In Liberia, wheelbarrows are humble but robust technology. They provide employment and help keep local economies moving. Critics say they are a reminder of underdevelopment.
In Red Light Market, Paynesville, a suburb east of the Liberian capital Monrovia, a wheelbarrow is more than just a tool or an implement. 34-year-old Layee Kromah earns his living with a wheelbarrow, transporting goods or belongings for a small fee. “It's a difficult job,” said the former high school French teacher, who quit teaching because the salary was too low.
42-year-old retired soldier Wulu George also pushes a wheelbarrow to make ends meet.
“I have no job to do – that's how I took to wheelbarrow riding to get my daily bread. I depend on the wheelbarrow to feed my family and send my children to school,” he told DW.
George said a wheelbarrow pusher makes on average around 850 Liberian dollars (US $10, 7 euros) a day.
Janygay Saye is one of their customers. She spoke to DW while looking for a wheelbarrow to transport bundles of plantains she had just purchased. They needed to be taken to a warehouse.”The wheelbarrow pushers are very helpful to us. They transport our goods and sometimes I give them 20 Liberian dollars to transport my goods,” she said.
Wheelbarrows evidently help keep the local economy moving. Young street traders like 20-year-old Gee Michael uses one to sell his wares. “I push it from home to the market and then from place to place in communities to sell my goods,” he told DW.
Many of the wheelbarrows in use in Liberia are Chinese imports costing mostly between US $35 and US $40.
James Kpargoi is a Liberian public policy specialist. He told DW the continuous use of the wheelbarrow represents "poverty and the lack of transportation and road facilities." But he also mentioned its role in public health. “You find that most often when people in rural communities get ill they are transported from their communities to the rural health posts, which are far away from their residence, by wheelbarrow,” he said.