11 September 2017

Liberia: Why Doesn't Simeon Follow Good Advice?

editorial

Sometime last year we published an Editorial advising businessman Simeon Freeman to quit politics and concentrate on his business. At the time, he had a virtual monopoly on the distribution of international television networks on the local market, which the Liberian people depended upon to keep abreast of global TV news and entertainment.

For the promotion and further success of this highly lucrative business, we suggested that Mr. Freeman leave politics alone and concentrate on his business, in the same way so many other entrepreneurs are doing and rapidly expanding their businesses.

Look at how the Lebanese, Indian and now even the Fula and Nigerian businesspeople are expanding their businesses, from grocery, mercantile, tea, building material and other enterprises and venturing successfully into massive housing projects as well as the hotel business. When the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was most active here between 2003 and 2015, these foreign businesspeople made millions on their hotels, apartment buildings and merchandise because UNMIL was the biggest spender in town, probably even bigger than the government. Some real estate projects were able to amortize their construction investments within a few years, making enough money to build more buildings and, of course, to transmit millions more out of the country and into their foreign accounts.

But not Simeon Freeman, who was too busy chasing a bird he could not catch--the political bird, whose eagle-like wings flew far too high for him. While in the crowded presidential contest other candidates were garnering five, 10, 12% of the vote, Simeon was reaching a meager zero point something percent, making his attempt totally inconsequential.

Why did he do it, why did he embark on chasing the wind, no one can tell. Now, thanks to his lack of focus, his satellite TV business has very serious competition, especially from foreign businessmen who were not in the business before but have now seen that it can be lucrative. And they have created more affordable alternatives to Freeman's offerings, distributed through outlets all over Monrovia and other parts of Liberia. Meanwhile, Freeman's Consolidated Group also struggles with legal claims against some of his competitors who are allegedly pirating his satellite TV channels to re-sell to many other customers for much cheaper prices.

That is precisely what we advised Simeon in our Editorial. We even suggested that he crisscross the country selling his service in all cities and counties and even staging competitions among students on world affairs and offering handsome cash prizes which they would welcome in these hard times, while earning a good name for himself and his company.

Unfortunately, Simeon did not bite. He probably thought we were meddling in his business and vainly trying to divert him from politics, which he had no intention of doing.

So now, here he is, still chasing the political wind, which now is significantly wider than it was when he first ventured, with many more very serious candidates vying for the presidency.

And there is more: Simeon is in court for failing to pay US$850 for a legitimate bill he has not paid. The amount is insignificant--not even a thousand dollars. But how is a man who says he wants to be president of Liberia unable to pay such a small bill? Of course he is able to pay it. But why has he not paid it? If he cannot meet such a small obligation to a small Liberian businessman, how can Simeon meet the distinctly larger obligation to the Liberian people as their president?

We once again advise Simeon that he does not have to be president of Liberia to serve his country in positive and even dynamic way. Just think of all the people he could employ as a highly successful businessman, the great example he could set for other Liberians, inspiring them to enter business, bringing more Liberians into this vital sector and helping to create the Liberian middle class.

It is a fact that there is no Liberian middle class--why? Because successive Liberian administrations, including this current one, have encouraged not Liberians but foreigners--Lebanese, Indian and Fula in particular--in business, not giving a fig about their own fellow Liberians.

Simeon Freeman has an opportunity to prove that Liberians can be entrepreneurial, by making a great success of the business he is in and motivating and inspiring others to do likewise.

As an old boy who worked for the Daily Observer in the early 1980s, Simeon should know that that is what we at this newspaper have done. When we started in February 1981, there was not a single daily in the country, and had been none since 1978 when both the Daily Listener, founded in 1950, and Liberian Star (1964) folded. We have also proven, for the first time, that newspapers can be a viable business in Liberia.

Because of what we have done, how many more dailies have we in Liberia today? You answer that yourself, Simeon.

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