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Liberia: On Balance, Not A Bad Year

Liberia: On Balance, Not A Bad Year

2011 in Liberia was all about the elections and although they could not be deemed a complete success because of the opposition’s successful, but ultimately fruitless boycott– 2011 was still a very good year for Liberian democracy.
The year was also very good to Liberia’s President Sirleaf, Africa’s only female head-of-state who garnered a Nobel Peace prize to add to her already overflowing cabinet of awards and accolades. She is now an official icon in the eyes of the international community and although she is not totally beloved at home she still represents one of the faces of progressive Africa to the outside world.

On the economic front oil fever gripped many politicians in Monrovia with the leasing of off-shore drilling rights to several international companies, Chevron among them. Blithely disregarding any talk of a national dialog on the issue of a potential ‘resource curse’ things seemed rosy until allegations of corruption and bribery aimed at the National Oil company and one of Chevron’s main partners emerged. Sirleaf has taken action to curb these early signs of corruption but even she admits that the judicial system is broken.

In general terms Liberia also came through an IMF Review which allowed it a continuation of the Extended Credit Facility, a major source of foreign aid and a sign of economic confidence. There was also a visible expansion of the commercial banking sector in Monrovia and some major infrastructure improvements although very few improvements in road conditions along major routes outside the capital, a fact which will hinder economic benefits reaching the rural poor.

On the culture front the Liberian music scene has been flourishing despite a lack of basic resources. Liberian Hipco is now challenging American and other West African sounds for the attention of young listeners and some of its stars have become household names.

All-in-all, Liberia should feel pretty good about itself after 2011. The road ahead will be long and difficult but the Liberian people are resilient and optimistic and the energy of the youth in inspiring.

More Accolades for the President

The surprise of the year is that two Liberians would win the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year.

An Unsung Hero

My nomination for Person of the Year in Liberia is Dr. Emmet Dennis, the President of the University of Liberia. Working with few resources but with a tremendous sense of mission, Dr. Dennis, formerly an administrator at Rutgers University, is slowly bringing the University of Liberia back to life despite the neglect on the party of the international donors and the government of Liberia. This fall Dr. Dennis had to have emergency brain surgery but after a quick recovery he returned to the battle to try to make the University of Liberia a relevant institution for the future of the country.

2012 Will Be More of the Same…Which is Not Totally a Bad Thing

Liberians will come together after the contentious election and continue to look for the government to provide jobs and economic stability. While searching for new natural resource investors the government will have to work hard to root out corruption and create a sense of transparency around contracts and payments. The government will also begin to address the need for further work in the areas of justice and reconciliation in the wake of the controversies surrounding the previous Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Jobs, especially for young people, will continue to be an issue as well as major shortfalls in education and health-care. Reforms in the security sector will have to take place to prevent some of the abuses that were on display during the election period and also to prepare for the eventual withdrawal of UN Peacekeepers. With a little bit of luck and with the continued support of international partners Liberia will continue to make progress and without the distraction of an election President Sirleaf can demonstrate to the world that she is indeed deserving of all the glory which has already been bestowed upon her.

A book to read….

A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark. ..It is a sobering, data-driven, yet entirely readable account of the forces that shape the modern world and the challenges that a country like Liberia is up against.



Michael Keating

I am the Director of Operations at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I also lecture in the graduate program in International Relations. I have spent much of the past decade looking, learning and hopefully contributing in West Africa, most deeply in Liberia. My interests are in the areas of economic development, political leadership, media and higher education. In a former life I was a Partner with the Boston Consulting Group and an executive with Bertelsmann. I can be reached at [email protected]