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Why Travel Ban Hurts So Much

Long ago, maybe longer than I can imagine, traveling out of Liberia to a foreign country, no matter the reason, has been a well coveted venture. My father once told me the sad story of his in-law who wept for many days and nights because he was not picked to travel to what would be a slave camp in Fernando Po. The horror stories are countless of Liberians who have come back from foreign lands and under classed or overbossed their own people because of the perceived prestige that comes with foreign travel experience. Sometimes they come back from other countries with a foreign tongue, a foreign accent, a foreign nick name or dress code to further validate their rite of passage to an elite social status. One may think that by now such trend would be reversed. But no, foreign travel experience is still a big thing in Liberia. We are probably the only country who vote presidents and other officials to power based on who has the most foreign experience; not on who is known in the country but the one perceived to be widely known internationally. Since the present government came to being, our president has made more travels especially to the USA more than her foreign minister or five passed presidents combined. Government officials in various capacities scramble for slots to make a trip to the USA or other foreign countries either as a way of justifying stolen money or to gain the coveted international travel experience. In recent months, the government has made it a routine of dispatching its members to the United States to either present progress reports to Liberians or just find some reason to be a part of the traveling frenzy.

In barely two months, there has been a delegation headed by the national Security Adviser to follow-up a memo that originated from the Embassy of Liberia near Washington D.C. followed by another delegation from the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC) headed by its director to tell Liberians in America how he was able to raise LPRC from deficit to maximize profit. Isn’t profit maximization what all businesses suppose to do? Since when has profit maximization at a private or public corporation become so news worthy to deserve a trip around the globe? I believe how Mr. Harry Greaves did it to increase profitability at the LPRC is not for us to know through town hall meetings and speeches. The best way that such jump can be made public for all Liberians abroad to know is what LPRC does with the surpluses. If the remittances we continue to send to our starving families drop a little because surpluses from the LPRC were able to create jobs or do something to lessen the plight our people, then even us in the Diaspora will feel the effect of the Greaves formula. We heard before how the interim Government under Dr. Sawyer was able to make so much money from the maritime fund. With such a huge increase in the maritime money, the result was not felt in the economy. So what does a huge profit margin mean if the living condition of our people does not improve? “How Harry Greaves did it?” Tell that to the mother in Chickensoup Factory who has been going without magi cube in her soup because she cannot afford it. Say that to the driver who is not able to take farm produce from Jeadepo to Greenville anymore because the roads are not pliable while the price of gasoline continues to climb. Tell that to that university graduate who has not been able to find a job ever since he came out of college. For us in the United States whose daily livelihood does not depend on whether LPRC makes profit or not, it is just a show. It is just a way for our people to perpetuate the mindset that traveling to America puts people in a higher social, political and economic status. It is one way to justify prodigal spending with hardened hearts towards the suffering of the ordinary people.

With all the scramble for a trip to America, you can understand why the United Nations travel ban on some Liberians associated with the despotic Taylor regime hurts so much. In recent days, some Liberian groups have appealed to the United States President to help influence the lifting of the travel ban and unfreezing their assets. From their appeal, you can tell that the issue of unfreezing their assets is not as crucial as lifting the travel ban. It is the fray to take a trip to the United States that burns like fire. I heard on Radio Africa International during one of the sessions of the Liberian Senate where Sinoe County Senator M. Vlah Nyenpan passionately appealed to his colleagues to allow other legislators participate in the traveling euphoria. “For God’s sake, let others travel,” the Senator concluded a tirade against those top legislators who could not pick certain law makers (who refused to be “praise singers”) to travel to foreign countries. So far, a travel ban, no matter how subtle, seems to work as an effective and painful punishment for any unwelcome behavior. Traveling to foreign countries is indeed very important to Liberian government officials. The president does it to the extreme; everybody does it and that is how it has been even before the days of Fernando Po.

As a government official in good standing with the one who approves travels, just pick any bizarre reason for a trip to the USA and the government will foot the cost with the people’s money. If you cannot find anything on your own, pick something out of the playbook of either Mr. Harry Greaves or Dr. Boima Fahnbulleh to hold a town hall meeting with Liberians in the United States and you will be in good shape. Play with anything but not that trip to the United States. Ban any Liberian government official from traveling to America and ouch! It hurts.

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