If a person were to travel all over the world to experts of third-world development and take a survey about the top five countries in the world which need help in developing, they would find the answers to be quite varied. Based on culture and background, a person’s answers would be very different. However, some facts simply cannot be ignored. Certain countries would occur in many lists, and some would likely be in everyone’s list. One such country that cannot be overlooked is Liberia. Liberia is located on the west coast of the continent of Africa. By sharing a few facts about the economic and social state of the country of Liberia, it will be obvious why this country should be at the top of the list of need for development aid. The following facts are from the CIA World Factbook. 1 Of the roughly two hundred and thirty two countries in the world, Liberia is the fourth poorest with an astounding annual per capita of only five hundred dollars. 2 The infant mortality rate in Liberia is fifteen percent, a number unthinkable here in the United States. In the United States in 2007 a person could expect to live seventy eight years. For the same year in Liberia, the life expectancy was forty years. An estimated six percent of all adults in Liberia are infected with the HIV virus and the risk of contracting an infectious disease in Liberia is “very high.” 1 Only 57.5 percent of the adult population can read and write and while English is the official language of the country, only twenty percent of the population speaks it. Like language, there is no religious unity there either. While forty percent of the population is classified as Christian, twenty percent are Muslim and the other forty percent are considered followers of “indigenous beliefs”. International organizations, while they are attempting to aid Liberia in development actually hinder the process. The biggest example comes in the form of sanctions placed on Liberia by the United Nations in the export of diamonds and timber. Another example is the huge number of various international organizations present in Liberia with their own agenda for the country. Liberia is also one of the shipping points for heroin to nations all over the world. Perhaps one of the most glaring problems in Liberia is the disparity between rural and urban areas. While the capital city of Monrovia has some technological advances such as telecommunications and satellite television, no other area of the country has these things. Since most of the country is rural, the majority of people are left with no updated technology and are forced to survive in an agrarian society that may function much like societies from the eighteenth century. The government, which ought to be completely reconstructed, has never been stable for any length of time and consequentially has done very little to stop the bleeding in these other areas. For all the vast economic and social problems in Liberia, everything can be categorized into three groups. The problems in Liberia can be boiled down to governance, education, and technology. While the problems in Liberia look to be overwhelming, when broken down and explained there are solutions available that are completely feasible. The problem is that, like any battle worth fighting, it will require dedication, determination, and good old fashioned hard work. It is much easier to throw money at Liberia and attach some flimsy stipulations which both the giver and the recipient know will not be enforced. Here is a look at Liberia and all of its problems, categorized into three groups, with some solutions for improvement. The first problem is the issue of governance. The government of Liberia at all levels is corrupt and the very citizens cannot even trust their leaders. Here is a brief rundown of the Liberian national government since the end of World War II. From 1944-1971 Liberia was led by President William Tubman. President Tubman did much for Liberia in terms of “bridging the economic, social and political gaps between the descendants of the original settlers and the inhabitants of the interior.” 1 However, things changed dramatically for Liberia when in 1980 Samuel Doe led a military coup and began a decade of authoritarian rule for Liberians. From 1989 to 1997, and then again from 2000 to 2003 Liberia was plagued with civil war which was initiated by Charles Taylor when he launched a rebellion against Doe. This civil war is the cause of many of Liberia’s problems today. Here is the question that needs to be answered: If Liberia was set up to be a republic back in 1847, then how was Samuel Doe even able to take over the government and establish authoritarian rule which ultimately led to civil war? Therein lies the main problem with the Liberian government; there is no accountability. Checks and balances exist on paper, but in reality they are not enforced. This lack of accountability has led to the creation of a predatory state in Liberia. The Liberian Observer, a newspaper in Liberia, has a writer who noticed such a trend in government and wrote an interesting article about this problem. His conclusion is that “the bulk of the problems in Africa [are due] to acquisition of wealth (self-aggrandizement), the misuse of power (oligarchy) and the quest for unwarranted social prestige (the inappropriate means of acquiring social status in society).” 