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Monrovia, A city far below a country’s capital

By Tamba D. Aghailas    Tamba D. Aghailas
Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia was named after the United States of America’s fifth President, James Monroe. Monrovia was envisioned by the settlers during the 1800s upon the onset of their arrival in their newfound nation, Liberia. The settlers declared independence in 1847, with a promise of freedom, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness; a dream to which the former slaves could never have aspired while they were in captivity.
Initially, the city was designed to inhabit some 10 thousand people; today, however, the city’s population is close to 1 milion, according to a 2008 census, and is still growing. Since the end of the country’s civil war in 2003, Liberia’s development partners and government have been working tirelessly, to meet the many challenges facing the population, despite incessant public corruption.
Pipe borned water, public infrastructure, electricity supply, and transportation networks remain in poor conditions. City roads recently built with taxpayers’ money, and with assistance from international partners have outlived their usefulness.
Within less than five years, many of the infrastructure have fallen in total disrepair, although some are nonetheless being rebuilt. Many parts of Monrovia, especially where more than 90 percent of the pupulation lives, seem like a city that was never built.
Water, sanitation, women and children’s needs
Donor agencies have mostly based their analysis and research of Liberia on the last twenty years, and have mostly blamed damaged infrastructure, looting and vandalism on the civil unrest. However, Monrovia has always been a city without a long-term urban plan. Water and sanitation conditions have gotten so bad that hundreds of thousands of residents in central Monrovia depend entirely on mobile water trucks and hand-dug wells for their daily survival. And today, families are forecd to use their meager resources to purchase drinking water on a daily basis. This in turn affects their pocket books, thereby perpetrating poverty.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in its Water and Sanitation profile of Liberia, acknowledges that “all sewer systems have broken down” in and around Monrovia and “rural areas remain devoid of any functional facilities while the urban areas haven fallen into complete disrepair.” The situation has created untold suffering mostly for women and children, who bear the brunt of the responsibility to fetch water for their families.
What the city needs is a fast track development strategy and implementation plan that will make accessible water and sanitation infrastructure capable of catering to 2 million or more residents. That’s because hand pumps and water wells are outdated, and as a result they can no longer meet the needs of millions of people living in the city of Monrovia.
Transportation network; a nightmare for everyone
Every major city has rush hours and rush hours create traffic jams, chaos, and frustration for residents. Rush hours in Monrovia are not only chaotic but a nightmare for pedestrians, motorists, and school children. This is due in part to the lack of vision – poor urban planning and design of the city by our predecessors who thought Monrovia would be an all-time small city with a smaller population.
So they designed and built the city for approximately 10 thousand inhabitants with streets so narrow that cars, motorbikes and pedestrians juggled daily to navigate the nightmarish congestion that Monrovia has become.
The narrow streets of the city, which is the capital of Liberia, have not only become an embarrassment to the ruling Unity Party of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but a real headache for her government which has been continuously criticized for doing too little to change the situation around.
For example, when the Liberian Government recently hosted the U.N. High Level Panel meeting on “Millennium Development Challenges” January 29, 2013 in the capital, the current government of Pres. Sirleaf instructed the traffic control units of the Liberian National Police (LNP) to restrict all access to citizens’ use of the Roberts Field – Monrovia and Tubman Boulevard Highways. As a result, local citizens were unable to freely drive in and around Monrovia throughout the conference, something that created frustrations and inconveniences for local residents.
Now, for a country as old as Liberia, such situation should cause us a shame in front of our guests. But whether our leaders learned from such sad experience is another issue to ponder. In any case, let Liberians know that our government’s action in collaboration with the LNP to restrict its citizens’ movements arising from the lack of a better developmental agenda for the country is not only a civil rights issue, but a human rights issue as well, which needs to be addressed.
The Samuel K. Doe Boulevard in the suburb was paved using taspayer’s money just few years into President Sirleaf’s first term. Today, that road is dilapidated to the point where it has prompted the government to commence a major facelift on the boulevard. The quick deterioration of most of our roads in and around Monrovia is the cause of substandard facelifts being provided by the less qualified road construction firms in the country which Pres. Sirleaf herself has spoken against.
