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Southeastern Liberia: Where Power and Poverty Co-exist

By S. Karweaye

Before anyone decries this piece as ‘anti- south-eastern,’ or even ‘pro-northern and central part,’ it is neither. I am from River Gee County, located in the southeastern region of Liberia.

Most readers familiar with the ethos of my writing would agree. What you are reading is simply a dialogue (albeit) a hard, but necessary dialogue we need to have with one another as compatriots. Jaw-jaw, they say, is better than war-war is it not?

Besides, there are no new revelations contained in this piece. Even prominent southeasterners have expressed similar sentiments at various times in the recent past. What is new, though, is that an old truth is being cast in a new perspective. If statistics from the World Bank are anything to go by, the impoverished region of Liberia is located in the southeastern region of the country.

The six counties in Liberia’s south-eastern region– Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, and River Cess counties – are extremely poor and marginalized.

And, going by common knowledge, the southeastern region enjoys the preponderance of political power over all other regions. This has been the case since President William Tubman assumed office in 1944.

partial view of the southeastern road conditions in Liberia

Tubman, the longest-serving president in the country’s history, was born in Harper, Maryland county. In 1980, Samuel K. Doe, a 28-year-old Master Sergeant, assumed power in Liberia by brutally murdering President William R. Tolbert Jr, ending 133 years of rule by black American settlers and their descendants (known as Americo-Liberians).

Doe became Liberia’s first president of indigenous heritage. In the subsequent decade, President Doe, born in Grand Gedeh county inflamed ethnic politics, and ethnic division and eked out a suspiciously close victory in the 1985 elections, before he met an even less dignified end than his predecessor.

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In 2017, a former professional footballer, George Weah was elected President. The Weah administration has come under criticism for inciting violence against opposition candidates including Telia Urey, and Darius Dillion. On August 15, 2022, three senior members of Weah’s cabinet including Weah’s Chief of Staff were sanctioned by the United States for their involvement in ongoing public corruption in Liberia.

Currently, southeasterners are heading the Legislative and Executive branches of Liberia. President George Weah hails from Grand Kru County; House Speaker Bhofal Chambers from Maryland county; Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Tugbe Chie from Grand Kru while the Deputy Speaker is also from Kru County. Also, the Minister of Finance, Samuel Tweah hails from Maryland County while the Executive Governor & Chairman of the Board, Central Bank of Liberia, Aloysius Tarlue; and the Minister of Gender, Williametta Piso Saydee-Tarr hails from Grand Gedeh County, etc. 

Recently, President Weah nominated to the Senate, 67-year-old Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gaypay Yuoh as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Justice Yuoh hailed from Grand Gedeh county.  Justice Yuoh is noted for abusing her position of trust.  At the Roberts International Airport, a security officer was imprisoned for a week on contempt charges after Yuoh complained that he had disrespected her in 2016. Justice Yuoh was the only justice that lifted a stay order on the holding of the election for Speaker of the House of Representatives, declining Alex J. Tyler’s plea that he was removed unconstitutionally led to the election of her then-husband Edwin Snowe’s friend, Emmanuel Nuquay in 2016. She voted in favor of the controversial new National Code of Conduct which prohibits officials appointed by the President from engaging in political activities in 2017. If Justice Yuoh is confirmed as it is expected, all national power will be intentionally placed in the hands of a selected few, concentrated in the southeastern region of Liberia. 

It must be noted President Weah appointed Joseph Nagbe in 2018 to replace retired Justice Philip A. Z. Banks and he was subsequently confirmed by the Liberian Senate a week later. Justice Nafgbe hails from Sinoe County.  It must also be noted that the national legislature in 2019 impeached Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, a Mandingo from Liberia’s largest and second most-populous county, Nimba county (north-eastern region). The Liberian National Bar Association denounced the removal of Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh stating it was unconstitutional. According to LNBA, ” the removal of associate justices in Liberia has always been controversial as they have been controlled by the politics of the day and not the controlling law of the day.” The general public widely speculated that the removal of Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh was influenced by President George Weah and his ruling CDC. 

The economic and social imbalance between south-eastern Liberia and the rest of the country makes political power-sharing a sensitive issue. The south-eastern region is small in population, and much poorer, with Liberia’s worst health and economic statistics. Its economy has declined because of deindustrialization and lack of investment in agriculture and infrastructure, and a much smaller percentage of its population has access to education than the rest of the country. Poor infrastructure has left the region isolated, and the road network is unpaved, thick with mud, and often impassable in rainy seasons. It can take three days to travel a distance of 700km to reach Maryland, via a circuitous route around the far northwest of Liberia. In River Gee, Grand Kru, and Maryland, 65% of the population lives in food poverty. Gold mining is one of the few livelihoods available, and children as young as seven or eight can be seen working in small-scale mining sites. 

Mass joblessness and hopelessness have become the most dominant features of the region. The southeastern elites who have held and still hold influential positions under various Liberian administrations have ironically helped in bringing down the region by destroying its institutions, shutting its people out of parts of responsibility in government, undermining its economic and social fabrics, and encouraging rampant poverty, and social problems like a drug, and substance abuse. By contrast, the rest of the country’s population is larger, much richer, and boasts far better indicators than the south-eastern region. 

We in the south-eastern region can today arguably only boast of professionals, educated or otherwise, who fail to live by the ethics of their professions, and lawmakers who become lawbreakers. Self-serving leaders who are driven by unbridled greed enthrone the culture of parochialism, patronage, and ethnic bigotry. We continue to make mistakes because of our selfish interests, pride, arrogance, and pretenses. The brutal reality which every south easterner knows, though very few want to talk about, is that beyond the size in landmass and smaller population, the region has turned literally into the poverty capital of Liberia, with poor infrastructure, the home of the largest percentage of illiterate Liberians despite political power being placed in the hands of south easterners. 

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The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by Searchlight Communications Inc. Established on November 16, 2009, with its first hard copy publication on January 22, 2010. The office is located on UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is bilingual (both English & French).

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