Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How China fits in the Industrialization Drive of Liberia

By Amjad M. Nyei

The recent State visit (November 1-5, 2015) of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) epitomized and reaffirmed
the depth and scope of the strong bilateral relationship between Liberia and China. During that visit both President Sirleaf and her Chinese counterpart Chairman Xi Jin Ping reaffirmed their commitments and mutual support to advancing the national development agenda of Liberia. China was once again assured that Liberia firmly believes and remains committed to the “One China Policy”.

To further seal the two countries’ commitment to the already solid relationship, three major agreements were signed- Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement for bilateral aid worth approximately $ USD47.35 million, Agreement on Mutual Visa Exemption for Diplomatic Passport Holders from both Countries and Agreement on Maritime Program and Ship Registry.

A very important note taken from the meeting between the two leaders is President Sirleaf’s clarion call to China for the latter’s assistance in economic diversification and value addition to Liberia two main exports; namely iron ore and rubber. The Post Ebola Economic and Recovery Plan of Liberia focuses on, education, agriculture and infrastructure. The remaining 2 years of the administration could make a significant difference with its plan for industrialization and a manufacturing base economy with help from our dear and great friend China.

To spur industrialization- a key factor to sustain economy in poor countries- is to develop infrastructure including electricity and road network. Like most African countries, Liberia is poorly under-industrialized because of weak infrastructure and this drives up the cost of making things. The African Development Bank found in 2010 that electricity, a large cost for most manufacturers cost three times more on average in Africa than it does in South Asia.

As the engagement between Liberia and China on jump-starting industrialization begins, evidenced by the proposal from Wuhan Steel, a majority owner in China Union Investment Ltd, equal committed cooperation with China and other developing partners must be payed to electrifying the whole country.

Certainly China is sincerely committed to the development agenda of Liberia through its tangible development assistance programs. However, Liberia should be aware of this famous and instructive quote from the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius: “Rather teach a man to fish than give him fish” (shou ren yi yu bu ru yi yu). China’s economy itself is struggling as numerous jobs are already threatened due poor growth. It has been predicted that China’s growth rate for this year would go below the normal 6.5%. This is not very pleasant news for countries receiving Chinese aid and investments, as their economies could equally suffer the shock. Therefore learning how to fish rather than receiving fish is certainly a way forward for Liberia.

The effect of the ‘Dutch Disease’ primarily because of the heavy reliance on iron ore and rubber exports continue to undermine other important sectors, and this is proving perniciously terrible to the Liberian economy. Liberia’s Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh is quoted: “Liberia is struggling with the two back bones of its economy- iron ore and rubber. The commodities price shock has affected these two commodities to the extent that if we do not take action now to work with the rubber and mining sectors, the economy will have a problem”. This caution from the country’s economic architect points to the need of diverting economic dependency from raw material export to opening up other sector such as industrialization and if you will, large scale agriculture for domestic and international markets. Liberia already has great potential in crop farming because of the climate and fertile soil.

Ethiopia and South Africa for example have strategically managed their separate cooperation with China in a fashion that has accommodated out sourcing from China. Chinese factories- shoes and textile have set up manufacturing bases in Ethiopia which are attending to markets in Africa and the other nearby regions. Addis Ababa, dubbed historically as the “diplomatic capital” of Africa continues to benefit from Chinese investments in numerous sectors, including real estate and construction. Africa has also benefitted as a whole by the construction of a new and giant edifice of the African Union headquarters by the Chinese. China’s generosity seems endless and is changing the face of Africa. In September this year, Ethiopia inaugurated a light rail metro in its capital with 85% of the $USD 475 million used for the project being secured from the Export-Import Bank of China. Not surprisingly, however, South Africa being a BRICS member state is tapping on its relations with China for value addition in the former’s mining sector, notably in steel processing.

Meanwhile, the future of Liberia-China relation remains promising and very cordial for a win-win scenario for both countries. The move toward industrialization and economic diversification is imperative to Post Ebola recovery of Liberia, and China stands as an indispensable partner to such industrialization given its current role in the Liberian economy.

What Mary Broh Does Not Get — The Case of Monrovia and its Beautification

By Ivan Forleh

The name Mary Broh has resurfaced in Monrovia. Wherever this lady passes, some residents clamor in total frustration while others salute her as she enforces her mandate to clean Monrovia —
what should be a function of a city mayor.

Broh’s task force, requested by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, often leaves homes in total ruins, hopes broken and families homeless. Is the work of the task force worth that much, to the detriment of these families?

Monrovia is home to about 1.1 million inhabitants. This number includes a jobless and youthful population, a growing poor class, and an uneven distribution of wealth among other things. This reality can be seen from some of the slum communities of West Point and New Kru Town, where more than 80% of the people are living with just a dollar per day — as we say, hand to mouth.

