Liberia is not only a country that is out of control; it is a nation that is running out of time. The first independent republic in Africa faces huge pressures from the international community to adhere to acceptable transnational ideals on the question of transparency, accountability, impunity and the rule of law, good governance and economic standardization. But more importantly, it faces pressures from its poor and underserved citizens, especially the unemployed youth.
By all principles, Liberia is considered as the least developed nation in the Mano River Union sub region –a regional union grouping Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Liberia is also measured as the most poorly governed, most chaotic, the most food insecure, the most illiterate, the most corrupt, and the most environmentally unsound country of the four Mano River Union states. Of course, we can disagree as Liberians, but these are international perceptions of what outsiders think Liberia is.
These descriptions may easily be dismissed by individual Liberians with impracticable experiences and exposure, limited edification or tutelage, and drab conscience. But the facts are real: Liberia’s poverty rate stalls at 54 Percent – World Bank Report, Monrovia. This means that about 54 percent of the population of Liberia is living below the poverty line. This also means they live on less than US$2.00 a day. Infectious disease is proliferating in the country and most Liberians have little or no education. More Liberians also suffer from high mortality and morbidity. This state of health parameters largely results from a combination of poor living conditions and the lack of quality health care in the country. Infectious diseases are also a major contributor to ill health and lost productivity in the country.
According to the United Nations Development Index (HDI), a statistical composite index of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators, which are used to rank countries into four tiers of human development to include—Being: well fed, sheltered, healthy; Doings: work, education, voting, participating in community life, Liberia ranks 174 out of 187 nations. This means Liberia is relatively better than only 12 countries in the world. According to Child Fund International which provides a more Orthodoxy’s statistics on poverty in Liberia, approximately 80 percent of the country’s population lives in abject poverty, and disease is rampant.
In addition, it is clear that corruption is pervasive at every level of the Liberian society such that even the judiciary has become its serious prey and beneficiary simultaneously. When former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office in 2006, she declared that corruption was “the major public enemy.” Yet, she practically did nothing about it. In fact, most officials in her administration who came from poverty became rich overnight, and this remains one main reason why former President Sirleaf’s administration was widely criticized and relegated as a relatively “failed government” by many of her fierce critics.
This is especially critical because corruption unravels everything a country stands for. In fact, Transparency International catalogs the damage triggered by corruption in four conducts: political, economic, social and environmental. In political terms, corruption unsettles democracy and the rule of law. It instigates citizens to misplace faith in a country’s institutions and the people that lead them. Worse of all, corruption makes a government to appear illegitimate, and when a government lacks legitimacy, it becomes unstable, insecure, confused and dictatorial.
In economic footings, corruption leads to waste and emasculates a country’s economy. This means that in the case of Liberia, its scarce resources are taken away from the people and those resources do not benefit the various Liberian communities. It also means that publicly funded projects have and continue fail or do not go ahead, and national development remains challenged. Besides, corruption also interferes with the development of the labor and investment markets and dissuades investments, especially foreign investors, from within and outside the national economy. From the social stance, corruption oxidizes confidence and dismantles trust between citizens and the officials of their government and in the community in general. From the standpoint of the environment, corruption facilitates environmental degradation and in the case of Liberia, it is cleared that environmental protections are ignored, and natural resources are exploited for personal gains by past and successive Liberian authorities in the last several decades.
Despite its vast natural resources, corruption makes Liberia appears as a poor country. And as Globe Witness puts it: “With a history of corruption, land grabs, and poor governance, Liberia’s natural resources frequently do the country more harm than good.” While all of the above may seem scary and troubling, these are not new revelations to Liberians when considered from the context of the past two decades. Equally, these may also not be the main reason why Liberia is running out of time. Liberia simply has no time to waste or experiment considering global trends, especially so when times have changed.
We now live in the age of Facebook, the period of information technology, and a world which is now a global village where the labor market is not only changing, but is also global and very competitive. Liberia was never and is not up to the task when it comes to this change because unemployed and unskilled Liberian youth and young Liberians have not only lost hope, they are unprepared to compete both in their own country as well as in the global labor market. And nothing is being done to signal that past, current and future high school and college graduates in the country will be employed because, first, there are no jobs in the country, and second, because most of the graduates are or will be unprepared, and/or lack the skills to venture out in the global labor market. This is precisely why Liberia is running out of time.
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According to the United Nations, young people account for about 65 percent of Liberia’s population of 4.7 million, and youth unemployment is estimated as high as 85 percent. In the words of former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, “Youth unemployment is a major threat to peace and security in Liberia which, unless addressed, could see the return of conflict to the West African country following a decade of peace.”
“Peace and security in Liberia is still an issue because of the young unemployed, and until we can address that, there’s always hanging over us the chance that there may be a resumption of conflict,” then President Sirleaf said during an interview with Reuters during a visit to Brussels to highlight the challenges facing fragile states. The true is former President Sirleaf did not address Liberia’s job problems, especially youth unemployment, but, at least, she was aware and conscious of it. So, she deserves some credit for that. It would have been dangerous if she was unaware and not conscious of that in any form and manner. The awareness prompted her to manage it until she left office.
All said and done, we can all agree that Liberia is a patient in search of cure. To prescribe a cure for Liberia--the patient---based on the symptoms indicated above, we must first diagnose the sickness. If so, what is it? Liberia’s sickness is bad politics. Bad politics in Liberia creates bad consequences for Liberians and Liberia. Bad politics makes one group of Liberians after another to subscribe to the sickened notion and theory: ‘this is our time.’ The only time should be ‘Liberia’s time,’ nothing more or less.
Bad politics have blinded most Liberians in the political space from being courageous, nationalistic and patriotic. Because of this bad politics, some would prefer, choose or elect wrong over good, incompetence over competence, disloyalty over loyalty, hate over love, disunity over unity, lies over truth, public theft and corruption over transparency and accountability, injustice over justice, etc. While these depravities may help a few people in the short run, they stand to derail Liberia as a country now and in long-term. But here is the upright bulletin: together, Liberians can stop this! Efforts should be exerted to create conditions that would unite all Liberians rather than turn everyone against everyone – such efforts should also aim at making Liberia a competitive, self-sufficient and sustainable nation. The starting point is: charting a course for good politics.
About the Author:
Jones Nhinson Williams is an international public policy, institutional development and labor market analysis professional of Liberian origin. He lives both in the United States and Liberia, and is engaged in international development consultancy in the areas of job creation, industry, and occupational innovation, labor market analysis and workforce development. He can be reached at [email protected] .