Liberia needs to shift its attention from dependency on concessions operating in the country to entrepreneurship, if it is to ever become developed and improve the lives of its citizens.
Proposing this change of course, U. S. Ambassador to Liberia, Madam Deborah Malac, added that if Liberia is to compete with its neighbors on the regional or continental levels it must now begin to look up to entrepreneurship to have the kind of impact it desires.
“I know that Liberians stand in the face of concessions as the one model for foreign investment. This model is becoming increasingly outdated,” Ambassador Malac contended.
The Liberian model of investments, where large concessions tend to provide social services like schooling and medical care just to win a contract is no longer sustainable, she cautioned. “Foreign companies will invest in Liberia only as long as it is comfortable, and when it is not done their way, they would leave.”
Ambassador Malac made these comments when she served as speaker at the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) President’s Lecture Series in Monrovia. She addressed over 200 students who gathered in the university’s auditorium yesterday to hear her.
“In spite of Liberia’s past history, I can say to you that growth with development is possible. Though not all of the items needed for economic growth are in Liberia, yet the country’s natural resources and entrepreneurial experience would add up,” said Ambassador Malac.
Liberia has always benefited from foreign direct investments that the government considers as the best model for improvement. The global economies are [facing serious challenges] and profit margins are getting slimmer, she observed.
She was confident that Liberians are fully capable of creating their own economic opportunities, while providing examples of others, who have engaged in businesses and are progressing.
Providing an alternative, Ambassador Malac said agricultural activities are another initiative that would help the country in its employment drive.
“Processing of mango and pineapple for export would help the country generate more income, she suggested, adding that the opportunities to make Liberia a better place are many and Liberians stumble over them every day, “but it’s just that you don’t see them,” she told the students.
“Success begets success,” the veteran US diplomat noted, “and as more Liberians work to create economic opportunities, more money will flow into the economy.”
“As more businesses open, tax revenue will increase and will enable the government to improve its provision for basic social services.”
She disclosed that she has served the majority of her time working in the diplomatic corps, working in Africa and on issues that directly affect the African continent. “So I do understand the importance of expediting development in African countries and the challenges that government faces in trying to improve the daily lives of its citizens.”
As an American, she views these challenges in different lenses from how Africans themselves view them, though she acknowledged that she is not an expert on development.
Ambassador Malac’s comments come in the wake of Liberia’s continued inclination to lure concessions into the country to invest in the extractive industries—on which the country has depended since the mid-1920s, but which, for the most part, has failed to develop the country.
For example, the second concession, the American-owned Liberia Mining Company (LMC), began mining iron ore in 1946. But when in the late 1970s to the early 1980s its mining operations drew to a close, its headquarters, Tubmanburg, became a ghost town, with absolutely no infrastructural development left there or anywhere else in Bomi County.
LAMCO, the Swedish-Canadian American conglomerate, which mined iron ore in Mount Nimba in Yekepa beginning in the early 1960s, became one of Africa’s biggest industrial enterprises. But when they departed in the mid-1980s they had made no development impact on the county. Nimba County’s capital, Sanniquellie, remained a shanty town that it still is today, without pipe-borne water or even 12 hour per day electricity.
The Fuamah Chiefdom in Lower Bong County experienced the exact same scenario after the German-owned Bong Iron Ore Mining Company (1964-1990) departed. The Fuamah people, mostly Kpelle, remained as poor and deprived as they had always been, with no ancillary (additional, subsidiary) investments introduced there on which the people could depend in the post-concession period.