Friday, May 25, 2018

Prioritizing Education: Why Should We Care?

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

From May 21 to May 23, 2018, the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders in the education sector will meet at a summit to talk about issues in education in Liberia. The summit will be held under the theme of “Prioritizing Education: Why Should We Care?” I have deliberately chosen this theme as the title of this piece for several reasons, not least because I want to contribute to the question of why we should actually care as a participant in the this week’s summit. There are indeed deluge of reasons why we should care, and at the centre of all is the survival of our cultures, our languages, our civilization, and above all our peace and stability. It cannot also be gainsaid that the overall survival of our country is hinged on the level of education we attain. There is sufficient evidence from across the world that level of education has a causal relationships to economic growth, social advancement and democratic development.

The primary proxy for measuring levels of education in a society is the basic literacy rate - the percentage of people who are able to read and write. A recent report by the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) suggests that the literacy rate has reached an impressive 64.7% compared to the 42% reported 10 years ago by UNESCO. The disaggregated data indicate that 54% of women are literate compared to a whopping 77% of men pointing to a conspicuously huge disparity in access to education between men and women. But not much is spoken of functional/skilled literacy which has to do with the availability of skilled labor for the rapidly changing and dynamic domestic and global labor markets. Are Liberians at home having access to training opportunities in the fields of new technology, or strategic areas that the domestic labor market requires to thrive? The numbers that come close to answering this question are unflattering. A 2014 report by the Governance Commission indicated that from 2009 to 2013 eighty percent (80%) of all graduates from higher education institutions majored in business (56%) and the social sciences (24%). In the highly technical areas, the number of graduates were a negligible 1% for engineering and 4% for agriculture during the four-year period studied.

The numbers from the secondary school level – mainly scores - are even more appalling. The year 2013 was an alarming year in the education sector: nearly one-third of candidates who wrote the senior high school certificate exams administered by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) failed; not surprisingly, 25, 000 students who wrote the entrance examination for admission to the University of Liberia failed to achieve the minimum grade for admission. In her reaction to the appalling developments, then President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf described the educational system as ‘a mess’, vowing to fix the problem by completely overhauling the entire system. The most notable overhaul then involved cleaning the education payroll of ‘ghost teachers’, changing the leadership at the Ministry of Education, deploying more teachers to rural areas, and distributing more text books and teaching materials, among others. Mr. George Werner, the Minister of Education appointed in 2015 to reform the system, developed a strategy romantically entitled ‘From Mess to Best’. Werner’s reform measures were strongly criticized as unsustainable and unrealistic by traditional stakeholders in the sector. With Sirleaf’s unflinching support Werner rolled out his plans which included a controversial privatization program. But after all of the showboating by the new Minister, the 2016 and 2017 WAEC results pointed to the fact that the system was still wanting of critical and substantive reforms: nearly half of all candidates who wrote the exam failed in 2016 while 2017 recorded a failing rate of 41%. Not much has been done since and public spending for education during the last five years of the Sirleaf administration was an average 16% of the national budget. In an apparent admission of failure to reform the sector, Sirleaf’s ‘reform’ Minister wrote on social media that “education does not promote equality and shared prosperity. Education alone is not enough to make anyone a “good” leader.” While this statement was made in the heat of a political campaign, it however pointed to the mediocrity and half-heartedness with which the Sirleaf administration approached the question of education in Liberia. To Sirleaf’s credit, enrolment increased heavily during her administration; but in the end, Sirleaf left the system worse off than she met it, if learning outcomes measured by WAEC scores is anything to go by.
The above reasons are why we should not only care about education, but actually prioritize education service delivery as a critical function of the state. Prioritizing education means reforming the system to respond adequately to contemporary labor market demands and acceptable international standards. This would require direct policy interventions such as increased financing and rigorous accountability mechanisms in the education sector if we are to improve on learning outcomes, student scores, and develop the next generation of leaders for our country. Recent actions by the government in the area of education financing are sadly not too encouraging. A recent analysis of the 2018-2019 National Budget by a local think tank, the Center for Policy Action and Research (CePAR), suggests that there has been no progressive and fundamental departure from the Sirleaf’s model of education financing which kept the sector underperforming year after year.

In addition to the issue of poor financing is the current governance arrangement which to a large extent contribute to the inefficiency of the system. The arthritic bureaucracy at the Ministry of Education contributes highly to the poor state of monitoring, supervision, and logistical support to educational institutions across the country. The system is heavily centralized despite the promulgation of an education sector decentralization plan in 2011 which provided for the creation of an education board in each county. The need to fully implement the school board program remains as urgent as it was when the policy was adopted seven years ago. As I wrote elsewhere in 2013, Liberia needs fully established and institutionalized local boards to function as relevant and credible local authorities on education sector governance. Decentralizing local decision-making, implementation authorities and resources will enable local education boards to implement national education policies and to have sufficient control over such things as licensing of teachers, school supervision and monitoring, school feeding and subsidies to schools. Under such arrangement the central Ministry will retain responsibilities in regulating and promulgating national policies on education, while the local boards lead in implementation.

The current g government was elected on a campaign of ‘change’ including providing affordable and quality education to every Liberian. Considering President Weah’s continued emphasis on alleviating the sufferings of Liberia’s poor through pro-poor service delivery initiatives, education must be considered a national emergency given the system’s current deplorable state. As a national emergency, all needed support would be required for reviving and sustaining the system so that it produces competent and functionally literate citizens. Thus, as a first start for this administration, there is a need to reconsider the current proposal for education financing in the forthcoming budget year when the government will actually begin implementing its own budget. More financing to the education sector is needed to provide for more support to services in the sector beyond just servicing the payroll.

