By: Sam K Zinnah
Former head of the political science department at the University of Liberia, Alaric Tokpa who has declared interest in unseating incumbent, Representative Dickson Temo Yarsiah, have described his initial tour of his electoral district as “successful beyond expectation”. Mr. Tokpa said he was well received by the chiefs, elders, traditional authorities, women, youth, students, religious community and small business community. Mr. Tokpa said he visited ten towns and finally sponsored soccer and kickball tournaments for the youth from sixteen towns of the electoral District # 3 political sub-division. He said the tour and the events were cost intensive, labor intensive and time consuming. Yet, they were all worth the attention. From one town to the other, he walked day and/or night through tick rain forest for hours. That experience was not as agonizing as the encounter with general despair and loss of hope – no motor roads, no health centers, no clean drinking water, no good schools, no good homes, abject poverty in the midst of riches (i.e. gold, diamond, logs, rich agricultural land, possibility of flourishing tree cropping).
The young people are absolutely tired of carrying pregnant women and other sick people in hammocks for hours “un-end” in search of motor roads to urban health centers. Hearing reports and stories of constant deaths in such circumstances became unbearable to the candidate. Mr. Tokpa started the tour by involuntarily crying in the first town meeting where a woman cried uncontrollably for the loss of a young lady who had recently carried a triplet but was only blessed to leave behind one child, as the other two died unborn along with her in a hammock in the dense forest. He subsequently rolled over to grieving in his heart, very aware that the cries of leaders are not to be visible in our Liberian traditional culture. So his heart started to harden. Eventually, it almost became normal to live with agony, with people alive but searching for life. However, he would suddenly realize, as was his occasional experience, that there is a natural limit to human suffering and ability to absorb pain. He could not totally ignore the urge to express sorrow over the deep suffering of a potentially industrious people.
In general, it would appear that the future of the people in the land he seek to represent is bleak. But he observed them, searched their hearts and found resilience, courage and great heroism. He covertly said to himself “They need leadership, motivation and direction; they can become a success story”. But as it is, what Mr. Tokpa observed in Gbarpolu County Electoral District # 3 is a reserved army of insurgents that are vulnerable to the deception of any potential warlord. In any post war situation where many are battle tested, this is dangerous. Mr. Tokpa feels a compelling obligation to work with his people. His aim is to secure support for electoral success in other to provide exemplary legislative service that will improve the quality of the Liberian legislature and positively impact executive and judicial functions for the purpose of bettering not only the people of Gbarpolu County Electoral District # 3 but the conditions of the Liberian people as a whole.
So as he reflect on the centralized condition of national government and elected local government authorities, he now feels challenge to make a contribution to Liberian national history that will (practically) register as a profound political statement in activist scholarship.
Mr. Tokpa was in Ghana attending a research conference of Afrobarometer (a series of comparative public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, civil society and markets in Africa) where he had access to better internet access to communicate his eye witness account with me. As he narrated, I vividly pictured myself once growing up in the very/identical conditions he was describing to me. As he prepared to return to Liberia to begin his second tour through Bokomu , another District within his electoral District, He have no doubt about what awaits him as he has already seen a lot during his initial tour of parts of Electoral District # 3. He said “I also look forward to additional surprises and I am preparing my heart for calm. Incidentally, the adventure has great research value. And each time that I embark on a tour of imagination, I look forward to collaboration with other nationalistic Liberians to capture the experience of our people who I can see living in centuries behind today”.
The problem is grave and it is common to encounter legitimate request for assistance in every town. The teachers according to him, were the first to admit that they are untrained place holders until appropriate interventions can be made in the educational sector. Mr. Tokpa observed that while the need to call education ministry authorities attention to this problem is urgent, there are immediate requests for blackboards and chalks. He said some existing blackboards are all damp because they are under leaking thatch roofs. So one popular request is for zinc and nails to construct schools. Most students can't even afford copy books or uniforms. Nor have most teachers materials with which to teach.
Another observation he made is in the area of midwives. He said in the absence of health centers, the midwives association has become a very important part of the decision making structures in all the towns because of the important roles that they play in delivery. Their overwhelming request is for materials to work with. So, one of the first things that he did after the tour was to arrange a meeting with the registrar general of the Liberia medical and dental association, Fortunately, The registrar General is presently inspecting health centers in Monrovia and he could relate to the situation. Mr. Tokpa said The Registrar General who recently returned home from A U.S. State of New Jersey to help his Country was alarmed when the situation in Electoral District # 3 was brought to his attention.
young men are requesting for chain saws (power saws) to do the continuous self help work of road cleaning on the foot paths. Large trees fall on the roads almost on a daily basis. They have to be removed or by-passed. Makeshift bridges over streams and creeks must be constructed almost always, as movement between the towns is constant.
He said “I was keen to find out from these young men why they have left school for the gold fields and other economic ventures. Their response was singular - shame. They said they could not afford to sit in class with their children and "compete" for knowledge when they needed to be taking care of their families. They admitted interest in learning but through night schools. They always repeated the interest in adult literacy schools”.
The candidate thinks such developments need both quick impact and well thought out interventions. But as he suggested to his people, interventions will have to be incremental and well spread out (indiscriminately) until it all come together. Mr. Alaric Tokpa’s vision is to improve social economic conditions and create better future for the children and residents of District Number Three in Gbarpolu County and Liberia as a whole.