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Liberia’s Vision 2030: Finding Way Out?

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Speak to any Liberian including car-washers and wheelbarrow boys about their views on the country’s political outlook; each has a theoretical but fine perspective on how to govern Liberia. And like the layman in the streets, local politicians, especially those in opposition circle will often blame the current government for almost all of the country’s woes. In addition, each opposition figure will show you a blueprint he/she thinks entails the “best solutions” on how to run this nation.

When then Gen. Prince Johnson (now senator for Nimba), led the erstwhile Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia to war in the 90s, Senator Johnson, out of frustration often didn’t hesitate to vent his dislike about politicians due to their greed for power and wealth. Without exception, Prince Johnson blamed local politicians for the backwardness of Liberia and declared them as the country’s “worst enemies.” But little did he know he would become one of them someday.

After years of prolonged war with high cost in human lives and infrastructure, followed by a post-Taylor election in 2005, the former guerilla leader secured a seat in parliament through his NUDP’s political party. Senator Johnson served his county, Nimba for six-years under Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf’s rule and his party even came third during the last October-November 2011 presidential elections. Yet the country saw little gain in the last six years. Ironically, those vices such as corruption, tribalism, nepotism, injustice, abuse of power and lack of transparency and accountability still flourish under the current administration.

Come to realize, there is a far margin between practical, and of course, theory when it comes to running a smooth government in a country like Liberia. And whether Senator Johnson’s presence in government has or will make a difference to change the course of the country’s history of malpractices that has led to deprivation of basic needs and social services, only history will tell. But in any case, Prince Johnson is now a witness to the intricacies of governing a nation and no longer a bystander. Perhaps, he might also by now be in better position to take cues from failures of the “Progressives” of the 70 era, some of who now hailed Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf and refused to condemn her government even in the face of gross human rights violations such as the killing of CDC supporters November 7, 2011.

Consequently, the question then becomes, why hasn’t Liberia experienced good governance, and developments with such fabulous ideas everyone seems to have on how to govern this country as pointed out earlier in this piece? What then could be the hurdles or our problems? Well, for Senator Prince Johnson and the “Progressives” of the past, this scenario is no longer a hypothesis for each can now attest to the fact that it is one thing to point fingers to the wrong doings of the government or others-yet another-to correct those ills.

Realistically, the running of any government doesn’t come with a magic nor does it require countless degrees. Good leadership with some degree of cultural orientation, patriotism, farsightedness, determination and care for the wellbeing of the masses should be some of the ingredients for the smooth running of the government. Admittedly, this is where the newly launched: LIFT LIBERIA: VISION 2030 comes in where a steering committee led by Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh publically solicits views and criticisms from Liberians on shortcomings of past and present Liberian government and the way forward.

According to its second principal architect, new Economic and Finance Minister Mr. Amara Konneh, “it [Vision 2030] will serve as a roadmap for addressing the social, political and economic challenges that confront Liberia on its path towards economic growth and wealth creation.” It aims to “transform Liberia into a middle-income country by the year 2030 leaving no Liberian behind; make public institutions and governing systems efficient, responsive and accountable and ensure [that] all Liberians have equal protection, under the law, regardless of ethnicity, affiliation or socio-economic background.”

A Vision 2030 statement further states, at the completion of this exercise, “Liberians will be in better positions to; (a) develop a strong sense of citizenship, unity and cohesion; (b) consolidate institutions of good governance and (c) reduce disparities and marginalization and ensure equity through policies of “growth with development.” A committee of ten led by Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh serves as the secretariat for the ongoing consultative meeting around the country. The committee includes Dr. Evelyn Kandakai, Mr. Ezekiel Pajibo, Dr. Barron Tarr, Mr. Jallah K.K. Kamara, Chief Zarza Karwa, Mrs. Gladys Garmai Yeatulu Beyan and Ruth Milton among others and is charged with responsibility to record minutes of each meeting to be submitted with recommendations to the government at the end of the entire exercise.

Arguably, this new endeavor seems more like a replica of former Pres. William Tubman’s “National Unification Policy” drive launched to unify indigenous and settlers, or Dr. William Tolbert’s “Total Involvement for Higher Heights” which sought to encourage self-sufficiency in food production and mass participation in national development. Some critics see it as another attempt by the present government not so much about reducing disparity between the rich and the poor, but a smart move to neutralize growing public resentment against the government for its failure to deliver basic services to the people amid widespread corruption.  

During its second opening section February 22, 2012 in the central Liberian city of Gbarnga, Bong County, Pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf opened the consultative conference with these warm but touching remarks after introductory remarks by Finance and Planning Minister Mr. Amara Konneh:

“I don’t want to hear anyone calling themselves or others Congo or Native. Nobody should say I’m Mandingo, Lorma, Bassa or Kpelle in here, we are all one people.”  “Let’s discuss the future of Liberia as one family, with love and respect for each others; this way, we will be able to move forward and better,” she lamented. As the Nobel Prize winner spoke, she appeared troubled and her voice quivered. Present, was a crowd of roughly 500, comprised of market women, students, superintendents, traditional leaders, clans and paramount chiefs mainly from Bong, Lofa, Grand Bassa and Rivercess Counties.

