When Development Planning, Engineering and Political Will intersect: The Case Study of the Relocation of the Red-light Market to Omega


Engineers are normally schooled in the sciences of the forces of nature, the mechanics and properties of materials, the principles of design and the technological capacity to construct for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life. This suggests that engineering on its own as an applied science can not solve the complex problems of development and at the same time quench the need to stimulate the political will to influence developmental initiatives. When it comes to the implementation of complex development projects like relocation of commercial hubs, it definitely cannot be a stand-alone engineering/construction project.

David D. Wounuah, [email protected]

It has to be a multi-faceted initiative that require the trans-disciplinary intervention of engineers, architects, social specialists, environmental experts, economists, land-use planners and project managers to develop, design and implement. There is evidently a need to seek out a point of convergence between engineering, development planning, and political decision-making. Once a problem is identified the solutions are manifested through development projects which are planned and envisioned through the lenses of the multi-disciplinary planning processes; visualized, designed and cost by the Engineers/Architects and then sanctioned for funding, and implementation through the political decision-making process. This is the normal process. This is the process through we are able to maximize the probability of development projects solving development problems. Any approach to the contrary notwithstanding.

Since I am a Civil Engineer, schooled in the theories, mechanics and technological capacity to design and construct, and also a development planner with a fair understanding of development planning process as a multi-disciplinary, data-driven endeavor, let me attempt to use the much-heralded decision to relocate the infamous Red-light market, from the commercial district to the Omega Community a predominantly residential district. As laudable and bold as this decision appears to be on its face let’s look at some of the hard questions which in my opinion must have been answered as a part of this project development and planning stages. We can not begin to postulate here whether or not these questions were considered, asked or answered before the new market construction started or even before the move date was announced; however, the visible unanticipated consequences, the confusions, the ongoing land grab, the chaos, uncertainties, traffic wahala and newly induced messy Omega Community can only suggest what appears to be evident. Did we consider any, some or all of the below questions as a part of the project’s concept, planning, design or implementation stages?

  1. How many marketeers currently trade in red-light and gobachov market which are being relocated?
  2. What land area of trading space is being relocated?
  3. Do we have allocation for future expansions?
  4. Are the land rights issues around the market designated areas been established and resolved?
  5. Are the constructed facilities sufficient to host the total number of market stalls we intend to relocated?
  6. How much storage area is required per average trader?
  7. Are there adequate storage facilities in the newly constructed market to host the volume of goods planned to be relocated?
  8. Are there adequate social services required for a functional new market: toilets, clinics, electricity, portable water, parking spaces, Police station, Magistrate courts, loading/offloading decks, etc.…
  9. To what extent will the market relocation affect the traffic congestion on the Red-light to Kakata road corridor?
  10. Are there alternative access routes to and from the Omega Community which can be improved as a part of the market relocation project to reduce the demand on the primary market access?
  11. Are there alternative options for pedestrian access which can be explored to reduced pedestrian traffic along vehicular access?
  12. Would expansion of the road link between Parker Paint and Mount Barclay from two lines to four lines cater for the increased traffic volume as a result of the market relocation?
  13. Could we expand the Omega access road, and redesign the Omega junction to accommodate a higher traffic volume?
  14. Will the construction of pedestrian overpass at the Omega Junction reduce the pedestrian-traffic conflicts?
  15. Considering that the Omega Community is a predominantly low/swamp land, how will the market relocation affect the environment and upland flooding, since expansion of the market has warranted unlimited filling of swamp lands in surrounding area to accommodate additional market stalls?
  16. How would the market relocation affect crime rate and other social vices in the Omega area and how can this impact, if any be mitigated by the new market project?
  17. What other opportunities for economic development, light manufacturing, market access, market linkages and market integration can be created by the market relocation which can be exploited by this project?
  18. To what extent will the market relocation affect the quality of life in Omega Community as a residential district?
  19. Is it beneficial to move the entire market or does it make more sense to move the perishable food components of the market and retain a small but controlled trade of dry goods in the original Red-light market space?
  20. What alternative use of the vacated land space in Red-light can be explored to the benefit of the economy and enhance trade and development?
  21. What positive and negative externalities in the long and short term do we expect the market relocation to trigger and how can we advert or tap onto those externalities?
  22. Are we trying to solve a congestion problem in Red-light by transferring the problem to Omega or are we simply “kicking the can further down the road?”
  23. How can we make the market relocating sustainable such that relocated marketeers simply do not return to Red-light when all the dust settles?
  24. Is there benefit to a seamless and systematic approach to relocation based on kinds of goods being traded over a protracted period compared to a single day move?

