Sunday, February 26, 2012

Liberia Vision 2030: Towards a Middle-Income Economy

Liberia’s 18-year development plan dubbed Vision 2030 or Liberia Rising 2030 has become the issue of public discourses with skepticisms that it is no different from former development agendas promulgated by past administration but did not go beyond the shelves of the various government ministries. Even though, the cynics have reasons based on experience to be critical, the patterns of development of this vision makes it starkly different from others: It originated from amongst the people, and its promulgation is people driven as well. So there are signs of fulfillments provided the resources are fully mobilized and the leadership committed to the plan. The challenge is mostly on progressive activists in Liberia to mobilize forces that will seek the legislation of the vision, support resource mobilization and monitoring of vision-specific projects.

A key theme of the vision is developing Liberia to the status of a middle-income. This particular theme has emerged at a very controversial time in economic development and the balance of global power politics. Whether this government and its successors can muster the necessary strength needed to match up in this era and lead Liberia to a middle income economy are the questions progressive activists are pondering over. At the moment, the powerful nations in the West are facing deepening financial crises, the campaign for a market economy across the world by western nations has recently proven to benefit capitalist forces only against the majority of the world citizens as demonstrated in the themes of the occupy movements in Europe and the United States. Also intriguing is the dynamics of the global power play that sees an intensification of the struggle for control between Europe and the US on one hand and China and Russia on the other hand. In all of these, African nations stand to suffer the most if the charisma and characters needed for strong and vibrant leadership are not formed across Africa. Africa will be exploited again in all forms to solve the problems of other countries outside the continent, and is likely again to be the object of intense scramble in the new global power struggle like the land grab phenomenon shows recently. The charisma and character needed in this era is progressive pan-African leadership that will work out home grown solutions to development challenges at the same time rationalizing foreign aids with local demands and traditions and culture. A leadership of such will in the long run create a vibrant and self-sustainable state that will need no foreign aid and imported ideas. Such leadership will require strong economic management and resistance to the numerous unfit tool-kits of governance and neo-liberal policies from abroad. Can Liberia build such a character in its leadership and work towards a middle income economy? While we believe that this is possible we are very much concern about the increasing neo-colonial agendas in Liberia which the current regime is doing little or nothing to counter. The continuous acceptance of neo-imperial policies under the guise of reform strategies imported from above is the new front-line for pan-African activists across the continent. Liberian activists must join this struggle and help support policies of local ownership and protection in working towards the middle income economy we crave.

A middle income economy is a country whose people have incomes that fall in the range of the overall world population income. This means, at the middle income level, the people are neither poor nor rich, but their incomes can provide basic life needs. Liberia is currently not part of the 86 middle-income countries in the world, but part of the very poor nations and ranked as the fourth poorest nation in the world. This stark contradiction is in a country with abundant natural resource reserve and sparse population density. The extent of inequality in the country speak of the immediate difficulty in working out this vision in the required timeframe, however, it has emerged as the development challenge of our country. It is therefore necessary to begin at laying out home grown strategies and framework that will roll out over time till 2030 when the ordinary Liberian will have no cause to worry about daily bread, shelter, medication and education. The required framework are part of the larger criteria of economic development some of which include rules and institutions to enforce contracts, infrastructures, security, capital and skilled labor endowment, and purchasing power etc. As we attempt to build the economy, the above issues are direct responsibilities of the state and achieving them cannot be done at the current level of management in the public and private sectors; the current education provided, and the heavy reliance on rents from natural resources.

Two key factors drive the creation of middle income economy in any country and they are (1) stable, secure and well paid jobs, and (2) higher education. Advocates for the vision must mobilize towards higher education and job security for the ordinary Liberians. This should not be limited to Monrovia, but must extend to all parts of the country. Affordable technical and higher education is key to alleviating the poverty in the country particularly in the rural areas that host 70% of Liberia’s poor.

For years Liberia has relied on and mismanaged rents generated from resource exploitation. It is clear that ‘rentier’ economies are not effective in facilitating local economic development; but very efficient in enriching multinationals. At times it leads to the deceptive paradox of economic growth without development like we had in the 1960s. Attention needs to be given now to agricultural production in locally needed commodities for both local consumption and export since about 70% of our economy is dependent on agricultural activities – but largely controlled by multinational plantations. Support to local farmers to produce in large quantities and create local employment will be needed in this transition. The country could adopt a local comparative advantage strategy supporting specific regions to grow products they have arable land, climate and tradition for. In addition to empowering local farmers is the need for promoting local enterprises and encouraging the growth of more Liberian-owned businesses for local and regional trade depending on the capitals. The critical role of the government in all of this is to strengthen laws that enforce contracts in transactions between people and provide the necessary infrastructures to facilitate trade within the country. Road and other infrastructures facilitate urbanizations and mass settlements that can provide markets for goods and services, and movement of goods and people, and reduces internal trade barriers like distance (distance have negative effects on trade).

The issue of housing is also critical to reducing poverty and elevating income status for the majority of Liberians who are poor. At present rent on housing in Monrovia and other local areas are increasing against the general income level. There is almost no housing market. In this particular area, the government needs to develop a pragmatic policy of providing low-income housing this time in the counties and occupants made to pay affordable rents annually. The lack of affordable housing and other economic service are part of the causes of the country’s worsening poverty situation. Financial services like insurance, credible pension and social security, health care and education are largely absent in Liberia. Health payments at hospital are becoming unbearable and fees are too high even at the nation’s highest referral hospital. Out-of-pocket payments for health care are increasingly worsening the conditions of our people most of whom survive on daily ‘hand-to-mouth’ businesses.

Finally, home grown solutions to our economic and development problems and the expansion of other sectors of the economy are critical to reducing reliance on foreign aid and external control that is likely to derail the implementation of this vision. As the momentum increases in Monrovia, and many Liberians support the process albeit the skepticisms, it is hoped that this vision is fully articulated in practice and that by 2030, there will be very few poor people or if possible none. But we cannot get there if we do not mobilize local resources under a progressive leadership that will advance pro-poor policies aimed at reducing income inequality amongst Liberians.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry