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Taking Government To The People: An Eyewitness Account Of Liberia’s Southeastern Experience

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, along with members of her Cabinet, set out on Saturday, February 27, 2010, for a week-long visit to southeastern Liberia, an area which, like most parts of the country, is slowly recovering from its share of the 14-year civil conflict. But unlike other parts of the country, which are more accessible by road, reconstruction, though noticeable, faces a greater challenge. It is no wonder that there is high anticipation and expectations when the leader of the nation leaves the relative comfort of the capital city, Monrovia, to tour the rural parts of the country.

The visit began in Maryland County, with the induction of the first President of the newly established Tubman University, Dr. Elizabeth Davis-Russell. The occasion marked a turning point in the President’s determination to decentralize the educational programs of government. The University will serve as the hub for students in the southeast seeking university education. But more importantly, the University offers courses which are at the heart of government’s recovery program. It is a factor which did not escape the attention of the Liberian leader when she spoke at the convocation.

“I must say how impressed I am with your academic program, which already offers degrees in areas in which the country desperately needs expertise in order to develop,” the President observed. She was referring to the University’s programs in Health Sciences, Management, Technology, Agriculture and Food Sciences, and Education.

“Imagine how better off Liberia will be when the 288 students who entered this University in 2009, will graduate with the types of skills that will contribute to Liberia’s transformation,” she said. The prospect of Maryland County producing the country’s future engineers, nurses, agronomists, educators, managers and more was clearly evident as Marylanders braced the blazing March sunshine for hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of their President to express appreciation for providing another opportunity for the people of a county, believed to be a stronghold of the President.

The Liberian President’s visit to the southeast was also meant to reassure the people of the area that addressing their plight remains a major priority of the Government, a fact manifested through the marathon activities undertaken by President Sirleaf, including dedications, inspections, groundbreaking and tours of development activities at nearly every stop of her tour.

“The progress you are witnessing today must be credited to the vision and confidence which Liberians and the international community have in this President to move the country forward,” officials of the county, including Senators John Ballout and Gloria Scott, Representative James Binney and Superintendant J. Gbleh-Bo Brown, repeatedly hammered at every stop. The crowd seemed to concur with the assertion as the officials recounted the progress, painting a mental picture of where the country was more than four years ago and what has been achieved four years later.

Of equal significance is the fact that the President made stops at nearly every point — the size of the crowd did not matter — to listen to the stories of ordinary people who never in their lives could imagine that the President of a country would sit to talk with them, share in their meals, let alone thank them for their efforts despite the challenges and, most importantly, assure them that the government cares.

The list of activities undertaken by the President while in the southeast is too long to mention for the purpose of this article, but a few notable stops are worth mentioning. They include: the inspection of the Bonike-Yobloke road — a road leading to the Liberian-Ivorian border– where rehabilitation work has begun; dedication of the Manolu Public School in Maryland — the first modern school building for the youth of the town; and groundbreaking for the construction of a primary school in Wuluken Town which, when completed, students of the town will enjoy a more comfortable learning environment.
River Gee County presents one of the most daunting development challenges for the Government.

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The county, one of the newest political sub-divisions of the country, is in dire need of basic infrastructure including schools. It, therefore, came as no surprise when the Liberian leader, accompanied by chiefs and elders of the county as well as the county’s legislative caucus, broke ground for the construction of a sports center.  While in River Gee, the President also dedicated a district administrative building in Kanweaken City; the Gbeapo-Kanweaken General Market; a sub-police station; and an elementary school, the Gbeapo Geeken Elementary school, located about 7 miles from the main road.

The school was constructed with funding provided by the Liberia Education Trust (LET), bringing to two the number of LET-funded schools in the area. It is worth noting that the school represents the first modern school structure in the village.  The dedication brings to seven the total number of schools constructed by the LET in southeast Liberia (one in Maryland County, two in River Gee, two in Grand Kru – Barclayville and Pinicess – and one in Grand Gedeh County). In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Works and the African Development Bank, the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) is supervising the construction of five primary schools and two clinics under the Labor Based Public Works Project, the Executive Director of LACE, Ramses Kumbuyah, explained.

There is, undoubtedly, a visible impact these programs are having on the people of River Gee and the counties the President has toured. Of added importance is that hope has been restored to the people of southeastern Liberia, a sentiment well articulated by a teenager in a statement (perhaps the shortest statement recorded during the President’s week-long visit) welcoming the President during a town hall meeting in Fish Town, when she said: “Thank you, Madam President, for the free education, for the books and uniforms.”

So overwhelming are the needs that beneficiaries sometimes, perhaps unconsciously, forget to show appreciation for what has been achieved. So, when it comes from a teenager, it speaks volumes of how far Liberia has come within the past four years.  We must keep reminding ourselves of this fact.
Look out for the next article on the President’s southeastern tour, focusing on the President’s visit to Grand Gedeh and stops in Nimba.

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