export-orientated global value chains where it has comparative advantage.
For its part, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) focuses on catalyzing smallholder farmer productivity to unleash agricultural transformation by using an integrated value chain approach, with an emphasis on staple crops.

AGRF is a multi-stakeholder partnership effort led and coordinated by AGRA. Its primary objective is to foster public-private partnerships and drive sustainable agricultural productivity as a catalyst for enhancing long-term food and nutrition security, and ultimately, broad-based economic growth for Africa. AGRF is thus a vehicle for unlocking the full potential of agriculture as a driver of economic growth and stability for Africa and transforming smallholder farms into productive and profitable businesses.

Both the Bank and AGRA focus on fostering agriculture as a vehicle for inclusive and sustainable economic transformation in Africa, and eradicating poverty and hunger. To this end, since 2010 when the first AGRF was held in Accra, Ghana, the Bank has participated in all of the meetings: Tanzania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Zambia, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire.

The AGRF continues to serve as a vital medium for exchange aimed at unlocking the full potential of Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness to help drive growth and standards of living and transform smallholder farms into productive and profitable businesses.

How does the AGRF event align with the African Development Bank’s High 5s?

Since the primary objective of AGRF is to foster public-private partnerships and drive sustainable agricultural productivity, as a catalyst for enhancing long-term food and nutrition security, and ultimately, broad-based economic growth for Africa, there is strong alignment between the Forum and the African Development Bank’s High 5s.

The Bank’s blueprint of operational priority areas, referred to as the High 5s also constitute its vision for African economic transformation. Launched in June 2016, these are to: Light up and Power Africa, Industrialize Africa, Integrate Africa, Feed Africa, and Improve the Quality of Life for the People of Africa. Two of the High 5s- Feed Africa, and Improve the Quality of Life for the People of Africa- are fully aligned with the purpose and activities of the AGRF.

SDG 2 focuses on end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. What are AfDB’s key initiatives in reducing malnutrition on the continent?

Within our High 5s strategy, AfDB is poised to invest significantly more in fighting undernutrition through nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific activities across all of its sectors by means of partnerships and direct investments, bringing together both critical sides of the equation: food producers and nutrition experts. Indeed, improved nutrition is an articulated goal of Feed Africa, to end hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025.
The Bank’s key flagship initiatives for nutrition include the Grey Matter Infrastructure which consists of Banking on Nutrition (mainstreaming nutrition as a cross cutting issue across the Bank’s portfolio, capacity strengthening of Bank staff, monitoring and evaluation Framework); and Capacity Strengthening in the ECOWAS Region. The Bank is addressing institutional, organizational and human capacity gaps for nutrition in the West African region with a focus on strengthening and harmonizing existing nutrition training modules, developing a skilled workforce for nutrition, and creating a network of nutrition training institutions and/or center of excellence for nutrition in the region

We also have the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative which leverages high-level membership to increase the visibility of nutrition, strengthen political will and encourage policy and financial commitments and spark investment and progress on nutrition goals such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) /Malabo targets and the SDG 2. This includes the dissemination of an updated economic case for cost effective nutrition interventions, proposal of evidence-based policies and programs and the development of an accountability scorecard to track progress towards Malabo & World Health Assembly nutrition targets.

AGRF 2017 will focus on Accelerating Africa’s Path to Prosperity: Growing Economies and Jobs through African Agriculture. How does this align with AfDB’s initiatives?

As we are all aware, there is a dearth of jobs for the many young Africans coming into the job market. By some estimates, there are only 3 million formal jobs awaiting more than 12 million young people who join Africa’s workforce each year. Yet they represent a massive opportunity for Africa’s economies if their talents are harnessed. The goal of AfDB’s wider Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy is to create 25 million Jobs and equipping 50 million youth in the ten years leading up to 2025.

This is being achieved through various channels. For example, the Bank is equipping itself and its Regional Member Countries to become engines of job creation, ensuring that all projects we finance have a job creation or vocational training component. In addition, the Bank is assessing, incubating, implementing, and scaling up promising solutions, as well as catalyzing private sector investment for job creation.

Within the agricultural sector, AfDB has approached the continental youth unemployment challenges through the Empowering Novel Agri-Business-Led Employment (ENABLE Youth) model by designing a program to empower young graduates at each stage of agribusiness value chains. It develops ‘agripreneurs’ by harnessing new skills, technologies and financing approaches so that young people can establish viable and profitable agribusinesses, creating jobs and income for themselves and others.

Is the green revolution really possible in Africa?

The Green Revolution is absolutely possible in Africa. India has shown what can happen in a relatively short period of time. But it has not happened yet given a number of well-known constraints: the lack of decent roads, storage, extension capacity, and finance to name but a few. But when governments and companies invest in agriculture, dramatic gains are possible. Just look at what has happened in Ethiopia (floriculture), Kenya (horticulture), Nigeria (e-wallet and efficient input distribution system), Rwanda (various crops), among others. For the green revolution to happen in Africa, there is an urgent necessity to increase productivity and to move up the value chain into processed foods. Africa cannot feed itself while getting only a quarter of its potential yields and without processing what it grows.

To what level is climate change a threat to the green revolution in Africa, and what measures can mitigate any possible threat?

Climate change is a fundamental threat for Africa. Given its susceptibility to the effects of climate change and other extreme weather events, African agriculture must be developed to simultaneously address three intertwined challenges: ensuring food security through increased productivity and income, adapting to climate change and contributing to climate change mitigation. Addressing these challenges will require radical changes in our food systems. It was precisely to articulate these changes that FAO forged the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture, as a way forward for food security in a changing climate.
The goal is to improve food security, help communities adapt to climate change and contribute to climate change mitigation by adopting appropriate practices, develop enabling policies and institutions and mobilizing needed finances.

For Africa to reap the potential benefits, multiple actions must be taken. This ranges from improving our evidence base underpinning strategic choices, promoting the adoption by farmers of appropriate technologies, creating supportive policy frameworks and public investments and developing and implementing effective risk-sharing schemes among others. The Bank has set up a climate smart agriculture flagship with highly qualified staff to ensure that all of our activities in the agriculture space are fully climate proof and climate smart. Jennifer Blanke is the Vice-President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank (AfDB).

