Liberia: For Pres. Weah, the Path to 2023 Is Made of Roads

Flashback: Flashback: President Weah steps down from the yellow machine after performing the groundbreaking for the RIA Highway expansion project in 2020.

... Says Pro-Poor Agenda Remains Actively On Course"

President George Weah has reminded Liberians that his vision for the socio-economic wellbeing of the country remains on track in spite of any turbulence.

The President, who is now five years into his six-year term, admitted that the early days of his administration were characterized by unbearable challenges. 

The President however, informed Liberians that the government has emerged stronger and is now on course to fulfill one his major development agenda: the construction of roads. 

"Surely, we faced some major challenges in the last four years, but as a Government and as a people, we have emerged stronger," President Weah disclosed. "The challenges may have tried to derail and distract us, but they did not prevent us from continuing the work of national development."

"And we were further challenged by the opportunity that you have given us to address and eventually solve them but, four years on, we continue to protect the peace and security of our people, to build more roads, transform electricity, build new hospitals and improve the quality of care, transform the challenging situation in education, build more markets for our market women around the country, and work toward improving governance and accountability for public resources," he said.

From challenge to triumph

The President's stunning admission of his early struggles comes as the 2023 election edges on the horizon and, with economic growth projected at 4 percent, is an attempt to remind Liberians of his ability to solve Liberia's problems as promised, if given more time.

It is a messaging strategy that parallels the way he talks about his struggles while growing up poor before going on to conquer the world as a footballer. 

That message was the central theme of his 2017 presidential campaign and resonates well with his power base now.  By admitting his early struggles as President while boasting of his administration's success, he's reminding Liberians, as he did five years ago, that he has what it takes  to revitalize the economy by creating jobs, expanding infrastructure development and moving the country toward prosperity. 

And while he appears to have learned from his mistakes and taken steps toward economic reforms, adhering to IMF recommendations, the President's speech sought to argue that he has kept his word as promised, particularly on the infrastructure front. 

The speech also aimed to convince Liberians that the benefits of his government far outweigh the downsides. It’s a message he is likely to repeat many times before 2023, when voters will decide whether they want to continue those policies for another six years.

While these policies have yielded uneven results, President Weah was quick to highlight the efforts he is making to impact the country's infrastructural landscape significantly. 

Roads, roads, roads

"Despite the continued challenges, the Government [has] made great strides to deliver on its commitment to the people of Liberia for the pavement of primary and community roads, the pavement and maintenance of streets within county capitals, and the connection of all counties by paved roads," Weah said.  

"It also remains an important priority of my administration to ensure the full accessibility of the entire country through the maintenance and rehabilitation of the existing 4,200 kilometers of urban and secondary roads across our country, " added President Weah.

President Weah added also that by improving road connectivity throughout the country, basic economic activity will increase due to the free movement of goods and services.

This, he argued, will lessen the economic burden of the Liberian people who  face daily travel challenges of not being able to move freely within and around Liberia due to bad roads.

"I am proud and excited to report to this august body that works have already begun on the Ganta to Saclepea road corridor;  the Saclepea to Tappitta road corridor;  the Fish Town to Gbaken Kanweaken road corridor in River Gee County;  and our flagship road project, the iconic Roberts International Highway Road Project.  When completed, the total road projects begun since the inception of my Administration will total approximately 470 kilometers. This represents 90 percent of the 517 kilometers that we established as our national target four years ago. During my Annual Message last year, I told you that these roads would be built.  Today, I can proudly announce that work has already commenced on all of them, and they are in various stages of completion," the Liberian leader noted.

Liberia's road deficit, which affect almost the entire country, is one of the primary causes that past governments have struggled with to support the economic transformation necessary to sustain growth and reduce poverty. 

The bad roads problem is also a primary cause for the slow growth in the agricultural sector, as farmers fold under the frustration of post harvest losses of 50% or more due to the difficulty of getting their perishable goods to the market. 

If these road projects, which are age-old problems, come to reality under the Weah administration, it will also bring relief to Liberians in terms of access to social services and advance economic development, especially to the people of the southeastern region who are most of the year isolated from the rest of the country due to poor road connectivity.

Moreover, there will be substantial cost reductions in travel, shorter transport times, and all-year access to services and markets. 

For example, the constructions of the Ganta and Buchanan highways during the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led to revitalization of the local economy, as the roads improved trade and commerce by reducing travel time and increasing access to markets for rural farmers, who live near the road.

In the case of Ganta and Buchanan, these highways greatly improved, and paved the way for the construction of new and improved hotels, shopping and entertainment centers, making them booming economic zones.

In addition to these major roads being built, the President boasted that his administration has already begun negotiations with international partners and respective institutions for the construction of more road projects. 

He added that due to his version of addressing the massive road challenges being experienced by Liberians in the southeast, the pavement of the road from Harper to Fishtown has now been completed, and the Fish Town to Gbaken Kanweaken section of this corridor has already been contracted out.

"The Tappitta to Toe’s Town road corridor; the Salayea to Konia road corridor being negotiated with our Arab partners, the Barclayville to Klone road corridor being negotiated with the ECOWAS Bank, and the Medina to Robertsport road corridor.  When completed, these roads will not only meet but exceed the target that we set for ourselves four years ago," disclosed President Weah in his State of the Nation Address. "In addition to these achievements, arrangements are being made with the African Development Bank for the detailed design and tendering of an additional 110 kilometers of roads that will see the completion of the link from Harper, Maryland County through River Gee, to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. "

"It has not been all smooth sailing, and indeed, we never expected it to be. We were challenged to seek high office because of the serious and seemingly entrenched nature of the governance and socio-economic problems of this country that were very obvious to everyone. I wish to assure you that during my Annual Message in 2023, I will be able to report that significant progress has been made on each of these road projects," he said. 

Meanwhile, President Weah has disclosed that negotiation is ongoing with Liberia's Arab partners to finalize  funding of the remaining Konia to Voinjama road in Lofa County. 

He added that studies are ongoing on the Voinjama to Medicorma road corridor in order to finalize talks for the funding of that corridor by the African Development Bank. 

"Paving is currently ongoing of the Gbarnga to Salayea road corridor," President Weah noted.   "Works on the Ganta to Yekepa road pisect are also ongoing, and a total of about 20 kilometers have already been completed during the year under review." 

In a rallying call to all Liberians, he stressed: "We came together as a people to end a deadly civil war and to overcome its effects. We came together to solve Ebola. We came together to stabilize our recent macroeconomic problems and we are together fighting COVID-19. We can do and achieve anything once we set our minds to it. That is who we are as Liberians.

"So let us NOT let politics divide us to the extent of destroying our country.  Our past may be bittersweet, but with unity and oneness of purpose our present and our future can be sweeter," the Liberian leader added.