3 So here is your problem with governance in Liberia, all the way down to the local level. So, what can be done to solve this problem? Here are a few theories to examine to determine the best way to mend the problems in Liberia’s government. The best solution to Liberia’s government problem has been offered up by Larry Diamond. Diamond says that in order for a predatory state (which Liberia was and is working toward becoming a republic again) to reverse its effects, it requires “good governance, strict accountability, and conditional aid from the West.” 4 Mr. Diamond is right, but what constitutes good government and strict accountability? Liberia held elections in 2005 and elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as its President which was a big step towards recovery. But great strides still need to be made. Effective government would require setting up people in government posts all over Liberia who are not politically connected and who have no past ties to corruption. Liberia has fifteen administrative divisions, or counties, each of which has a superintendent appointed by the President to govern the county. For Liberians, this process is a very slippery slope in governance. This would be the equivalent of President Barack Obama appointing governors of each of the fifty states. This process should be changed to elections of the superintendent by the people of the county. The people already vote for their leaders in the national government so why not their local government leaders also? The problem here is that you get people like Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor who depose the national leader and then, fully under the law, appoint puppet superintendents to carry out their wishes at the local level. The system is seemingly set up to create a predatory state. The very process of election and appointment of government officials, at least at this level, needs to be completely scrapped and rewritten. Well, who is going to do this? After all, this is not exactly a small job to begin and see through to completion. This brings us to another problem of governance in Liberia which is the gross saturation of international organizations trying to turn the nation around. In Liberia, there are at least thirty eight international organizations that are providing “conditional aid” to the country. So are all organizations providing aid under the same conditions? Certainly not! Each organization has different conditions with their aid and, in effect, it is pulling Liberia in many different directions. These organizations are trying to fix everything at one time which is fixing nothing. Without the restructuring of its government nothing else will get fixed. Organizations like the World Health Organization can pour as much money as it wants into fixing the health conditions in Liberia, but it will all be a waste until the government is set up and stable. Until Liberia gets to this point, all of the aid that is coming in will have virtually no effect. This is why the issue of governance is the number one issue for Liberia and the restructuring of certain parts of its system of government needs to be handled first. Here is what seems to be the best solution: Liberia needs to focus solely, exclusively, and exhaustively on fixing their government right now. Drop all other concerns including health care, education, technology, and military. This solution certainly would not be a popular one, but it would be the most effective. Kick out the dozens of international organization and countries trying to help you out in all of these areas. Take one country or one organization that will help you restructure your government and let them give you aid to do so, preferably an organization that is not spread as thin as the United Nations. If Liberia were to take all of the monetary aid that it is currently getting and pour it all into restructuring its government, the process would be much quicker than most would think possible. This is the first necessary step on the road to recovery for Liberia and its citizens. Once your government is taken care of the focus needs to be on education. Let me explain what I mean by education. I do not mean education in the secondary sense, or even education in the university sense, though these are certainly a part of it. What I mean is education about health care primarily. Educate people about diseases and how to treat them, then provide them with the technology to do so, which will be discussed later. When you have an infant mortality rate of fifteen percent, a life expectancy of only 40 years, and a 6% HIV infection rate, these need to be focused on more so than industrialization. Besides, in striving to accomplish this you are actually creating jobs, giving people the ability to make more money, and industrializing the rural areas as well. In accomplishing this type of education you can build hospitals, medical universities, and similar things which will bring economic aid as well. In fact, certain programs like this are already in place in Liberia. One such example is the HIV Equity Initiative, or the HEI. 5 The HEI is a community level initiative, supported by the Liberian Ministry of Health to treat HIV in rural southeastern Liberia. In this community level initiative, the need for education about health issues has surfaced in many ways that offer simple solutions. One such example comes from a doctor working with HEI in Zwedru, Liberia. She says that “while working in the hospital and clinic, I noted that the Tuberculosis (TB) Clinic and the HEI Clinic did not have an adequate system to refer each clinic’s patients to the other for further testing.” 