Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Biting the Hand

This nonsensical article from an (often excellent) Liberian news site in the US reminds me to say something I’ve been meaning to say for a while. In spite of what you may read in the Liberian press, be it known: the US government gives a great deal of assistance to Liberia. I’m no fan of the Bush administration, and I will be the first to admit that my country has made some really grave foreign policy mistakes, including in Liberia, but this is just inaccurate:

The facts are clear. Just look at how many visits President Johnson-Sirleaf has made to the United States. What concrete assistance have Liberia gotten from the United States government? It’s all about rhetoric and symbolism. Except for private sympathizers like Oprah Winfrey and others, there has been no substantial assistance for Liberia from America.

Oh boy. Where to begin? The first three US government docs that pop up in this google search are instructive:

Planned FY 2005 Obligation: $4,471,000 CSH; $6,854,000 DA; $24,800,000 ESF
Prior Year Unobligated: $1,000,000 CSH; $45,266,000 IDA
Proposed FY 2006 Obligation: $2,900,000 CSH; $7,858,000 DA; $75,000,000 ESF

I don’t know what all those acronyms stand for, but the numbers speak for themselves. If I recall correctly, the entire government budget of Liberia is only about $60 million. Furthermore, if you go to damned near any NGO project site in the whole country, you will see the USAID symbol on every sign, every building, every bag of rice, every shipping container, and every car door. According to one of its reports, USAID funds twenty international NGOs (each of which spends millions of dollars of its own money as a result) in such areas as:

Successful Transition From Relief to Recovery through a Community Reintegation Program
Increased Use of Essential Primary Health Care (PHC) Services Through Civil Society
Coverage for Pregnant Women
Use of Insecticide Treated Bed Nets
Strengthened capacity of civil society to achieve sustainable primary health care delivery, including access, quality and demand of services
Improved policy framework for primary health care service delivery in Liberia
Increased availability of resources, including non-USAID resources for health sector
Increased Food Security In Targeted Areas
Increased Private Home Construction Using Manufactured Materials
Increased Production of Diverse Food Crops
Increased Economic Livelihood
Increased Role of Civil Society in Democratic Governance
Social and economic development and peace building activities after CPBD phases out.
Civic organizations strengthened
Civic Action increased in targeted communities
Conflict management practices improved at community and cluster levels.
Community Revitalization and Reintegration

Nevertheless, The Perspective goes on to make the case--without shame--that Liberia should quit begging from the USA and start begging from China.

…the United States has not done anything in a concrete way to stabilize Liberia, especially in the economic sense, the U.S. Government of George Bush has terminated the status of Liberians as protected alien that was granted during the Liberian civil war.

For one thing, I have met dozens of American citizens in Liberia, risking life and limb to live among desperate poverty for the sake of bettering peoples' lives whom they've never even met. Why aren't educated, motivated Liberians doing these jobs in the humanitarian and development fields? Because they'd rather live in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania and write about how the US doesn't do anything for Liberia.

P.S. - I would argue that “terminating the status of Liberians as protected alien [sic]” is one great way to stimulate economic growth in Liberia. The country needs to arrest the brain drain problem, and for refugee Liberians to bring their new skills and experience back home with them.

Full disclosure: I work on projects that are funded in part by USAID.

Update: The author of the article in question has been gracious enough to allow me to reprint his email response to my somewhat shrill rant from yesterday:

If you read my article correctly, I applauded the efforts of private Americans who are working hard to assist Liberia and this includes Oprah Winfrey. So, there is a distinction between the Bush Administration and the American people. I have been in America for twenty two years, obtained two degrees from public universities funded by American tax payers. I am an American who has two american children. Curently, I am putting my financial resources together so that I will go to Liberia in two or three years. it is not just easy to leave your adopted home where you have been for over tweny years and just leave. For some people it is easy, for others it is not. And for your information the termination of TPS for Liberians will do the opposite of what you are claiming it would do. There are some people who can not complete their education because of the termination of their status. For us foreigners, it is not easy to work, go to school and support relatives in refugee camps. These are things you will not understand. But I just wanted you and others to know that I appreciate America and what it does for Liberians especially myself.
Thanks for your response to my article.
Joseph Solo


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Liberian residing in the United States of America. While I don't support all of the United States foreign policy agenda, I don't agree with what the writer has written. The United States Govermnent is under no obligation to rebuild Liberia despite what others might argue. Liberians are very grateful for the assistance the united States Government is providing the people of Liberia. There are many Liberians that have returned home to contribute to the revival of the economy and many more will be returning soon.For those that intend to remain in the U.S., I would advice that they project an objective and constructive view on issues.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Liberian residing in the United States of America. The U.S Government and the American people have contributed immensely to the peace process and the reconstruction of Liberia. And the majority of the Liberian people know that.


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