Tuesday, October 5, 2010



Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

For the past few months, I have been engaged with official matters going around the country working on a major national reform process: the Liberia Decentralization and Local Development program. This engagement and other scholarly vocations have kept me not necessarily silent, but in action for what I have been campaigning for - the empowerment of local people to advance themselves through democratic self-governance. For those who have been reading this series for the past two years, I invoke your forgiveness for keeping you waiting so long, but truly I have been working to ensure that our collective visions and thoughts are translated into actions. Our work around the country has been about engaging local leaders and citizens in each county on the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance. This has basically involved sensitization and soliciting inputs on how decentralization can be implemented in Liberia.

My experiences around the country were mixed. And I intend to share these experiences in this edition and the ones that will follow. First, may I say that it was a grand opportunity, and a significant education for me to travel to all of the counties in Liberia. I spent not less than 72 hours in each of the county capitals. My curiosity led me to discovering lot of things I have not learned in a classroom, neither had I seen on paper. Through conversations with local residents, I discovered a resilient characteristic to survive in the absence of a fully functional state authority. I travelled so many miles and passed so many towns and villages without seeing state institutions. I saw how resourceful Liberia is in terms of forest and habitable resources when I travelled through the southeast, and I discovered a huge potential for tourism and fishery investment in some counties, like Grand Cape Mount, Rivercess, and Grand Kru Counties. Gambia is today boasting of tourism as a major source of revenue. Kenya and Ghana are also making significant gains in the tourism industry. Liberia needs to dig into this area to have an additional source of state revenue. This will also empower local communities.

The people of Rivercess for example, have two major occupations: Fishery and Forestry. Empowering the people in that part of the country to advance in these areas will take them from subsistence to commercial activities. This will promote local employment and sustainable development. Our failure to efficiently tap into what nature has endowed us with is what continues to hold us back.

It is not strange that despite Monrovia being a very least developed city, all of the capitals in the counties are far least developed, and that effective modern institutions for human development are absent. My experience at a magisterial court hearing in the Cestos City Hall (Rivercess County) in April 2010 further convinced me that the state is not fully functional at the level of the counties, and the local people are left to survive their own way. Yet, they look up to that system. I witnessed major cases concerning mineral agents and illegal miners, rapes, and civil matters decided by undertrained magistrates and city solicitors.

In all of the counties, you see revenue collection offices, but you will hardly see effective service delivery institutions. This piece is just intended to practically state how challenging it is for an under-resourced central government to effectively deliver services to the local people. The need for decentralization in Liberia is long overdue, but will never be late in as much as the centralized state system continues to dismally fail those that are not in the urban and peri-urban areas of Monrovia. I mean not to say either that it has greater efficiency in the urban and peri-urban areas, but I admit that it has huge visibility in those areas.
In some of the counties, the imperial presidency in Monrovia is vested in the president’s agents - Superintendents and Commissioners - who do not see themselves as leaders of the people, whose power and authority is in the hands of the people. As agent of the President in Monrovia, they act on their own and wait for command from Capitol Hill to decide the fate of thousands of people in big communities and towns. Some of them see themselves as lords, and they are imposing arbitrary rules on the local people. In Bomi County for example, a County Attorney is using his title to intimidate people for a contested farmland in which he has vested interest.
Beyond Monrovia, there is no major socio-economic development, and the rise in rural-urban migration is heavily affecting agricultural activities in those areas; and with limited employment opportunities in Monrovia, the potential for crime in idled young people cannot be overemphasized. Monrovia is getting populated by the day even in the absence of socio-economic facilities. The solution to our development problems can be directly traced to our inadequacies in governance and public administration. In order to avert these and ensure an equitable distribution of our collective power and wealth, we must accelerate the process of transferring power to our local people. Through this, they will be empowered to determine who leads them, and what development priorities they want. Government decentralization is also a means to peace and democracy. The ‘power inherent in the people’ as provided for in Article One of our Constitution, cannot be adequately accentuated if our people do not fully participate in their own governance and development processes. Holding periodic elections does not translate into functional participatory democracy. Participatory democracy extends to the right of the people to continuously decide what they want, get regular accounts of the actions of their leaders, alter government at their will, and so forth. And this process is not an end, but its goal is to advance the lives of the people at all levels, and to create the enabling environment through which every individual has equal opportunities to excel. By this, greed is curtailed, and the possibilities for individual, ethnic or sectarian grievances become limited. Thus peace and development will prevail. Therefore, the most sustainable solution to our development challenges lies in a process of decentralization or a system shared-authority between national government and semi-autonomous local governments.

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