By Jennifer Blanke

Journalism Is Not a Crime: Please Repeal


There seems to be a general apprehension among public officials about enabling the environment for the press to operate freely in most African countries, so much so that they are prepared to treat journalists as criminals. Ironically, these public officials and their friends and relatives want to be celebrated as populists, yet they are reluctant to part ways with the tendencies and laws promulgated by dictators to protect themselves in power. Contradiction!

Just days after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf submitted the bill to repeal criminal defamation laws to the Legislature, howbeit belatedly, the fear of the press has apparently been reinforced. There are members of the public and some in officialdom suggesting that “to repeal criminal defamation is to make the press frisky and more unethical,” as though the laws are being kept as weapons against the press.

Unfortunately, a large portion of the legal community even thinks the same way. There are lawyers and judges who believe that the only way to “teach journalists lesson” is to throw them behind bars. Perhaps this is the only means to satisfy their clients. A foreign colleague normally jokes that the Liberian legal system is “obsessed with punishment.”

Actually, there can be no repudiation of the citizens’ legitimate right to seek legal recourse against media houses and journalists in cases where people’s reputations have been wrongly and willfully maligned in erroneous news reports. But such cases should be considered civil matters, not criminal offenses, punishable where appropriate by direct compensation and/or repair of injured party’s reputation.

Financial compensation in civil libel cases notwithstanding, should be determined on realistic evaluation of actual damages and the ability for the media outlet to pay, among other considerations. Excessive judgments or penalties, like the one imposed (rightly or wrongly) on Rodney Sieh and the Front Page Africa in the case Vs Chris Toe, is simply intended to restrain or shut down the operation of the media. These kinds of actions, amount to official censorship and an infraction of constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. I would like to leave civil libel argument for another day, but the scale of the law suits we have witnessed against the media since the inception of the administration of madam President, is unbelievable. These suits have negative implications and chilling effect on journalists.

Whenever there is an attempt, in good faith or otherwise, to legislate the ethical conduct of journalists, it leads to undue restrictions on their legitimate freedoms to practice, but it also places limitations on the unhindered flow of information.

Ironically still, Liberia enacted the first Freedom of Information Law in West Africa in 2010, but the country remains keen on punishing its citizens for using those information it has declared freed – as demonstrated in the government’s grab on criminal defamation laws. Contradiction!

Criminal defamation is simply contrary to the spirit and intent of the FOI – the two cannot work together. I therefore beg our lawmakers to please abolish criminal libel and accept greater reform of media laws.

The demand for quality and/or ethical journalism should never be used by governments as a prerequisite for enabling press freedom. On the contrary, according to a publication on Self-regulation by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (the OSCE), “ethical journalism can only develop in an atmosphere of guaranteed freedom. Journalists’ self-restraint must be preceded and accompanied by governmental self-restraint in handling of media.”

Under Liberian laws, criminal cases are prosecuted by the state, so it is common sense to conclude that when the government prosecutes speech and journalists in criminal charges as it were in criminal libel, it actually treats them as criminals, unfortunately. Journalists engaged in the act of journalism, are not criminals and should never be treated as one. With all intents and purposes, journalism is a human right activity that all governments must protect.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Convention on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, the Declaration of Table Mountain and many other regional and international instruments, obligate member states to conform.

Pointedly, like the Declaration of Table Mountain, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Resolution 169, declared in November 2010 that “criminal defamation laws constitute a serious interference with freedom of expression and impedes on the role of the media as a watchdog, preventing journalists and media practitioners from practicing their profession without fear and in good faith.”

The Resolution therefore “calls on States Parties to repeal criminal defamation laws or insult laws which impede freedom of speech, and to adhere to the provisions of freedom of expression, articulated in the African Charter… ”

Further to the above, a joint statement by freedom of expression rapporteurs around the world also declared that, “Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”

Do politicians and members of the public ever take a moment to check why there is a consistent global appeal for the defense and safety of journalists? Journalists and all those engaged in acts of journalism are, at best, public interest agents. In other words, journalists act on behalf of the community, the society and even the government whether it feels offended or comfortable by their work. Unavoidably, journalists formed the bedrock for democratic development regardless of the misgivings. Journalism is here to stay; the onus is on us to make it better.

It needs to be stated here that the repeal of criminal libel will not merely benefit the media, but also political and civil society activists. It benefits prosecutors of the media, it benefits even those who are lawmakers and the rest of those in society who maybe be worried about “giving the media more freedom.” I dare say it also benefits judges. Repeal of criminal libel would reinforce and guarantee citizens’ rights to freedom of information under the Constitution of Liberia. This reform is also in the political interest of the current government, and all future Liberian governments.

I commend the President for submitting the bill, but that’s not enough. She must join the lobby to have the lawmakers act upon it. I should also challenge civil society organizations, political activists, student leaders, human rights activists and all those interested in an open society to impress upon the legislators to please repeal criminal defamation.

Criminal Defamation Laws

By: Peter Quaqua

China's on the Horizon with Trade and Education

As the world turns, more and more attention is being focused on the East, specifically the People's Republic of China with its "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" system of governance. No doubt, China was in the throes of economic degradation a few decades ago; struggling to implement experimented national development plans that could uplift its people from the dragnet of poverty and inequality. Many died in the process of reforms. But since 1978, the Asian leader has achieved enormous economic growth averaging 9.85% annually, thus making it the second largest economy on earth.

As an emerging economy situated between the developed and developing worlds, China has shifted its focus not only on the manufacturing industry but importantly, on the service industry as an engine for increased growth. With a sufficiency economy in terms of more supply of, than demand for goods and services, the Country produces almost everything and sells almost entirely to its citizenry.

Adopting the policy of openness to trade and commerce, the Country also exports most of its commodities to other developing and developed nations at varying prices. This gives even the underprivileged the opportunity of utilizing their purchasing power. There is a price for everyone including the poor and the rich, the "haves and have not" in China's mixed market operations.

