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Letter to my Compatriots

Ref.: Hailing the Gbarnga National Conference on Vision 2030

Dear Fellow Compatriots:

In less than a week, all roads will lead to Gbarnga, Bong County, where a three-day National Conference to discuss framework document of the Vision 2030 Development Agenda will be held. A statement from the organizers indicates that the national conference will be a structured national conversation designed to focus on Liberia’s past, present, and future.

On this past Monday, the President of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her desire to have the Liberian people – and particularly political parties, share in the formulation and ownership of this national framework vision, held a meeting with political party leaders in Monrovia to brief them on the ensuing meeting – and generally on Vision 2030.

There have been three critical steps taken since the process began two years ago to draft the Vision 2030. First, there was the constitution of the leadership of the National Vision Committee with the appointment of Dr. Togbanah Tipoteh, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, and Ms. Kulah Fofana. Drs. Tipoteh and Dunn are noted national and international economist and political scientist  and educators of substantial achievements. They are also consensus builders. Supported by the Governance Commission under the leadership of Dr. Amos Sawyer, himself an eminent Liberian intellectual, politician and former Interim President, and educator, and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, the Committee is bound to produce a framework document that will be relevant to Liberian development needs and transformation far beyond its nearly two decade-long life. Ms. Fofana is said to be a strong young female advocate. She brings two significant credentials: she is a woman and understands women issues; and she is a youth, and therefore also lives and experiences the concerns and needs of youth. Together, therefore, there could not be any team stronger and better qualified to undertake this national assignment than this team.

The second step was the holding of conversations with citizens across 156 districts of the country. As a result of these conversations, the document does not just reflect the needs and views of the Liberian people; it is enriched by their wisdoms and life experiences. Moreover, our fellow Liberians in the Diaspora also participated in the conversations that led to the formulation of the draft framework document – and will also be in Gbarnga, Bong County, for the National Conference. Diaspora Liberians are Liberians; they contribute to the sustainability of their families and the development of our country.

The third critical step was the meeting that the President held this past Monday with leaders of political parties. A great deal of intellectual effort and resources have been expended toward the formulation of the Vision 2030 Framework document. To ensure and assure its full and sustained implementation across administrations of government, a necessary requirement is for Liberians, including principally also political leaders, to assume collective ownership. Further, Liberia is a democracy. As President Sirleaf moves toward ending her second and final term of office, Unity Party, her political organization, will compete in an open political arena. Unity Party’s chances of retaining the presidency will be as good as the work it puts toward achieving that goal, as good and equal to the chances of each and every other participating political party. It is therefore important that the President is taking a long view of Vision 2030 and is taking care to foster an inclusive and participatory process that provides the opportunity for all political parties to take and feel ownership and responsibility for the implementation, sustainability, and accomplishment of the goals of Vision 2030.

There three overarching questions that, in my view, present themselves: Firstly, what is 2030 Vision? Secondly, why do we need a Vision 2030 Document? How or what can we do to achieve the national goals we define in Vision 2030?

I cannot with any certainty presume to know and hence provide the rationale that informed the conceptualization of Vision 2030. Yet the Administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has a history for undertaking the development of such policy documents the cornerstone of its governance of the country. For example, in 2006, immediately upon assuming office, the new Administration formulated the 150-Day Deliverable, the quick impact agenda leading and managing the high expectations of a nation and people shackled by the vicissitudes of nearly two decades of civil conflicts. The 150-Day Deliverable was followed by the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy (IPRS). The two plans subsequently mouthed into the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), which, I understand, is the foundation pillar of Vision 2030.

The formulation of these strategic policy and programmatic documents seeks to provide the Government of Liberia for the next 18 years of our national life, a quantifiable, measurable, and identifiable, data-based   roadmap for the administration of the affairs of the Republic of Liberia.  In a word, Vision 2030 is a roadmap, a compass, as it were, for leading Liberia and for responding to the teething developmental challenges that the country faces now and will face in the intervening 18 years and beyond. The Vision 2030 is a plan. When a family plans, its plans for its children’s education; it plans for the provision of healthcare for its members; it plans for food and entertainment; it plans for shelter; it plans for rainy days, too, the future of unknowns and un-seeing. Most families plan and with their plans, they prepare budgets. Otherwise, life becomes a daily struggle of grappling with one challenge after another challenge with no director and resource to meet it. So, a nation without short, intermediate or long term plan that identifies its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, past and present, cannot plan and prepare itself for the needs of its people today – and the challenges of tomorrow, the unknown future.

I applaud the preparation of the Vision 2030 Framework because I see it as a reality check for Liberia. In our past, there are many unsolved issues: issues, if I may use Dr. Elwood Dunn’s characterization, that revolve around Liberia’s “triple heritage”. What historical missteps or non-steps produced this unique Liberian nationality and personality? For example, why are we so different, so difficult, so…, so… even from our next door neighbors, particularly Sierra Leone and Ghana and Guinea?  Sure, they have differences, some more vexing than ours, but they do not allow their differences to lead them to want to destroy their countries! Sierra Leoneans carry the scars and anguish of their civil war; so they try to resolve issues peacefully; they know, too, that war talk and conflict and division do not invite investment, because they are not the only country; many countries, more peaceful, compete for the same investments. Are we learning from our neighbors?

