It is close to 10 years since Liberia’s renowned National Cultural Center (NCC) was closed, and its property at Kendeja on the Robertsfield Highway sold to the American investor R.L. Johnson who converted it to a resort.
We understand that Mr. Johnson donated US$100,000 as seed money toward the reconstruction of the new Cultural Center. Until now, however, nothing has been done.
But last Wednesday the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) announced that it had signed a US$200,000 agreement for the erection of the Cultural Center in Ben Town, Margibi County.
The site of the new Center is most surprising and disturbing. Also surprising is MICAT’s announcement that the company designated to build the Center, Manyu Kamara’s Link Architecture Contractor and Consultant, Inc., will “pre-finance the purchase of all equipment and materials” for the project.
Three questions: First, does this company have the financial capacity to pre-finance the construction of Liberia’s Cultural Center?
Second, what happened to the US$100,000 RLJ Enterprises paid to the government for the land on which RLJ built its resort? Dr. Lawrence Bropleh was Minister of MICAT at the time. He should be called to give account of that money.
A third, perhaps more burning question is, does the Liberian government consider the National Cultural Center a national priority? If it does, then why must a government ask an unknown company to pre-finance so important a national endeavor? In all this government’s 10 plus years in power, has there been no allocation in the National Budget for the project? You mean the GOL forgot that it had to rebuild the National Cultural Center, and so did not put it in the budget all these years, from 2007 until now? And here we are asking a very small, relatively unknown company to “pre-finance” so historic and so important a national endeavor.
The National Cultural Center was created during the Tubman administration by Information and Cultural Affairs Secretary E. Reginald Townsend and his Deputy for Culture, Bai T. Moore. They had the backing of President Tubman himself.
Kenneth Y. Best, in his book Cultural Policy in Liberia, published by UNESCO in 1974, recalled that President Tubman opened the National Cultural Center on January 7, 1964. It was designed as “a panorama of tribal life, customs and traditions. Thirty-one tribal huts and palava kitchens, designed and built by master builders from Liberia’s 16 major tribes, were built on the site.
“Representatives of all the tribes live and work at the center in an atmosphere of peace concord and cooperation, and practice . . . one another’s music, dance, and arts and crafts.”
Mr. Best noted that as the center was being built, the Sande School for girls was established in the nearby village of Kenema to train dancers who would form the nucleus of the National Cultural Troupe. Boys were recruited from the Poro School in Gbola to join the troupe, which also includes instructors, drummers, singers and other musicians and professional dancers and dramatists.”
It was the Cultural Center that prepared Liberian acrobats, artists, dancers and musicians for Liberia’s participation in major international African art and cultural festivals, including one in Dakar, Senegal, April, 1966; in Algiers, Algeria, July, 1969 and in Festac, Lagos, Nigeria, September 1977.
But though Tubman’s successor, President William R. Tolbert, too, gave vigorous support to the NCC, and especially to the National Cultural Troupe, we vividly recall that in the early 1970s when the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism was arguing for an increase in the cultural budget, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs technocrats downplayed the argument, saying “Culture was not important to the economy.”
It is this kind of myopic (narrow-minded) thinking that has frustrated the development of Liberia’s culture and tourism. Yet Liberia is a cultural goldmine. Our culture is richer than anything one can find in East Africa; yet Kenya is far ahead in tourism than any West African country. And we, with all our culture, our 350-mile Atlantic coastline, all our forests, lakes, rivers and mountains, are nowhere in tourism.
The Cultural Center in Marshall? Marshall has beautiful beaches and imposing new mansions alright, but there is nothing cultural in Marshall besides Fanti Town. And the Fantis are not even Liberians. This is as much a misplacement of our sense of cultural value as the decision to build an extension of the Monrovia Central Prison behind Dimeh, the home of the late Liberian literary icon, Bai T. Moore and a cultural village in its own right.
This newspaper has argued for the Cultural Center to be relocated to Dimeh, or the Be-Sao Cultural Village, the center of culture in lower western Liberia. These people have said they welcome the new cultural center there, which would be its natural habitat.
It is not too late for our leaders to listen and do the right thing.