The key attraction of this sporadic growth rate can be singularly attributed to the level of investment in education, especially science and technology. The Country investment in Research and Development constitute almost 2.07% of its GDP. The result of investment in R&D is practically and visibly seen through the level of infrastructure development, the construction of super highways, modern industries as well as the production of technologically energy efficient vehicles. The Country's "New Normal" for economic growth is to increase production through technological advancement, especially in the service sector.

As a means of expanding its developmental trajectory to other parts of the world, the PRC adopted the "One Belt One Road" policy. Simply put, it's a trade initiative that helps expand its economic growth corridors while at the same time bringing shared prosperity to other nations along the route. From Jakarta to Russia and from Ethiopia to Tanzania, this network of roads connectivity has stretched out its access to trade and improve diplomatic relations with various countries.

The principal value of this undertaking is not only embedded in the desire for materialism and wealth creation through increased economic growth and transformation. It affirms the principle that inner peace through harmonious means can easily be achieved by adopting friendly relationship with your neighbors. More to this is that this sort of economic initiative also validates the maxim which states "countries that trade together, are less likely to go to war".

Unlike the European Union common approach to continental peace, economic and trade, China approach is more global, cutting across continents. It is like a bottom to top approach to alleviating global poverty and income inequality across countries, space and time.

Aside from broadening its economic achievements as the second largest economy the world over, the Country has now elevated its openness policy to include educational opportunities for other developing countries. That on the margins of the 70th session of the UNGA in New York in 2015, President Xi Jinping will launch the Institute of South- South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD).

ituated at the nation's historic and premier Peking University, in Beijing in the National School of Development (NSD), the program brings emerging leaders from across the developing world. From Afghanistan to Albania, from Liberia to Nepal, the Master and Ph.D. programs are intended to harness the skills of students by exposing them to real-world developmental processes.

With full sponsorship from the Ministries of Commerce of China, the idea principle underlining the formation of ISSCAD is engraved in the concept that crafting real-world solutions to complex problems would require multi-disciplinary and actionable approach. Further, the existential basis for the National School of Development maintains that "national development calls for public leaders who care about the world, countries, and communities, and are prepared to engage and be engaged in shaping a better future with vision, passion, courage, and wisdom to turn ideas into action".

Adding to its impeccable character as one of the leading centers of excellence in the world, the School of National Development at Peking University also prides itself with professors with diverse educational credentials. From Harvard to Oxford, from Columbia University to New York University, and from Princeton University to George Mason University.

From the University of London to the University of Wisconsin and from the University of Chicago, to the University of Leeds, the school brings together some of the learned gentry in international development, economics, management, comparative governments, political economy, political science and public policy. The convergence of these indisputable former officials of Government blended with refreshing faculty and scholars can only serve as a solution hub to some of the many developmental challenges faced by developing nations.

hina's decision to invest in trade through its "One Belt One Road" policy and education through South-South Cooperation and Development has a binary effect on the rest of the developing world; meaning that as China progresses along the lines as an emerging economy, its backwash effects will help pull other countries from the dungeon of poverty and inequality. As there can be no way to prosperity other than through education and economic freedom; and that is just what China has initiated: Trade and Education- the best way to go for South-South Cooperation and Development.

By: Plingloh Emmanuel Munyeneh


Liberia’s children deserve the best education

Over the last twenty years, the people of Africa’s first modern republic, Liberia, have been through two civil wars and a major virus epidemic. The wars caused the death and displacement of more than a million people. The Ebola epidemic only ended two years ago. Our turbulent history is one of the reasons why 85% of our population now live below the international poverty line. Despite these major challenges, we are committed to giving our children a better future. The foundation of that must be a better education.

For decades, our education system had been failing, notably in 2013 every single candidate failed the admission test to the University of Liberia, 25,000 students. As President Sirleaf said: ‘Rapid change required a departure from traditional structures’. We are significantly behind most other countries in the region on most education statistics. In Liberia, 42% of primary aged children are currently out of school and it is even higher for the poorest. More than half of young adults are illiterate. Over two-thirds of girls do not have basic reading skills.

All this must change now, and the change must be large scale and sustainable. In my role as Professor of Education at Cuttington University and now as Dean at the University of Liberia, I have been working with the Liberian Government to radically transform our education system. We challenged the status quo and sought truly innovative and sustainable interventions. All because we are committed to giving Liberian children the best possible life chances.

That is why the government launched Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), an initiative that sought to re-imagine primary education delivery in Liberia through adopting both domestic and international private partners. Never a single source program, PSL was a private program run by the Liberian Ministry of Education and selected non-state school operators, including international NGOs, private school operators, and Liberian organizations.

Students at the Bridge partnership school in Kollita Wolah With the initiative and support of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the Government decided to research, prepare and launch the PSL initiative in 2016 with 94 pilot schools and eight different school operating partners.

Bridge is one of the eight providers who are helping us to run this pilot. They currently run 25 of the 94 pilot schools. Although it has been recently announced that they have been awarded another 43 schools after being given an ‘A’ rating by the ministry, based on ‘significant quality of implementation’. This will mean that in September 2017 they will be managing 68 schools across Liberia, many in the South East.

As with all academics, I anxiously awaited evidence of learning gains and I am excited that it has been released. New analysis of the pupils in Bridge schools shows that the children there are making significantly more gains than their peers in traditional public schools. Students can read almost 7 more words per minute, answer 6% more questions correctly about a story, and solve 2.6 more maths problems in a minute. The data for this was gathered at the beginning of this year, so this is a visible achievement after only four months. These students made more progress toward achieving national literacy benchmarks. In just 4 months, 17 percent of second graders met the reading fluency benchmark for the first time, compared to only 4 percent of second graders at traditional public schools. Bridge PSL public school students also outperformed their traditional public school peers on the reading comprehension benchmark by a similar margin; 15 percent met this standard for the first time, compared to 4% of students attending traditional public schools.

Bridge accomplished in 4 months what a very successful early grade reading intervention in Liberia achieved in 18 months. In math, results were quite strong as well, outperforming traditional public school students by an equivalent of 50% more learning over the initial four months.

