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Decentralization: Political, Economic & Administrative Power in Liberia


This essay is the expression, with emphasis, of the urgent need to De-Centralize the political, economic and administrative power, rigidly centralized in, tightly controlled by and meticulously dispensed from far-away, Republic of Monrovia. There is a need, I have always been convinced of, felt and articulated for Change, Reform - fundamental, comprehensive transformation of our socio-economic and political enterprise, with re-organization, re-structure of the system of our government, enshrined in our constitutions and utilized during these 165, now approaching 166 years.

Decentralization: Political, Economic & Administrative Power in Liberia - A Re-Visit

This need is felt and dictated by the facts of our past and recent history, the prevailing, rapid population growth and explosion, migration and urbanization; and the rise of the consumption generations, with rising or risen expectations. The resulting socio-economic and political constipation of our Capital City of Monrovia demands Change.

I am convinced, based upon available facts and evidence, that this urgent Need, this fundamental Change is doable. First, we have all of the ingredients – enormous natural resources as back-up assets; human resources of highly educated, trained and experienced professionals (with trainables) in, almost, all disciplines of national development, of young and old citizens, energetic, idealistic, dedicated, patriotic and committed.

Second, we have, also the support of our historic, traditional friend and mentor, the United States, one of the, if not the, most, highly developed nations on earth, socially, economically and politically. The US contributed and continue to contribute to our developmental needs throughout the years up to this day.

And Third, we have the donor agencies – USAID, UNDP, EU, other international agencies of developed countries that have contributed and continue to contribute to our development effort.

Finally, that which we need to do now, a s a pre-condition, is to summon the political will to call a spade a spade, and let the chips fall where they may; we must be serious about rooting out public/private dishonesty (corruption). Yes, Decentralization/Federalism is doable, NOW!!

Advanced in the Paper (“Decentralization of Political Power in Liberia: A Framework for Regional Empowerment & Participation in National Decision-making”) presented at the National Conference 2024 on the future of Liberia, held at the Unity Conference Center on July 19, 1998, and now proclaimed as a national policy, some 15 years later, by government, Decentralization, as a national, public policy for Change & efficient/effective delivery of public services, draws attention to the development – socio-economic and political – of the regional, political subdivisions, with emphasis on rural Liberia, where the majority of the nation’s known endowment of natural resources are located, and the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population lives.

In her first Inaugural Speech delivered on January 6, 2006, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as President of Liberia, demonstrated profound courage and encouragement for the future of our country by the declaration that “. . . I pledge to bring the government closer to the people. The days of the imperial presidency . . . are over in Liberia . . . The Executive Mansion and ‘Monrovia’ will, no longer, be the only center of power . . . The people and their interests, as defined by them, will be at the very heart of our new dispensation of decentralization . . . of power (Vol. 1 No. 1, Governance Commission Decentralization Bulletin, March 31, 2011)”. Indeed, these pledges of encouragement are, in fact, two of the major themes of the Paper on Decentralization.

However, since the founding of this nation in 1847, some 165 years ago as an independent nation, political, economic and administrative power has been, and continues to be, rigidly concentrated in, controlled and dispensed from the Republic of Monrovia, consistent with the doctrine of Unitary-structured governance, with socio-economic development, such as education, trade and commerce (import/export), minor industrial development centralized, also, in Monrovia. Meanwhile, there has been little or no meaningful, socio-economic and political development – educational, agricultural, industrial, trade and commerce, and communication system of all-weather roads/highways, the most important and required “Multiplier effect”  in national, economic development for production and exchange of goods and services, both national and international – have been untaken in rural Liberia.

Moreover, the administration of counties – the national, constituent, political sub-divisions and their sub-structures that, together, constitute the Republic, are caught in vicious shackles of policy contradictions and confusions due to policies made and dispensed by bureaucrats sitting in Monrovia, creating more, new sub-structures such as clan and paramount chiefdoms, townships, administrative and statutory districts, in addition to existing sub-structures created by ancient, Liberia Law governing Hinterland Liberia, without the benefit of current, research information.

In her most recent, Annual Message delivered on January 28, 2013, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf drew national attention to this, disabling condition when she observed that “. . . the challenges of the Decentralization Policy . . . the present local (in the counties) governance structures are bloated, and difficult to manage. For example, there are more than 149 cities – 33 in Sinoe . . . 93 Administrative Districts; 251 Paramount Chiefs; more than 689 Clan Chiefs; 1,410 General Town Chiefs; and 250 Township Commissioners”, (indicating the creation of that number of townships). “Moreover”, the President continued, “the government has to deliver services to more than 16,000 TOWNS AND VILLAGES. As if these statistics were not daunting enough, the boundaries of all these localities overlap, leading to confusion over jurisdiction and administrative authority . . .”

