Former Central Bank Governor and political leader of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEE) Dr. J. Mills Jones recently postulated that “Liberia’s greatest enemy is poverty.” Poverty is everyone’s enemy because it is degrading and humiliating. But this statement is contradictory for a country so immensely endowed with natural resources, rich soil for agriculture, vegetation with various species of plants, attractive landscapes and beaches, among others. How then can a country with all these resources be conquered by its enemy, poverty?
Let us take the statement into perspective to establish whether or not poverty is truly Liberia’s worst enemy. Development Communication emphasizes the need for communicators to establish the root cause(s) of an issue to pave the way to a conclusion. Poverty did not come to Liberia in a vacuum, but we strongly believe there are root causes to this problem that should be considered enemies to Liberia, instead of poverty. Poverty, then, is really a product of certain choices, conditions and other vices that decrease the quality of life, especially by economic means.
One of those vices, as far as our assessment can show, is dishonesty. While serving as Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Jones established a loan project giving out millions of Liberian dollars and thousands of US dollars. Have those who benefited from this loan scheme been honest enough to pay back their loans so that others, too, may benefit? It is common banter for Liberians to accuse public sector workers of diverting ‘the people’s money’ into their private accounts; case(s) in point, the recent scandals at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. However, there is also the wrong perception among some Liberians that a loan given by a government institution does not have to be repaid. This, too, is a recipe for poverty.
In President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s inaugural address in 2006, she declared corruption as “Public Enemy Number 1.” This enthusiastic statement was greeted with tremendous, hopeful applause not only in central Monrovia where she made the declaration, but all over the country and even abroad. Citizens’ excitement about the statement clearly depicted how corruption is seriously inflicting poverty on the country and that there was a need for a strong and decisive leader to tackle it with sincerity.
It is also noteworthy to consider our appetite for foreign aid as part of the causes of poverty. Let’s see what American statesman Benjamin Franklin said about charity:
“I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
The government’s dependence on foreign aid and disregarding necessary investments in agriculture, tourism, and other forsaken economic activities, is also responsible for poverty.
Considering these entrenched vices existing in the Liberian society and politics, this paper strongly believes that poverty is not necessarily Liberia’s greatest enemy; but rather dishonesty, corruption, insincerity, indolence, and indiscipline. In other words, we Liberians are our own worst enemy.
This brings to mind a recent trip President Sirleaf took to East Africa, from where she returned, in awe of the level of development in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda. What had impressed her, far beyond infrastructural and the level of sophistication in these societies, was the apparent cooperation of the citizens with their respective governments toward their development achievements.
Rwanda, where the President expressed shock with the pace of its improvements in its infrastructure and social development, has a system in place and is strict with the rules. Despite the existence of laws, citizens of that East African country have adapted self-discipline to the extent that they do not make their streets and environment filthy by uncontrollably dropping trash willy-nilly. There is no room for pissing on street corners, building on drainages, and blocking waterways, just to state a few.
“But aaaaayyyyyy, Liberia!” she remarked in the presence of journalists upon her return to Liberia. She was severely criticized for the expression, just as she was when she admitted in her last 2017 State of the Nation address that she failed in the fight against corruption. But should she be the only one criticized for the failure? Of course she is not the only person.
So, we ask the question again: Is poverty truly Liberia’s greatest enemy? For this question, however inexhaustive, the answer is ‘no’. Perhaps, we should rephrase the question: Who or what is Liberia’s greatest enemy? We’ve already answered this question, haven’t we? The good news is that our greatest enemy can be turned into our greatest friend!