Aug 5, 2012

The Journey of Mary Tanyonoh Broh: From a Difficult Childhood to Acting Mayor of Monrovia

Mary Tanyonoh Broh, the current Acting Mayor of Monrovia, was born on September 15, 1951. She first served the Liberian government in March 2006 as the Special Projects Coordinator for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's executive staff during the Broad Street beautification exercise. In 2007, Broh was asked by the President to direct the Passport Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an attempt to clean the Bureau of corruption and bribery. In 2008, she became the Deputy Director of the National Port Authority. In February 2009, she was appointed by the President to serve as Mayor of Monrovia, an appointment that was met with serious controversy. In any case, the aim was to legitimize the administrative and financial management of the Monrovia City Corporation's (MCC).

Tanyonoh, a name she inherited from her paternal grandmother, is a combination of words in the Kplepo dialect of the Kru language meaning “a woman who leads a battle or a woman warrior”. This is no mistake as it is reflected in Broh’s pro-active and often combative approach to having her job done, as Acting Mayor.

In 1950, a young woman, Esther N. Goe, --- Broh’s mother --- left her home country, Liberia, to go in search of greener pastures abroad. Her journey landed her in the central Ghanaian coastal city of Takoradi --- Mary’s birth place.  While there, she met an older man, G.B. Moses, Broh’s father, who had already travelled from Liberian between the late 30’s and early 40’s from the Grand Kru area, which was then the Kru Coast Territory.  By then, Moses was working at the Elder Dempster Shipping Line in Takoradi as a messenger.

Mary described her early life as a “very rough” journey, which she would not normally choose to speak about. Her early schooling began in Ghana. Mary’s parents were both unlettered. However, her mother was there to see Mary through her early schooling.

“When I got into standard three, she and my father got separated and the next decision was to move back to Liberia with her children. We arrived in Monrovia in 1959. We first made a stop at her cousin’s place in Bomi Hills, where he was employed with the Liberia Mining Company (LMC). He asked her to let us stay and go to school there but she declined that offer. That was the beginning my rough journey as a child,” Mary Broh told the Daily Observer.

“We went by the Fire Brigade, a ship traveling to Cape Palmas from Monrovia during those days. We arrived in Cape Palmas in the middle of the night and I wondered where we were. I was then about 10 years old. The next thing I knew, we were on a canoe, which nearly capsized with us on our way to Picnicess. The journey did not end there either. Picnicess was a little fishing village. We were dehydrated and hungry. I could no longer bear it. I began to cry for my father and all those lovely memories of cars, buses, Barclays Bank and Kingsway, the department store that was popular in the former British West Africa.

“From Picnicess onward, the journey was by foot. We walked through the meddle of the forest throughout that night, crossing creeks and monkey bridges. Then we got to this other village and were told we had reached our destination. That was Barclayville. I looked around and saw nothing. We were in the middle of nowhere. No electricity for six years. No vehicles, except for going to the farm,” Broh narrated.

In keeping with tradition, Mary’s maternal aunties and uncles offered to adopt her and her siblings, in an effort to relieve her mother of the huge burden she carried as a single mother. However, Esther, her mother, declined those offers. The only solace Mary had was her love for nature and living at the top of a hill provided her a perfect opportunity to admire the beauty of nature. The open air and serenity of the area was what she enjoyed the most and nothing else. They were involved in intensive manual labor in growing what they ate.

Mary continued her education at a one-room mission constructed by the late Doris Banks-Henries in Barclayville. The school had one textbook from which all the pupils read as they sat on the floor.

“It was a very difficult childhood. I didn’t want to be there but I had no choice. I was too young. My mother was a Methodist. So, between the ages of 12 to 14, the Methodist women decided they would help underprivileged girls from the different Methodist churches across the country. I then attended the annual conference in 1966 with my mother and took the minutes of meetings of the Methodist women of Barclayville,” she said.