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei is Chairman of the Liberia Education and Training Foundation (LITEF). The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Liberia in 2016: A review of major indices, global development and their implications for the 2017 debate

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

The year 2016 has come and gone, and like many other years, it recorded its happier times and moments of grief for families and societies. It seems the key moments of the year were marred by numbing surprises like Brexit and US 2016 elections; and miseries for humanity and societies as many tragedies were recorded. Some, like the earthquake in Ecuador, and the Zika epidemic among numerous other disasters, were beyond human imaginations. While the disasters may be natural, there are arguments that poor environmental governance has led to human vulnerabilities. Yet others, like the ongoing carnage in Syria, South Sudan, and the numerous failings of the states and the economies in Africa can partly be attributed to of lack of social order, and failing political leaderships.

Citizens have reacted to these events and failings of their states by using accountability mechanisms available to them worldwide. Strike actions and protests have increased. In some parts of Africa electoral democracy took a different shape. Electoral systems seem to be gaining legitimacy and reliability as was seen in South Africa, The Gambia and Ghana. In these countries campaigns were marred by tough competitions in an environment of uncertainties for the electoral outcomes, and ruling parties were punished for their failings. In some countries like Niger and Zambia ruling parties were rewarded by voters. These are credible credentials to build upon.

The situation in Liberia has been no different from the global collective. Liberia has been a victim of both natural disasters and break down of order, and together, it is strikingly clear that Liberia’s recent calamitous experience with the Ebola virus and the current state of a receding economy are symptoms of a weak state and failings of the national institutions.

Eleven years after the return to civilian rule, the country continues to ploddingly climb the ranks of the various development indices, but sadly, no progress has been made to migrate from the realm of the ‘lows’. For example, despite the numerous progress made since 2005, Liberia has not moved beyond the category of Low Human Development on the Human Development Index of 2016. On the measurement of state fragility, Liberia remains on the ALERT according to the Fragile States Index (FSI) of 2016. However, the Index shows that there was an improvement in 2016 compared to 2014 and 2015 when stability, apparently due to the social and political ramifications of the Ebola epidemic, was under threat. Two major factors continue to heighten the potential for instability according to the FSI: the unhealthy state of the economy and the uneven distribution of the outcome of this poor economy; i.e. uneven economic development. The latter shows that distribution of economic outputs in terms of social development remains skewed in favor of a minority segment of the population. A state on the ALERT in the FSI is a state that displays features indicating that the society and institutions are susceptible to failure.

Liberia’s overall governance score improved in 2016 on the Mo Ibrahim Index, compared with a poor rating in 2006. This means, the long-term stability (albeit fragile) has provided opportunities for the reorganization of the state and the society. This was also confirmed by the Corruption Perception Index released in January 2016 showing that perception of corruption among Liberians is on the decline. However, the figures show that perceptions in 2012 were far better than today. Interestingly, the release of the CPI in January 2016 was followed a few months later by the busting of a corruption cartel operating at the highest echelon of the political leadership. Behind this cartel were hidden characters dubbed as Big-Boy1 and Big-Boy2 who only few days to the end of the year were discovered. A robust multi-agency taskforce comprising the Executive Mansion, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and the Ministry of Justice has been working to probe this further. But these individuals operate in a larger cartel enabled by their positions in society and the weaknesses of the institutions they head. It cannot be gainsaid that this same cartel had a hand in the alleged corruption that led to the collapse of the National Oil Company of Liberia. It is this cartel that must be dismantled in its entirety to pave the way for Liberia’s promising future.

What then can we blame for such perennial weakness and fragility of the state more than a decade after the peace accord? How do we organize the state and the structures of power and authority to deal with corruption, solve our problems with the economy, and deliver basic services in healthcare, education and housing? As Liberia prepares for elections in 2017, these are questions that need to be at the front of the policy debates leading to the elections. The indices cited above, notwithstanding their limitations and scopes, are useful in guiding the debate and shaping the policy programs of the competing parties and interest groups in 2017.

But as we enter 2017 a review of the model of state-building that has left Liberia in a state of ‘arrested development’ needs to be done for reshaping the post-2017 development agenda. This is a greater responsibility of the policy committees of political parties and organizations mediating the 2017 debate. I have contested the present model of state-building pursued in Liberia over the last decade and I argue for a robust constitutional reform for the reordering of power and authority relations through decentralized governance. The current model has focused on perpetuating the centralized authority, and has engaged state-building with quick-fix approaches resulting in unsustainable gains in the economy and infrastructural development. Ignoring major state-building elements such as constitutional reform and national reconciliation, or the cavalier treatment of these two crucial issues, had left the numerous reforms and the investments in the economy and infrastructures on a shaky foundation.
The emerging patterns in international politics and developments in powerful countries are also relevant to the 2017 debate in Liberia. In the political West, the ideological far-right movement now dubbed as the ‘Alt-Right’ has gained momentum and winning resounding victories across Europe and North America. Their policies are based on conservative economic programs, closed society, racism and an end to immigration. In Britain, they succeeded in winning a referendum to leave the European Union, which has been founded on liberal social and economic values. In the United States, they succeeded in electing Donald Trump thereby endorsing his messages of intolerance and racism and professed ultra-conservative agenda. They are mobilizing in Germany and France and with prospects of winning national elections this year. The dominant narrative explaining the electoral success of the ‘Alt-Right’ movement is the argument that an elite order is being overthrown by a revolutionary grassroots movement. I disagree with this narrative as I view this trend rather as a remobilization of elites exploiting anger against the liberalization of the world which promises social equality, increase in global trade, and the end of racial dominance.

