Waves come crashing
Mr. Foday operated a small flour mill in the congested Monrovia seaside township of West Point, a livelihood he sustained for the last ten years. Through the flour mill, he employed three others and sustained his own family supplying small-scale bakeries around Monrovia with his product. “I make any kind of flour for any kind of baking you want to do,” Foday, who is in his early fifties, told the Daily Observer.
On Monday afternoon, August 5, 2019, we found Foday packing up what was left of his flour mill business into large wheel-barrow he had hired to carry his equipment and materials. He said he did not yet know where he would relocate his business, but his time in West Point had come to an end. By Monday, he had already moved his milling equipment and was now salvaging any timber, zinc and other materials that could be reused in setting up his workshop elsewhere. Anywhere.
A few days earlier, during the week of July 30, the Atlantic ocean waves came crashing against the entire row of make-shift concrete and zinc structures on the left side of the road leading into West Point. The beach on that side of the street is known as ‘Kru Beach’, from where members of the Kru tribe, known for their prowess in seafaring and fishing, ply their trade.
The structure that housed Foday’s mill was not spared. From the street one can only what is left of it — a concrete frame looking out into the vast ocean. Just below, the sand is littered with garbage and debris from broken walls that once held together homes and small enterprises. The street comes to an abrupt end just a spitting distance from Foday’s erstwhile workshop. Now cut off, this is as far as any vehicle can go. To venture any further would have to be on foot.
To Foday’s immediate left was another man — we’ll call him Robert, since he declined to give us his full name. Robert collects wood salvaged from construction sites and re-sells them to other construction projects. “The money is not bad,” he told the Daily Observer. “The timber can be used a number of times and in different cases.”
Now, Robert has shifted his timber stand to the immediate right of where Foday’s flour mill used to be, since the place were Robert’s stand was, has been totally wiped out. “So now, were are doing ‘dress-right-dress’,” he says using a military metaphor for the numerous shifting he expects to do in the foreseeable future.
Before getting to Foday’s flour mill is also Ousman Jalloh’s provision shop. Jalloh’s shop was a storefront with rooms in the back for his family, including wife and three children — two boys and a girl. There were two rows of other structures behind his shop, where other people lived, as far back as 2014. Now, it’s just them. And as of last week Tuesday, July 30, there is only the shop. His family now lives with neighbors on more stable ground across the street. The rest of his shop goods he had in storage, he said he had to distribute them to other shops further inland.
Before Jalloh’s shop is the Gbeneweleh’s residence. Mr. Gbeneweleh, like Robert, is a timber seller. He has nine children, including five girls. His wife passed away a few months ago and his eldest child, Quoh, 29, helps with the family business. According to her their home had three rooms, one bathroom and a living room. What is left of their home now is only the entry area — a foyer — so to speak. Everything else has been washed out to sea. Now, Quoh and her siblings sleep at their neighbors somewhere across the street. During the day, they come back to what remains of their home, sit on the varandah facing the street, tending to the timber business.
“The rain is one of three things that can bring the erosion,” Quoh informs our reporter. “The other two things are dirt and dead bodies. The sea does not like dirt, so any time people throw dirt in the ocean, the ocean can send it back on the land. And anytime someone leaves in the water (death at sea), the ocean can get really charged.”
A bystander, who listens to the conversation, agrees with an assuring nod.
West Point’s story
This latest instance of coastal destruction can be considered a milestone of sorts, in what many describe as a gradual process that might see the eventual submersion of this township that has become world famous for all the wrong reasons. For the last ten years alone, stories about West Point can be found in the archives of dozens of global media outlets including CNN, BBC, the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Vice and Pro Publica, to name a few. Such stories are replete with themes of crime, poverty, disease, prostitution, drugs, rape and the occasional tourist attraction for westerners desiring a taste of the “dangerous side of town”.
On February 16, 1981, the maiden edition of the Liberian Daily Observer newspaper published its headline story, titled: “West Point Dwellers Are Angry”, in which the newspaper highlighted the plight of residents of that impoverished slum community. The story came just two months shy of the first anniversary of the bloody April 12, 1980 coup d’état by the Armed Forces of Liberia led by Master/Sargent Samuel Kanyon Doe.
Even though a great number of members of the AFL at the time came from impoverished communities like West Point, the leadership of the military junta, “People’s Redemption Council”, failed to fulfill several promises made to improve the livelihood of that fishing community.
After thirty-eight years, residents are again facing a desperate, and life threatening situation and, unless something is urgently done, the township will totally disappear through the unending daily erosion caused by the violent sea wave.
In recent months, the sea has been pounding on the township, leaving community residents devastated. The latest casualty of the sea’s assault on the is the famous Kru Beach community and its football pitch, with churches and school buildings all of which are now over 500 yards inland from what remains of the once densely populated township.
While most of those who remain in the township with hope of receiving redemption are keeping the faith, they are nevertheless being faced by another threat, the nocturnal fearful movement of marauding gangs of youth whose habitat in the community known as “Maricana” is all, but gone into the sea.
Political stronghold drowning?
Since 2005, West Point Township, like the Borough of New Kru Town, has continuously voted the way of all candidates running on the ticket of the now ruling Congress/Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), almost hundred percent. In the 2017 representative elections, CDC candidate Solomon George topped the district with 8,317 votes, nearly doubling his closest opponent, Sabah Jomah, and independent candidate, who had 4,696 votes.
According to some residents interviewed by the Daily Observer, President George Weah last June visited their troubled community and promised his Government’s intervention as early as July 21, 2019.
“We are hopeful that President Weah will fulfill his promise like he is doing for our brothers and sisters in New Kru Town. Our Township is a vote rich community, and we cannot imagine the President allowing it to be erased from the surface of the country by erosion from the sea,” Aaron Tarpeh, a staunch CDC supporter, told our reporter.
It can be recalled that the former chairman of the Senate committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment, now Pro Tempore of Senate, Albert T. Chie, recommended to members of the 53rd Senate that a minimum of US$2.5 million was needed in the 2016/2017 national budget for Coastal Defense Works.
Senator Chie, in his committee’s report to plenary, highlighted what he described as a “precarious situation that still persists, due to uncompleted coastal defense works…”
Now, the threat of erosion caused by advancing sea is closing in on landmark Liberian assets including the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial Hospital in Sinkor, the D. Twe High School in New Kru Town, the abandoned and looted Hotel Africa, the township of West Point, as well as the coastal cities of even in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County and Greenville, Sinoe County.”
While re-enforcing his recommendation for a minimal budget to jump-start coastal defense works, Senator Chie, a trained geologist, warned his colleagues at the time of “the serious threat of the fast moving erosion to our very existence.”
Meanwhile, residents and local officials have expressed fear that if the situation remains unattended to, the remaining “important and historic communities,” including Fanti Town, one of West Point’s fishing communities, might also become history.