By James Kokulo Fasuekoi from Brooklyn Park, MN-Few weeks from now, little Jowlo, born of immigrant Liberian family in the US, will celebrate her ninth birthday. Though she may not know the brutal history of Liberia, the country from which her parents originated, but there is one thing Jowlo knows for sure about Liberia, plus a few familiar names associated with it. Corruption!!
Across the street from the Brooklyn United Methodist Church near the intersection of Noble Ave and Brooklyn Blvd, little Jowlo stood holding onto a cardboard that depicted anti-corruption slogans with pictures of Liberia’s pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Information Minister Lewis Brown and presidential press secretary, Piah. Jowlo was the youngest of scores of Liberian protesters who braced Saturday’s cold weather to protest against widespread corruption taking place in the government with no punitive actions against doers found to be guilty.
Not far from Jowlo, stood another young Liberian protester, Roselyn Barclay who held onto a loud speaker. She announced Liberia as the “number one corrupt country in the world.” “Government officials are stealing millions of dollars while kids die with no medicines at health facilities in the country,” she voiced out repeatedly in this quiet mixed neighborhood that rarely sees anything like protest.
She appealed to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her cabinet to halt pillaging the country’s wealth for their respective families and prioritize key public services such as electricity, health care and water for the war devastated country so that the majority poor could benefit as well. She at the same time denounced Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration and called the international community to intervene and rescue the war-ravaged West African nation from further collapse.
Roselyn’s accusation that “Liberia is #1 corrupt country in the world” isn’t accidental nor is it fabricated. It derived from reports released some time ago by the internationally recognized Transparency International (TI), following careful analyses it conducted on Liberia over a long period of time about reported corrupt practices within government circle.
Roselyn’s message, in addition to the crowd’s victory song: “We shall overcome!” and the sight of a teenager along the sidewalk tilting anti-corruption placards of an African tyrant deeply-rooted in nepotism, somehow attracted many onlookers including a US war veteran who lives opposite the church’s compound who are all too familiar with such activism to expose despots who slew and deprive their people the right to decent living in faraway places like Africa.
What also made Saturday’s demonstration different and more powerful from others held previously by the Movement of Liberians Against Corruption (MOLAC), were mocked coffins displayed by protesters in front the United Methodist Church, with some fully attired to mourn the lost souls of Liberians and foreigners that perished in a war they said “Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sponsored.” The group’s main leader, political activist, Kirkpatrick Weah came fully dressed in black tuxedo suit as if attending a state funeral. He gleefully led a parade with other protesters carrying two caskets on their shoulders.
Questioned about the two coffins later, a spokesperson, Seyon Nyanwleh said the big casket symbolically represents adults murdered while the smaller one marks coffins of children and the unborn babies who became victims of premature deaths in the civil conflict.
The United Methodist Church section of Nobel Avenue in Brooklyn Park City is known for its quietude and less traffic weekly even during worship service. But the presence of demonstrators in the peaceful community soon caused a traffic-jam as Min. Brown and his delegates that included Liberia Washington D.C. Embassy Press Counselor, Gabriel I.H. Williams and Pres. Sirleaf’s Press Secretary, J. Piah, arrived.
It didn’t take long when Police were called to come in for the second time by the church’s Liberian staffers who earlier voiced out dislike for the protest. But with written permits from both Police and the church for MOLAC’s protest, there was very little the police could do to remove the group as requested by the Liberian staffers who were unwilling to give their names to reporters.
As for Roselyn, she’s one of MOLAC’s newest members. She has also vowed to recruit many young people in the U.S. to join MOLAC’s crusade and help expose the plagues of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power, all of which contributed to 14 years of war that ruined the country. The group comprises professional Liberians nurses, social workers and political activists, many of whom were forced to flee into exiled with family members due to the past war.
Now, they have chosen fight against those ills that necessitated the war with the hope of returning home to a decent Liberia with their families someday.
According to Roselyn, her decision to join the US-based Liberian anti-corruption watch-group sprung out of her disappointment over the lack of development in Liberia in addition to “corrupt practices” she said she experienced firsthand in the pass port section of the Foreign Affairs Ministry now used as the presidential palace during a recent trip to Liberia.
The latest protest is the third staged since the group was founded last July to combat widespread corruption and other forms of abuses in the government by Pres. Sirleaf and scores of her cabinet members. It also comes at a time Pres. Sirleaf is preparing to return to Liberia after attending a United Nations annual meeting in New York, followed by several failed attempts to meet U.S. Pres. Barrack Obama. Rumors persist that the Obama Administration is disappointed at the ways corruption is flourishing in Liberia while the disadvantaged go hungry.
