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Liberia's "spoil it and fix it" mentality

Ms Broh's infamous clean up campaign

Speaking to the University of Liberia graduating class of 1985, Mr. Winston Tubman, then Justice Minister of Liberia, asked a question which he expected every Liberian would pause and ponder: “what right have anyone got to spoil what took years to build, what money cannot buy….?” He then ended with the caution “let’s stop this spoil it and fix it mentality.” This is a speech I recorded, memorized and could recite even in my sleep. The eloquent Tubman was making reference to destruction of properties carried out following the 1980 bloody coup as well as the destructive raid in 1984 on the campus of the University by soldiers of the national army. But Tubman was really wasting his voice on the water; no one has heeded that call. Or it may be safe to say that so far only few of us have heeded the Tubman’s plea.
Unfortunately the adherence of the few has not deterred the forces of destruction. Sadly our nation continues to serve as safe haven for those who relish destruction.

During Liberia’s 14 year savagery, I met a rebel who boasted of using a D-9 bulldozer to knock down Mrs. Nancy Doe’s house in Grand Gedeh. A column of rebels along the Gardnerville’s Freeway pounded light poles with bullets as those newly constructed freeway lights tumbled to the ground. They said their leader Charles Taylor was going to rebuild them as soon as the war was over. These are just pinches of the countless examples of the millions of properties destroyed throughout the country with the hope of rebuilding at a later time.

On the renowned BBC Focus on Africa Program Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf unequivocally mandated drugged rebels of the NPFL or Mr. Charles Taylor to burn down or decimate the Executive Mansion where loyalists of president Doe were holed up. Beside President Doe’s loyalists, thousand others have sought refuge from rebels targeting members of the Krahn and Mandingo tribes, former government employees, and ex-military personnel. With “spoil it and fix it” on her mind, she ordered “level the mansion and we will rebuild it.” It is worth noting that Mrs. Sirleaf, now President Sirleaf was perhaps on her third attempt to unseat president Doe (the second attempt through the barrel of the gun).

Somewhere in the streets of Monrovia it was “no Doe no Liberia” as soldiers of the AFL torched their way through the streets of Monrovia. All of the various actions were geared towards the massive destruction of what our parents, grandparents, and great grand parents took years to build.
In those attempts lives were destroyed. Irreplaceable though! Millions and millions worth of properties were flushed down the toilet under those schemes with the hope that by some magic, we will wake up the next day to 21st century cities connected by highways, train routes and subways, with sky scrapers popping up all over the place just like in a Disney animation movie.

The excuse could be that those days were heydays when people lost their minds or wanted power at all cost. That could only be acceptable had the pattern not continued till today when a democratically elected government has been in power for over two years now. Few weeks ago, a mayor designate of Monrovia went on an early morning so-called cleanup campaign while many residents of Monrovia were still asleep. The city mayor to-be set fire to businesses in the commercial center of Waterside that she felt violated city ordinances. Accordingly, the mayor yet to be confirmed by the senate said she was cleaning up a stinking city which the current mayor had been sloppy about. Let us take note that the mayor designate has provided no advanced notices to business owners whose properties were purportedly situated in illegal locations.

At her confirmation hearing, she apologized for her ruthless behavior which she admitted was illegal. Once again, she promised to rebuild those burnt down structures as it has been in Liberia’s “spoil and it and fix it” trajectory. Already, praises are rolling from a number of Liberians for Ms. Broh’s penitence and her promise to rebuild what was destroyed. They used statements like “Mary Broh breaks and repairs.” This is yet another testament to the belief that we can keep destroying when emotions run high to rebuild the next day when we get sober and the money pipelines start rolling.

Apart from the financial and infrastructural ramifications of these actions what is the moral lesson for the next generations? When will this stop and people begin to act with prudence and some witty innovations? How long before they realize that it saves time and money to build without first destroying what already exists? I guess we are in it for a long haul. And sorrowfully so, there goes my country again plagued with this “spoil it and fix it mentality.”

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