The World Bank Group (WBG) in recent days celebrated its “Africa End Poverty.”
The Bank emphasized the cardinal role of public policy in providing a level playing field for everyone in society to feel the impact of government. But how serious is Liberia in the fight to end poverty?
Actually, we in Liberia should not be talking about poverty. Why? Because Liberia is richly endowed with natural resources that are absent in many African countries that are striving to end poverty.
We have often in our Editorials referred to some countries beyond Africa, notably South Korea and Singapore, which in 1960 were on the same economic plane as Liberia. But because of the shortsightedness, corruption and lack of patriotism that have bedeviled Liberia for so many generations, we are as we are today, one of the world’s poorest and most backward countries. Korea and Singapore, on the contrary, are among the world’s richest and most highly developed nations.
But let us look right here in Africa at two relatively new countries, Rwanda and Botswana. Liberia is far older, far richer than either of these countries. Yes, Botswana has diamonds and cattle. And Rwanda, like Botswana, too, has very little rainfall. Contrast either country with Liberia, which is endowed with vast iron ore deposits, as well as gold, diamond and rain that falls at least six months in each year. Yet we cannot feed ourselves and have to import most of our food, including our staple, rice, and most of the meat we eat.
Yet we have places in Liberia, including Grand Cess in Grand Kru County, Lofa and Nimba Counties where cattle can grow naturally. But neither the government nor private individuals have bothered to raise cattle. Instead, we depend for our beef on half sick cattle from rain-starved Mali. Botswana, on the other hand, is a major exporter of beef.
Rwanda, too, has taken great advantage of something that Liberian has in abundance—tourist attractions. The difference with Liberia is that neither the Liberian government nor private individuals have bothered to take advantage of these attractions; for example, our rich culture, Lake Piso and the entire Grand Cape Mount County and our 350-mile coastline on which beaches abound.
Rwandans, on the contrary, have used their innovation to turn almost every part of their country into tourist sites to help boost the economy.
Botswana is a landlocked country threatened by savanna grassland and the Kalahari Desert, and its only mineral resource is diamond, which Liberia also has in abundance.
Botswana, too, has dwelt on ethical value to denounce corruption and preach equality and morality in order to build the least corrupt society on the African continent.
Travelers who visit those countries all speak of the improvements that have been made there in recent years. Yet Liberians, especially our government officials, including our President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, cannot emulate these far younger African nations.
How serious is Liberia to end poverty in line with the World Bank’s goal? Look at all the great opportunities we have missed year in, year out. Take all the beautifully made geographical landscapes God has given us. What have we been waiting for all these years to turn them into tourism sites to bring revenue to the country? Tourism brings not only money, including loads of hard currency; but also employment and development. Nearly every week this newspaper carries stories of major international hotel chains opening modern hotel complexes in various parts of Africa, and we have since the war—and not even in the past 12 years of the Ellen Sirleaf administration, been able to fix the Ducor, West Africa’s first five star hotel. Pray tell us why.
Poor Liberia; when are we ever going to get a government that will seriously engage in the fight against poverty by putting to work the great and serious advantages we have, the rich endowments that the God of nations has bestowed upon us?
Within the next two weeks we have a chance to elect a new president of Liberia. What we must do now is to determine who between the two contestants in the presidential run-off is better prepared to wage the serious, vigorous, persistent and committed fight against poverty?
Some of what we have said in this Editorial can be used as benchmarks to start this fight against poverty. But will our leaders take note of them? Will they involve the media, at least the serious parts of the Liberian media, to help chart the course in this great challenge of the moment—fighting and defeating poverty in Liberia and setting our nation, at long last, on the path to economic and social development?
That remains to be seen.