River Gee ‘Presidential Palace’ Sparks Debate -Citizens Speak to Pres Weah’s Alarm Over Development Deficits
During the just concluded six-county tour, and while sojourning in River Gee County, President George Manneh Weah voiced out rather powerfully his disgust about the lack of basic infrastructures to accommodate guests, blaming eminent sons and daughters of the county for neglecting their homeland. The President particularly singled out the ‘presidential palace’ where he lodged during his stay in the county, describing it unfit and ‘that thing they call presidential palace,’ and ordering its immediate demolition and replacement. The President’s uproar has generated debate amongst some citizens of the county who are divided over the merits and demerits of Presidents’ criticism but unanimous on the need to accelerate the speed at which development initiatives must take place in the county. The Analyst’s Managing Editor Stanley Seakor reports.
Liberians hailing from River Gee in the Southeast of Liberia, whether they are resident residents or away in other parts of the world, are continuing discussions of remarks made by President George Manneh Weah while visiting the county. During the president’s stay in the county as part of his first nationwide tour, he encountered firsthand developments taking place in various counties and cities, including the capital of River Gee, Fish Town, and commercial city of Kanweaken but was furious on the relatively backward condition of the people and the county in general.
Speaking at various town hall meetings with the locals, in both Kanweaken and Fish Town, the Liberian Chief Executive did not conceal his consternation for the deplorable infrastructures in the county, taking aim at politicians and leaders of that county for what he described as their unconcern and carefree attitude towards development of their province and its people.
The President specifically mentioned the ‘presidential palace’ where he and other VIPs on the trip lodged, condemning its filthiness and unfitness for habitation.
What remains unhidden is the view of the President on the condition of the palace because in an open forum, a town hall meeting at which the citizens were in face-to-face conversation with him, the President vocally condemned the lack of development in River Gee.
The President particularly condemned the ‘presidential palace’, describing it uninhabitable and calling for its demolition and rebuilding.
Those remarks by the President have shook up citizens who have been embroiled in debates amongst themselves, with some supporting the President’s perspectives while some disagree.
How Fish Town Development Evolved
Some citizens who are not direct offspring from Potupo, the original owners of the Fishtown that hosts the capital Fish Town, contend that the Potupo Grebo-subtribe is to blame for the poor development of Fish Town, River Gee’s capital city, charging that they have been refusing to allow citizens from other parts of the county and the country in general access to land in the capital city build decent homes and to invest. Potupo people have concurrently rubbished the criticisms.
In one account, an indigene of Potupo reminded his kinsmen from other parts of River Gee County that original residents of Fish Town sacrificed a lot since the creation of River Gee, specifically for the development of the city, for which they must be praised.
For instance, according to the account, when River Gee County was created and founded on March 16, 2000, with Fish Town designated as its capital, sons and daughters of Potupo donated lands and their own buildings for government offices.
As per the account, Fish Town which was previously the headquarters for Potupo Chiefdom and part of Webbo Administrative District, absolutely lacked infrastructures, unlike Kanweaken in Gbeapo District and Swehken in Sarbo District, both of which were Administrative District Headquarters respectively.
According to reports, Fish Town, was principally selected as the new county seat because of the availability of huge unoccupied land which could be put to the disposal of national government for development purposes; fine landscape which was ideal for city development. Also, Fish Town was ideally located as the central point between the two original Districts of Lower Grand Gedeh County (Gbeapo & Webbo Districts) which were amalgamated to create River Gee—all due to the general nature of hospitality of the Potupo people.
Realizing the opportunities of being the Capital City of the new county, the people of Potupo were willing to go extra miles to make costly sacrifices simply to accommodate national government agenda. Besides offering their land to the new county, and building new structures for public use, the Potupo people made additional offers.
According to the account, teacher Albert Seakor, then principal of the Fish Town Public School, donated his 8-bedrooms house for 5 years freed of charge to be used as a tentative Administrative Building for the new Administration. The first flag poles that were planted to hoist the national and county flags on the 9th of August 2000 are still there.
Additionally, Old man Robert Swen donated his 5-bedrooms house (for 5 years free of charge) to be used tentatively as Superintendent’s residence; and Ma Mary Dweh, Old Seobo’s daughter, also donated her 4-bedrooms house for 3 years, freed of charge, to accommodate the first City Mayor of Fish Town City.
It can also be recalled that old man Tom Duwlee Jah also provided his 4-bedrooms house for 4 years, free of charge, to house the Development Superintendent and first Police Commander.
