Gbarnga, Bong County - Derrick Benson, 26, graduated from Cuttington University in Gbarnga, Bong County four years ago and was a frequent traveller on the Gbarnga-Ganta-Guinea-border route.
According to him, “traveling on Liberian roads used to be a nightmare for me; I still remember spending five long hours on a trip from Ganta to Gbarnga regularly since I got admission nine years ago. The memory of those trips still leaves a distaste in my mouth”, he continues, “but I had to continue because I had to go school." Being a road that is the major link road between Bong County, Nimba County and Guinea, it was appalling that it was in that state of decay. From 2006 to as recent as 2014, anyone who plied the Gbarnga-Ganta-Guinea-border road route would have easily testified to its horrific state. Put the deplorable condition of the road aside, there were daredevil armed robbers who were lords of the night and perpetual residents of the area and it was inevitable that travellers inclined to always say a prayer to avert terrible traffic jam lasting hours, and loss of lives and property. As Benson aptly describes it, it was “hell on Earth”. Popular Bong County musician David Graulee once said, “If you are a Liberian, chances are you know someone who has spent an entire day, at least once, traveling the Gbarnga-Ganta road, or been killed trying to do so.“ Former Bong superintendent Ranney Jackson was reported to have cried openly while inspecting the said road once, calling it a guzzler of lives. Citizen upon citizen have resorted to pleading with successive governments on national television and through other media to see to the swift repairs of the said road. The Gbarnga-Ganta road was originally a three-hour route. Since it began to deteriorate and then nothing concrete was done. At last, the cries of Liberians had broken through to the top echelons and the current government’s determination to get the road fixed and useable again was to put a smile on the faces of those who ply the road. The leadership of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf decided to fix the roads once and for all to ease the suffering of commuters. Last month, President Sirleaf commissioned the Phase 1 of the road, spanning over 75 kilometers. The second phase, as Minister of Public Works, Gyude Moore explained had not been fully completed because of technical challenges but was commendably over 60% done. An excited Senator of Bong County – a prominent member of the Peoples Unification Party Henry Yallah – stressed that the government’s effort in reconstructing the road is “the most outstanding intervention the road has witnessed over the years. A road that was once a death trap began to wear a new face and is in its present state, good as brand new. A journey of twelve hours and counting has now been reduced to a third of that time – four hours or less. This transformation was even buttressed by a recent survey conducted by the Bong Civil Society Council on the 1st of March, which showed that 60% of citizens who travelled during the yuletide season acknowledged that the roads had indeed been improved on. According to the findings released, majority of Liberian road users found it easier to travel to their different destinations in various parts of the country during the Christmas holiday, unlike the previous year. The survey read in part, ‘Overall, 69 percent of respondents were of the opinion that the roads had either improved or had improved very much. As a result of the improved condition of the Gbarnga-Ganta-Guinea border road and others in general, transport giants, National Transit Authority slashed its fare prices in a widely circulated advert on local radio stations in the county last month. It added the words, ‘The roads are getting better’, a phrase that is a true reflection of the government’s commitment to infrastructure and national development. On his way to collect his transcripts last week, Benson slept for most of the journey in the 18-seater bus he boarded from Ganta to Phebe to the university’s main campus in Suakoko, one of Bong County’s many sprawling districts. The inscription “Welcome is the best journey” on the lorry in front of his vehicle one of the few times he was awake barely registered until he got down – the trip was too smooth for him to care.