These developments have greater ramifications for a country like Liberia. Liberia’s current economy, driven largely by foreign capital, development aid and remittances from emigrants is being sustained by the longstanding liberal policies and traditions of these western countries. The political success of these “alt-rights’ is premised on the overthrow of this liberal order. They threaten to withdraw their countries from liberal organizations promoting free trade and development aid; they intend to run a protected economy which could limit the flow of foreign direct investments to poor countries. Liberia is vulnerable and could suffer immensely were these ‘alt-rights’ to fulfill their electoral promises. How does Liberia position itself to build and sustain a viable economy and maintain a strong state in the face of these threats? How can Liberia engage the global economy as a meaningful actor, given its geographic position with a long coastline, abundant natural resources, vast arable land, virgin forests and dual currency regime? These are questions that should shape the ideological content of the debate in 2017. Whatever the outcomes of the debate maybe, a new line of thinking on the economy and the political leadership would be needed for Liberia to depart from its failed past and challenging present to embrace a promising future.

-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry!

Friday, October 28, 2016

From Africa to Calais Jungle: Why African youths are risking their lives to enter the developed world

Frustrated, angry and desperate, many young Africans have no faith in their own countries and the extant political leadership. They have dreams of prosperity but have resolved that these dreams cannot bear fruit here. Africa for them is an infertile land. Their belief is based on what they have come to learn from different media sources: social media, television and radio; and this is backed by their local experiences. For them the best of life’s opportunities are in the West - Europe and the United States; in fact, anywhere other than their home country or the African continent in general. And they are determined to reach those shores of ‘respite’ by all means possible. Read more

Friday, August 19, 2016

Beyond the Disease: How the Ebola Epidemic Affected the Politics and Stability of the Mano River Basin

In late 2013, the Ebola virus was diagnosed in the forest region of Guinea. By mid-2014, it had spread alarmingly in the countries of the Mano River Basin – Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. By the time it was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) in August 2014, at least 1 711 people were infected and 932 people had died from the virus.1 The Ebola virus was an alien phenomenon among both healthcare workers and ordinary people, and the affected countries lacked the capacity to respond effectively. The lack of proper response mechanisms at the beginning of the outbreak enabled the virus to spread rapidly, with a 90% fatality rate among the population, leaving citizens – mostly those in densely populated slum communities – in despair and desperation. What became further at risk was the stability of the three countries, two of which – Liberia and Sierra Leone – were still recovering from civil conflicts that had ended a decade earlier. While the crisis was largely health-based, it gravely affected political and security situations, leading observers to predict collapse, violence and a possible return to war. Read more..

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE ROAD AHEAD - Keynote Address Delivered at the 11th Closing Ceremony of the Elizabeth Blunt School (Chocolate City, Gardnersville, Liberia)

July 10, 2016

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, Keynote Speaker

The Proprietor
Mr. Oliver Saylee, Principal
Members of the teaching staff
Graduates and student body
Parents and Guardians
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

Today is a great day for us all in this hall as we all have many accomplishments to celebrate through the great works of the administration and teaching staff of the Elizabeth Blunt School. Some of us are celebrating our graduation from the Elizabeth Blunt School; some of us are celebrating our promotion to a new class; the teaching staff is celebrating the quality outputs of their hard works; While parents in particular are celebrating all of the accomplishments here that are the products of the hard works of both the school and the students.

I am therefore very grateful that I am here not just to speak to you all, but to join you in celebrating the success of the Elizabeth Blunt School and the success of its students. I am a living testimony of the quality of the teaching staff in this school, because the man who first taught me how to read, and write, Mr. Moiforay Massaquoi is a faculty member of this school. He is a strong and strict disciplinarian with a deep passion for education and training. Mr. Massaquoi remains a role model to thousands of young people today who passed through his tender hands. I am therefore convinced that with his kind in this school, we all can be assured of smart and disciplined students.

I recall vividly the years of the early 2000s when this school was established. I remember it gained fame in those days for providing free education to internally displaced persons who had fled the war in Lofa County and other parts of Liberia. The founder of this school, Mr. James Mamulu of blessed memory had a great vision which led him to establishing this renowned institution. The greatest tribute we can all pay to his memory is to ensure that his vision continues to live on.

And that vision is to provide quality education for the children of Liberia. It is because of the farsightedness and the big dream of Mr. Mamulu that we are all here celebrating various accomplishments today. It is therefore my plea to the administration of this school to continue to make this dream a reality.

In March 2015, I met Ms. Elizabeth Blunt, the benefactor of this school, in Nigeria. And we briefly discussed about the progress and future of this school. She expressed concerns about the sustainability of the school. I am sure this is a concern for the administration as well, and I am convinced that necessary strategies are being worked out to keep this school functioning and providing quality education to the young people.
I will be speaking to you all today on the theme THE ROAD AHEAD. No one knows the length of the road ahead; neither do we know what lies on the road for each of us. Those are the wonders of the God we all worship. He alone knows everything.

However, we are able to prepare ourselves to face whatever lies ahead. And that preparation is through obtaining home training, formal education, and building good and lasting relationships with our neighbors, friend and colleagues. There may be many other ways, but the underlining principle is to follow conventional path defined by the society in which you live, or by the religious belief and values you subscribe to.
The road ahead, obviously, is not a straight path, it has hills and valleys, it is full of challenges, and it is full of fortunes and misfortunes. In the end, those who are well prepared are those who accomplish their dreams along the way.

Today, we celebrate the realization of our various dreams, but the road is still ahead. We are graduating from K-II, Grade Six and Grade Nine; and our parents are proud. But the road ahead which will lead us to finishing Grade 12 and even college is challenging, but also very promising and exciting. It is important therefore that we brace ourselves for those challenges.

And I encourage all parents and sponsors here to continue to work and hold the hands of these students in continuing on the road. Without your support and mentorship, it is difficult to determine how they would continue on this journey; but I can safely say here that your pieces of advice, your financial and moral support and the encouragement you give them will make them to realize their life long dreams along the road they have chosen to trek.

