Liberian Economy – Rock Bottom, on the way up?
Reading local newspapers is the best way for newcomers to start learning about a place. Its got news, culture, gossip. Informs and entertains. Just like TV? More importantly in some ways they mirror “tone”. The beat of a place. Forward looking, peaceful and thoughtful, or sometimes angry and radical. In any event its real, and much better than a UNDP report in most cases. In places where the language is not English or French most of us foreigners are a fish out of water if we cannot speak the language. All too often I bump into UN and NGO types who know that language is the key to unlocking the door into a place but never, and I mean never, make an effort to learn the language. Time servers in most cases.
Anyway language ranting aside, when in Liberia recently I was blessed with an English language press so I could get the beat of the place fast just by picking up newspapers that I can actually read.
What struck me on the front page of one paper the day after I arrived was the news about the recent budget. It seems the Government of Liberia can only muster a budget of $350 million. Seems like alot of money but it is not. With the development challenges that Liberia has it is does not go so far. By way of a simplistic comparison Timor-Leste with a third of the population (1.2 million) has a budget almost double ($650 million) that of Liberia.
Apparently Liberia has a population of around 3.7 million people with an unemployment rate of somewhere between 60-80%. That’s alot of tough guys, and wanna be tough guys, who were presumably shooting or getting shot at 6 years ago, without anything constructive to do. Not a great mix. Unemployment, post conflict hangover, and no cash. The cash is so tight that USAID is even going to cover to wages of teachers in FY2010-11. Geez, the war ended in 2004 and still having to do this.? What happened to building the economy as a post conflict priority?
Funnily enough when meeting with a senior member of the donor crowd in Liberia I was told that very little had been done in private sector development so far in Liberia. She could not explain why as she had just arrived 3 months ago. She was however flabbergasted. This struck me as amazingly stupid, and such a lost opportunity. With barrel loads of cash the international community is only now apparently taking the jobless seriously. In what way it is not sure yet. But certainly the jobless are now a priority. Let us hope that it is not the “jobless”, being sent to lead the jobless.
Then again there are the hangings. American influence on the death sentence, or still an angry populace. Your call.