Speech Delivered By Wleh-Chea Kpanneh Doe
To The Ninth National Convention Of The New Kru (Klao) Town Association In Americas (NEKTAA)
The Joseph N. Boakai Liberian Community Cultural Center
4757 Stone Mountain Highway
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Officers and Members of the NEKTAA
Sons and Daughters of the Borough of New Kru Town
Invited Guests and Leaders of other Liberian Organizations
Friends of the NEKTAA
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me begin by expressing my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the leaders and members of the New Kru Town Association in the Americas (NEKTAA) for selecting me to deliver the keynote address marking the ninth (9th) anniversary of the New Kru Town Association in the Americas. I consider this an honor and a privilege for several reasons. First and foremost, I consider it a service to our association and to the community that shaped our early formative years and, if for nothing else; this is one way of giving back. Second, the invitation to select someone who is a son of New Kru Town, suggests to me that it was a well-considered decision by the executive leadership and convention planners to live by that popular Liberian mantra that says: “IF YOUR HOUSE DON’T SELL YOU, THE STREET WON’T BUY YOU”. This to me is a further manifestation that we should first rely on our own strengths and resources, rather than always looking outside our own community for the attention of others. Third, I consider the theme of the convention, “Building Our Community Starts with Us”, to be appropriate and fully in alignment with an emerging new mindset on how Liberians should begin thinking about building their communities and country as they look ahead to the future.
My Dear Fellow New Kru Townians and distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we have assembled here today at the ninth annual august national convention to deliberate on the way forward for strengthening our organization and building our community. Against this background, it should be noted that the 9th convention also comes on the heels of Liberia’s 168th independence anniversary, all converging at a time when the country is gradually emerging from the experience of one of the worst epidemics in recorded history: The EBOLA epidemic. During this crisis, we lost an estimated 5,000 of our fellow Liberians (May their Souls Rest in Peace!). Even though the country has been declared “EBOLA-FREE” by the United Nations, there are troubling news reports about the resurgence of the disease. We pray and hope that adequate measures have been put in place to contain this potential new threat. I NEED NOT REMIND YOU HOW OUR OWN COMMUNITY OF THE BOROUGH OF NEW KRU TOWN, WAS GREATLY AFFECTED BY THIS EPIDEMIC.
In addition to the Ebola health crisis, we are also witnessing an EDUCATIONAL CRISIS, where the young generation who are our nation’s future and leaders of tomorrow, are being deprived of being provided a solid educational foundation to become better citizens of the future. It can be recalled that in 2013 and 2014, of 26,000 students who sat for the WAEC exams, over the last two years, not a single one achieved a passing grade at the region one level. Even more depressing, in 2013, all 25,000 students who took the University of Liberia admissions exam failed, and in 2014, only 15 out of 13,000 students passed. This suggests a deep systemic crisis in our educational system. Today, as we speak, the educational foundation of our young people is being further undermined when the national government has adopted a “Social Promotion” policy that allows students at the elementary and secondary levels to be automatically promoted to the next grade level without ever completing the curriculum or mastering the subject-matter content of that particular grade. This is the national government way of promoting educational reform. BUT HOW CAN OUR NATIONAL LEADERS IN GOOD CONSCIENCE ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN, WHEN MAJORITY OF YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY LACK THE BASIC SKILLS OF READING, WRITING, AND ARITHMETICS? AND HOW CAN WE IN GOOD CONSCIENCE NOT BE OUTRAGED ABOUT THIS DESTRUCTION OF THE YOUNG PEOPLE THAT IS TAKING PLACE BEFORE OUR NAKED EYES? The crisis has also metastasize into other areas, including an ECONOMIC CRISIS in which the income GAP continues to widen between the HAVES and THE HAVE-NOTS, where majority of Liberians live on less than $1.25 a day, while a tiny minority of Liberians are earning mind-boggling incomes (salaries), that in some cases, is equivalent to what middle-to-senior level corporate executives earn in the United States and the West.