In his poem the ‘Road Not Taken”, The 20th Century poet Robert Frost talked about two roads diverging in the woods. He took the road that was less traveled and realized that by taking that road it made all the difference.

The road not frequently traveled is the best road in making life’s journey; but sadly a lot of us traveled just one road which in most instances divert from the conventional values and practices our society generally expect of us.

Let us therefore take the road that is not frequently traveled. That is the road that calls for respect for parents, teachers, and others; that is the road that calls for good citizenship and the respect for the rule of law; the road not frequently taken is the road that calls for sincerity and honesty in our dealings. It is road that calls for progressive development and unity.

Today, many of us have taken the other road, and when we take the frequently traveled road without thinking and calling ourselves to order, we bring anarchy to our society, and we destroy each other by cheating, stealing and even killing.

Today, there is much discussion about the poor state of education in Liberia. Our education system has broken down because the road frequently taken today in our schools are that of corruption which comes in the form of bribery. We are all guilty of this corruption – parents, teachers, and students bear equal responsibilities. To solve this problem therefore, we must all divert and take the other road and we must all contribute to solving this problem.

Without addressing corruption in our education system, we run the risk of producing functionally illiterate people through our school systems. It is important that school administration put in place strong systems of check and balance that periodically review and evaluate teachers output which must be measured against the performance of the students.

Elizabeth Blunt School has to be a leader in the education sector by setting good standards for your students and your teachers. You have to get on the road that is not frequently taken, which obviously is the best road. This school is already on the path and can be counted among the best in Gardnersville. Adding more qualities require adding innovation to your teaching styles, your disciplinary techniques and introducing your students to new programs.

As the world is fast advancing in technology, this school must work harder to introduce students to new technologies and new skills that match the world market. This requires adding technological and basic vocational skills to your curriculum at least at the junior high level. By doing this you will be preparing your students for both the academic world and the job market which are both require for the journey on the road ahead.
Finally Ladies and gentlemen, THE ROAD AHEAD is unending and rocky and full of challenges, but it is left with each of us to make it passable. Experience tells that those that seek good training and sound education are those who make the journey easier and are those who make the best contribution to the development of our society.

I embolden us all therefore to hold hands and support each other in unison in making this great journey together for the development of ourselves, our community, and our country. That journey should gain new energy today. The graduates and students here today must be seen as the bearer of that energy. They must get our attention, our support and our encouragement as they continue this journey on the ROAD AHEAD with new level of energy.

Thank you so much, and may God bless us all!!!!!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Liberia’s constitutional future: Religious and centralized?

In response to the failure of piecemeal reform proposals in an unsuccessful constitutional referendum in 2011, President Sirleaf-Johnson established a five-member Constitution Review Committee (CRC) in August 2012 tasked with conducting public consultations and preparing proposals for constitutional reform for submission to the President. Following the completion of nation-wide public consultations, the CRC organized a National Constitutional Conference, from 29 March to 3 April 2015, which brought together actors from across the nation. The Conference produced 25 proposals for consideration for constitutional reform. After carefully reviewing the CRC’s report with the 25 proposals, the President forwarded the proposals to parliament in August 2015 endorsing some of the proposals while suggesting that some others be addressed through policies and legislation. However, she rejected, inter alia, the “Christian State” proposal on grounds that it “could foment division amongst our people based on religious beliefs”. Read more...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How China fits in the Industrialization Drive of Liberia

By Amjad M. Nyei

The recent State visit (November 1-5, 2015) of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) epitomized and reaffirmed
the depth and scope of the strong bilateral relationship between Liberia and China. During that visit both President Sirleaf and her Chinese counterpart Chairman Xi Jin Ping reaffirmed their commitments and mutual support to advancing the national development agenda of Liberia. China was once again assured that Liberia firmly believes and remains committed to the “One China Policy”.

To further seal the two countries’ commitment to the already solid relationship, three major agreements were signed- Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement for bilateral aid worth approximately $ USD47.35 million, Agreement on Mutual Visa Exemption for Diplomatic Passport Holders from both Countries and Agreement on Maritime Program and Ship Registry.

A very important note taken from the meeting between the two leaders is President Sirleaf’s clarion call to China for the latter’s assistance in economic diversification and value addition to Liberia two main exports; namely iron ore and rubber. The Post Ebola Economic and Recovery Plan of Liberia focuses on, education, agriculture and infrastructure. The remaining 2 years of the administration could make a significant difference with its plan for industrialization and a manufacturing base economy with help from our dear and great friend China.

To spur industrialization- a key factor to sustain economy in poor countries- is to develop infrastructure including electricity and road network. Like most African countries, Liberia is poorly under-industrialized because of weak infrastructure and this drives up the cost of making things. The African Development Bank found in 2010 that electricity, a large cost for most manufacturers cost three times more on average in Africa than it does in South Asia.

As the engagement between Liberia and China on jump-starting industrialization begins, evidenced by the proposal from Wuhan Steel, a majority owner in China Union Investment Ltd, equal committed cooperation with China and other developing partners must be payed to electrifying the whole country.

Certainly China is sincerely committed to the development agenda of Liberia through its tangible development assistance programs. However, Liberia should be aware of this famous and instructive quote from the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius: “Rather teach a man to fish than give him fish” (shou ren yi yu bu ru yi yu). China’s economy itself is struggling as numerous jobs are already threatened due poor growth. It has been predicted that China’s growth rate for this year would go below the normal 6.5%. This is not very pleasant news for countries receiving Chinese aid and investments, as their economies could equally suffer the shock. Therefore learning how to fish rather than receiving fish is certainly a way forward for Liberia.

