Friday, June 22, 2012

"Liberia's Capital from Slum to Forest"

This editorial from the In Profile Daily, which emerged in the week following President Sirleaf's late January 2011 state of the union address, includes much of the same questions about the priorities and practicalities of building a new capital, but also contains the same negative rhetoric about Monrovia's present condition and appearance, and also echoes the President's allusions to climate change and sea erosion [with my emphasis added]:

As President Sirleaf mounted the podium at the Capitol Building on January 24, 2011 to give her annual message to the nation as mandated by the constitution, she gave a laundry list of achievements her administration has accomplished thus far and listed several more she needed to accomplish, one of which was laying the groundwork for the construction of a new capitol city as the political seat of the nation. 
While Monrovia rapidly degenerates from city to a slum amidst failures, visionless leaderships from successive governments steeped in corruption, nepotism, cronyism, special interests, compounded with years of senseless warfare; and with the prospect of oil wealth, the effects of global climate change and ever creeping sea erosion, and after five years at the helm of the nation, the President has come to recognize that Monrovia was no longer suitable to be Liberia's nation's capitol. 
The President has just admitted that Monrovia is a slum and that we must move to the forest and build ourselves a new capitol city there. The new capitol, according to the President, would be at the meeting point of Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa counties, the area where Zekepa is the key town. 
Although at the southernmost part of Nimba County, Zekepa is embraced by Bassa and Bong counties, geographically in the heartland of Liberia and central enough to make it an ideal location for the capitol of a country that is so politically charged at all times.
While Liberians do not disagree with the central location of Zekepa, they wonder why the pronouncement now.
These are some of the questions that linger on the lips of critical thinkers: “Why couldn't the President choose the name of a town or village in Bassa or Bong counties adjacent to Zekepa? Was this meant as an indirect campaign strategy in vote-rich Nimba County, where the President has Prince Johnson to contend with? Could it be that the President was sizing up voters in the three counties and pampering them with pipe dreams?” 
Others argue that the thought of a new capitol to be financed in part or whole with income from potential oil wealth will be a waste of resources that will bankroll politicians, their cronies and good-for-nothing international firms at the detriment of Liberians. 
They argue that Monrovia, as is, is far from a true city and therefore should be developed into a metropolitan city from B.F. Goodridge to Cotton Tree and to Kakata, with modern facilities such as electricity, water, trains, water, transportation system, air, land and public transport system that meets international standards, as well as adequate and affordable housing and schools. 
According to Thomas Coleman, a resident of Water Street, 'taking resources to build a new capitol in the middle of nowhere requires a lot of money; much more expensive than government officials breaking Monrovia down and rebuilding it.' 
Emmanuel Kerkula, a University student reading accounting asserted: “many of the properties in Monrovia that need to be demolished belong to people who are politically and socially connected, and demolishing them will not be politically expedient for any leader. Rather, taking it to a place dominated by farmland and people blind to political realities will be much safer for any politician.” 
Ma Finda, a market woman at Ma Juah Market agrees that there is a need for a new capitol where there might be newer markets and modern buildings. 
As the argument continues on the need or not for a new capitol, pundits assert that the fruition of such plan - be it Zekepa or any other town or village for that matter, is many years away. 
More interestingly over the decades, city planning of Monrovia by government through the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) and the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) have failed to produce the anticipated results, having employed the Monrovia Urban Development Project (MUDP) to have largely engaged itself into the construction of sanitary facilities in various communities, while the MPW was preoccupied with re-designing the capital that would have brought to bear the demolition of several homes in the creation of alleys and as well encouraged the construction of modern homes that most of its residents could not and cannot afford.
Of significant feature leading to attempts by governors, including the President of Liberia to relocate Monrovia has been the pervasive number of zinc shacks that continue to dull its outlook, evolving principally from urban migration that has been necessitated by the lack of gainful employment and other cores that are meant to encourage self-generating incomes to avert the continuing dependency on national government for survival.
Quizzically it certainly appears for the current leadership of President Sirleaf to propose a new capital, confusing the site still appears to many Liberians with Zekepa taken for Sekepa as publicly clarified in recent week, harnessing relevant resources proves the fundamental question in the wake of minute financial resources following the waiver of the nation's huge debts by the international community, giving way to external credits that may not necessarily have to be directed at construction of a new capital but improving the livelihood of the vast majority through job creation and ensuring food security.

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