There are at least three problems with today’s Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT). First, it seems to be staffed by people who have no experience in information, culture or tourism.
The Minister, Mr. Lewis Brown, is an eloquent speaker, but both he and his Deputy for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson, are principally politicians; he of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP). Mr. Isaac Jackson is a former key member of Charles Brumskine’s Liberty Party. Another is Deputy Minister Robert Kpadeh, publisher of the defunct newspaper, The Parrot.
The only authentic media person on the team was Madam Elizabeth Hoff, former editor of The News newspaper, who became the first woman President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). But she has now been sidelined to Culture and Tourism and has no participation in the Ministry’s media meetings.
In attempting to enforce the draconian media laws promulgated in the 1980s in decrees by the military dictatorship of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), these new Information bosses clearly have no idea of what they are doing.
They have, for example, totally forgotten that the leader they serve, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, three years ago received tremendous accolades both nationally and internationally when she became only the second African Head of State to sign the Table Mountain Declaration.
This Declaration urges all African governments to commit themselves to repealing severe anti-press laws. One such law the new Information bosses are trying desperately to enforce is the licensing of all journalists, media houses and printing presses by MICAT. This will give government the authority to deny licenses to any journalist, media house or printing press it dislikes. That is how, remember? the Revelation Magazine, critical of President W.R. Tolbert’s government, was in 1975 denied a business registration license by Commerce and Industry Minister William E. Dennis, Jr.
So the current Information bosses seem totally unaware of how seriously they are undermining the local and international reputation of President Sirleaf. Then again, the President’s latest request to the National Legislature requesting power to curtail the freedom of speech, among several fundamental rights of the citizenry, suggests that she and her government are more coordinated than ever in these recent hostile actions toward the media.
That is the first problem.
The second problem at MICAT is its failure to rebuild the National Cultural Center (NCC). Launched in 1961 by President W.V.S. Tubman and his Secretary of the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs, E. Reginald Townsend, the NCC was the custodian of Liberian culture. All of the 16 major tribes had their own villages within in the Center, where each practiced, developed, refined and displayed their rich traditional culture. From there, they displayed it to the rest of the world, at Arts and Cultural Festivals in Algeria, Dakar and Lagos as well as in Asia, Europe and the United States, winning many accolades.
The GOL has decided to build the new Cultural Center in Marshall, a place far removed from Liberian culture. The only indigenous village we know in Marshall is Fanti Town, comprised mostly of Ghanaian fishermen.
The people of Bomi, notably Dimeh, home of Liberia’s preeminent cultural icon Bai T. Moore, and the people of Be-Sao Cultural village, run by nationally recognized Gola dancers, devils, drummers and musicians, have said they would welcome the NCC in their midst, but nothing has been heard from MICAT since that offer was made earlier this year.
We would like to remind the GOL that the Liberian people are longing for the building and reopening of the NCC. Our culture is among the richest in Africa and in the world. What are we waiting for to recreate our theatre arts, dance and music to demonstrate that these 43,000 square miles comprise not only diamond, gold, iron ore, petroleum and rubber; but much more–even the soul of Africa, exquisitely and richly reflected in Liberian traditional culture?
The third problem we see with the MICAT is its seeming lack of will and competence to develop our tourism industry. Liberia possesses some of the most magnificent spots on earth–Lake Piso, the Cape Mount Mountain and its clean, golden beaches; Lake Shepherd in Harper, Maryland; waterfalls in Patawee, Bong County and Ganta, Nimba County; and River Cess; all buttressed by the rich indigenous culture of the 16 major tribes. What are we waiting for to turn these superb assets into jobs and money that will definitely lift our people out of poverty?
The MICAT bunch needs to develop a vision about what the Ministry was established to do rather than trying to turn the clock back and make the media the prey as they were in the Tubman, Tolbert, Doe and Taylor years.