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