Some pundits who followed closely President George M. Weah’s first countryside visit since his election are suggesting that the gesture be an annual event as it not only put the nearly forgotten rural parts and the complicated development challenges they face on national and international spotlight, but since it also rudely excites the locals and central government into strong passions of renewed spirits for development and progress. If there is one county that was particularly tickled during the president’s trip, it is River Gee, where the President vocally lamented the lack of development and where the citizens are consequently moved to leapfrog their drive for socioeconomic transformation. With echoes of the President’s visit still hovering over the mountains and valleys of River Gee, citizens are hotly discussing the ways forward for development as the Superintendent of the county, Philip Q. Nyenuh divulges in an exclusive interview. The Analyst’s Managing Editor Stanley Seakor reports.
While some citizens may see the national rounds made by President George Manneh Weah to six counties along with a sizable entourage of government officials and supporters as an ordinary pass-through of leader of the country, there are others who see it and regard it as a radical reawakening for development and progress. Citizens of River Gee County, who were criticized as inadequate infrastructures are not taking the event lying down, but as stimulant to double up in their drives to develop their motherland.
The Superintendent of the county, Philip Q. Nyenuh, says citizens of River Gee are afire with sense of development and transformation and that they will not rest until the county becomes the best amongst the rest.
While acknowledging a horde of challenges, including political divide amongst prominent citizens, he said he was optimistic that development will be enhanced in the county.
“Well, there are a number of issues that were put forth by various people; however, we have made significant progress,” Supt. Nyenuh asserted. “As you know, on Monday morning, we had a breakfast meeting with the President and members of the Caucus — the chairman of the caucus, the co-chairman of the caucus, the secretary of the caucus and of course including me as ex-officio member of the caucus. So we had the tete-a-tete with the President and outlined all the issues that we wanted him to know; and he’s given us good understanding of what he wants to do; how he wants the county to go. We can’t do so without uniting ourselves for unity amongst the people of River-Gee.”
He pleaded with citizens of the county, mainly politicians, to put the county first. He noted: “For the way people look at politics, I think it is about time that we put on new spectacles to look at it differently. Because if you know very well that your people are suffering for lack of development, that they are yearning for development, then it is important we all rally around our president to put forth a common agenda, there then you will sit in Monrovia?”
“Division is always part of human existence,” Superintendent Nyenuh acknowledged, and added: “But here in River-Gee, people come from different political persuasions; for now, you know some are from the CPP, some from the CDC and so what we are talking about is to put aside political differences and focus on the county.”
He said also the county was working hard to ensure internet connectivity, which is virtually nonexistent in that part of the country.
Answering questions why the situation persists in the country, he noted: “We are working on that. And we are pleased to tell you that we have an arrangement with Orange-Liberia. We have signed on to an agreement whereby we will allow Orange-Liberia to do upgrading of the internet system here in River-Gee, and we will be given 3-G. Actually what we have here is 2-G; so it has been very difficult for people to browse the internet; but with this agreement, we signed just before the outbreak of the pandemic, the COVID-19, Orange Liberia was coming to establish its POS or a Point of Sale. Just the other day, I was talking with the manager of Orange-Liberia that this and the manager responded, ‘Look, what we are trying to do is to turn your internet over to you and to upgrade it immediately.’ So he told me in the next few weeks you will see something done.”
Speaking about President Weah’s visit to the River Gee, Mr. Nyenuh said it has led to “some achievements we have made; being able to get the commitment of the president to do a lot for us.”
Without any element of doubt, he said, “I am sure that will be done. As a matter of fact, as the President has mandated us to do, we will be going to town, and so all of those issues are on the table for discussion to ensure that, River Gee development is put on the burner without further delay.”
“As you know in time past, because of this same issue of division among the citizens of River-Gee, significant portion of the county development funds was held in escrow and it was never released to the county until President Sirleaf left office” Supt. Nyenuh said.