We are also being challenged by the out of control YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT CRISIS,-- a crisis that has also affected skilled and unskilled Liberian adults and college graduates, who have no hope of finding employment in an export-oriented economy designed to cater to the needs of the international capitalist economy, rather than addressing the domestic needs of the country and its citizens.
Last but not least, we are being overwhelmed by an ENVIROMENTAL CRISIS in which RISING SEA LEVELS, resulting in an aggressive erosion of the land mass of most of the Southeastern counties of Sinoe, Maryland, and Grand Kru; and parts of Grand Bassa and Rivercess. I NEED NOT REMIND YOU THAT OUR OWN BOROUGH OF NEW KRU TOWN IS BEING GREATLY THREATENED. However, environmental experts, including oceanographers and climatologists, are predicting that many developing countries in Africa, lacking the technology to contain the rising sea levels, could well end up losing much of their land mass, which would be swallowed by the sea. Against this background, I invite you to reflect with me for a few minutes on the topic: “New Kru (Klao) Town: Yesterday, Today and The Future”.
THE FOUNDING OF NEW KRU TOWN
Historical accounts trace the founding of the Borough of New Kru Town to the year 1916. Based on historical records, the Borough of New Kru Town as an independent municipality was established by an ACT passed by the Liberian National Legislature in 1916. At the time, the national legislature dominated by the Americo-Liberian ruling settler oligarchy, considered it a goodwill gesture by taking steps to reward the Kru(Klao) tribe that helped make it possible for the early settlers to find a home in Liberia at Cape Mesurado in 1822. Today, in this second decade of the 21st century, the Borough of New Kru Town, one of the oldest in-town communities (if not the oldest) will celebrate its 100th Founding Anniversary come 2016.
Beyond its recorded history, there are numerous other narratives and myths that have been passed down from one generation to the other, regarding the community’s early founding and how it has evolved into its current state. As the predominant ethnic group that lived along the sea coast, known for its culture of fishing, sea-fearing, adventure, education, and interacting with Europeans who were exploring and conquering faraway lands, a popular folklore has it that a Kru sailor named Nah Wah Targbeh on his journey from Shebro Island, transported the settlers to Cape Mesurado as they searched for a land to live. As was narrated, Nah Wah Targbeh, employing his diplomatic skills, was able to convince Kru leaders and other tribal leaders from the Dei and Mambah tribes to embrace the settlers who settled on Providence Island on the banks of the Mesurado River. These early contacts were to lay the foundation leading to the founding of the Borough of New Kru Town. Again, based on historical accounts and narratives told, when the newly-established Liberian National Legislature held its first convention in the early 1900s, a leading Kru Tribal leader—Geeagbe Gmah Karpeh, and others were given OBSERVER status to this convention. So, when the community was established and began to evolve, it grew in significance and became an integral part of the Liberian society.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BOROUGH OF NEW KRU TOWN AND CURRENT REALITIES
One cannot speak of current day New Kru Town, without reference to its predecessor, ‘Old Kru Town’. As the Krus who comprised mostly those who hailed from Sinoe, Sasstown, Grand Cess, Nana Kru, Settra Kru, and King Williams Town settled in Monrovia, they began to build their community. Today, most of what is referred to as ‘Old Kru Town’ covered Rock Crusher, waterside, Mamba Point, parts of Ashmun Street, Front Street (now Sao Boso street), and Newport Street. This community blossomed and was self-sufficient. Fishing, trading, and entrepreneurship continued to form the cornerstone of Old Kru Town, followed by a strong faith-based and religious foundation. Patten United Methodist Church, founded by the people of Old Kru Town, today stands as one of the strongest pillars of the United Methodist church of Liberia. Education also occupied a pivotal place amongst the people of Old Kru Town.
