By James D. Torh
The backwardness of our beloved Grand Kru County, once a promising homeland in southeastern Liberia, is worrying. When in 1984 the then Kru Coast Territory and Sasstown Territory were merged to give birth to the county, it was hailed as a Kru giant that would hasten the process of modernization on the Atlantic coast. But, seeing it critically wobble on the edge of stagnation into the 21st century leaves one to despair.
Indeed, the emergence of the county aroused optimism—the fervent hope that the merger of Kru Coast and Sasstown territories would make a difference in terms of rural development in southeastern Liberia. The optimism was based on the lopsided perception that the Kru people were “book people” and the myth that the Kru heartland was the “birth place of contemporary Liberian PhDs”. While this is highly arguable, there have been scores of educated Kru men and women in government and industry, who, it was thought, would with concerted effort steer the transformation of the homeland into the 21st century.
The optimism was also spurred by the county’s geography, history, culture and the daring spirit of the Kru people. Historically, Kru people fiercely fought for the autonomy of their ancestral land from the erstwhile settler government in Monrovia. The land is endowed with golden Atlantic beaches, seductive
vegetation nourished by great rivers, streams and creeks. Kru people live in well-organized towns and villages with a viable social stratification. And generations of Kru people have widely traveled in the western world and therefore knew what progress was all about.
I recently visited the county as a member of the Independence Day Committee. After many years in exile, it was terribly shocking to see that all that progress swiftly began in the 1970s has evaporated in thin air. I was especially nonplussed on entering my hometown and seeing it in total ruins. I stood there for a few minutes with tears in my eyes. Schools and clinics are dilapidated, and roads in the town have degenerated into winding footpaths. Infrastructure is virtually nonexistent in the county! The county remains in the middle Ages!
No, stagnation or the lack of progress is not peculiar to Grand Kru County. In fact, it is endemic in the southeastern counties, including Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee and Maryland counties. All of these counties are as stunted as the Liberian nation itself. But the backwardness of Grand Kru County strikes me harder to my bones because it is my ancestral homeland.
I was born and raised in Barclayville. I therefore have fond memories of the defunct Kru Coast Territory. In the early 1970s, the territory was an underdeveloped rural landscape; but there was hope for my generation. Amidst President Tolbert’s well-meaning slogan, “total involvement for higher heights”, the territory was fast transforming. Our rural schools were well-run, roads were relatively maintained; there was a bourgeoning health delivery system, and public servants were somewhat held accountable. So was Sasstown Territory which had now been linked to Kru Coast Territory by a car road.
And many of the old people who kept the wheels of progress rolling in the then Kru Coast and Sasstown territories were barely college-educated. My teachers in Barclayville, for example, were either high school graduates or “C” and “B” teacher training certificate holders. But they were the dedicated teachers who ran the best schools. They educated my generation of Grand Kruans most of whom are now college-educated. The civil servants—sanitary inspectors, health workers, chiefdom clerks, district commissioners and their clerks some of whom could barely read and write also kept standards and maintained the system of governance.
The 14-year long war seems a plausible excuse for the lack of progress in Grand Kru County. Yes, the adverse impact of the internecine war and its attendant devastation is enormous and cannot be denied. The war rocked our communities, undermined our economy and kept us backward. The collapse of the local economy and the erosion of traditional values have even given rise to slackening moral standards. Consequently, Grand Kru County is not only crime-ridden, but it is also in deep crisis: hunger, diseases, lawlessness and criminality that were unheard of back in the days.
However, we’ve had ten years of relative stability and international goodwill. Within this period, we’ve experienced some kind of devolution—enabling our kinsmen to walk the corridors of power in Monrovia. Guys whose Western education was literally paid for from meagre incomes generated from the subsistence farming and fishing of their parents in Grand Kru are now legislators, senior civil servants, key policymakers, businessmen, etc. So what is the matter?
Where is this much-heralded “big book” of the Kru people? How much do their terminal degrees mean to the county? In other words, why on earth is southeastern Liberia so backward with its entire elite educated people? Why are our schools, clinics, hospitals and roads in bad shape? Is there any correlation between higher education and progress? One would have imagined, there is. But in the case of Grand Kru County or southeastern Liberia that correlation scarcely exists—people who wear academic degrees on their sleeves virtually live in backwardness communities.
On reflection, I would have to say the backwardness of Grand Kru County is self-inflicted. It is partly spurred by our collective failure, not by spirits or any unseen forces that may exist in our imagination. Too many of our educated elites who now walk the corridors of power in Monrovia are parasites, milking the county. They are the criminally minded Monrovia politicians who cajole our people to become superintendents, senators and House of Representatives of the county. They hardly live in the county but go there to find jobs so that they can live comfortably in Monrovia while our people they represent toil and remain backward.
The problem is, these people squander our development fund. Since the end of the war, the international donors have been more generous to Liberia, having reportedly contributed millions of U.S. dollars for us to re-build our infrastructure. And every county, including Grand Kru County, has received its share of the millions--in addition to the annual $200,000.00 county development fund. For example, according to The Perspective, Maryland County has over the past five years received $7m for a special program dubbed the “Ministry of Health Pool Fund.” Grand Kru has also received money from the pool. But no properly functional clinic or hospital in Grand Kru County!
In its audit report for fiscal years 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, the General Auditing Commission observed that Grand Kru County Health Team could not account for “US$170,000.00 allotted and paid to the County Health Team and Rally [Time] Hospital.”
The Auditor-General also noted: “I conducted a head count of all staff at the Grand Cess Rally Time Hospital to confirm the existence of staff listed on the MOH&SW listing for Grand Kru County… I noticed that out of the thirty Six (36) staff listed by MOH&SW for Grand Kru County, twenty-five (25) could not be traced to anyone at the Hospital… Those names that could not be traced to anyone at the Hospital County could be ‘Ghost’ names and could be receiving remunerations, causing loss to [Grand Kru County and] the Government of Liberia.”
Besides, each representative of the electoral district in Grand Kru County has received $20,000 for the fiscal year 2014/2015 to fund projects in his or her district while the senators are entrusted with $20,000 each per district for the same purpose. Development projects that are supposedly funded by these legislators are called “legislative projects”. If you do your math well, you will realize that the legislators from Grand Kru County has this year mismanaged $180,000 development money—not to mention the $1.8m county development fund squandered over the past nine years . I rarely saw any completed projects in the county during my short visit there.
Neither did Francis Kporkpor, Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia who recently visited the county to inspect development projects. Expressing his disappointment in the incompletion of a court that had been earmarked several months to be built in Barclayville, Justice Kporkpor was quoted as saying:
“We are here to look at this court house which may be dedicated by the president. This project started a long time ago when former Chief Justice was still alive. That was the time the project was consummated, and there have been undue delays as I can see it is not complete. I am not satisfied with it at all. We thought this area could be a complex. There are offices, no tax court, revenue court, magisterial court…”
Gone are the days when government in Monrovia was allegedly alienating the Kru enclave. Yet many gained education thanks to missionary benevolence. In the 1970s, President William R. Tolbert ventured out of Monrovia and was opening up the Kru homeland when he became a sacrificial lamb. Samuel Doe, the southeastern man who allegedly overthrew Tolbert, created Grand Kru County. Even with power in their hand in Ellen Sirleaf’s Liberia, the educated Kru have become crooks unto themselves—stealing the development money of the Kru homeland. Where is the big book of the Kru people, my people?