5 You see, if given adequate attention and resources, the AIDS epidemic that is plaguing not only Liberia, but most all of Africa is not only solvable but the solutions are much simpler than people imagine. As with solving their governmental problems, the solution is the same for the education problems, at least in the arena of health education. The Liberian Ministry of Health needs to choose one international organization that has the same goals for Liberia as the government does to come in and provide all of their conditional aid and training. This provides unity of purpose and goals and eliminates the possibility of having multiple agendas from competing organizations, as is seemingly the case there now. Also under the umbrella of education is the “K-12” system of education we have here in America. As stated earlier, only 57.5% of the adult population in Liberia can read and write. Not only is there a tremendous need for education, but within Liberia there is an equally tremendous desire for education. Upon her election in late 2005, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said “All the children I meet – when I ask them what they want most – they say, ‘I want to learn. I want to go to school. I want an education.’” 6 As with HIV in Liberia, there are already organizations in place whose mission is to create a viable system of education for children in Liberia. One such example is the Liberian Education Trust, or LET. LET’s mission is simply to restore a system of education to Liberia that was, in large part, destroyed during the fourteen year civil war there. Let me give you a few statistics on education in Liberia to show you just how much of a need there is for this basic type of education. Seventy percent of children in Liberia are illiterate and most schools were destroyed during the Liberian civil war, during which time many teachers either fled or were killed. The few schools that have re-opened since 2003 are severely overcrowded, and most teachers that work there are volunteers. Less than half of school-aged children in Liberia are enrolled in school. Perhaps the biggest problem with education in Liberia lies in the fact that families rarely send girls to school, and when they do sexual exploitation is rampant by male teachers who dominate the teaching profession. 6 This is a major problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. As previously stated, if you were to take all of the foreign aid and funnel it into one objective at a time, you could solve the problems in Liberia in a relatively short span of time and turn the nation completely around. Once your funnel that money into the restructuring of the government and that mission is complete, then turn it all to education. Take all the billions of dollars Liberia receives annually from foreign nations and organizations and build schools with it, train and hire teachers with it, set up a system of education that is held accountable by the superintendent of the county who is elected freely and fairly by the citizens. By doing this one is not only investing in the current welfare of the state, but an investment is being made into your social and economic future. With good and proper education, citizens become more productive later in life and contribute much more significantly to the welfare of not only their families, but to the state as a whole. Like the government, the entire education system in Liberia needs to be completely restructured from the ground up. After all, if a viable system of education is not in place then nothing will change in the future because citizens have no knowledge of what is wrong with the system and how it can be fixed. One reason that Liberia is the fourth poorest country in the world is due to the lack of technology. As stated in the previous paragraph, less than half of children even attend school. Of the group that does attend school, more than eighty percent graduate without even having even seen or touched a computer. 7 Nearly all of the technology that is in Liberia is located in the capital city of Monrovia. Speaking simply of communications technology, Liberia has the seventh fewest telephone lines in use the world. 8 They also have the seventh fewest number of internet hosts in the world with only five in the entire country. 9 There are only ten radio stations in the entire country and four television stations. While telecommunications can be used to highlight the lack of technology in Liberia, the most important lack of technology is in education and health care technology. All amounts of foreign aid can be invested into schools, hospitals, teachers, and doctors, but if no aid is invested in technology then it is all for naught. Earlier healthcare was mentioned, and the need for healthcare for AIDS treatment and prevention, specifically in rural Liberia. This goal simply cannot be accomplished without basic modern medical technologies. In order to rebuild the schools that were destroyed by civil war, you will need construction technology such as bulldozers, graders, and excavators. In the specific problem mentioned earlier of the lack of ability to refer an HIV patient to another doctor, technology is needed here as well. Liberia has only four hundred and eight miles of paved roads in the entire country, which is less than many people travel in one week in America. 1 Technologies that we take for granted here in the states are considered almost futuristic in third world countries like Liberia. The problems in Liberia cannot and will not be solved without updated technology. What is the process by which Liberia can achieve this goal? UNESCO is working toward implementing a program which will build “teacher training colleges” to train teachers in modern computer technology which they can then go teach others, specifically those in the rural communities. 