Liberia Is Not Cursed by God, But by Voters

Picture of a bad road in Southeastern Liberia that continues to hamper free movements of goods, and services as well as citizen movement.

.... The reality is when leaders are elected based on the size of their campaign coffers rather than their vision and integrity, it paves the way for an environment where public resources are mismanaged, misallocated, and misappropriated. 

It is mindblowing how Liberians think that it is God who will develop this country, not their votes. The essence of an election is not just about having a functioning democracy bbut also allowing citizens to voice their hopes, aspirations, and concerns. 

But in the case of Liberia, it is the opposite, as voting has now become more about short-term transactions than long-term investments in the well-being of the nation.  The resulting consequences are dire and far-reaching as leaders who are elected are ill-equipped to tackle critical issues such as education reform, healthcare access, infrastructure development, and economic growth.

This can be clearly seen in the ranking of Liberia in every development index in the past eight years, which ranks the country among the lowest in the world.  Just last year,  the Liberia Human Capital Index, according to the World Bank, was ranked at just 0.32 — performing better than only three African countries in the world, namely, the Central African Republic (0.29), Chad (0.31), and South Sudan (0.31)— out of 174 countries assessed. 

Also, in the sub-region, Liberia has the lowest human capital in ECOWAS, together with Mali and Niger.  Mauritius, which Liberia is older than by 122 years, has a far better human capital score than Liberia with a score of 0.62. 

Despite these worrisome statistics, Liberian voters care less about policy discussions, which are needed to find solutions to the ever-depreciating human capital development of the country but more about pocket and belly.  

This is why Liberian elections are considered as ‘chopping season’, where masses of youth and young adults trade their voter identification card serial numbers to the highest bidders. This short-sighted attitude toward the democratic process feeds into voter-tricking activities, which in itself undermines the purity of electoral outcomes. 

This is currently the case as we draw closer to the October 10 elections.  

Yet, at the end of the day, those who sold their votes (and their hopes for a better Liberia) will cry foul when the country remains among the lowest performers among other nations, while its ‘elected’ leaders use the power and influence of their positions to amass wealth and opportunities for themselves. 

Why cry when you prioritize gifts over policy discussions — neglecting your duty as responsible citizens and compromising the integrity of the electoral process?  What is baffling is that these very voters expect a leadership that is accountable and transparent, with a genuine commitment to addressing the challenges facing Liberia.

It does not work that way, especially when the election was more about instant gratification — t-shirts, bags of rice, trucking fees — than policy issues to which elected officials could be held accountable.  There is no way voter trucking or related electoral fraud can usher in leaders who will prioritize investment in  Human capital, which is key to ending extreme poverty and creating a more inclusive society.

And so, the reality that Liberian voters should get used to as a result of their voting habits, is having a country, which is old enough to be well developed but yet has a human capital development amongst the worst in the world, leading to a heavily unskillful population.  

On the other hand, who could blame them? Do those who we refer to as ‘zogoes’ and disadvantaged youth, as well as tens of thousands of others who live on the margins of society really have a stake in Liberia’s democracy and development?  This is the vicious cycle perpetuated by desperate politicians who feed the belly-driven mindset — keeping the masses poor, uneducated, and uninformed so that they’re easy to control and less prone to hold elected officials accountable. 

However, the voters' focus on short-term gains despite numerous campaigns against such is killing our nation. The reality is when leaders are elected based on the size of their campaign coffers rather than their vision and integrity, it paves the way for an environment where public resources are mismanaged, misallocated, and misappropriated. 

Liberia’s elected officials are among the highest paid in the world, while the average Liberian lives on just US$570 a year, down from $650 in 2013 according to the World Bank. The take-home pay of Liberian legislators, in particular, is between US$30,000, which includes salaries, allowances, and the costs of running their offices. This is not counting the fringe benefits such as duty-free privileges. 

In the  2021/2022 budget year, the legislature allotted US$64 million for salary and other expenses including  US$4.6 million for new vehicles and US$3 million for fuel.  By comparison, Liberia’s entire public education sector — for primary, secondary, and tertiary levels — was US$92 million in that same year. 

This situation clearly manifests the consequence of Liberian voters' actions of repeatedly choosing not just the wrong politicians, but the wrong priorities that eventually come back to haunt the electorate.

There is a Liberian saying that “A cat cannot be born to a dog.” Thus, until Liberian voters understand that the path to development and prosperity is paved with an educated and informed electorate, and a principled leadership that observes accountability, the country would remain poor forever. 

Critical issues that should be at the forefront of the national conversation, such as education reform, healthcare access, economic growth, and infrastructure development would be non-prioritized by those elected.

But will Liberian voters see it this way come the October 10 polls? Maybe but— let’s wait and see!