By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
In one of his recordings, the late musical legend, Bob Marley said, “It is only the fools that thirst in the abundance of water.” This idiom can be likened to the popular Creole saying that, ‘get get not want, want, want non get,” Although this figurative expression is subject to all kinds of interpretations and meanings, mostly based on a particular event or situation.
But for the subject matter, it is necessary to view it from the perspective of having the opportunity, but failing to utilize it or having the means to advance economically, but failing to make use of those things that could help to succeed to advance oneself in terms of one’s welfare and wellbeing.
Incontestably, this idiom suits this country that is endowed with enormous natural resources, but is still considered as one of the countries with high poverty, which is sometimes referred to as “abject poverty.” Unlike other countries that lack these resources, one does not hear that much poverty exists as in this country.
Given this paradoxical situation of a country endowed with resources but in poverty, there has been much reliance on government jobs as a panacea to alleviate this situation. But it has not proven right. As for others, they believe that the only way to curtail or reserve this ugly situation is for Liberians to take charge of the economy, as this would greatly and substantially help to create a serious ‘Middle Class’ that would eventually put Liberians in the position to fight poverty.
For years now, there have been calls for Liberians to take over or take charge of the economy, meaning that Liberians should create those businesses that are in the hands of foreigners for many years now. At every occasion that relates to the economy, or development of the country, there have always been renewed calls for Liberians to take over the economy.
I say this because I recall many years ago before the war, a prominent Liberian journalist, the venerable Kenneth Yarkporwolo Best, observing this ugly situation, suggested at a very big forum that the AGENDA for the 90’s’ should be focused on Liberians taking over the economy. Mr. Best, a successful Liberian businessman, has always advocated this at every occasion that relates to the country’s economy.
I recalled few weeks ago, at the induction ceremony of officers of the Liberian Business Association (LIBA) which was also attended by Central Bank Governor, Dr. Mills Jones, at the Paynesville City Hall, Mr. Best reiterated his crusading message for Liberians to take charge of the economy.
Last week, when I read that Mr. Kenneth Yarkpowolo Best, publisher and managing director of the Liberian Observer Corporation, publisher of the DAILY OBSERVER, has been selected to address this year’s commencement convocation of the Cuttington University, I was reminded of similar one, when it was then, Cuttington University College in 1989 when he served in similar capacity as convocation speaker.
In his address at the time, which was written by me (Monday, December 11, 1989), then News Editor of that newspaper, Mr. Best a graduate of that institution, advisedly and foreseeably pointed out that every effort must be exerted to encourage “as many Liberians as possible to enter into business so that within the shortest possible time Liberians will be in control of their economic and commercial life.”
“Today, it is no secret that the foreign businessman has a stronger foothold and is playing a more dominant role in our economy than at any time in our history,” he said. Mr. best, who has been running the newspaper since the early 80’s, noted at the time that as a result of this situation, many of them are often preferred than Liberians for government and other contracts and businesses.
Unsurprisingly, in another address to that institution, Mr. Best, reflecting on what he said in December 1980, expressed fear that if nothing is done; foreigners would take over this country.
Putting it bluntly, Mr. Best who spoke on the theme, “REDEEMING LIBERIA FOR LIBERIANS,” we are losing our country to foreigners’ faster and more irrecoverably than even before. And unless we wake up and start working consciously, patriotically, smartly and hard to take it back, one day Liberia will be lost and we will have to lease from these same foreigners the land to make our farms and build our homes and businesses.”
He went on: “Let me tell you; some of our leading Liberian families, and not so prominent ones, are leasing their prime properties to foreign business people for 30 to 60 years, mortgaging the future of their properties for pittance; many of these families do not even know how long their children and grandchildren will live to benefit from their drastically delayed inheritance which, come to think of it, may be lost forever.
The veteran and venerable Liberian journalist and publisher then called on President Sirleaf and the government of Liberia to immediately “reverse this disturbing and dangerous trend and ensure that the Liberian people tale substantiate ownership in all the nation’s land, mineral, petroleum and other assets.”
He also suggested, as I try to elucidate in this article, that in order ”to bring Liberians into the money economy and establish a strong middle class, every company that is investing in Liberia, from merchandise trading to real estate and industrial enterprises, should have at least one substantive and credible Liberian partner.”
But the million dollar question is whether or not these calls in the late 80’s and this latest one last Saturday at the 53rd commencement convocation of the university, would rekindle in us as a people and nation to rise up to them to ensure that Liberians take control or charge of the economy. Sometimes people subjectively contribute the country’s problem to the civil war. NO! This is not the case. This has been here before the war.
As the nation goes through commencement exercises, I am of the strong conviction that this issue of the country’s economy, along with the country’s educational system would be cardinal in the graduation addresses of many speakers. The question is again whether these repeated calls for Liberians to take charge of the economy will not fall on deaf ears.
I believe, like others that we can make it. But we must be focused and avoid luxury to the detriment of our businesses. We should be able to distinguish the business from other things; we must ensure proper accounting record keepings and avoid any act that would undermine the business.
Sometimes we behave as though we are on a different planet and that others are quite different from us. We are the same, but the problem with us is the lack of focus, determination, patience and farsightedness for the growth of whatever we find our hands to do.
With the natural resources, coupled with fertile soil and a peaceful environment, we should not be talking about poverty, when the foreigners are talking about being affluent. Every time I hear people talking about hardship and abject poverty, I wonder whether they have realized that Liberians and not only the government have a key role to play to combat this or alleviate it through their involvement in economic activities.
I should not be misconstrued that government does not have a role to play, but Liberians must take advantage of the existing opportunities of doing business here to move this country forward. The government must ensure that Liberians are given the opportunities, and in the same vein, those given the opportunities must perform to serve as public relations for other Liberians to benefit.
As Mr. Best alluded, the government has its role to play in this matter. But as citizens, we too, have our role to play by encouraging partnership and properly managing our businesses. Moreover, we should begin to make use of or develop what we refer to as “inheritance land,” while we live in poverty.
As it is often said, which I consciously agree with, “only Liberians can develop Liberia.” Yes, there would be outsiders to come to invest, but the bulk rests with Liberians to take charge and control. This country would accrue more benefits and be able to tackle the issue of poverty if Liberians are really in charge of the economy. We need to cultivate that spirit of entrepreneurship in building a strong middle class. With this, Liberians would be able to employ or hire other Liberians.
From one of the countries I visited, I received information that some of the people of affluence in those countries got their money from Liberia. Today in one of those countries, one of the richest men got his money from Liberia by doing business. In another country, where I stayed in a hotel, the owner told me he was working in Liberia before returning home to build his hotel, which few weeks ago, when I made a stop over in that country, is being expanded.
Now if these people from outside can become millionaires, then, what about Liberians? Why are we the citizens crying poor when outsiders are jubilating because of what they have been able to accrue from doing business here?
I believe, despite the civil conflict, that this country is rich, but we must take advantage of this and avoid the daily crying of poverty or abject poverty. We cannot continue to be the “fools” thirsty in the midst of abundance or plenty water. Let’s make use of the water to survive and avoid the thirst.
Until we realize that we are sitting on gold mine, we will keep crying poor, hardship and abject poverty, while outsiders accrue from the country’s resource and business atmosphere, which may eventually cause us to lose our country, as Mr. Best said, I REST MY CASE.