These are only interim results half way through the pilot, but the signs are very encouraging. Importantly, the entire pilot program is being independently evaluated by the Center for Global Development in a randomized control trial (RCT) that will compare the 94 PSL schools with 94 traditional government-run schools. The full first year results will be out in August, however, the measurable, positive, and statistically significant academic gains recently evidenced are a positive indication of what’s to come.

But the gains are not just in tests. Bridge schools have nearly 90% teacher attendance, which is up from less than 60% in our public schools last year. Enrolment is up dramatically at Bridge schools and with better gender parity. The school day has been extended to seven hours of instruction and students now have access to world-class curricular materials and lesson plans aligned to the Liberian national standards. Bridge’s use of technology, such as teacher computers and Academy Manager smart phones, allows staff to track student attendance, academic performance, and growth over time, even in schools without access to reliable power. Moreover, the data is available to the Ministry of Education on a dashboard which shows near real-time data, offering transparency and accountability for both public funds and the enormous amount of philanthropic support, particularly from Bridge, that underpins the program.

Everyone involved in PSL has made clear that scale up of the pilot will be based on evidence and it is why the publication of the first evidence from 4 of the eight providers is so important and so exciting. There has been push back, even surprisingly from the government’s own western advisors. But, as the Education Minister said ‘patience towards progress is a luxury that no post-conflict country can afford.’ In focusing on learning gains, the PSL initiative has enabled the Government to confront and tackle some key issues including thousands of ‘ghost teachers’ on the Government payroll, high rates of teacher absenteeism and classrooms that lacked not only teaching resources but even desks.

I recognise the Liberian approach to change is controversial and some people will strongly disagree with our initiative. Disruption is often unwelcome and unsettling. But I speak for all Liberians when I say that our education decision making always prioritises the needs of Liberian children. We will not put other factors above the service of their learning and growth. The opportunity is profound – we really are creating a brighter future for our children – in partnership with academics, operators, sponsors, and of course our teachers.

By: Dr. Saaim W. Naame, Dean of Education at the University of Liberia.

Vice President Joseph Boakai is set to win 2017 Presidential Election

If the current security, economic and political progress prove true, the Unity Party ( UP) presidential nominee will be named the victor once ballots are counted in October this year. Over the past 10 years, Liberia has made significant progress in security sector reform, and economic and political development - factors that are enormously crucial in this year election. To assess Joseph Boakai's chance of victory, we look at the progress made by the Sirleaf-Boakai led government. We will also analyse voter ideology in national elections by using County endorsement and vice presidential candidate selection.

National security is a precondition for economic and political development, which makes it an essential factor that concerns every Liberian despite their political affiliation. Because a robust security system is a necessary and sufficient condition for peace and stability - Does this sound like a valid argument? Yes, it is...

Since the end of the civil war in 2003 and the return to democracy in 2005, Liberia has been gradually rebuilding and returning to normalcy. Under the Sirleaf-Boakai leadership security sector reform was a top priority. Because they wanted to ensure that our children go to school safely. With the help of the International Community, our security sector underwent a massive reform which opened up the political space and ultimately boosted investors confidence, for example, in the mining sector.

It is reasonable to note that the Unity Party ( UP) government has been made considerable progress in providing security for all. According to the Peace Institute, Liberia's post-conflict recovery process appears to be a success story for other nations. If you dig deeper, you will agree with my argument that the UP led government has made significant progress, because a body of international institutions has acknowledged this. For example, a report by the World Bank maintained that the current government has revived national hope by strengthening the institutions of national security and good governance which has revitalized its economy and infrastructure and restored its reputation (World Bank, 2014). An achievement that has unequivocally made Liberia a safer place for all. It also means that our democracy is booming, because a safe environment paves the way for a genuine democracy. This is an amazing achievement that every Liberian should celebrate. The perfect way to celebrate this is to VOTE for Joseph Boakai - play your role by sustaining our hard earned democracy. That is why voting for a responsible team to lead our nation has never been so crucial.

In 1996 when I visited Liberia there was fear and deprivation everywhere. In 2010, when I went back everything has changed. I saw happiness and progress. I was excited because Liberia was getting better as my best friend, the late Mamadee Diakite argued. But all of these require genuine commitments, hard work, and strong leadership - from our leaders. One of the quiet and behind-the-scene drivers in making all of these a reality is Vice President Joseph Boakai. And then, I got interested in him. Over the years, I have been following his role in the UP led government. And I got to know that he is a man with discipline, resilience who thinks thoughtfully about important policy issues and pushes for pragmatic solutions. These are the qualities we want to see in our next president. Boakai is the most experienced candidate to be trusted when it comes to sustaining and improving national security. Because he understands the challenges faced by the security sector. For instance, he knows that true national security is more than personal human safety but rather it also involves making sure that our national economy is growing and providing jobs. Furthermore, he understands the real impact of the Ebola outbreak that destroyed our health system and pushed thousands of Liberians back into poverty. Failure to elect a responsible government, like the Boakai- Nuquay team will make the recovery process even messier.

Eradicating poverty will not be possible without a sustainable economic growth that generates jobs and brings benefits to every Liberian. Generally, this includes boosting productivity within existing sectors as well as rebalancing national economy towards more productive sectors. For example, moving from agriculture to manufacturing. Such structural change in the national economy has lifted millions out of poverty. This, I would argue was a top priority of the Sirleaf-Boakai led government. Currently, no one understands this urgent needs better than Joseph Boakai. I have seen in him a fierce determination - a strong commitment to national security, food security and economic transformation (from agriculture to manufacturing). I have seen in him the possibility of what Liberia could be if there were capable leaders.

Before the Ebola outbreak, Liberia was making a significant progress in many sectors. In 2013 Liberia was ranked sixth among the top 10 countries with the highest GDP growth in the world ( Brookings Institute, 2014). Investors confidence was building up. Local businesses were growing. In many areas, major road projects were in progress. But all that being said, I know, as a Development Practitioner progress comes very slow, and not without its setbacks, for example, the Ebola outbreak. In 2014, Liberia was hit hard by the Ebola outbreak and the spiky decline in major commodities prices such as Iron Ore and Rubber. This was not only a setback for the UP led government but also the entire Mano River Region with the exception of Ivory Coast.

