President Weah’s Nationwide Tour Worth It—Let it Remain Routine

NO AMOUNT OF criticisms must discourage President George M. Weah from reaching out to Liberians who reside outside of Monrovia and its environs where the seat of Government is. Understandably, politically minded individuals would deplore the use of state resources constituting the cost for the President’s tours. Understandably because everyone knows a sitting president reinforcing and harnessing relations with the rural majority will be hard to fight by the opposition. But fighting and criticizing for the sake of that is absurd, to the say the least. From what the world saw in six counties visited, it is only instructive and wise for the President to continue to pay regular visits to the countryside, which is unarguably the most populated but the most underdeveloped, excluded and poverty-plagued in the country.

LET IT BE NOTED, first and foremost, that citizens residing in the rural parts are co-owners of this land called Liberia. They have right to see, interact with and put their grievances directly to the president for solution. Granted, it is true the people do have their chosen representatives who, by virtue of this representative democracy we have, should bring and put their cases on the floor of the legislature for redress. But didn’t the people also cast their vote for the President? Isn’t the president therefore feel, or must feel, accountable directly to the people? More besides, do all elected representatives serve well? Isn’t it true that some do betray the people’s trust—elected but hardly return to interact with the people?

CRITICISMS AGAINST THE President on visits to the countryside come from unthoughtful or mischievous minds—minds that think very wrongly that Monrovia is Liberia and that Liberia is Monrovia; minds that think the rural majority of Liberians must think in the same way as Monrovia Liberians do; and that once the President reports to them in Monrovia, there’s no need to advance outside the capital. That’s selfishness. That’s unreasonableness. That’s injustice. The President of Liberia belongs to all Liberians, both rural and urban, equally. Travelling out of the Monrovia does not make the President lesser in stature; he bears the same presidential weight. And just as critics don’t see it wasteful for presidential convoy parading the streets of Monrovia and its environs and engaging citizens on their felt needs and aspirations, so it is not wasteful visiting rural counties and interacting with the people there.

MANY OF LIBERIA’S development plans from the days of old if not all, and certainly including the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), failed to assuage the deep-rooted aspirations and needs of the impoverished majority, mainly of rural people and communities where development needs are particularly urgent and widespread. While some acknowledgement can however be made of sporadic outreaches by researchers in a pocket of towns and villages to engage with locals before developing their respective development blueprints, the truth is, the bulk of those engagements and outreaches was done in haste, superficially and inadequately. They cannot claim to be products of deeper, widely and embracive representations of a broad-spectrum of the nation and its people. What comes out tend to be scholars and intellectuals’ hindsight wrapped in rhetoric and colored language.

EVEN ASSUMING WITHOUT admitting that Monrovia-carved plans are authentic and suffice in tackling the country’s development challenges, what is wrong when the President of the Liberia, along with all his/her appointees, embark on a tour to check out on how things are faring with the majority of citizens who reside in the rural parts? Doesn’t it serve as a reinforcing mechanism or intermittent monitoring and evaluation of the development plans for which the President is the Chief Executive?

FOR THE WAY and manner in which President Weah conducted his first nationwide tour—spending not less than two days in each of the six counties, stopping and greeting people between towns and villages, conducting town hall meetings, holding special tete-a-tetes with local duty bearers, engaging citizens via community radio appearances, amongst other things—there is high prospect for rapid development of the countryside. No amount of scholastic research and development planning beats such as mode of people’s engagement where the Chief Executive already overly passionate for developments have a firsthand, real time knowledge and experience not only with those people but also with the conditions existing.

OUR HOPE AND plea is that President Weah should not make it the last tour. If it is found expensive to do annually, let it be every two years. But after all, what is worth spending the nation’s money on than getting to know the people and their problems and getting into the mental psyche that pushes for a more radical and speedy mode for the transformation of the nation? We plead for regular visits to the countryside where the bulk of the nation’s budget is often purportedly targeted because its importance surpasses performance reports of Ministries, Agencies and Commissions on paper. The regular visits constitute reports in sight, in real time experience, in popular, direct feedback gathering by the head of state himself from the beneficiaries themselves, and in the afterthoughts of what is required to do next.

BY DOING SO, the President will be raising the bar. Officials of his government who feel they are Monrovia-based elites and abhor people and things related to the interior will be compelled to change their mindset and attitude, even if they were to do so with “white teeth and black heart”.  The mentality that Monrovia is Liberia and vice versa could dissipate. President Arthur Barclay’s Partition Plan and President William V. S. Tubman’s Unification Policy will find their true meaning. The rural people will feel a part of Government, a part of the President and a part of the national cake. And finally, this mode of citizen engagement leaves a void even for the most heart-hardened, anti-rural President will ever ignore. Those coming after President Weah will not afford to bypass the countryside, particularly with visits in person, and interacting with rural masses.

INDEED, THANKS TO president Weah for the tour. It does worth the time and resources. And May it be a continual process for reasons already cited.

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