National debates must be characterized by patriotism, sincerity and substance. We must hold our leaders accountable by what they say they will do for the people. We must never run away from speaking the truth even if it hurts. The debate surrounding Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant is becoming increasingly interesting and I thought to weigh in from where I sit. This is just an initial analysis, but I shall endeavor to publish a full column of my thoughts in due course.
Liberia is a functionally illiterate society besieged by mediocrity, self-pity, neglect and penury. Every small development in Liberia appears like a discovery of a diamond mine or a deposit of gold, even if it is overdue. This is what happens when a group of hopeless and choiceless people have been smuggled into the wilderness of uncertainty and degradation as a result of bad governance and leadership-deficit. This is what happens when basic social services (electricity, housing, health, safe drinking water, quality education, etc.) are yet too far as a result of greed and corruption. This is what happens when a nation is rich, but poor in terms of development.
A few days ago, the “big light” 22 megawatts hydropower was switched on after 11 years. Is this project worth commendation? Yes, it does. Before premising my thoughts, I would like to commend President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and our partners, especially the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the European Investment Bank, the German and Norwegian Governments for such a laudable initiative. At least a portion of Monrovia will have access to hydropower after more than a decade. This 22 megawatts hydropower plant appears to be the biggest achievement of Madam President since 2006. Wowwww!!!
After almost 12 years, just 18 communities in Monrovia will benefit from this 22 megawatts hydropower. A Junior Minister of the government called me and said “Martin, are you aware that the hydro is finally on? Doesn’t this call for a national celebration?” I said, “No, it doesn’t, but such project is laudable.” Another official of government said “A promise finally fulfilled and this ends the debate of the opposition.” As I browsed through series of reactions since the 22mgw hydropower was dedicated, I thought to deal with the razzmatazz and euphoria of the Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant in Harrisburg, Montserrado County.
For the sake of our readership, let me succinctly define both razzmatazz and euphoria:
1. Razzmatazz is a noisy and noticeable activity, intended to attract attention.
2. Euphoria is a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.
The atmosphere in Monrovia has been clouded with wild excitement by a lot of pro-regime protégés and apprentices of falsehood. Such euphoria being amplified is nothing but a gimmick, only meant to pacify our already poverty-stricken population. In pretense, some of them are even attempting to convince us that the 22 megawatts hydropower is the remedy to the socioeconomic misery of the Liberian people.
So, they expect us to jubilate all day long with our hands up in prolonged applause even though most Liberian businesses are currently at risk due to the hike in taxes. The day Monrovia will reach up to Dakar, Accra, Abidjan, Johannesburg, Cairo, Kigali and Harare as a result of hydropower distribution, then it means that we will have to declare a national holiday. How I hope 25 percent of our population could briefly travel to Johannesburg or Kigali and return home. President John Magufuli of Tanzania has built 1,423 industries so far after spending just one
(1) year in power. Why aren’t Tanzanians celebrating all day or all year long?
Because they know that it is the responsibility of the government to promote public welfare. In Liberia, promoting public welfare through basic social services is perceived as a form of favor from the government to the people. This is what they (public officials) have made our people to believe. As a result, when little progress is made, they expect us to keep clapping and celebrating all year long.
No, no, no, we cannot razzmatazz when there is one (1) good to ninety-nine (99) bad. We cannot overly celebrate when the demerits are more than the merits after almost 12 years. We cannot leap into the state of prolonged euphoria just for a 22 megawatts hydropower that cannot even produce electricity for the entire Monrovia. What happens to those living in the other 14 counties? The 22 megawatts hydropower commissioned and dedicated by President Sirleaf is not a promise fulfilled. The fact is that this government has received so much and has done so little. The achievements of this government are far less than its non-achievements.
In 2005, before her ascendancy to the presidency, Madam Aspirant Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf promised to electrify Monrovia and its environs in six months; unfortunately after 11 years, this promise is yet to be fulfilled. It was on the basis of this promise that President Sirleaf’s candidature received an overwhelming support in 2005.
All we now see after 132 months in power is a 22 megawatts hydropower plant. Isn’t this a promise betrayed? Of course, it is a promise betrayed because Monrovia is still rated as one of the darkest capital cities in the world after 11 years. In fact, during Liberia’s 169th Independence Day celebration in July 2006, President Sirleaf promised “Big Light” before leaving office.