By the mid- 1900s, as the Liberian economy became poised for growth, Old Kru Town could no longer exist in its current shape and form, and became a casualty of development. When the Liberian Freeport was established to serve as a gateway to trade and commerce, this triggered the relocation of residents of Old Kru Town to what is currently the Borough of New Kru Town.
Since the creation of the Borough of New Kru Town, it has been a stable community for almost a hundred years. The Borough of New Kru Town is the oldest In-Town community in the city of Monrovia. There is no other community like the Borough of New Kru Town with its enviable history. Uniquely, the community is endowed with much strength. Though established as a community for those belonging to the Kru ethnic group, it has grown to become a multicultural and diverse community comprising an array of people from various walks of life, backgrounds, and ethnicities. It is also characterized by its commitment to education. Well before New Kru Town got its first public high school—Didwho Twe Memorial High School, there was a Clu Hall Elementary School. However, the Krao people, known for being fiercely independent and passionate about education, also sent their children to some of the best schools in the City of Monrovia. They were especially noted for embracing the Catholic philosophy of education, and sent their children to mostly Catholic schools, including Saint Patrick’s, Cathedral (formerly Saint Patrick’s Elementary); and as far away as Our Lady of Fatima High School in Cape Palmas, Maryland County. THE OLDER GENERATION, OUR PARENTS AND GRAND PARENTS WERE NOT RICH AND HAD VERY LITTLE MONEY, BUT THEY BELIEVED IN THE VALUE OF EDUCATION. THEIR ENORMOUS SACRIFICE SHOULD BE APPLAUDED. While some who could afford it, sent their children to Saint Edwards in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and other catholic schools in Ghana and Nigeria. And a few others, who had the means, sent their children to the United States and Europe to further their studies. This community has produced doctors, engineers, scientists, writers, journalists, and a cadre of professionals who work in many capacities and have contributed their knowledge and skills to building their country.
The community of the Borough of New Kru Town was also established as a PLANNED Community in its early formative years. It was home to one of the first local housing (Public Housing) projects that provided shelter with indoor plumbing and electricity to many of its residents. Homes constructed those days were built alongside streets with residents having access to the streets and their homes. For example, If I were looking for the Walker Family, Doe Family, Tweh Family, Naplah Family, Karpeh Family, Cuffy family, etc.; I knew exactly where to go to find them based on the zoning and landmarks. This may not be the case today as the community has undergone tremendous change that has negatively impacted its progress.
Moreover, culture and sports have always been one of the foundational pillars of the Borough of New Kru Town. There is also the richness of the Kru music, its storytelling tradition, dance and art. The community has produced some of Liberia’s finest artists, including Experience Tonio “TIJAJLU” Nagbe, The Great “Dangerous” Dugbeh—Liberia’s foremost Comedian who made everyone laugh with his acting and biting sense of humor, Lucky “Shango” Brapoh, Naplah E. Naplah, Wantoe Major, and many others. [For example, I recalled the ‘Kru Festival’, introduced by our brothers and sisters from Freetown with their display of the male and female Kru ‘devil’ and dancing throughout the night. These were the hallmarks that provided the cohesive thread that held the community together]. In addition, Sports were deeply interwoven with the robust culture of the community. With its passion for loving sports, especially Football(Soccer), in particular; playing sports was not only meant to demonstrate a talent for playing football or basketball, sports was seen as an essential part of developing one’s character, learning the skills for working together as a team, cultivating respect, building social relationships, and developing leadership. The community produced some of Liberia’s finest sportsmen such as William Nah, Borbor Dee, The Teah brothers (Lawson & Patrick), Nyan-Nyan Savice, and many others. The community also produced some of the leading sports clubs, including Saint Joseph Warriors and Bame.
