“JUILIJUAH” And A Requiem For Bomi Hills
By: James Thomas-Queh
”Juilijuah”, Bomi County (previously Bomi Hills), is the private farm of the current Liberian leader, and which is fast becoming the newest de facto seat of our Government. The first annual Cabinet and SoEs sterile retreats (if not an official dedication of the farm) were held here in pomp and pageantry (20/01/15). I saw the sumptuous images (paved streets, neat lawn, well trimmed palm trees, large palaver huts, electricity, running water, etc) of what was once a dead town, probably. Frankly, what a better way to seal one’s legacy in a grand style.
The occasion therefore warrants a reflection. I will begin by highlighting few of the most famous ‘Juilijuahs’ of some of our past Presidents. Because these vast domains, not only are they today laying in ruins and portraying the ghosts of their illustrious former proprietors, but also remained a burden of ‘guilt by association’ on their various localities. And as you bear with me, I will close on ‘A Requiem For Bomi Hills.’
Harper City, Maryland County
As a lad growing up on Maryland Avenue, Harper, in the early 1960s, I still retained a vivid memory of the impressive presidential convoys of Tubman - with sirens and SSS men standing on the side of the security cars, cruising him ‘Up Cape’ to his luxurious, seafront private mansion. And this building was a masterpiece of architecture in its time, and even more stately than the old Executive Mansion in Monrovia.
Tubman made Harper a booming city, second only to the national capital in terms of developments – that is, good schools, hospitals, efficient local administration, a children play-ground just opposite Tubman’s Methodist church which sounded the marvellous jingle-bells on festive occasions, paved streets, flourishing commerce, harbour, and you name it. As a result many young people from the other forgotten south-eastern regions (without development entitlements) migrated to Harper for school and other opportunities.
But today where are all the flowers gone? I read sometime in the media that Tubman’s Harper Mansion was stripped and ruined to a skeleton. What a waste –27 years of some ill-gotten wealth that should been utilized for a generalized national development.
Totota, Bong County
Totota was the location of Tubman’s private rubber farm. One of its most famous landmark was the ‘CoCo Nest’, the farm hotel named after the daughter of the President. All major developments went straight from Monrovia and stopped net at Totota – and you name it: well paved highway, electricity, running water and the rest. But more, this farm had a sprawling park and a zoo, not for the Liberian public but only for the pleasure of the President and his foreign guests.
Totota and Harper are two typical examples of the Tubman development doctrine – that national development went only as far as to the door steps and pockets of the government officials. A doctrine that is still vulgarly applied today without an iota of mental refreshing on its devastating consequences on our nation.
But just drive through Totota today, and nothing will ever remind you that this place was the most highly protected ‘Camp David’ of Liberia for 27 years. Well, the last good news I heard of this area, was that an American university had secured a grant and went there to salvage Tubman’ s official papers from the ruins of his farm mansion – and documents, no doubt, that should have long since replenished our national archives for posterity. And, at least, we would have forgotten those millions of dollars of our national resources that had gone down here into a total drain.
That said, what if Tubman had willed his Totota estate and the Harper mansion to the state to serve today as our official ‘Camp David’ and a government state-house in a south-eastern county? He would have certainly followed in the footsteps of Liberia’s first President, J.J. Roberts, who bequeathed his vast domain to his church for the education of the children of Liberia. What a great and visionary national leader.
But that opportunity having been missed by Tubman, we lost all our principles and souls. So you ask any Liberian today about the J.J. Roberts Foundation – its annual income, how many scholarships yearly to ordinary poor Liberian students, how may schools has it built, how many teachers has it trained or sponsored yearly, etc – don’t bother yourself; it has become more like an exclusive secret fraternity, with only a very few well initiated members presiding over its colossal fortune.
Bentol, Montserrado County
President William R. Tolbert jr tried so hard to be differed (and in the most positive way) from his predecessor, Tubman, but he could not escape the temptation to also leave his imprint on his hometown. Thus he would begin a rapid transformation of the sleepy settlement of Bensonville and made it to become ‘Bentol.’ It was even fast moving up to the status of Liberia’s ‘Yamoussoukro’ until the April 12, 1980 military coup d’état shattered that dream. And of course, the social upheavals that ensued thereafter did not spare the settlement and its ascension to the national capital-hood.
