In Bong County, Citizens Fund Road Project with Guinea

Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the  Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in South Sudan, driving a bulldozer on Wednesday to break ground for a 19-mile road

.... When the road is completed, a toll bridge is planned to be built at the Liberia-Guinea border to prevent people from drowning while crossing the water. One resident shared that a pregnant woman lost her baby while trying to cross the border.

Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in South Sudan, has inaugurated the construction for a 19-mile road near the Liberia-Guinea border in Bong County. 

The road, which connects the town of Garmue in Panta District with Guinea, has been in a state of disrepair, posing significant challenges for farmers who struggle to transport their goods to markets in Guinea, resulting in decreased income. 

But to address these challenges, Liberians from 32 towns and villages in Panta District as well as their Guinean counterpart have taken it upon themselves to fund the construction of the road. They raised approximately US$20,000 as an initial contribution to the project. Quanuquanei Karmue, a son of Panta, spearheaded this effort by mobilizing citizens to donate US$1.00 each, while he pledged to match each dollar with US$2.

When the road is completed, a toll bridge is planned to be built at the Liberia-Guinea border to prevent people from drowning while crossing the water. One resident shared that a pregnant woman lost her baby while trying to cross the border. And as a symbol of the community's investment in the road, signs bearing the names of the towns and the contribution from each community will be planted along the 19-mile stretch.

Nyanti, who also serves as UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan was clear that her role in Panta is in her personal capacity as the founder of Social Movement for Change (SM4C). She cited the road project as an example of how empowered citizens can take charge of their own development instead of always depending on the government and donors.

“If you can build a road, you can build a bridge; if you can build a bridge, you can build an entire nation,’’ she told the nearly 4,000 people who gathered in Garmue to celebrate the ceremony of the Panta-Guinea Border project. “If you have development and you have your money in it, you will protect it.’’

Nyanti said when Karmue first told her about the project, she was excited because it is in line with the Social Movement for Change (SM4C) model that she has been advocating since 2015 as the model for development of Liberia and other least developed countries. 

The model is based on the idea that citizens from impoverished communities can develop their own communities. She has used the model to work with citizens in Brewerville and Banjor communities to build wells, learning huts to provide counseling and educational support for adolescent girls.  Also, it has led to the construction of two learning huts that hire female teachers and female social workers. SM4C has over-change agents in Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Cape Mount and Bong counties.

Nation building, she said, is not the primary responsibility of the government alone. 

“Citizens must be at the table to plan for the development of their communities. When people know their responsibilities, their rights and what it means to be a good citizen, they will love Liberia more,” Nyanti said. “Rights come with responsibilities and nobody else should be expected to develop Liberia. Liberians must develop Liberia.”

“We must realize that we have the power in ourselves to change our lives,’’ she said. “If you are empowered with knowledge and skills, nobody can take what you know from you. This is what it is about. It is the power that you have within yourself, the power to take action, the power to overcome the actions and inactions of others, and the power that you have with others in partnership.’’

The people of Panta, Nyanti said, are setting the example for the rest of the country on what happens when citizens take responsibility for their own development.  Nyanti who is in Liberia on medical leave and celebrating her birthday at home said that she kept the commitment to the people of Panta because of how much she believes in this community-led development approach.

“We believe that citizens are the most valuable assets in Liberia,’’ he said. “I have been telling the people to be a part of their own development.’’

Edison Flomo has lived in Panta all his life. He said this is the first time that citizens have joined together to develop the district.

“We are very proud that we can give back to our community,’’ he said.

Towhan Owoah, a native of Panta, said she feels empowered because she is part of developing the district. 

“We were born here, so it is our responsibility to develop our community,’’ she said. 

Alpha Sheriff, a Guinean cab driver who runs between  the Liberia-Guinea border, donated L$20,000to the project. He said the new road will be good for motorists and strengthen trade and business in the area.

“I am glad the project has started,’’ he said.  “This is unity in diversity.

Meanwhile, Karmue on his part told the citizens of Panta District that he invited Nyanti because of her experience in nation-building in places such as Nigeria, Gambia, Nepal, and South Sudan. “We wanted to acknowledge your work around the world because we strongly believe that Liberia also needs your expertise,’’ Karmue said.

Karmue, who lives in America, said he began working in Panta when his family adopted 44 children in the district after the civil war. He expanded his support in the village during the COVID-19 crisis, providing food and other resources to residents.

 His engagement with Panta’s children inspired him to create the organization, “Save More Kids Inc., where he serves as executive director. Karmue thanked Al Fasola who leads the fundraising in the United States to help with the matching funds for all of the projects.