On The Plus Side…

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In his oration to the nation at this year’s July 26 Independence Day celebration, Ambassador Charles Minor called for a balanced approach to the way Liberians view their nation at 168 years of independence.

“On the plus side,” he said, “we must thank Almighty God who has been gracious unto us. He has sustained us as a Nation for 168 years, when several attempts were made to remove the name Liberia from the world map. Even through the Ebola Virus Disease, we have survived. For over 10 long years, PEACE has prevailed in Liberia, although justice has not always been swift for all. An impressive level of National
COHESSION has been attained in our land; notwithstanding, we continue to witness a lot of bickering over lands and the rights to their use. The economic foundation began to strengthen for a number of years between 2006 and the advent of Ebola as our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth exceeded population growth; and LIBERIA again began to obtain a higher level of respect in the comity of Nations. The level of international assistance provided us in our fight against EVD, which enabled us to achieve early success in the defeat of the deadly enemy, demonstrates a good level of support we, as a country, have earned. Early this month, the Dutch Foreign Trade and Development Minister, Lilianne Ploumen, who led a delegation to the three ECOWAS countries affected by the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, aptly suggested that our Friends and Partners, including the Netherlands, are willing to help Liberia restore “the impressive economic growth” which was halted by the deadly EVD.”

Our question is this: how many of these pluses can actually be attributed to us? To our own hard work and dedication that paid off? From what we can see, we are riding on the grace of God and the goodwill of international donors. And neither the grace of God nor the goodwill of international donors gives us the right to sit back and be complacent. In Liberia, we say that if someone washes your back, wash your stomach.

But we seem to be waiting for donors to wash our backs, our stomachs, our behinds and other places no other hands should go but ours. If the help of international partners has brought us this far, imagine how much more we could have accomplished had we put our collective national effort behind the development of every sector of our society!

What the Ebola crisis did was to FORCE us to get organized and pull together. It was a matter of life or death. It was an emergency. And it has been admitted by the powers that be, that the crisis exposed serious weaknesses in our healthcare delivery system. Besides that, much of the money has not been accounted for.

When we speak of economic growth, what exactly do we mean? Is it the level of growth reflected in our government revenues or in our national budget? How does that “growth” reflect in the lives of our people?

Economists teach that every nation’s economy is comprised of three components – the national budget, the local business frame and the household frame. Even if government revenues are in fact growing at a rate of 8%, local Liberian businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and were struggling before the Ebola crisis, which only served to exacerbate that problem. As such, perhaps we can put their growth rate at one percent, and that would be generous. If the local business frame is struggling at one percent, we can be sure that the household frame is not faring much better. As such, we can also put the growth of the household frame at an even 1%. In total, by our calculation, this averages to a 3.33% growth rate; not 8%. Growth rates should not be manipulated or skewed into a PR campaign for any government. It has very real effects on the lives of the people!

What we are saying here then is that while we appreciate Ambassador Minor’s attempt to balance the scorecard, the “plus side” to which he refers does not amount to very much – certainly nothing we as a nation can take credit for.

It is good to be optimistic; but even more important to be realistic and honest with oneself. If we are honest with ourselves about where we are, we can set our own agenda for growth and development. That way, we don’t have to rely so much on international partners for growth, development, or the measurement thereof for that matter.

So the hard truth is as one Zimbabwean diplomat put it to the Daily Observer years ago: “If all you’ve got [in terms of independence] is a flag and a new name, you’ve got NOTHING if your economy is still in the hands of foreigners.”

Indeed, Zimbabwe would know.

The good news is that when at rock bottom, that is a good foundation with nowhere to go but up. We can begin from here to build for ourselves a state-of-the-art economy and democracy that Africa as a whole can be proud of and emulate.

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