Japan Helps Restore Electric Power, But How Appreciative Are We?

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Japanese Ambassador Koaru Yoshimura last week Tuesday turned on the switch to bring light once again to the Snow Hill Community in Gardnersville, a Monrovia suburb.

We wish once again to highlight the meaninglessness, futility and harmfulness of war. Yes, before the war, our same friends, the Japanese government and people, had built a power plant in that same community, but it was looted and destroyed during the civil war.

Those who are preaching and advocating renewed disturbance and war should take note. What did our 14-year civil war do for us but throw us 50 years backward? How many times will we ask our foreign partners and true friends, like the Japanese, to return and rebuild what they had given and we had destroyed?

A long-delayed promise to restore electricity has been kept, at least in the Snow Hill Community and a few other places. But Ellen is not entirely to blame for the delayed fulfilment of that promise. Remember Ebola, the deadly virus that within a few weeks killed thousands of our people, viciously disrupted our economy and abruptly halted our reconstruction efforts? The virus drove many away, including the Japanese experts, as well as Mount Coffee Hydro expatriate workers. They fled for dear life, and rightly so. They had come to help us, not to die in the process.

Interestingly, think of the immense difference this 10 megawatt power plant will make in the lives of thousands of our people including, as Japanese Ambassador Yoshimura indicated, our students, who can now study at night. Compare that with the US$75 million that the Food Enterprise Development of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID/FED) was said to have spent in Liberia over the past five years. What did the Americans do with US$75 million? Another year or two will determine whether we will be able to find any tangible evidence of all that money anywhere.

FED came with a “market-driven approach” to boost farming in Liberia; yet when our rice farmers in Lofa County grew the rice – one million metric tons of it – they could find no buyers. What had happened to FED’s “market-drive approach”?

Did FED not understand that rice IS Liberia’s most important agricultural crop? Did they not understand that you can give the Liberian anything to eat in abundance; but once he has not eaten rice, he will tell you, “Whole day I have not eaten”?

This is a clear indication that we Liberians should become more serious about our own development, and realize that it is we who are primarily responsible for it. People will always come in to help, but remember, they often come with their own agenda. Only a few, like the Japanese, will put down something tangible that will make a serious, positive impact.

But we shame ourselves by engaging, as some of our Nimba compatriots are wont to do, in unruly and violent behavior, causing costly destruction that takes decades to replace.

We are glad for the reinstallation of the Snow Hill power plant, which will bring electricity to thousands of Monrovians. The street lights alone will help keep criminals away. But we pray that the Snow Hill Community people will not behave like the people near the rebuilt Vai Town Bridge and those in Caldwell, who as soon as the street lights were installed, started stealing the light bulbs! That was a clear indication that, like some of our Nimba people, we are not interested in development. Nor are we appreciative of what others do to help us.

That is why one of the Observer’s constant themes is the empowerment of our people—so that they may start doing things for themselves and take full ownership of their development and the country’s advancement.

It is most unfortunate that the current government has failed to realize that the primary reason so much of our infrastructure was destroyed during the war was because the Liberian people felt no ownership. Why? They were poor and powerless and felt a sense of hopelessness. A poor, powerless and hopeless people feel they have nothing to lose, hence the destructive attitude.

If, however, the people are empowered, if they own a good portion of the country’s riches and resources, they will naturally protect them. Alas, this government has, after 11 years in power, met and left Liberians even more destitute than at the war’s end. Look at the tens of thousands of our children selling in the streets, when they should be in school and are not! The groups of idle young men who should be in skills training or on the job, is equally disturbing.

The GOL has failed to see and understand the problem of the Lebanese and other foreign businessmen owning most everything in the country, including the poor Liberians’ pride. A perpetually poor people are not only disempowered, but also pride-less.

Again, we cannot heap all the blame on GOL. Do we Liberians patronize, help and look out for each other? Are we as individuals, businesses willing to invest time, energy, resources and love to stand up our youth and point them in the right direction to productive citizenship as challenging and sacrificial as that effort may be or are we leaving that task in the NGO column? Can we as a people muster the patriotism and self- respect to shun and finally uproot corruption, selfishness and greed that have left our country and ourselves crippled?

Can this government turn around and start doing something positive to empower its own people? Yes, it can, but not before those who have anointed themselves as ambassadors of foreign businesspeople are stopped from awarding to foreign businesspeople every opportunity to make more money and leave Liberians in the pail (bucket) of poverty.

Our people in power fail to understand why the Japanese, Germans, Americans, and yes, even the Nigerians and Ghanaians, are able to reach out and help us. It is because they already have ownership of their countries and have refused to surrender everything to foreigners.

No, it is not too late for this government to change its direction and start empowering our people. But GOL must first develop the political will to do so, and start encouraging the few Liberians who are striving against the odds in business. Others will follow and soon, Liberian entrepreneurship will be on the rise.

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