Kevin in Liberia

Its Purpose: to raise awareness of current social, political, ethical, and spiritual issues within a relief and development context in Liberia. Its effectiveness is simple: It relies on me, the author, to provide insightful, and often debate-sparking material that will encourage you, the reader to get engaged through comment contributions, emails, and promoting others to read, re-think, and respond to the important issues discussed.

I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom. ~ a prayer by Blaise Pascal

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Review of Robert Calderisi’s The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working

What I’m about to write is not a book review in as much as it is a personal commentary on the ideas and suggestions of the author about the current state and future direction of foreign aid and international participation in Africa. At the end of The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working Robert Calderisi lists ten fundamental changes that are needed in Africa, some intuitive and straight forward, others more dramatic and profound. I have found two concurrent themes running through the ten changes mentioned and have categorized them into the following lists:

Governmental Accountability & Reform


  1. Introducing Mechanisms for Tracing and Recovering Public Funds
  2. Require all Heads of State, Ministers, and Senior Officials to Open their Bank Accounts to Public Scrutiny
  3. Require All Countries to Hold Internationally-Supervised Elections
  4. Promote other Aspects of Democracy, Including a Free Press and Independent Judiciary
  5. Establish Citizen Review Groups to Oversee Government Policy and Aid Agreements


Aid Reform


  1. Cut Direct Aid to Individual Countries in Half
  2. Focus Direct Aid on 4-5 Countries that are Serious on Reducing Poverty
  3. Supervise the Running of Africa’s Schools and HIV/AIDS Programs
  4. Put More Emphasis on Infrastructure and Regional Links
  5. Merge the World Bank, IMF, and UNDP


Whether or not the author purposefully made a distinction between Governmental Accountability & Reform and Aid Reform is exogenous of this discussion and could very well be just a coincidence of the themes I have chosen to use for my discussion.

Throughout Africa’s decades of problems, although differing greatly between regions, one common theme is often present, violence. I would challenge you to find a country, or group of countries, in Sub-Saharan Africa where violence wasn’t just another colour in the spectrum. Calderisi, in his ten proposed fundamental changes, does not mention one adjustment that would directly target fighting and infighting amongst Africans. Is this because Calderisi believes that violence is not a current problem in Africa, that its bloody history is a thing of the past, or that one or more of his proposed reforms would indirectly affect the levels of conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa? This can most definitely not be the case because, unless one is exclusively watching only American-broadcasted CNN, any half-read individual kept up to date on current world events knows that there are currently genocidal bloodshed in countries such as Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), among others.

Calderisi’s proposed adjustments will only combat violence if corrupt government is in fact the root cause of the violence itself. They do not take into account violence caused by ethnic hatred (Rwanda) or anti-imperialistic sentiments (Cote d’Ivoire). My experience with the mass populace of Liberians, and I can’t speak for the rest of the continent, and this is evident in the fourteen years of bloody civil war, is that they believe almost anything that is propagated to them by a person in position of authority. Imagine the positive effects that a capable government could have on a population in that type of condition. Could it be true that the phrase “violence as a last resort” is ringing true in Africa?

As I look over the two sub-categories of reforms proposed by Calderisi and reflect on the Liberian experience since the inauguration of Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the reforms that I have seen first hand fall directly under the category of “Governmental Accountability and Reform”. In Madame Ellen’s inauguration speech she spoke directly in favour of having all governmental officials declare their assets before and after leaving office as one mechanism to track possible corruption. The elections themselves were internationally-supervised, and deemed “free and fair” by Election Supervisors. Although protests were made by the presidential runner-up George Weah they did not stand. After some comments made by George Weah upon losing the election its difficult to take anything the man says seriously. The final reform that I can see taking place in Liberia presently is that of promoting a free press. Not much more than a few days following the swearing in of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf a chalkboard news billboard called the Daily Talk was erected on Tubman Boulevard, arguably the busiest street in Monrovia. Every day, in the African sense of the word, a new message is carefully chalked on the board, carrying political, spiritual, and social messages updating Liberians on the goings on.

These findings are also backed up by survey results from a poll that I have created for the Kevin in Liberia blog. The question was, Based on your best knowledge, newly-elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has played a leading role in the improvement of which of the following areas?” As of January 28, 2007, 75% of respondents chose ‘Governmental Accountability’ as their response. ‘Infrastructure’ received 17% of the votes. To vote, see the poll on the right hand toolbar.

To purchase The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working, click here

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6 Comments:

  • At 6:44 PM, Blogger ralph geeplay said…

    I AM A REGULAR READER OF YOUR POST. WHILE YOUR REVIEW OF ROBERT CALDERISI'S, "THE TROUBLE WITH AFRICA: WHY FOREIGN AID ISN'T WORKING," WAS INTERESTING, I FOUND YOUR STATEMENT REGARDING LIBERIANS SOMEWHAT TROUBLING.

