y Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Whenever people speak of Liberia being a “rich country,” they are right for this assertion considering the enormousness of its natural resources and other features, including plants and animals, as well as the fertile soil that can be used to “lift” the people to a higher standard and also to develop the country. Regrettably, should one consider the richness of this country in terms of these resources and its present status and that of its inhabitants, one would discover that despite these resources, the country is still lagging behind. It continues to experience abject poverty; it lacks necessary infrastructures, better roads, bridges, health and educational facilities, just to name a few. Frankly, if we had managed these resources properly over the years, Liberia would have been among the developed countries of the world.
In addition, despite these resources which can be made into finished products to add to their value, the country is still importing some products which could be manufactured in this country. For example, we have rubber, but we are still importing some of those things that could be manufactured here from the rubber. Another example is cocoa. Just few days ago, while visiting Ghana, I saw a locally produced soap from the cocoa in that country.
I am re-echoing this issue of the richness of this country because of what I saw on Saturday at the Monrovia City Hall during the second annual Liberian Arts, Crafts and Culture festival held by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry and the Game Changers Liberia, under the theme;”Promoting Local Content Entrepreneurship In The Arts And Tourism Sectors.”
It was sponsored by Coca Cola and the National Social Security & Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP). Game Changers Liberia is a think tank and social entrepreneurship entity that is a registered and accredited Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Liberia. Its goal is to empower people with skills and entrepreneurship know-how to empower them economically, to have sustainable livelihood outside or the public sector in Liberia. Its vision is to become the leading social enterprise NGO of choice, that the government, international organization and donor agencies in Liberia can trust, rely on and partner with to develop and advance sustainable micro, small and medium enterprise for employment creation.
Although the organizers referred to the event as a festival, I also considered it an exhibition because it showcased many locally produced items, which can also be exported to earn foreign exchange for Liberian businesses and the country. As I toured the products, I saw flour made from cassava and plantains; I also saw the handy works of Liberian artists, some of whom were available to display their talents, food, and wearing.
Of all, what really fascinated me were products of what is referred to as “The Miracle Tree,” with its medicinal contents on display. I was touched by this because of its many benefits to the human body. The products are being produced under the trademark of MORINGA, and that MORINGA Leaf among other things, increases the natural defenses of the body; provides nourishment to the eyes and the brain; promotes metabolism and also the cell structures. It also lowers the appearance of wrinkles and the lines; beautifies the skin and promotes healthy circulatory system and also takes care of the immune system of the body.
On display also were beautifully designed and tailored Liberian clothes, for all sizes of people, including the kids. I saw orange and papaya jams, as well as Liberian sweets from the Evelyn’s Restaurant on Broad Street, headed by Ellen Hawa Knuckles, the enterprising daughter of one of my editors in Investigative Journalism, Mr. Willis D. Knuckle. The sweets included rice bread, potato pone, coconut pie, and cassava bread, pawpaw (papaya) pie and pineapple upside- down cake.
As I was viewing the products made in Liberia, I began to ruminate as to why this country so endowed with all of these is still lagging behind. Why are we still importing some products that can be produced here? What has happened to our agricultural and economic programs of this country? Today, we are still struggling with the issue of employment, when some of these activities could help alleviate this problem and also significantly empower Liberians.
For too long, national leaders have played lip service on the issue of ‘Made in Liberia” products. From what I saw last Saturday at the Monrovia City Hall Ball Room, this country can make a great stride in this “Made in Liberia’ if our national leaders are very serious about this. Indeed, this country is very rich, not only in iron ores, diamonds and other minerals, but other things that can contribute to its development.
For example, also, if focus is made in producing these products, it would also encourage what economists called “Derived Demand” because people would now be encouraged to grow certain products that would be needed in producing these finished products for export. The more the demand for products from cassava, the more the demand for cassava by the producers, something that would definitely thereby encourage farmers or people to increase their yields, not only for subsistence purpose, but for sale too.
The organizers of this event did not make any mistake by including tourism in the theme of the festival or exhibition because these items can meaningfully contribute to the country’s tourism program. These are items that visitors would want to buy while on a visit here. If we can do so in other countries whenever we visit there, why don’t we think that others who visit here cannot do likewise?
But the problem is that there is no good tourism program, despite the existence of a section at the Information Ministry. Don’t ask me about the Providence Island and the old Baptist Church on Broad Street where the Declaration of Independence was signed; don’t ask me about the Kpatawe Waterfall in Bong County and Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County, just to name few sites for tourism that could also display some of these ‘Made in Liberia’ products for visitors.
Comparatively, considering the number of resources, human talents and that of the population, this land is incontestably a rich country, but we are very unserious for its development and the advancement of its people. In all fairness, if we had designed policies and programs over the years, we would not be talking about creating a middle class, but sustaining and strengthening it. Additionally, we should not be talking about poverty in the face of these resources and the population of the country.
As I conclude, let me thank the organizers and sponsors, especially the Ministry of Commerce, Game Changers Liberia and NASSCORP for this splendid display of Liberian products. But I hope next time it would go for more days and perhaps award prizes in various categories.
Let me say that as a Liberian, I will never feel insulted or offended whenever someone tells me, “You people have a rich country, but you are very unserious,” because that is not a fallacy, but the reality and plain truth. I REST MY CASE.