Paging the Private Sector

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A number of issues concerning our national development continue to claim our attention as they become increasingly dire to the point of crisis. Agriculture (food security to be specific), unemployment, the lack of a consistent supply of electricity and running water (making business cost-prohibitive), and the nation’s economy as a whole come to mind.

We believe that it is time to call in the private sector. By private sector, we mean Liberians taking initiatives to move Liberia forward. We mean Liberians coming together to form think-tanks that will independently address the issues affecting us without depending upon the government to do it. There is a lot that even one man or woman can do, let alone a consortium of well-meaning, patriotic Liberians putting ideas together. This is an extra-governmental body that formulates strategies for development and oversees their execution.

For example, there is plenty of room for private sector intervention in the area of agriculture. The first step would involve breaking down the issues under agriculture: sugar cane versus food crop production; access to training; access to market issues (transportation and roads); storage/preservation issues; and decent market places to name a few. Notice that this approach follows the value chain and addresses the issues producers face.

The question then becomes HOW to solve these problems. An African proverb advises eating an elephant one bite at a time. The initiatives developed by said consortium would need to be community-based. These initiatives must not be copied and pasted from foreign sources. Any true and lasting solution will need to be initiated on the ground in Liberia – not from an armchair or roundtable discussion abroad. Said consortium would need to spend the time visiting communities to learn the similarities and the differences in the issues faced from one community to another. In so doing, it might find that some issues are interrelated. For example, if a woman finds that agriculture is profitable, she becomes self-employed in that sector (or anywhere in that value chain) and quits looking for a government job.

Said consortium would need to be BASED in Liberia, and not operating on a come-and-go basis. That means two things. One, it will allow for the observation of market and development trends that may necessitate adjustments. Two, it will require the members of said consortium to pledge their commitment to the Republic of Liberia. This is not a project. It is a job.

It is worth mentioning again that said initiatives must not be copied and pasted from foreign sources. We have done that for too long, and it has not worked – were they ever intended to? We know Liberia best, better than anyone else ever could. Therefore, we are in the BEST position to solve our OWN problems in ways that suit our needs and rhyme with our way of life.

Development is like a well-tailored lapa suit – not a one-size-fits-all garment. It has to be designed to the taste and sewed according to the measurements of the wearer. First of all, the woman must choose her own cloth AND design. Very important. It will reflect her unique style and taste, and will allow her to wear it with ease. The tailor must be African to understand the design. That is his core competency. Technically, any tailor could sew a suit; but why choose a foreign tailor when an African tailor is available? Learning curve too steep. Secondly, the tailor has to take the measurements of the woman for whom the suit is being made. Measurements are necessary even for gowns. They have to fit right.

When a woman wears a well-made lapa suit, she feels confident. She stands out. She takes on the world. That is what we need for Liberia, for Africa. Make no mistake about it. We are in a competition, and we are losing badly. We are feeling and looking very lack-luster, uncomfortable and insecure in these one-size-fits-all development garments we’ve been wearing.

It is sad to say, but governments the continent over have failed us miserably. They have imported those ill-fitting garments for us – very expensively, we might add – when we could have bought our own material right here and sewed some banging lapa suits that make us the envy of the modern world.  

All analogies aside, it is time for private citizen initiatives, and they are entirely possible. If we wait too long, we will lose Liberia.

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