The negative impact or consequences of these socio-economic and political, public policy confusions are numerous and devastating. They include, for example, the following:

1. Rapid population growth and urbanization, in the absence or lack of the required planning, regulation and control.

2.  Populations migrations with the rise of the “consumption generation”, without production.

3.  Rural-to-urban migration which gave rise to  the prevailing, socio-economic and political constipation of the City of Monrovia, with its urban transport nightmare, rendering the capital city over-populated, congested and ungovernable.

4. The celebrated, uncontrollable, Monrovia Street-selling as the natural outcome.

5. The 24-hour, Monrovia bumper-to-bumper, traffic jam, arising from the phenomenal increase in the volume of vehicular/pedestrian traffic, with no roads/streets to ply. Apparently, all vehicles imported to Liberia are concentrated in the Monrovia area because of the critical absence of roads/highways in rural Liberia.

6. Other county dwellers, especially rural, migrate to Monrovia to avail themselves of employment/economic, educational, and personal growth and developmental opportunities.

In the light of these conditions, it is reasonable to conclude that the rational resolution of Liberia’s major socio-economic and political problems lies in the application of the most, modern theory and successful practice of classical democratic thought and convention, Decentralization/Federalism.

Efficiently/effectively and diligently managed, with socio-economic and political incentives  designed to attract, not only Monrovia street-sellers, but also, all other, rural migrants, including nurses, doctors, engineers, lawyers, educators/academicians, business managers, economists, investment promoters, information technologists, etc., here, in Monrovia, back to their home counties, and entrepreneurs wishing to migrate, Decentralization is the rational approach for the resolution of our social, economic and political under-development.

The Paper on Decentralization proposed the re-division/re-demarcation of the nation into four, major, regional, political sub-divisions, with the rights and authority of semi-autonomous, constituent governments, to elect their political leaders now appointed by “Monrovia”.

These sub-divisions are to be known as “provinces” – Eastern, North Central, South Central and Western - with the counties amalgamated into the demarcated provinces as they (counties) are presently defined and geographically located, on the basis of geography, socio-cultural commonality, etc., while federalism provides local self-determination. Although this concept and approach may not solve all of Liberia’s problems, but it will, certainly, go a long way in resolving the nation’s major, often contested issue of political power (with untold human and material sacrifices as we have already experienced), local self-rule or political participation, with the critical ability for political compromise, give-and-take, the CHANGE for which the April 12, 1980 Event took place.

The nomenclature of “province” is symbolic; in that, it is a known, readily recognized and accepted appellation of a political, semi-autonomous sub-division of an independent state. A county is a lower, sub-structure of a sub-division. A “province”, in terms of semi-autonomous, political sub-division, connotes maturity with ability to perform the required functions of a constituent, semi-autonomous, political sub-division. This may NOT be said of some of the “counties” as presently constituted, in terms of size (geographical), population, human and natural resources.

Amalgamation seeks to resolve these, critical problems. Some of the prevailing, county sub-divisions lack the population and the natural resources required to perform the responsibilities, effectively, efficiently and adequately, as required of a political sub-division. Hence, amalgamation of the counties into the demarcated provinces resolves this problem.

Preamble to the Policy on Decentralization

For an understanding and appreciation of the need for Decentralization/Federalism, the Preamble to the Policy states that:

1. “. . .Since 1847 and throughout the history of Liberia, governance and public administration have remained highly centralized in Monrovia and controlled mainly by institutions and structures of the central state which have not allowed adequate legal opportunities for the establishment of a system of participatory local governance”.

2. “. . . .The highly centralized system of governance has impeded popular participation and local initiative, especially in the provision of public goods and services, and has contributed to the need for greater accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs and led to the gap in economic growth and development, equal access to social and economic opportunities and human wellbeing between Monrovia and the rest of Liberia”.

3. “. . . . These conditions have slowed down Liberia’s overall economic growth and development and democratization process, leading to underinvestment in human resources and human wellbeing throughout the Republic.”

4. “. . . The Government of Liberia realizes the need to ensure greater participation of the Liberian people in their own development process and for equitable distribution of the nation’s resources so as to ensure a more wholesome process of development and democratic governance. . .”

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