With less than 13 months to the end of her regime, is the 22 megawatts hydropower the “Big Light” President Sirleaf promised? Is this the big light that can only provide hydroelectric power for only 18 communities in Monrovia? I thought they told us that the“Big Light” would have electrified our entire country. What is even puzzling is that Liberia is spending US$357 million to rehabilitate a hydropower plant of 88 megawatts in 11 years while neighboring Guinea spent US$526 million to construct a hydropower plant of 240 megawatts in less than 4 years.
Liberia’s hydroelectric rehabilitation project is too costly both in currency and time with less unit of power. In the case of Guinea, the hydro was constructed (and not rehabilitated) with lesser amount (US$526 million) as compared to Liberia with more unit of power (240 megawatts) in a limited period (less than 4 years). With all these glaring realities, they expect us to razzmatazz and jubilate all year long. No, we cannot!! All we can do is to appreciate the government and its partners for a step forward.
Furthermore, in a bid to be reelected in 2011, Africa’s first female President signed an official contract with all Liberians through a solemn pledge consisting of twenty (20) promises. These were Madam Sirleaf’s exact words to all Liberians during the campaign period in 2011.
“Our Pledge to you fellow countrymen is that if you entrust us with another 6 years, we will do the following:
1. Create no fewer than 20,000 jobs (short and long term) every year for the next 6 years.
2. Ensure that Mount Coffee Hydro Plant is fully rehabilitated and made functional (100 percent).
3. Roberts International Airport is modernized and brought to International standards.
4. Connect all county capitals with paved roads.
5. Ensure that Liberian businesses have increased access to finance.
6. Ensure that each county has a technical and vocational training center.
7. Increase the salary of teachers and health workers, especially those working in rural areas.
8. Provide more support to farmers to increase local capacity, especially those working in rural areas.
9. Invest in activities that enhance true reconciliation.
10. Continue to ensure that our people are safe.
11. Ensure double digit growth rate to address poverty.
12. Ensure that nationals have equity in relevant national assets
13. Expand banking services to all counties.
14. Continue the fight against corruption with emphasis on punishment.
15. Complete plans for new capital at Zekepa.
16. Build bridges to connect counties.
17. Ensure all government agencies are in public buildings.
18. Continue to expand neighborhoods and farm to market roads.
19. Complete community colleges in all counties.
20. Construct 3 regional sport academies.
Even the second promise is yet to be fulfilled after a second term. Just 25 percent (22 megawatts out of 88 megawatts) of Mount Coffee Hydro Project has been completed. Must we Razzmatazz even though none of these promises is yet to be fulfilled in full or 100 percent? Have we connected all county capitals with paved roads? Have we created the 100,000 jobs since 2012? Where are the plans for our new capital at Zekepa? Where are the 3 regional sports academies? Have we completed community colleges in all counties? Are all government agencies in public buildings? Are banking services available in all counties? Where is the technical and vocational center in each county?
It is unfortunate that our leaders want the entire world to believe that our thirst for genuine change in Liberia has been quenched as a result of the dedication of the 22 megawatts hydropower project. No, no, no…that’s not true. If Liberia must make genuine progress, we must not shy away from the hardcore facts. We must be willing to add value to our discourse by demonstrating sincerity and patriotism. Even if we are aligned with the power that be, the truth must be said. If we decide to euphorically razzmatazz about every small progress after a prolonged period, we harm our nation further by energizing complacency and undermining the snail-paced development of our country.
Amid of all of these, I still remain hopeful that we can rise above this level beyond 2017. It is possible to even electrify the entire country (Liberia) in less than 4 years after 2017 elections if political will is demonstrated at all levels. An all-inclusive CHANGE is possible in Liberia through patriotism, transparency and accountability. From the largest slum of West Point and the top of Ducor, I see a new Liberia rising above the African continent.
About the Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, a student leader, an emerging economist and a young writer. He currently studies Economics with distinction the University of Liberia and is a loyal stalwart of the Student Unification Party (SUP). He can be reached at [email protected]