An estimated 17,000 traditional Liberian fishermen from Cape Palmas, Sinoe
County to Robertsport in Grand Cape Mount County are seeking support from the Alternative National Congress (ANC) political leader Alex Cummings in exchange for their support for his bid for the presidency in the 2017 elections.
Mr. Wle Wle Kofa, chairman of the Traditional Fishermen’s Association of Liberia (TFAL), told the Daily Observer after meeting in New Kru Town with Mr. Cummings last Friday that it was a fruitful meeting, the first of its kind for the association.
“Despite the many presidential aspirants in the country, Mr. Cummings, who is a ‘just come,’ thought it wise to respond to our invitation to meet and to listen to our request,” Mr. Kofa said.
The thousands of Liberian fishermen have decided that Mr. Cummings’ willingness to respond to their invitation in less than two weeks, showed his remarkable sense of concern for a sector that has been neglected by the Liberian government, Kofa said.
“Attending the meeting with Mr. Cummings at the Trinity United Methodist Church were three representatives each from seven of the eight counties where Liberian fishermen are concentrated,” he stated. He named the counties as Cape Mount, Grand Bassa, River Cess, Margibi, Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland, and Monsterrado.
“The delegates were women who represented their husbands at the meeting,” Kofa said, “and they told (Cummings) that they heard about his support to other communities and therefore would be glad if he could see about providing their children with education opportunities.”
He said Mr. Cummings sympathized with their request and assured them that he would look into it.
Speaking on behalf of the wives of the traditional fishermen’s association was Ms. Jebbeh F. Johnson, who said she supported an earlier statement by chairman Kofa that Liberian fishermen receive the least support from the Liberian government.
In previous elections, politicians visited their communities and sought their votes; but after being elected, they no longer returned to fulfill their promises, she said.
Reading a statement from the ANC, its chairman Mr. Oracious Gould re-echoed Mr. Cummings’ and the ANC’s avowed support to neglected sectors such as the Traditional Fishermen Association, and promised to look into their request.
Meanwhile in an interview, Mrs. Betty Nyanti, head of the women whose husbands are Colonel West, New Kru Town fishermen, said they had decided not to vote in the forthcoming elections because “voting makes no difference in our lives.”
“After voting in three elections, we are still poor and we are unable to send our children to school. Our husbands still do their fishing with smaller boats, and their catches don’t improve our lives.
“We are tired of voting and except we are convinced that voting can change our lives, we have decided, I mean all the women under me have decided, not to vote in the 2017 elections,” she said.
But with Cummings involvement, however, there is the likelihood that a change of mind could take place.
The mother of eight children, she said, “Through hard work my husband and I have been able to educate our children. But two older boys followed their father to be fishermen, using the traditional smaller canoe for their work.”
“The dangers at sea and their husbands’ safety on the job have been haunting these women,” admitted chairman Kofa, who said it is disheartened that the death of a fisherman at sea does not claim government’s attention as a death in a car accident.
There was a report of a man identified as P. T. P. Dweh, an older man who disappeared at sea. His partner was found alive near West Point but could not explain what happened to Dweh, whose family is yet to get closure on what happened to their grandfather.
Among the families that spoke to the Daily Observer were those of fishermen Gabriel Sagba and Jr. Kun both fathers of two children, and another with five children. They complained of inadequate financial support to enable them to acquire large canoes that could improve their living conditions. They also complained about the lack of safety measures from government, which makes their job more challenging. They added that they reside in zinc shacks that need to be replaced, and inadequate latrines.
Chairman Kofa said with the increasing neglect of the government of Liberia to their plight, and until Mr. Alex Cummings visited them, “We are convinced that there a good number of Liberians out there who are willing to help, and since we had previously decided to consider the sea as our president we now have someone who cares about us.
Kofa told ANC’s Cummings that due to inadequate support, a girl born to a fisherman, on the average, gets pregnant at age 12 and 14, which begins a vicious cycle that keeps the family in abject poverty.
“That girl child is deprived of education because most of the parents cannot afford the high cost of education and therefore the future of such a child is anybody’s guess,” Kofa said. He said the organization has decided to vote for one candidate in each of their counties of residence.
He said the Alternative National Congress’s interest to sit and listen to their concerns gives hope to the more than 17,000 fishermen and their families as having a political party that they can depend on in 2017.