Mary was soon noticed by heavyweights among these church women, including Eugenia Simpson Cooper of Clay Ashland and Monrovia.  As a smart child, Mary was awarded a scholarship to come to Monrovia to continue her studies.


“The journey was by road and when we got to Gbarnga, the vehicle stopped for a moment and there I identified a man who   had brought us from Ghana. He was my uncle. He was then employed as a bookkeeper with an accounting firm owned by Harry Greaves and Frank Stewart. He was shocked upon seeing me. He asked: ‘what are you doing here?’ I told him I was on my way to Monrovia because the Methodist women had sent for me,” Acting Mayor Broh further narrated.

That encounter introduced another phase in Mary’s journey through life. She did not continue to Monrovia as planned but lived with her uncle in Gbarnga, instead. “My stay with my uncle was not good. He did not treat me right. Next door was the Roberts family who used to give me some food to eat. My uncle, also a disbursing officer, would travel across the country for three to four months. And whenever he was gone, I would starve because there would be no food for me. It was very hard. He also ill treated me,” she said.

The good thing this uncle did for her was to put her in school at the Gbarnga Methodist Mission, of which Rev. Bennie D. Warner was principal. (Rev. Warner was later to become bishop of the United Methodist Church and later Vice President of Liberia).

One morning she showed up at school a little late because she had to fetch some wood and water that very morning. Rev.  Warner invited her into his office to give reason for her lateness.

“I apologized. But he saw something beyond the late coming. My eyes were swollen. He asked why and I told him my uncle had beaten on me the day before. He said, ‘tell your uncle not beat you.’”

Rev. Warner did not stop there. He spoke with the head of the Mission, Mrs. Gray, about Mary’s condition. The woman immediately agreed to have Mary transferred on campus. “This was in 1967 and it helped me a whole lot,” she said in acknowledgement of their role in her life.

Broh: “While there, I took a test and scored 99%. A full scholarship was awarded me. I opted for Monrovia and I was offered a scholarship to enter the College of West Africa (CWA) in 1968. I struggled all through, hungry most of the time, but was determined to get somewhere in life. Going through CWA was a different struggle by itself. When I got at the school’s hostel, Mrs. Nancy Nah was there and for some trivial reason she snatched away my scholarship. Eventually, she gave it to one of her daughters. So I had to leave the hostel and live with some relatives in Logan Town. There, too, I was the house girl, getting up at 4 a.m. to cook for 14 children and sometimes walk to school. In retrospect, all of these were ok because they have given me a result. I graduated from CWA in 1970.”


Her first job experience did not go too well. She later got employed with the Bank of Liberia. Few years later, she joined Nigeria Airways as head of the Spriggs Payne Airport crew. Mary would occasionally work flights at both Spriggs Payne and Roberts International Airports.

A few years later, she travelled to the United States of America. While in the U.S., Mary decided to work to help myself from the beginning. Later, she entered a secretarial school and upon completion of her studies there, she worked for a Jewish company. Several years later, she enrolled at the New York Business School and did financial management there. “And that was where I met my daughter’s father.” Mayor Broh is a single mother with a 34- year-old daughter. Her daughter was a U.S. Marine and now works with the U.S. navy.

“Following my studies at the business school, I joined a major Jewish garment manufacturing firm, which also put me through a lot of professional development courses in credit and collections. At that firm, I was the accounts receivables manager,” she added.

Satisfied with her competence, productivity and commitment, the firm promoted her to the post of credit and collections manager.  This new development was also accompanied by lots of financial management trainings. She worked with this firm for 14 years.

Mary later entered a toy making company, Toy Base, another major Jewish company, where she was appointed shipping and logistics manager, a job she described as a “very difficult” one.

