Enough with the Agricultural PhDs already, Madam President

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Higher education is important and, as the adage goes, “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” In all sectors of society, the world needs people who are eager to pursue the deepest limits of knowledge on any given subject, and then apply that knowledge to better their communities and the world. But it is equally dangerous to consider formalized education as the only legitimate approach to learning. In Liberia, where such a rigid perspective on education holds sway, we are indeed in danger.

A Master’s degree, we say, better qualifies a candidate for any given position than a Bachelor’s degree; and we hold PhDs in the highest esteem. Now, granted, academic achievement is a challenge all its own, and those who pursue it are highly deserving of our respect. But too often, we prejudge people based on their list of academic achievements, honor societies, and scholarly publications: because John Brown graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Juris Doctorate from Yale, he is therefore qualified to be Minister of Justice. This is, however, a dangerous fallacy that causes us to miss out on the stellar abilities of those who had some good solid schooling, but who really learned leadership, business, project management, and a host of other skills, just by enrolling in the school of hard knocks and rolling with the punches.

As a result, we hire (or appoint) candidates based on their impressive degrees, only to find out how lazy, money-hungry, visionless, elitist or out of touch some (not all) of them can be. In the developed world, perhaps this can fly; but in a development setting where all hands are needed on deck to transform and ailing economy and lift a suffering people, we need more robust, relentless, pragmatic people that speak raw English but get the job done. In fact, sometimes the worse their English is, the more likely they are to get Liberian people to understand and follow them (you know how we are).

Our readers may recall an earlier editorial, which briefly recounted the history of Liberia’s great legal minds – men who became our attorney generals, judges and Supreme Court justices. Up until about the 1950s, not one of Liberia’s legal practitioners ever darkened the door of a law school. The men that built the legal system that undergirds our national progress today, all learned their trade by apprenticeship – practical, hands-on training from their fathers. The same goes for many other trades and professions. None of the great statesmen that graced the corridors of power in Liberia ever attended Harvard Kennedy School. And yet, they shaped a continent around them, with the messages of independence, statehood, and African Unity. In fact, our statesmen shaped the world, because the concept of regional integration, now practiced by the European Union, originated right here on this sweet African soil – without paid consultation from Kennedy School Professors.

In certain sectors of our economy, a down-to-earth, hands-on approach is critical to progress. This is especially true in the agriculture sector, which is currently a patch of barren soil. While it is possible for a PhD to be hands-on, those fitting this characteristic are a rare breed that does not include our last few Agriculture Ministers.

No, the last thing we need is for the next Minister of Agriculture to be another PhD who will just stir the same stones into the dirt. We need someone practical, rude and loud. Someone who can shake systems into their right orbit, shift people’s mindsets into progressive mode, and shake them into action. And cuss their Ma if they don’t move.

Our candidate: Mary T. Broh.

Come on! Are we the only ones that miss her? Following her run-ins with the Legislature she has, in our view, been sentenced to the development wilderness that is GSA, to code Government cars and make sure the President gets her red carpet when she needs it. What a shame that she was not allowed to finish her good work in the cities of Monrovia and Paynesville. We do, however, commend the new Mayor for maintaining the standard of high quality city management – albeit with far too much poise.

But if Ma Ellen will make any headway in agriculture during this administration, she had better unleash the dragon; and quick.

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