Agriculture Minister Zinnah’s New Challenge and Opportunity

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A simple thing as friendship can mean so much! Or can it?

We recall the great friendship that subsisted in the 1960s between President W.V.S. Tubman and La Cote d’Ivoire President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. It was, unfortunately, a great opportunity LOST!

President Houphouet was a serious, sober leader, with a passion for development—not only agricultural, but touristic, too. Before he died Ivory Coast had become Africa’s leading cocoa and coffee producer!

Remember, too, that President Houphouet attended Tubman’s fourth inauguration in January 1964, when the Ducor Palace Hotel, West Africa’s first five-star hotel, was opened.

So impressed was President Houphouet with the Ducor that he requested his brother, President Tubman, to ask the man who had built the hotel kindly to come and build the identical structure in Abidjan. Tubman introduced the Israeli tourism developer Moshe Meyer to President Houphouet, who immediately invited him to Abidjan to build the identical hotel there. Houphouet-Boigny pledged his fullest support, and that of his government. Moshe agreed, but not before first realizing his dream of developing tourism in Liberia, as a launching pad for tourism in West Africa. Remember

Liberia’s immense touristic assets: rich African culture; 350-mile Atlantic coastline full of beautiful beaches; vast, untouched rainforests with millions of wild animals, including elephants, leopards, lions and pygmy hippopotami. Moshe Meyer’s dream: to develop many mini-Ducors in Harper, Cape Palmas, Tubman’s own hometown, Buchanan, Grand Bassa, and Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount, among others, in a visionary bid to launch Liberian tourism. Remember, too, that Pan American World Airways (PANAM), then the world’s leading passenger carrier, landed first at
Robertsfield from New York, before touching any other African capital—Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg!

Alas! Because of Liberians’ endemic SELFISHNESS and corruption, this was not to be! What happened?

In 1972 Liberia’s new President, Willian R. Tolbert, Jr. introduced tourism as a national priority. So his Information, Culture and Tourism Minister, G. Henry Andrews, invited world tourism developers to present tourism proposals. Moshe Meyer also came. At a meeting at Information in May, 1972, Minister Andrews asked Mr. Meyer why he had left Liberia to do such a fantastic tourism development job in Abidjan. By that time, you must know, Hotel Ivoire had already been built, the Ivoire Towers were being erected, and the Ivorian Riviera, too!

Moshe Meyer told the shocked Henry Andrews how the original intention was first to develop tourism in Liberia, before moving on to La Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere. BUT—and this is indeed a very BIG BUTT – every Liberian Moshe approached wanted money “up front” before discussions could begin!

“We did not have that kind of money, so we concluded that the Liberians were not serious. We proceeded to Abidjan, where we found President Houphouet and his Ministers totally committed to tourism development. So we started and did what you see there today.”

It has been exactly 53 years—over a half century—since 1964 when President Houphouet met Moshe Meyer at the Ducor Hotel, and we still have not developed tourism in Liberia!

Moreover, President Tubman, yea Liberia, never learned anything from President Houphouet’s great agricultural example. So today, not only is that country the world’s leading producer of coffee and cocoa; it is also self-sufficient in food, including rice. Liberia, on the other hand, is still importing tomatoes and other vegetables from Ivory Coast.

Two questions to Liberia’s young people today: Was the Tubman-Houphouet-Boigny friendship an opportunity lost? What friendships are you cultivating today that could prove mutually beneficial tomorrow?

Now to the main point of this Editorial: Last Thursday the new President of the African Development Bank (ADB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, told President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during a state dinner she tendered in his honor that ADB was determined to help develop Liberian agriculture.

He further said he had a personal relationship with Liberia’s Agriculture Minister Moses Zinnah. Adesina was Zinnah’s Ph.D advisor some years ago. “He was a good student and I am sure he will do well in lifting Liberian agriculture,” Dr. Adesina assured the President.

What a wonderful opportunity this new historic friendship brings! The only other encouragement Zinnah needs is that of his own government, particularly the Finance Ministry—to provide the minimum 10% budgetary allotment the 2003 Maputo Declaration on African Food Security demands of each African country for agriculture. To date, Liberia’s allocation for this life-saving sector is only 2%. Five percent comes from external sources, through loans from the ADB and the World Bank. Poor Liberia and our increasing debt burden and our failure to prioritize agriculture to feed ourselves and reduce our precariously perennial balance of payment deficits, which could be eliminated if only were to prioritize agriculture!

Will Agriculture Minister Zinnah seize the opportunity of his personal relationship with the ADB President? Or will Zinnah miss it as Tubman did with Houphouet-Boigny’s?

We pray that Zinnah will NOT, but will SEIZE this historic opportunity and make a BIG difference in this vital sector—AGRICULTURE.

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