Many years of progress was wiped away in a few months. Every good politician or development practitioner understands that there will always be challenges in nation building. The good news is that: Joseph Boakai better understands these challenges. That is why he is the most prepared, qualified and experienced candidate in this election to face these challenges. I am certain that Liberians will overwhelmingly elect Honourable Joseph Boakai to continue the hard work. So, we presume that Joseph Boakai and his Vice Presidential candidate Emmanuel Nuquay are set to win 2017 election.

The selection of a vice presidential candidate has always prompted heated discussion,
for instance, how much does the VP pick really matter in an election? It has been noted that presidential candidates often consider geography when choosing a running mate - a pattern most political leaders follow. In order to answer the question above, I will use the effect of a County endorsing a presidential candidate based on the VP pick. A perfect example will be Bong County in 2005 presidential election, which I will term as the "Bong Effect". The "Bong Effect" is a political model developed by Dr. Winston Tubman. It was based on the calculation that if you pick a running mate based on geography ( from a vote-rich county) it is more likely to influence the general election outcome in one's favour. Interestingly, in 2005, Winston won over 40% of the vote in Bong County. One possible reason for this is the impact of a VP selection based on geography. Now it is easy to see why this model has become popular in modern elections in Liberia. For example, this year, both Cumming of the ANC and George Weah of CDC have selected their running mates from Bong County. The hard fact is that neither of them will win Bong as Winston did in 2005 because Bong has become a battleground. That being said, we strongly presume that Boakai and Nuquay are positioned to edge out a victory in Bong County. For starters, Bong and Lofa are good neighbours and so are Bong and Margibi. This means that most residents in Bong County are more likely to vote for the Unity Party - Good Neighbour Effect.

And then George Weah selection of Jewel Taylor as his running mate will do him more harm in many parts of Liberia, including Bong County. For example, CDC is set to lose a large percentage of the Muslim votes in Bong and many parts of Liberia. Because religious and ethnic diversity plays an important role in many contemporary democracies across the globe. In this case, we argue that Jewel Taylor role in supporting a failed bill that threatens secularism will do CDC more harm in this election. After many years of civil war, we need a multicultural society that embraces diversity - diversity should be our source of strength, not weakness.

Building further on County endorsement and VP selection. Boakai has played a smart game by selecting his running mate from Margibi. Margibi constitutes about 5% of Liberia's population. This means that the County has become a vote-rich zone and one of the key players in deciding this year election because of its population size. Again, we presume that Boakai and Nuquay will win Margibi which will also influence the general outcome.

The Liberty Party ( LP) which is struggling to sell its political ideology to the Liberians has made a similar mistake. Charles Brumskine's selection of a vice presidential candidate from Nimba will do him little favour. This is because there are two big names from the County in this year election which has ultimately reduced the voting weight it carries in deciding who governs Liberia. In other words, the presence of Karnwea and Johnson on the ballots means that Nimba is no longer a vote-rich country for a particular candidate in this election. It also means that the Liberty Party strategy to increase its national voting share will not be effective.

Remember the Bong-Bassa marriage was a political disaster for LP in one of the past elections. So will the Bong -Nimba marriage be a political earthquake for LP, again?

Even more disturbing for LP is that the party has failed to identify the reasons why it has been struggling to come second place in the past two elections despite the so-called popularity Brumskine has enjoyed in some segments of the Liberian community - based on his divisive religious message in his campaigns. For example, Liberty Party slipped from third place in 2005 to fourth place 2011. This means nothing has changed in term of strategic planning. Except for the coming of a few rich businessmen with deep pockets to finance his campaign. Considering these and others factors, Joseph Boakai is set to win 2017 election.

Presidential candidate credibility is an integral part of any modern election. If this is true, then it raises an important question: Do Liberians really trust Weah or Brumskine to lead? The answer is NO. The fact is that Liberians trust neither Weah nor Brumskine in delivering the political goods that will benefit everyone. Trust and credibility are inseparable. Credibility is a valuable quality that all leaders must aspire to obtain. Establishing credibility as a leader isn't something that happens instantaneously. It's a process that involves time, hard work and patience. Sadly, both Weah and Brumskine have failed the credibility test. For example, George Weah has been in national politics for over 10 years but has failed to learn and improve his political career. He is currently struggling to keep up with his duties in Parliament. In the case of Brumskine, do you really trust a 'Corporate Lawyer’ to govern? Think about this... Furthermore, the Liberty Party lacks intra-party democracy that is why Brumskine has been the only presidential candidate since 2005? On the other hand, Boakai has built his leadership credibility as one of the finest politicians in modern Liberia. Liberians strongly believe that he will deliver the political goods that will benefit everyone. That is why most political analysts have projected that Joseph Boakai is inching toward a big victory. That being said, Boakai and Nuquay will have to continue the hard work in order to firmly seal their victory.

Join the campaign to sustain our gain and progress with Boakai and Nuquay

Musa V. Sheriff

Email; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 61401419003
Perth, Western Australia

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article, are not the views of the New Dawn newspaper.


The Crucifixion of Liberianization: Why Give a Whopping 30-Year Tax Break to a Lebanese-owned Hotel?


The Lebanese-owned Farmington Hotel that is set to get 30 years tax break in Liberia. In a bid to be re-elected in 2011, Africa’s first female President signed an official contract with all Liberians through a solemn pledge consisting of twenty promises. As part of those 20 promises, these were Madam Sirleaf’s words to all Liberian voters during the campaign period in 2011:
1. We pledge to ensure that Liberian businesses/companies have increased access to finance.
2. We pledge to ensure double-digit growth to address poverty.
3. We pledge to ensure no fewer than 20,000 jobs every year.

After yet another presidential tenure and with just 6 months to go, are these pledges being fulfilled? The reality on ground is that these pledges are being fulfilled in the interest of foreigners, and not Liberians. These promises are being fulfilled to protect foreign companies and investors, and not Liberian-owned companies and entrepreneurs. It is only in Liberia that foreign companies are given exclusive leverage while credible local companies are made vulnerably inactive. It is only in Liberia that a foreign hotel will be given a whopping 30-year tax holiday while high taxes are harshly imposed on a group of struggling Liberian-owned hotels. Isn’t this unimaginable, mind-blowing and unpatriotic?