Fellow New Kru Townians: I will not be doing justice to my speech if I did not mention the faith and spiritual foundations upon which the community was anchored. Many of the residents drew strength from many of the major Christian denominations, including the Methodist, Pentecostal, and Catholic faiths. Aside from their families, young people growing up in the community acquired values of right and wrong from their elders and their involvement in the church. The Pentecostal Church is perhaps one of the oldest churches built in the Borough of New Kru Town around the mid-70’s. Many of the churches had youth programs, including Bible Studies, Teen Time Quiz, youth choirs and fellowships that solidified the building of strong character and a moral value system that kept some of us grounded today. The churches were also critical in laying the educational foundation of the community. For example, Club Hall, Methodist Elementary School, Assembly of God, Saint Mary’s School (now Saint Mary’s High School) and several other church-supported schools should be applauded for being instrumental in providing early childhood education to many of the young people in that community. Were it not for the significant involvement of the church-supported schools, many of the young people today who have grown into adulthood would not have been privileged to acquiring that early education that is so critical to developing the whole person. There are also pockets of the Muslim faith that can be found in the Duala community.
In addition to its cultural and educational foundations, the community is endowed with natural beauty. Many trees dot the neighborhoods, including plum, cashew, paw-paw, and coconut trees. Its strategic location on the corner of the Atlantic Ocean and the Saint Paul River estuary makes it perfect for tourist attraction and development. Even more significant, the community of the Borough of New Kru Town serves as an economic anchor, providing much of the labor pool to the Freeport of Monrovia—Liberia’s gateway to trade and commerce, Liberia Electricity Corporation, as well as many other business entities.
Not very often mentioned , is the Pivotal role the community of the Borough of New Kru Town has played in the STRUGGLE AGAINST POLITICAL AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE. THE BOROUGH OF NEW KRU TOWN HAS BEEN AT THE CENTER OF POLITICAL ACTIVISM FOR MUCH OF THE COUNTRY’S HISTORY. Historically, New Kru Town has been in the center and forefront of providing leadership and advocacy in the struggle for political freedom and economic rights. A prominent Liberian citizen and member of the Kru ethnic group, Didwho Welleh Twe , was a resident of the Borough of New Kru Town. As a political leader, D.Twe fought for political and social emancipation and strongly opposed the spread of injustice by the Settler ruling oligarchy against Native Liberians. As a former member of the House of Representatives, Honorable Didwho Twe led the fight AGAINST FORCED LABOR PRACTICES UNDER THE CHARLES DUNBAR BURGESS KING ADMINISTRATION. Twe defiantly challenged the King’s administration and that historic fight eventually led to the RESIGNATION of CDB King as President of Liberia. The community of the Borough of New Kru Town has been proud of its enviable political tradition, and it continues to serve as the center of gravity from which many Liberian political groups have drawn their strength.
But while the community is endowed with many strengths and potential, and can be proud of its rich heritage and contributions to the greater Liberian society, like many other marginalized communities in and around the Metropolitan Monrovia area, IT BEARS THE WEIGHT OF ITS OWN PROBLEMS AND HAS BEEN A CASUALTY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT. The problems associated with the Borough of New Kru Town includes but are not limited to: Jobs, lack OF ACCESS to important assets, lack of inadequate infrastructure, youth delinquency, poor sanitation, pervasive poverty, and rising sea erosion, among
Lack of access to important assets
An essential part of national development involves having access to critical assets that contributes to the general health and well-being of the citizenry. These basic critical assets include the provision of safe drinking water, electricity, adequate infrastructure such as streets, roads, good schools and HEALTH SYSTEMS, and recreational facilities for children. It is a basic human right for every citizen to be provided these services. In an overly populated community like the Borough of New Kru town where according to national statistics (produced by the ministry of finance and development planning), more than 70,000 people live, many households lack access to safe drinking water and electricity. Even where they do exist, many households lack the means to afford these services.
