By Martin K. N. Kollie
Our choice today as a country must never be gambling, but quality education. Our preference must be youth development and empowerment. It is too sad that gambling has become a way of life and a major source of income for thousands of young Liberians living in a small nation endowed with abundant natural wealth. It beats my imagination to see Liberians standing in long lines everyday fighting for betting tickets. Gambling can never be an option to reduce massive poverty and youth unemployment. It only increases the number of unproductive citizens and less-busy minds.
If genuine and sustainable steps are not taken to enhance youth development through education, empowerment and employment in Liberia, I foresee a country of professional gamblers, beggars and drug addicts 10 years from now. We must understand that 65% of our country’s population comprises of youngsters. We can only protect the future of this nation if we begin to massively invest in young people proactively and not retrogressively. Anything less than this, Liberia’s future is on the rope.
Liberia stands a serious risk of embracing a dead future if nothing is done now to reclaim the attention of most Liberians, especially young people from a social syndrome that is increasingly swallowing our country. The addiction of this generation to gambling is alarming and I foresee an unfulfilled destiny if urgent measures are not taken to arrest the situation. The demerits of this anti-social act are costly and any attempt to ignore this fact will lead us as a nation to an undesirable end.
Gambling is not a friend to any innovative generation whose primary goal is to take exclusive charge of a prosperous tomorrow. It poses threat to our existence as a people and encourages an ill-focused generation that eventually becomes societal liability. If Liberia must make significant progress in this 21st Century by becoming a trendsetter of economic expansion, then our government must take the lead by persistently prioritizing youth empowerment and employment! Gambling is not an option for Liberian Youth. It does not provide any answer to our current socio-economic nightmare. It undermines our destiny as a nation. The solution for unemployment, inequality, poverty, illiteracy, and disease cannot and will never be gambling.
It is unarguably evident that the newest and most popular means of survival nowadays under the leadership of Africa’s first female President is Gambling. This act has taken center stage within our bleeding economy. The economy of Liberia will continue to experience sharp decline until local dominance can overshadow foreign control. The need to develop young minds is paramount to national growth and genuine development. An attempt to abandon Liberia’s only hope will only add insult to injury.
The living condition of youth in this country is becoming very terrible as the clock ticks. The certainty of a better future in a country of equal citizenship is unthinkable as youngsters are left alone to struggle for survival daily. Our leaders who are in control of state resources must begin to rethink by engendering realistic steps to redeem this young generation from sailing on a shore of incessant failure.
As the poverty gap widens, access to equal opportunities remains visibly unseen, whereas article 18 of our Constitution says “All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitle to equal pay for equal work”. If this provision guarantees our right to equal opportunities as taxpayers of Liberia, why must our self-esteem and dignity be undermined by gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, begging, etc.?
It is important to reconnect with our history by critically examining the role of young people during our civil unrest. Most of those who committed heinous crimes during our senseless conflict were young people. These young and energetic youth were used as front-liners by greedy politicians to perpetuate their evil plans. If the minds of these young citizens were conscious and enlightened enough prior to our war, Liberia would not have gone through such a national tragedy. We are yet to recognize how crucial youth empowerment is to the stability of any democratic society, even though there are lessons clearly written within the margin of our historical heritage. If we fail to learn from our past as a nation, I wonder how we intend to make progress!
Our country is on a pathway to economic and political uproar if we continue to intentionally ignore and abandon the preference of this generation. Empowerment opportunities such as education and employment remain very key to protecting our fragile peace. The sky-scraping increment of gamblers, prostitutes, and drug addicts in our society, especially in slum communities needs immediate remedy.
As the number of betting booths, entertainment centers, and drugs hideouts around the country increases, there is less appetite to promote academic excellence and quality education. As a result of this, the pillars of our educational system are crumbling. Students are no longer willing to spend hours reading and researching in order to ensure personal development. Other countries like Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda are far ahead of us simply because we have an ill-prepared population that lacks necessary skills to respond to existing global demands.
It has been proven that gambling contributes to a high rate of drugs abuse, prostitution, robbery, etc. Gambling harms everyone and destroys potential fulfillments of its victims. There is nothing good that comes out of this less-busy practice. We see how it affects families every day and hampers societal growth. Liberia has a youthful population that needs serious human development. More than 65% of our population consists of young people who are yet to find a marketable career. Almost everyone, including our political leaders, is complacent about the current status of young Liberians. The determination of any legitimate government in this country falls solely on the shoulders of young people.
If we are the ones to decide who becomes President, Representatives, or Senators, then why must we be treated in such a cruel manner? When I walk through the principle streets of Monrovia, I pity the condition of my peers as they jostle and hustle to survive daily. Some of them are already hopeless, while others are still yearning to reap a decent living. Instead of young Liberians eagerly standing on long queues to receive educational materials, starter-kits, scholarships, and employment opportunities, they are busy fighting among themselves to obtain betting tickets from WINNERS, DOXX, BLOOMING, PRIMIER, and other gambling enterprises. This trend must stop now! The best alternative is to invest more in technical and vocational training.
In 2014, an official of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in person of Henry Coleman spoke to Journalists from VOA and said “The government is excited about the presence of gambling institutions in Liberia because they are helping to promote the Poverty Reduction Strategy.” It is really disappointing to hear such a ridiculous assertion from someone whose mandate is to enhance youth development. In what way does gambling substantively contribute to poverty reduction? What is the transformational effect of this absurd lifestyle? What concrete impact does it have on our Liberia today especially when most youngsters are becoming wayward and forgetting to give much attention to useful ventures?
I thought the Ministry of Youth and Sports is under statutory obligation to promote youth development through empowerment opportunities such as vocational/academic education, career expansion, massive employment, scholarship, microloan, small & medium enterprises, capacity building, etc. Sadly, this regime has decided to prioritize gambling over rewarding undertakings that could secure a prosperous future for generations yet unborn.
