Why President Weah Needs to Appoint Emmanuel Johnson to Drive Pro Poor Stimulus in Science, Technology and Engineering

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Emmanuel Johnson, a Fulbright scholar and current National Science Foundation fellow who is a candidate for PHD in computer science with a focus in artificial intelligence at the University of Southern California.

By: F. Momolu Dorley

President George Weah told the Liberian people in his inaugural address on January 22, 2018 that he will assemble the greatest minds to drive his Pro Poor agenda.  What that entails, the public is yet to have a full understanding as the government is yet to scribble down a Pro Poor agenda. But that has not stopped Liberians with their self-deprecating sense of humor turning the Pro Poor in a buzz ‘porn’ slogan with everyone having their own definition.

One of my students at the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) asked me ‘What does Pro Poor mean’? My answer to the curiously brilliant lad was ‘Pro Poor is a government policy aimed at designing poverty alleviation programs that will give citizens the skill sets, training and safety net and subsidies for upward mobility hence holistically transforming the fortune of the nation’.

Beaming with an elegant smile while nodding his head, he quickly peddled another question. So, Mr. Dorley – we have discussed Keynes, Hayek and Marx- which economic theory you think is needed for the Pro Poor agenda to succeed? I told him and the class that Keynesian economic theory is always the go-to theory in time of crisis. I assured the students that I believe we need to institute Keynes economic theory wherein the government can have a subtle intervention into the economy at the same time allowing the profit motive takes its course.

Keynesian economic theory of getting the economy out of the wood has always reigned superior in time of economic slump. During and after the Great Depression and World War II, the American government splashed huge amount of copper on government programs, such as roads, dams, education, science and technology, VA mortgage, and the GI bill.

The American government led stimulus contributed to an unparalleled expansion in virtually every industry, fuelling an unprecedented increase of the country’s middle class whilst catapulting America to an enviable sole Super Power.

In the face of another economic chaos, the Great recession in 2008, America again opted for a Keynesian policy by waging a war on the economy downturn via stimulus programs. The stimulus ensured America recovered from the recession while Europe with its financial purse in Frankfurt opted for austerity. This led to a slow recovery affecting mainly the Mediterranean countries; Greece, Italy and Portugal; countries hardest hit by the 2008 meltdown.

After 12 years of anemic leadership under the former government where the bounty of wealth was unevenly distributed and centered only in the hands of the ruling elites with their foreign partners, impoverishing those already unfortunate to be at the base of the economic pyramid, the people of Liberia turned to George Weah for redemption.

President Weah government has come to power riding high on the popularity of young urban dwellers, many who could spur economic growth if given the right and necessary tools and skill sets. This presents an awesome opportunity and challenge for the government. While many of the challenges stack against this government are the making of the immediate past regime, President Weah was elected overwhelmingly to transform the fortune of Liberians.  The sooner the administration can arrest the runaway inflation, faltering economy, hike in basic commodities and start providing the skill sets to its citizens, opening up manufacturing, plantations, and other novel sectors of the economy that will absorb the army of jobless young people the better these young people will be upbeat and keep trusting in the system. Band aid approach of forcing people on government payroll and dishing out ‘cassava leave chue’ (food) on every Saturday wouldn’t cut it.

This brings us to a brilliant young man, Emmanuel Johnson, a Fulbright scholar and current National Science Foundation fellow who is a candidate for PHD in computer science with a focus in artificial intelligence at the University of Southern California. He holds a masters in Robotics from the University of Birmingham and graduate Suma Cumma laude with a degree in Computer Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. Virtually, every country in the world is now training its people for the future, offering opportunities in Science, Technology and Creative industry.  Emmanuel left the country when he was eight years old and has had the opportunities to train at some of the best institutes in his chosen field.

He has been opportune to work at NASA, Intel and AIST in Japan. He is in the country scouring on how he can be of help by transmitting his knowledge to his compatriots. He wants to partner with the government to set in motion Liberia’s own institute of technology; producing indigenous scientists who in turn will produce technological products suited for Liberia and the world.

This is an opportunity we cannot miss. Places like Las Vegas, Silicon Valley and other thriving tech and creative cities in America and around the world were all once barren until the start of scientific and creative undertakings. These Scientific, technological and creative undertakings have not only made these places to thrive,  but also inspired economy boom and amazing inventions bringing pleasure to millions of people around the world.

Very few Liberians are in this sphere of work. President George Weah needs to take the new Sierra Leonean President’s approach. President Julius Maada Bio just appointed his country’s first chief innovation czar in person of Moinina David Sengbeh.

The Sierra Leone innovation officer, Sengbeh and Liberia’s Emmanuel Johnson are both members of an international organization called Blacks in AI. This organization seeks to increase the number of blacks globally who are working in the space of artificial intelligence. Sengbeh will head the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation which has been newly created by President Bio.  He will be operating within the office of the President avoiding the snail-pace governance structure which retard many great ideas on the continent.  “The directorate will facilitate and support a vibrant national innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem for both public and private sectors,” says a statement from the Bio’s office.

This is a great and ambitious undertaking by our neighbor that should be replicated and thanks we have someone in this field who burning desire is to help Liberia move on par with other countries in Science, Technology and Innovation.  Were President Weah to listen to this request and appoint Emmanuel Johnson, I recommend Robertsport for a technology institute. The city has a great allure with its UNESCO heritage site; Lake Piso, amazing waves and ideally located. We need to seize this movement and join the rest of the world in preparing our people for present and future scientific, technological, engineering and innovative works.

