Liberia celebrated its 168th independence anniversary on July 26, 2015. As has become customary since the Tubman era, the celebrations were held in a county capital away from Monrovia, by rotation. It was Sinoe and Grand Kru counties’ turn this year.
The media reports capitalized on the fact that the turnout when President Sirleaf arrived in Greenville was not very inspiring. They put it down to pique on the part of Sinoeans over a long festering dispute with the Malaysian based oil palm giant Golden Veroleum in which the citizens of Sinoe accused the Sirleaf administration of siding with the company. So, they were going to sulk and not accord her the normal courtesies given to a distinguished visitor, in this case their president.
Romeo Quiah, the superintendent of Sinoe, has a much more pedestrian explanation for the poor turnout. He said the president arrived late at night and because of that many of the county capital’s residents who would have been on parade to greet her had turned in for the night. That is his story and he is sticking to it.
Barclayville was an altogether different story. Mary Broh, the conquering heroine of the Grand Kru county, was in full bloom. The Barclayville city hall, where the intercessory service was held on Sunday, July 25th, was packed to the gills. Balloons. Bunting. A festive atmosphere.
President Sirleaf, clearly delighted at the contrast in receptions, was lavish in her praise of her hosts, noting that it was the first time the entire diplomatic corps had ever been present at such an event. Yes, all was mirth and glee. Greenville, the elephant in the room, with its awkward tapestry of less than stellar hospitality, we were encouraged to view as a distant memory, something that was not real, just a figment of our fertile imagination.
But how we got there was illuminating. After 5 hours of driving on dirt tracks the day before, to get from Buchanan to Greenville, we had to awake with the cockerels and embark on another 5 bone-jarring hour odyssey from Greenville to Barclayville.
My niece Wilhelmina, who loves to walkabout and had gleefully accepted my invitation to accompany me on what she imagined would be unadulterated fun, quipped to me at the end of our sojourn, “Uncle Harry, the next time you tell me about going to Sinoe and Grand Kru I will bust bottle on your head. The place far, yah!”
After the intercessory service, we began the trek back to Greenville, stopping for lunch at Senator Peter Coleman’s newly constructed guest house on the highway, at the Barclayville intersection. It’s a nice habitat, in the middle of nowhere, but with suitable accomodations. Ever the salesman, he informed us with a glint in his eye that after Independence, his room rates would descend dramatically. The wait staff at the motel is ascending the learning curve. It will be interesting to revisit 6 months from now to find out how much they have learned about customer service. For now, it was evidently a foreign language.
After this journey, I now know why the southeast is cut off from the rest of the country. It’s the roads. The distance from Buchanan to Greenville (via Rivercess) is almost the same as from Monrovia to Buchanan. But, whereas you can do the Monrovia-Buchanan trip in 2 hours of relative comfort. Buchanan-Greenville will take you 5 hours of body-shaking discomfort. Any pregnant woman attempting the journey would be well advised to have a midwife in tow.
Greenville, Grand Cess, Harper—-all of these places and points in between have beaches to die for. The tourist potential of the coastal southeast is breathtaking. But the first step towards realizing that potential is paving the road from Buchanan to Greenville to Harper. Paving the roads will have the added bonus of re-integrating the southeast into the rest of Liberia. That is the real value.
So, all those people who are asking you to vote for them in 2017 should make paving the road from Buchanan to Harper a high priority. Then we will know they are serious about integration and developing the southeast.
The writer is a certified public accountant and a businessman. He can be reached at ([email protected]).