By Sherman C. Seequeh
My 11-year-old son, Habakkuk, was at it yet again—talking beyond his age. “Dad, this road is so fresh and beautiful. Is it [President] George Weah who built it?” he quipped, eyes apparently still marveling at the deep black tarmac road running fast beneath us as we drove on. Like many kids and most Liberians, he called him, simply, George Weah.
I was concentrating on something else as we drove on the newly built Johnsonville pavement. He did not get an answer. But Habakkuk knew the condition of the route on which we were riding. We had plied that same route before. At that time, the road was then worse than any Southeastern road or any provincial road in the raining season. Johnsonville road was a complete and clear catastrophe. It was a total disgrace to modern man.
When I could not respond to him immediately, Habakkuk, as his nature is, pestered me more: “I was asking whether it is [President] George Weah who built this road.”
At this point, the answer came smoothly and calmly—perhaps proudly. “Yes, it’s President Weah who built it,” I said with a smile as our eyes caught up briefly. And he returned a smile.
“Why did you ask?” I asked.
“He must be crazy for development, dad,” Habakkuk said firmly.
Chills ran through my spine hearing this very young, innocent mind say that. But acting like I did not hear him again, I almost yelled, “What? Say that again!”
Perhaps feeling that I had a problem, like I was uncomfortable with his use of the word ‘crazy’, he almost recoiled. “Sorry for the use of the word crazy, but I meant to say George Weah likes to make things look fine too much.”
He continued: “I am saying so because I also saw a video on mom’s phone the other day with new street lights in the night and a lot of people were dancing, saying it was [President] George Weah who provided it. The areas I saw in the video were looking very fine in the night. And someone said the President will soon bring street lights to Johnsonville, too.”
To assure the lad that he was not rude in the use of “crazy” in talking about President Weah’s passion for development”, I hastened to tell him this: “You are not wrong at all, my son, in using the word ‘crazy’. In fact, I am thinking about the craziest word to use because the President we have now in this country is more than crazy for development. In fact, he is mad for development.
How can a Liberian President, who has not gone four years in office, be so anxious, so intentional, so speedy, so sleepless, and so restless about making this long backward country move forward like other countries and making people so happy, so peaceful and so relaxing?
Give him the US$15billion that came into the country shortly after the civil conflict. Make him President of the ‘Growth without Development’ epoch when Liberia’s per capital income toppled the wild world. Can anyone imagine what would happen to this country if we had a ‘development crazy” president, a leader who says what he does and does what he says; a president who feels instantly itchy and attracted to cries and woes of indigent people and communities? Can anyone imagine how Liberia—from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas, from Montserrado to Lofa would look like in three years, not to mention six years?
Watching President Weah closely interact with rural Liberians, from Bong to Grand Kru through Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Maryland, then from Bomi to Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount unequivocally confirms that Liberia has had no such president like President Weah who’s so exceedingly passionate, enflamed and crazy, to borrow from Habakkuk, for tangible, speedy transformation of Liberia.
And the problem with President Weah’s itchiness about development is that he’s not just obsessive with building roads all over the place, as one would see in Johnsonville, Duahn Town and Tusa Field and Pipe Line.
The President is at the same time building market buildings here and there, almost every community now feeling the impact of modern, state-of-the-art market halls. Everywhere one turns, the noises of hammers, zincs and cement mixers are heard.
Sleepless nights actually is about how the impoverished majority of Liberians are feeling the pains and discomfort of living in dilapidated homes, homes that resemble those of Stone Age people—leaking roofs, mud and bamboo walls, ceiling-less houses—the President moves with deliberate speed to build concrete houses replete with bathrooms, kitchens and living-rooms for poor Liberians who have not known decent homes all their lives before.
Not only is he moving with deliberate speed, he is also spreading the benefit of good, modern homes to every nook and corner of Liberia. Slum communities are seeing finished, painted and colorful houses cropping up before their eyes.
And lest one forgets, as roads are being built connecting communities and cities, with ambitious plans for many including inter-country superhighways, WAEC/WASSCE fees are also being paid yearly for all Liberian students facing those public exams, including private school students. Special tutorial classes are being fully funded for the beneficiary of students.