Not too long ago, some local Liberian dailies (newspapers) reported that the entire community of the Borough of New kru Town and most parts of Bushrod Island was disconnected from being supplied electricity. It was further reported that the Liberian Electricity Corporation (LEC)—the major supplier of electricity in the country—stated that residents in the community employed illegal means to acquire electricity for their homes. Now, not in any way excusing this illegal act since “two wrongs don’t make it right”, Yet the important question is: why would a community of more than 70,000 residents not have access to electricity since it is a basic human need? Despite the fact that New Kru Town was home to the LEC (formerly PUA—public utilities authority), and most of the residents of New Kru Town were involved in building the nation’s electric grid, the community has not benefitted from its services. To the contrary, these residents who are low-income and live in Poverty have been left in darkness. Moreover, majority of the community residents do not have access to safe drinking water. Most residents have to rely on neighborhood wells that produce water that is UNSAFE OR have to travel miles to a public pump to fetch water.
Underlying all this is the condition of POVERTY in which most of the residents are trapped. We now have a situation in the Borough of New Kru Town, as it is the case of most marginalized communities in the Monrovia area, where more than 75% of adult residents have no source of income, which also suggests that there is very high ‘child poverty’ existing in the community. This also means that many of the parents lack access to the basic needs of life and are not able to provide for the daily livelihood for their children and family. This condition of the “poverty Trap” has led to very high delinquency among the youth living in the Borough of New Kru Town.
A by-product of the poverty trap that has engulfed the residents of the Borough of New Kru Town, is the rising youth delinquency. A Liberian daily newspaper citing a community leader of new kru town about the young residents of that community, quoted the leader as saying: “We may lose the fight to reclaim hundreds of young people who have already sold themselves to gambling and drug abuse” (liberian dialogue, july 13, 2015). the community leader further observed that “those are the people who are blamed when bags, mobile phones and important items are jerked (snatched, stolen)”. The leader, underscoring his frustration, concluded: “They don’t work and yet they must eat; we have a situation on our hands and the government must find a way to assist the various slum communities to deal with it. we cannot afford to let the young people descend into an abyss of ignorance, illicit drugs and insanity that ends in violent behaviors”.
According to some reports, of the estimated 75,000 residents who live in the Borough of New Kru Town, there are 90% of the residents who are below 25 years old. This suggests that there exists a high concentration of young people in who are trapped in poverty, and have no positive outlet other than to engage in deviant behaviors that negatively impacts the community and the society at large. lack of attention to providing opportunities to the young PEOPLE OF the community of the borough of new kru town that the community leader alluded to, if allowed to continue, COULD lead us down a path where an entire community would be left out of the mainstream of development, and this could create a social crisis that could have a ripple effect on the society at large. leaving a child behind means that we would be losing a future doctor, engineer, scientist, teacher, and lawyer who was not given an opportunity to develop their God-given talent and potential. leaving a child behind means that society will pay a high price resulting from adverse social consequences: crime, prostitution, drug abuse, and VIOLENCE— ALL of which carry an enormous SOCIAL AND economic cost to society.
the sanitation and sea erosion crisis
There is an even more dangerous and threatening development that poses an existential threat to the survival of the Borough of New Kru Town. This has to do with the growing environmental crisis. The crisis is of two kinds: The first is the sanitation crisis, which has to do with how we dispose of trash, waste, and other unwanted materials in our community. The community lacks any organized system of dealing with this problem and this has resulted in a contaminated environment. Residents often dig holes in their backyards to dispose of trash and other waste products, which often turn into a perfect home for hosting diseases. An over-populated community like the Borough of new kru town is therefore vulnerable to any outbreak of disease. If for nothing else, the recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EBD), offers a good lesson as to why the addressing the sanitation crisis should be treated with immediate attention and urgency.
The other crisis that presents a far greater threat to the COMMUNITY is the rising sea erosion crisis. According to numerous scientific reports, the seal levels along coastal cities are expected to rise increasingly over the next decade. Reports suggest that this may rise as high as 75ft due to the warming of the ocean, which is melting ice sheets in the Antartica and elsewhere. While others may be skeptical about this development, the inconvenient truth is that we are already WITNESSING BEFORE our own very eyes the impact the rising sea levels are having on our own community and much of the coastal areas of Liberia. In our own community, we have seen how the sea erosion has destroyed homes, small businesses, and neighborhoods. the most visible impact we have all seen, is the destruction that is happening to the didwho twe memorial high school in the community, the only public high school in the community.