It is only in Liberia that our government will serve as a guarantor for a bogus Chinese-owned company (East International Group) in a shady US$59.5 million Pre-Financing Loan Agreement. Can the government of China do this for a Liberian-owned company? Liberian businesses and companies can never have access to increased finance when they are being unpatriotically sidelined by those in authority. The reduction of poverty and creation of 20,000 jobs every year can only be a dream come through when local enterprises and Liberian-owned companies are prioritized in the recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction process of our nation.

I thought President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made a commitment to Liberian-owned businesses in paragraph 1 and 2 under Economic Renewal in her January 16, 2006 inaugural address when she said “The task of reconstructing our devastated economy is awesome…..Yet, we have the potential to promote a healthy economy in which Liberians can prosper. We can create an investment climate that gives confidence to Liberians.”

After almost 12 years since this promise was made, genuine steps are yet to be taken by her government to protect local businesses and entrepreneurs. Protecting foreign businesses for ravenous and temporary gains has been the primary interest of this government. We can never take control of our economy until our government reverses its bad economic model and begins to put Liberian businesses first. Over 81.86% of our people are living in destitution and Liberia is the 4th poorest country worldwide simply because of such perverse decision or bad deal orchestrated by our government.

Patriotism has become a taboo under Africa's first female President while nationalism is a felonious crime. Accountability is now prohibited while greed remains a major public policy. Corruption, nepotism, inequality and economic sabotage are key drivers or pillars of our nation’s development agenda. The rush to amass illicit wealth by those in authority through covert agreements is sky-scraping and sickening. The interest of the nation no longer matters to stewards of our resources. What is wrong with our leaders in Liberia? Are they really leaders or looters?
In January and April of this year, a group of Liberian entrepreneurs under the banner Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL) staged a protest calling on government to reduce taxes on local businesses and major imports. For the very first time in our country since 1847, our local currency is fast depreciating. The exchange rate is now L$120 – US$1. Who does this affect? The poor or the rich? The bourgeoisies or the proletarians? Public service nowadays in Liberia is an attractive gold mine for sophisticated zombies, puppeteers and charlatans. This trend has to change if Liberia and Liberians must rise above misery.

Up-to-date, our government has given deaf ears to these patriotic Liberian entrepreneurs. Prices remain soaring on our markets mainly as a result of this high imposition of taxes on Liberian-owned businesses while flexibility or leverage is given to foreign businesses by our government. Why give a 30-year tax holiday or tax break to a Lebanese-owned hotel when no Liberian-owned hotel has ever received a tax holiday for even 6 months? Isn’t this a crucifixion of our 1975 Liberianization Policy?

The government is seeking to give a whopping 30-year tax holiday or tax exemption to Farmington Hotel, a foreign business owned by Lebanese businessman George E. Abi Jaoudi. While Corina Hotel, a local hotel owned by Liberian businessman Sam Mitchell, is struggling to improve its facility on 24th Street and at the same time pay huge taxes, our government is endeavoring to exempt a foreign hotel from paying taxes for 30 years. This is never done in Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea or even Sierra Leone.

For instance, Ghana revised its investment laws to ensure more protection for Ghanaian entrepreneurs and businesses in 2013. What is wrong with Liberia? Isn’t this a crucifixion of the 1975 Liberianization Policy? While Belle Casa, a Liberian-owned hotel operated by a local businessman Amin Modad, is struggling to compete with foreign hotels and at the same time pay huge taxes, our government is prioritizing Farmington Hotel. Why couldn’t our government give tax holiday to Jackies Hotel in Nimba County or Buchanan Hotel in Grand Bassa? Where does Liberia’s interest lie? Isn’t this a crucifixion of patriotism and nationalism? Will Farmington Hotel provide free services after receiving this 30-year tax break?

The Joint Committee on Investment and Concession & Judiciary and Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives are currently reviewing this 30-year tax break. In my opinion, this should not even be reviewed or discussed considering its skeptical, unreasonable, unjustifiable and unpatriotic nature. Whose interest is Farmington’s Hotel? The Legislature must act promptly in our best interest by trashing this unpatriotic agreement. If you cannot do it for Liberian hotels, who else then? If you cannot protect Liberian businesses, who else then? Isn’t it our right to reap the benefits of being called Liberians? Or, is it a curse to be a Liberian?

Reliable information reaching us indicates that this foreign hotel is the interest of Aunty Jenny Bernard, the sister of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who many refer to as the ‘de facto’ Prime Minister of Liberia. Why give preferential treatment to a foreign hotel, and not a local hotel? The preference of a foreign business over a local business is in blatant violation of Section 45.1 and Part V Section 46 of our PPCC Law. How long will our leaders be so cruel to their own people?
Today, our government is awarding over US$2 million contract to Mutual Construction Company, a subsidiary of a bogus foreign Company (East International Group Incorporated) to install the sidewall pillars along Tubman Boulevard. Aren’t there qualified, competent and credible Liberian-owned construction companies to do this sidewall? Aren’t there capable Liberian engineers to do sidewall?
It is sad that these very same foreign companies are hiring Liberian engineers/contractors for peanut especially after receiving millions through shady deals. So, are Liberian engineers and companies only good enough to be subcontracted? Are our engineers only good enough to build plank bridges, lay blocks, transport cement and sand, sell crush rocks, bend steel, draw house plan and serve as casual laborers for foreigners and foreign companies?

It is a glaring fact that the predominant interest of "Leaders" in Liberia is to distribute mass poverty, and not to reduce it. They care more about cruelly pocketing millions instead of combating hardship. When they steal these millions through bogus agreements and concessions, they deprive vast majority of our people from having access to quality education, better healthcare, good roads, profitable jobs, electricity, safe drinking water, food security and improved housing.

The number of hardcore pillagers under President Sirleaf far exceeds the number of patriots. The PRS was never meant to reduce poverty, but to replicate it evident by the increasing number of slum communities across our nation. Does this suggest that the legacy of President Sirleaf will be engraved on sand, and not stone? We call on all political parties and political leaders to muster the courage and speak against these ‘rush hour’ contracts and bogus agreements with just 6 months to a new government. Why is this government creating such financial burden for the next government?

