"Dirtiest City, Beautiful Monrovia"

... EU Diplomat apologies for frank remarks on appalling filth in the Liberian capital.

Who all think the City of Monrovia, Liberia is dirty and filthy? Well, the  Head of Delegation of the European Union to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, did not mince his words to tell it all in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Monrovia, Jefferson T. Koijee, at a forum on Solid Waste Management at the Monrovia City Corporation earlier this week. 

Complaining about the stockpiles of dirt across the City of Monrovia and that the situation was appalling, despite donor aid to clean it up and improve living conditions, the Ambassador took the opportunity to speak frankly.  According to a media report, Amb.  Delahousse said that he was “a bit surprised” by what he saw when he arrived a year ago.

“Monrovia is a disgusting city, it is a dirty city,” he said. “Of all the capitals I have seen in my previous posts in Africa, I have not seen one that is as dirty as yours,” he added.

Palm Grove Cemetery. Photo: Zeze Ballah.

The Ambassador's condemnation of a filthy Monrovia happens to resonate with Liberians who have said they are simply tired of complaining about the breakdown in solid waste management and the personal hygiene practices of some Liberians (urinating in public). But his sentiments infuriated government officials and supporters who demanded an apology. 

But after a brief moment of silence on the matter, the EU diplomat, who had been under pressure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to apologize, clarified that his statements were meant as a wake-up call to Monrovians to change their practices of littering and to improve the waste management system that is financially supported by the European Union and implemented by the city, community-based enterprises, SMEs and other stakeholders.

"In no way were my remarks intended to disparage anyone or to affect the reputation of the beautiful capital city of Liberia. In no way was my intention to take a political stance that would be contrary to my ethics and mission as a diplomat," he said. 

"I sincerely apologize to the Government of Liberia and anyone feeling misrepresented by these remarks and I willingly retract the exaggerated wording that I used," Amb. Laurent Delahousse said.  "I  confirm my engagement and that of the European Union on the side of the City of Monrovia and the Government of Liberia to improve the lives of the citizens of the capital city and all Liberians."

In his apology, issued on October 8,  Amb. Delahousse went on to urge city officials to address the crisis and to account for the money received from donors and the taxes collected from businesses.

Garbage in Saye Community, Jallah Town. The community is right behind the MCC.

“A clean city is an asset; it creates jobs and probably that is what Liberia needs most,” he said.

But really, Amb. Delahousse apparently could not help throwing a jab of straight-talk -- in classic Liberian style -- when he boldly informed the Lord Mayor of Monrovia, Jefferson Koijee and his team of workers, that decorating Monrovia now and again was not enough when the issue of sanitation remained a serious problem.

At the forum, Mayor  Koijee disclosed that waste management in the over-crowded city was a major challenge, but with more support from donor partners like the European Union, they would continue to tackle the problem. Meanwhile, one of those government officials who was quick to criticize the EU Ambassador statement is Montserrado County District #8 Rep. Acarous M. Gray, who is also a member of the ruling CDC, and who said he disagrees with the description given to the City of Monrovia.

Monrovia City cooperation headed by Mayor Jefferson Koijee.

"Monrovia in Africa by all environmental standards and scientific research is not the dirtiest of African cities. They are public research records to disprove such an unfortunate assertion," said Rep. Gray, whose own constituency, located in the heart of the city, is challenged with solid waste and sewage. 

The comment by Rep. Gray was rebuked by many Liberians on social media, who said that the dirt on the streets of Monrovia is indeed sickening and that the government must take the lead in cleaning up the city.

"It’s evident that waste management has been a problem, especially under this government. I suggest that the CDC government take this very embarrassing comment in good faith and go to work," a commenter said. "I think what the ambassador was saying is Liberians are dirty people because the dirt in question is not coming from heaven or hell, but from human beings who are Liberians. This country is the only country where market women and men don't sell in the market but in the streets. Moreover, Liberia is the only country where the citizens of the country can't pay for our dirt."