Liberia: Southeasterners Grapple with Deplorable Roads Again

Flashback: Deplorable road conditions in the Southeast.

When President George Weah ascended to the Liberia Presidency four years ago, there were glimmers of hope that the road problem in the Southeast, from where he hails, would soon be a thing of the past.

But the stark reality remains that the bad road condition, which affects the Southeastern counties for at least half of the year, has exacerbated the hardship in that part of the country, hiking the costs of commodities. 

“Southeasterners have been denied proper roads for decades, and this sickens us. Every year we grumble about the road, but the folks in Monrovia do not care,” the commuters who were stuck in the mud on the Zwedru-Fish Town highway said. “They simply don't care. We pay taxes but receive no benefits. The sad thing is, we generate a large amount of agricultural produce yearly, yet we lose money owing to poor road conditions.” 

“The amount of time we spend on the roads is intolerable, and the conditions we are subjected to are demoralizing,” said some of the travelers who had been on the road for several days. 

They complained that the expenses incurred from the spoilage of their goods, as well as vehicle wear and tear, are immeasurable. 

“The awful state of the roads is significantly contributing to the soaring costs of products and services, to the detriment of ordinary Liberians.  It causes us to get poorer and poorer. Poverty generation. We are in pain,” they added. "We have spent four days around here because of the heavy mud,” said Gontorwon, a truck driver whose final destination is Monrovia. Gontorwon's vehicle was stuck between Grand Gedeh and Nimba County with vegetables and other farm products.  

“The plantain, peppers, and bitter balls on my truck are getting spoiled and we pray that a caterpillar will come to clear the mud,” he said.

On the stretch of the southeastern road corridor, dozens of lorries carrying goods were stranded in the mud for days, leaving many to transfer to motorcycles to continue their trips. The Southeast, which comprises Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, and River Cess counties, has for many decades suffered from terrible road conditions. Yet these counties have given birth to some of Liberia’s leading brains and statesmen.

They have also produced three presidents — namely President William V.S Tubman, who hails from Maryland, Samuel K. Doe (1985) from Grand Gedeh; currently President George M. Weah (2018) from Grand Kru County, as well as former interim President, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer (1990), from Sinoe County. But very little has changed for these counties in terms of infrastructure and road connectivity. And with President Weah having proclaimed himself “Bad Road Medicine,” many Southeasterners long for the day when their bad road disease will be permanently alleviated. 

Currently, the Southeastern road network is among the country’s major highways that are in the most deplorable state.  It then forces commercial vehicles which in normal time would manage to squeeze at least two roundtrips in a week, to just one which takes almost a week to make; sometimes more -- cutting drivers' projected incomes. 

Awkwardly, it is not just the drivers that are losing time, but the passengers who have to spend countless sleepless nights and days on the road before reaching their respective destinations.  And there is another problem: the issue of a hike in transportation fares at any given point in time — creating difficulties to travel. The costs add up depending on the amount of load a person may be carrying and the cost of petroleum.

In the past few weeks, transportation has risen from L$5,500 (US$36) to L$6,500 (US$43) from Ganta, Nimba County to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County just for a single trip.  The fare is even higher if the trip's starting point is Montserrado County.  Also, for the trip from Ganta to Fishtown, Rivergee the cost has increased from L$8,000 (US$53) to L$10,000 (US$66). 

On motorcycles, which tend to be the fastest — and most risky — way now to travel as a result of the road condition, the fare per person has skyrocketed to L$10,000 (US$66) just from Ganta to Zwedru. Of course, the journey beyond Zwedru to other counties in the southeast is much more expensive. 

In a situation where a motorcyclist has only a single passenger, the cost of the trip increases, between L$12,000 to L$14,000 from Ganta to Zwedru and almost L$30,000 (US$200) to Barclayville, the capital and most populous settlement in Grand Kru County,

Just like Gontorwon, a lady traveling with two children from Fish Town to Monrovia spent almost 10 days on the road before reaching Saclepea, Nimba County -- a journey which in normal times could cost less than two days. 

Fish Town is the capital city of River Gee County. 

“We spent three nights between Fish Town and Sinoe Junction along the Zwedru-Fish Town highway. And more nights as we continued the trip before reaching Saclepea. The road is getting very bad and if nothing is done now, it will create hardship for those living in River Gee and beyond,” the lady said.

Another traveler, Joseph Moore, recounted how he and others have spent nearly a week along the road, saying there are several bad spots between Tappita and Zwedru that need immediate intervention.

While some parts of the road, beginning from Ganta to Saclepea, are under construction, a vast portion of the road from Saclepea, which is part of the Southeastern road corridor, running as far as Fish Town, remains deplorable.