A 70-year old woman recently returned from a 10-day vacation in Ghana and was shocked to see ramshackle (rundown) buses ferrying passengers from the Air Ivoire aircraft to the Roberts International Airport Terminal.
She should not have been shocked, because these were the same buses that ferried her and other passengers to the same aircraft when they departed Liberia 10 days earlier. So why the shock this time?
Well, is it not one of the results of foreign travel—to see how other people are doing and to compare their progress with ours in Liberia? Any traveler who fails to make that comparison shows that he or she is lost in blindness, passivity and total lack of patriotism. For how can one travel and see broad daylight progress elsewhere and forget about one’s own situation at home?
Remember the story that was told in one of our earlier Editorials about a Liberian Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) who in the late 1970s made a 12-hour transit stop in Nairobi. A former MICAT colleague, who was then working in Nairobi, happily received this Minister and hosted him during his stopover. With equal enthusiasm, the former MICAT employee took his distinguished guest and former colleague on a tour of Nairobi to see some of the positive developments taking place there. These included the city’s diversified architecture—English, American, Chinese, Indian, Italian and Japanese. The guest was taken also to various supermarkets, where most things there, including food and household utensils, were produced in Kenya. Also visited were some of Nairobi’s magnificent buildings and skyscrapers, including the Kenyatta Conference Center, with its revolving terrace restaurant; and stalls of fresh flowers throughout the city grown in Kenya and exported by weekly jumbo jets to Europe and North America. The Minister was also shown impressive highways in a country that became independent only 13 years earlier. He was treated to lunch in a plush Nairobi restaurant and dinner at home before catching his 2 a.m. Air India flight.
Why are we retelling this story? The reader will understand when he learns once again what this Minister said on his return about his Nairobi host.
One day, standing in a room at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, this Minister, in the presence of President William R. Tolbert Jr. and some of his senior officials, declared: “And that Kenneth Best boy sitting in Nairobi is so anti-Liberian, it’s not funny.”
The room was hushed. No one made a comment. What that Minister did not realize was that when one points a finger at someone else, four of the pointer’s own fingers are pointing back at him.
The burning question here is, how do Liberians travel day after day and year after year, see the phenomenal progress other countries are making, and return home and sit down ‘kplekeh’—the Liberian word for doing nothing. It is as though we Liberians are blindfolded when we travel, yet enjoy all the progress and development in other people’s country and forget everything once we land back at RIA. The 70-year-old returnee from Ghana was not like that. The minute she boarded the tattered bus from the aircraft to the RIA terminal she could not help remembering the new, modern buses she rode from the aircrafts to the terminals both at the Abidjan and Accra airports. How was this clear-sighted Liberian woman and patriot, who had traveled to many parts of the United States, to feel on return to the despicable experience at the airport in her own beloved country?
She was naturally saddened to see and experience what she saw at RIA, contrasted with what she had seen in Abidjan and Accra. What is the difference between Liberia, La Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana?
This question is directed at RIA Managing Director Bako Freeman and the Chairman of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority, Gbehzohngar Findley, chiefly responsible for Liberia’s airports.
Yes, we know that a new terminal and runway are being built. But what of the current airport situation? Can RIA not find the money to acquire some new buses to ferry passengers to and from aircrafts? Do these officials not see the difference when they travel?
We challenge these two officials, Messrs. Freeman and Findley, to acquire immediately some new buses for RIA, to ferry passengers to and from aircraft and save Liberia from being considered a village.
Two more questions—first, how is the fire service at RIA? Second, will the new terminal have the capacity to receive aircraft directly into the terminal as is done in modern airports around the world? What of escalators, vertical and horizontal? Will these be features in the new terminal that will make it more user-friendly and attractive?
Let all of us Liberians make up our minds to improve our country in every way. This determination is the beginning of progress in Liberia.