Rwanda and Liberia: How Patriotism, Focused Leadership and “Culture of It’s Our Time” Shaping Progress and Retrogression (Part 1)

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Attitudes, values, and beliefs that are sometimes collectively referred to as “culture” play an unquestionable role in human behaviour and progress. Liberia experienced a catastrophic shift in its body politics in 1980 with the violent removal of the settlers oligarchy described by one Pan Africanist as “Black imperialism.” One hundred and thirty three years of one party rule was violently replaced on April 12, 1980 by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, an indigenous Liberian, who ascended to the Nation’s highest office, accusing his predecessor of bad governance characterised by corruption, oppression, suppression, nepotism, etc.

At the onset of the military takeover, Doe received overwhelming support from Liberians promising to be people centred as was evident in the famous slogan of the erstwhile PRC era “In the cause of the people, the struggle continues”. Despite the initial support received from majority of Liberians, Doe’s ten-year rule was also characterised by bad governance and failure to unite the country. Liberia was ignited and on a “time bomb”. Just as Liberians were preparing to celebrate Christmas, the country was invaded by Charles McArthur Taylor on December 24 1989. Taylor described Doe as ‘authoritarian’ and accused him of the same vices that Doe accused Tolbert of, thus justifying Taylor’s use of ‘freedom fighters’ to liberate the country. However, Taylor went beyond liberating the country but institutionalised bad governance and turned Liberia into a ‘pariah state’-preying on the natural resources of the nation and neighbouring countries to sustain his despotic regime. Taylor’s greed and quest to control the region saw the birth of a plethora of criminal and rebel groups- all plundering, looting, raping women and amassing wealth illegally.

Liberia eventually tuned into a theatre of wars and after fourteen years of wanton destruction, the conflict finally ended in 2003. With human and material resource supports from regional and international actors, an interim government was formed to oversee and manage Liberia’s post war reconstruction and recovery processes. A Democratic election was held in 2005 and Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected as president of Liberia. Madam Sirleaf, who ruled the country for two terms (2006-2011 and 2012-2017) was the first democratically elected female president in Africa. She inherited a totally broken country but was determined to restore Liberia’s image as well as rebuild damaged infrastructure.

The years 1980’s to 90’s saw many African countries transitioned from an era of de-colonisation to that of globalisation. Rwanda, an East African country, descended into bloodbath on April 6, 1994 at the time the world’s media were all focused on the election of Nelson Mandela. A plane carrying Rwanda’s President, Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The double assassination of these two presidents triggered what some described as state-sponsored genocide of approximately eight hundred thousand Rwandans, mostly folks from the minority Tutsi population and moderate Hutus. The mass slaughter was carried out in 100 days. 

Rwanda and Liberia experienced bloody wars that killed so many people in the two countries. Whilst former President Juvénal Habyarimana’s death sparked the war in Rwanda, in Liberia, Doe was captured and killed on September 9, 1990 by a sprinter faction of Taylor NPFL within eight months after Monrovia was captured yet the Liberian war did not end. Instead, Liberia witnessed the proliferation of several fighting groups. Unlike Taylor and surrogates fighters,  Paul Kagame as a rebel commander, had a well thought plan and once he contained real and potential threats after capturing Kigali, Kagame ended the bloodbath and shifted his strategy towards reconciliation than revenge.

As part of his strategy to move his country forward, Kagame articulated his country post war recovery plan in a document called ‘Vision 2020’, which he published when he was first sworn in office. Although seen as too ambitious owing to its aspiration of turning Rwanda into a middle-income country by raising average earnings from $237 per year to $900 and halving the number of people below the poverty line, his dream is gradually becoming a reality.

Also, President Sirleaf upon her ascendency to power, launched her development aspiration through PRS I, PRS II, AfT, and Vision 2030. The latter development agenda, focused on creating more jobs, building infrastructure, generating energy, making Liberia a middle income country, prioritizing national healing and reconciliation without much emphasis on Agriculture and education. Two post war countries with clear recovery plans but one is succeeding while the other is retrogressing. Does it have to do with the countries or the leaderships and ‘cultures of the two countries? The problem lies with leadership and what kinds of ‘Vision’ the leadership aspires to achieve.

Experiences throughout the world have shown that broad-based, productivity-driven agricultural growth can serve as the motor for increasing incomes, improving livelihoods, capitalising the rural economy, and providing the basis for sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately, since the war ended in 2003 various Liberian governments’ development agenda have not properly aligned to what Liberia has greater comparative advantage in and certainly aspirations have not been backed by appropriate policy and budgetary allotments.

The draft national budget for the 2018/2019 fiscal year is US$488.8 million, with US$8.3 million being appropriated for agriculture. Rwanda has consistently prioritised education and agriculture, since its war ended. Liberia has been spending very minimal on agriculture around one to two per cent of its budget on agriculture, despite Africa-wide consensus since 2003 that spending must be raised to ten per cent. We see a striking contrast to what the leadership of Rwanda has done in terms of agriculture. For example, Rwanda has increased its budget allocation to agriculture sector edging closer to meeting the Maputo and Malabo declarations which require member states of the African Union to allocate at least 10% of their annual budgets to agriculture. Rwanda’s budget allocation to agriculture in the FY 2018/19 is at 7% from 5%. This makes Rwanda one of the few states in Africa to have achieved this level of agriculture funding.

Putting resources in areas where countries have comparative advantages can boost productivity, stimulate growth, increase incomes and attract external funding and support. Because Rwanda has got its act right, foreign assistance continues to expand Rwanda’s economy by investing in programs such as education, youth workforce development and the coffee sector. Rwanda benefited from foreign assistance since the genocide, with 30 to 40 percent of the nation’s budget coming from aid. The Rwandan government’s initiative, Rwanda Vision 2020, focuses on long-term goals to grow from an agricultural and subsistence economy to a diversified economy less dependent on foreign aid. For Liberia, there is a dependency syndrome with a mentality that donors will help us to even clan our neighbourhood.

To be continued.

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