By Jimmy S. Shilue
The collapse of the Berlin wall and end of Cold war rivalries in the eighties ushered a period of hope and optimism for developing countries, and triumph for liberal democracy, peace and global development. However, following decades of relative social and economic stabilities, the last decade has been punctuated with series of disturbing developments in both developed and developing countries. In Africa, we are seeing increased demands for Good Governance, accountable leadership and representative political systems to mitigate “pillage, plunder and carnage”. While most donor countries continue to support our government through bilateral and multi-lateral aids, paradoxically most African youths continue to embark on deadly journeys to seek greener pasture in Western countries. What is the missing link? On the other hand, in most Western societies, we are witnessing the rise of nationalism and populist parties with negative implications not only against immigrants within western societies but also potential effects on multilateral and bilateral aids in developing countries. As the late highlife Nigerian musician Prince Nicco Mbarga said in one of his music’s, and I paraphrase. “cow without tail depends on God to protect it’.
Yes the victory of Emmanuel Macron of France; the re-election of Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany; and the defeat, or at least containment, of far right elements in contests in Austria and the Netherlands, were signs that God is protecting immigrants against powerful populist and anti-immigrant forces, in Europe. But this assumption is gradually dwindling in most EU countries, even in the last bastion of hope, Sweden, which is one of Liberia’s biggest and most reliable donors. In America and most EU countries, the far right is snatching sizable seats and their victories could potentially set the basis for new foreign policy toward developing countries.
With U. S. President Trump calling for tighter immigration reform and questioning U. S. liberalism, accepting citizens from what he called “shithole” countries, one would think African leaders will change the way they govern and put the interest and welfare of their people first. The rise of Trump and his likes demystify the whole idea of ‘American Dream’ and by extension globalization. Contrary to the utopian notion of America as ‘the Big Apple’ providing opportunities for all, acceptance and belonging in many western countries today is neither based on historical ties nor the myth of universality but contingent on strategic interest; the kind of leadership and existing national policy. The Trump administration is unequivocal on immigration and only extended the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program until March 2019. An estimated 500,000 Liberians (about 10 percent of the total global Liberian population) are believed to be in the Diaspora. President Trump anti-immigrant policy will see more than 4,000 Liberian immigrants in the United States that gracefully survived on humanist and liberal policy offered by various liberal democratic leaderships be deported by next year. The far right parties worldwide are convincing electorates that immigrants are the problem hence tailor their campaigns against integration and globalization.
Migration and immigration are understandably the major vote catcher in most western societies. In terms of the wider effects of this toxic doctrine beyond the shores of USA, the Brexit vote was even more troubling. Whatever the underlying rationale for British withdrawal from the EU, the method of the campaign invigorated populist and nationalist sentiments thus challenging the legitimacy of regionalism and globalism.
Amidst all these geopolitical shifts, it is business as usual in Liberia. In 2010 during one of her many visits to Washington, D.C., our former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf boastfully informed crowd assembled at the Council on Foreign Relations that “Liberia should not need aid in 10 years”. According to Madam Sirleaf, Liberia got enough resources to drive the country to self –sufficiency than dependency. To break its dependency on aid, the Iron lady told her audience that she plans to attract increasing levels of foreign investment and private capital.
Indeed, Africa first female president used her charm and charisma to attract avalanche of multilateral, bilateral aids and foreign direct investments using the country natural resources. Major companies like Chevron, BHP Billiton, Arcelor-Mittal, Chinese conglomerates, etc entered different deals with the Liberian government and invested lots of monies leading to the birth of NOCAL. But almost decade later, Liberia is not only more depended on donors support but still struggling with abject poverty and worsening economy.
Like other African countries that are endowed with natural resources, the sector in Liberia is confronted with unbridled corruption, mismanagement, elite capture, global volatility and the “Dutch Disease” – all of which make the country unable to exit the endemic resource curse. The shameful demise of NOCAL under the watch of the President’s son, contributed to the current economic hardship Liberia is experiencing and shows why the country will always be dependent on foreign aid. Since non-renewable resources are exhaustible and run the risk of obsolescence, there is/was a need for the former president to consider putting away revenue generated from various mineral exploration to mitigate any potential social and environmental impacts these ‘ambitious adventures’ may have on society and the population. If the United Party led government was interested in making Liberia becomes self-sufficient as the president declared, she would have opened saving funds and engaged in sustainable investment.
Because oil and mineral resources are exhaustible, savings funds is usually used by people centred government for the welfare of its people. It helps to turn the country’s resource wealth into other forms of wealth that allows future generations to benefit from revenues generated from the nation’s resources. Unfortunately, monies generated from our nation resources were used to enrich cronies and strengthen patronage relationship, in Liberia. Income from Liberia natural resources exploration should have been properly invested in education, healthcare and other public services to improve the living standard of those who cannot afford $1 a day. This is one way to become less dependent on foreign support and avert mixed migration. But the sector has been characterised by massive corruption and mismanagement.
Unlike agriculture, which creates jobs and employment opportunities, oil and other natural resources, though major source of wealth, do not create jobs by themselves. Elites that were/are closed to the ruling leadership enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. During the regime of President Sirleaf, officials of government from all branches of government, aided and abetted by unscrupulous investors and businessmen, engaged in rent-seeking behaviour thus depriving Liberians of most needed basic social services and infrastructure.
With the change of leadership few months ago, the new leadership of Weah only needed to officially take over and continue business as usual. However, the Weah led administration decided to introduce modicum of changes to demonstrate a paradigm shift. The Pro poor government announced drastic reduction in salaries and restricted public expenditure- good measures to safe the county from worsening hardship. Sadly unfolding news of 16 billion disappearance suggests that Liberia’s perennial problem is not over. There are reports of current official of the Pro Poor government acquiring properties at exponential level. What is even more disturbing is President Weah recent attempt to mobilise resources though unorthodox manner.