With little or nowhere to settle, these people have over time and out of choice, built shacks that would seem barely habitable, while striving to provide for their families by selling on the sidewalks of streets, and in traffic, all in a rather collapsed economic system. Since the beginning of the civil wars, this has remained the case, causing the influx of debris which often results in massive floods due to inadequate drainage systems.

It is in this regard, that the “General” – and now Hurricane Broh – comes into action, smashing market stalls, demolishing shacks, destroying properties and ruining lives. But is this right?

Mary Broh is missing something here, and if the project is not terminated, it could end up as a fantasy and a government-sponsored machine simply for the destruction of homes.

Random demolition of family homes and a few community clean-up campaigns are not effective tools for cleaning an entire city. While one must be keen to realize that some of Broh’s efforts have yielded basic results, we must also realize that the continuously littered and flooded streets of Monrovia are evidence of a failed system.

Broh’s draconian methods show a total disregard for human rights and dignity as homeowners are whipped mercilessly for disobeying her.

Perhaps what Broh and the Government of Liberia must come to realize is that in a struggling economy, the slums are inhabited by people who cannot afford an air-conditioned apartment that is fully fenced and electrified – some of the many amenities enjoyed by government officials – and as such, they must not be regarded as garbage.

Even after a new government is elected in 2017, these slum communities will remain as they are. Monrovia will still be cluttered in debris.

So the question remains: will Mary Broh continue to sweep Monrovia, demolish shacks, destroy market stalls without contemplating a systematic solution to the massive growth of slum communities and inhabitants who have no other means for survival? Is this entire project a gimmick?

One would not take too long to realize that Broh’s actions follow the adage of “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Serious people would always seek rational alternatives to persisting problems, a change of the non-workable way of doing things to a rather realistic and systems-based policy that would identify the cause and provide a solution.

For a city with electricity and safe drinking water available to less than 5% of its inhabitants, a structurally challenged road network, and an inadequate drainage system, the problems do not emanate from poor people who are victims of institutional failure and are found in the trappings of a collapsed economy.

These random initiatives to break down homes and market stalls and cripple sources of income are burdens borne more by families. Does Broh under the mandate of the Government compensate these people for their property? Is there temporary housing available for people whose homes are demolished?

When the family — whether small, poor, rich or strong — is divided and destroyed, our communities are soon broken down. Either we have families, the nuclei of the society, strengthened or we don’t have a country at all.

Instead of bringing in heavy equipment into communities, a supported decentralized community leadership can prove better at preserving and cleaning the environment.

Even in cases of demolition of shacks situated in alleys and street corners, the families must be compensated, treated with dignity and respect, and given due notice to vacate the area within a reasonable period.

Many would argue that Broh’s actions are appropriate. To such proponents: this is not about whether one isn’t futuristic or looking out of the box to see what Monrovia would become as a result of Hurricane Broh’s project. It is rather the failure of it all.

Modern democracies have shown stories of success when the central Government is supported from the bottom to the top.

The creation of community-supported task forces, which could provide employment for vulnerable youths, could beautify Monrovia’s streets and communities.

What claimed the attention of many Liberians recently is FrontPage Africa’s November 12 publication that read in boldfaced ‘WHIPPING MARY,’ MARY BROH SPECIAL TASK FORCE PARADES ‘CHILD PROSTITUTES.’ With total shock and dismay, many serious and conscious Liberians stood for what is right by demonizing such criminal act, which was a total disregard for human dignity and a gross violation of the right of children.

Liberia has long passed the days of culturally-inspired justice or corporal punishments. In the case of this “General,” when misuse or abuse of power is not subject to continual challenge and questioning, it eventually becomes the new normal.

Not only has Broh under the appointment of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf violated the rights of these poor girls — who evidently are forced into what they do because of institutional failure — but she has also violated their privacy, pride, and dignity.

Will 50 lashes on a vulnerable young girl take away the apparent hardship and sometimes unthinkable things she has to go through to find a meal every day? One must be under an illusion to think so.

Perhaps what the Government and Mary Broh must recognize are the tremendous difficulties and frustrations these young girls have and feel and that with no provision for their protection and welfare, they are left with few choices to survive.

Such disregard for the rights and welfare of these girls ironically occurred under a woman president.

Even after the nightmare of Ebola, Broh does not realize that these demolished shacks, destroyed market stalls, and lost hope lost are the only possessions of many people facing extreme poverty.

Until this regime or the one after begins to think of a systematic way out, Monrovia will still be as it was nearly 12 years ago and West Point, the largest slum community, will lie there without any opportunity for advancement.