The effect of the ‘Dutch Disease’ primarily because of the heavy reliance on iron ore and rubber exports continue to undermine other important sectors, and this is proving perniciously terrible to the Liberian economy. Liberia’s Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh is quoted: “Liberia is struggling with the two back bones of its economy- iron ore and rubber. The commodities price shock has affected these two commodities to the extent that if we do not take action now to work with the rubber and mining sectors, the economy will have a problem”. This caution from the country’s economic architect points to the need of diverting economic dependency from raw material export to opening up other sector such as industrialization and if you will, large scale agriculture for domestic and international markets. Liberia already has great potential in crop farming because of the climate and fertile soil.

Ethiopia and South Africa for example have strategically managed their separate cooperation with China in a fashion that has accommodated out sourcing from China. Chinese factories- shoes and textile have set up manufacturing bases in Ethiopia which are attending to markets in Africa and the other nearby regions. Addis Ababa, dubbed historically as the “diplomatic capital” of Africa continues to benefit from Chinese investments in numerous sectors, including real estate and construction. Africa has also benefitted as a whole by the construction of a new and giant edifice of the African Union headquarters by the Chinese. China’s generosity seems endless and is changing the face of Africa. In September this year, Ethiopia inaugurated a light rail metro in its capital with 85% of the $USD 475 million used for the project being secured from the Export-Import Bank of China. Not surprisingly, however, South Africa being a BRICS member state is tapping on its relations with China for value addition in the former’s mining sector, notably in steel processing.

Meanwhile, the future of Liberia-China relation remains promising and very cordial for a win-win scenario for both countries. The move toward industrialization and economic diversification is imperative to Post Ebola recovery of Liberia, and China stands as an indispensable partner to such industrialization given its current role in the Liberian economy.

What Mary Broh Does Not Get — The Case of Monrovia and its Beautification

By Ivan Forleh

The name Mary Broh has resurfaced in Monrovia. Wherever this lady passes, some residents clamor in total frustration while others salute her as she enforces her mandate to clean Monrovia —
what should be a function of a city mayor.

Broh’s task force, requested by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, often leaves homes in total ruins, hopes broken and families homeless. Is the work of the task force worth that much, to the detriment of these families?

Monrovia is home to about 1.1 million inhabitants. This number includes a jobless and youthful population, a growing poor class, and an uneven distribution of wealth among other things. This reality can be seen from some of the slum communities of West Point and New Kru Town, where more than 80% of the people are living with just a dollar per day — as we say, hand to mouth.

With little or nowhere to settle, these people have over time and out of choice, built shacks that would seem barely habitable, while striving to provide for their families by selling on the sidewalks of streets, and in traffic, all in a rather collapsed economic system. Since the beginning of the civil wars, this has remained the case, causing the influx of debris which often results in massive floods due to inadequate drainage systems.

It is in this regard, that the “General” – and now Hurricane Broh – comes into action, smashing market stalls, demolishing shacks, destroying properties and ruining lives. But is this right?

Mary Broh is missing something here, and if the project is not terminated, it could end up as a fantasy and a government-sponsored machine simply for the destruction of homes.

Random demolition of family homes and a few community clean-up campaigns are not effective tools for cleaning an entire city. While one must be keen to realize that some of Broh’s efforts have yielded basic results, we must also realize that the continuously littered and flooded streets of Monrovia are evidence of a failed system.

Broh’s draconian methods show a total disregard for human rights and dignity as homeowners are whipped mercilessly for disobeying her.

Perhaps what Broh and the Government of Liberia must come to realize is that in a struggling economy, the slums are inhabited by people who cannot afford an air-conditioned apartment that is fully fenced and electrified – some of the many amenities enjoyed by government officials – and as such, they must not be regarded as garbage.

Even after a new government is elected in 2017, these slum communities will remain as they are. Monrovia will still be cluttered in debris.

So the question remains: will Mary Broh continue to sweep Monrovia, demolish shacks, destroy market stalls without contemplating a systematic solution to the massive growth of slum communities and inhabitants who have no other means for survival? Is this entire project a gimmick?

One would not take too long to realize that Broh’s actions follow the adage of “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Serious people would always seek rational alternatives to persisting problems, a change of the non-workable way of doing things to a rather realistic and systems-based policy that would identify the cause and provide a solution.

For a city with electricity and safe drinking water available to less than 5% of its inhabitants, a structurally challenged road network, and an inadequate drainage system, the problems do not emanate from poor people who are victims of institutional failure and are found in the trappings of a collapsed economy.

These random initiatives to break down homes and market stalls and cripple sources of income are burdens borne more by families. Does Broh under the mandate of the Government compensate these people for their property? Is there temporary housing available for people whose homes are demolished?

When the family — whether small, poor, rich or strong — is divided and destroyed, our communities are soon broken down. Either we have families, the nuclei of the society, strengthened or we don’t have a country at all.

Instead of bringing in heavy equipment into communities, a supported decentralized community leadership can prove better at preserving and cleaning the environment.

Even in cases of demolition of shacks situated in alleys and street corners, the families must be compensated, treated with dignity and respect, and given due notice to vacate the area within a reasonable period.

Many would argue that Broh’s actions are appropriate. To such proponents: this is not about whether one isn’t futuristic or looking out of the box to see what Monrovia would become as a result of Hurricane Broh’s project. It is rather the failure of it all.

Modern democracies have shown stories of success when the central Government is supported from the bottom to the top.

The creation of community-supported task forces, which could provide employment for vulnerable youths, could beautify Monrovia’s streets and communities.

What claimed the attention of many Liberians recently is FrontPage Africa’s November 12 publication that read in boldfaced ‘WHIPPING MARY,’ MARY BROH SPECIAL TASK FORCE PARADES ‘CHILD PROSTITUTES.’ With total shock and dismay, many serious and conscious Liberians stood for what is right by demonizing such criminal act, which was a total disregard for human dignity and a gross violation of the right of children.

