Liberia: Solving the Rice Problem

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.

The rice problem is raising eyebrows yet once again because the price of a 25kg long grain parboiled rice has gone up from US$14 to US$20.  This means that when nearly all of the employed people can not afford to buy the rice at the previous price and nearly all of the employable people remain unemployed, violence-oriented poverty is worsening and violence is threatening. 

Witness the violence-oriented poverty protests in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other neighboring countries on account of the rising and unaffordable cost of living. Many people died and got injured during the protests.  Common sense and common duty to the Country call for taking urgent action to end the violence-oriented poverty problem. In effect, the protests are a continuation of the longstanding struggle for rice and rights. 

While hungry people are concerned about the non-affordable price of rice, they are also concerned about justice being done for all, not just for the rich.  It took this struggle long years for the expression in front of the Temple of Justice that said Let Justice Be Done To All Men to be changed to Let Justice Be Done To All, to all males and females, to all poor and rich.

When people call for Justice to be done for all, the powers that be condemn them, saying that they are being political. But they are being realistic, bearing in mind that politics is about power. 

From the Holy Bible and the Holy Qu’ran, we learn that politics is about power and this is why Our Creator, God/Allah, made the Supreme Sacrifice to give up a life of the Creator to save lives. On Earth, we have the shining example of Madiba Mandela, who told the Court in South Africa that he was prepared to die to save the lives of people of all races and all classes. 

So, in reality, Madiba Mandela was jailed for twenty-seven years, but the actions of the people led to his release from prison His action was at once political because it gave power to the oppressed people and realistic because it exposed the inhumanity of the apartheid system. 

Amandla! Ngawaytu!This expression means, in the Zulu language of South Africa, Power To The People! And so be it! In Liberia, we say in the Kpelle language, the most widely spoken Liberian language, Gweh Feh Kpei! Ngatee!

In Liberia, the powers that be are playing with the lives of the people by thinking that the low level of western schooling of the people means that they are not civilized, educated, and intelligent and must not participate in national decision-making.  Listening to the unschooled but very educated and intelligent women of the Township of West Point in Monrovia, Liberia, they conclude correctly by saying that the problem in Liberia is not about money but it is about management.  

Some of us spend five years trying to get doctorate degrees about the same problem before coming up with the answer that it took less than one minute for the women of Seven Sisters in West Point to come up with. No wonder, we find in all of the Liberian languages the expression: Some people know books, but they do not have sense.

Let us put some sense into this rice problem. In April of the year, the President of Liberia was seen on LNTV, the National Broadcaster, inspecting the NPA warehouses, walking by much rice to the point that he said: There is enough rice and the price of rice would never rise. 

But the price of rice has risen from US$14 to US$20. The rice sellers have appealed to the GOL for an increase in the official rice price but the GOL has refused, citing that there is no more stock of rice. So, the rice sellers have embarked upon a go-slow action, refusing to sell rice.

 Earlier, when the GOL said that there was enough rice, the sellers held a protest, blocking the Verhee (wrongly called Vai) Town area because they said that they had no access to the rice. Once again, this shortage of rice is artificial and not real because of the powers that have access to the rice. Let us recall how the powers that be had access to petroleum products when their prices went up. 

Then, the LPRC Deputy Managing Director became the “fall guy”, citing his corrupt practice of holding some petroleum products for the powers that be. Let us recall also the time of January 18, 2019, when all of the commercial banks indicated that they had no Liberian dollars but the GOL came up with US$25 million to “mop up” the “excess” Liberian dollars that the commercial banks said they did not have.

How does Liberia get out of this life-threatening rice price problem? Immediately, Civil Servants could demand that at least a quarter of their salaries should be paid in Liberian-produced and owned rice because Liberians are producing and owning quality affordable rice.

The entities that are providing food for schools can now buy Liberian-produced and owned rice. When the US$250,000,000, nearly a quarter of a billion United States dollars amount that is being used to buy imported rice is used to buy Liberian rice, there will be a boost in Liberian ownership, Liberian production, employment, income generation, and poverty will be degenerated.