Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Does The Legatum Prosperity Index Mean For Liberia?

A fortnight ago one of the world’s leading development and research institutes published what is called the Prosperity Index, a rating of nations on the basis of development and the livelihood of individuals.

The Legatum Institute surveyed 104 nations for the 2009 Prosperity Index. More African nations, as usual ranked among the lowest with Zimbabwe taking the 104th place. Interestingly, Africa’s peacekeeping hero and one of the continent’s power center, Nigeria, was ranked 98th. Above all, a critical look at the index tells that African countries have a lot to do to improve the satisfaction of their people in terms of physical and economic securities, fundamental freedom and rights, and basic social services to support standard and happy life.

Liberia was not part of the 104 nations surveyed. But the indicators used by the Legatum Institute, if applied to Liberia will rank the West African nation no farther from the lowest ten if not amongst the lowest countries on the index. The problem is that the impacts of reform and development policies have not reached the lives of the ordinary citizens.

The institute used nine specific areas identified as ‘building blocks of prosperity’. They include economic fundamentals, entrepreneurship and innovation, education, democratic institutions, governance, health, personal freedom, security, and social capital.

Does Liberia have high scores in these areas considering the livelihood of its ordinary citizens from rural to urban setting? How effective and efficient are the responses of government institutions to socio-economic and political issues in the country?

Recent reports on the country are encouraging on economic issues. Two reports this year predict higher economic growth. Before the Prosperity Index was launched the World Bank ranked Liberia as one of the best 10 countries for doing business in the world. Just after the Prosperity Index was published the IMF Director for Africa announced report of a study that predicts higher economic growth for Liberia in the tone of 7.53%.

However, there is a problem with local entrepreneurship as many Liberians doing business lack the capital and the capacity to engage in bigger businesses, and free their economy from foreign merchants. Liberian businesses are commonly described by the phrase ‘from –hand-to-mouth’ indicating that what is earned can only provide daily meal therefore no capital for saving or growth. The issue of innovation among local Liberians is discouraging because motivations are very low and gains are negligible.

Illiteracy and human resource deficit are major problems for Liberia. The country has less than 20% literacy rate, and currently there are no encouraging signs of growth in literacy because of the lack of educational institutions in most parts of the country. Observers comment that Liberia’s older generation is educated than its younger generation.
Good Governance and economic prosperity are threatened by corruption. There is currently no effective mechanism of deterrence for corruption in the country. All of the institutions of reform put in place to combat corruption are being defeated by the lack of political support, official shielding or cover-ups and massive defrauding.

What the Legatum Institute index will mean for Liberia is innumerable. While countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana, Nigeria, and Kenya know their status in terms of prosperity, Liberians need to know their status too, to set the stage for evaluation, reform and were necessary make adjustment for the better.

The reforms that are sweeping across postwar African countries are also visible in Liberia. Aid comes every year and from numerous sources since the return of the country to democratic civilian rule in 2006. It is important for the people of Liberia to know at what level their individual lives have gone considering the high level of aid coming to the country.

Personal freedom and security of the people come under threat daily. The judiciary is plagued with problems of corruption and lack of capacity. The services of the police do not reach most parts of the country, particularly the rural settings. Crimes such as rape and armed robbery are surging. There is also the issue of land dispute that threatens the general peace of the country.

Effective social services in education, health, electricity, water and public transportation are lacking in almost every part of the country. The national census conducted in 2008 put the poverty rate of the country at 68%. The government’s major policy response to poverty and the restoration of democratic governance and human rights to the country is articulated in its poverty reduction strategy called “Lift Liberia’, intended to be implemented in three years. Unfortunately, the first year was a failure as announced by the Government of Liberia.

Happiness and Prosperity are every individual’s goals in life. All of the Building Blocks of Prosperity as outlined by the Legatum Institute, if pursued decisively and sincerely, can solve Liberia’s political and socio-economic problems. The primary focus is placed on the individual citizen – his economic situation, his right to associate, participate in governance and to choose for himself, his security in the pursuit of his goals, and the opportunities at his disposal to advance himself like any other person in the world.

It is only government that can provide the necessary ambience for the attainment of the aforementioned by an individual. The programs articulated in Liberia’s PRS can be linked with all of the Legatum indicators, and if the PRS can be accepted as a collective national development agenda instead of a regime-based platform, then the prospects for national prosperity are higher and far beyond the intent of the regime that carved it. The Building Blocks of Prosperity must therefore be adopted locally as indicators for measuring the progress of our PRS with dual focus on advances made by individual citizens and the government.