Regarding specifically the presidential palace, it is observed that the president raised a lot of issues: the general backwardness of the entire region; the River Gee case in particular, especially the lack of decent public facilities to lodge GOL officials including presidents and the overall working relationship between the government and its citizenry.
“All of those are important matters that deserve our attention and need to be discussed void of emotion and sentiments,” some citizens contend.
One prominent citizen who does not want to be named said: “Let me quickly appreciate the president for acknowledging the real truth about how backward the Southeastern region has been since independent, and the expression of his will-power as president of the Republic to tackle and solve these age-old problems which have been confronting our people. Unfortunately, while we should be celebrating the dawning of a new era which promises to be favorable, the ugly face of the curse which has haunted us for too long has already introduced itself – reading from comments I have seen so far on social media. That curse of hatred, falsehood and division; that curse of perpetual disunity and super illiteracy that always led sound minded people astray.”He continued: “I think we should be soberly reflecting and finding a holistic approach by which our county and the region can be lifted from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment instead of dwelling on things that could further deepen the superficial division that is already existing. Haven said that, I am very certain, the president made his remarks based on prevailing realities on the ground, his personal knowledge of our communities – since he’s also from the region.”
“Please, those that know must say the truth. But the fact is that there are not many public structures in River Gee and this is what should claim the attention of all,” another citizen said in a Group Chatroom.
The Guest House in question was built by the women of Potopu who used an assistance received from a logging company in the area at the time. The structure was actually erected by the women to respond to the need of the County for a guest house at the newly created capital city for use of both the citizens and the local government, an elderly man explained.
The old man said since the construction of the Guest House and its turnover to the local government by the women, it has been the building used to host official guests in the county, adding, “It was unfortunate that those who know the story of the ‘Presidential Palace’ did not tell the President the real story”.
He said this failure to properly inform the president how the initiative of building the Guest House. Now popularly known as ‘Presidential Palace’ came about provided the President reason why he was annoyed, thinking that it was a state sponsored initiative that was being mismanaged. “This is the reason for which President Weah ordered it to be broken down,” the senior citizen of the county told The Analyst.
Superintendent Nyenuh Sets Record Straights
Meanwhile the Superintendent of River Gee, Philip Q. Nyenuh, has been sharing his thoughts on the ‘presidential palace’ debate, stating that while the President might be correct on his assessment of River Gee’s infrastructure regime, there is a context in which the Guest House (presidential palace) was built to the level at which the President met it.
He said in an exclusive interview that the palace was a quick impact project by the citizens of River Gee themselves.
He said the citizens rallied and built the palace with their own money, and not government’s money.
Nyenuh recalled: “And when MWPI (logging Company) was here – call them Maryland Wood Processing Industry – they provided all the woods and the nails. 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 who currently works with the local government as a carpenter was recruited from Kanweaken – by that time he was much younger. Another man from River Gbeh called Jarweh was 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 totting sand and all that –so it was a community thing.” He continued: “But what has happened to us when Madam Sirleaf took over and during the administration of former superintendent Karku Samson who also found some money and decided 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.”
Asked whether former President Sirleaf and other VIPs ever slept in the building, Mr. Nyenuh explained: “Yes, she slept in there two or three times. The then Vice President Joseph Boakai slept in there also. It was not a Palace, it was a guesthouse.
Superintendent Nyenuh said the building it was not named palace, but is a guest house, and it would be a mistake what it was introduced to the President and others as a ‘presidential palace’.
He said: “I think it was misplacement of the realty. We were trying to build a ‘presidential guesthouse’ to which if you had we would go to see. But we decided to at the level of caucus not to put all the issues in the public domain. So we decided the tete-a-tete with President Weah 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.
Impressive Hospitality and Solidarity
Despite the uproar over the President’s condemnation of River Gee’s state of infrastructure, the county put up a colorful and well-celebrated welcome ceremonies during the nationwide tour. Turnouts of citizens to welcome the President were highly impressive, and there were genuine excitements expressed.
The size of crowd that came out to greet the visitors in Kanweaken and other places in River Gee, before the capital Fish Town, was overwhelming.
It would appear that the mobilizers for the county emptied outlying villages into these big towns, prepared students, marketers and youth to put the relatively large show in the county.
Another special feature that came up from River Gee is the well-organized ceremonies put together. Some observers say they had the best and most colorful, something enriched by their chief spokesman who mesmerized the visitors and residents in attendance with intriguing history about the Southeast struggle for economic equity and political inclusion.