Let’s hope that this time around, it is not a “campaign project” that only attempts to quell citizens’ anxiety by building a road that does not last for more than two years. Other roads such as the Duport Road, Point 4 Road, Somalia Drive, among others around the capital have similar poor maintenance problems, a result of public corruption and mismanagement of funds intended for roads construction. What Monrovia needs is to speed up the construction and rehabilitation of major roads connecting different boroughs of the city.
Besides Somalia Drive, SKD Boulevard, Duport Roar, Point 4-Duala Road, UN Drive and the highway leading to Roberts International Airport among others, need to be expanded to four lanes or more in order to accommodate our growing population in these moder times. The expansion and rebuilding of these roads must be done with a vision of fifty to hundred years of longevity, and not five years.
In addition to good roads that will last for generations to come, Monrovia’s motorists and drivers need to be regulated, trained and empowered so as to adhere to traffic safety rules for the safety and protection of citizens, especially school-going children who are at the mercy of motorcyclists called “suicide bombers.”
Electricity supply: From 150 to eight years
For residents of Monrovia, electricity is a luxury that many cannot afford. The price of gasoline is almost $5 U.S. dollars. An ordinary Liberian family lives on less than $2 dollars a day. At night, some main streets are lit with few light poles for which the present government feels content to boast. Bars and hotels get electricity supplies through private generators in the city. But once one leaves the vicinties of Congo Town, Sinkor, plus the areas near the seat of government in downtown Monrovia, the rest of the city is dark and frightening.
When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in for her first term in January 2006, Monrovia had been without viable power supply for more than 16 years. The newly-elected Johnson Sirleaf vowed she would restore electricity and other services in Monrovia and its environs swiftly.
In a speech on January 16, 2012, Sirleaf said, one of the “key objectives and deliverables in the first 150 days of our administration is the restoration of electricity to Monrovia.” However, eight years later, Monrovia still lingers in darkness; a campaign promise President Sirleaf has yet to fulfill.
As much as Liberians appreciate the relative peace they are enjoying, (largely in part because of the presence of the UN Peacekeeping Troops), life in Monrovia without electricity and other basic services is quite painful. The absence of electricity hampers wealth creation initiatives, and also affects the quality of life of millions of Liberians in general. Something must be done to reverse this trend to save lives.
Health system and millionaires’ travel adventure abroad
Monrovia being the largest populated city in Liberia, unfortunately, does not enjoy the confidence of its citizens. In fact, the health system is in such a bad stae that Liberia’s elite – the rich and high-power government officials are flown out of the country to Accra, Europe, or the United States for medical care; while millions of citizens of the country who can barely afford a daily meal live at the mercy of God. The most recent example is Finance Minister Amara Konneh, who was flown to Accra, and then to the United States to treat exhaustion and migraine, according to news sources.
It is quite unfortunate that the Liberian government has not seen reason to treat its healthcare systems as a priority for the sole benefits of its people; for it is being said that a healthy people make a great nation. But from the look of things whereby only those in high-level governmen positions along with their respective families get the best treatment abroad leaving the majority to fan for themselves. It is unlikely that a country like Liberia can boast of human-resourrce development in decades to come, especially when faced with an outdated healthcare system where many of its doctors and nurses struggle to cope with the high demand of medical care.
If the government is serious about providing equality to all of its citizens, then ordinary Liberians too must have access to the same quality healthcare being given government officials/elites (including the president) who fly out of the country for treatment and other medical attention. The government of Liberia owes it to her citizens to refurbish its healthcare systems for all to benefit and live long as a nation, unless it declares that certain Liberians (the majority poor) are lesser people than President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the rest of the country’s co-called “elites.”
The city is broken, dilapidated and outdated, and it seems as though Monrovia was never built. As I walk and drive through the streets of Monrovia, I long for the day when citizens of this great nation can proudly proclaim their city, Monrovia, as a modern capital that could make everyone proud.
The author is a community activist and founder of The Voice of Liberia (www.voiceofliberia.org.) He is a survivor of the Liberian civil war, and has written extensively on his country’s recent past history. He can be reached via email: aghails@yahoo.com, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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