Liberia On Time Bomb
“If we intend to make this country a peaceful one, we've got to allocate some substantial amount for mental health; we have got to build rehabs. People just go about saying ‘those car loaders are not serious but have we been able to give them a chance to rehabilitate? No, we've not given them the chance,” said Mr. Ernest Garnark Smith, Jr. the Founder and Executive Director of Renewed Energy Serving Humanity-RESH ( a psychosocial support-based NGO) and a psycho-social therapist.
Mr. Smith who is also a university lecturer spoke with the FOCUS recently in an exclusive interview in Monrovia.
Speaking on the increasing presence of car loaders on the streets of Monrovia, Smith expressed fears that their presence poses an unforeseen security threat to the state, if nothing is done to help them get off the streets and ghettos and rehabilitate them.
“The issue of car loaders in Monrovia is a time bomb… The reason is simple, some of those guys are former combatants, those guys are on drugs and they need to support their habit [drug addiction]. How do they support their habit, by loading cars? Anybody could use them; anybody could come with few cash and say, ‘It takes you an entire day to load cars to get some money to go and get your hit, but I can give you an operation for you to go on for one or two days and you’ll have enough money.’ Because they have that strong urge to sustain that drug addiction habit, they can do just anything to get money. So their presence pose a national threat to our security, their presence pose a grave threat to the development of our society,” Smith explained to the FOCUS in an emotional mood.
Car loaders, nowadays, are seen in every street corner in Central Monrovia, Paynesville, and other commercially vibrant areas around Monrovia. As the name depicts, they help commuters find taxi cabs during the height of traffic congestion. Most of them are assumed to be ex-combatants, while others were mere homeless children. They are notoriously known for their criminal activities like pick-pocketing, tricking, doing drugs, etc. While it is widely believed that car loaders pose serious security threat to the state, many of them who spoke with the FOCUS expressed willingness to leave the streets only if government could provide a facility that will rehabilitate them and give them some skills to make them more desirable citizens.
George Armah is a car loader who is often seen at the corners of Broad and Randall Streets in Central Monrovia. He told FOCUS that he chose to be a car loader because it’s a better alternative to stealing or armed robbing. “I prefer to look for my living the hard way that’s why you see I’m loading car. In a day I make up to L$400 to L$500. I don’t have anybody to assist me that’s the reason why you see me loading car. I’m also loading car to sustain my habit [drug addiction] that I’m adopted to. I need to sustain my habit and keep myself up until God can bring changes to my life or until someone comes in to help me,” he told FOCUS. George said he is willing to quit being in the streets, loading car and taking in drugs if, he is assisted to get out of it. “If I had someone to assist, someone who will send me to hospital for treatment, I see no reason to [continue to] load car. There’s nothing in it besides shame and disgrace,” he said.
Emmanuel Johnson says he has been loading cars for the past three years. He dispelled the belief that car loaders are criminals. According to him, car loaders are genuine “hustlers”, however, there are some others who masquerade as car loaders to carry out their criminal activities. Emmanuel said car loaders and youth in general feel neglected by society and government. “They’re [government] not thinking about we the youth, but God’s thinking about us. So if you can help me or another fellow can help me, I would be better. But if I can’t get anybody to help me, God may help me. They [government] could build camp or a mission where we the youth could go and learn trade. Some of us have trade in us but it’s not complete. So, when we go there, we’ll be able to learn trade for a better future, but there’s nothing like that,” Emmanuel said disappointingly. He admitted to being
a drug addict and said, it is one of the major reasons for which he loads car to earn some money to afford his substances.
While many of these car loaders and ordinary citizens who spoke to FOCUS think the government is less concerned about their situation, the Assistant Minister of Youth & Sports for Youth Development, Ms. Kula V. Fofana, said “The government is very concerned about the young people especially, the car loaders – the young people who are in the streets just doing nothing absolutely besides car loading, living in dilapidated structures and doing drugs and alcohol. There are programs that we’re working on to take them off the streets but it’s a process that we have to go through. Right now, what we’ve been able to do at the Ministry of Youth & Sports is to really put a focus on these young people.”
She spoke with the FOCUS recently in an exclusive interview at her Ministry of Youth & Sports offices in Sinkor, Monrovia.
According to her, government has plans to hold a stakeholders meeting that will focus its attention on the presence of drug addicts in the streets. Acknowledging that most of the car loaders want to leave the streets, Ms. Fofana explained that the challenge has been having an adequate facility that will detox them, get them trained and incorporate them into existing programs. She also recognize that the presence of drug addicts in the streets and the growing number of ghettos pose serious security threat. “Very soon the government is bringing all stakeholders to a round table to talk about these issues and see what we can do about it. So that meeting will bring to a really called attention this issue because it is not only for youth empowerment or youth development, but it is also a security issue. Because all of us are going around in West Africa and even in the world, young people – people can use them to do whatever to be able to carry on their own personal agenda. It’s something very important even in the face of UNMIL drawdown, elections upcoming, we have to do something about it as a people, as a government, as a country, we've got to do something about it,” she concluded.