21 September 2017

Liberia: Impoverish Bomi County Yearns for Education, Health Facilities

Bomi County — When 43-year-old Korto Nyanneh went into labor in March, the traditional birth attendants in Bomi County's Dewein District, said they couldn't deliver her twin babies.

Nyanneh, a gardener who supports her three children with the produce from her garden, walked three hours from Jenneh town to a health facility in Suehn, a town in Suehn Mecca District.

Representative Haja Fatta Siryon built the clinic in 2016, it's one year 8 months. She is seeking re-election to a third term.

"I gave birth on the road, and we had to get a midwife from a town who told me that one of my child died," said Nyanneh, who was accompanied by her husband and some other women.

"She checked the other baby, he was fine, but he died two hours later, lying in my husband's arms when we were on our way home.'

As Liberians prepare to head to the polls to elect a new president and 73 new legislators on Oct. 10, Nyanneh is looking for a leader who will build a health care facility in District 3, Dewein District, to care for women and children.

Nationwide, the legislative race has attracted 986 candidates, 38 of those candidates are vying for three seats in Bomi County. Bomi's legislative aspirants include five women and two incumbents---Siryon and Rep. S. Gayah Karmo, of District 1.

The Other leading candidates include Representative Edwin Snowe, the Montserrado District #6 legislator, who won his court battle to run for Bomi's District #1 seat.

Legislative aspirants are asking Bomi's 61, 171 registered voters to elect them to a position that pays $12,000 a month, plus perks including a car, housing allowance, 360 gallons of fuel and $2,000- a month for transportation.

"I can't tell you who I'm voting for because no one has come out to me, but I will look for the one who will tell me about education, health, and roads," Nyanneh said.

Moses Toe, a father of 8, agrees with Nyanneh about the need for a health center to care for women and children in the district.

Toe's wife died when she was having their eighth child. A well-equipped and staffed health facility will reduce the number of maternal and child deaths, he said.

Toe, 44, said he's not interested in voting because he hasn't heard from any of the candidates.

Fatu Kromah, a mother of three, wants to see some road improvement to strengthen her petty trade business.

She sells bitterball, pepper, and okra and non-perishable items such as slippers, school bags and children's clothes in Gbojay, a town filled with mud houses in Suehn Mecca District.

Kromah rides motorbike from her town to get to Klay Junction before boarding a taxi to Duala to buy her goods every week. She spends at least 2000 Liberian dollars for transportation on both motorbikes and taxis, depending on the amount of goods she has to transport.

The fares are up during the rainy season because the bridges and roads are deplorable, so she uses bikes to get from her town to where she can get a taxi to Duala.

Sando Karwa, a youth activist in Bomi, said many of the legislative candidates are making a lot of promises. Some of the presidential candidates who have visited Bomi include Alexander Cummings (Alternative National Congress), Vice President Joseph Boakai (Unity Party), George Weah (Coalition for Democratic Change) and Senator Prince Johnson (Movement for Democratic Reconstruction).

The youth, Karwa said, are looking critically at what people are saying. Young people, he said, are looking for leaders who will invest in their education. Most of the schools outside Tubmanburg lack qualified teachers, chairs and desks. Some primary schools have no teachers, he said.

"When they make those promises as soon as they get elected, they forget about all the promises," Karwa said. "This why we educating our people to vote for those who are really down to earth and have their people at heart, and should not be based on money or material things."

Representative Haja Fatta Siryon has represented District 3 since 2005. Fourteen candidates, two women and twelve men, are trying to unseat Siryon.

Some constituents in Dowein District said Siryon abandoned them and focuses on Suehn Mecca District.

Siryon disagrees. She pointed to the ongoing extension through LACE (Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment), a project that will help improve health care in the district.

The facility was designed for three-rooms, but Siryon said she is adding two rooms. In the town of Jenneh in Dowein District, she also built a five-bedroom house for nurses to reduce the number of women having babies on the road.

"I built the clinic in Suehn Mecca," she said. "I built the five-bedroom housing for nurses because they told me that women were giving birth on the road. There is no town that doesn't have my hand mark."

Siryon said she has some unfinished projects to complete, so she is asking the district's 20,664 registered voters to give her a third term.

She wants to build six more bridges. During her tenure, she built five bridges connecting towns and villages in the district.

She collaborated with the former Senator Richard Divine to upgrade Leyan Road that leads to Suehn Mecca.

Elizabeth Ma-Zoe Addy is one of Siryon's competitors. Addy was born in Bogbey Town and grew up in Montserrado County.

She decided to run because she is concerned about the plight of women, health, agriculture, and education. She is running on the Liberia Transformation Party, headed by the Rev. Kennedy Sando.

"I joined this race because I see a lot of gaps and our current lawmaker isn't paying attention to that," Addy said.

"I see that women and children are abandoned because there is no vocational school and there is only one school in Jenneh. Most of the boys turn to riding motorbikes after ninth grade while the girls get pregnant."

Addy said women need someone to advocate and motivate them, so they can grow their own food.

"We have the issue of food security," she said. "Our district is so close to Monrovia, so everything comes from the capital and we have the land in this district."

Officials of this district have abandoned the people. We have county and district development fund, but the people are begging people, so if I'm elected this thing will be prioritized."

John McGill, a Liberty Party candidate also vying for the seat, was born in the district but grew up in Monrovia. He lived in the United States for over 10 years and returned to the district in 2012. He lives in Jenneh, the town next to Dowein.

