A country that has seen the worst economic collapse in contemporary development – virtually everything was in the high negatives. From the production of merchandise and services to human capital, the rule of law to institutions, from governance to peace and so forth.
Reflecting on how far we have come as a country and people from a shattered and hopeless past of injustices, abuse, deprivation and underdevelopment, it is worth celebrating the ten years stewardship of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with a much more profound belief and courage that the future bear greater hopes, prospects, and above all genuine peace and sustainable prosperity for all. However, while it is an uncontested fact that we are on a path of sustained peace and development, a lot more still needs to be done. With this, it is worth evincing what has been and will be achieved in the remaining years under her extraordinary leadership- from the economy to infrastructure, free speech and assembly to political inclusiveness, social justice to open and accountable government and enhanced constitutional democracy in general.
Starting with the economy, in 2006 when President Sirleaf took the oath of office, the economic production capacity if you like GDP of the country was zero. We had a national budget of a meager 80million USD with a population in a daring need of socio- economic development. Today, the course has been turned. With a five hundred percent (500%) increase of our national budget with a much more space to make pro- poor interventions. Also, because we were producing nothing, compounded by the looting of the central bank coffer, we had a shameful amount in our foreign reserve. The current figure of the foreign reserve runs sharply contrasting to the past with more than three hundred million USD (300M$); which is a testament to the fiscal and monetary discipline of President Sirleaf, who is a former banker and pubic financial expert. Our balance of trade terms and inflation rate are much more considerable. The private sector is growing increasingly with the amount of time spent opening a business substantially reduced. Our tax revenue base has surged as evidently seen from the increase in the national budget and foreign reserve. Capital has become much more confident in coming to Liberia because of the conducive environment created by the liberalisation of the country’s economic policy and trade regulations thus qualifying it for latest accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
As little as it may be seen by the naysayers, the payment of our civil servant salaries is no longer a matter of news headlines where they received a reward for the labour barely twice a year. The realities of today are different as government workers have not just seen the regularization of their benefits but as well the incremental rise and safer right and access to their salaries. Payment has become automated to an enormous extent which erodes the burden of the unnecessary cost of getting your check encashed in the past. Moreover, as economists will say, there is nothing more satisfying than having a predictable income. If you can predict your earnings for the month, it enables you to plan accurately and make better economic choices. This has been the case under President Sirleaf’s leadership. INDEED PAPA NA COME!!!!
On the side of the infrastructure, at least, I can speak with even greater authority. Having worked with Hon. W. Gyude Moore now Minister of Public Works and other colleagues over the period in the President’s Delivery Unit, a unit in the Office of the President that monitors, coordinates, reports and ensures timely delivery of national priority projects, my knowledge about President Sirleaf’s infrastructure agenda is substantial. During my days and nights in the PDU, I fully understood and appreciated what it takes when a leader and country want more but constrained by the financial purse. Infrastructure development is costly, time-consuming and painstaking especially when there are equally competing priorities. Despite the challenges, the President and team have turned the course of our country’s infrastructure profile. Her administration has connected one- third of our counties capitals with paved roads that are durable for more than a quarter of a century even without a routine and period maintenance than any President in our country’s history. She holds the record of constructing the most concrete and belly bridges across the country- Sanquehn in Sinoe, Zolu Doma in Montserrado, Tuma River in Gbarpolu, Michelin in Bassa and many more are all evidence to demonstrate her excellent leadership. These projects have reduced travelling time, fare and the cost and time of maintaining a car thus allowing people to save an extra dollar. The paving of neighbourhood roads such as Caldwell, duport road, SKD boulevard, police academy, etc.. Have helped to reduce the occurrences of other respiratory diseases over the period thus making people earn an extra on their heath savings. More to this, to expand farmers access to the market, the government of Liberia through its partners USAID and SIDA have done more than 500km of farm to market road in the country’s three food producing belts- Nimba, Bong and Lofa. There are still awful lot more to do, but THE PRESIDENT MUST BE CELEBRATED FOR HER PRO-POOR INTERVENTIONS!!!!
Big Light is Coming (Energy)!!
Our generating and distributing capacity in 2006 was absolutely zero and exacerbated by the depletion of human capital in the sector. After more than a decade, President Sirleaf’s administration has trained many young Liberians in China, Germany, Ghana to address the skills need in this sector though more capacity is needed. More than 33,000 households are currently connected to the power grid as the government move towards a more diverse, clean, safer, reliable and affordable energy sector. By the end of this year, the government of Madam Sirleaf will have 38megawatt of power generated from three heavy fuel (HFO) plants thus expanding access and driving the cost low. These projects will complement the Mt. coffee hydro project when completed next year generating a cumulative capacity of about 120MW reaching a record high by any government.
