With the Passing of Willis Knuckles, Jr., is Liberia’s Capital Relocation in Limbo?

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The dream of relocating Liberia’s political capital from Monrovia to Zekepa in Nimba County seems to be facing bleak future now as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said that the man she depended on to make this dream a reality is now dead.

 The President did not, however, disclose the fate of the project following the demise of the ‘crafter,’ Willis DeFrancis Knuckles.

In her elegies at the funeral service of former Public Works and Presidential Affairs Minister, Willis DeFrancis Knuckles, President Sirleaf said it was he that she had earmarked to organize the transfer of Liberia’s capital from Monrovia in Montserrado County, to Zekepa, in Nimba County.

In 2011, the Liberian leader unveiled plans for the relocation of Liberia’s capital Monrovia to Zekepa where Grand Bassa, Bong and Nimba Counties meet.

Delivering her sixth state of the nation address on January 25, 2011, President Sirleaf said there was a need to relocate the capital city due to the effects of climate change and expectation that rising sea levels could threaten coastal cities.

She said plans were being concluded for a new capital city at Zekepa, but asserted that it would take time to realize this dream.

“The vision I have outlined is a collective vision, but we should be under no illusions about how difficult this will be to achieve. There is a long road ahead of us, and that road will not be smooth. We will need great courage and determination to get to our destination,” the Liberia leader said.

“I am talking to every single citizen of this great nation when I say: our progress belongs to you, and the future is yours for the taking, a future in which the process would have started to move the capital to the center of the country,”

“Given the effects of climate change and expectation that rising sea levels will threaten coastal cities, including Monrovia, we will have concluded the plan to move the Capital City to Zekepa, where the territories of Grand Bassa, Bong and Nimba converge,” Madam President said in 2012 with boomeranging applauds and standing ovation.

At the funeral, President Sirleaf was gravely shaken by the loss of the man, whom she described as a “great strategist, master planner and organizer,” who organized her successful presidential campaigns that won her two successive elections to the Liberian presidency.

She appointed him twice to the Cabinet, first as Public Works Minister and later as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. After that he remained her confidante because she appreciated his wise counsel and his ability to get things done efficiently and quickly.

 The late Knuckles did not have the Masters or PhDs degrees that most of the country’s officials have, but was a man who knew how to get things done with extraordinary skills as an organizer, planner manager and executor.

He only had one academic degree, a Bachelor’s in Natural Sciences from the prestigious Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University)

The Liberian leader, with a glaring misty face and crushing demeanor, described the Late Willis as an awesome strategist, who was a committed and dedicated servant.

The issue of relocating Liberia’s capital city from Monrovia to another location is long overdue and many would term it as an ‘old story that has no end’. Presidents upon presidents have just had this as a mere political talk without much effort to have this dream, which many Liberians have described as farsighted and in the right direction.

 Liberia should have been preparing for a new capital city since the idea was firstly conceived by the late President William V. S. Tubman, but it was President William R. Tolbert who made public pronouncement with little effort. Other heads of states including Samuel K. Doe and Charles G. Taylor also thought of it.

These leaders talked about moving the nation’s capital to where is being considered as the central point of the country (Gbarnga Bong County) without tangible efforts, similar trend that is being followed since the pronouncement by President Sirleaf.

Liberia’s 20th President, William R. Tolbert, Jr. who was assassinated during the 1980 military coup d’etat, planned to relocate the Liberian capital to Gbarnga, Bong County in central Liberia.

One year after making the pronouncement before the lawmakers at the Capitol Building, President Sirleaf re-echoed similar commitment with resounding punctuations. Considered as national nostalgia, many expected full-blown report on the status of the project, but there was nothing of such.

The Liberian leader, however, whether knowingly or unknowingly, failed to make mention of the project in her 2014 Annual Address. This led many to think that her 2011 pronouncement before the legislature was merely a political fiasco to gain an upper hand in the 2011 October election.

Since then it was at Knuckles’ funeral that the Liberian leader ever made mention of the Zekepa project. It is now vividly clear that with just two years left to complete her second term, President Sirleaf might not be the one to commence the process of relocating the nation’s capital.

Meanwhile, there are reports that since the Liberian leader pronouncement in 2011, some businessmen and women had clandestinely bought large acreage of land in and around Zekepa in an effort to sell to government and other NGOs and companies when the project is about kick-off.

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