If elected, McGill said he will give 30 percent of his $12,000-a month salary to the people of the district.

He said he's concerned about improving roads and building bridges to connect to main roads.

Boakai Karnley, a candidate of True Whig Party, said he has worked in the county for 11 years and understands it needs.

He served as health officer, Ebola site manager and the head of the nursing program in the district. If elected, he plans to launch a scholarship program for students in the district.

The lack of high school in the district is a major reason young people drop out of school, he said.

His plan for the district includes advocating for health care and unifying the district by inserting Montserrado District 17 into Bomi District 3. In 2011, two clans were cut from District 3 and added to District 2.

'We want it back and we will advocate for it to be rejoined," he said. 'Five clans here are without health care facility."

In Bomi County's District number 2, 16 candidates---two women and 14 men, are vying for the seat being vacated by former Speaker Alex Tyler.

Tyler and the former head of the ruling Unity Party Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman(also senator of Grand Cape Mount County) is facing bribery charges in connection with Sable Mining, the South African company that was trying to operate in Liberia.

The officials are accused of receiving payments from Sable Mining in order to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia, according to a report by the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness.

The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired to use their positions to amend Liberia's public procurement and concessions law. In its report, Global Witness claimed that the amendment was intended to allow the company to win the concession without a tender. In the end, however, Sable Mining was not awarded the property, known as Wologizi.

Some of District Two's 16, 937 registered voters said they are concerned about roads, bridges and school.

Kumah Baru, 60, superintendent of the Bomi Marketing Association, said she has seven children who are eligible voters. None of the legislative aspirants have reached out to her.

Baru said she's glad that Liberia is about to have a peaceful transition because she experienced the civil war, and does not want a return to the violence. She and her children are still undecided.

"I'm happy that we are going to vote, but for now no one has come to me to say, 'vote for me, "' she said. The day of the election, I will decide and also my children will decide."

Baru said she needs a set of new leaders because the incumbents have abandoned rural towns and villages.

"Anybody who wins, we would like them to come and do good things for us," she said.

"First of all, we need schools for our children to learn and be educated. They should help us with roads and school and take care of the county."

Hawa Morris, 49, who sells dried goods at Dowein junction, said some aspirants came bearing gifts and promises.

Legislative aspirant Alfred Sirleaf District 2 candidate of the Coalition for Liberia's Progress (CLP), promised to build latrines in the market.

Former Central Bank governor and Presidential aspirant Mills Jones bought 10 bundles of zinc and "promised us, if he wins or not, he will build our market," she said.

Morris said she's concerned about the lack of citizens' voice in the country sitting that decides on county development projects.

The last county sitting, she said, was three years ago.

Why can't they have it?" she asked. Our county leaders are the ones you should ask. They don't even involve us in those meetings."

"They can't even have it here. All their activities are in Monrovia."

Morris said she might probably not vote in the upcoming elections because none of her lawmakers have proven that they have the district at heart.

Massah Brown, a local marketer, said candidates are scarce in the district.

Most of the presidential candidates stop in Tubmanburg.

Alfred B.S. Zinnah, the District #2 candidate for Alternative National Congress (ANC), is the only legislative candidate that she has seen in the district.

Zinnah has worked in the district for about 22 years, serving in a variety of posts including project officer and Secretary in the development superintendent's office.

Zinnah visited the market once. He promised to return, but so far, he hasn't shown up, she said.

"We are here waiting for them," she said. She said marketers want a new building the roof leaks during the rainy season and it destroys their goods.

Zinnah said he decided to run for the seat because he wants to respond to the plight of the people---provide clean drinking water, latrine, good education and improved roads.

"I was born here and I lived here all through my life," he said. "I left for Nimba for few years and I have always been around. I have served the people and work with them from the past years."

Ciata Bishop, former director of the National Bureau of Concessions, quit her job to run for District #2, which includes the town of Clay.

She's running on the Victory of Change Party (VCP).

Bishop said she's no stranger to the district. Her grandparents are descendants of Bomi. Her grand uncle Chief Zwannah Gilay was the forerunner for development in this district, and "I'm following his footsteps," she said.

'I'm relatively known in the district and the Liberian context," she said.

"I work with Ebola and I am a former Government employee. In the district, I'm known because of the work I have done with the fistula and Ebola.'

Bishop left Liberia during the civil war. She lived in the United States where she obtained a bachelor's degree in finance at Georgia State University. She has a master's degree in finance and information system and is currently working on her doctorate in natural resource law.

"In terms of my education, no one in this race can compete with me," she said. In terms of experience, I have managed the Caribbean Coffee plant where we did an $80 billion project. "

"I had over 470 employees before being the CEO. I was a Chief financial officer, when I came back in 2010, and Madam President asked me to help. I started at National Investment Commission and later took over the Bureau of Concession in 2014."

" I bring a wide scope of experience to this job because it allows me to formulate things to help my country and my district, and I see that we can do things differently to make the lives of my people better."

If elected, Bishop plans to use county development fund to build a clinic, improve primary education and empower women.

"I'm concern about the health of my people," she said.

"Many times, people walk three to four hours to access a health facility, and it's bad for pregnant women and critically sick people."

As for Nyanneh, she hopes elected officials will improve the county and not forget about the promises they made when they were looking for votes.

Though she's an undecided voter, Nyanneh said she will make a decision that will improve her family's life over the next six years.

"I hope that those I will vote will win and they will focus on our roads, health, and education," she said.

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