We call on civil society organizations and the media to join this campaign of PUTTING LIBERIA FIRST and protecting its sovereignty. The youth, religious and traditional leaders have a choice to stand up now, otherwise they risk losing a lot. Our short and long-term expectations from this government and succeeding governments respectively are:
1. Put Liberia and Liberians’ interest first by upholding the Liberianization policy and PPCC Law.
2. Award contracts below US$10 million exclusively to Liberian-owned companies and predominantly involve Liberian-owned companies/businesses in contracts costing more than US$10 million.
3. Ensure all audit reports and those linked to corruption and economic sabotage are independently investigated and prosecuted.
4. Increase access to financing for Liberian-owned businesses.
5. Create a strong system of governance, transparency and accountability to prevent nepotism (family interest), conflict of interest (kickbacks) and corruption/economic sabotage during concessions and contracts.
With 109 days to 2017 elections, the masses of our people are watching and they will decide the political fate of incumbent lawmakers who will support this thoughtless and wicked 30-year tax break in favor of Farmington Hotel. Surely, the PEOPLE will decide your fate. The PEOPLE are watching and PAY DAY will come soon. The PEOPLE will meet those who continue to compromise their interest and mortgage their resources at the polls. Surely, that day is in sight and nearing when the marginalized voices of our people will rise again. Surely, that time is just 104 more days away when all of our PEOPLE shall march to the polls with optimism to redirect their socio-economic and political destiny. LIBERIA FIRST, LIBERIA LAST – We must all protect his glorious and nationalistic heritage.

About The Guest Speaker: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth and student activist, a columnist and an emerging economist who hails from Bong County. He currently studies Economics at the University of Liberia and is a Lux-in-Tenebris Scholar. Martin is the youth ambassador of the International Human Rights Commission and a loyal stalwart of the Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP). He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

By Martin K. N. Kollie

Issues Must Define Liberia’s Historic Transition – Not Ethnic Sentiments

Preparations for the elections of October 2017 in Liberia is increasingly hearing of “time for the country people to assume power.” This has brought forth the resurgence of the country-congau narratives. True, one group of people led Liberia for well over 133 years. But this was not a story of democratic governance. This was not a story of elections, and regrettable, this was a course of disorganization that many still blame today for Liberia’s gross underdevelopment. For most of this period, the majority of people in our country were not even considered citizens, mainly because they were not “civilized.” That is a sad period that cannot be relived in the spirit of democracy, justice, freedom, and I dare say civilization.

The coup d’état of April 12, 1980 that shattered this establishment was a rude awakening that saw a ridiculous story of bloodshed and a transfer of power previously unknown in Liberia. The coup marked a renewal of the Liberian state, led to the development of a democratic constitution that guarantees universal suffrage and citizenship for anyone who was a citizen upon its assumption. On account of this revolution, any Liberian of any persuasion can now stand for president or any other office. This is a victory! Given the years of underdevelopment and disenfranchisement, the people of Liberia have since had the opportunity to organize their state in a better manner and form, utilizing the best of our human resources towards ensuring the rights and welfare of our people.

Unfortunately, the stage upon which universal participation and governance in Liberia was set disintegrated within a few years, and there have since been years of destruction and misery. We have had conflicts, transitions and related processes to make that move towards sustainable democratic governance. After 12 years of relative stability, our efforts to transition to a more formal and organized government must be one that strengthens the peace, ensure greater participation and lead to sustainable development.

This is a tall, but not impossible order, given that there are experiences in Africa and elsewhere that we can rely upon. The best guidance anyone can get in these condition could be from a person who the world rightly sees as a symbol of reconciliation and uprightness. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela spent a quarter century in prison under his country’s exploitative and oppressive apartheid rules, “fought against white domination, and … black domination,” yet still had the courage to “cherish the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

In the face of such highly vaunted guidance in peaceful coexistence, upon which to expand the transition and transformation of Liberia, there is a mayday call for domination, alienation, exclusion, expressed through debates for a so-called “indigenous leader.” The divisiveness of this call brings into question whether there is anything that should limit anyone from being an indigenous in today’s Liberia. The Golas are reputed to have been in these territorial limits for the better of the last 500 years, and the Americo-Liberians have been here for nearly 200 years. Over time, there have been significant interrelations that could have eased this claim of tribal purity. But a lot of people are ignoring this and subtly calling on a “country-people” regime. This is sad, and a story minorities and marginalized groups anywhere should fear.

While Mandingoes have been settled within the current Liberia territories for periods between 200 and more years, many persons from a number of other tribes still attempt to ignore this fact and its historic significance. This made Mandingoes collateral victims of the sad targeted tribal killings that occasioned the Liberian civil war. The tension had regrettably evolved between Gios and Manos on one hand as against the Krahns on the other. But the tribal tides and claims against the Mandingoes ultimately caused a degree of discomfort and tension with the Lormas.

While historically, and geographically, one of the better known and largest language groups across West Africa, and given their location across the savanna, which placed them at a location at the actual north of Liberia, across four counties, Mandingoes are in most cases considered strangers, who have gotten involved with “Liberian affairs.”
This misconception prevails notwithstanding the fact that other tribes like Lorma, Kissi, Kpelle, and Mano have larger numbers in Guinea, while Krahns and Gios have larger number of their tribal folks in Cote d’Ivoire. Despite this reality, members of these groups are seldom considered foreigners in Liberia, yet Mandingoes bear the brunt of discrimination.

Similarly, while at the time of the organization of the Liberian state a majority Muslim ratio among the Vai, Mandingo and Gbandi, and significant Muslims among Kpelle, Kissi and Gola, a lot of people in Liberia still think Islam is a “foreign religion.”

As a consequence of this thought and perception, Mandingoes on one hand, and Muslims on the other, are easily frowned upon and rejected by “some” Liberians. This sad state came to a head when a major constitutional review process considered transforming Liberia into a Christian state. Such efforts to limit opportunities for any one group or another questioned whether we as a people are determined to move Liberia forward as a democracy. Good for all, the national leadership, with appropriate advice from the international community, thought not to allow such a divisive trend to gain national recognition.