Beyond these also, as part of the diversification strategy, a 1MW of mini-hydro is being implemented in Bong at the Kpatawee site, supplying cheaper, clean and reliable electricity to Cuttington University my alma mater, Phebe hospital and the surrounding communities. A ½ MW of the same is done in Yandarhun in Lofa County with the cost just at 200 LD per month. Fourteen local sites have been identified across the country for same by the Rural Renewal Energy Agency (RREA) with some funding mobilized already. As part of the expansion of power to the population, the cross-border project has seen eighteen towns and cities in four counties- Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Maryland and River Gee electrified.
More to just production, expanding the national grid and distributing energy to households is crucial to President Sirleaf’s “big light” promise. Her government has embarked on four major T& D projects across the country so that by the time when these projects mentioned above reached full operation, you will have a national grid that can transport power to different parts of the country. These corridors include Monrovia to Tubmanburg, Monrovia to Kakata, and Monrovia to RIA and beyond as well the CLSG (Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea) transmission line under the West African Power Pool (WAPP) project runs from Ivory Coast enters into Nimba comes all the way to Cape Mount, entering Sierra Leone. With the nearing completion of many of these projects, small, medium and large size businesses are expected to grow and expand from the reduction of the cost of power and to increase the reliability for manufacturing purposes. Firms productive capacities will increase thus creating demand for labour. Standard of living is forecasted to improve considerably thus pushing life expectancy further up. People, WATCHOUT, BIG LIGHT, IS COMING!!!!
Champion of Free Speech and Widespread Democracy
Liberia under President Sirleaf’s decade leadership has experienced what many international political pundits and locals alike have referred to as the golden era of Liberia’s rise to constitutional democracy, respect for the rule of law, free speech and assembly. The quality of her governance has been considered beyond measured. The rights of minority groups and people with disabilities have been upheld. Institutions have been re-strengthened and capacitated. Many of our youth and women have been brought into mainstream politics in the country evident by the numbers of young people and women in senior positions in political parties, rights groups, the legislature and government in general. The proliferation of political parties, civil society organizations and media outlets is increasingly surging. People have become more conscious and aware of their civil rights thus demanding more transparency and accountability from their government. Key good governance instruments such as the FOI Act, Code of Conduct, Whistle Blower Act and so forth have all been enacted to create a more open and accountable government. With the inclusive society President Johnson- Sirleaf has built over the period, our society is becoming more tolerant, and peace is consolidating even stronger.
As part of building an inclusive government as she promised, nearly hundred if not hundred percent of the tribes and counties in the country have had a seat at her cabinet table. Beyond this, stalwarts of major oppositions and political parties have all been given the chance to serve in her administration and the country. For example Senator George Weah was appointed peace Ambassador (CDC), Mr Israel Akinsayea Vice President at Nocal, former Chairman of Liberty Party, Mr. Nathaniel McGill, Minister at Internal Affair, Chairman of CDC then Secretary General, Dr. Joseph Korto, Minister of education, who opposed President Johnson-Sirleaf in the 2005 polls and Former Senator Blamo Nelson, APD, served as Minister of Internal Affair in the beginning of this term. I could go on to name infinitively but this only shows that President Sirleaf has exemplified exceptional leadership as head of state and champion of an inclusive democracy.
While these achievements remain difficult to argue against, a blind eye cannot be cast away on some of the shortfalls particularly in our security sector and judiciary. Our security apparatus are not demonstrating enough confidence to the public that they are fully ready to protect the country and its citizenry. Much more training and support are needed especially as our international brothers and sisters drawdown on their mission. Secondly, continued support and reform of the judiciary is an imperative. We need more trained and honest judges in our courtrooms. Also as a people and country, our politics need to a very large extent reflect the best of us. The media, civil society, political parties and the society, in general, got a serious role to play. The President has created the space. We need to explore it well for the common good of us all. Howbeit, I am confident that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has set the country on an irreversible path. MADAM, YOU ARE A REAL CHAMPION!!!
Summing up, the foundation has been laid, we need an experienced, hardworking, disciplined and a proven character of a professional mason to carry this “house” up after President Sirleaf. THANK YOU MADAM PRESIDENT FOR THE EXTRAORDINARY LEADERSHIP YOU HAVE PROVIDED OUR COUNTRY OVER THE LAST DECADE. YOU HAVE RECORDED YOUR NAME IN POSTERITY, AND YOUR LEGACY WILL LIVE ON AS MADIBA.
Author:Al Kpatapa Samukai
Graduate Student of International Social Development
University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK