Old-lady Jessie Mentee Marston, 81, finally overcame feelings of feebleness in her body. For nearly ten minutes, her frail, weak body suppressed her burning attempt to make her desired move. Already, she found herself swallowed up in a crowd of hysteric young people. She just couldn’t make a move—at least abruptly. So, Old-lady JM, as she’s fondly called, had settled down with stretching her both arms up in vacant air, making a V[ee] out of her hands while they remain stretched up before bringing them down softly on her laps—all in the name of dancing. Suddenly, she pulled herself out of the bodily weakness, wended her way through crowd enveloping her, and dashed herself in the full glare of President George Kpaku-Kpeh Tarpeh Weah and his helmeted entourage. She was now panting uncontrollably with excitement—dancing tenderly.
“Get on my back, George Weah! Come and get on my back, my son!” Jessie Mentee Marston, shouted rather hilariously, stooping her body against the direction President Weah and convey stood marveling at the octogenarian.
That was a live spontaneous drama on a damp-looking day in early October. The President did not sign up from the office that day. This was becoming a habit, setting out directly from home, apparently fearing entrapment by streams of unending morning visitors. Even before the in-house media got to know, the whistling presidential convoy was noisily entering the northwestern suburb of Bardnersville, veering its way from the Dry-Rice-Market community area before settling for a short groundbreaking ceremony in Lower Johnsonville.
“My son, if you do this kind of job for us in Johnsonville—if you fix this road—oh my God, George Manneh Weah, if you fix this road…” Old-lady JM’s last words were now inaudible. Apparently choked by emotions, she was gingerly cuddled out of the scene, as streams of tears quickened on her cheeks.
And she was right to shed tears—actually, tears of joy. Anyone who sees or experience the Johnsonville Road in its current form, the stretch of route from the Bardnersville Estate highway to Mount Barclay Police depot area, would shed tears. It’s hardly different much from days of Stone Age. This laterite route has not experienced repairs for over three years. Overused by heavy trucks and other vehicles, the route has fallen to huge erosions, deep ditches and intruding vegetation turfs, that it could be mistaken for abandoned farm-to-market road inside Foya, Lofa County. It is a complete deathtrap.
The horrible conditions of the Johnsonville route, which is targeted by President George Weah not for the traditional laterite refurbishment but for asphalt pavement, are just emblematic of terrible road conditions everywhere in Monrovia and the countryside.
Certainly, it must have been for the likes of Old-Lady JM—be it in Johnsonville, Montserrado County, or Gbokon-Jedeh in Sinoe County, or Vahum in Lofa that Kpaku-Gbeh Tarpeh Weah declared on January 22: “My greatest contribution to this country as President may not lie in the eloquence of my speeches, but will definitely lie in the quality of the decisions that I will make over the next six years to advance the lives of poor Liberians. I intend to construct the greatest machinery of pro-poor governance in the history of this country.”
No matter what IMF or World Bank may say about Liberia’s macroeconomic statistics or Liberia’s GDP today; no matter what the opposition may say is their panacea for Paradise Liberia or about the GDP of the country, the President is seemingly obsessed with something else: Liberia’s GHHP or Gross Human Happiness Product. Nothing better produces the country’s GHHP than roads—not just any roads but paved or tarmac roads that connect communities and countries.
The President has said repeatedly that the terrible state of urban and rural roads constitute a national emergency, stressing that good roads constitute the fulcrum of national development. Paved road connectivity creates jobs. It attracts direct foreign investment. It bolsters in-country trade and commerce. It excites agricultural production. It empowers farmers. It reduces cost for country-produced goods. It plummets transport fares. It decongests urban traffic. It facilitates ready access and critical supplies to health centers. It reduces untimely death. It improves better housing as cost for material across country becomes affordable. Good roads sustain national security and peace. It is inextricably tied to stability and it is a trigger for personal and national joy. Thus, the President thinks road connectivity is the chief stimulant of GDP or GHHP.
The difference between George Forky Klon Jlaleh Gbah-ku Gbeh Tarpeh Manneh Weah and the rest of them is, unlike others, he is overly obsessed with the practicalities of presidential duties. The passion to see concrete things done, and done now, is extremely highly and rarely ingrained in him. His instant mental designs of a glorious Liberia are what he wants, and works to see, turned into tangible reality. This has got him sleepless, often out of office, fanning around contractors near and far, not only to see what is being done—and quickly and that nothing is standing in the way of contractors, but also to encourage contractors and residents of project areas work together to speed up with pro-poor projects across the country.
In a sense, he’s leaving rhetoric with the rhetoricians and the politicians. He’s deliberately stepping out in the field—nearly every day—leaving behind cozy, flashy office trappings and passions for figures and graphs with the statisticians. Perhaps had it not been for signals from protocol advisors or the mouth of busybodies, the President would be stepping out in works outfit—in field garments—as he seeks results from the implementation of pro-poor projects daily. Because, left with Gbaku-gbeh, he would be in jean trousers and t-shirt, in office and out of office, as a way of accentuating his obsession for practical work and matching his regular long treks on dusty or muddy roads under construction with the appropriate outfit.
“I feel a direct personal attachment to these pro-poor projects,” he quipped, taking some rest against a convoy vehicle after over 30 minutes of trek on a road project. “When I ordered the re-roofing of several houses in Clara Town, I did so knowing and experiencing very well a home that leaked and was heavily moisture. I know what it means when drops of rains fall on you while at sleep or while you have an important guest. All this plays on me and therefore defines my approach to these critical projects.”
In the view of Gbaku-Gbe, if you do not have a personal experience with life in squalor, or in other words, if you have little no experience with poverty and how it stings the human soul, there is a high tendency by some national leaders to flirt and romanticize with national policies and projects that address the felt needs of the ordinary people or that benefits all citizens across the economic istle.
What makes the current national leader so obsessed with roads, roads and roads, and with pro-poor housing units, and with free education even for college-going Liberians is because these twin endeavors make national GDP more sensible and justified and break the chains of impoverishment holding up the final liberation of all Liberians to becoming true participants in national affairs.
As the 24th President steps into communities and the jungles of Liberia to see firsthand and monitor government projects under the pro-poor agenda, there would be many Old-lady Jessie Mentee Marston who will get overwhelmed as tons of people-centered projects get underway. Certainly, the will be gracious to offer their backs for Forkey Klon Jlaleh Gbaku-gbeh to ride on, their symbolic expression of joy and appreciation for him and all that he’s doing in just a short while.