-Weah puts spotlight on Betu and other rural communities
As inks get dry on reports from President George Manneh Weah’s six-county tour, analysts have concurrently begun to put their final word on what they consider their takeaways, negative or positive, from the trip. It is true the news media have done some great work covering and reporting every step of the way; reporting on the movement of the presidential caravan and their interactions with the rural hosts. The reception of the people was incredibly massive everywhere and the President did not leave conditions of the people as they were upon arrival; he took decisions, made presentations that instantly changed situations or will change the people’s conditions in the not too distant future. Celebrations broke out amongst the people who not inundate the president with various appeals that would lift them up but also with gifts to appreciate a president for showing them much care and love.
Amid the euphoria of celebrations and exchange of good tidings between the hosts and the guests, there were extraordinary exploits that characterized President Weah’s 18-day visit to Bong and Grand Kru counties, through Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Maryland which newsmen’s cameras and microphones grossed over and rarely captured. After all, some people think a president’s visit to the hinterland is a common practice; that it is a time for political leaders who benefit from the suffrage of the masses to reciprocate with visits and face-to-face meetings and the exchange of dry-goods gifts. Thus, as the version of President Weah’s countryside visit is being discussed, it will be not a surprise that some pundits would mistake it as such, and dismiss it in a hurry.
But it would be a huge mistake to do so. First, analysts must get the distinction. Rarely had any Liberian president spent over two weeks in a single outing into the countryside, and covered six counties in a chunk spreading over more than half a month. Second, most presidential visits if not all had been about the provincial capitals as prime targets, as the prime host and the lodging place. And third, and most importantly, not many presidents or say no president in the past had ever veered from the primary route of their upcountry tour into the jungles of the jungles, to spend time with the remotest of the remotest communities, and to see and interact with the poorest and most neglected of Liberians.
Mr. Weah, on his first visit to the hinterland did. He did so not in a rush. He slept in provincial capital cities as well as in outlying towns and hamlets. He was never in a haste, nor did he do so for the mere pomp of a presidential visit. For him, the visit to some of Liberia’s most marginalized and forgotten communities, amongst them Betu in Grand Kru and Gbi and Duru in Nimba County, was precipitated by a thoroughly thought-through motive and plan anchored in liberation of a suffering and neglected people from squalor and disconnecting them with the larger society.
Thus, as he and his caravan combed the countryside, aware of pervasive socioeconomic challenges amongst the people, he however had in mind already that all communities were not the same in terms of access to minimal modern standards of life, in terms of public and private support and in terms of direct relationship with central government. He had researched and found that there were towns and villages and tribespeople that are lands unto themselves, woefully cut off and isolated from the rest of Liberia; communities and people never heard of by the outside world. And as he arrived in the various counties and interact with their locals, he was not oblivious of his original plan to trace, open up such communities and connect them with the rest of the country.
Such thoughtfulness and plans took the President to Gbi & Duru in Nimba, and later Betu in Grand Kru. These are communities that even local administrations and ordinary citizens in those counties admitted have long been cut off, given little or no attention and left alone to nurse their own wounds of exclusion.
What is true also is that most Liberian rural communities, Gbi/Duru and Betu no exemption, however remote, far-flung and ignored are not just parched, dry and empty lands lacking resources that can be used for their transformation and the transformation of the larger Liberian nation. Gbi & Duru, for instance, are exceptionally endowed with arable soil for year-round agriculture activities; its belly carries immeasurable quantum of minerals and valuable species of timbers that dot the landscape like bats on turfs of cotton tree.
There also is Betu, another faraway town, carrying every potential for tourism, eloquently heralding Liberia’s beauty in no uncertain term that nothing else does better. Several kilometers away from Sasstown, there lies Betu River, after which the town is named, weaving (wrapping itself) around the Atlantic Ocean in spectacular ecstasy as beaches of glittering sands line up in witness of God’s supreme artistic prowess.
The question is, how come a small country like Liberia, small in terms of its population and geographic size, has existed for 174 years and yet there are still corners and hamlets and citizens effectively cut off from the rest of the country—so cut off that many locals as old as 20 to 25 years have never seen motor cars, let alone have access to ordinary niceties of modernity. How come there are some territories and some tribesmen in this country are generally unheard of as part of this country, and that no one shows concern in dismantling their disconnect from Liberia, and pull them out of, their century-old exclusion and marginalization.
If there is any better takeaway from President Weah’s six-county tour, marking a distinction of his recent upcountry visit from other presidential tours in the past, it is his physical courage, thoughtfulness and political will to venture deeper into the woods, far away from regular towns and near-urban citizens to reach out to the unreachable and to bridge the unbridgeable to the rest of Liberia. The president drove five hours to go and five hours to come from Gbi & Duru where the presidential convoy beat its own road into the jungle. He similarly crossed streams and winding terrains to wend his way into Betu.
Visiting these heretofore unknown communities and people, the President put national spotlight, adequate embers of public awareness upon, and possibly set the pace for development interventions for them. Not only do they now have some hope that they, too, belong to the country called Liberia, the President’s visit also gives them visibility that thrusts them in arms of national, international and private individuals and institutions having fiduciary and altruistic interest in supporting marginalized and indigent communities and people.
And strategically, the President travelled with policy makers and policy implementers who, along with him, saw the desperate conditions searing fellow Liberians in those parts of the country. The presence of all these people from Monrovia in the woods and with rural Liberians is bound to trigger and/or inform a new development intervention paradigm that intentionally prioritizes rural communities and people who far-flung from the seat of government benefit from the national cake, be it in agriculture, health, education, roads, etc.
For a president who is a nonconventional and un-elitist person, the chief mission for the tours in the countryside finds ultimate conclusion in Gbi & Duru and Betu, which are a macrocosm of Liberia’s development paradox and a stimulant for effective breakaway into a more equitable, justice and holistic development program.