Liberia: Cornelia Kruah-Togba, A Woman On The Move, Eyes Montserrado County District 13 Seat
Monrovia – Cornelia Kruah-Togba is a woman on a mission. When she isn’t putting “Ma Ellen There” in the gardens of the University of Peace in Costa Rica, she’s cooking up a project or two under her sleeves. Dubbed a mover and an implementer, this mother and wife sees no problem too big that she can’t take on.
By Gboko Stewart, FPA Contributor
From serving in the office of former President Sirleaf to serving as an executive assistant to Minister of Public Works and later chief of office staff to the Minister of Education and garnering the country’s top honor, she has not seen it all.
The recent change in her social media profile under the inscription “Team Cornelia” suggests that the youthful woman is venturing further afield on a turf which will see her footprint. She intends to fill the seat made vacant by Rep. Saah Joseph – a fact which she has not hidden. Saah Joseph, formerly a member of the House of Representatives, was recently elected to the Senate, thereby leaving his seat in the lower house up for the grabs.
Montserrado County District #13 has one of the largest populations. According to the National Elections Commission, it boasts of a staggering 39,002 registered voters. No doubt the challenges in district#13 are many. However, it is one which Cornelia maintains she is accustomed to.
“The challenges in District 13 are vast,” she says. “The condition of our feeder roads is still bad albeit relative development progress is being made with the construction of the Somalia Drive Road.”
It is an uphill battle she faces, going against a slew of over 20 candidates. In an interview, Cornelia explains the rationale behind her recent forays in the jugged terrain.
FPA: What does Cornelia bring to the table?
CKT: My experience working with and for the Government of Liberia for about six years has taught me that in order to make meaningful impacts, one must be able to exert oneself, be capable of finding lasting solutions to the root causes of problems and work effectively and efficiently in teams. I have a vast understanding of how government works and a huge network that can be harnessed to provide opportunities for change and development.
Over the years, I have assumed policy-driven capacities that yielded meaningful results for Liberia. This led to being admitted into the Order of the Star of Africa by H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for “serving the state credible and distinguishing [myself] as a dedicated and committed servant of the state.
I am an excellent organizer and implementer of ideas, a passion-driven and patriotic resident of District 13 and citizen of Liberia, an innovator and a great mobilizer and team leader.
FPA: Why do you want to represent the district #13 in the House of Representatives?
CKT: The challenges in District 13 are vast. The condition of our feeder roads is still bad albeit relative development progress is being made with the construction of the Somalia Drive Road. I believe I can do better at the legislature in pushing the completion of the Somalia Drive project and lobbying for the prioritization of feeder roads construction within the district. This will also allow us to focus our attention on other development plans including youth capacity building programs, women and health issues, education and security for our children, and to provide entrepreneurial training programs that will make our youths self-sufficient. This is the agenda I have for the legislature as Representative of the people of District 13 and I believe that the Legislature is the most efficient platform that will enable me to generate widespread repercussive change.
FPA: What’s your track record of service to the community?
CKT: My engagement with the community began in 2012 when I co-founded and managed a student-run organization called the University Students Initiative (USI) for two years in 5 Universities. The aim of USI was to create a platform for young people, especially university students, to apply themselves in their schools and communities and contribute to national development. The organization hosted Liberia’s first Inter-University debate tournament in over 15 years and maintained a network of enterprising university students who have engaged actively in community service projects in their individual communities.
I also developed and implemented a National Mentorship Program for 200 youths as Youth Program Officer of the Angie Brooks International Centre. Through this program, 200 young Liberians were paired with renowned professionals from various careers paths to provide career guidance and coaching and some were provided job placements as a result. From 2012-2013, I successfully spearheaded a National Youth Project titled “Put Ma Ellen There” in the 15 counties of Liberia aimed at uniting young Liberians despite social, economic and political differences to celebrate Liberia’s milestone of electing the first female President in Africa. The project successfully mobilized resources and constructed a bust of H.E. Madam Sirleaf in the Garden of Nations at the University for Peace, a UN-sanctioned university, in San Jose, Costa Rica.
As a result of this project, Madam Sirleaf became the first black female and first African, second female (next to Eleanor Roosevelt), and first African head of state to have a bust in the garden in recognition of her contribution to the development of Liberia. Other heads of states in the garden include Mahatma Gandhi, David Ben Gurion, and Jean Henri Dunant. In addition, since 2014, I provide scholarship and professional development coaching to students, including those residing in District 13, for capacity development. Most recently, I founded and serve as Executive Director of the “Young Women’s Empowerment Network”, an NGO that aims to create a strong network of talented women leaders for professional excellence in high profile careers in Liberia. Every year, 10 young women between the ages of 17-30 are recruited and trained and are empowered to implement, in collaboration with other young people, 10 community service projects across Liberia.
