President’s State of Union Address – Why Roads Didn’t Make Headlines?
Our new President, His Excellency George Manneh Weah, has promised to be a driver of change and has wasted no time in laying out the battle plans. As the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte said “History is written by the winners”, he has begun writing new chapters of our collective history.
One chapter that will definitely resonate for a long time, in addition to the victory itself, is his very first State of the Union Address that did not shy away from engaging political taboos and untouchables.
The plethora of discourse his speech has ignited is a testimonial to a new political awakening in our land. The appeal is so strong that I have been drawn out of my closet to give an opinion.
The current discussion is strongly skewed towards the part of the speech that touched on the two most controversial points—Dual citizenship and Landownership. Of course, controversies always get the limelight and the headlines.
But this I think has unfairly stifled and muted the kind of applause and celebratory responses the declaration on road construction should have earned. If you come from those faraway parts of Liberia that are so isolated and get so cut off from the rest of the country every year when the rains come, you would understand where I stand.
Many weeks ago in December I was driving from Gbarnga to Monrovia on the day Ambassador Weah was finally declared winner of the long and grueling political race. I was deeply moved by the splendor of youthful exuberance as I watched the spontaneous eruptions of victory parades in towns and hamlets along the way.
They were mostly hordes of teens and toddlers hitting on tin cans and improvised musical devices, giving vent to their emotions and celebrating a victory which was tsunamic as it was epic and historic. They did not seem to care much about tomorrow.
The youth had just initiated a peaceful ‘revolution’ and were only content to bask in the glory of the moment and the realization of the tremendous power they hold over the fate of the political careers of the high and mighty.
Few days ago I was driving on the same route. My attention was drawn to a different sound this time around. Radios were playing loudly as the President delivered his first State of the Union address.
It was the semantic portrait of the policy that would drive Liberia’s future and destiny in the next couple of years. Its beauty lied in the boldness of its content and the innocence of its politics.
In a 45 minute speech he had delivered the battle plan for the promised change and declared war on hundred plus years of history and I am sure there were couple of ‘skeletons turning in their graves’.. I felt like saying ‘Ge –o-o-orge, you better let sleeping dogs lie if you want a smooth ride!’.
But happiness overtook my sense of caution. His declared intention to connect all major towns in Liberia with paved roads struck a sweet harmony with something I have so much wanted for so long. I lifted my hands off my steering wheel to actually clap as the president maneuvered his voice into ‘presidential cadence’ to hammer home his points.
I remember having a chat in November of last year with a visiting professor from the UK about what I would do for Liberia if I were president. I said I would make road construction my number one priority and spend a major part of my tenure to accomplish that. I would tell the Liberian people; “Let us sacrifice and build good roads and all other things shall be added unto us!”
No one can refute the multitude of benefits good roads can deliver to any economy. Indeed when Liberia is crisscrossed with good roads, local and international tourism will boom. Some family or some social club based in Monrovia can suddenly decide to visit the pristine beaches of the coastal towns in the Southeast over a week-end and they would be back in time for work on Monday.
This will translate into upsurge of quality hospitality establishments along those routes. Jobs will be created in road construction and maintenance while transport-related businesses will flourish. There will be increased access to goods and services all over the country.
Good roads will give birth to increased utilization of excellent medical facilities like the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital in Nimba County and more enrollments at the Tubman University in Maryland.
Government revenue can be assured of infusion of regular and sustainable capital if the government decides to collect road-user fees. In short, the money will follow the good roads.
The President’s announcement on his road construction agenda was so unprecedented in it specificity and it grandiosity.
Seriously? Is it possible to connect every county capital in Liberia with paved roads in six years? Sanniquellie, Zwedru Fish Town, Barclayville , Voinjama, Bopolu, Greenville, here we come! This should have been the talking point—the flashing headlines. What is this deluge about black man white man, land and all that?
Was the timing wrong? Could he have left these tricky and risky Dual Citizenship and Landownership topics for another day?
This issue is so thorny and so explosive on the Liberian political landscape that it has been smartly avoided by past presidents. Why would President Weah be so willing to take on them from day one?
In the arena of politics, unfortunately, one must master the art of information manipulation and learn to package and disguise politically controversial moves. The President could be accused of political naivety, but the message for me here is ‘times have changed and it is no more business as usual.”
The President, I am sure, calculated well. He only clearly demonstrated to the Liberian people that he is not about to compromise his change agenda for political correctness and was not afraid to disclose where the battle lies.
A political misstep you think? Well, the sheer number and volume of responses the move has elicited might just be the genius stroke the maestro may have unleashed to kick-start the process of dealing with these issues once and for all.
It reminds me of the days the football legend was at AC Milan and would score some stupendous goals that left spectators completely flabbergasted as he dribbled the entire opposing team from deep within his own half—bold moves that embodied the brilliance of surprise and unexpectedness.
Alexander the Great, one of history’s most dazzling conquerors said “Fortune favors the bold!” Sometimes politics is like a game and we will continue to use the symbolism of President Weah’s illustrious football career as a metaphor to make our points.
For now, I must applaud him for the speech that confirmed his nickname as a Country Giant, his willingness to engage and confront. The battle will be direct but beware of some ‘waa-way’ and eye-licking moves. Before you realize the ball will already be shaking the net.
It is going to be a tough game – but the harder the battle, remember, the sweeter the victory!
Dr. Obed Dolo, Specialist Obstetrician Gynecologist
Gbarnga, Bong County