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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Is Liberia Becoming The ‘Sick Man Of West Africa’?

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By Nathan N. Mulbah

Since the cessation of the fourteen years civil strife in Liberia and the eventual return of democratic governance with the country now proudly counting three successive presidents under three governmental arrangements, Liberia seems to be exuding signs as being the ‘Sick man of West Africa’.

Historically, if a country is described as a “sick man” in the comity of nations then it is a country that is politically or economically unsound, especially in comparison with its neighbors in the specified region.

For example, in the late 19th century, following a reported comment by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia about the moribund state of the Turkish Empire, the Sultan of Turkey was described as the Sick Man of Europe and Turkey, by extension, was described as the ‘Sick man of Europe’.

While I am fire up and gingered as a patriotic and nationalistic dire hard loving Liberian, I am risking the backlash (s) from other Liberians as I ask the question whether Liberia can be libeled as the ‘sick man of West Africa’ given the current trend of events unfolding in the country.

I am actually disgusted and worried by the way and manner in which we, as a country, is proceeding with the whole governance and nation building process of the country.

Look my friends, until 1979, Liberia’s economy was among the more developed and fastest growing in Sub-Saharan Africa, but after the 1980 coup d’état, it declined, and the civil war destroyed much of Liberia’s economy and infrastructure, especially the infrastructure in and around the nation’s capital, Monrovia.

The war also caused a painful brain drain and the loss of capital, as the civil war brought about radical change and destruction of the state structure in every nook and cranny of the Mother Land.

Naturally, Liberia is richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forest and a climate favorable to agriculture.

Sadly, despite the proliferation of tertiary institutions and other vocational institutions Liberia is admittedly poor in human capital, infrastructure, and opportunity for appropriate human resource development. We have learned that if the human resources of a country are not harness and developed, it will not be able to develop and manage the natural resources of the land of their birth.

Liberia has a fairly typical profile for Sub-Saharan African economies. A substantial portion of the population is mostly reliant on subsistence agriculture, while exports are mainly dominated by raw commodities such as rubber, iron ore, gold, and diamond etcetera.

Liberia, as the first independent country South of the Sahara, was not colonized by any European powers as was the case with most African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cote d’ Ivoire, Guinea, The Gambia and many more.

But in the 60s and early 70s Liberia was doing relatively well economically, and Liberia was a chosen destination for many of our fellow Africans seeking greener pasture and political freedom.

According to the United Nations, the economy of Liberia is extremely underdeveloped, with only $3.222 billion by gross domestic product as of 2019, largely due to the First (1989–1996) and Second Liberian Civil War (1999–2003). The United Nations has also alluded to the fact that Liberia itself is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

Liberia which was a favorite destination for most people from around the world and Africa in particular who were keen on seeking greener pasture and better livelihood has all too soon taking on the posture of a somewhat ‘sick man’ thus giving the impression that the country is gradually slipping into this politico-socio conundrum.

It will interest you to know that in 2022, an Economics Historian at the London School of Economics, Leigh A. Gardner assessed that Liberian GDP per capita was $430 in 1845, which was just above subsistence and approximately half of Japan’s GDP per capita at the time.

Gardner further asserted that Liberia’s GDP rose to approximately $500 by the time of independence, but the economy subsequently stagnated until the 1930s when a period of rapid economic growth began.

He observed that whereas Liberia had been poorer than Ghana during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it caught up with Ghana in 1950 and subsequently diverged considerably, becoming almost twice as wealthy as Ghana by 1970. But given the current reality Ghana is doing well than Liberia economically, politically and developmentally.

Gardner will have us informed that throughout the 1970s, the Liberian economy stagnated.

We must add, with this stagnation and other factors, Liberia cannot be compared to Japan or Ghana at this point in time.

With the introduction of Firestone operation in Liberia in 1926, the Liberian government gave the company the right to lease up to 1 million acres of land for 99 years at a cost of 6 cents per acre.

