Profile in Poverty: The Case of River Cess County

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Is River Cess County, the nation’s most neglected county and therefore its least developed?  The county is one of the richest counties in Liberia in natural resources yet one of the poorest in terms of government programs and priorities. First, the county abounds in timber reserves, fish resources, gold and diamond, and now off-shore oil exploration; blocks 9 and 10 are off its coast.  Second, the people are begging their leaders for bowls of rice and dumboy, but to no avail. The land of “many rivers” is naturally rich but still a wasteland.  Why? Well, draw your own conclusions.

The county has four principal rivers (Cestos, Timbo, Po, and Sahnkuen) along with many small rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Cestos City, River Cess County’s capital, a peninsula, has one unpaved road going into the city; the same unpaved road leading out of the city. This is the classic design of most cities in our beloved country. Where is the imagination? Where is the vision? Where is the political will? In this profile, I shall sketch a historical background of the county, address key issues confronting us, and make some suggestions about moving us boldly into the future.  

In 1887, President Hilary Richard Wright Johnson named River Cess (sometimes spelled Rivercess) as a district within Grand Bassa County. The Bassa name for this river is Nei-buen (meaning water rats) due to the many rats found along the river. Next, the Charles D. B. King administration statutorily created it into a district in 1921.   Then, in 1955, the statutory district assumed the status of territory under the administration of President William V. S. Tubman. Finally, President Samuel K. Doe, in a historic decision, made the territory the 12th county of Liberia on April 18, 1985. From 1887 till today, what tangible achievement can this county showcase?

The Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration in consultation with the people developed the County Development Agenda (CDA) focusing on roads, education, and health for the citizens, but a minuscule portion of the agenda has been carried out. In short, it is about the improvements in social sectors and infrastructure —like schools, health care, water, housing and roads. Moreover, we are very grateful to the UN, the EU, and USAID for providing the financial and technical support to the entire process. Perhaps, this whole exercise was just for international consumption and not for the people.  Promises were made but not kept.  

“The promises which count, we must remember, are those which are implemented, which are kept. It is only promises which are kept, which matter,” remarked Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in September 2014. Simply put, back up words with deeds.  So, will “the merchants of promises” keep their promises to the people? Where do we go from here with the County Development Agenda?  Priorities common to all eight districts in River Cess—Zarflahn, Fehn, Morwein, Sangbalor, Bear Wor, Central River Cess, Dodain, and Jo-River are roads, health facilities and educational facilities as reported in the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). Of course, it is presumptuous of me to add agriculture to the list of priorities by the people, but we River Cessans must grow crops like pepper, bitter-ball, collar green, cassava, and others instead of relying on others to produce them for us. Our soil is rich to undertake this venture. We can do it! We can do better!

The County Development Agenda states, “…actions must be visible to the public to ensure they are taken in the interest of all citizens and not simply for the sake of any personal or group advancement. This mismanagement of the past in which a small elite gained economic advantage over the majority, was a key factor in the conflict.” Heaven forbid if mismanagement should still be present after our fratricidal conflict!

What does the Great Book say about our present condition? It states that nothing tangible can be accomplished without a vision or goal; therefore, we need to elect servant leaders who do not take bribes and pervert justice. They should rally us toward a better future in agriculture, roads, education, and health care, for we are living in the 21st Century and not the 19th Century. Specifically, we shall discuss briefly the four priorities and their benefits that will surely improve this heritage of ours. The programs are as follows:

  1.  Agriculture— This sector is extremely important in the overall development process because we must eat to survive.  Ninety percent of households cultivate rice, and seventy percent grow cassava plus other crops that include maize, yam, okra, sugarcane, cocoa, coffee, and the like. This sector has a lot of potential but is performing below expectation due to the lack of investment and transportation infrastructure. Train young people in this sector so that they can grow enterprises and create enabling environments on an individual and collective basis.
  2.  Roads—they are impassable during the rainy season that goes from May to October. The rainy season wreaks havoc on the people, for they can be delayed for days along the Sinoe-River Cess highway. If this lack of decent roads in the county is not an indictment of the government approach to rural development, then I do not know what is.
  3.  Education—Again and again, groups of students from Nei-gba and other nearby villages begin their nerve-racking one mile trip to school in make-shift canoes across the Cestos River in town. Schools are in poor condition; Cestos High School is currently in a dilapidated state.  It lacks access to adequate instructional resources.  “Keep hope alive” by providing quality education.
  4. Health Care— This sector is broken; it is under-staffed and under-resourced. In the clinics there is a lack of basic medical supplies.  We should improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases and other physical and mental impairments in our people.

O Cestos, my Cestos, a land of untapped potential continues to cry out for help. For how long will we continue to bury our heads in the sand while others take advantage of us? Mining and fisheries remain under develop, but foreigners enjoy free rein, decimating our resources from right under our noses. This is a bitter pill to swallow. Chinese and other nationals are engaged in illicit gold and diamond mining activities in the county, the FrontPage Africa newspaper reported in March 2014. This can only happen in Liberia! Who is in charge? Are we going to stop this thievish act? Maybe, a few people are accepting bribes to make them shut their eyes. 

Third, can we say large pelagic fish, and small pelagic fish, shrimps, and lobsters?  Why don’t we have a program in place for domestic, regional, and international trade in these resources?  Trust the people; allow them to use their intellectual and creativity capabilities to sort out our myriad of problems. Let us fight to remain in charge of our own fate.

We are living under a State of Emergency because of the Ebola outbreak; communities are being quarantined; roads are closed; food prices are on the rise, curfew is in effect, but our milieu appears to be business as usual for some, and others bear the brunt of these vexing issues. Local county authorities and the legislative caucus are pointing accusatory fingers concerning the spending of US $1, 118, 853.01 (one million, one hundred eighteen thousand, eight hundred fifty-three dollars and one cent) from the Social and County Development Funds, covering the period July 1 to June 30, 2013. The General Auditing Commission is in the dark about this spending spree. How was the money spent?  When was it spent?  

For how long will the quadruple threats of corruption, unemployment, poverty, and inequality persist? Selfishness, petit ego, and self-deception sweep across the county like an irresistible flood. It is necessary that our leaders be good financial stewards, bearing in mind the good of the entire county. Stop using the Development Funds as “personal accounts.” Stop accepting bribes to make you shut your eyes. Stop hiding behind the mask of apathy and indifference.  Pay attention to the following: Put God first; people second and programs third.  Finally, take off the mask, and deliver on the promises.

Description: poets say these things better than we do. Let me conclude with the last stanza of We Wear the Mask! by the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

            We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

            To thee from tortured souls arise.

            We sing, but oh the clay is vile      

            Beneath our feet, and long the mile,

            But let the world dream otherwise,

            We wear the mask!

Arthur G. Tarr, this author, has co-written Bonjour L’AfriqueAn Invitation to French (IA Books, 2014) a French textbook for Liberian schools. He is Chair of the Language department of William V. S. Tubman University, Harper City, Maryland County. The Author, a bilingual educator, holds degrees from Liberia, France, and the United States. For more BIO info, visit and


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