Liberia was full of life then. The population was small. The economy performed well, as the country’s natural resources were ripe and valuable for harvest. People who made good money built mansions and undertook other worthwhile initiatives. Some took to pleasures. The sounds of guns and rebellion were faint if not nonexistent. It was jolly jolly of immense proportion for the citizens. Monrovia was called a “Daybreak City” not merely for its bustling activities but also because electricity, however meager, was nearly nonstop. Even during the days of the revolutionaries of the 1980s, the adorable situation relatively persisted. Then came the civil war, which engendered an internecine fight that led not only to the breakdown of law and order but also the destruction of critical infrastructures. The small hydro that generated electricity and turbines in Monrovia were not spared the devastation. The “daybreak city” was plunged into and turned to “night-break” or “darkness-break” city. And for nearly two years, lights particularly along streets and amongst homes became a luxury. It is just now, just three days ago after two decades that Monrovia and its environs was returned to a daybreak city again; thanks to the three-year old administration of President George Manneh Weah. The switch of streetlights was turned on Saturday night. But as The Analyst reports, another challenge, power rationing due to longstanding problem of drying waters at the Mount Coffee Hydro, has set in, and it is likely the newly installed street lights will have a hit in some areas at one point or the other.
Liberia, before 1979 and even at minimal level thereafter, was hailed as a more developed nation among the fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. The 1980 coup d’etat, and worse of all the subsequent 14 years of civil war, turned things around from the country’s rosy outlook of the country. Much of the country’s economy and infrastructure, especially within the nation’s capital Monrovia which is considered the hub of economic activities, got destroyed.
Particularly, the prolonged war had an excessive toll on the country’s capacity to generate electricity, a major ingredient for industrial growth and development.
With the destruction of the Mount Coffee Hydro Plant supposedly by the NPFL rebels in 1990, successive post-war governments have had to face the challenge of providing Liberians with their basic electricity needs, an essential component for household and macroeconomic growth.
Despite these exogenous challenges faced by President Weah’s predecessor and now himself, in partial fulfilment of his government’s four-tiered Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) Pillars, especially targeting private sector-led economic growth, and supporting a peaceful society with enhanced security, President George Manneh Weah last Friday, February 5, 2021 commissioned a special project that relights the principal streets of the Liberian capital, in a strategic development move that many say is reminiscent of Liberia’s prewar days when the streets of Monrovia were safe and sound, and commercial outlets boomed with activities 24-hour around the clock, like Buster Brown on Benson Street to Ducor Hotel on Broad Street; from Relda Cinema in Sinkor to Gabriel Cinema on Broad Street, from Brawico on Camp Johnson Road to Rally Time Market in Soniewehn.
Speaking during the commissioning program of the special presidential project that is entirely sponsored by the Government of Liberia through revenue collections, President Weah said the project is mainly intended to shed light into communities that have been in darkness for many years, and as a means of enhancing security for the people.
Inaugurated October 2, 2020, the Presidential Lighting Project, which is expected to cover the entire length and breadth of Liberia, now has street lights installed from the ELWA Junction through Broad Street, stretching all the way to the Bushrod Island, and as far as the FreePort of Monrovia where the commissioning ceremony took place last Friday.
As street lights adorn the city of Monrovia, lighting the night skyline as never seen after the Liberian civil war, the citizens are getting caught up in the euphoria that attends nightlife.
Mohamed Diallo owns a haberdashery on Broad Street. But business has been slow for Mohamed especially with the departure of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia a few years ago. Compounding this problem, Mohamed has had to close shop by 7:30 pm because of security reasons. The pitch darkness of Broad Street is a recipe for uptown gangsters who will pick any chance to rob.
“This is good for our business,” says Mr. Diallo, who occasionally brings in his goods from Asia. “The lights will make us stay up a bit for business. We hope the government will have more police on the streets now that we have lights all over,” says Diallo in an interview with The Analyst.
Anderson Miamen is the Executive Director of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL). Miamen believes that the street light project adds value to Liberia’s development initiatives.
“This is really impressive; thanks to President Weah and his Government for the Street Lights,” Mr. Miamen enthused last Friday on his social media platform following the commissioning ceremony.
But while a fairly large group of Liberians remains upbeat over the Government’s street light project, a few others are cautious over the celebratory mood, as depicted from a post from a notable Liberian civil society actor.
According to some hardcore critics of the government, what President Weah and his government are doing have been done in the past with little success; therefore, President Weah must learn from the past and do things differently.