Both, the old and the young spoke fearlessly. They spoke on every issue from deviant Gay practices to disrespect for traditional cultural values and norms; from revoking laws that bar foreigners from owning land, to changing the national flag and motto: “The Love of Liberty Brought us Here,” with one man asking from where? From tribalism to nepotism with persistent calls for the removal of the president’s son Robert Sirleaf as NOCL board chairperson. Even communion farming and other community works such as brushing towns and village roads done previously under customary laws has now become human right issue with “advocates” terming it “forced labor.” Others included religious intolerance, land and counties’ (Rivercess-Bassa) dispute, deplorable road condition and revamping of the country’s main hydro at Mount Coffee. 

In another twist during a third section of Vision 2030 held at Bentol, Bensonville, March 1st, a man was scorned and nearly got booed for suggesting Mr. Robert Sirleaf succeeds his mother as “president of Liberia” at the end of Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf’s second term. President Johnson-Sirleaf quickly interrupted and re-directed the young man, adding, “we came here to discuss how we can work together to move the country forward.”

Of all, the three most challenging issues at the Gbarnga consultative meeting were land disputes, corruption and tribalism. A Bong County delegate Mr. Mustapha Kamara suggested that government treats “tribalism” as crime with requisite punishment for those found guilty of the act. Mr. Kamara complained “when government appoints people, some say this is Lorma, Kpelleh or Mandingo…this tribal issue is compromising quality services for government functionaries.”

As if to test the sincerity of conference delegates regarding their new pledges to fight tribalism and other societal vices, Finance and Planning Minister Amara Konneh at this point interrupted the exercise and posed the following questions to the audience and it went like this:

“Since we have all agreed to come together to help build our country, can we now say it’s okay if government appoints a Vai man to be superintendent for Grand Bassa?”  And “in the same way, is it also okay if government appoints a Krahn man to be superintendent for Bong or Nimba?” Minister Konneh spoke humbly in a low-pitched tune, exhibiting excellent body language in consideration of the high presence of elders, Zoes, clan and paramount chiefs from all walks of life.

Minister Konneh’s questions sparked off apprehension and mixed reaction in the audience resulting to endless laughter among delegates with majority responding a big NO while a handful said YES. A small number remained mute and unable to readily give answer.

While tribalism may be a serious social stigma in Liberian society, there are other countless hurdles before planners of LIFT LIBERIA: VISION 2030 and whether or not this endeavor will succeed, it largely depends on the sincerity and willingness of the country’s leaders including Pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Biggest among those hurdles is Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf’s outright practice of nepotism and conflicts of interest, two main vices that continue to plague this West African nation, although she’s on record for condemning such exploitation under Samuel Doe’s regime in the 80s.

For example, while this government preaches peace and reconciliation, there is glaring evidence its leaders, including Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf are still engaged in witch-hunting, thereby reneging on their previous pledges to establish a government of inclusion. Countless of public civil servants, among them deputy ministers have been swapped without given further assignment or employment by the government following last inauguration. This writer was investigating the case of a UL professor who is said to have severed tie with Sirleaf’s ruling Unity Party to run independently for a county legislative post. When he flunked, he reportedly paid a high price for his defection with his job as deputy minister. The predicament for journalists investigating such stories is the unwillingness of affected individuals to speak about their situation.

Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf, like her predecessors knows very well the problem that brought Liberia to its knee isn’t because its past and current leaders lacked visions to move the country forward for the betterment of all her citizens. Rather, it was, and still is, due to the lack of honesty in public circle as well as the gross abuse of power such as the practice of widespread corruption, nepotism and conflicts of interest being exhibited by Johnson-Sirleaf herself. In other words, crafting a fine document that contains great ideas like the Vision 2030 is one thing, and having government officials work in honesty to achieve such proposed dream is another.     

Mr. Konneh is young, articulate, and no doubt possesses excellent skills in his area, the business of finance and management and has shown with exceptional vigor that he is ready as head of Liberia’s treasury to confront corruption head on in addition to those ills that drag the country into civil war. Even so, Mr. Konneh’s efforts to fight and revive this battered war-torn nation’s economy from chronic convulsion may however be derailed and overshadowed by downright Conflict of interest and the nepotistic culture adopted by the head of state, Johnson-Sirleaf.

Whether Minister Konneh’s patriotic efforts to change the course of events in the country for the better will last, it is something that remains to be seen. However, Mr. Konneh raised a legitimate concern recently as he took drastic action against Finance employees found to be engaged in financial impropriety which should not be treated with fun. Mr. Konneh expressed fear over alleged “criminal exploitation” discovered at the MOF saying, such could lead this troubled nation into “civil disturbance” if people in power fail to act timely.

The above comment by Mr. Konneh seems to be the biggest fear of many Liberians at home who can best attest to daily realities; that if the country’s leaders fail to act to curtail corruption and abuse of power in wake of blatant exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth amid perpetual mass poverty, the likelihood of a public uprising cannot be ruled out. More so, unless Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf proves serious and changes her ways of doing business in avoidance of conflict of interest and nepotism among other vices, Liberian taxpayers’ money spent to host Vision 2030” in the various counties may all end up worthless!                                  
Author James Kokulo Fasuekoi is a journalist and author of Rape, Loot & Murder-Liberian Civil War: A Journalist’s Photo Diary and Sierra Leone’s Nightmare: A Peek Inside Kamajors’ Land, both published in the US in 2009. A former AP stringer, Mr. Fasuekoi is founder and director of MF Media Consultancy Inc.

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