Issues related to healing and bridging the cleavages that keep the fabrics of our nation stressed – and often apart, and undermine our national existence? Issues of deciding which holidays are worth celebrating, and which are not worth celebrating? issue of choosing one, unifying, national language for Liberia; issue of Liberian identity and Liberian character: who is really a Liberian – and why are we so unique? The debate regarding Fulani citizenship, which was recently raised,   is instructive. Is the debate necessary? Perhaps! Under our Constitution, anyone with “negroid” heritage or is it, “negroid blood”, can become a Liberian either by birth or through naturalization. And I know many Fulani Liberians. I have cousins who are, and I do not recall anyone challenging their right to citizenship or the benefits citizenship in this country. So, why raise a dead horse? For purposes of development? Funlanis can buy and own property, I know even as a non-lawyer. And many have – and many are doing so and will continue to do so into generations.

Issues of land tenure, the potentially explosive “third rail” of our national polity and our Liberian existence, the one issue that is so critical, so vexing, and so disuniting that the President and Legislature may want to consider establishing an agency with the exclusive mandate to deal with all issues that revolve around land matters.

Issue of our educational curricula; do they reflect our needs and national political philosophy? A considerable share of our national budget is allocated to education; yet our vision of education remains in 20th Century mode; we equate physical structure, school edifices, to quality education, and forget that a nation’s education is not measured by super structures, but by the quality and adequacy of qualified teachers – and the conducive learning environment they create for student learning and success. Laboratories! Internship! Programs that provide students to engage in experiential learning and reinforce classroom instructions.  The issue therefore is one of preparing our young people and giving them the education and skills to assume leadership of our country, especially in the Sciences. Science education! Technical education. Education in agriculture, in agronomy.   Who studies Biology, Chemistry or Physics without attending a laboratory to practically reinforce the pedagogies of these subjects?  This is the lot that many of our children face today.

Issue of agriculture: what can we do as a nation to be able to feed ourselves? Many of the Cabinet Ministers ride SUVs. However many of them own and operate farms and go there regularly to identify with and support farm life? With farms, we “kill two birds” with the proverbial “one stone”: we provide jobs; we hire men to underbrush and fell the trees and clean the farms for planting – and more importantly, we grow the food to feed our nation and our people.

Or sure, I hear arguments about county distances from Monrovia – and the conditions of our roads. Wait a minute, try driving to Bomi County or Margibi County, and you will see untapped and virgin forests going endlessly. You do not need to travel to Lofa and Nimba or Grand Kru. There is plenty land right in Montserrado County.

Issue of companies importing non-technical labor that is available right in Liberia. Is Labor Ministry enforcing the law?

Issue! Issue! The issues and questions are many and varied. There is little doubt on my mind however that the five regional consultations held by the National Vision Committee were able to explore these issues and others of our Republic’s past and present. 

How to move toward the future, the how, what are some of the important things we need to do and the critical choices we need to make as a people, the what, and to develop a plan that encompasses this how and this what, is challenging, even at the personal level. It requires deep soul-search and a realistic acceptance of what is possible and what is not possible. It involves choices because no nation or no people, particularly our nation and given the depth from which we are struggling to pull ourselves, can be built simultaneously in one single period. So, even beyond the 18-year life of Vision 2030, more work will remain to be done. But, the plan will be there to review and to revise, to learn from the lessons that implementation will force us to confront.  And it is a plan that is produced and enriched by the views and experiences of the people of Liberia across our 15 counties and across our political divides. If the Final Vision 2030 emerges as truly a non-political national plan, then another milestone would have been achieved in planning for the reconstruction of our post-conflict nation.

Another difficult part of the work is to build consensus around programs and policies designed to respond to the needs identified during the consultative processes. This is always challenging: defining where we go as a nation. It is also important, because, as many have said, previous administrations of the Liberian government developed their own national visions, albeit most were political visions or slogans, not developmental visions. This is a critical difference.  And this difference should make a big difference in the life of Vision 2030 – and the potential for achieving its lofty goals.

The three-day Gbarnga National Conference will therefore provide the forum for robust conversations and consensus building about our collective future.  The President’s meeting with political party leaders is essential to deepening consensus and ownership. Because, as some members of the Vision 2030 Committee have said, Vision 2030 is a Liberian National Plan, a roadmap that will guide the planning and harmonization of the development agenda for the further development and benefit of all Liberians.

I congratulate the Governance Commission, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, and the hard working Vision 2030 Committee. Together, Liberia will grow, develop – and confound the naysayers.

About the Author:

Morris M. Dukuly, Sr. is a Communications Specialist and a national and international consultant. He holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communications and a Master’s degree in Education from Temple University in Pennsylvania and University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, respectively. He has served as a Liberian Cabinet Minister, more recently as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Mr. Dukuly also served as Speaker of the Transitional Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Liberia from March 1994 to March 1997.

Disclaimer: The Author did not seek or receive any assistance from anyone. The views expressed and all factual and material errors are his and his alone.

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