He was blunt, emphatic and dead serious when he told the 12th graduating class of the United Methodist University that 2016 and 2017 “and perhaps a few years thereafter are likely to be a difficult experience for our country and its people.”
The speaker was no opposition rabble rouser determined to make the government look bad. No, these ominous remarks came from the horse’s mouth—they were the words of the very Chairman of the ruling Unity Party, Senator G. Varney Sherman.
Speaking last week, just before Christmas, Senator Sherman, who is also the nation’s leading lawyer, admitted to the graduates that he found himself unable to wish them a Merry Christmas, or even a Happy and Prosperous New Year. He said he knew these two holidays—Christmas and New Year—which climax all of the year’s festive seasons, would be neither merry, happy nor prosperous. Why? Because the Liberian economy is in such a desperate state.
His remarks were contrary to what his own Unity Party Standard Bearer, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, said in her “Call to Action” nationwide address which she delivered days before his to UMU. In that address, the President told the nation that of the US$16 billion which the National Investment Commission (NIC), under the chairmanship of Richard Tolbert, had invested in Liberia since 2006, US$4.2 billion had been “operationalized.”
But UP Chairman Sherman told the graduates that “not even a half billion (US$500,000) had been invested in Liberia!”
“The new iron ore mining companies brought in by this administration are now on a go slow, owing to the dramatic drop in the price of iron ore,” he said, “and the world rubber price had also seriously declined.”
Counselor Sherman further confirmed that the National Oil Company is now “bankrupt,” and that all of the oil companies prospecting in Liberia have either departed or are also on a go slow. Nor has “a bottle of commercial oil” been found.
These are the underlying reasons for the UP Chairman’s pessimistic outlook on the Liberian economy in 2016, 2017 and beyond.
How should Liberians respond to this grim economic outlook? Should we close down the country and go sit in our towns and villages, holding our hands in utter resignation and hopelessness?
Surely, not by sight!
Nor do we have any time to lament the 10-year failure of our government and its two highly trained technocrats who in the past 10 years headed the agricultural sector. This is sad, even tragic, we must admit; yet there is no time for lamentation. The abject failure of his two predecessors is the new Agriculture Minister Moses Zinnah’s OPPORTUNITY!
The rallying cry amid this period of pessimism is BACK TO THE SOIL AND PRODUCE, PRODUCE! making effective and productive use of the abundant arable land, the many creeks, rivers, stream and swamps and the plentiful rainfall which the good Lord has given us.
Yes, to the soils in our back and front yards and on our small, medium and large farms we must go, tilling, nurturing and producing, in a resolute bid at least to feed ourselves and save the hundreds of millions of United States dollars we expend annually importing food.
Had Varney Sherman been an economist, he might have added one more tinge (touch) of pessimism: The foreign exchange we have in the past garnered from iron ore and rubber will no longer be forthcoming—so where shall we get the foreign exchange to import rice, meat, vegetables and all the other foods we import?
Alas! The answer to this critical question lies within our very own grasp: We must return to the soil and grow our own food—rice, cassava, peanuts, plantain, potato, eddo, fruits, including breadfruit (which is said to be a cancer fighter) and vegetables.
We thus would not need to look for any foreign exchange to import these commodities. Our investment in and exploit of our soils would put our people—even those from the idle mines and all our graduates—back to work feeding ourselves and even exporting food, flowers and other horticultural products. We would grow our own chickens and eggs, pigs, cattle and goats.
Liberians would at last be too busy to worry about falling commodity prices, and would be one happy people again. Senator Sherman fortunately cautioned the UMU graduates not to be trouble-making but productive citizens and become agents of positive change.
With all of us putting whip to the horse, Liberians would need no one to tell us, but we would be able to shout to ourselves the year round and always, “Happy New Year!”
It is a sheer coincidence that we today name a farmer from Lofa County involved along with many other farmers in extensive rice production as our PERSON OF THE YEAR.