Liberia has long passed the days of culturally-inspired justice or corporal punishments. In the case of this “General,” when misuse or abuse of power is not subject to continual challenge and questioning, it eventually becomes the new normal.

Not only has Broh under the appointment of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf violated the rights of these poor girls — who evidently are forced into what they do because of institutional failure — but she has also violated their privacy, pride, and dignity.

Will 50 lashes on a vulnerable young girl take away the apparent hardship and sometimes unthinkable things she has to go through to find a meal every day? One must be under an illusion to think so.

Perhaps what the Government and Mary Broh must recognize are the tremendous difficulties and frustrations these young girls have and feel and that with no provision for their protection and welfare, they are left with few choices to survive.

Such disregard for the rights and welfare of these girls ironically occurred under a woman president.

Even after the nightmare of Ebola, Broh does not realize that these demolished shacks, destroyed market stalls, and lost hope lost are the only possessions of many people facing extreme poverty.

Until this regime or the one after begins to think of a systematic way out, Monrovia will still be as it was nearly 12 years ago and West Point, the largest slum community, will lie there without any opportunity for advancement.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Of What Use Is A Beautiful Monrovia to Poor Residents?

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

A middle-aged woman with a little market stalls in the Jallah Town community in Monrovia wailed as the ‘General’ of the Sirleaf administration supported by armed men broke down her market stall. She wept profusely and her greatest concern was ‘how will I sell tomorrow to feed my children’. But that question is of no issue to the ‘General’. From her cries, one could tell she is amongst about 70% of Liberians living on less than a dollar a day. Her survival is dependent on an informal and micro-business popularly known in Liberia as ‘from-hand-to-mouth’. Yet, she is hopeful every day that she will survive, with or without government.

“Let’s go everybody, we have more to do, we will force these people to be clean”, the ‘General’ called out to her men. This is all in the name of beautifying the city.

But In his last Pan African Post Card, the late Secretary General of the Pan African Movement, Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem challenged this beautification campaign which is replete across Africa. He wrote: “In the name of ridding cities of illegal constructions, returning to the original city plans and ‘beautifying’ our cities, City councils and governments at all levels are creating more poverty ruining lifelong savings accumulated through extreme sacrifice and hard work. Of what use is a ‘beautiful city’ peopled by citizens who have lost their livelihoods? Would they appreciate the beauty?”

Breaking market stalls in the usual violent and unprovoked manner does not in any way hold the solution to a clean and beautiful city. I, like all other Liberians, including the General and the Commander-in-Chief (CIC), share the same dream of seeing Monrovia a beautiful, flourishing and livable city. But I doubt if the ‘General’ and the CIC have any idea on making Monrovia a beautiful, flourishing and livable city; because it is ten years now and they are leaving Monrovia as they met it in 2006 without basic services. Thanks however to foreign merchants who are putting up some sky rises in the Sinkor area, even though those merchants have to procure their own electricity, water, and sewage systems in the heart of the city. Less than 2% of Liberians have access to these basic services. Liberians would appreciate more were the CIC to direct her energy to building a system of participatory governance through which basic services are delivered, than deploying a ‘General’ to beautify a city with hungry and dismally underserved inhabitants.

If the ‘General’ and the CIC could take a retrospect of what they have done in the last ten years about the city, they would quickly realize that they have done the same thing – an overzealous and uncontrolled exercise of power over weak and poor people - over and over and the results have not changed; and they are likely to do the same in the next two years, unless they listen to the rest of us who think differently, and, indeed, progressively. But Albert Einstein had a word that properly describes ‘the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.

It is important that they ask themselves this question: Why do we have to do the same thing every year, yet the problem persists? I really won’t venture into answering that question, but would rather go into what they have not done, and that is where the solution lies. They have not mobilized the people into collective actions, and they do not work with the communities in their work. Critical to making Monrovia clean, beautiful and prosperous is mobilizing the people into collective actions or self-governance structures. All previous governments and the current one has failed to work with local people in solving local problems. The only disappointment is that this current regime has not learned from the failures of the past regimes, or perhaps it’s deliberately ignoring the lessons.

From all indications, the hegemonic and imperial state has only used raw power to get things done in our communities and in most cases its agents abused power particularly when it is in the wrong hands – like Chucky Taylor, or like the current ‘General’. They see the local people, mostly poor, weak and vulnerable people as lazy and dirty. However, the poor social state of those people and the products of their interactions with their own communities are the outcomes of the incompetence of their leaders, for example, the former Mayor of Monrovia, the fierce ‘General’. For the ‘General’ and her likes, they must leave their offices and clean the environment. They don’t believe that the state or the government must work along with the communities through local structures to produce peaceful and desirable local outcomes. But their perception of local people is not only wrong and selfish; it is equally an attempt at creating false impressions and inflicting personalities beyond their natural scopes.
Our communities have survived far better than the state which has fallen in numerous instances. The recent triumph of the communities over the Ebola virus is an example of strong local organizations in Liberia. Communities were succeeding while state institutions like the National Oil Company were collapsing as a result of poor leadership and unforgivable thievery.

Therefore, beautifying Monrovia is not just about breaking stalls and shacks; it is more about organizing and giving local institutions more power for self-governance particularly in the areas of waste management and sanitation. But bigger than that is about organizing the state properly to deliver basic services, particularly in the areas of water and sanitation and other programs in poverty reduction. This should not be too much to achieve in ten years with well-intentioned leadership.

The number of international and domestic support and increased in foreign direct investment (FDI) had all provided enormous resources and a propitious environment for transforming the lives of the poor people. Unfortunately, as the sun sets on the CIC and the “General’, they are yet to point to anything meaningful they have done about transforming the lives of the people whose living conditions will continue to dictate the outlook of the city of Monrovia.

