19 December 2012

Liberia: New Voinjama in the Making - As Govt. Gears Up to Pave City Streets

Only few days from now, Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai will launch the pavement of streets of Voinjama City, the capital of Liberia largest political subdivision, giving the city a brand new face.

After the Vice President launches the project this weekend, it will take about three years before it is dedicated, and Voinjama City will wear on a new face and never be the same.

The Informer gathered yesterday that work has already begun in transforming Voinjama City, alias the "Dusty City", into a dustless metropolitan area and citizens are in high gear to witness the official launching of the project, which they are referring to as the best Christmas gift in decades.

The city's streets have never tasted pavement since establishment and are covered by thick mud during the rainy season and spiraling brown dust during the dry season, but Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods told a press conference Tuesday (Dec 18) that the days for these occurrences are numbered.

Woods said the Vice President will on Saturday, December 22nd, lead an array of top government officials including from the legislature and local and foreign dignitaries to Voinjama to perform the historic ground breaking ceremony for the pavement of 6.85 kilometers of streets in the city.

"The decision, and now the reality of paving the streets of Voinjama City, one of the 15 provincial capitals of Liberia, is unprecedented and momentous as it marks the first time in recent history...that streets in cities in Liberia, outside of Monrovia, are being paved," the Infrastructure Minister asserted.

Woods added: "This represents a major component of our infrastructure strategy to expand on our urban renewal programs outside of Monrovia and address the plight of urban dwellers who suffer the environmental effects of unpaved, laterite city streets, while still maintaining our continuing focus on rehabilitating and maintaining primary, secondary and feeder roads in the country."

Being implemented under the auspices of the Liberia Swedish Feeder Road Project, the pavement (concrete pavement) of Voinjama City streets will swallow about US$5.5milion.

Under a cost sharing arrangement, the Swedish Government through, through its development arm, SIDA, will provide about US$2.2 million to pave a segment of 2.56 kilometers while the Liberian Government will cough up around US$3.3 million for 4.30 kilometers, Woods disclosed.

The transformation of the streets will compose of reinforced concrete slabs with expansion joints and concrete drains, the Public Works Minister explained.

After a century of existence, Voinjama is an expanding city located in the hilly, far northern part of the country near the Guinean border. As of the 2008 national census, the population stood at 26,594, but this number has reportedly grown as a result of mass come-back of returnees to settle down home for good.

Before the Liberian civil war the city was a busy crossroads town, with a large weekly market, which still exists.

The population was principally from the Lorma and Mandingo tribes, with other ethnic groups from surrounding areas also present as it is today.

It boasted a number of schools, including the public Voinjama Mulitlateral High School, as well as Saint Joseph's Catholic school and other private schools run by Swedish missionaries and other groups. The Swedish are back in the county to help restore the country's bread basket to its previous status by building and improving farm-to-market roads, which Minister Woods says is now having an impact on the economic wellbeing of the region.

The Voinjama airport, outside of town on the road to Zorzor, featured a grass landing strip and flight service several times a week from Monrovia through the national carrier Air Liberia.

The city had an electric generating station (with power in the evening) and a water treatment plant that supplied running water for most of the town.

There were numerous general goods stores on the main road and a large parking station in the central plaza where one could catch a ride on a public car south to Zorzor, Gbarnga and Monrovia, west to Kolahun, Foya and Sierra Leone, or north to the Guinean border, four miles away.

Like many other cities in Liberia, Voinjama, too, was robbed of its luxuries with few burnt and abandoned houses still standing like dead elephants, but the city is beginning to gain normal life and the pavement of its streets will help transform it make it even more attractive, former Lofa superintendent Galakpai Kortimal said.

"I am proud that the launching ceremony will take place during the weekend," he told this writer via phone. "It's good news for us here; this project was initiated during our administration and now it is coming to reality," Kortimai boasted.

Kortimai said he was already in the city waiting to witness history. Before 2005, prior to his appointment and the seating of the Sirleaf government, Kortimai recalled that the city was impassable via vehicle during rainy seasons. "The streets used to be covered by thick mud during the rainy season, and during the dry season the dust rose high into the skies and into communities when vehicles pass, and that's why people call it the "Dust City,"

He confirmed that even before the Vice President goes there, yellow machines are already on the road working, opening drainage systems.

Woods said the paving of the Voinjama City streets and the construction of several major feeder roads in Lofa, through the Liberia Swedish Feeder Road Project (LSFRP), will benefit millions of people including road users, businesses and citizens, and will significantly contribute to economic development and free movements of people as already being witnessed in several districts of the county.

He said since 2009, Sweden has invested a total of US$32 million in the LSFRP. Already, a total of 197 km (105.7 km in Bong and 91.3 km in Lofa) feeder roads have been rehabilitated and 30 re-enforced concrete bridges completed.

Minister Woods said the project has significantly contributed to increase in commercial activities, increase in the number of weekly markets and has increased sale of agriculture produce. It has also increased access to basic services, schools, clinics, reduction in cost of basic goods and services, including transportation.

He noted that the project has also provided opportunities for increased employment of young men and women below the age of 35 years as well as opportunities for new artisan skills required in the road construction sector.

"The project has increased the capacity of participating contracting entities in understanding tendering processes and procedures and road construction cycle management," Minister Woods emphasized.

He said the project fulfills the Government of Liberia's policy of capacity building for Liberian engineers as well as providing opportunities for increased employment of young men and women including opportunities for new artisan skills required in the road construction and maintenance sector.

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