…. Says his gov’t would employ a wholesome, participatory system
The standard bearer of the main opposition Unity Party, former Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, is not only bent on changing the country’s leadership as he endeavors to unseat President George Weah at the polls in October, he also wants to change the country’s century-old governance system.
The standard bearer of the former ruling Unity Party says the political governance of the country has been the nemesis to the growth and development of the state—making more people poorer and illiterate while a very few elites, from their seats in the Capital, Monrovia, have become very powerful and influential.
“Politically, the central state system, where decisions about the affairs of the country are made in Monrovia, with little participation by other citizens across rural and urban communities, has been one of the major causes of inequality in society,” Boakai said at occasion in commemoration of Liberia’s 176th Independence celebration in the United States. “It is not surprising, therefore, that the nature of our governance system is such that the Liberian state has become predatory, with few people illegitimately using the institutions of the state to accumulate and control wealth at the expense of the majority in society.”
This selfish system that only benefits a few has to change if the country is to experience growth and development, the UP political leader believes. “And this is the paradigm shift that we want to bring to governance in this country,” he told the audience.
Instead of the ruling elite personalizing the resources of the state, Boakai told his audience that “a more participatory engagement in governance and decision-making by all Liberians in my view, guarantees a more wholesome and functioning society.” He spoke on the topic, “Society Rebrand: Creating an Equal Future for Liberians.
He said those in political governance must make the hard decisions necessary to begin the steps of transformation, beginning with Liberia’s most pressing crises, crises of governance.
“It does not take much for an observer of the Liberian Society to understand that much of the country’s problems are intrinsically related to governance. This is why addressing the issues of governance is foremost,” he said. “We must act with deliberate resolve that governance will not be the exclusive preserve of a few people, and that the nature of governing, as it is, must be improved to include the broad participation of the people, including those in rural communities, in the decision-making process.”
This in essence means the constitutional review process and reforms initiated by the UP government in its last term, which include decentralization, local service delivery and local government should be fast-tracked.
Boakai said when people are able to determine their welfare and seek their own solutions based on local context, the impact becomes more concrete.
“It is my view that when governance is shared, marginalization is much more tamed and equity becomes more visible. Similarly, strong governance outcomes are obtained with a focus on democratic tenets such as accountability, transparency, the rule of law, and functional and capable institutions that are able to provide effective public service. When society shares the values of good and participatory governance it becomes more functional.”
“On the 176th anniversary of the founding of our country, it is fitting to reflect on our past; how far we have come, where we are and where we hope to go. Either by design or by error, we must admit that our system, as it were, has contributed in a way to many of the inequities in the country, thus, depriving many of our people of a voice in their own affairs, and of the opportunities for a better and dignified livelihood.”
Liberia is largely an agrarian society with an abundance of natural resources. However, the majority of the active population operates in subsistence agriculture with little opportunity for growth. At its expense is a concession regime supported by Liberia's rich endowment of natural resources, where these commodities are extracted with little value addition.
But the irony, the former VP said, is that while commodity extraction has supported the economy over the years and increased growth; such growth has been unequal because we have not plow profits back into development to benefit the majority of our people.
This is from whence the negative catchphrase, “growth without development,” which has haunted Liberia for decades, especially after the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Growth without development,” where economic growth based on commodity extraction has little to show in terms of palpable development for the public good. The result is that only a few people benefit, while the majority, many of whom work in the less-supported agrarian sector are left out.
Boakai said with a third or more of the population poor, and a historic rural neglect despite abundant resources, it calls for a “substantial rethinking” of how Liberians do business and order the society.
It is no secret that the political and economic foundations of the Liberian state have also provided the undercurrents of social tensions in the society. Age-old political patronage and huge economic and wealth disparity, have created a social gulf between a few groups of people, their social, political, and economic networks, and a large section of the population, many of whom live far below the poverty line.
“With the delivery of social services including health and education highly unequal, the result is public mistrust of the governing elite, a poor relationship between the state and its citizens, and political and other social conflicts,” VP Boakai, said.
The first black republic in Africa and a necessary project to escape the throes of slavery, and arguably the continent’s first self-governing country, Boakai noted that the founding of Liberia was inspired by noble ideals; ideals of freedom, equality and human dignity; values intrinsic to the aspiration of all persons and their personal development.
But the unfolding formation of the Liberian state, in spite of the lofty ideals of the founders, was soon to be fraught with political, economic and social fissures - largely occasioned by bad leadership - that has and continues to threaten the very foundation of the country and the desire to create a just and fair society, he said.
“As a result, “state-building” as opposed to “nation-building” became and continues to be the common object of the ruling elite, where the state is used as an agency for elite corruption and social and economic deprivation.”
In addition to the sad realities of the political system aside, the UP political leader added that the economic foundation of the country’s development has left much to be desired “as the nature of the Liberian economy underlies some of the strains in our society.”
“After 176 years of independence, it appears improbable to change the very nature of an old country like Liberia with all the trappings of a society much afflicted by the vestiges of an old order rooted partly in the origin of the state. But it is possible!” he said.
“I believe with the right leadership to mobilize citizens to work, we can make the changes required to transform the country and ensure an equitable society. Given my experience, years of interaction and knowledge about Liberians at all levels of society, I know for sure, we deeply love our country, and long for genuine peace, reconciliation, and development.”
Boakai added that the economy must be made to work for everyone. It means pursuing a diversified economy that leverages the country’s comparative advantage in agriculture in particular, where more than 70% of the labor force operates.
“With 60% of the population made up of young people, the demographic dividend on the economy as a result of effectively deploying this cohort, especially in agriculture, will not only increase productivity but mitigate poverty nationwide. I believe as the economy opens up, and more Liberians become involved, economic wealth can then be leveraged to promote a just and equitable society, where every Liberian can live a dignified life.