Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can Liberia Stand on its Own?

Economist: Liberia’s Election: Hold Your Breath
UN: Upcoming Elections in Liberia Must be Peaceful, Free and Fair

Liberia, a country that was torn by civil war less than a decade ago, is anticipating holding only the second presidential election since the fighting ended. After years of dealing with riots, marauding gangs, and violence, Liberia now appears to be on a more stable path towards development. In recent years, violence has calmed and economic growth has taken hold. The IMF recently predicted Liberia’s economy would grow by 5.9% this year thanks, in part, to improving relations with foreign governments, who have forgiven $6 billion of Liberia’s debt and have aided Liberia’s reconstruction efforts.

Liberia has not solved all its problems, however. A recent ranking by Transparency International deemed Liberia the most corrupt country in the world. Rampant nepotism in government hiring and a corrupt police force are two prominent issues. The ranking came as a major blow to current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, whose “zero tolerance” policy on corruption obviously has not been successful. 

The upcoming October elections are also gaining international importance. The United Nations (UN) currently has about eight thousand peacekeepers in Liberia through its Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). If the election proves to the international community that Liberia is more politically stable, the UN will withdraw its peacekeepers. UNMIL is set to end by the end of the year either way, which may leave the newly elected Liberian government responsible for maintaining a fragile peace. The country’s dependence on foreign aid and UN policing has led some observers to question whether Liberia will be able to stand on its own if and when the peacekeepers leave.

Finally, the election could have drastic consequences for the Liberian economy. If the election proves to foreign investors that the country is politically stable, foreign investment will likely begin flowing to the country. The withdrawal of the peacekeeping force may multiply any new investor confidence as well, unless investors believe the peacekeeping force is the only thing preventing Liberia from falling into another civil war. New foreign investment would spur economic growth and allow the country to become less dependent on foreign aid. Any economic growth should actually benefit Liberian citizens—not just the government—as new investment would create jobs in a country where 83% of adults are unemployed. In short, this seemingly commonplace election could be the first step toward major changes in Liberia.

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