Now without proper sanitation services, and in the midst of serious poverty, they still think that they can make Monrovia look like an elite city, but as Taju would ask ‘Of what use is a ‘beautiful city’ peopled by citizens who have lost their livelihoods’ - like the poor woman in Jallah Town?

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Friday, October 30, 2015

Oration Delivered in observance of the 2015 National Youth Day under the theme: “Promoting Community Development through Peacebuilding and Sexual and Reproductive Health Education”

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, National Orator 2015 National Youth Day

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Hon. Lenn Eugene Nagbe; Deputy Minister for Youth Development, Hon. Saa Charles N’Tow; Deputy Minister for Sports Hon. Henry Younton, Assistant Minister, Hon. Lance Gbayon; Mr. Augustine Lamin of the Ministry of National Defense; other officials of government; Mr. Augustine Tamba, President of the Federation of Liberian Youth and Officials of the FLY and other youth and student organizations
Members of Youth Organizations from across the country
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

It is with profound gratitude and humility that I accepted to speak to you today on this special occasion marking the celebration of the National Youth Day in the year 2015.

It was exactly 46 years ago in 1969 when the Liberian government chose to celebrate the lives and contributions of the young people to the progress and development of this country by setting aside this day today – October 29 – as National Youth Day. This was not meant to be a day for just pomp and pageantry as important as that maybe to us young people.

Largely, this day is a day of recognition of the enormous contributions of the young people to the political, economic and social development of this country; it is meant to be a day of reflection on the challenges faced by young people in the ordinary business of life, and the progress made by society to transform young people into productive citizens in the course of the transition to adulthood; it is meant to be a day of renewal for both government and society to renew their commitments to the development of the young people of Liberia; it is meant to be a day of inspiration and motivation for young people to feel challenged, pursue their life goals and aspire for greater roles in society; it is meant to be a day of remembrance of the contributions of great and promising young men and women whose innocence were stolen, and their lives lost to the avoidable tragedies that befell this country during the civil war and during the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus disease; and finally it is meant to be a day of celebration of the gallantry, courage, heroism and enormous sacrifices of young people to the peace and development of this country, majority of whom have made it to become statesmen and women in a terrain bereft of opportunities for social progress.

The youth of Liberia are tied in the greater struggle of the youth in other African countries who are struggling to survive and fighting economic injustice in their countries. This collective struggle was shown in the course of the last two weeks when students in Liberia and South Africa protested against increment in university tuition fees at the same time without planning and organizing together. While both seem a coincident of events, the timing of the protests epitomized the commonality of the struggles of the mass majority the African youths and their continuous demand for socio-economic opportunities.

The young people of Liberia have the same aspirations as the young people in the Middle East whose vision for peace and stability in their homelands have been blurred and disrupted by the arrogance of superpower diplomacy. This dream for peace and stability shared by young people everywhere are the concerns of global humanity, and Liberian youths stand tall for their roles in promoting peace and stability in their homeland.

Today while we observe this day in Liberia, lest we forget that thousands of young Africans are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea on a journey for a perceived good life and better future in Europe. Majority of them are escaping poverty, injustice, and conflict. Liberian youths have had their share of these vices and continue to be victims of state failure occasioned by poor service delivery as the present weakness and shambles of the health care and education systems show. Liberian youth continue to be victims of an unjust society where young women are raped, abused and assaulted with limited attempts by the state to ensure justice particularly in cases involving affluent families and elites. Mass plunder and wastage of state resources as was the recent case at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) continue to undermine the capacity of the state to invest in the young people. These are factors that are driving young Africans including Liberians away from their homelands. It is unfortunate that African governments cannot see the mass exodus of their young people as a loss of a vital resource needed for the development and progress of their countries.

Therefore ladies and gentlemen, as we observe the day today we should consider all of the elements above and begin to ask ourselves questions like: ‘where are we as a society in respect to providing opportunities for the social progress of the youths of this country’? This is the question we should be asking ourselves on every October 29 in Liberia. At the heart of this question are the growing demand for education – both academic and vocational; the need for industrialization and economic development to accelerate job creation; the need for the provision of basic health services for young people; and the need for security and safety of the youthful population. I am talking here about 64% of the total population of this country.

The theme of the occasion today -“Promoting Community Development through Peacebuilding and Sexual and Reproductive Health Education” - is very critical to the prevailing events in our dear country. We are at a critical crossroad in our democratic transition and this has significant bearings on the peace building and state building agenda. Community development is the foundation of national development, because a nation is an amalgam of several communities coming together in their diversities, with different resources, different aspirations and needs, weaknesses and strength, but with a common goal of uniting all of the differences and similarities under a common political sovereignty that secures and protects their rights, mediate their differences and forge a common relationship and identity. Liberia therefore is a nation that represents our singular identity and political sovereignty even though we are from different communities. Contrary to the saying of the great Samora Machel that ‘for the nation to live the tribe must die’ I would say here today that for our nation Liberia to survive, our communities that also represent tribes in most respects must be strengthened and empowered.

Community development is not an abstract concept. It is practical and the key to community development is a governance arrangement that entrusts power, wealth and authority to local people through a system of decentralized and participatory governance. Through such a system, communities are capable of delivering basic services and by extension, the state makes it easier for people to access basic services in water, health care, education, sanitation and security. Young people are the principal users of these services, particularly in a country were majority of the citizens are young and below the age of 35. If given the opportunity young people in Liberia can be the key producers of these services. Key producers are community leaders, employers and employees of local businesses and officials of government. Community development therefore is tied into youth development and peace-building. I am trying to construct this nexus properly in light of our theme for today and this nexus is very instructive that government must empower communities to deliver services for the advancement of the youth who are the ultimate custodians of the peace.