At the same time, millions of dollars have been spent to make public universities and colleges free, not to mention the first ever electronic registration portal for students at the University of Liberia. Amid cheers and celebrations in nine rural counties already visited, the President plans to build vocation and technical schools in communities distant from those facilities.
At the same time, while street lights are being installed at break neck speed, costing millions, and vibrant electricity grid is being commisioned reaching more homes and communities in Monrovia and its environs, there also is the President going crazy again planting solar lights in almost every community so far visited.
And he is moving with utmost speed re-budding and expanding the long-forgotten agriculture sector. Concretizing this, a big agriculture fair will take place soon this year besides the one held recently in Gbarnga, Bong County. The President has just issued orders to Heads of line ministries and agencies to begin communal mechanized farming this year in nearly all counties.
Indeed, the President hardly goes to bed comfortably, as he’s preoccupied with pressing donors and other stakeholders to hasten with ongoing bidding processes for the Southeastern corridor roads to start this year.
With all these also comes restless anxiousness to improve the health sector. While John F. Kennedy Hospital has got ample facelift in terms of rehabilitation works, pushing dozens of doctors for specialized training amongst many other things, including the recent installation of the country’s first dialysis. Liberia’s first ever state-of-the-art hospital for the armed forces and paramilitary is already complete.
Another huge hospital complex, the new Redemption Hospital, is nearly complete, while groundbreaking has already taken place for a similar modern facility on the Western flank of Liberia, in Gbarpolu. Meanwhile, there is also restlessness to contain COVID-19, as the country is widely praised internationally for its incredible handling of the pandemic.
The list of development initiatives, both completed and ongoing within three years and earmarked to be completed in six years, and a litany of projects broken ground for during the first two nationwide tours, is long for a single commentary. It calls for a 300-page yearbook.
But the point being made here is that Liberians and friends of Liberia did not see this level of intentional craziness for development in the past. Yes, there were attempts, or say efforts in the past, by one administration or the other to undertake some aspects of development or another and at one time or the other.
Absolutely, there is no reason to discredit any one or the other on this. But the undisputed true is what is currently ongoing in this country, and under the watch of the 24th President of this Republic, in terms of development and transformation strides in just three years, is utterly stunning and crazy. Bundling up all and every development need at once, and doing so in a measured, deliberate, hasty and skillful way, and for all counties and communities, is stunningly rare and unprecedented in history.
What makes this President’s courage for rapid development more inconceivable and crazy is this—toting the responsibility of building more paved roads, more decent housing units for the poor, many huge hospitals, countless decent market halls, driving away long time darkness away with lightening of streets, expanding electricity, providing free college education and free public examinations, etc.–is not only because everything is being done at the same time and with unusual speed. It is also because this is happening when the country’s breadbasket or revenue regime is now at its lowest.
The economists will admit, and say all this is happening when the value and taste for Liberia’s traditional sources of revenue such as iron ore, rubber, timber, etc. on the international market have grossly diminished. They will say, for instance, that what has got things a bit buoyant during the decade and half that followed the end of civil war—the period between 2003 and 2017—was the huge presence of foreign forces on the ground, the massive international goodwill and the excuse of ‘we are just from war’.
But with all the advantages and opportunities of yesteryears nearly dried up—former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai would say “squandered”—it is expected that the Liberian economy would emaciate and get malnourished. And it would also be expected that the Government which bumped into the raging drought would decide to pick and choose, and even downplay some development needs and just simply shrug full commitment towards speedy national transformative developments.
Let it be made clear, The President and his people are not saints. They are not blameless. Can they do even better? Yes? But something is however indisputable: For this Government, and mainly for this President, and under the prevailing famine-shrouded social, economic and political circumstances, bundling up and toting on his chest all the critical development needs of this 173-year-old nation in just a short time, and with few available resources, and meeting those needs concretely and speedily without complaining and without making excuses is totally insanely, crazily humane, patriotic and presidentially called for.
One can understand why kids like Habakkuk would say rather divinely that the President is crazy for development.
The big question is, if all this is happening in just two or three years, can one guess what can possibly happen in six or 12 years?