By Madi Jobarteh
It has been a great 10 days in Liberia. I have interacted with the people at all levels. This has given me more insight into leadership, governance and development challenges in Africa.
Once again I see huge potential in the country and the people for wealth creation and advancement, yet there is widespread poverty. I see the usual elites enjoying the fruits of the country while the masses languish in deprivation and exclusion. Imagine a parliamentarian receiving fifteen thousand US dollars a month, while the 30-year-old waiter in my hotel receives only 91 dollars! He had finished high school but cannot afford to go to college.
While many are like him one can see the incredible wealth of a few as manifested in their vehicles and homes and lifestyles. This clearly exposes the huge inequality and corruption in this society like in most African countries. Following the campaigns one can see the huge wealth and resources displayed by all the political parties. I was amazed at the number of SUVs and jeeps and pickup trucks they possess and huge party headquarters. One wonders from where and how they get all that money since the electoral laws do not allow foreign funding of parties.
This clearly shows that there is wealth in Liberia but it is not just well distributed through the provision of opportunities. I have no doubts that Liberia, like all African countries have the resources to make education free from kindergarten to university just as we could also make healthcare free. The money is there paid by the people as taxes and through our mineral and natural resources. I want to challenge any African president or intellectual who would claim that Liberia or Gambia or Nigeria or Angola does not have the means to make quality healthcare and education free and the construction of modern infrastructure and provision of opportunities to enable each and every citizen becomes wealthy!
Sadly everyone comes to Africa to get rich from the exploitation of our resources except Africans. Currently EU companies make nothing less than $150 billion annually from Africa. The US makes at least $100 billion while China makes over $200 billion every year in Africa. Illicit financial flows out of Africa through corruption and mis-invoicing of foreign companies cost Africa up to $148 billion every year. Is this not clear confirmation that Africa is indeed a donor to Europe, America and China and the rest of the world? Yet more than half of Africans live without electricity!
All throughout Liberia, just like everywhere else in Africa basic social services are in dire conditions. Electricity and water supply, roads, healthcare, education and community development are in severe short supply. One does not have to do a survey to confirm the huge unemployment especially among the youth. Meantime foreign and local companies in mining, agriculture and services sectors continue to make super profits while workers are paid pittance. I visited the Firestone Rubber Company and I am appalled at the poverty of the communities that live in and around the plantation.
The sad thing is that this was a plantation created by that Great African Patriot Marcus Garvey for his ‘Back to Africa’ program to reconnect Africans on both sides of the Atlantic for our salvation. But the plantation was confiscated by the US government and given to a private individual since the 1920s. Until today it is making supper profits from Liberia yet leaving the people poor. During the war it in fact collaborated with Charles Taylor by providing him finance and other resources just to keep the plantation safe and running.
Liberian people, like all African masses are hard working and determined. One can see how people are making frantic efforts to make ends meet. I have seen in villages and towns the incredible resilience of the masses. Yet since the end of the war, it is only the government that is not providing the necessary support to back up the great initiatives and hard work of the masses. So far only the elite in government, business, NGOs and international missions continue to enjoy the fruits of Liberia while the masses struggle for the crumbs.
Compared to most African countries, the story is the same. It is about governments that appear not to know their countries and the circumstances of their people. Leaders who do not have ideas for development or how to empower their people or merely refuse to serve their people genuinely but to enrich themselves. One can see the continuous failure of governments to create pro-people policies and programs but only to surrender the country and their people to the dictates of so-called development partners, multinational companies, NGOs and greedy and corrupt politicians.
However, I saw no checkpoints in Monrovia and the many towns and villages I visited. I noticed probably 99% of all private vehicles have tinted glasses. The Liberian National Police is a very poorly equipped and a small outfit.
However there is incredible amount of civil liberties with widespread free media and freedom of association and assembly. The civil society space is open and free to a large extent. After 14 years of civil war the people endeavor to maintain peace and calm even though the recommendations of the TRC were not fully implemented to ensure genuine reconciliation and accountability to usher in lasting and durable peace building and development.
Compared to the Gambia, after 22 years of dictatorship we still have many checkpoints scattered all over the Greater Banjul Area and the country. The police continue to deny citizens to have tinted glasses on their vehicles unless one has a permit! Within the past 10 months many incidents of infringement on civil liberties have been recorded. Yet the Gambia is not more peaceful than Liberia.
It is high time Gambians, Liberians and Africans in general begin to rethink therefore about leadership, governance and development. There will always be those who will seek to rationalize issues in our countries just to protect leaders and governments even when they are not performing. Some will try to scare the people about security just to allow the government to limit the space. But as we have seen all over Africa time and time again, the greatest threat to our security and greatest obstacle to our development has always been leaders and governments.
Let us think out of the box and begin to challenge fundamental beliefs and practices otherwise Africa shall never develop. We must realize that all human beings are the same and all societies have culture and religion. But those societies that advance do so because they ensure that leaders and governments are held to account by all means. They do not buy cheap propaganda and do not settle for mediocrity.
God Bless the Gambia and Liberia and Africa!