    YOU WRITE LIBERIANS THAT "BELIEVE ALMOST ANYTHING THAT IS PROPAGATED TO THEM BY A PERSON IN POSITION OF AUTHORITY." HOW?

    THE COUNTRY HAS ALMOST 90% ILLITRACY RATE, WHILE POVERTY SHOOTS TO THE SKY LIKE THE DUCOR OVER LOOKING THE ATLANTIC. WHEN PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO SO MUCH SUFFERING HAS LIBERIANS HAVE EXPERIENCED OVER THE YEARS, THEY TEND TO TAKE SO MUCH FOR GRANTED. SOMEWHAT COWED AND ALWAYS GRATEFUL FOR THE 'LITTLIEST' OF THINGS.

    I TEND NOT TO WANT TO MAKE MY COMMENT LONG. IN ANY CASE, I DISAGREE WITH YOU FOUNDAMENTALY. THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL DYNAMICS THAT HAS SHAPED THE LANDSCAPE OF LIBERIA IS REPLETE WITH THE PUBLIC AND CIVIL SOCIETY DISAGREEING AND OFTEN TIMES CHALLENGING AUTHORITIES: GOVERNMENT OR PRIVATE SECTOR. EVEN TODAY THERE ARE ALOT OF LIBERIANS WHO VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH THE 'IRON LADY,' BUT COMAPARING HER TO PAST GOVERNMENTS, SHE'S A BREATH OF FRESH AIR. BUT IF YOU CAN FURTHER RELATE THE DETAILS OF YOUR OVER ALL POINT TO WHICH I TAKE EXCEPTION I WILL BE GLAD, AND MAYBE UNDERSTAND. GOD BLESS

    ralph geeplay
    Phildelphia

     
  • At 11:09 AM, Blogger Kevin Aja Fryatt said…

    Hi Ralph,

    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate you taking the time to voice your opinion, and I respect it.

    Initially when I wrote the comment I most likely did not elaborate enough to make my point clear. Firstly, I must clarify that this comment was made as a broad stereotype of the effectiveness of media on the mass populace of Liberians. Having said that, there are always exceptions to stereotypes and yes, absolutely, there are exceptions here in Liberia. I know personally, because I work with a number of them on a daily basis.

    In my view, cultures - Western and Liberian alike, tend to believe what they read in the newspaper, or what they hear on the radio without critically analysing what is being said or claims that are being made. This is evident all around the world and I find it particularly striking here in Liberia. What I attribute this to here in Liberia is exactly what you are talking about: 1. Numerous years of suffering throughout the war, and 2. Lack of adequate education, especially post-secondary, which in turn stunts the development of critical thinking skills necessary to analyse certain situations. I'm not a cognitive psychologist but I believe that critical thinking skills are developed over time and that although humans may be born with certain levels of this skill it is definately something that is stretched and developed through the process of quality education. If you look at the current primary level education in Liberia, kids are taught to learn and regurgitate information rather than learning why something is done a certain way or why something is the way that it is. Quality education in Liberia is another discussion in and of itself. It will come in time, change in inevitable.

    My comment about Liberians accepting what is said all too easily is by no means an attack on Liberians and I hope thats not how it came across. It is a mere observation that I have made on the effectiveness of media, for the good or bad, on the masses. Take for example, in June or July 2005, there was a security threat to Gyude Bryant, the President of the interim government here in Liberia. The way this assassination attempt was thrwarted by the United Nations was by announcing an incoming cyclone - and we all know how much Liberians like the rain (200+ inches/year). Nowhere in any weather forcast that I looked at had anything speaking of a cyclone approaching West Africa, much less Liberia but either due to lack of the internet availability or other means of verifying reports, the assassination attempt was thwarted.

    This is just a very simple example of the power or mass media on disadvantaged populations and it happens everywhere around the world.

    After re-reading what I wrote I can see where the confusion would have originated. I hope that this may have clarified any sort of confusion surrounding this post.

    And yes, the 'Iron Lady' is definately a breath of fresh air. God help us all if George Weah would have gotten into power.

    God bless,

    Kevin

     
  • At 6:33 AM, Blogger ralph geeplay said…

    HELLO KEVIN: YOUR REPLY TO MY POST DESERVES THANKS. AND NO YOUR OBSERVATION DID NOT "COME ACCROSS AS AN ATTACK ON LIBERIANS."

    BUT WHO CARES IF LIBERIANS ARE ATTACK THROUGH THE CREATIVE PROCESS OF THINKING. AMERICANS, THE FRENCH, GERMANS ETC ALL GET CRITIZED BY PEOPLE OTHER THAN THEIR OWN FOR GOOD OR FOR WORSE.

