Citizens of Gbehyi Clan in Nimba County Electoral District # 8 are angry that they have not benefitted from any road building equipment purchased with money from the county’s social development fund since 1989.
Authorities of Nimba including the county’s Legislative Caucus used US$4.8 million out of their Social Development Fund to purchase two sets of yellow machines to open and grade feeder roads in the county. Each set of equipment includes a dozer, motor grader, crawler, excavator, wheel loader and vibratory compactor.
The Social Development Fund comes to the county through the Liberian government from ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, operating in the Nimba mountains.
The Mineral Development Agreement between the Liberian government and Mittal calls for a US$1.5 million allocation every year to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for Nimba. A County Sitting Council then decides how the money should be spent.
People here say the yellow machines are so far the most obvious benefit that could impact the majority of citizens of the county through road construction and maintenance.
Some Gbehyi citizens believe that they are marginalized in the use of the machines, something that prompted their anger during the voter registration exercise in February causing them to cross over to Electoral District #7 to register. Their action signifies that they will vote for a lawmaker who they say is their son and brother. They claim that the incumbent Representative, Larry P. Youngquoi, has failed to advocate for the machines for their clan to fix deplorable roads that prevent vehicles from reaching their district.
But Rep. Youngquoi maintains that he is working in the interest of the people, adding that the yellow machines are controlled by the county’s Project Management Committee, and not his office.
“It is true that most of us, especially the youth, are crossing to District #7 to register to vote for a candidate of our choice,” said Asher Fiaway, the youth leader of the clan.
“We are doing this because the representative we expected to advocate for our roads to be fixed failed.”
According to the citizens, they cannot easily reach markets in Saclepea or Ganta with their goods or get medical treatment as a result of the bad roads. Furthermore they say they carry heavy bags of rubber and palm oil on their heads and walk on foot to nearby towns before boarding a vehicle to take their produce to the market.
“No vehicle comes to our town because of the bad road, and before transacting any business in Saclepea or Ganta, we have to walk for hours,” said Orando Yeeleh, a teacher and owner of a rubber farm.
To cross to District #7 to vote is a critical decision for the people of Gbehyi. They will be voting for a candidate who by law will not have oversight or an advocacy role in their district. Moreover, any candidate that wins in District #8 will downplay Gbehyi in his/her development agenda in reprisal for not receiving support from them.
Gbehyi citizens contend that some neighboring districts and communities now have roads that have been leveled by the yellow machines while they must cut the thick bush to clear the bumpy roads to allow motorcycles to ply to their communities.
People in the local communities must also repair bridges made of logs and thick aluminum pipes that break under the pressure of motorbikes, the only mode of transportation the roads will allow.
Gbehyi residents generate their income primarily from farming and selling rubber and palm oil. When rubber prices reached a peak four years back, some claimed they earned US$1,000 per ton. Prices have now dropped between $400 and $600, and farmers must carry their rubber for miles to the road.
“Because vehicles do not reach us here, we take the pieces of rubber in bags on our heads to Tengbenyee across the Yarr River where we get transportation to take us to Saclepea,” said Duo Saye, a local farmer. “There, we sell the rubber to Firestone, the sole purchaser.”
Gbehyi has only one local clinic in Duiyii providing primary healthcare to residents there. However, local citizens say the road condition makes it difficult for vehicles to reach the clinic with basic supplies. In order for residents of Gborwin, Duanpa and Nyeayee towns in the clan to get to Duiyii for treatment, they either walk or take motorcycles, which can be costly.
Duiyii Clinic is only equipped to treat basic diseases such as malaria and minor cuts and wounds. Those with major injuries, C-sections, and other surgeries have to seek medical care at the Saclepea Comprehensive Health Center, which is about 150 kilometers away.
Gbehyi residents must cross the Yarr River by canoe to reach the clinic or market, which is dangerous particularly during the rainy season when the river swells.
According to local residents, two motorcyclists drowned in this river while crossing with their motorbikes in a canoe in 2015.
Residents complained that the yellow machines have been used in neighboring Zahn and Leesonon clans. They say these reconditioned roads are clear and accessible, and streams and creeks there have culverts.
“See the road from Saclepea to the Yarr River in Gbehyi. The machine has reconditioned the roads from Lao to Zahn and from Karnwii to Guan, and it stopped right by us,” said Gwendolyn Daniels, a citizen from Gbehyi living in Saclepea.
Commenting on why those clans received the machines first, Project Management Committee (PMC) Chairman, Peterson Walker said the clans and towns are geographically situated ahead of Gbehyi, and the machines have to pass through those clans to reach Gbehyi.
“There is no way the machines can get to Gbehyi without clearing roads leading to those clans, and because we want every clan and district to feel the impact of the machines, we schedule in such a way that they will rotate periodically,” Walker said.
Gbehyi is at the western end of Saclepea District. The Yarr River splits the clan into two, leaving five towns on one side and four on the other side. The most affected are the four which are Nyeayee, Duiyii, Duanpa, and Gborwin, where over 50,000 people are believed to be living.
Roads connect the four towns from Lao, Zahn, and Whii Clans in separate directions. Roads leading to Zahn and Lao connect Gbehyi to Ganta, while Whii road connects it to Saclepea, one of the commercial towns in the county.
The roads leading to Duiyii, Duanpa, Gborwin, and Nyeayee towns in Gbehyi Clan were opened in 1978 under the leadership of Saclepea District’s late Paramount Chief, Jimmy Dahn. The last time road building equipment was ever used there was in 1989 when a logging company was operating in the area, they said.
“Since 1989 we community members have been brushing the roads and no yellow machine has ever visited here,” Robert Gborlay, a resident of the clan complained.
Responding to the claim, Rep. Younquoi said lawmakers do not operate the machines, only the Project Management Committee.
He expressed regret for the delay and said the machines have not gone to that part of the district because of lack of money to purchase fuel.
Adding to Younquoi’s comment, PMC Chairman Peterson Walker also said, “We have a schedule and work plan for the machines to visit every district in the county. It has operated in Sanniquellie, Saclepea, and Yarwin Mensonon and just returned from Gbehlay-Geh and Zoe-Geh districts. We are returning to Saclepea, Sanniquellie, and Ganta to open the streets in those cities and afterward we will be returning to the rural areas under which Gbehyi is captured.”
He added that the machines usually work during the dry season, and now that they are opening streets in Ganta, Saclepea, and Sanniquellie, they expect to begin in the rural communities during the next dry season, when Gbehyi will benefit.
“I believe the county administration and legislative caucus will allot some money for our road project from the US$700,000 allotted to Nimba in the National Budget. This amount coupled with the US$300,000 given the county a few months ago will help us address the issues Gbehyi people are raising,” Walker added.
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives and the Thomson Reuters Foundation with funding from Australian Aid. The funder had no say in the story’s content.