FPA: One of the issues facing the district is deplorable feeder roads, how do you plan to leverage your influence in the Legislature?
CKT: The challenge with resolving the issue of deplorable feeder roads is the lack of finances. The Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Public Works, under its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development, has listed a number of feeder roads within the district to recondition upon the availability of funds. Currently, there are efforts being made to secure loans to finance this project. However, in the short run, we intend to engage and lobby with the Ministry of Public Works for a collaborative project to temporarily, use the resources we have, to recondition the road whilst sorting out funding options for the long-term project.
FPA: How would your professional experience translate into something tangible at the Legislature for district #13?
CKT: Being a resident of the district for 12 years, I have full knowledge of the challenges being faced.
With my diverse work experience and high educational attainment, I will ensure new and creative ways and approaches to representation. My six years high-level public sector professional experience and intimate awareness of national politics provide a proper understanding of the workings of government and capacity to adequately lobby for and effect change. Being a youth, female, mother, and wife, I understand the plights of the cross-section of constituents and can easily empathize. This will enable me to adequately identify the root causes of problems within the district and implement and effect meaningful and lasting solutions to these issues.
FPA: District 13 has a population of over 39,002 residents – it’s such a huge challenge you’re taking on in wanting to represent. As perhaps the lone female candidate in the race, what difference will your representation make in the House?
CKT: Currently, in the House of Representatives, there are only 9 of the 73 lawmakers who are women- this is 12.3% of the total. This reflects a very low rate of representation in a country that not only produced the first democratically elected Head of State but one where women make up 49.60% of its population.
My election will ensure an increase in this number and lobbying power to legislate policies and laws to protect the rights of women and girls in Liberia and to advocate for stronger laws to increase women’s political participation and women empowerment.
If elected, I would also be a representation of youth in the Legislature as I would be the youngest lawmaker. In Liberia, young people constitute over 60% of the total population but make up less than 3% of the legislature. For too long young people have been marginalized and victimized, when we are the majority. Our voices must be heard and included in policy and decision making. My election would be the beginning of a revolution that believes in the potential of young people and is dedicated to leading the way for youth representation in governance.
FPA: What’s the first thing you intend to tackle when you enter the House of Representatives?
CKT: My first task would be the reorganizing of the district in order to create a model for representation and accountability. I plan to establish an executive platform for community leaders to interact with their representative and organize district consultations to seek input on key policy votes. I would move beyond a project-based model of representation, dependent on the will and pleasure of the Representative, and create structures for accountability through regular meetings across different constituents and interest groups. I will work to institutionalize a District leadership forum to ensure continuity regardless of the district representative. We will use the first 6 months to host consultations and develop a 5 Years Strategic Plan for the District.
FPA: How do you intend to ensure district 13 benefits from its shares of the county development funds?
CKT: Once the structures are set up, it becomes easy to coordinate how funds are allocated to address issues affecting the district. A district office will be set up with staff (residents of the district) of vast competencies to run the day to day affairs of the district. This office will ensure the implementation of decisions reached the district consultations. As the county development funds are provided on a fiscal basis in line with the national budget, we will ensure that discussion and decision on the District’s priorities are held before the passage of each budget. The District Forum will be hosted a few months to the drafting and passage of the budget each year. After the District Forum, technical sessions will be hosted to develop a District Annual Plan for each year using the District’s 5 Year Strategic Plan as a guide. The District Development Fund and funds from Corporate Social Responsibilities of companies within the district will be used to fund the District Annual Plan.
Besides the District Development Fund, I intend to promote District-level self-sufficiency. We will develop a consolidated fund from Corporate Social Responsibility, private philanthropy, and other community-level fundraising schemes to finance district projects and programs. Funds could also be used to fund insurance scheme for market women and petty traders and address other pressing needs in the District.
FPA: How prepared are you for this position – what’s your level of education?
CKT: I recently completed studies for a Master of Arts degree in International Politics and Economics from the Kingston University in London, United Kingdom. I have a BSc. in Economics from the Stella Maris Polytechnic and a certificate in Leadership from the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
FPA: Which political party are you going with?
Discussions are ongoing but the goal is to become the Joint Opposition Coalition candidate
FPA: What else do you want your constituents to know about you?
CKT: I have prepared myself for this call. I am aware of the needs of the District. I am ready to maximize our success through collective efforts. I want them to give me a chance and put me to test.