The Enemies Remain: Ignorance, Disease and Poverty

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Lekpele M. Nyamalon

Some Forty-four years ago, President William R. Tolbert Jr. declared a state of war on the trio enemies of National development. In a dramatic cabinet meeting that included the speaker of the house of representatives, Army Chief of Staff, Commanding General of the Liberian National Guard and the US Military adviser, President Tolbert sent the nation to war against: Ignorance, Disease and Poverty.

After more than four decades and three successive Presidents and numerous interim governments, the trio enemies remain staring at Liberia, unveiled in full glare with the nation at the gallows of Ignorance, Disease and Poverty.

Ignorance has invaded our National psyche with an alarming rate of illiteracy and poorly educated students who cannot read and write properly. In one of my outreach tours with schools using my book ‘Scary Dreams’ I visited a public high school in Monrovia and 60% of the students couldn’t read a complete line coherently. During the same tour with private high schools in the same city, 85% of the students could read coherently, had better confidence, etc.  The reality of this grim scenario is that both batch of students from Public Schools and Private Schools would be dumped on the Country after graduation.

Liberia’s seemingly growing ‘intelligentsia’ are uninformed youths calling every radio breakfast and dinner program and spewing their ignorance in an absurd show of arrogance. About some 80% of the Liberian youth make no deliberate attempt to learn about the Country’s history through reading and research. The Nation owns no Public Library, thus inadvertently arming the enemy with the darkness of ignorance.

During recent elections history in Liberia, ignorant comments like ‘Book people have destroyed Liberia’ and ‘ Da book we will eat?’ {Are we going to live by book only} were thrown as jabs. Sadly, these comments came from supposedly educated Liberians! No amount of political leanings or persuasions should lead us to take our attacks on education-the core of nation building.

We can move into the future with boldness when conscious attempts are made to arm the new generation with the light, in ground breaking areas of Science and Technology, History and the Arts, etc. We have to prepare the minds of the next generation of thinkers, innovators and change agents that are prepared to take the Nation forward.

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), ‘Liberia is significantly behind most other African countries in nearly all education statistics. For example, the Primary School Net Enrollment Rate, the percentage of primary age students attending primary grades, is only 44 percent. After 14 years of civil war, which resulted in the destruction of much of the country’s trained workforce, Liberia is still in the process of rebuilding its educational system. USAID, in concert with other donors, works with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to address education challenges related to access, quality of instruction, and improved governance of the education system.’

These challenges continue to pose a monumental threat to the existence of the Liberian nation. Ignorance has far reaching consequences on the growth and development of any Nation. In June, 2019, I was among a team of young Africans of Mandela Washington Fellows meeting in Accra and drawing up an Educational policy toolkit for Africa that would look towards innovation and thorough thinking and curriculum adjustment to prepare the African Youth for tackling contemporary challenges. Liberia cannot progress with a new generation of shallow thinkers with a simplistic mindset. Today’s world is riddled with multiplicity of issues that require alertness, awareness and knowledge-based approach that cannot be overemphasized.

If students in Liberia and Africa are trained to think and innovate, half of the unemployment issues would be mitigated.

Liberia’s healthcare delivery system remains bugged with numerous challenges, from maternal mortality, new born, and child health.  According to USAID, their health interventions in Liberia are ‘To ensure the maximum benefit from U.S. Government (USG) investments, USAID supports high-impact Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH), Family Planning, Reproductive Health, Malaria, and interventions for ending preventable child and maternal deaths through strengthened health systems and increased access to quality health services.’

According to the Bush Chicken, Liberia’s Medical and Dental council stated in 2016 that there are currently 298 medical doctors responsible for the country 4.5 million population, making the doctor to patient ratio of 1:15,000.

The Bush chicken reported that according to the LMDC, there are limited medical specialists. The Liberia Medical and Dental council statistics place the ratio as: ‘207 general practitioners, 18 public health specialists, 15 pediatricians, 12 surgeons, ten gynecologists, six ophthalmologists, eight internal medicine specialists, six dentists, four family medicine specialists, and two orthopedics.’ {Source: The Bush Chicken July 19, 2016 report}

‘Liberia also only has two radiologists, one pathologist, four psychiatrists, one ear, and throat specialist, one veterinarian, and one dermatologist.’

This is appalling for a 172-year-old country and Africa’s oldest Republic.

The spillovers from Poverty trigger to Ignorance and Diseases. According to the World Bank, 54 % of Liberians live below the poverty line. In 2011, 83.7 percent of Liberians were living on less than $2 a day.

The World bank report on malnutrition, water, sanitation and youth unemployment states that

‘Liberia is one of the 21 countries with the highest stunting levels in the world. One out of three children under the age of 5 years old is stunted or too short for their age because of a lack of proper nutrition. In addition, malnourished children are at a higher risk for death from diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. ‘According to the World Health Organization, 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of 5 are related to malnutrition.’

‘In rural areas, due to lack of proper toilets and sanitation services, about 42 percent of people must excrete out in the open. In addition, the lack of proper sanitation services results in the spread of diseases and causes students to miss days of school.’

‘According to the United Nations, 85 percent of the youth population is unemployed. The civil wars affected Liberia’s economy resulting in the widespread youth unemployment. About 35 percent of males and 42 percent of females are unable to find jobs due to lack of skills and training.’ 

The real struggle is facing those three enemies head on with the right set of leaders at all levels of government. Legislators should exhibit robust oversight in working with the Executive and overall government should have competent public officials in the fight against these deadly foes. Three policy directions from three Administrations: Vision 2024, (Think Big) Vision 2030 (Liberia Rising) and the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development are all geared towards the objective of fighting the deadly enemies of nation building. There should be a synergy of forces and the right set of players to rid the nation of the foes of that fateful diagnosis made about some forty-four years ago by President William R. Tolbert Jr, that the nation’s top enemies remain Ignorance, Disease and Poverty.

No matter which side of the fence we sit and which political leaning we have, those trio are set to get us all. Let’s get them first!

Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Liberian Poet, Writer and Speaker, an OSIWA Poetry Fellow and a Mandela Washington Fellow. He is the Author of ‘Scary Dreams: an anthology of the Liberian Civil War.’ He can be reached at [email protected].

3 COMMENTS

  1. There are times I want to despair on the situation in Liberia. But when I read some young Liberians like Mr. Redd and now Mr. Nyamalon, my hope gets revigorated.
    Thank you Sir! I applaud you for this contribution but sadly, your readership would not exceed 100 Liberians.
    Thank you for the book you wrote. Keep writing. We need more writers in Liberia. Echo your concerns and findings from public and private schools in Liberia. There is something you dared not mentioned for fear of reprisal attacks: most of those public school students are those who always want to spearhead our leadership through violence and ritualistic killings. They are easily detectable on radio talk shows and from postings on social networks by their vituperative utterances and psychotic profanities.
    The few of us must be strong to impose positive change to our broken society. Thank you, Sir and Happy New Year,!

  2. I salute you my friend Lekpele. This is a will written piece. Unfortunately, the trio are alive and well. Fortunately, through well-thought-out policies and thorough implementation of those policies we can win the fight against poverty, ignorance and disease. Sadly, the nation seems to be in retreat instead.

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