By Judoemue M. Kollie and David S. Menjor
When someone describes the man known as DJ Blue as ‘heavy’, they are most likely not talking about his 300+ pound figure. His most well-known claim to fame is his prowess as an entertainer who transcended the life of stagecraft to the helm of a media company with nationwide reach.
But three years ago, he pulled a move that no one expected, yet one that many surprisingly embraced — he ran for senator. And though he did not win, he came in as a dangerously close first runner-up. Ever since that senatorial election in 2017, having seen the level of hope that he inspired from the voter response, Blue, also known as Bernard Benson, Jr., has been carefully weighing his options. In 2019, he had the opportunity to run but opted to wait and plan better, he told the Daily Observer once.
If social media numbers are anything to go by in an election, the man has clearly been building a footprint since then. No wonder his performance in the 2017 senatorial election earned him respect among more experienced Liberian politicians. Now that he’s having a second go at the same senatorial seat, he appears more determined than ever, that he will make it.
DJ Blue’s Facebook group has over 9,000 members and his personal Facebook account has friends more than half that number. But Team DJ Blue, his official campaign page on Facebook, has over 32,000 followers — a “mass based movement of patriotic Liberians with a youth-driven agenda,” the page description reads. “It’s driving goal, which is highlighted in the catchy tag #LiberianYouthMatters, is geared towards the empowerment of the youths of Liberia.”
According to him, youth empowerment remains one of his top priorities if elected, stressing that Liberian youth are still lagging behind in terms of opportunities since the end of the country’s civil war. When given the opportunity to serve, Benson promises that he will create more youth programs to empower many young people.
Youth empowerment remains a crucial issue in post-war Liberia. Young people (up to the age of 24) account for over 63% of Liberia’s 4.8 million people, according to Index Mundi. However, the country’s youth dependency ratio stands at a whopping 77.6%. The dependency ratio, according to the United Nations, “highlights the potential dependency burden on workers and indicates the shifts in dependency from a situation in which children are dominant to one in which older persons outnumber children as the demographic transition advances.” Although Liberia’s youth dependency ratio refers primarily to children between the ages of 0-14, many young Liberians remain unskilled by the time they reach employment age, rendering them a national security risk, it has been observed.
Mr. Benson, whose media and entertainment industry platforms reach thousands of young people across Liberia, believes the country needs more creative and attractive youth programs to empower the young people.
“We are coming up with programs that I think that can empower the youth,” Benson told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview earlier this week in Monrovia. “There is a need for Liberia invest in infrastructures like recreational centers and public libraries to develop the minds of the young people.”
He criticized the Government of Liberia for not doing much to improve the lives of the youth.
“The biggest investment the government can make is to empower the young people. But nobody is taking about it. We must create programs for the youth, but the government is placing more expenditures on cars to live luxurious lives,” Benson said. He alleged that from 2015 up to 2019, the Legislature has allotted and used over US$70 million on purchasing cars, fueling them and maintaining them. “If we do not empower the youth, we will be having some serious problems in this country. This is why most of my investment is done for the young people.”
The Liberian businessman said for Liberia to succeed in making more young people to become decision makers that would lead to national development, there is a need to copy modules from nearby countries that are succeeding.
“I visited Ghana and what I saw there really touched me. The government has built ten regional youth training centers. There are Information Technology Centers (ITC), vocational and entrepreneurship centers for youth development. That decision is changing things around for Ghana. We can do it here too. All we need is to forget about robbing the country of what it has for our selfish benefits,” Benson said.
He said all over the world, not everybody has a college degree, but everyone can learn something to depend on for life and contribute to national development.
“If the youth get the opportunities to learn carpentry or masonry well, they come back and help build homes or government offices. This is why I am contesting, to work with would-be fellow Senators on drafting policies and directing finances to implementing these sorts of great ideas into realistic actions,” he further explained.
As the proprietor of HOTT FM, a twenty-four hour entertainment-based radio station, Benson said Liberia is lagging behind because tourism has been ignored, even though it is the most viable medium of improving economies and expanding the employment pie in any country.
“It is not about how soon we can get money for ourselves. This is the wrong perception our Legislators and the rest of our national leaders are running with. We need short, medium or long term plans in order to attract investment in the tourism industry. This will change the narrative and increase in huge amount, our national fiscal budget,” he said.
Benson added that Liberia has more tourism destinations in Africa than any other country and taking advantage of the available spaces to invest in tourism will fast track national development, including road connectivity, provision of electricity and safe drinking water.
“When Lake Piso, in Cape Mount County, for instance, is operating as a tourism site, money will come and the road leading to that part of our country will be paved. The residents there will have access to electricity and their lives will improve because many of them will get employment,” he continued.
Some of the aforementioned US$70 million that was used for cars, Benson believes, should have been used to develop a few tourism sites.