The company was an important source of foreign investment into Liberia during this period. Firestone then set about establishing rubber tree plantations of the non-native South American rubber tree, Hevea Brasiliensis in the country.

By the 1950s, the company was Liberia’s largest private employer and also its largest exporter.

Vincent Browne wrote in 1955 that rubber accounted for more than $45,000,000 of Liberia’s approximately $55,000,000 worth of exports. Liberia became one of the largest rubber exporters in the world in the post-World War II period.

With the emergence of Firestone, came other companies operating in the extractive industry like the Liberian American Company (LAMCO), Liberia Iron Ore Company (LIOC), the Bong Mining Company (BMC) and many other companies spread across the country thus making Liberia an attraction point in the West African region.

There were scores of manufacturing companies in Liberia that provided jobs and attractive income generating ventures for Liberians and other national living in-country.

The rather unfortunate military coup d’état of 1980 and the subsequent civil upheaval was enough to put Liberia in the woods thus making the country the ‘sick man of West Africa’. Strong description though but seems the best description right now.

Yes, at many fronts, the country has showing signs that we are not there yet, and it will take years before we get there from what we are experiencing currently. For example, a female Ghanian agriculturist visiting Liberia’s hinterland to assess rice farm operation said, it will take about twenty years before Liberia is truly food secured.

In this write-up however, ‘Yours Truly’ will look at the educational sector which we think has become a major source of concern underpinning why we are fast becoming the ‘sick man of West Africa’.

Education

Essentially, education plays a pivotal role in nation-building as it contributes significantly to the social, economic, and political development of a country. It is considered a cornerstone of progress and a means to foster a cohesive and unified society.

But sadly, the state of educational institutions and operations in Liberia today is nothing to write home about.

In fact, and in practice, the whole modus operandi of educational operations in Liberia needs serious evaluation and major overhauling for the better.

For instance, the University of Liberia, which is laughably refer to as the macrocosm of the larger Liberian society does not have up to the minute intellectual garages. The central university library is clearly in want of current reading materials physically and online.

Most academic departments at the university do not have libraries and laboratories to facilitate smooth learning. This is absolutely despicable in this age and time folks.

I will not be in error to state herein that this trend is replete across many other tertiary institutions across Liberia.

Contrastingly, when you visit the University of Ghana and other tertiary institutions in Ghana you will be very surprised to see well-furnished and up to the minute libraries and laboratories at each academic department and dormitories for the use of students at all times and then there are specialized libraries and laboratories at various points at the University main campus and a very gigantic well-furnished central university library.

Certainly, these intellectual garages contribute meaningfully to putting out students of substance to drive the nation building agenda effectively. We sense that because we lack this kind of rigorous academic regime, we most often than not perform abysmally in rolling out our national development programs.

It is no gain said that when you have a well groom educational delivery conduit then we will be able to roll out all the attendant initiatives germane for national growth and development, but we are still kidding and depending on past glory which has long faded away and here we are at the receiving end of almost everything.

In West Africa we received manufactured products from Nigeria, Ghana Cote d’ Ivoire and Heaven know where else.

Our market is replete with food products that are produced and packaged in our neighboring countries. Fabrics for wearing and home and office decoration are also being imported from our neighbors.

Disturbingly, jobs on offer by international organizations and institutions based in Liberia and operating here are also being given to citizens from our neighboring countries because there are not qualified Liberians to take on the jobs.

Most international and local sponsored programs, seminars and training activities that are being rolled out in Liberia for Liberians are being conducted by people from neighboring countries because the experts to perform said responsibilities are not just available in-country. If this is not shameful, then I do not know what to say about it.

We are now sending all our major health cases to Ghana for treatment whilst Ghanaian, Malian and Nigerian nationals purporting to be Medical Practitioners are trooping to Liberia in their numbers and claiming to be providers of medical services.

These signs and many others make one to think whether Liberia is becoming the ‘sick man of West Africa’.

We pray and hope this trend will be remedied under the current Unity Party led administration

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