In addendum, WINNERS Incorporated Gambling Enterprise through its Marketing Manager, Randall Kaybee made a staggering disclosure in January 2014 by saying more than 7,000 Liberians bet every week at their locations around the country. This figure in my mind was even underestimated by Kaybee. Liberia has never had gambling entities like now since 1847. The proliferation of gambling activities under Madam Sirleaf is alarming and its effects are scaring.
Besides WINNERS Incorporated, there are other gambling institutions such as DOXX, PREMIER, LOTTO, BLOOMING, CASIONOS, etc. These betting operations are doing more harm to Liberia and if our leaders remain insensitive to this reality, our nation would become a host to professional gamblers ten (10) years from now!! The best option to reduce poverty in Liberia is not gambling. The best preference is to create legitimate opportunities through education, empowerment, and employment. Madam Sirleaf and others who are national stakeholders today were never subjected to gambling by leaders of yesterday. In fact, the resources of Liberia were used to even send most of them abroad to obtain foreign education. Why must they continue to mistreat this young generation especially at a time of globalization and modernization.
The Liberianization of our economy will remain a daydream until young citizens are fully equipped in basic skills to respond to future challenges. What is this government doing to ensure sustainable empowerment program for over 102,193 ex-combatants who hastily underwent the DDRR process? The best solution to reduce post-conflict trauma is to build their capacity vocationally. Liberia needs technicians and technocrats who can easily use their minds and tools to enhance reconstruction. Malcolm X said “Education is the passport to the future”. The great United States was built by young technocrats, and not gamblers, prostitutes, or drugs addicts. As such, the Liberian government must do all it can to empower young men and women who can reflect an image of greatness.
Today, everyone is anxious to visit Europe and America simply because citizens of these continents put their thoughts to work. The Industrial Revolution is a unique strategy to emulate as an underdeveloped country. There is no social, economic, or political transformation without mental change. Most youngsters in this country are thirsty for mental change. It is time to construct more polytechnics, youth centers, district/public libraries, etc. If two young men (The Wrights Brothers) had not put their ideas to work at a bicycle shop, there would have been no airplane. These two great inventors are memorialized today simply because they had the opportunity to learn how to fix and repair bicycles. This is the kind of opportunity young people of this country need. We don’t need betting tickets and drugs. We need leaders who will teach us how to fish by creating an enabling environment.
Drugs dependency is increasing every minute. Young men and women are experimenting with harmful substances as a result of unavailable opportunities. Liberia is now a major commercial site for drugs transaction. Nothing tangible is being done to prevent drugs trafficking. Young women are forced to sell their pride and self-respect just to survive. The rate of teenage pregnancy, commercial sex, and alcohol consumption in all 15 political subdivisions is disturbing! The consistent don’t care posture of Madam Sirleaf’s administration to address youth unemployment is unacceptable. It was another big mockery from the President when she promised to provide 20,000 jobs annually for young people. The living condition of Liberian youth continues to move in a counter-clockwise direction even though this regime has received the highest international support since 1822.
Why are we not harvesting substantial fruits from the over 16.9 billion foreign direct investments made so far? The impact of these investments is far from reaching the bottom of the economic ladder simply because few ill-transparent and unpatriotic oppressors have decided to hold our destiny hostage. They have no plan to upgrade our educational system because their children and grand children are attending reputable foreign institutions. The reversal of the status quo or business as usual is critical to promoting a harmonious society and preserving public trust. As a 21st century generation, we must begin to muster the courage to demand what rightfully belongs to us if insensitive leaders continue to ignore our concerns.
We must be conscious enough to recognize that gambling is a smart strategy from members of the old order to distract our determination and subdue us. They siphon our resources to support their family abroad, while majority of us live far below the benchmark of poverty. Madam Sirleaf has won over 15 International awards and 8 honorary doctorate degrees from reputation world universities, but Liberia remains the second poorest country on earth. 83.8% of Liberians most of whom are youth lives below international poverty line of $1.25USD. What significance do these awards have when vast majority of those you lead do not have access to quality education, food security, better health care, pipe-borne water, proper sanitation, and employment? The President along with her associates has not been able to improve our living condition even after almost 12 years of democratic rule.
I hope our President, Legislators, and all public trustees will begin to walk in the footprints of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a shoeshine boy who took 20 million Brazilians out of poverty when he became President in 2002. Today Brazil is the world’s seventh wealthiest economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$ 2.253 trillion. Though this shoeshine boy did not attend Harvard University, but he was able to stamp out corruption, fight poverty, invest in youth empowerment, and revolutionize his country’s economy. As a means of mitigating unparallel economic and social vacuum, He trained young Brazilian men and women in variety of vocations to elevate themselves from self-pity and gloominess. Today, Brazilians have taken charge of their economic and political destiny simply because a true statesman was able to make appropriate reforms.
The legacy of a global hero like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will always remain a fresh memory on the minds of all Brazilians. When will our President and Lawmakers resurrect just 3.5 million Liberians from poverty? There will be change if policymakers begin to reflect the image of this world icon by instituting stern measures against societal ills. We deserve a better livelihood in our generation!
As a young Liberian patriot, I have a solemn duty to always speak truth to the power that be. However, it is also my responsibility to provide the way forward to bring an end to our people’s suffering. In order to help address some of our burning concerns, it is important that this government under the stewardship of President Sirleaf engenders the following:
With these few recommendations, Liberians especially young citizens can once more experience a new beginning and abandon ill-fated ventures that are currently destroying their lives. Liberia will be a better place when some of these reforms are prioritized. The motherland will never get better except everyone can afford to put food on his/her table and have access to equal opportunities.
Martin K. N. Kollie