The Other Side of General Broh

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“l am not afraid of Mary Broh but the officers that are assigned with her. I am a peaceful citizen trying to look for my living the right way. But these security officers are behind her for their own reasons. Some of them are really working but the other ones are there to harass us, take out goods from us and resell them or maybe carry them to their families3. Mary will definitely pay for their action one day take,” Micheal James, a frustrated street vendor who said he has suffered in the hands of people working with Mary Broh said on Saturday when his goods were seized and taken way to an unknown destination.

Struggling to retrieve his goods from personnel of the Police Support Unit (PSU), Michael fought the officers but when they began to brandish locally made rattans in his face, he was intimidated. He forwent the goods.

The situation became a drama on Michelin Street on Wednesday when the officers who took Michael’s goods vanished. They sped to an unknown destination briefly and returned with nothing.

When General Broh appeared on the scene, she stared at Michael while his colleagues whose goods had also been taken stood by stun – perhaps in anticipation of sympathy from the General. But the General who knows no sympathy for people who cross her redlines could not help. She winked at one of them and walked away.

She left the scene to confront another group of nervous petty traders who had squeezed some of their goods into their hands like pieces of bread – for fear of harmful security officers some of whom survive on haraasment.

“You do not belong here. Are you not aware of the law against street selling? All of you vacate from here or else I will seize your goods. Do not blame me I am doing my job. Look for something else to do, no one is allowed to sell on the streets and I am here to enforce that. I have the mandate from the president” the General told the group bloodshot petty traders on Michelin Street last Wednesday, hours after she announced her new name as Mary the Hurricane.

Suddenly, another petty trader who said he also suffered in the hands of the general before said “No madam I have permission from the Ministry of Commerce to sell here”. They are part of at lease 500 members of the Petty Traders Union who registered at the Ministry of Commerce to allow them sell in specific areas in central Monrovia.

These voices are concerns of just a few youths who were jobless few years back among the informal sector of the society but became self employed as a result an arrangement between the Monrovia Coty Corporation (MCC) and the Ministry of Commerce to assist petty traders particularly low income earners in the informal to elevate their status.

Empowering youths is a form of waging war on unemployment because it is fulfilling the long expectations of employment since the end of the country’s civil crisis.

But these demands largely remained unaddressed, despite economic growth rates before the eruption of the deadly Ebola virus. The war deprived young Liberians the opportunities of livelihood. Today, unskilled young people wander the streets looking for job.

No doubt, youth unemployment is a key threat to peace and security. Unless addressed, could see the return of conflict to the country.

President Eirleaf herself has acknowledged the need for youth unemployment and its adverse consequences it can have on society such as Liberia emerging from a distressing civil crisis. On one of her visits to Brussels, Germany to highlight the challenges faced by her government, the president told a forum that something has to be done about young Liberians affected by 14 years of civil war that ended in 2003.

The president was referring to the young population, which accounts for about 65 percent of Liberia’s population of 4.1 million. Out of the number, youth unemployment is estimated as 85 percent.

“Peace and security in Liberia is still an issue because of the young unemployed, and until we can address that, there’s always hanging over us the chance that there may be a resumption of conflict,” she said.

The high proportion of young people in Liberia is mirrored across many parts of Africa, and is often cited as a source of optimism for the continent’s future economic growth and development.

But Sirleaf’s warning underscores the risk that Africa’s long-heralded “demographic dividend” could become a liability unless governments can create more jobs for their growing populations.

“These are the young people who were bypassed by an education,” she said. “We’ve got to give them the means whereby they can have a livelihood, whereby they can get their dignity back and support themselves.”

There is a need for a more aggressive approach to tackling issues such as youth unemployment and poor infrastructure within fragile states and regions, Sirleaf added.

In light of the MCC-Ministry of Commerce’s meaningful approach of reducing joblessness amongst the youths who are the potential hub of conflict, Mary Broh swung into action last week and began dismantling their markets and makeshift structures.

“As for me my mother, my family of three children is living on me. I feed them out of this small business. But today Mary Broh is chasing after us. What can we do now,” a bewailed UL student said after Broh’s security took her market on Randall Street Sturday.

But if the government is serious about reducing poverty, it cannot be entering into arrangement to find sustenance for small traders and at the same time order that their structures be removed. This is contradictory to government’s dream of reducing poverty.Or if government wants to abolish street selling, it has to be emphatic about it. It should be unconditional.No patriotic Liberians will hate someone like Mary Tanyonoh Broh who is attempting to bring “sanity” to Africa’s oldest republic, built by uneducated slave children who knew nothing but plantation works.

But the problem with her works is associated with violence, aggression and partiality. From the time the president appointed her in March 2006 as Special Project Coordinator to also clean the streets her work has been characterized by violence caused by forceful enforcement.

Her appointment in the second term of the current government was announced on local radio evening news but even before her confirmation by the national legislature, she was seen on the streets the next day kicking goods belonging to petty traders. This was the beginning of the fierceness that is often characterized by her work.

