Friday, June 15, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions: Part 2

Do Liberian Women Carry Goods On Their Heads?

Of course they do!! This is Africa. It is quite a wonderful sight to see. Liberian women and young girls carry large bundles of goods, carefully balanced on their heads, as a matter of second nature. It is a highly efficient way to transport things, leaving, as it does, one’s hands free. Their loads include everything imaginable: baskets of bananas, coconuts and fruit of all kinds, peanuts, water and soft drinks, huge baskets of bread (baguettes), household goods, and so on. My personal favourites are the women who carry eggs. Not a dozen eggs. They carry large open egg cartons like we have at home, each of which contains 3 dozen eggs which  are then stacked four or five high!! Imagine, 12 or 15 dozen eggs at a time, and not a shell cracked!! Unbelievable.

Is Monrovia Clean?

As mentioned earlier, the civil war destroyed buildings, roads, sidewalks, bridges, churches, homes and so much more in the capital. While reconstruction and rebuilding has begun, at first sight Monrovia looks to be in a decrepit state. Many buildings remain empty and in a terrible state of repair – office, industrial and residential structures alike. But yes, Monrovia is remarkably clean. That is because Liberians are a very fastidious people. They don’t have much, but what they do have they scrupulously take care of. Shop owners sweep the sidewalks and parts of the street in front of their stores regularly. Every morning, debris is swept about 5 metres into the street where it is then picked up by a street sweeper with his pushcart. Garbage collection also seems to happen on a regular basis. So, yes, if you were to walk around downtown Monrovia, you would be impressed by its cleanliness. All it needs is a coat of new paint!! The buildings are uniformly drab and badly in need of freshening up. But that isn’t going to happen any time soon. This country has much higher priorities to deal with first

Who Are the Expats and Why Are They Here?

For the most part, the expats are members or representatives of foreign governments and NGOs and are here to perform specific tasks to help restore Liberia to its previous state and create a viable economy. Where do they come from and what do they do?

The biggest contributor to aid to Liberia is undoubtedly the United States. Through USAID and other like agencies, the American presence can be seen everywhere. They assist in training the armed forces and other security services, and they work with the Government to provide technical assistance and training in a wide variety of areas, including education, agriculture and health. Monies are provided to build schools and healthcare facilities and train more teachers and healthcare professionals, particularly in the outlying Counties. Liberia would be in even more desperate shape than it if it didn’t benefit from the generosity of the United States.

Other major contributors include Germany, Sweden, Norway and the EU. They generally provide skilled professionals or technicians to assist with specific projects, such as refurbishing the ports, providing sources of clean water, and improving the road system. Expats are generally here for limited periods of time, although I have met some on this trip who are here for periods of one to two years.

Sadly, there is no sign of Canada here. We do not maintain an Embassy in Liberia (the closest one is located in Côte d’Ivoire) and we don’t seem to be involved in any aid initiatives that I have ever seen. The Harper Government has chosen to downplay Canada’s efforts and contributions in Africa in favour of increased aid to Latin and South America. Whatever one thinks of that change of course, Canada, as a nation, is simply not a significant player here, or anyone else in Africa for that matter.

A large, but largely unnoticed, aid participant is, of course, China. The Chinese are all over Africa, building infrastructure, hospitals, schools, ports and so on. In Liberia, the Chinese are involved in a number of projects, the largest of which is an iron ore mine in Bong County. In exchange for being granted that mining concession the Chinese agreed to rebuild a major railway line that was destroyed during the war. As a general rule, African nations like dealing with the Chinese. That is because they are not judgmental. They don’t lecture the Africans about the bad governance, corruption, human rights abuses or other shortcomings. Rather, they approach an investment in an African state on business terms. So, in exchange for the rights to mine, harvest timber or explore for oil, the Chinese will offer to build the things Africans desperately need, no strings attached and no questions asked. This model of giving aid to the third world deserves a closer look by the Western nations. Clearly our model of throwing money at problems hasn’t and isn’t working. A new prescription is needed. See on that topic Dambisa Moyo's excellent book, "Dead Aid." as well as Hernando de Soto's "The Mystery of Capital."

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