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Liberia: What must happen after October 10, 2017

9 October 2017 at 18:52 | 1414 views

Commentary

Francis W. Nyepon, Monrovia, Liberia

On Tuesday, October 10th, Liberians of all walks of life and political persuasions will set out to elect the next president of Africa’s oldest republic.

Liberians of all ethnicities, regions, religions, social statuses and generations will join together to elect the next president of the country. The elections will bring Liberians face-to-face with building and transforming the country into a vast workshop that offers massive employment opportunities for our youth and create wealth and opportunities that will be shared and redistributed equally among all Liberians.

The result of the elections will test the maturity of our democracy after 12 contentious years of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia, and Africa’s first female president, and 14 years since the end of the brutal civil war. The elections will also mark important milestones in our democracy, commencing with reconciliation, innovative opportunities for transformation through outreach strategies to engage policies and decisions to provide feedback and ideas for transformation through transparency, openness, equal opportunity and cooperation. The days following October 10th, should point to the future roadmap of Liberia rather than the country’s troubled past. The results of the October 10th elections will not just matter to Liberia, but to the entire West African sub-region, a region that witnessed 14 years of a devastating civil war; yet graciously hosted over 1 million Liberian refugees in the true spirit of the Africa’s amalgamation and tradition.

One of the twenty individuals, competing to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, will win the elections when the result becomes public. Whomever is elected president, must however maintain the uninterrupted peace and stability put into practice by President Sirleaf and the United Nationals Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Nevertheless, what is desperately needed in Liberia is genuine reconciliation and access to services and platforms for participation in the national discourse and state benefits. A newly elected government must however endeavor to bridge the socioeconomic divide and dissatisfaction amongst Liberians that has been allowed to fester since the civil war ended in 2003. The result of the elections will also mark the beginning of a progressive governance process that should be utilized to bond Liberians through civil engagement, national participation, public contribution and communal volunteerism. But, transformation must not come at the expense of press freedom, silencing of the opposition or freedom of speech for the populace. Instead, transformation should be about economic growth, social change, boosting youth employment, promoting free trade, reducing poverty, increasing food security, enhancing livelihood skills through vocations and effective utilization of technology to boost prosperity. Additionally, the success of a new government must make every effort to foster a new generation of leaders to take on the mantle of leadership across the country from neighborhood associations, city councils, district commissions and county administrations.

The elections have brought every Liberian face-to-face with the truth in a practical, objective and realistic manner. As a result, Liberians are anxious about the elections’ outcome. Equally, they are principally agonizing about the priorities that the president-elect and the new government will set after October 10th, 2017. After all, the country is still enormously prosperous with its vast endowment of considerable natural resources like rubber, iron ore, diamonds, gold, timber and oil palm among others. But, in spite of those natural gifts, it is unfortunate that the majority of Liberians live in abject poverty and appalling conditions without safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, productive education, proper healthcare, widespread electricity, skills, and transformative societies. With its substantial natural resources, the country has been allowed to become dependent on a disastrous and detrimental foreign aid regime, which needs to be brought to an immediate end.

According to the United Nations, Liberia is the fifth poorest country on the planet with 4.6 million people where 14-year olds and younger make up 47% of our population, and 15 to 36-year olds make up 28% of the populace. This means that 75% of our entire population is under 36 years of age, with 58% of our people 16 years and older are illiterate; while 54% of all 4.6 million inhabitants live below the poverty line; with 51% of our people living in rural areas with over 84% of all Liberians living on less than US$1.25 a day. Additionally, according to Transparency International, Liberia ranks 90 out of 176 countries on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has publicly admitted to failing to deal with during her 12 year presidency with uninterrupted peace and unprecedented international philanthropy and goodwill. Yet, stalling our Human Development Index (HDI) and ranking our country at 177 out of 188 countries, according to the United Nations. The organization maintains that over the past 14 years, corruption has drained millions of dollars from our national coffers straight into the pockets of President Sirleaf’s family, friends and associates who have amassed enormous wealth for selfish personal gains.