However, recent events seem to indicate that Bentol is in a gradual transformation process – putting the pieces back together. And if so, I think it could do it much faster were it to first get the weight or ghost of the past of its back by reverting the settlement to its original name – Bensonville.
Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County
The remains of President Samuel K. Doe’s huge mansion in Tuzon has made a tour of the world through the electronic media. And its most remarkable feature is the ghost shadow of the painted Liberian flag still stuck at the bottom of the vast swimming pool in ruins. More, the whereabouts of Doe’s huge farm supposedly producing tons of rice is now unknown –missing in action, perhaps. And mind you, this was a poor soldier who led a military junta to power and confiscating the properties of the former government officials on the infamous leitmotiv of “rampant corruption”, but simply turned out not to be any better.
So, what can we add, except that bad examples produce bad results.
Gbatala, Bong County
Even after having spearheaded the massive destruction of the many examples before him, President Charles Ghankay Taylor still established himself a farm in Gbatala. At the same time, his hometown, Arthington, was also attracting massive development. Unfortunately, it has been almost 12 years since the farm workers, servants, contractors and followers have lost sight of their proprietor and idol; and though they have hope of an eventual return of the saviour. The hitch, however, is that Mr. Taylor is 67, and unless there is some miracle, he might not leave the British prison until around 2065. So what good is Gbatala when you have marched to power and wealth on massive destruction and the corpses of your innocent compatriots?
Juilijuah, Bomi County
No sooner the President was inaugurated in 2006 (the same year the Executive Mansion got on fire), she begun a mini rice farm on the grounds of her official residence. This was the trend of the many examples that would later follow up to this date, but without a clear national vision in support. Now, 9 years later, and with the Ebola having paralysed the nation for almost a year, suddenly the entire government and SoEs converged on Juilijuah, the President’s new farm, to celebrate –oh, I mean retreat. And while this comedy was going on and its shameless actors scamming ways to justify and maintain their fat salaries, here is a list of some major events left undone in Monrovia:
l Only the Vice President and US Ambassador Malac were officially launching the first Ebola vaccine test to declare our country freed of the virus, perhaps.
l Our schools can not open because of the lack of resources to repair the schools and also put in place the basic hygienic measures at each institution. But ask the Ministry of State that since the retreats were held on the private domain of the President, who shouldered the bill – the President or the Government of Liberia, and how much was the bill? Believe me, you will not be too surprised at the very arrogant and abrasive response.
l The President’s farm is finished (another good example), but the Executive Mansion is still in ruin. Why? The contractor ate the money and ran away. Poor excuse. The President cannot oversee and run her farm, and at the same time oversee and effectively run the government. Or, if the President can find professional, effective managers for her farm, then she should also be able to find the same to effectively run the government. Obvious, isn’t it? But there is the tendency that once the glaring incompetence and inertia of the government are pointed out, you will hear this famous excuse: ‘It is not the fault of the President; those are the people in her government.’ Nonsense!
l And while the President, Vice President, Legislators, Justices, Ministers and Managers of SoEs inaugurate their huge farms and mansions, ostentatiously showing off their new wealth and scorning our people as lazy and good-for-nothing – I reaffirm again, it is the US Ambassador, with her special fund and foreign NGOs, that are going into our deep rural villages and towns to assist our poor peasant farmers to grow food, build their farm-to-market roads, schools, clinics and dispensaries.
A Requiem To Bomi Hills
Ô Bomi Hills, the land of my adoption during my wonderful high school years – beware! Like today, with all the denigration of our struggling populace, I also heard back then that the Golas were the laziest people, no push. So all the tribes converged on you to became the laboratory for massive wage labourers and proletariat of the Liberia Mining Company (LMC). As a result, you barely survived the closure of the same LMC (1975). The enormous craters left in the mines have turned into natural Blue Lakes as your unique compensation and an exotic tourist attraction.
Thus I rejoice heartily at your rapid transformation (while the rest of country, eager and enviously awaits its turn). I hope and pray that ‘Juilijuah’ will remain your guardian angel after 2017, and not your sudden demise as Harper, Totota, Tuzon, Gbatala or Bentol. And only because our national leaders have an inherent greed, short-sightedness and no memory of history.
Good luck, Bomi - I wish you well.