By: Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh (TST)
Liberia may be famous for its barbaric 14-year civil war, but it’s also known, with the exception of Ethiopia, as the oldest and the first independent nation on the continent of Africa. The latter usually comes with high expectations for first time visitors and tourists to Liberia. Those expectations are immediately dashed upon seeing the underdeveloped state of the Roberts International Airport (RIA) road while en-route to the city. In developed countries and most developing countries, the double lanes plus beautiful visual scenery you notice along the road from the airport to the city gives you an indication of a country’s developmental status and the quality of life of its citizens. That simply means the condition of any road leading to and from the international airport speaks volumes about the country and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, Liberia’s only international airport road has been neglected and does not meet international standards. This is bad for our image, and a humiliation.
The approximately 28-mile road runs through electoral district one and two in Margibi County, and district six in Montserrado County. The outdated or primitive condition of this stretch of road is unacceptable considering its significance to international trade and the image of our country. International airport roads are usually the doorways to the country that greet and proffer goodbye to guests. It produces first consciousness on what to look forward to in a country. If that is the case, what then can one say about the appalling state of the RIA road in our national discourse? I think it’s time to speak out and demand the immediate intervention of our policymakers. We cannot continue to murmur in silence while this very important piece of infrastructure continues to dishonor us both at home and abroad. While the long awaited renovation of the airport has just began, I hope the government will also soon prioritize the reconstruction of the nation’s only international airport road to meet international elementary expectations; and to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians that ply the road day after day.
For all visitors travelling to Liberia, it is a must that they pass through this road to their various destinations. It is a strategic road that deserves special attention and investment, because it is the gateway to our country and new comers’ first exposure to Liberia – as it is widely believed that first impression is lasting impression. The impression foreign visitors or would be investors create upon entering the country and traveling along the RIA road en-route to the city stays with them throughout their trip in Liberia. These first images of Liberia usually affect the quality of decisions or inferences they make while in Liberia and the perceptions they take with them when they leave.
There is an urgent need to expand, improve, and electrify this corridor for the sake of national pride and public safety. It is our national symbol and must be prioritized as such. Don’t tell me RIA road cannot be improved to international standard or there is no money to do so! The current disgraceful and unsafe condition of the road is a consequence of our failure to prioritize this vital and worthwhile national project and many more, especially when millions of development dollars and good will were pouring in after the civil war from our international development partners (European Union, United States, China, World Bank, Japan, and the United Nations). The issue has never been lack of money or funding; it has always been negligence and misguided prioritization of our development projects. This is a shame that we cannot continue to tolerate by remaining silent.
In addition to the reprehensible condition of the road, it is also dangerous to drive on, as it is a narrow than usual one-lane road, especially at night. It is without street lights and a distinct sidewalk. Just imagine driving on such a road at night that witnesses fleets of disabled vehicles/trucks parked in the middle of the road, or excessively speeding motorists constantly plying on it with high-beam lights; and in some cases, no taillights or lights at all. If that is not a deathtrap for pedestrians, especially for our kids, helpless citizens, visitors, and returning Liberians eager to be reunited with their families, please tell me what is it? By the way, the RIA corridor is fast emerging as the new business and leisure attraction since Monrovia continues to expand toward the airport and the city of Marshall due to its perfect beaches and new development opportunities. People are relocating in communities along this route daily including returning Diaspora Liberians, and the population is increasing dramatically. Although long overdue, there can never be a better time to prioritize this corridor among our competing national development priorities than now, because as new emerging communities, it will allow us to set standards that will facilitate compliance with and enforcement of zoning and traffic laws before the communities are fully inhabited.
In fact, the road is a literal trap for accident related deaths almost daily. Unfortunately, most of the people being killed or injured are vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians from nearby towns; notable among the recent publicized accident related deaths are the deaths of a 6-year old boy hit by a taxi driver in the Disco Hill Community, two children killed in the King Gray community that were hit by one of the vehicles in the President’s convoy en-route from the airport, a girl in the Scheflin Community that was crushed by an unknown motorist, a prominent Duazon female community leader hit by a distracted motorist, two brothers decimated in the Towel Hill Community, among others. Another unfortunate publicized accident was the death of Cyril Allen Jr. from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. His life was cut short when he ran into a parked truck in the middle of the road at the RLJ Hotel and Resorts junction. As we are approaching the rainy season, the road accident related deaths will spike up if critical safety improvement interventions are not made to ensure families living in communities along the road are able to embark on their daily activities without fear of their loved ones being killed or injured by motorists.
In addition to it being Liberia’s only international airport road, it is also the only passageway to Grand Bassa and Rivercess Counties, including a choice road to the Southeastern counties. And with that comes an influx of vehicles and a looming national traffic debacle far worse than it is now. Yes, we can expand, improve, electrify, and beautify this corridor for our own socioeconomic benefits. Let’s see this scary and undesirable tomorrow before it gets here, for crying out loud! The police are doing their best to ensure public safety on the RIA road, but they can only do so much with limited logistics in terms of manpower, patrol vehicles and motorcycles, law enforcement accessories, and adequate traffic infrastructure like street lights, traffic signs, pedestrians’ sidewalk, reflectors, and appropriate shoulders for loading and offloading passengers, and areas for broken down vehicles. We have to prioritize this road and empower our police by giving them all they need to save the lives of our people who are dying regularly. These are all preventable deaths and the interventions I am recommending are not impossible to accomplish. The fact is that road has never been a priority for successive Liberian governments. This has to change, because the expansion and electrification of the road is basic to our nation’s value. The road needs to be widened with adequate traffic signs and street lights along the road with good visual scenery and well maintained vegetation to improve the image of our country, and to give motorists important safety and operational information in time for them to adhere to vehicle and traffic laws of Liberia.
Our national policymakers must resist the temptation to use the budgetary process as an exercise of self-interest and wasteful spending. Instead, they are obliged to allocate adequate funding in the national budget to extend the electric grid to the RIA road and the airport, and to begin the immediate expansion of, and along this all important road. These I know we can do without external assistance. There are also things we as a nation must do before we raise our hands to others for help. First, we must show by actions that we truly care about our country and its people. And second, that we are capable of managing and investing our limited resources to highlight urgent national priorities. Then we can leverage existing partnerships with the international community to solicit their help. I believe if we do our part before engagement, they will help, because they too have a stake in Liberia’s stability and development, as many of their citizens that visit and do businesses in Liberia will appreciate their assistance to Liberia. However, our age-old attitude to only beg for outside support is a waste of time and shameless when we continually demonstrate total lack of focus, patriotism, efficiency, accountability, and responsibility to issues that create public value and promote international peace and security. We have to act now and imitate best practices in other countries to make us proud to be Liberians once again. This, I must conclude, is the beginning and part, of a wide ranging agenda to rescue Liberia.
A word to the wise is usually quite sufficient! Thank you and May God bless Liberia and guide us to do what is right for our country and people.