On the Irony of Poverty in Abundance: The True State of the Masses
By: Ivor S. Moore
The true state of the nation in terms of the economic welfare of the masses can be indisputably summed up as a people living the irony of having abundance in resources but sadly floundering in the cesspool of poverty. This Grain Coast of West Africa, changed to Liberia by freed slaves under the euphemism of pioneers or settlers from the United States of America, with its suitable climate, its vast tropical rain forest and rich soil, its varied wildlife, and its abundant rivers and mineral resources, has been in history the attraction of so many from lands afar in their quest for the acquisition of wealth.
To its earlier inhabitants from across Africa, the aborigines, this land became a safe haven from war, pestilence, and hunger, which influenced their migration here. The settlers, too, sought freedom from slavery in a land that would provide them the basic necessities of life which they have been deprived of in America. Yet, after 168 years of independence in the midst of this known wealth, the people are living one of the poorest lives known to humankind.
This is the irony of Liberia! A tragic irony one may say. The cause of this sad state of affairs can be attributed predominantly to bigotry, corruption and bad governance which have defined the modus operandi of the country from time in memorial. Liberia has been a nation rivaled over the several divides and fights for opportunism and power dominance by few elites. This even led to the brutal civil war that rent the country apart. Instead of consolidating the divides and harnessing the resources of the state to seek economic liberty for all Liberians, the leaders have resorted to wholesale looting of the national covers; hence, leaving the masses of people to waddle in the wrenches of poverty.
What makes this situation pathetic is that, our leaders, blinded in the lust of greed, make millionaires and billionaires of foreign concessionaires except their own people. The Open Door Policy of President Tubman is a classic example. The agreements entered by the government did not create means that would have made Liberians shareholders and thus become rich as well. The nation and people, save the corrupt few, are always shortchanged in these processes. In consequence also, the millions of investments of LAMCO, Bong Mines, Firestone and other companies seem almost non-realizable in relations to the building of a vibrant economy that would project the people out of their poor state. The exploitation of resources and their accompanying disappearance from the country with no wealth creation of the people have got a proportional economic trigger down effect on the ordinary citizens despite the huge investments in a country of a very small population.
The present state of the masses of people under the auspices of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cannot be divorced from this irony of poverty in abundance syndrome. To the contrary, it is in full affirmation. With over 16 billion of direct investment in the economy which the government boasts of, poverty still beclouds the masses of people. The emergence of multi-national companies cannot be felt in the lives of the masses that live in the gutters of poverty. Liberia is still at the tail of the poorest nations on earth, second next to D.R. Congo with a per capital income of $ 490.41 according to report. More than 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $1.00 per day. Diseases and hunger are masquerading in every quarter. Available electricity and pipe borne water across the country are a mirage. The lists take on infinity. However perishing, the people’s yearning for a better future remains high.
Consequently, when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a lady bearing scars from the social activism of the Progressives that had its genesis in the ’70s, a Harvard-trained economist and an international development expert, was elected Liberia and Africa’s first female president and proclaimed in her first inaugural address in 2006 that “corruption will be my public enemy number one”, it was a message of optimism and a clarion call from the Commander-in-Chief for all to ready for the long awaited battle of Armageddon where good subdues evil. For a masses of people long forlorn in the depth of poverty, ignorance and underdevelopment fueled by the menaces of corruption and bad governance and worsened by the pangs of a gruesome fourteen-year civil war, the come of a messiah-leader to bring freedom from their captivity was a dream come true.
Therefore, the statement from the president was a message of hope told to a nation whose coming into being was foundationed on the pledge of liberty and justice for all, but, after 168 years of independence, is yet to rise up to the true meaning of this creed. Here was an assurance to individuals who have to live in poverty because of a system of greed, corruption and bad governance. Alas, here was a battle cry for all to “meet the foe with valor unpretending.” Hence, many a person, drawn from all walks of life, cladded in the armor of war, and labeling as contemptuous those who kept reserved, formed a jubilant marching band in readiness to redeem the state.
The counting of nine years of leadership and its review especially on the fight against corruption and the state of the masses of Liberians has made fleeting the excitement. At her ninth State of the Nation Address in January 2015, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lamented to the nation and international community that “corruption is a vampire to development.” The Nation’s first enemy, according to the president, has morphed into a deadly blood- sucker despite the many fights against it! Sadly, this genetic alteration took place in the face of the General Auditing Commission, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and other policing agencies.
What then could be the problem when millions of public funds have been spent on preventing this chaotic transfiguration? Has the messiah-leader become a collaborator in a high-core scheme of draining the wealth of the nation through permissibility and or direct involvement? Or are there other explanations? These constitute the puzzling questions so far. A careful inquest of the prevailing statuses surrounding this tragic announcement would be the only means to ascertain answers to these questions.
