Special Feature: From Belle Yella to Bong – Another Christmas Gift

For the people of Bong County, Christmas came much earlier this year, although not with the same degree of hype and publicity which had greeted the Belle Yella achievement. On Saturday, December 4, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set out on a two-day visit to Bong County to  interact with the people of Liberia’s third largest county at events which included  the inspection, groundbreaking and dedication of development projects there.

 

Special Feature: From Belle Yella to Bong – Another Christmas Gift – A Cyrus Wleh Badio Account

There is customarily anticipation and excitement in the air at this time of the year in Liberia as the world celebrates Christmas, an important event on the Christian calendar.  The day itself falls on Saturday this year.  It was just about a year ago when the people of Belle Yella appeared apprehensive that a promise by their President to spend Christmas Day with them might not be fulfilled, owing to what seemed an insurmountable feat of having a vehicle reach this once notorious prison camp. It seemed impossible then, but it happened.

For the people of Bong County, Christmas came much earlier this year, although not with the same degree of hype and publicity which had greeted the Belle Yella achievement. On Saturday, December 4, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set out on a two-day visit to Bong County to  interact with the people of Liberia’s third largest county at events which included  the inspection, groundbreaking and dedication of development projects there. The President inspected police stations in Totota and Gbatala, and held consultations with traditional Zoes and Chiefs representing some of the most influential elders from 10 counties.

The most heart-warming event was, undoubtedly, the groundbreaking ceremony for a major road project that will link several towns and villages.  The singing, drumming, dancing, and chanting said it all – that an extraordinary occasion was about to take place.  It had all the trappings of a coronation. But no, it was not. It was, instead, the beginning of a process to rehabilitate feeder roads that had been abandoned for more than three decades in this part of the country, leaving food crops to rot in villages owing to the lack of transportation.

“This is the best Christmas for us since 1970,” an overwhelmed Carlos Bonner exclaimed.  Bonner, who is the Commissioner for Sanoyea District, spoke at a welcome program which preceded the groundbreaking ceremony in Totota.  Paramount Chief Flomo Gbokolo voiced the same sentiments. He likened the event to the Belle Yella road project which last year saw that once notorious prison camp linked to the outside world by a motor road.

The parallel drawn by the Paramount Chief Gbokolo is understandable because, for the first time in 30 years, vehicles will again reach his town and Piata, which last saw a motor vehicle in 1980. Piata will be among the towns and villages connected by feeder roads when the road rehabilitation of the Totota- Piata-Gboyea-Kankanlata and Gwainyea-Cow Farm Project is completed in seven months.

The Swedish Government is investing some US$2.8 million into the road construction project, which will take development to 112 towns and villages.   The donation stems from a visit to Sweden a year ago by the Liberian President, as she renewed Liberia’s ties with this Nordic and other countries in the region. The Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) through the Liberian-Swedish Feeder Road Project (LSFRP) is heading the project, which forms part of 65.8 miles of feeder roads, of a total of 93.1 miles earmarked for rehabilitation in Bong County.

The President expressed her thanks and appreciation for the support given by international partners, but emphasized that the road belongs to the Government and people of Liberia. “The partners have joined us and are doing so because they believe in us.  We (Government) decide where the projects go,” she maintained.  The President disclosed that more roads will be rehabilitated during this dry season in Bong and other parts of the country.

But the President had more good tidings for the people of Bong: the announcement that China Union has agreed to rehabilitate and pave the road from Kakata to Bong Mines – bringing much relief to travelers along that stretch of road.

Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods, whose Ministry is supervising the rehabilitation work, was delighted about the project and, like the President and Bong County Superintendent Rennie Jackson, praised the local people for their involvement. “This is the spirit that must continue, to see people joining the process and helping to brush the roadside with their hands.  This means they are asking government to do more,” he observed.

The two-day visit to Bong also witnessed another boost to the country’s education sector. Given that a major priority of the Johnson Sirleaf Government has been the development of the education sector, it came as no surprise that a key activity on the President’s schedule was an education project – a highlight of the President’s visit to Bong County.

That activity was the groundbreaking for the construction, in Gbarnga, of a Community College that will specialize in Information Technology. “We do not want it to be just another ordinary college, putting out accountants, psychologists and bookkeepers,” the focal person for the project, Bong County Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, said.

The Senator thanked the President for lifting the freeze placed on the use of the County Development Fund – a decision which had enabled Bong to award the contract to construct the facility, which is slated for completion in 12-18 months.  The portion to be completed, said Senator Howard-Taylor, will house the administrative and classroom divisions, while additional funding is marshaled to construct a dormitory, laboratories and teachers’ quarters.  The college, when completed, will provide additional opportunity for young people to learn, Senator Howard-Taylor added.

The cost of the project is estimated at US$7.4 million, and the Senator announced that Bong County authorities have agreed that the Social Development Funds provided by ArcelorMittal and China Union for the next three years will go towards building, furnishing and staffing the college.

Also making remarks at the ceremony were Bong County Superintendent Rennie Jackson, and the Chairman of the Bong Legislative Caucus, Representative George Mulbah of Jorquelle District #4, in whose district the College is to be located.

Breaking ground for the construction, President Johnson Sirleaf thanked all who collaborated to ensure that the project took off.  She described it as the best thing that could happen for Bong and that through the project good quality education would be provided.  She acknowledged the proximity of Cuttington University College, but observed that it alone could not absorb the growing number of students seeking admission.

The groundbreaking for the construction of a Community College in Bong County is the latest development project being undertaken in that county under the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Other projects include: the newly constructed facilities of the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI), the renovated sports complex, the administrative building, and an Army barracks. It was, therefore, no exaggeration when Representative Mulbah declared that Bong County is among the most blessed counties under the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  The next story from Bong will feature another area where Government has laid much priority, namely, the health sector.

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