The so called ‘resource swap’ beats my imagination. As somebody from the Southeast who supports President Weah plans to improve roads and living conditions in that part of Liberia – a region where 4 of every 5 residents (89%) lives in absolute poverty and has suffered systematic marginalization through Sirleaf’s so called ‘growth corridors’ doctrine, I am a bit concerned about the consequence of the current unguided ‘resource swap’ proposal. While we are still waiting for the details and framework, my impression is it will take the form of a ‘bartered system’ which has historically been an old method of exchange long before money was invented. During the bartered system people exchanged services and goods for other services and goods in return. However, unlike the proposed ‘resource swap’, the bartered system was not only mutual but done with high degree of trust amongst traditional folks. Furthermore, local people had ways of determining the values of their goods and services. A critical aspect of the process is trustworthiness.
Compared to the ‘resource swap’, we don’t know how much we are to give away except that we will receive 2.5 billion for road construction. Some of the questions that keep pondering many Liberians minds are: Have we done any resource analysis to determine cost and value? Which sector are we talking about? Will this swap be restricted to specific region and resources or we will be surrendering our resources to the Chinese? Are we committing our unborn children to debts that they will not be able to repay? Are we following the concept of sustainable development that is, utilizing our resources in ways that will not undermine future generation’s capacities to live peaceful and decent life?
Without understanding what this swap entails, Liberians are right to be apprehensive about the proposed deal. We are not prepared to exchange the nation’s valuable resources for few bulks that most likely will end up in the pockets of few elites and eventually settle for sub-standard roads. We have seen most of the Chinese products and services disintegrating within a twinkle of an eye. The current mystery surrounding 16 billion disappearance will continue to create doubt in the minds of Liberians making it difficult to allow anybody to accept any negotiation, even if it is for the development of our country. Also disturbing is the threats from state security apparatus toward Hot Pepper Newspaper publisher. Without passing judgement on who is culpable for the current 16 billion saga, it is logical to deduce that if this scandal is/was exclusively by the Sirleaf’s administration, the Weah government would have celebrated Philibert Browne for unearthing such scandal. Instead, the paper’s editor and his entire family are allegedly receiving death threats.
Making matter worse, countries that continue to assist Liberia through bilateral and multilateral aids are experiencing dramatic changes in their political landscape. The senseless civil war in Liberia sent most Liberians in foreign countries. It is not possible to have an exact figure of the number of Liberians living in Europe and America. Many Liberians live in the two continents and continue to send remittances to their families and friends back home.
The rise of anti-immigrant parties and government in Europe and America will have adverse effects on development in Liberia. In terms of the impact on the welfare of various households and the whole economy, it is estimated that personal remittances inflow from the Diaspora reached 24.4 percent of our GDP by 2014. Moreover, an on-going study by George Washington University indicates that Liberian diaspora are making social and economic contributions to development of Liberia. In a country like ours without welfare opportunities, remittances are very important for family’s members and for the local banks that are serving as conduit.
Thus, hostile anti-immigrants’ politics in developed societies and change of policy and leadership could have impact on Liberian migrants’ ability to send remittances. Every society has good and bad folks and it will not be impossible for some unscrupulous employers to take advantage of anti-migrants policy and terminate their services or drastically reduce some of their incentives, which will invariably affect development in our country.
On the overall, the Liberian government relies on international support to carry out its development agenda. Since the war ended in 2003, the international community continue to provide different contributions, including peacekeeping forces and humanitarian relief efforts, to debt relief. We also received supports from major donors, including most European countries and the United States of America. The Pro Poor government does not have plan to change this trajectory as far as Liberia’s development is concerned. “Our progress will remain incomplete without the support of key partners–the international development partners, the private sector, and …’, notes the Pro Poor agenda.
Meanwhile, the tide is now rapidly changing all around Europe as we see radical shifts with traditional political party systems being fragmented and new populist parties scoring high in national elections. Besides growing resentments against migrants, some western countries’ economies are also struggling and their citizens are looking for political messiahs who will drive away those they consider intruders. Of particular interest to Liberia is the recent political development in Sweden, arguably the last bastion of hope and true friend of Liberia. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) party won about 18% of the vote in the last 2018 election. Like most right wing parties, the SD shares Neo Nazi doctrine hence anti-immigrants. Compared to other Western countries, except Germany, Sweden has welcomed more asylum seekers per capita than any other European country and has one of the most positive attitudes towards migrants. Liberian immigrants are certainly part of the equation.
Our Pro poor government should be thinking and coming up with measures to address the adverse impacts potential changes in global political landscapes and foreign policy in Western countries will have on development assistance to Liberia and our people living abroad. Even the most generous friend will be reluctant to assist a friend who fails to demonstrate transparency and accountability. The Weah led government should treat the current 16 billion saga with high degree of urgency as it can be an ammunition for far right parties in donor countries to justify why they should not support Liberia’s development agenda. Sweeping the missing money under the carpet could give credence to growing perception that the government misused the money and is trying to find scapegoat. Whatever the CDC led government does, one thing remains clear- our schools, hospitals and communities remain in deplorable conditions. The only way to take our people out of poverty and chart a course of self-sufficiency is to effectively utilize national resources in sustainable and transparent manner.
Jimmy Shilue is a Member of Liberian CSO involved with, issues on Good Governance, Social Research, Human Security, Natural Resource Management and National Reconciliation.