Giver these statistics, what is at stake for Liberia on October 10th is enormous. It is no joking matter because the result of the elections will influence Liberia for generations to come. Hence, it is imperative that Liberians elect a president with wisdom and forethought. Every Liberian must be prepared to become the change that Liberia seek. The first test for the president-elect will be if a leaner cabinet is appointment and nominated. Liberians will immediately be able to determine whether their new president is prepare to offer his cabinet far less than the usual trappings that officials were rewarded with under the Sirleaf government over the past 12 years. The new president must eliminate such frills and embellishments like the US70,000.00 sports utility vehicles given to the cabinet; the US20,000.00 extravagant monthly salaries and wasteful US10,000.00 monthly pocket money; along with the lavish monthly fuel, housing, and domestic allowances that were given to lend a hand to officials. The new government must without delay demonstrate the courage and audacity to adequately address our country’s entrenched culture of impunity, and decisively commit itself to promoting true transparency and accountability. Whomever becomes president to lead the next government, must from the get go, be prepared to total reset the government and governance process. There must immediately be a screeching halt to systemic corruption, nepotism, and social exclusion paired with massive unemployment, youth marginalization and quarrel over land ownership. For example, corruption must be removed from the social fabric and business environment as a way of doing business.

The first 100 days of the president-elect and new government must be a time of demonstration that shows every Liberian a concerted effort in making significant headway to continue to advance the rule of law that has fundamentally been rooted in the consciousness of the Liberian people by President Sirleaf. Furthermore, immediately upon taking office, the new government must announce in short order, strategic policies to alleviate our country’s deepening crisis of poverty, inequality and marginalization with the aim of providing access to opportunities and essential services. The collective decision of Liberian voters on October 10th will have critical consequences for our country for the next two decade. Some of these critical consequences include, maintaining the peace, ensuring stability, creating good paying jobs and fundamentally rooting a progressive pathway for social change, livelihood improvement and infrastructure development. Our country’s economic outlook will be extremely challenging; hence, the president-elect and next government must without delay identify key priorities to strategically facilitate growth with a game plan to deal with tactical measurements to revamp the economy so as to achieve appropriate balance between public and private sector investment.

After the past several years of appalling economic performance, the president-elect and the new government must without delay boost employment and address the country’s huge literacy shortfall and poverty rates. It is no secret that our economic performance in the past several years has been dismal due to low growth. According to the World Bank, our economy contracted by an estimated 0.5% over the past three years in a row with serious challenges still remaining, due to weak commodity prices, inflation, fragile monetary policy, low public revenue, lack of economic expansion, unemployment, and very tight borrowing from global banks and international financial institutions. Some key areas for consideration must include, diversification of the economy, increase investment in sustainable agriculture, boost entrepreneurship, skill-training, service delivery, youth development, gender equity, employment, health promotion, and basic and vocational basic and vocational education. Such a strategy and economic review must commence with a round table summit of serious development, economic and social change thinkers. Following such a summit, the country should then be presented with a clear pathway for sustainable growth, development and social change pointing to resources and efforts to meet short and long term goals.

All-in all, these are incredibly serious challenges, which could definitely tip the equilibrium and plunged our country right back into civil strife after 14 years of peace if serious care and attention aren’t given to these critical areas of concern. Liberia is definitely at a critical crossroad; hence, key improvements will have to be rolled out so as capitalize on a positive momentum of instituting social and economic transformation so as to stimulate growth, transform the society and implement administrative oversight to establish a broad framework for transformative change, which was overshadowed by corruption, nepotism, the Ebola virus, and total abandonment of our youth, after both the Government of Liberia and the United Nations failed to properly demobilize and reintegrate ex-combatants and child soldiers into communities; thereby, abandoning them to the streets and slum communities where they now create fear, terrors and havoc by wrongfully being condemned for which the majority of our youth population have been marginalized and excluded from active participation and engagement in the national discourse.

The president-elect and new government must very fast come to the realization that our youth are the princpal driving force to fundamentally effect transformative change in our country. They are key and vital to putting our country on a trajectory for inclusive growth. However, the youth needs to be provided with innovative programs and opportunities to reach their full potential in order to make meaningful contribution to our country’s growth.

Francis Nyepon can be reached with comments, observations and remarks at fnyepon@aol.com

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