10 A non-profit organization, One Laptop Per Child, seeks to take older, low cost, low power laptops and distribute them to the children in the poorest parts of Africa, which are usually located in the rural areas. 11 Both of these organizations, and many others like them, are seeking to achieve the same goal: education through technology. With the second largest number of merchant marines in the world, Liberia already possesses the ability to import some technology should they choose to do so. 12 As has been established, the government needs to be reconstructed and functioning before anything else is to be improved. Once the government is functioning as a republic then Liberia can begin to work on improving the economic and social status of their country and the well-being of their citizens. This first needs to be accomplished in the realm of education, both health care as well as the establishment of a K-12 system of education for children. However, once a certain point in development is attained, technology is needed to continue the process. All of the funding and federal aid coming into Liberia, once it has been funneled into rebuilding the government and then rebuilding the education system, needs to be funneled into technological advance. Technological advance should include not only electronic technology such as computers and telecommunication, but also the building up of industry, specifically in the processing of materials which Liberia is naturally rich in. Timber, rubber, and diamonds are three examples of resources that Liberia possesses that could be developed using industrial technology. This would do wonders for the economy of Liberia because if these industries are built up and managed the right way, then the UN sanctions currently on Liberia could be lifted and a drastic improvement in the economy could feasibly occur. Once industry is functioning well, the focus could shift to improving roads and other means of travel. The big advantage of improving transportation is that it connects the isolated, severely impoverished rural areas of Liberia to Monrovia, Buchanan and other large cities. As with government and education, the biggest challenge would be in setting up a system by which you hold supervisors and managers responsible and accountable for their actions. Improving the telecommunication technology would greatly increase the chance of success in this endeavor and pave the road for advancement for Liberia. The list of economic and social problems in Liberia is long, but the solutions are feasible. Liberia could easily improve their economic conditions with technology and proper education to move well beyond being the fourth poorest nation in the world. Past problems of governance and civil war are solvable with the funneling of foreign aid into the restructuring of government systems and accountability. The fifteen percent mortality rate, low life expectancy of forty years, and six percent HIV infection rates could be radically improved with proper health care education, training, and technology which could be achieved through the concentration of foreign aid into this arena. The lack of a common language, where only twenty percent of the population speaks the country’s official language of English, could be drastically improved with a progressive education system overseen by a properly reconstructed government who provides the teachers and students with updated, reliable technology with which to learn on. This would also solve the problem of a 57.5% adult literacy rate in which the majority of those who are literate are males. They key is to eliminate the dozens of foreign organizations and nations and channel that support and aid into a concerted effort to firstly rebuild the government. Then channel that money into training health care professionals who can be properly educated both in a viable K-12 system and on into a post-secondary education. Arm them with modern technology which can be achieved through the channeling of funds and support into this arena. Use the resources you already possess, like the world’s second largest fleet of merchant marines to accomplish this. Liberia is certainly on the right track with the ending of their terrible and tragic fourteen year civil war in 2003 and the election of a President elected by the people and for the people in 2005. Liberia has a long way to go, but by utilizing this system of concentrated effort in improving a prioritized list of national goals, change for the better is sure to come. Liberia is latin for “liberty” and with the implementation of this method of development, the citizens of Liberia can truly be liberated from their cycle of poverty and underdevelopment.
5. http://www.massmed.org/Content/NavigationMenu4/GrantCenter/foundation_08_09_grants Kim.pdf 6. http://www.liberianeducationtrust.org/about_let.htm
8. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-worldfactbook/rankorder/2150rank.html? countryName=Liberia&countryCode=li®ionCode=af&rank=224#li
9. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2184rank.html? countryName=Liberia&countryCode=li®ionCode=af&rank=226#li
12. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2108rank.html? countryName=Liberia&countryCode=li®ionCode=af&rank=2#li
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
My collection of personal papers written over the years