He expressed regrets about deepening divisions amongst politicians from the county, but said “this is an age-old problem”.
“Up to US$1.5 million has not been released to the county, which we could have used to do a lot of things in the county. So in our discussion with His Excellency Dr. Weah, we’ve made it very, very clear. And I am glad and thankfully that the Minister of Finance was in attendance. We told him that when they go to town, we want the Caucus members to sit with the Minister of Finance so we can get that money, and we got a commitment from the Ministry through the Minister that we will get the money, and I am sure something will be done.”
Responding to questions about the county’s presidential palace, which was a target of President Weah criticism during his visit, Superintendent Nyenuh gave his perspective:
“As you know, in the southern part of Liberia, River-Gee is the newest – the youngest baby. And that building being referred to as Presidential Palace was put up as a quick impact project by the citizens themselves. They rallied and built that with the citizen’s money, and not government’s money. And when MWPI (logging Company) was here – call them Maryland Wood Processing Industry – they provided all the woods. The nails they also provided them. And then we mobilized the citizens – our carpenters. As a matter of fact, the people were on the radio explaining the circumstances surround the building. Actually it was not a Presidential Palace. One Bai Dweh today who works with the local government as a carpenter was recruited from Karweaken. By that time, he was much younger. Another man from River Gbeh called Jarweh also invited. So, we brought carpenters from a cross-section of the county to put up that building at no cost to government and at no cost to the county. Women were there to tot sand and all that. It was a community thing. But what has happened to us when Madam Sirleaf took over and during the administration of former superintendent Karku Samson, he also found some money and decide to upgrade the guesthouse which was initially a mud house. We did dubbing on that house. It was during Madam Sirleaf, time it was upgraded”.
On whether VIPs slept in the building in the past, the River Gee Superintendent said: “Yes, former President Sirleaf slept in there several times. I think two or three times and the then Vice President Joseph Boakai slept in there also. It was not a Palace. It was a guesthouse.”
Mr. Nyenuh continued: “We were trying to build a presidential guesthouse to which if you had the time, probably we would go there for you to see. But we decided to at the level of legislative caucus not to put all the issues in the public domain. So we decided the tete-a-tete with the President at the breakfast meeting and all the issues were flagged. Surely, if we had the money, we would have finished the Presidential Guest House – about 17-bedroom house that is still lying in ruin because of the lack of funding. So that is the challenge we are faced with. But now that it has claimed the attention of the President, we want to make maximum use of that opportunity.”
Regarding question about the role of prominent citizens from River Gee County at home and abroad, and how they are contributing to development, Mr. Nyenuh explained: “Well, when I visited the United States sometime back, I met with some of the sons and daughters of River-Gee and some of these issues were discussed with our people to the effect that some of the people are suffering. But sadly, some of the guys just don’t care. So I made it clear to them. I said some of you sat down here and some of your people don’t even have your telephone numbers. And in the midst of that, some of them started saying ‘I have two Master Degrees, I have PhD, etc.’ And I told them, ‘All what you are counting don’t matter to River-Gee. What matters to River-Gee is how you translate your education to the county for the betterment of the ordinary people. It is useless to boast of education that can’t be translated to the county for the benefit of your people.”
“Relationship is to the effect that we are all citizens of River-Gee. And what I have always told our gathering whenever we have the opportunity to meet is that we can disagree on a number of things -including development projects; we can disagree on a particular project; we can disagree on who should be our leader. But the core value that can define us as a people is something we cannot negotiate. We are all River-Gee Citizens and therefore that is something that is not negotiable. So, I keep saying we call ourselves River-Gee Citizens and that name comes from a river, Gee-River, and that River flows in one direction. So we can all rally in a way that we can flow in one direction. That is the efforts we’ve been making ever since we took over. I know there are issues, that people are divided along political lines, social lines. I try as much as possible in a way to rally our citizens that we can come together.” He said.