Mayor Broh: “We sourced out of China through Hong Kong all the way to the West Coast. And we had to do just-in-time-delivery to the various department stores. Again, I did this job for 13 – 14 years. These experiences were worthwhile because they helped to make me stronger. They helped to make me work hard, meet deadlines, stay on course and manage people. I’m very grateful for that. I can see the role these experiences are playing in my current-day life. If it means working 2 to 3 a.m. to get a job done, it must be done.”


In 2006, Mary was invited by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her longtime friend since the 80’s, to return home and contribute to the rebuilding process of her country, an offer, she described as “a privilege.”

She said of the President: “It’s very interesting how she became my friend and I believed in her.”

Broh has worked to clean-up the capital city, Monrovia, with measures that include city-wide litter reduction campaigns aimed at increasing public awareness of litter, sanitation, and overall public health. In October 2009, she implemented the revised City Ordinance No. 1, originally established by the MCC in 1975 to address public health, sanitation, and street vendors. The revision sought to address issues that have accumulated in the capital over the last two decades, such as overflowing and unsanitary trash, makeshift structures and unregulated street vendors who sell foodstuffs to locals and tourists alike. She has also worked closely with government officials to address squatting, and overpopulation, mainly by individuals migrating into Monrovia from the hinterland.


From December 3, 2006 to April 2007, Broh was appointed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as head of a special presidential project: Broad Street Beautification Project. The project covered Snipper Hill through Crown Hill. According to Broh, that project was a test case for her.

“Broad Street was not easy. The trees there at the time were planted in the 50’s. They were old now with their roots bursting into the sidewalk. I think a mistake the horticulturists made was to have trees that roots branch out on the side planted there, instead of those with roots that sink deep down into the soil. When we saw this, we decided to fall the trees and that became a major problem with environmentalists in the country. I told them I would re-plant,” Broh explained.

While in the process, Mrs. Clavenda Bright-Parker, another longtime friend of the President, successfully got for the project team a few young plants from Ghana and those were planted on Broad Street.

“We did it in record time. We used to be on Broad Street up to 2 a.m. and were back by 6 a.m.,” she added.  


Broh was also appointed director of the Passport Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the time she took over, the Bureau was “in a mess.”

Broh: “There was a room filled with application forms with rats in there. A thousand people had applied for passports for over five to six months without receiving them. And some of these people had paid up to US$500 for passports that only cost US$20. I jailed all those responsible for such acts. In less than a month they all received their passports. I used to be at work up to 11 p.m. and would give out 1500 passports per month, including the various diplomatic missions abroad.

“I opened up the corridor to have people access their passports. I encouraged Liberia businesswomen to get the ECOWAS passports for region identity. I did express passports for US$50 to run the Bureau with extra US$30 from that money. I required nothing from Finance Ministry in running the affairs of the Bureau. They were only responsible for getting the passport. I issued passports as fast as within 20 minutes in cases of emergences. To curb the selling of forms, I created unique passports per applicant.”


Like the Passport Bureau, Broh was sent to the Freeport of Monrovia by the President to help clear the entity of a major container scandal. Containers were being auctioned through dubious means which casted a dark shadow on the image of the Port.

“Containers were being auction within the claims department and the money was taken away with no knowledge of the owners. How can you auction a container with all the owner’s wares in there for US$2000? They auctioned these containers, took them to a location where the contents were removed and sold. So, I was sent there as a gatekeeper. I drove the custom brokers out of there because they were lying to people shipping containers into the country. I opened up the system from step one to ten,” Mayor Broh.


Broh: “City Hall was a story by itself. There were people who were actually pocketing the municipal taxes. They had their own territories carved out for them. For example, Duala was owned by two to three persons and all funds collected from there went into their pockets.  There were 15 to 20 of them. I took them to NSA and during the investigation, it was discovered that they had their own fake receipts that they issued to businesses. They also had a master forger who could forge anyone’s signature.  We were able to find out that most of the money was not coming into the MCC coffers. I have dismissed about 50 persons from City Hall. These people were the ones milking the MCC coffers.”  

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