This is a sad scenario that should not continue as we drive into the third century of Liberia’s existence, and especially where there is a transition that should benefit all, and drive Liberia to another era. For a fact, you do not end your marginalization by joining others to marginalize others. Those with the mind to marginalize will still define new minorities for marginalization.

Experiences from other countries show that using tribalism in the political process can be dangerous. In a recent article for DeutcheWelle by ZipporahNyambura , Nairobi-based analyst Brian Wanyama blamed tribalism for "ills in [Kenya] like corruption, ethnic clashes and underdevelopment," and recommended that "People must be given jobs based on their skills and training, not tribes."

Nyambura recalled that the flames that engulfed Kenya in the aftermath of the hotly disputed 2008 elections, which left over a thousand people dead and thousands displaced, was a result of the ethnic tension that have characterized Kenyan politics since independence in 1963.

Regrettably, those pursuing this country-congau line do not seem to reason with such difficult and contemporary experiences from nearby counties. Worse of all, these advocates unfortunately include those with difficult leadership records over a short space of time. They have never been deprived of participation. Some have been a part of every leadership structure since 1980, but again they have not provided the service our people need and desire. What positions do they need to provide these services?
The category of people running this route are posing a danger for Liberia. This group includes the old establishment politicians, but also enroll the young, urbane, professionals. Already, this advocacy seems to be yielding fruits of a tribalized elections, as 40.3% of respondents in a survey conducted by the Liberia Holding Consortium (May 2017) say they will vote on a country-congau basis. This is quite sad, as we cannot be using our education to foster discrimination. This is so distant from the sainted Mandela’s well stated maxim: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” We should rather be utilizing our ideas about making Liberia better!

Other than those shouting the country-congau divide, there are other candidates toying with the rhetoric of aligning with one populous county or another. They are also part of the problem. Fact is, two, three or four populous counties can simply team up, and screw all others out. They could furthermore perpetually keep leadership among themselves - on the basis of county population and perhaps tribal alignment. It could be seen as democratic and within the context of the law, but when others begin to feel marginalized, they will obviously utilize unacceptable options to redeem themselves. This is sad!

If such a difficult scenario unfolds, Liberia should think about the possibility of keeping this alive. In the event of a fall-out, because one or another of the coalition members feels discriminated against or slighted, they would form a new alliance. This could lead to deeper offenses and the further possibilities of using all means possible to get even. With this brand of politicking, we are on the verge of violence!

For this election, and any other across our lifetime, let's take people on account of their services, not where they come from, and not what they can give us during this campaign. Liberia has come from a very difficult place to be playing with fire. This could be our undoing, and provide room for the renewal of the same dominance we pretend to be fearing.

The examples of people using sectarian, cultural and other divides to dominate others have led to nothing but tension, conflict, war and destruction – even in many parts of Africa.

• The notion of Ivoirite has been the cause of war and continuing tension in Cote d’Ivoire;
• The demands for an Islamic caliphate is at the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria;
• The evolving resurgence of an Igbo nation is leading civil disturbances in southern Nigeria;
• Religious flames are leading crisis in the Central African Republic; and
• Anglo-Franco differences are instigating trouble in Cameroon.

In the sad story of Sudan, religious claim drove the division of that huge country into a north and south. Barely had the ink dried from the disintegration paper, and we saw tribal and other political differences dividing South Sudan further.

As a Muslim, and from one of the smaller tribal groups in Liberia, I do not see this in a positive light. There has been a crusade for the transformation of Liberia into a Christian state - by law. We resisted that, and insist that the Christians should simply convince all others to join their faith by their actions and engagements. We are glad that the government and the international community frowned upon this, and at some point, the theocracy is no longer a part of the national conversation. We cannot turn this around. We cannot be saying no to religious dominance in one breath, and practicing ethnic superiority in another. For once, our education and experiences should lead Liberia into a positive light - not into a realm of darkness.

Already, on the eve of these elections, we are now faced with a law that effectively disenfranchises a number of people, for merely agreeing to provide government service. This is not to defend those who use public service for their personal benefits, but to note that the ethical issues we need to address must be seen holistically. The truth is, lots of other government officials daily violate rules surrounding public facilities and resources, but they are not punished. In short, they have not sought further offices, and no one is bothered about them. Of course, the concern we want to address is abuse of public offices. Until we have a fully integrated strategy among integrity institutions, our resources will ultimately be subject to abuse, fraud and waste.

But more to the issue of tribal or ethnic claims, if the citizens of the United States had made such wild claims about race, Barack Obama would never have become president. And if the claims being pursued by the Trump fanatics, the Jean Marine Le Pen and other ultra-nationalists come to pass, Europe and America would not have any black or at best Arab or Muslim-like citizens.

But regardless of how we run this debate, the crucial fact remains that the 2017 elections in Liberia mark a significant transition. Liberia must in turn observe this transition in an especially transformative light. This should ensure a better and more functional Liberia - derived by all Liberians working together on an agenda that benefits all Liberians.

This position is supported by the Director of the National Youth Movement for Transparent Elections (NAYMOTE), Mr Eddie Jarwolo, who notes on facebook that democracy holds: “…elected officials … accountable to the people, and they must return to the voters at prescribed intervals to seek their mandate to continue in office or [be] voted out. Let’s support issue-based elections/campaign in Liberia and hold elected official accountable.” I agree!

With the ongoing trend, we predict that an indigenous vote would sooner lead to a bigger tribe argument. And before we know, smaller tribes would be on one side of the divide. This will be followed by the claim about one group being more Liberian than the other, and worse the resurgence of the Christian state debate, and our little Liberia would be in flames. We cannot afford this in Liberia any further.

For once, the Liberian story must be about a great leap involving all, and towards a sustainable drive for Liberia. That story should involve the extent to which politicians and governments can link their accomplishments in education, energy, access to finance, sustainable development to the plans they marketed to voters ahead of the elections. We can use this to signal that Liberia (even Africa) can mark reasons for which the sad stories of migration, disease and poverty can be reversed.
I insist, a Better Liberia is Possible, and that betterment can begin now with a fully inclusive transition.

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