FINALLY, PRESIDENT GEORGE Manneh Weah and his Government have taken to the countryside. Reportedly, this is the first leg of what is expected to be an all-out visitation of communities and districts across the country—the first leg targeting Bong, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Maryland and Grand Kru counties. Indeed, by every measure, a commendable gesture, at least in the third year of his presidency.
MANY LIBERIANS BEFORE this time were pondering why the President had not embarked upon the traditional touring of the country since his incumbency. He was voted by over 65 percent of the population, wining fourteen of the country’s 15 provinces or counties. That was the first populous victory in the democratic history of the country. What this connotes is that the Presidency’s leadership takes roots in the popular will of the nearly five million people of the country; it connotes that more Liberians love him and trust him to be their leader. The concerns about his nationwide visits came sporadically because the president had multiply postponed plans to visit the countryside. Some presidents before him reportedly embarked on such tours in their first years after elections. That he was not visiting the people for three years had given some skeptics the reason to think he was not appreciative of the love and trust the people have had and have reposed into him.
BUT THERE WERE others who also contended that what appeared to be delays visiting the countryside since 2018 is not deliberate at all. Some have said times without numbers that the social, economic and political challenges into which the Weah government bumped accounted for the delays. Expectations of the people were high in terms of concrete transformation; the government inherited a broken economy; earthshattering propaganda about missing billions, COVID-17, amongst many other complications. As one pro-government pundit put it the other day, a people-centered president like George Weah, who was born indigent and grew up mostly amongst ordinary citizens, would have loved to visit every home, community and county in his first month. Now that things are subsiding, though some national problems are stubborn and he no longer can delay, it seems the President now sees it convenient to make a move into the woods.
AND TRULY, THe President is taking the countryside by storm, however belated so to speak, on his first county tour. Initial reports from the Bong County where he spent the first four days speak of crowded schedules, frank and elative exchanges and pleasantries with citizens. He is holding town hall meetings, walking community roads, meeting young and old, women and the physically challenged. There is no doubt that both the President and his local hosts are having memorable time.
HOWEVER, AS THE President moves from county to country, district to district and village to village, we would like to call attention to the need for promoting reconciliation and peace. While discussions about agriculture and other aspects of developments are dominating the exchanges between the President and his delegation on the one hand and the host population and their local leaders on the other, it would be foolhardy to gross over chronic division, hate and bitterness between ethnic groups, political blocs and demographic segments of the population. Some divisions and hatreds have come from the days of the civil conflict, some have emerged in the aftermath of return of citizens from exile and displaced centers, and still some are triggered by diverse political alliances.
THE PRESIDENT AND his advisors must not be deceived by the fanfares and pageantries demonstrated by citizens of communities and counties. In most cases, those pageantries are superficial, or white-teeth-black-hearts, as we say in Liberian parlance. As the convoy of the visitors drive away to another community or county, the chronic animosities and hate remerge, posing threats onto the national agenda.
ANYONE WHO DOUBTS the potentially disruptive levels of disunity and hatred in this country must for instance go back to and read the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Or one must think about traditional, longstanding conflicts that precipitated the civil conflict. And to further appreciate the magnitude of the problem on hand, one must ask what much has been done since the civil war to address the issue of conflict, hatred and bitterness lurking beneath what we call peace prevailing. Neither recommendations of the TRC nor the stand alone strategy of any postwar government has taken any serious, determined action to methodically explore and resolve the country’s reconciliation problem. In fact, the former President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, put herself on the record as saying that reconciliation was one of other issues that her administration failed to address.
WITH PRESIDENT WEAH’S GRASSROOTS, home-grown popularity, he stands a better position to do something about reconciliation and peace. And, no doubt, his first county tours provide a window of opportunity to commence a sensible approach that will get the country and rival groups therein reconciled and make Liberia genuinely peaceful. For it is said the absence of war is not necessarily the presence of peace.
THANK GOD HE IS conducting the tours a bit differently and uniquely, with the strategy of face-to-face town meetings at the core of its all, particularly patronized by his incredible patience to sit with the ordinary people for long hours and allow people speak their minds so frankly.
YES, THE LOCALS can talk about roads. They can talk about electricity. They can talk about education, health and other critical felt needs they feel strongly about. But the moderators of the town hall meetings being held should not allow hosts to conceal hate, bitterness and mutual distrust taking root and pervasive amongst them. Let the people also talk about divisions and grudges prevailing. And before the President, let them say what can be done by Government or partners to resolves their differences.
THE DEVELOPMENT THAT many crave for and speak so passionately about at the ongoing town meetings with the President is, and will be, temporary even if achieved. It is all at the mercy of hatred and distrust many are rarely talking about.
IN OTHER WORDS, the success of the presidential countrywide tours is found hinged on how Liberians freely and genuinely discuss their differences with the president and provide common ground for peace and harmony.