President Johnson Sirleaf Visits Belle Yella

Sunday, 8th April 2007
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and encourage in Belle Yella, Gbarpolu County.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and encourage in Belle Yella, Gbarpolu County.
Photo Credit: Adama B. Thompson/Executive Mansion

Monrovia, Liberia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf kicked off another round of her County-wide tour with a one day visit on Saturday to Gbarpolu County. While in Gbarpolu, the President visited Bopolu, the official seat of the County, as well as Belle District, home to the now ruined infamous Belle Yallah prison Compound.

In separate position statements by citizens of the area, the residents spoke of the lack of basic social and other services including security, health, education and farm to market roads. Gbarpolu citizens informed the President that the construction of roads in the area remains the overwhelming priority.

Residents of Belle Yella greeted the President with traditional singing and dancing, as well as placards, some of which read, “Bye Bye to Prison Compound;”  “we need schools and vocational centers, not prison compound.”  Speaker after speaker re-echoed the sentiments of the residents of Belle Yella, who regretted that the prison compound has left a stigma on the area and its people and has robbed them of development. “Whenever you told someone you came from Belle Yella, they thought you were a prisoner,” Gbarpolu County Senator Samuel Tormetie recalled.

Established around 1910, the residents of Belle Yallah recalled that the prison was intended to be used as a center for the rehabilitation of notorious criminals. “Belle Yella was instead used by previous governments as a dumping site for political opponents,” a statement read by the Acting Chairman of the Belle Yallah Development Association, Mr. Joseph Wankollie, recounted. The statement described Camp Belle Yella as Liberia’s Robin Island and noted that the decision to change the image of the township falls in line with the wishes of the people Belle District.

Seemed visibly disturbed following a tour of the ruined facilities housing the prison compound, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, assured the citizens that the stigma they have endured over the years as a result of the prison compound would be removed. “We will turn this prison into a museum, so that people can see what happened in the past; look at the old and build on the future,” the President promised, amid applause by residents.

The President assured the citizens that their request for a road to link Belle Yella to other parts of the country would be given serious consideration, adding, “This is for the women of Liberia; when a woman was President, she opened the road.”

The Liberian leader said engineers would visit the area to carry out a survey, results of which will be submitted to the Ministry of Public Works to be included in its action plan.
“It may take some time,’ the President cautioned the citizens, ‘but rest assured that while I am in office, you’ll have a road.”

President Johnson Sirleaf, has, meanwhile challenged University graduates from Gbarpolu to return home and contribute to the manpower development of their county. The Liberian leader said government is prepared to sponsor students through college with an understanding that upon completion of their studies, they would return to their county of origin to help in the education of their people. She praised residents of Belle Yella and those in the Diaspora, for raising more than $US 2-thousand dollars for the construction of a high school in Belle Yella. The President contributed a matching fund of more than $US 2-thousand dollars to help jump start the project.

Gbarpolu County Superintendent, Gertrude Lamie, members of the Legislative Caucus of the County as well as officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, were in attendance. They welcomed the President’s decision to visit Gbarpolu.