Vice President Joseph Nyuman Boakai, along with cabinet officials and lawmakers, as well as local government officials, Saturday (Dec 23) officially broke ground for the pavement of Voinjama City streets (6.86 kilometers), opening a new page of history in the capital of Liberia's biggest political subdivision, and fourth most populated county.
Thousands of people broke into celebration before, during and after the ceremonies in appreciation of what they called, the "Best Christmas Gift" the county has ever received in several decades. They promised to fully cooperate with the contractors to ensure a resounding success and vowed to oppose and expose any one or individuals who attempt to stall the development.
This is the first time the streets of Voinjama are being paved, the first regional capital to be paved in post war Liberia. The city's streets have never been paved since the country's founding in 1847, and the Liberian and Swedish Governments are jointly pumping up to US$5 millions to concrete-pave the streets.
Speaking at an indoor program preceding the ground breaking ceremonies, Vice President Boakai assured the people of his native county that besides the paving of Voinjama Streets, roads throughout the county will be built. "The roads will be built," he stated to the amazement of an enthusiastic audience that choked the 1960s-built William V. S. Tubman Hall.
"This is just the beginning," Boakai said. "More roads will come," he assured Lofans who have repeatedly complained that lack of good roads had stalled economic development and Agricultural production in a county once described as Liberia's "bread basket" for its remarkable food production.
Lauding the Swedish government, through its development arm, Swedish Development Agency (SIDA) for its invaluable contributions to infrastructure development (feeder roads in particularly), Boakai challenged the people of the county to maintain their integrity and remain responsible citizens, and not to engage in the theft of materials as done in other places. This, he warned, would undermine the project, and their dream of seeing a paved city street and better roads would not come true.
The Vice President described the project as a good Christmas gift for Lofa, adding, "This is our time."
An excited Public Works Minister, Samuel Kofi Woods said the paving of Voinjama Street was the beginning of the pavement of the Gbarnga-Mendikorma (Guinea Border) road. "Today, we are here to make history," Woods stated, noting that, "This county is blessed....I am proud at this moment, and on behave of the President [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf], I must do more than this: the road should be of good quality, the road must last long, the streets must have sidewalks and good drainages".
The Infrastructure Minister vowed to be on the back of the company constructing the road and instructed the county's engineer to halt the project if it is not going as expected to avoid the construction of substandard roads. "There should be no compromise: dig out the culvert if it is not good, stop the project if it is not going properly," Woods instructed his lieutenant in Lofa, Robert Gibson.
Woods also lauded SIDA for spending millions of dollars under the Liberia Swedish Feeder Road Project to rehabilitate feeder roads in Lofa, Bong and Nimba counties. He then called on the contractors to include the locals, especially the youth, by not only providing employment opportunities, but building their skills to take over the country's future development challenges.
"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 last week.
Woods said the Voinjama City streets' pavement represents a major component of the Ministry's infrastructure strategy to expand on 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 focus on rehabilitating and maintaining primary, secondary and feeder roads in the country.
Under a cost sharing arrangement, the Swedish Government 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 of 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 of the launching ceremony.... "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,".
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.
Since 2009, Sweden has invested a total of US$32 million in the LSFRP, Belal Hussain, Team Leader of the LSFRP said.
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, while the project extended to Nimba in November.
Hussain said Voinjama Street's pavement will considerably reduce the dust inside the city, noting that the project will achieve its goals despite challenges. Lauding all partners and encouraging them to play their respective roles, Hussain said "I want to assure our commitment to build Liberia together."
Lofa Superintendent George S. Dunor said the government promised the people of Lofa development, and development was becoming very visible. Lofa County Chairlady Krubo Sienneh said "This is what we have been looking for, for development to come to Lofa." She said if the citizens hold together to support the initiative, more development will come.
Lofa County Legislative Caucus Chair Sumo Kupee pledged the Caucus' full support to the implementation and wooed the county's people to embrace it as it would help better their lives.