    IN LIBERIA OWN CASE YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, AND THE PROGNOSIS YOU OFFERED BOTH IN YOUR POST AND REPLY RINGS A BELL OF TRUISM.

    WHERE I DIFFERED CONCERNS YOUR POINT THAT LIBERIANS WOULD BELIEVE ANYTHING FORM A PERSON "IN A POSITION OF AUTHORITY," YOU FURTHER STATES THAT A "CAPABLE GOVERNMENT," COULD DO MORE GIVEN SUCH SITUATION.

    1. DON'T YOU THINK IT WOULD BE BAD FOR DEMOCRACY WHEN A POPULATION IS IDLE, UNINFORMED, AND ILLITRATE? AND DON'T GET ME WRONG HTEIR ARE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES TO EVERY SITUATION EG. THE THE ALLEDGED BRYANT ASSINATION ATTEMPT. I DO DISCERN HOWEVER, THAT THE NEGATIVES HERE WOULD OUTWEIGH THE POSITIVES.

    2.AND DONT YOU THINK IT FOSTERS THE GROWTH OF ANY DEMOCRACY, CAPABLE OR NOT IF THE GOVERNMENT IS KEPT ON ITS TOES THROUGH DEBATES, AND THE LIKELYHOOD OF ITS CITIZENS MASS PARTICIPATION? CAPABLE GOVERNMENT(S) MIGHT GET TIRE, AND BOIL BY SUCCESS TOO, A CAPABLE GOVERNMENT NOT FULLY ENGAGED MIGHT TURN INEPT, SINCE IT IS SAID THAT 'POWER CORRUPTS...'

    ANYWAY THESE ARE MY LITTLE CRAZY THOUGHTS, AND I DON'T KNOW IF THEY MAKE ANY SENSE EITHER.

    BUT I THANK YOU AGAIN FOR SUCH A WONDERFUL BLOG. I AM RECOMENDING MY FRIENDS TO YOUR BLOG, THE "LIBERIA LEDGER" AND "PLAINTAINS AND PALM TREES" ETC, ALL GREAT READ TOO.

    IT IS INTERESTING READING ABOUT LIBERIA THROUGH THE EYES AND FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE OF NON-LIBERIANS.

    I ALSO TAKE MY HAT OFF TO ALL OF YOU IN THE NON GOVERNMENT SECTOR THAT ARE "TRYING" SO HARD TO RESTORE THE HOPE AND ASPIRATION OF THE LIBERIAN PEOPLE.

    PS:GEORGE WEAH? HELL NO! "GOD HELP US ALL IF" HE HAD "GOTTEN INTO POWER."(LAUGHS).

    ralph geeplay
    Philadelphia

     
  • At 5:13 AM, Blogger Chris Watkins (a.k.a. Chriswaterguy) said…

    Hi Kevin. Very good point about violence.

    I've added your blog to Appropedia's blog roll.

    (Appropedia is the wiki for international development, sustainability, appropriate technology and such things.)

    I'd love to see this kind of issue (effectiveness of foreign aid, how it can be improved alternatives), being analyzed on a wiki page or pages - could be very worthwhile. Appropedia would welcome it, but probably Issuepedia is more suitable.

    Would you give permission for this post to be used in as the starting point of a page on Issuepedia? (Ideally you would post it there yourself so you get proper credit and to make it easier to communicate with people, but I'm willing to do it if necessary.)

    Thanks
    Chris

    PS Ralph - it's easier to read your comments if you turn the caps lock off. Thanks.

     
  • At 9:32 PM, Blogger Kevin Aja Fryatt said…

    Chris,

    I put links on both those sites. I hope I did it correctly and that it stimulates some discussion. What kind of traffic to both those sites generate per day? Is there enough people going to those sites that discussion will be raise fairly quickly or do you think it'll take a while?

    I'm new Appropedia and the whole idea behind it. Its a great idea though.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Kevin

     
  • At 2:11 AM, Blogger Chris Watkins (a.k.a. Chriswaterguy) said…

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for creating the foreign aid page. I did a bit of editing, and added an existing page (on subsidies and grants in development) to the category. See Foreign aid or go to Appropedia.org and search for foreign aid.

    Appropedia gets about 400 unique visitors per day,and it's growing. We've been spreading the word.

    Issuepedia is smaller and less prominent, mainly the work of one editor (Woozle). But I've been looking for something like this for a while, as has a friend of mine. We're doing some cross-linking between the wikis, mentioning both in our blogs, and hopefully getting some more awareness of those sites. Discussions of issues on Appropedia are now encouraged to be moved to Issuepedia, where appropriate.

    I found your user pages, and took the liberty of linking to your blog, so people know who you are - hope that's okay:
    * KevinFryatt at Appropedia
    * KevinFryatt at Issuepedia

    Would appreciate any input, feedback, or mentions of the sites in your blog. Thanks!
    Chris

     

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