Events over the Christmas weekend in Monrovia brought to the fore and laid bare the tenuous nature of Liberia’s development and the possibility of its future being bleak!The situation has exposed how the failure to make tough choices can make leadership ineffective.
It started with the 2011 elections. The main ballot was held in October with a runoff in November. After the presidential vote in October, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) claimed fraud and boycotted the November runoff.
Instead of the authorities ignoring the boycott threats and encouraging the party to exhaust all claims of fraud through the laid down legal route, they embarked upon a venture to cox them back into the electoral process. That failed!
Then came the CDC’s attempt to violently disrupt the runoff vote with a street demonstration on the eve of the elections. This led to the regrettable death of one person, but the election went ahead albeit in a climate of fear.
A committee was set up to investigate the events of November 7. This committee, from its own report, started off on the wrong footing – the premise that it had to have a balance in its ranks by having a vice chair representing the CDC. Wasn’t it supposed to be an independent committee headed by a well-respected religious leader?
The committee recommended a dialogue with the CDC on a basis, which remains nebulous to date! Based upon this recommendation, a joint committee was set up between the UP (or was it the government) and CDC against the advice of many.
Free for all and Resulting Riots
The government then announced a vacation jobs scheme to target students. The apparent rationale behind this scheme was to provide monetary benefits to potential CDC protesters for the Christmas, but because it would have appeared wrong to simply line them up and pass out the cash, they had to perform some form of menial labor to justify the payment.
The scheme was put under the supervision of the acting City Mayor of Monrovia. As is typical of the folks at city hall, a haphazard scheme was quickly hashed wherein pretty much anyone walking from the streets was considered as school students.
This scheme was doomed from the onset. Students are only on a short Christmas break. How could they be provided jobs, under the guise of vacation?
The lack of a system made the scheme a free for all affairs. How much money was to be paid out became an issue of speculation with figures being thrown all over the place. This was perhaps what encouraged a lot more people to get interested in lining up for it.
The cause of the riots on December 22 and 23 should squarely be placed at the feet of the government agents that failed to put in place proper mechanisms to forestall the potential for problem.For starters, the closer Liberians get to Christmas the greater their anxiety levels. Most Liberians would do the most extreme things just to get a buck or two for the season! This should have been anticipated beforehand.
Unmeritorious Education System Producing Hoodlums
The action as depicted by the recent riots and the one carried out by public school students back in February 2010 in Lofa and MCSS Students in March 2011 in Monrovia speaks poorly of the country’s education system and suggest that the government has largely failed to get the system to function properly.
Any properly functioning school system has three basic components: buildings, teachers and students! While two of these are absolutely essential to have a school, one of them isn’t.
To have a school there has to be students and teachers. One cannot exist without the other! If there are teachers without students, there is no school. If there are students without teachers, there is no school. But there can be school without a fancy building; thus the housing component of a school system can be dispensed with!
The rationale behind this assertion is that the current government has done little or nothing to improve the quality of education that is being delivered to the average Liberian student. It has succeeded in building more school buildings and increasing the number of students in the classroom. It has also succeeded in increasing numbers of teachers and the pay they receive. But crucially, the state has failed to improve the quality of students that come out of the other end of the production line.
Most people, who graduate all levels of schools in the country, come out essentially the same way they go in – not even able to write a simple friendly letter or do basic arithmetic! Their thought processes are even more horrendous than their writing and math skills!
This horrible school system is the reason for the actions of the hooligans of December 22 and 23. To be students removes someone from the usual line of the everyday person. While the everyday person would make emotional decisions, a thinking person makes calculated decisions. They weigh their actions and decide the best course. They don’t go around engaging in vandalism to get paid especially if they know that they would eventually get paid. Such person might have a problem with the slow pace of being paid, but they would use other means to express their dissatisfaction. They don’t go around destroying public and private property!
Government Officials Must Use Public Services
But will the Liberian educational system improve any time soon? Perhaps, but not by continuing on its current footing! The authorities have to sit up and realize that the system is rotten and needs to be revamped in a serious way.
But is it of interest to the people in power to make any changes to the current way education is delivered? If a census is conducted regarding the attendance of school aged children of Liberian government officials in the country’s public schools, it is bound to reveal startling results!
It is safe to assume that the vast majority of these officials have their children either attending hugely expensive private schools in the country or have them abroad going to school. If these people want to be our public officials, they have to be prepared to use the public services the state offers. If the country’s public school system isn’t good for their children, it is certainly not good for any other Liberian!
An unwritten rule has to be made, that all school going children of government officials have to attend the country’s public schools. That way these officials will ensure that the best education will be on offer. They won’t want their children getting the worst educational option!
No school system that continuously makes busy government officials the recipients of its highest real academic honors can be taken seriously! People who sit in class with these people know that they don’t worth the grades they receive but they get them anyway simply because it is friends teaching friends; or because of their status in society.
This way of delivering education in Liberia has to change, though it is difficult to see any meaningful strides being made to improve the system in the next 6 years!
LamiiKpargoi is a State Department sponsored Community Solutions Program (CSP) fellow. CSP is run by IREX USA. Mr. Kpargoi is the author of numerous political commentaries. He’s never shy of making his views known on serious issues. He’s also a licensed attorney-at-law in Liberia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.