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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Liberia: Poverty is ingrained in the Minds of Liberians. Born to be Poor?

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By: Samuel P. Jackson

Liberia is among the ten poorest countries on the planet. We are a very poor nation no matter what poverty description or metric is used: Per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Gross National Income (GNI), poverty headcount, poverty gap index, or comparing national income by using purchasing power parity.

In analyzing the measure of livelihoods, we are near the bottom in the human development index (HDI) at .481. That’s very poor. Ghana is at .632. Côte d’Ivoire is .550. China .768. India .633.

By these measurements and comparisons we are a wretchedly poor country. And we don’t seem to have a plan, willingness or even the required discomfort to rise out of poverty. We’ve accepted our lot in life.

We think it’s normal to live in darkness. Normal to go to bed hungry. Normal to get sick and die young. Normal to give our mineral and trading economies to foreigners.

Foreigners own 99 percent of all class A mining licenses and import 90 percent of all goods into the country. They own 90 percent of banking assets. 90

Percent of the prime real estate in long leaseholds in Monrovia. All the supermarkets on Tubman Boulevard.

All the automobile dealerships in the country.

70 percent of us live in slums in Monrovia. 90 percent of the urban population are renters. We have a housing inadequacy rate among the highest in the world. Zinc shacks. Muddy huts. Housing in wetlands.

Do the political class, governing elites and the few well to do Liberians have the ability to take our country out of such dire poverty.

Clearly not since such poverty has existed for most of our country’s history and been exacerbated by our long fratricidal war. As we try to crawl our way out of poverty we create and maintain structures that keep us poor.

No affirmative action for wealth creation and prosperity for Liberians. No preference categories for Liberians in getting huge mineral assets or in the government’s procurement system. Liberians don’t own oil assets.

We surrender the import, wholesale and organized retail economy to foreigners. We give jobs such as cashiers and pastry sellers to foreigners. The best carpenters, brick layers and road builders are foreigners.

We need foreign direct investors no doubt but the lack of control on foreign direct investments in small cap industries will keep us poor. No country has developed without protecting the economic interests of its citizens.

I can’t own a TV station or newspaper company in the USA. I cannot own a mine in Canada or drive a taxi in Mexico. I cannot open a retail company in Ghana without investing 300K and hiring at least ten Ghanaians. I can’t be a cashier in a supermarket in Ghana. Or open a tailor shop in Botswana.

We maintain the structures that keep us poor. A concession system of granting mineral licenses without requiring minimum Liberian ownership. We do not require capital controls such as foreign exchange surrender of a minimal amount of our gold, diamonds and iron ore exports.

What needs to change? Firstly we must know the true state of poverty in Liberia. Poverty headcount. Spatial analyses to determine the location and demographics of the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

Then a national economic development plan unlike the Agenda for Transformation or Pro Poor Agenda for Development. They are broad and mainly aspirational. No sectorial planning. Infrastructure. Agriculture. Industry.

And without the educational plan to create capacity to meet our development goals. Our curriculum in schools should be based upon demand of the job market. Plumbers. Electricians. Brick layers. IT professionals. Doctors. Nurses. Etc.

Most importantly we must develop a national wealth and prosperity plan for Liberian economic empowerment. Incubation and nurturing of Liberian entrepreneurs. Granting of mineral rights to Liberians. Class A mining licenses. Gold. Diamonds. Iron ore. Oil blocks.

We must create structures in the financial system to grant credits to credit worthy Liberians.

Agriculture funding. Trade finance. Mortgages. Consumer loans. Equipment leasing. All cannot be done without a credit reference system with the backbone being a national identity system.

We have the potential to be a rich nation but only if we recognize the depths of our poverty and create a national emergency plan void of petty partisan politics and desperate efforts to seek public sector jobs with the goal of enriching oneself. That’s how’s it’s been done for nearly 177 years. It’s time for a dramatic shift in the political economy.

Only bold leadership can accomplish a significant paradigm shift from business as usual. From the looks of things and the inability of us to grasp the seriousness of our dire poverty circumstances we may not see any shift in my lifetime.

And so it goes.

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