During the period of political unrest and the bloody, 14-year civil war that rocked Liberia, many Liberians left their country. Many moved to the United States, Europe or neighboring countries in West Africa. However, after the country’s political climate stabilized following the election of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005, they returned to their native country. Many said they had longed for years to return, others contend that moving back was a snap decision. But they all speak of the fertile opportunity that exists in business in Liberia and the warmth of the people in their country as factors in deciding to return. In part three of a seven-part series on going back home, BET.com reporter Jonathan P. Hicks talked to Mary Broh on her return.
Mary Broh says she was completely comfortable working in the corporate world of New York, where she held senior positions at Marvel Entertainment. But when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was first inaugurated as the first woman head of state in all of Africa in 2006, Ms. Broh came from New York for the event, having been longtime friends with the president-elect. “I had no intention to stay here,” she said. “And the president said that she wanted me to stay and work with her. I nearly fell over,” she said, referring to the woman commonly known as Liberia’s Iron Lady. “And when your friend, the president, asks you to come, you come.”
So after more than 30 years away from her native Liberia, she came, indeed. She first served as special projects coordinator for the president. She went on to become the director of the Passport Bureau and was lauded by the president for working to eliminate corruption and bribery. By 2008, Broh had become Deputy Director of Liberia’s Port Authority and a year later, the president selected her to serve as Monrovia’s mayor.
In little more than three years at the helm of the country’s largest city, Ms. Broh, who is 59, has developed a reputation as a tireless worker committed to scrubbing Monrovia to a point of cleanliness the city has not known since before Liberia’s punishing civil war. She is widely described as a blunt-talking, no-holds-barred administrator who can dish out a barb or a profanity as swiftly as it’s brandished on her.
“And they are right,” Ms. Broh said, when asked if the characterizations hold true. “I have adopted a very unorthodox approach,” she added. “But that’s the way to get the message out. I’m not brutal. I just want people to know that I’m trying to develop Monrovia into a clean, sanitary city. I let people know that if you don’t clean your place, I will fine you. If you keep doing it, I will make sure you go to the City Court and you can spend time going through the court system. I say what I mean and I men what I say. I’m Mary Broh — unscripted.”
She said that Liberians abroad who are considering moving back home need a transition period, “You have to spend some time looking at the Liberian society and determining exactly what you want to do, professionally,” she said. “Just don’t pack up and leave. You need a plan.”
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(Photo: Jonathan P. Hicks/BET)