The present government, as in the case of others before it, promotes attributes that give way for corruption to permeate and break the economy down. It begins with the absence of passion of leaders to seek the interest of the state. To these leaders, self-preservation supersedes collective preservation. This out-of -context notion has caused our public servants to see government as the deposit of fortune for those holding power.
The uncompassionate nature of our leaders are glaring through the unjust ways they handle laws that are meant to protect the wealth of the nation. In Liberia, the irony is that these laws have not been written to elevate the economy or are not being implemented simply because the pursuit of self-aggrandizement by the leadership is in foothold. The report of 68 concessions entered by the government with only two in conformity with existing laws places passing stamp on this accusation. We can see that the boastful billions of foreign direct investment are caught by the trump of greed and opportunism by micro nationalists masquerading as leaders. The sense of humanity to building a sustainable economy to better the lives of the masses of people and posterity is far from their reach.
Another tragedy of this irony is that the entire market economy is also controlled by foreigners while the citizens are the gate keepers, store boys, sweepers, and house maids. The laws that were created to protect the Liberian entrepreneur are nothing but dusty theories inscribed on paper and kept in the recycle bin of history. Thus, businesses that should only be controlled by Liberians are dominated by the Lebanese, Indians, Fulas, and Nigerians. The president has only gotten to know this of recent. Whether the issue will be addressed is another thing seemingly impossible so far as her records on such a commitment can prove.
These ills can only be permitted under a system that prides itself in chronic corruption. In the case of the present administration of President Sirleaf, corruption is truly a “vampire to development.” The culture of compromising the general welfare for those of the personal and elite clique is the order of the day. The blood-sucker, rather than being public enemy number one, has made a pact with the elite to expedite the greatest exploitation of the wealth of the people. This draconian act is premised on the assertion that, when the people are poor and left as ordinary beggars, they will have no alternative but to submit to the whims and caprices of the leadership.
The masses of people live in insufficiency amidst abundant resources because the government has failed to do proper budgetary allocation to areas that would elevate their station. The purchasing of luxury cars and the hosting of extravagant gatherings are but some of the places huge millions of tax payer’s money go. The 20,000 per annual pledge on employment is far from reality. And we are yet to know how the $15 million youth a development fund was spent. Today market women work for their life time paying back high interest loans to banks.
With the prospect of huge revenue generation from the oil and gas industries, the nation’s last and extractive frontier, the political trickeries are interplaying over control of the sector. The issue of state equity and citizen’s equity, means of making the sector greatly beneficial to Liberians and the government, is compromised in a high scheme of corruption and camouflaged in the justification that whatever is being done is in the best interest of the state. The state’s equity is sold out for crumbs. The citizen’s equity is in hiding and so far, only few elites, including the gurus of the legislatures, under the creature of a new oil company, have got this share in recent oil bids. The government would deny other Liberians building a logistic base to promote local content in the oil industry aim at creating wealth for the people.
The state of the Liberian economy is backward and poverty parades every quarter of the nation because the permissibility of corruption by the leadership is high. The system can be described in the statement of PLO Lumumba of Kenya that we celebrate thieves and demonize saints. This permissibility creates a paradise refuge for thieves. Today, over hundreds of corrupt cases involving cronies of the president and other top officials are laying in the dark shelves of GAC, LACC, Justice Ministry and the court. These are cronies given stewardship over the resources of the nation but are siphoning them to foreign banks.
As a result of this sheer corruption, the “vampire to development,” and bad governance, the masses of this little population of over 3 million people are dying by the wounds of poverty, disease and ignorance. Health care is poor and costly, thus amounting to many deaths from curable diseases. Education, even though is a mess, is unaffordable for many.
The state of the economy is afflicted with deep ulcer and the blood sucker is ever prepared to unleash his venomous bite to drain the remnants of the nation’s wealth. Thus, the lamentation of the messiah-leader that corruption is a vampire to development even though she has pronounced it her number one enemy is a pitiful but serious confession that she cannot bear the cross of liberation so as to close probation on this wide scale blood sucking spree and establish the basis for sustainable development. The burden of betraying the syndicate of corrupt cronies and family cannot be bore by the president! The creation of a criminal court to address corruption can hence be rightly considered another image white-washing.
What will soon befall Liberia in time to come, if nothing is done to save the looming danger this present state of the economy poses to the masses now and posterity tomorrow, only the dark pages of history can tell!
Ivor S. Moore is a youth, human right and political activist and a young writer on social, economic and political issues. He is currently the Secretary General of the Movement for Political Justice and Advocacy in Liberia (MOPJAL), a prodemocracy youth advocacy group. He is a student of the University of Liberia and can be contacted at: +231770139026, +231880183280, firstname.lastname@example.org.