The crowd at Saturday’s protest indicates MOLAC’s membership has soared, compared to its first protest staged here when Finance Minister, Amara Konneh arrived to serve as orator for the OLM July 26th Independence Day celebrations. The boost in its membership was re-echoed by Kerkula Foeday, another leader for the group. “The movement is spreading,” he said, as he renounced the present Sirleaf’s leadership for corrupt practices and named Liberia, New York, Philadelphia and Minnesota as places now with active MOLAC branches.
“Inasmuch we want change, we are also mindful to protect our constitution,” said Foday, in an apparent response to opponents who continue to raise question regarding who or which group of leadership may be deemed qualified to lead the battled-scared country in the event the current leadership agrees to step down.
In recent times, critics of the group, most of who appeared to be supporters of Sirleaf’s government have questioned the group’s motives and dismissed it as a “handful of disgruntled Liberians” that hold personal grudges against Pres. Sirleaf. As a way to solidify news regarding the group’s membership boost and counter negative perceptions about the group, activist Seyon Nyanwleh Saturday made a cellphone link between reporters at the scene of the demonstration and a man who said he heads the group’s Liberia branch for confirmation.
But whether or not people give credence to the group’s legitimacy and “causes” it represents, the grim reality (an indirect impact of corruption) of the increase in the number of streets beggars, young female prostitutes, as well as homeless old folks and streets kids roaming the capital and its surroundings remain inescapable to both Liberians and foreigners entering the country daily. And the fact that streets beggars, underage female prostitutes, homeless seniors and wards never get featured in GOL’s slides photo documentary like the one shown Saturday by Min. Brown, many never get to know the other side of Liberia.
Min. Lewis Brown’s PowerPoint presentation is already generating mixed reaction among Liberians here with some, unimpressed about development at home, questioning the authenticity of the MOI’s photo documentary on the “progress in development.” And while the photo documentary may be convincing especially to those who have stayed away from the country for decades, others including this writer who visited Liberia less than two years ago see it differently. Indeed, the GOL’s promotional documentary actually contains some inaccuracies and as presenter Min. Lewis Brown said, it should be the binding duty of everyone viewers to do personal research and reach their own conclusion.
Minister Brown in his presentation also listed the re-built Waterside-Vai Town Bridge renamed after the Vai King Zulu Duma, as one of many projects undertaken by the Sirleaf’s Government. But in truth, this bridge, dedicated in January 2012, is among a number of development projects such as the new Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Gongo Town, and the modern University of Liberia’s Fandell Campus among others, solely funded by the Chinese Government or jointly built by both Liberia and Chinese Governments in recent years.
Earlier, Min. Brown filmed wrecked bridges and dirt roads around the country followed by what seemed to be state-of-the- art roads and bridges mostly in southeast Liberia. However, what he failed to honestly tell his curious audience is most contractors hired today by the GOL to do road and other construction works are taking advantage of the loosed corrupt atmosphere to rob taxpayers of their monies. Apart from using less quality materials for the projects most of GOL’s so-called contractors tend to subcontract smaller firms with unqualified people and pay less to carry out the works. This type of corruption became rampant that Pres. Sirleaf herself spoke strongly against it, questioning the Public Works officials and others who award these contracts after newly paved roads and sidewalks began curving in to heavy rainfall.
Another thing viewers of Min. Brown’s documentary should critically look at is the GOL’s old fashion ways of carrying out development in the country while the poorest countries of Africa forge ahead in modern development in this new century. Take for instance, the strategically located Waterside-Vai Town Bridge that thousands used daily to escape fighting in the heart of Monrovia at the height of the war. It fell into the Du River due to its overused and lack of maintenance from erection a century ago. The GOL-Public Works authorities failed to expand it to the size of the Gabriel Tucker Bridge during reconstruction. They built it the same old two-way narrowed lane and this has got pedestrians and wheelbarrow riders to compete with vehicles crossing the bridge. Where are the visions?
Min. Brown and his team also highlighted the newly paved 15 or 20 miles Neezoe-Jacob Town road that most people now used to bypass the usually overcrowded, annoying, dirty and rouge-infested Red Light now a big shopping center in total disregard for the city’s zoning laws and order. Neezo-Jacob Town two-way lane is narrowed that it becomes impossible for approaching vehicles to pass at once if there is a third stopping to pick passengers.
Why GOL’s authorities do things the way they do in Liberia as if Liberians know no better or don’t deserve good life in this present era is something worth for all to ponder. Meantime, a sober mind would be tempted to ask if a friendly country like Japan is at the point of making history by building the first state-of-the-art 13km four-way lane Somalia Drive, from 72nd to the Freeport of Monrovia, then what is GOL up to?
But whatever the flaws may be, not to mention Minister Brown’s distortions of the truth, it is good thing for the world to know that alongside the corruption spree, the GOL is now trying to carry out some type of developments in the country people could not have otherwise dreamed of if not for the level of pressure being mounted against the country’s corrupt leaders by the international community, political parties, together with civil societal groups like the MOLAC. Related Story: