- A report released by Partnership Africa Canada in Ottawa, and Green Advocates in Liberia outlines out the huge post-war challenges facing the new government of Liberia. Liberia had gone through a 14-year brutal civil war, which was fuelled mainly by looted natural resources.
The West African country is blessed with natural resources, but the country remains one of the poorest and least developed places on earth, with an average per capita income of US $152 per annum and 40% adult illiteracy. Most Liberians die before they attain 40 years.
“Liberia is a darkly resplendent example of the resource curse, the phenomenon by which countries blessed with natural resources grow more slowly, stay poorer and offer less to their people than their resource-poor neighbours,” concurs Shawn Blore, the author of the report.
The mechanisms driving this counterintuitive situation include the volatility of revenues from the natural resource sector, currency appreciation that renders non-resource sectors uncompetitive, and the political corruption that often results from the continuous inflow of windfall revenue. Widespread public anger at the mismanagement of the country’s natural resources was one of the causes of the Liberian civil war.
Alfred Brownell, Executive Director of Green Advocates, says “successive Liberian governments became more and more dependent on taxes paid by multinational companies instead of by their own citizens. Governments became islands completely de-linked from citizens and from any kind of local accountability, and outsiders were the only funding mechanism. This revenue became an instrument to institute and finance a tyrannical police state and a self-sustaining system that gradually extinguished local community rights to natural resources.”
“This is the heart of Liberia ’s problem and it was a major contributor to the brutal civil war that displaced the entire population of the country, sending a million refugees across its borders and murdering 300,000 innocent victims.”
The report made a detail observation on Liberia’s timber, rubber and diamond sectors, and lays out what must be done in the short and medium term to ensure that there is no return to the old ways of doing things. In that the country’s natural resources must be used for the benefit of all Liberians, now and in the future.
The election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia has provided a brief window of opportunity for essential reforms in the country’s natural resources to be enacted. Given the clear link between natural resources and conflict, the importance of these reforms cannot be underestimated.
Land grabbing and reforms are the enormous challenges facing the Liberian government, the civil society, the donor agencies, companies and non-governmental organisations operating in the country.
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