Cummings: ‘Donor Dependency Hurting Liberia’

Cummings: "The findings of the report are conclusive. With the baselessness of the accusations against me now laid bare, the truth." 

... "We need to depend on ourselves and strengthen as people to solve our own problems."

The leader of the Alternative National Congress, Alexander B. Cummings, has warned that the country's over-dependence on foreign aid is creating a serious problem where the economy is unable to generate  large-scale employment opportunities essential for absorbing a large pool of unemployed and underemployed Liberians. 

Cummings, who has over 40 years of experience in international business and at one point in time served as Coca-Cola as its Chief Administrator, noted that relying heavily on foreign aid established a false sense of stability and growth in the economy, as infusions of foreign cash are temporary. 

He added that it is ironic for people to think that by Liberia getting more aid, it makes economies healthier, instead of a situation where the country cannot fend for itself —  leading to a dependency mentality that has prevented the country from generating their internal institutional defenses to deal with problems — as is happening now. 

“We need to be self-dependent. We need to change our mindset. This dependence on donors is hurting the country.  Yes we need the help, yes we want the help but we should first look at ourselves; what can we do for ourselves," Cummings noted in an interview with Daily Observer. "The task of rebuilding the country has to begin by reducing our dependence on foreign aid. It offers us less opportunity to utilize our potential as people to marshall in real social and economic growth."

“Aid dependence doesn’t make a country strong but poorer, as you depend on others to solve your own problems and the worse problem is, it makes us have a vulnerable economic structure, becoming highly dependent on donor assistance and food imports. We are too rich to be beggars,” he added. 

“We need to work hard towards self-reliance if we are to make Liberia better. This is what I envision when I become president. As people, we have to stop relying on donors for everything -- we need to do something for ourselves," the ANC political leader said.  "And that will require changing the mentality — that dependency mentality to hard work, honesty, and integrity. It is not about refusing help, but taking up responsibility as a county to solve our problems instead of running to donors to help, be it with agriculture, the economy, or health. "

Aid in Liberia

Since 2003, the international community has poured billions of dollars of aid into the country.

This means Liberia remains a highly aid-dependent country, despite a significant drop in the amount of official development assistance (ODA) it has received since 2015. Liberia received US$621.6 million in net ODA in 2017, which was 43% less than it received in 2015. ODA makes up 33.5% of Liberia's gross national income (GNI). 

The United States is the largest donor to Liberia and Sweden is the eighth-largest donor. 

According to OECD data, Liberia received US$765 million in development aid in 2011, making up for 73 percent of its GNI.

Between 2010 and 2017, Liberia received US$776 million in aid per year, which accounted for anywhere from 40% to 25% of its GDP during that time period.

The country economy was sliced by 90% as a result of the civil wars, with its gross domestic product (GDP) falling to barely US$54.50 per capita by 1995. However, the gross domestic product increased from US$748 million in 2003 to US$3.3 billion in 2017, with a per-capita GDP of around US$600, thanks in large part to the influx of international aid.

As an aid-dependent country,  Liberia remains one of the poorest countries on the planet despite being endowed with abundant natural resources for a population of less than six million people.

The World Bank (2018) notes that 85% of young people, who make up two-thirds of Liberia's population, are unemployed.

Liberia ranks one of the lowest countries on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index (HDI).

The HDI value for 2019 is 0.480— which put the country in the low human development category—

positioning it at 175 out of 189 countries and territories. The rank is shared with Congo (Democratic 

Republic of the) and Guinea-Bissau.

And more than half of the population (50.9%) lives below the national poverty line, with large geographical disparities in poverty (World Bank, 2018) and the population is one of the least skilled anywhere, and illiteracy is more than 50%. 

Aid from the United States, Liberia’s main ally, and other countries has plummeted dramatically.  The US government aid has dropped from US$228 million in 2011, when assistance began to dry up, to US$86 million in 2018. And it now stands at US$110 million according to US Ambassador Michael McCarthy. 

Much of these donors' money are needed to fund the vast majority of the country's development needs, health care services, reform and good governance. 

Foreign aid paid for about three-quarters of the cost of Liberia’s health care and, without it, many more people, especially children, died.  Funding for procurement of drugs and the fight against deadly diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS, mostly comes from foreign aid. Similarly, the country's education system and agricultural programs depend on these foreign aid funds for improvement and, when they dry up, huge gaps surface. 

The aid dependency syndrome means Liberia's economy has been structured to be highly dependent on providing foreign concessions in the agriculture, mining, and forestry sectors, with no value addition to the raw product. 

Hopelessly dependent people

The country's nearly two-century-old problem of aid dependency, according to Cummings, must be changed as the situation has created a hopelessly dependent people and systems that ignore its potential for prosperity. 

Cummings noted that until the country starts to do things for itself — marshal its domestic resources — international assistance may have merely propped it up, while the core problem of poverty, vulnerable economy, high unemployment, unskilled labor force and underdevelopment will still remain and not be solved. 

The ANC political leader added that changing the country's donor dependency syndrome is a major priority if he becomes President — ushering in a new era where  emphasis will be placed on building the skills of local people to make them better at running their own country and building their own economy how they deem best, rather than depending on outsiders to get things done.

“We need to depend on ourselves and strengthen as people to solve our own problems. Doing the same thing all of the time is unlikely to change anything," he said. “As leaders we will set the examples so Liberians will see. It is not about refusing donor money but taking responsibility in solving our own problems. Countries that are developed today solve their own problems and don't want us to. We need to make donors respect us more by solving some of our problems by ourselves. They can come in later but relying on them often is bad. And this is what I am going to do when I become president — inspiring people like I am currently doing."

Cummings added "Every Liberian can be like me or even better if they are given the right opportunity. For me, the Presidency is not an issue of obsession. It is about how to work with Liberians to help change the bad living conditions of Liberians."

"This means utilizing the country's resources rightly — fighting corruption and investing heavily in the economy. To grow the economy is to stop corruption. You can’t have a leaking bucket and you try to put more water in that bucket. That doesn’t make any sense. So we’ve got to stop the stealing and take the money that people are not stealing and invest it in the Liberian people — the economy," the Liberian politician said. 

“The economy is where everything intersects. Growing the economy, creating jobs, getting money to fix the healthcare, the education system matter a lot. And if God blesses me and I become President, we will ensure that the environment is secured and people are comfortable," Cummings noted. "We will not refuse donors’ help, but they will respect us more when we are starting it first ourselves before asking them to help us.” 

The ANC leader who is one of the few Liberians to serve in the highest positions of U.S. fortune 500 companies, also pledged to invest heavily in agriculture if he becomes president. 

Cummings added that he envisioned agriculture as a medium through which the country can rid itself of its aid-dependent state to realize its potential as a nation that is capable of being one of the wealthiest in the world. 

“We will invest in agriculture. We need to begin to feed ourselves. We should not just produce the raw material, but add value to products we grow. Agriculture will be a priority. Additionally, ecotourism: we want to create more income streams so we will invest in ecotourism, " he said. 

“We’ve got 350 kilometers of beaches along our coastline. We have large forest areas, waterfalls. We need to encourage others to come here," Cummings added. "It will help to create jobs. And on the issue of regulation, we will have a regulatory environment so that we make sure the private sector can thrive. We want Liberians to benefit.”