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

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Addressing the Poverty Trap - Seemingly Ceaseless War and Civil Strive

Recently, one of my readers posed the following question. In the next series I want to title "Addressing the Poverty Trap" I hope to address and share my opinions in an attempt to educate and create discussion on the idea of 'poverty' as we currently know.

Why is it that African countries such as Liberia struggle to re-build themselves? I could probably make educated assumptions, but from your perspective as having worked there, what do you think and what are the reasons as to why, despite Western aid, there appears to be little or no progress or improvement on the poverty. Can countries like Liberia ever realistically rise out of the poverty trap and its associated difficulties and if so how can such prosperity and advancement be properly achieved?

My Response:

Ok, I'm going to try and scratch the surface as to why I believe that African countries such as Liberia have a hard time rebuilding themselves after war or maybe a more general question as to why Africa in general has had a hard time 'developing' in general - and I use that word very gingerly. And before we get started I'll just offer a brief disclaimer that this is a question that the entire world needs to be faced with and I believe that nobody but God has the answer for. These are strictly my views on the situation and I challenge any readers to challenge me on my views or my hypotheses so long as the discussion moves us forward in our thinking on the causes for and reasons why, currently and in recent history, Africa is in the state that it is.

When faced with this question, and its one that I toy with quite often and one that is up for a lot of debate. There are a few ideas that initially come to mind and its those that I'll elaborate a little more of:

1. Seemingly Ceaseless War and Civil Strife (divisions between Opposing Tribal Groups and Clan)

2. Colonial Geopolitical boundaries

3. Widening Gap of Realities between Western Donors and Recipients of 'Aid'.

4. Corruption of Power-mongering African Governments

5. Increasing Dependence of Local Populations on Foreign Aid

6. Lack of a True Indicator of Well-Being (GDP does not account the for progress of social, religious, and community-centered goals - economic progress is only one aspect of an individual)

1. Conflict - Seemingly Ceaseless War and Civil Strife

If we're going to look purely at the economic development of a country and what falls under that umbrella (infrastructure and transportation networks, currency valuation, and attractiveness of the country to foreign investment, among others...) there is no wonder Africa is 'undeveloped' economically speaking just due to the frequency and duration of varying conflicts on the continent.

Taking Liberia as an example, we need to understand that the Liberian Civil War did not only affect Liberia and Liberia alone. The countries immediately surrounding Liberia were affected on a number of different levels. One of those was the fact that when war was present in Liberia a vast number of refugees migrated to areas of Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana and therefore causing shocks to the local economies of those countries. War affects not only the country in which it is taking place but those who have any immediate interest in the country as a whole.

A couple weeks back I was driving back to our office with our Chief of Security and I asked him how he saw the rebuilding effort coming along in the four years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2003. I cannot quote him word for word but in essence this is what he said,

...In war, you can tear down and destroy in minutes what it can take years to build up...

If you reflect on the Liberian Civil War that lasted 14 long and destructive years, the nation's entire, and I emphasize ENTIRE, infrastructure was destroyed. Never in my life had I imagined the destructive power that war can have on the physical backbone of a country. Monrovia, until the last 12 months, was the only capital city in the world to hold the claim of not having running water or power to supply to its citizens. The Freeport of Monrovia is the grave for, and don't quote me on this, 17 shipwrecks in the area of possibly three square miles. Most visibly in the harbour is one ship actually on top of another ship, not to speak of the freighter that is completely flipped over Currently there are dirt roads in the bush, 10 hours from Monrovia that are in better condition than those in downtown Monrovia. If it has taken 14 years to destroy this country that has been called by locals 'The New York City of Africa' prior to the Civil War, how long do you figure it will take to rebuild the country to its prior state of existence, if that is even possible? This is just looking purely at the physical infrastructure of the country and not taking into account any social or moral damage done by the atrocities carried out throughout the war.

Diverging from the Liberia example for a minute, not because it isn't relevant or doesn't have tribal issues of its own, I want to bring attention to conflicts between tribal groups or between tribal groups and local governments. Rwanda is an excellent/terrible example of the irreversible damage that can be done through the clashing of tribal groups, especially when spurred on by provocative propaganda encouraging ethnic cleansing. If one looks at the potentially violent conflicts between nomadic tribes such as the Touregs and local governments trying to establish land reform in certain regions inhabited by the Toureg people it is no doubt that violence has and will continue to exist. Any time you impose a Western style of government upon people with a very different way of living, no matter how 'primitive' it may seem to Westerners, it will cause distaste and discomfort in the mouths of those it affects. This is and has been very prevalent in Liberia with the Americo-Liberians imposing a Western rule of law on a pre-Liberian society that was, and still is in some parts dominated by a tribal, chiefdom-based method of administering justice.

There are so many relevant examples of and causes of conflict within Africa but I think the main thing to understand is that conflict is definitely a major problem in Africa and something that plays a major role in keeping the continent from benefiting from the gifts that God has given them (ie. culture, natural resources, etc.)

In the next segment I'll attempt to shed some light on the effects of Colonial Geopolitical boundaries established in Africa and the role they might play in it all.

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