Some consider her to be disrespectful to African tradition and authorities. There have been personal confrontations between her and some of her cabinet colleague resulting to invectives.Information Minister Lewis Brown is on record for describing Mary Broh as dishonoring anti-Ebola measure at his ministry. He referred to her as rude, disrespectful and a serious threat to the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease after she refused to wash her hands at the Ministry of Information before entering the building during the height of the Ebola virus.But she succeeded in compelling diplomas and other participants of the July 26,2014 program at the Centennial Pavilion to wash their hands. She personally supervised the washing of hands at the GSA at the peak of the virus even so at the displeasure of others.

Some business owners in the Air Field Community accused her of partiality when she closed down their business centers and spared the Shark Entertainment Center, Zela Entertainment Center, Joker’s Entertainment, De Valley, Anthony Shop and KTC.

In 2007, she was promoted as director the Passport Bureau to remove corruption and the age-old bribery scam within the division. Many hailed her for keeping the bureau well mannered but others accused her of unfair judgment and very personal on a particular group of citizens to issue passport.

In 2008, she was appointed as Deputy Director of the National Port Authority where she was again hailed but also accused of overstepping her function. She was accused of policing every other job at the port. This made others working at the port irrelevant.

In February 2009, she was selected to serve as Acting Mayor of Monrovia in place of the previous mayor, Ophelia Hoff Saytumah, in the President’s effort to legitimize the Monrovia City Corporation‘s administrative and financial management. Even though she was seated in February 2009 by appointment, rather than by the usual democratic election process, she was not officially confirmed by the Liberian Senate.

But employees at MCC complained of suppression. Some said they did overtime jobs without receiving pay.

Broh has worked to clean up the capital city with measures that include city-wide litter reduction campaigns aimed to increase public awareness of litter, sanitation, and overall public health. In October 2009, she implemented the revised City Ordinance Number one, which originally introduced by the MCC in 1975 to take care of public health, sanitation, and street vendors.

The exercise was meant to address the huge problem of garbage that had been accumulated in the Monrovia for over decades. Some of these include overflowing and unsanitary trash, makeshift structures and unregulated street vendors who sell foodstuffs to locals and tourists alike.

General Broh has also worked closely with the Ministry of public works to address squatting, and overpopulation of the capital, mainly caused by Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) that migrated to Monrovia from rural areas during the civil wars.

But disagreement has followed her throughout her tenure as a result of her destruction of public market places, physical altercations with Senate staff members and heated verbal exchanges with legislators and journalists.

She has sustained physical attacks in several areas with angry residents throwing stones, and hauling insults at her and her group, thus making it difficult for the cleaning up exercise to continue. Some employees in her group were afraid to continue with the job.

In September 2009, Muslims in Monrovia expressed concern over the Special Presidential Task Force headed by Broh to clean the city streets after an incident at the Benson Street mosque created an inconvenience for Muslim worshipers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Apart from progress in a very short period of time, the Special Presidential Task Force was dissolved to make way for the Monrovia City Corporation to carry out the work.

Broh’s controversial methods of creating a cleaner, safer Monrovia is drawing   fans and critics in the country. Her forceful methods even produced popular tee-shirts with the caption “Don’t Raze Me Broh,” a salutatory nod to her zoning and ordinance-enforcing campaign throughout the capital.

More progress came to Monrovia in 2010 when she enlisted her staff at the MCC to clean polluted beaches, install portable toilets, and demolish dilapidated buildings left abandoned and bullet-ridden after the 14-year civil war. However, these efforts created a rift in public perception in Liberia and abroad: many found her tactics heavy-handed and lacking empathy for poor and working-class people.

In February 2013, Mary Broh assisted he then embattled, Grace Kpaan, Montserrado County Superintendent, whom security officials apprehended as a result of bribery allegations. Mary was unpopular for interfering with justice. She had assisted in saving her from going to jail, something the police director cannot do under the law unless under a special arrangement with the court.

Mary Broh was cited with obstruction of justice when she intervened in Grace Kpaan’s arrest. The situation compelled President Sirelaf to suspend both of them. A Strong public opinion and collateral damage from the then legislative clashes created a difficult position for President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

The controversial Broh was constrained to submit her resignation to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Among a number of noteworthy statements issued in defense of Mary Broh and her impact on Monrovia, Ms. Deborah R. Malac, then US Ambassador to Liberia, measured what she perceived as the culmination of gender politics and an atmosphere of sexist hostility and violence towards women.

If the General is really serious about the work, she should go to Bushrod Island and other areas and dismantle stores that are built on alleys making the main road impassible whenever it rains. Vehicles that use these roads are paying taxes to government and therefore need the full protection of government.

If she can succeed in evicting the homes of hundreds of Liberians and dismantling their structure in the name of giving Monrovia a facelift, she should can use the same slight hammers to burst stores that built on alleys across the capital.

The capital’s overcrowded shantytowns such as West Point, Buzzi Quarter, Clara Town, and Sawmill become worst in the rainy season due to the construction of stores in the waterways.

If she is serious about the work she should make sure that millions of dollars the city parking agencies are collecting from vehicle owners are accounted for; for it was during her administration at the MCC these entities were created.

Good as it might seem, the city parking initiative is bringing no tax returns to vehicle owners as it is done in Nigeria where the idea was copied from.