The people of the borough of new kru town have now coined the phrase the “angry seas” to describe this phenomenon and the vengeance the sea erosion has brought on their community. At the rate the erosion is occurring, we may end up LOSING most of the inland area and, eventually, perhaps our entire community. For more than 20 years, we have witnessed the occurrence of this problem, but there has been an evident foreseeable neglect by the national and local authority to tackle this problem with the urgency of attention it deserves. we cannot sit idly by and see our community disappear before our own very eyes. Now is the time to act!
This raises the larger question as to what role NEKTAA should play in meeting the present needs of the citizens of the Borough of New Kru Town.
NEKTAA’s role in meeting the present needs of the citizens of the borough
Liberian organizations in the Diaspora have a long history of providing support to the communities or regions from which they come. There are well over a hundred Liberian organizations of all stripes, including schools, social clubs, community associations, regional associations, and family associations, dedicated to helping in one form or the other. Some organizations have become models that others can follow; while others continue to struggle with their purpose,values and mission. There are enviable examples of how most of these organizations have contributed in varied ways to improving the conditions of their people and communities back home. Some, for example, have provided sustained support to a hospital in their particular County, region, or village; some have chosen to support their educational institution or particular school from which they graduated. They select small projects such as improving the library in their school, improving the Science Lab, adopting a classroom, providing textbooks, launching a scholarship program, or sending volunteers home to teach for a few months. While others have organized themselves into social clubs to be their brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, helping one another in times of need.
Hence, the needs of the country are enormous and every Liberian organization in the Diaspora can play a role in supporting the needs gap that can bring about a small improvement in the lives of our people.
Fellow New Kru Townians: Our community, the municipality of the Borough of New Kru Town, like many other marginalized communities, lacks the institutional and socio-economic foundations to sustain itself. Notwithstanding, New Kru Townians in the Diaspora who have constituted themselves under the umbrella of the NEKTAA, can play a significant role in addressing some of the critical needs of the community. Consistent with its PREAMBLE, which states that NEKTAA aims “to develop and maintain a cohesive and functional group, desirous of promoting understanding, unity and mutual care for one another, and the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the people of the Borough of New Kru Town”, NEKTAA can begin to take concrete steps to build on its role and support to the community. Towards this end, the following ACTION STEPS are being proposed:
Conclusion: The Future Lies With Us
Both our past history and current realities, provide some very good lessons about the future of the community of the Borough of New Kru Town. Those early traditions that contributed to the strength, vitality, and viability of the community have given us the foundation that we should continue to build on as we look ahead to the future. A recent lesson that offers a powerful example as to how a community can tackle and overcome challenging problems relates to the Ebola crisis. As one of the communities that were worst hit by the disease, resulting in numerous deaths, the people of the Borough of New Kru Town were able to organize themselves (without waiting for anyone, any policymaker, or foreign aid support) into one collective army to confront the scourge of this disease. By organizing themselves into neighborhood groups, residents became proactive in tracing the source of the disease, containing its spread, and eventually eliminating it from their community. This approach further demonstrates how when people are self-empowered, they can bring about meaningful change in their own community.
However, there is no disputing of the fact that communities like the Borough of New Kru Town, which forms the inner core and outer rings of Metropolitan Monrovia, have not only been marginalized for so long, but these communities have also become casualties of a national development strategy that places less emphasis on developing the human capacity of the people who live in these communities. But the people of the Borough of New Kru Town and other marginalized communities can change this by applying the lessons from their recent experience with the Ebola disease to address other challenging problems confronting the community, especially the Rising Sea Erosion Crisis.
Wleh-Chea Kpanneh Doe is a community activist and a resident of Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at Kpannehdoe@live.com