Critics of the Monrovia street light celebrants claim that former President Charles Taylor, using solar power technology brought in street lights from Taiwan and tried to restore light to Monrovia and around the country.
“The initial attempt generated similar praises as Weah’s attempt at restoring street lights to Monrovia. But Taylor solar lights went into disrepair and returned Monrovia to a state of darkness. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf tried restoring traffic lights to Monrovia and similar excitement arose. The traffic lights were never properly maintained, they malfunctioned for a while and after Weah came to power, they too went into disrepair and have never been restored. Had Sirleaf’s traffic lights been maintained, some of the unnecessary traffic in and around Monrovia, (especially Duala) would be minimized. Like Taylor and Sirleaf, Weah is attempting to restore light to Monrovia and people are celebrating, terming his initial effort as a ‘major achievement.’
If Taylor and Sirleaf failed to bring light to Monrovia (and Liberia), what guarantee is there that Weah will succeed?
Good parenting requires us to push our kids to high standards and not to set the bar low. For example, if our kids return home and submit a progress report of 70% rather than 100% (the ideal academic target), we acknowledge that 70% mark is a promising sign but our kids can do better. Rather than setting the bar low, we push them to obtain 100%, or high 90s or at least upper 80s. It will amount to bad parenting if we celebrate our kids 70% mark as the standard.
The rationality here is similar to how citizens evaluate their leaders. If we’re quick to applaud our leaders for doing very little, we send the wrong message that little is enough, that they don’t need to work hard. So why celebrate Weah’s attempt at restoring light to Monrovia, especially if it doesn’t measure up to 30% of our light/power needs? Shouldn’t we wait and see how these lights will be maintained and eventually expanded to Bushrod Island, Brewerville, and countrywide? Let’s set the bar high for our leaders!” a staunch Weah critic further averred.
Criticisms aside, President Weah himself has acknowledged the fact that the street lighting project is a small step in the direction of greater things to come.
During the commissioning ceremony last Friday, President Weah stressed that although the project may seem small and insignificant on the part of his government towards fulfilling its pro-poor development agenda, yet it represents a giant step and a major impact in terms of improving the quality of lives for the people of Liberia.
Warning to Thieves
As he switched on the lights, President Weah used the occasion to warn criminals in the habit of unscrewing the nuts from the light poles, as the lights will benefit everyone, including politicians, ordinary Liberians and residents.
Buttressing the President’s call for protection of the street lights, acting Public Works Minister Ruth Coker disclosed the setup of a special “Surveillance and Maintenance Task Force” to protect against vandals, noting that the special team will be responsible to monitor and supervise security of the poles.
Madam Coker further urged the public to assist the task force by reporting any acts of vandalism that affects the smooth functioning of the street lights.
According to Madam Coker, the first phase of the project amounts to two million United States dollars, covering three lots including ELWA to Vamoma; Vamoma to Broad Street and Ducor; and from Johnson Street to Freeport.
Other communities and local streets that will benefit from the Special Street Light Project include Johnsonville to Pipeline; Rehab to Du Port Road; Johnsonville to Dry Rice Market; and the SKD Boulevard to SD Cooper Road respectively.
New Kru Town, Logan Town, Doe Community and Mamba Point, among others, will as well be covered under the special project.
Snag Creeping In on Street Light
It would appear in some quarters that the lights just inaugurated by President Weah are turned off, and darkness persists.
The real explanation for this is that, according to those knowledgeable of the country’s electricity regime, LEC is load shedding right now.
It is said that all the turbines of the Hydro are not in use now because St. Paul river water level which the hydro uses is low. This is a historical problem, meaning that it used to happen like this before the civil war.
This leaves LEC to run power from the thermal plants at Bushrod.
The maximum capacity of these plants is 30 megawatts. Maximum demand from households is 47 MW. So LEC has to load shed because there is a power shortfall.
This situation is solved when CLSG comes online in mid-March. LEC will take power from Cote d’ voire to meet demand.
This load shedding will affect the street lights. The fact that some of the street lights are off is because of this situation.
Several street lights are out in the Congo Town area. Where load shedding affects an area, street lights will be out, and there is not can be done about it until the rain come or until CLSG kicks in.
Sources say this is the power situation of the country that the CLSG lines are supposed to remedy. This has been an historic issue with the Mount Coffee dam. This is why current used to go during normal times.