By J. Yanqui Zaza
In my recent article called “President Weah’s Pro-Poor policy versus World Bank’s”, I listed several policies that the Liberian economic adviser (World Bank) might view differently than the Pro-Poor policy of President Weah’s government.
For this article, I have focused on the Zorzor District’s public high school (i.e., an example of anti-poor policy) that the World Bank, facilitators and supporters usually institute and implement. Yes, I visited my hometown, Fessibu, Zorzor District, Lofa County, after spending many years away from Liberia.
Coincidentally, the visit was after Liberians had elected President George Weah and rejected former Vice-President Joseph Boakai, a son of Foya District, Lofa County. Before I departed from Monrovia to Lofa, many of my relatives and friends had jokingly stated that I was going to have fun and see many changes as war-weary residents strive to rebuild.
Lofa County, was the county hardest hit the during the fourteen-year civil war because four warring factions (NPFL, ULIMO-K, RUF, and LURD) operated within the County, and therefore needed assistance from just about anyone and from anywhere but with no strings attached of course.
Okay, I had a few emotions here and there. But, whatever feelings of nostalgia that had overcome me, during the initial course of the visit, abruptly vanished to give way to feelings of melancholy that sort of suffused my entire being. I guess this was so because of the advancements I saw within neighboring towns such as Fassavolu town in Guinea.
Those advancements stood in stark contrast to the slow and rather sleepy developments within towns of Liberia such as Bokessa, Konia, Ziggida, Fessibu, Zorzor, Salayea, etc. Interestingly, advancement in Guinea does not paint the kind of picture many Liberians have on mind about Guinea.
Failing to analyze true reasons underlying economic developments in both Liberia and Guinea, they often wrongly assume that Liberia is far more advanced than Guinea and, they also mistakenly hold Guineans who migrate to Liberia as part of the reasons why Liberians are encountering harsh economic conditions.
Well, yes, foreigners/aliens in America, Europe, etc. are always perceived as the problem. Putting aside the impact of colonial rule in Guinea, Guinea’s 12 million people versus Liberia’s 4.5 million population or Liberia’s rich endowment with lucrative natural resources, is it realistic for Liberia to advance if the government does not invest in education?
For instance, Zorzor District has a population of 90,080 residing within 42 towns. It also has eighty-five(85) elementary and jr-high schools and only one (1) Public High School, according to the 2008-2011 Lofa County Development Agenda.
The same Report also shows that two other Districts (Foya, the District of the former Vice-President Boakai and Kolahun) have one Public High School each, while another District, Vahun has no public high school. This highly skewed distribution of schools was instituted in the 60s, many years ago before Liberia’s fourteen-year civil war.
This kind of educational policy does not create an environment conducive for many eight-grade graduates to prepare themselves for good-paying jobs. My siblings, for example, left Fessibu and joined me in Monrovia in order to enroll in high school.
Zorzor District eight-graders, who are residents of towns faraway from the City of Zorzor and wish to enroll in high school are forced to move into the City of Zorzor, migrate to Monrovia, Sierra Leone, Ghana or elsewhere.
Why provide so little funding for education, if it is the great equalizer? The late former President of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela stated that education “…is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Does Liberia not need an educated workforce to lure good-paying investors to locate within the country?
Would an educated population not have the means to earn adequate money to purchase goods and services produced by businesses located in Liberia? Unfortunately, big business, especially the slave-wage plantation-type, do not want to give education to the masses. This is because an educated population might reduce its profits, deter the company’s exploitation of workers, minimize the offering of bribes in exchange of fraudulent concessionary agreements, etc.
For instance, the Liberian Firestone Rubber Plantation might face the shortage of unskilled labor if the Liberian government finances an effective educational policy that will have the effect of introducing skilled and better educated workers into the labor market . Also, the oil-palm company in Bomi, Gbarpolu and Cape Mount,Counties might have to recruit unskilled employees from elsewhere if the Liberian government invests in education.
Always in search of and anticipating higher profits, big business will always support candidates who will support its anti-poor policy. History shows that other nations, including our darling and oldest partner and ally, the United States of America, had a similarly skewed public school distribution pattern prior to the 1900s.
For instance, “…public schooling in rural areas did not extend beyond the elementary grades for either whites or blacks. And, after 1900, some cities began to establish high schools primarily for middle-income class people. Blacks living in Southern states generally did not attend school beyond the eighth grade.
This is because big business made profits from slave-plantation-type jobs, similar to rubber tapping, log felling, gold and diamond mining or oil palm planting in today’s Liberia. I did not zero in on the issue of education until a colleague and longtime friend and I found out that the towns had efficient electricity supply systems.
For instance, the commissioner of the Fasavolu Region in Guinea was watching a television in his office, had a fax machine, and desktop computer, a copying machine, all because the Guinean government had invested in government office equipment and a Solar Panel System. The Solar Panel System supplied electricity to the towns’ street lights, clinics, and schools.
Back to Liberia, there was no electricity supply for the streets, Custom, Immigration and Revenue Offices, or within the rural towns of Zorzor District, least to mention the availability of fax machines, computers, televisions, etc. My colleague was surprised to hear from the Liberian officers that they did not even have hand-held Walkie-talkies to easily communicate with each other.
My observation that our Liberian educational system is a “mess” is a re-statement of former President Sirleaf. She stated a few years ago that the Liberian educational system is a “mess.” But I differ with her proposed solution that government’s involvement is the problem, and not limited government funding.
Wait a minute, aren’t private investors (religious or not) dominating the educational sector in Liberia? Even during my high school days, there was one public high school in the capital City of Liberia, (Lab-High, which later morphed into the William V.S. Tubman High School), while there were countless private-high schools.
More so, students from both private and public high schools have and continue to fail University of Liberia entrance exams. The Africanews reported that in 2013, all 25,000 students who wrote the UL exam failed; in 2015, 15 passed out of 17,000, and in 2016 only one student of the 42,000 who wrote the West African regional examinations made an excellent grade.
Zorzor District needs money to build additional high schools and hire additional qualified teachers. Companies, operating in Lofa pay taxes to the government. For instance, a Logging Company, which ships logs from Zorzor District, drives through the streets of the City of Zorzor (I took pictures of the trucks carrying the logs).
Certainly, I did not expect that a President who implements the dictates of big business, to institute any program that might reduce profits of big business such as the Liberian Firestone Rubber Plantation.
The million-dollar question is will our Pro-Poor Policy President, Mr. Gorge Weah institute an educational policy to address our Liberian educational “mess” and thus lift people out of poverty as part of his Pro Poor policy?