These are only a few questions which raced through my mind as I took a normally 3-minute drive from Coca-cola factory to the FDA junction around 10:15 am on July 13th, only this time it took 1 hour 15 minutes and it was not even rush hour. I can only dream that it will get better and Liberia will change for the better. I can only dream it’s a new day in Liberia.

 I can only dream that we are living in a new era. A new era where Liberia made the turn for the better and development is being approached as a process guided by the careful and meticulous efforts of professionals and decisions are made based on empirical evidence and not a knee jerk reaction.  In the new era of development, when it is decided to relocate the red-light market to Omega Market this is what we would do:

  1. We would set up a multi-disciplinary project team to evaluate the feasibility of the proposed project, develop an implementation plan, project design package and project budget.
  2. Our multi-disciplinary team would include: Civil Engineers, Architects, Land Use Planners, Development Economist, Social and Environmental specialist, and representatives from the Liberian Marketing Association, Paynesville City Corporation, the Omega Community and the Liberia’s Land Authority.
  3. This team would enlist the help of academia. For instance, our team would enter into an agreement with the University of Liberia Regional Planning Graduate School to initiate studies to answers complex development questions associated with this project as demonstrated above.
  4. Based on results of studies, consultations, surveys and analysis, the project team will develop and submit for approval an implementation plan, engineering details, and budget and timelines.
  5. An approval panel consisting of representatives from Ministry of Public works, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Environmental Protection Agency, The Marketing Association, Relevant Civil Society actors, etc. will review the plan, conduct public hearings on the plan, socialize the plans in the affected communities, interact with the project team and eventually approve the plan following several iterations.

(At this stage the technicians take a step back and the politicians take the stage)

  • The following now becomes a political decision: i. whether or not to implement the plan, ii. when to implement iii, what percentage of the plan to fund, etc.… After which implementation commences consistent with the approved plan.

This process could last between six months to five years depending on the scope of the project being planned but in the case of the market relocation, it could be six months.  This is the process. Its long, tedious, looks far ahead, considers everything but offers the best chance of development problems being solved.  This is how the theory and practice of development planning is thought in universities. We have the local expertise and technicians to do it right here. It’s only a matter of political will to do it right. This is the process the Nigerians used to design and relocate the capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja in the 80s. This is how the United Arab Emirates developed and implemented a plan to transform Dubai in 20 years. This is how Rwanda developed a plan and became transformed between 1994 and 2014. All those changes and developments we see in the World around us did not just happened, they are not miracles, it’s not because those countries are lucky or blessed, those development outputs were deliberately planned and meticulously implemented.  Unless we brave the storm, genuinely think Liberia, keep focus on the bigger picture, rise above quick fixes and current political aggrandizement, I am afraid that my dream will only remain but a dream. If we don’t make the change for the better now, we will all continue to look at other countries and wonder “when will Liberia be like this?” It is not rocket science, we know how to do it, we can learn how to improve on what we know, we can learn from folks who have done it before. As for our case sturdy, for fear of sounding like “a prophet”, all I can say is that, at this rate, the new Omega market might just turn out to be an even bigger eyesore than Red-light and Duala combined in next five years and we might just have to move the new Omega Market further down the road to Careysburg.

Having said that, I can now go back to sleep and keep dreaming of the new era, which might or might not come.

My two cents!