In a democracy, the state works with the communities through local governments structures, and ensures that development programs originate from within the communities. This practice is at times being mimicked in Liberia, but in most cases at the discretion of a sitting government official, but not as a matter of public policy or legal requirement. The failure to liaise with communities have made us to ignore a vital resource needed for social development, and in all of our crises we have seen how young people in communities have led self-governance initiatives that have made communities to survive during the civil war and during the Ebola outbreak. During the civil war, youth in communities mobilized to establish transport services taking the sick to hospitals in wheel barrows and hammocks, provided health care services, ran recreational programs and in some cases where communities were threatened by armed bands, the youths formed vigilante organizations to protect their towns, villages and communities.

Again the failure to consult with communities has led to situations of mistrust between local communities and government. This mistrust symbolizes a broken relationship between the people and their government. We have learned lots of lessons from our two recent crises which I continue to refer to – the civil war and the Ebola epidemic. Both events were critical junctures in the contemporary history of our country and the lessons from both events provide us with opportunities for doing things differently, particularly in rethinking the idea of this hegemonic and powerful centralized state that has proven ineffective, inefficient and in some cases dysfunctional thereby weakening the bond between the communities and the state, and flaring despair amongst the citizen. It was this lack of proper relationship between the state and the people and the hopelessness that set in that led to the unfortunate incident of August 20, 2014 in West Point when the government reintroduced armed violence in the streets against a peaceful assembly of citizens resisting the militarization of a health crisis. The victims of this incident of August 20 were all young people who have gathered and mobilized their people in conscious resistance and protest against a state that they thought was failing them due to the trends of event then. A young man named Shaki Kamara was murdered and today he is the symbol of that courage and resistance. It is his memory, his heroism, and his gallantry that we should be celebrating today. May peace be to his remains!

Many young Liberians live in the same condition as Shaki Kamara did. They are live in slums that lack basic services, they peddle the streets to make a living, and they all have great dreams for a better future. We all see the efforts of young people in long lines at various universities and high schools trying to get registered, we see the huge crowd of youth assembling seasonally at the Ministry of Youth and Sports or the Monrovia City Corporation in search of vacation jobs; and we see the rise of community discussion centers or ‘intellectual forums’ established by youth in their areas to dialogue, build relationship and forge peace. All these are happening in the midst of huge challenges. Indeed, Liberian youth are determined to progress and this is symbolized by their courage amidst the shortages of opportunities. It is that courage and determination to persevere that we should be celebrating today.

Young people need opportunities, inspiration and hopes to move on, and this is what we want to encourage our government to do – to develop programs that educate, build capacities and deliver services to the young people. There are reports about continual decrease in female enrollment at higher levels of education Liberia. We believe that girls should have the necessary support to continue to go to school in Liberia, and we think the best thing to do now is for the Government of Liberia to cover the education of all girls from the primary to the secondary levels, particularly a government that has campaigned on slogans of women’s empowerment.

This is what the Federation of Liberian Youth and other youth organizations should be advocating for. FLY should continuously make the case for the youth of this country, and ensure that youth concerns are matters of public policy. The Federation of Liberian Youth, The Mano River Union Youth Parliament and the Liberia National Students Union should be the vehicles for advocacy, capacity building and voluntary services to the youth community. These organizations should not be seen as permanent employment opportunities. Therefore if you serve in the leadership for one or two years, you should strive to make an impact, and give other young people the chance to serve, but not to perpetuate yourselves.
Through the works of these organizations, many young men and women have become leaders, entrepreneurs, and teachers in our country, and their roles in society continue to inspire many of us.

In spite of these efforts and contributions, young people are often condemned as “troublemakers” in Liberia, they are criticized for being “violent”; they are dubbed to be “lawless” and “unserious” people. That has been the argument of those who fear the current wave of a youthful generation taking on key leadership positions in this country, either in civil society, religious organization, academia, or government. Those who cannot stand the competence, vision and energy of an emerging generation blowing the wind of change have found those misguided descriptions of young people as justifications to perpetuate themselves amidst plunder, incompetence and social stagnation. That argument has largely been biased because it ignores the resourcefulness, integrity, intelligence and contributions of many young people today who are making significant gains in Liberia whether in public service, private sector, sports and entertainment and the international community. The argument therefore that youth are violent and unserious is not only counterintuitive, but absolutely counterproductive.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen it is worth mentioning here that the Federation of Liberian Youth is making steady gains in ensuring that the views and aspiration of the young people are heard at all levels of national policy making. Ten years ago, precisely in 2005, the National Youth Policy was drafted in Kakata and after years of advocacy and engagement, we have succeeded getting it through the Legislature. The President is yet to sign it into law. This instrument is very important to the political, economic and social inclusion of young people as a critical mass in the development of Liberia. It is important that all of us, young or old, add our voice and follow this through until it becomes a law, and not just that but a functional instrument that is implemented. In the meantime I would like to challenge the officials of the Federation of Liberian Youth to work towards greater awareness and mass mobilization of young people around its programs. When we sought the leadership of FLY about five years ago, it was our vision to see the Federation of Liberian Youth as a motor for youth advocacy and an organization to which youth in all parts of Liberia and all sectors would turn for leadership , for capacity building and for hopes . This vision is still alive, and we believe that this organization under the current leadership is making strides towards that end through its numerous policy dialogues and community engagement programs. The greatest challenge and risk is that the Federation continues to survive on government’s subsidy and donor grants as its lifeblood. This is a risk to the survival of any organization particularly one with an advocacy agenda. It is high time that the Federation begins to explore opportunities for self-reliance as a means of not only raising money for projects, but principally for securing its integrity and independence.

Long live the Federation of Liberian Youth! Long live the youth movement! Long live our collective dreams! And Long, Long Live the Republic of Liberia.

Thank you all!!

Buchanan, Grand Bassa County
October 29, 2015