About the Author: 
F. Momolu Dorley is a Desk Officer, European Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liberia. Adjunct Professor, African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU). Press Union of Liberia Best Sport Journalist 2007-2008

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Well said Professor! We do need a technology department/directorate embedded in the President’s office. Computer engineering, electronics engineering , Information Technology , Chemical Engineering, Material Engineering, Process Engineering , Biomedical Engineering as well as specialization in robotics and automation just to mention a few areas in technology which Liberia has to focus on if Liberia is to catch up with many countries in technology . We do need an autonomous agency/directorate protect and shield this directorate from the claws of bureaucracy and corruption,if it is to work effectively.

    In today’s world, it takes just a computer , software, materials , financing and ofcourse the engineering/technical know-how to implement a technological solution/product. A factory/plant doesn’t necessarily need a full-fledged manufacturing plant to produce all the modules for a given system, this could be outsourced by sending the design specs to other companies within the same country if such exist or say from companies in countries like China, Singapore or Philipines that’s already have the specialization and equipment in their plant to produce the required module/unit.

    In recent years, 3D printers have become very affordable and these are very important tools for producing prototypes for products right in your back yard. In line with what Professor Dorley has stated, President Weah should grab this opportunity and make use of it. By the way Professor, I take this article as a letter of recommendation for E. Johnson to President Weah for hire. Thank you! Liberia needs all it’s brains back. I hope the anti “dual citizenship” disciples we have in this country don’t hinder E. Johnson as I assume he is American. Godspeed Emmanuel and thank you again Professor Dorley!

  2. Emmanuel Johnson embodies few skillful Liberians who have re-invented themselves abroad in other fields such as Cyber Security, Computer Science, Public Health, Medicine, Engineering, etc., whose progress are inhibited by their fellow Liberians; perhaps, because of ignorance!

    Returning to Liberia with such advanced knowledge to help our own people is like casting a Pearl before a Swine, or as if being a professional fisherman living in a desert–where there is no water!

    Keeping it simple here, the Western world are far advancing on what was already built in the past. And I think for us to catch up with them, a generation has to die, as in the case of biblical Israel. We despise knowledge profusely, but want to enjoy the quality of life that comes out of sophistication of the application of knowledge. For example, cars, ships, cellphones, airplanes, medical science, skyscrapers and modern bridges were / are not done by some random guys sitting under a bridge chewing on tobacco and talking jargons like our voodoo zoes (chiefs). The United States per se killed all known witches and wizards during the Salem years and moved on to the Age of Rationalization (logic and reason) thereby finding place for models, beliefs and values.

    In the case of Liberia, it’s pen handling, no investments in our Universities to advance Computer Science, Software Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Medical research, or even have a research bureau for Science and technology; NOTHING, to say the least.

    I weep for Liberia!

  3. James Nyan this is a bleak picture you paint of Liberia. I will be in Liberia again after two years out of the country. I came there in 2015 and 2016 to work alongside the Liberian government during its response to Ebola. This time I will be coming with another young Liberian to conduct CPR training – a practical skill that saves lives. During my tenure in Liberia a few years back, I told many of my brothers and sisters who marveled at what I could do that they too had the same potential to be like me. I look at the progress of Liberia as something that will require concerted efforts of brilliant minds like you to contribute in chipping away at the habits that promote stagnation in the country. I suggest reading African Friends and Money Matters that validates your point that West Africans are generous with material things but very selfish when it comes to sharing knowledge. A second text I recommend is the Poverty of Nations that provides case studies of how Nations can move their people from being poor, nepotistic to prosperous and vibrant economies. Liberia was comparable to Singapore in the 1950s and 60s. Somehow we missed implementing policies that catapulted Singapore and other “Asian Tigers.” The progress of neighboring Ghana still gives me hope that Liberia too can grow its people and economy. That’s why we are coming again to Liberia to serve the Lord and help provide a practical skill that will help keep our people alive.

  4. Liberia has a Chief Information Officer, who has no degree in Computing, Information Technology or the likes thereof. He has been through no professional development program as of late. He only sits at the Ministry of posts & Telecommunications with three secretaries who do nothing and know nothing about Science and Technology.
    He was asked by Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to head the growth of ICT in a country that has so many bright minds who are far more competent and qualified that he will ever be. All of the governmental initiatives for ICT have gotten to nowhere because of the kind of people who are told to handle these projects. I am of the opinion that such appointment should be for people with competence, knowledge and experience.
    We are too backward to keep allowing people who can offer nothing to this country to sit in positions of prominence. The office of the Chief Information Officer is by direct appointment of the President of the Republic of Liberia. It’s time to get a qualified person in that position.

  5. Advancement in technology, innovation and the academia are most often propelled by research institutions. For our scholars and scientists to be useful to the Liberian society, the system must establish autonomous/or independent research institutions. To appoint a rare gems and the like of Johnson to a political positions will only result to stagnating their skills. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Kenya who designed MPESA/Mobile Money or their predecessors like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and others were not government appointees. Let us try to separate politics from the academia and innovation.

    • Erratum
      Advancement in technology, innovation and the academia are most often propelled by research institutions. For our scholars and scientists to be useful to the Liberian society, the system must establish autonomous/or independent research institutions. To appoint a rare gems and the like of Johnson to political positions will only result to stagnating their skills. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Kenyan who designed MPESA/Mobile Money or their predecessors like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and others were not government appointees. Let us try to separate politics from the academia and innovation.

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