First among equals
August 23, 2008 9:47 PM   Subscribe

The Economist issues a glowing report on efforts made by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman in Africa to become a democratically elected head of state, at the halfway mark through her presidency of Liberia. Already considered 'my hero' among the young, her determination, her resolve and her unstinting efforts to bring peace and economic development to her nation are an unexpectedly welcome counterpoint to the usual 'war, famine, disease, corruption' stories that tend to emerge from her continent.
posted by infini (17 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have only read the first link so far, but kudos to you for an excellent post on an oft-forgotten part of the world.
posted by mdonley at 9:56 PM on August 23, 2008

Turning to Mandela, she said, "If someday I am remembered as one of the many dreamers who came in your wake, who, unable to fill your shoes, walked in your shadow to build a new Africa, then I can think of no better place to be in history."

Great stuff...awesome post!!!
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:23 PM on August 23, 2008

Not the Liberian Girl Michael Jackson sang about then?
posted by crossoverman at 10:24 PM on August 23, 2008

i just think that it seems to demonstrate that women can run things better. jokes aside, the microfinance institutions such as Grameen Foundation et al have found that women borrowers tend to repay at close to 90% or more while its men who tend to default significantly. There's been a shift globally to look into supporting aid and development by involving the women as their track record implies greater success.
posted by infini at 11:09 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Librarians rock! Yay Jessamyn!

er, what's that? Liberian? What do you mean, "Liberian"...?

posted by five fresh fish at 11:26 PM on August 23, 2008

I took an African Political Economy class last semester with a professor who concerns herself primarily with West African development and women's issues, and she would constantly sing Johnson-Sirleaf's praises. I'm happy to hear that she's getting the attention which, based on everything I hear, she deserves.
posted by Muffpub at 11:30 PM on August 23, 2008

She's doing good for the country so far. I just hope she's careful about how closely she mixes with US mercenaries. You wouldn't want to trade one kind thug for another. Use them until they are not needed, then get them the hell out of the country.
posted by pracowity at 12:33 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

the economist piece leaves me with a lot to worry about: is hard for Liberians to find out what is happening to their own army, since DynCorp reports to the American authorities, not to the Liberians...
they have a privatized army, contracted by US company?
Before the civil wars, its mainstays were rubber and rice, mining, forestry and financial services.
Firestone ... has signed an innovative agreement with the government, agreeing to pay taxes and invest in better housing for its workers.
ArcelorMittal ... negotiated a deal with Liberia’s government to restart operations in a mine in Nimba County
A better regulated forestry industry may, it is hoped, create some 40,000 jobs.
yes, but is Liberia going to become simply another resource frontier with all its wealth exported to foreign countries? standards are being eroded by fast-rising food prices. The president has had to end import tariffs on rice, Liberia’s staple.
if rice is one of their core commodities, won't dropping the import tariff put rice farmers out of work?
government would look for partners to privatize the hydro at least for 15 years to ensure the sustainability of electricity to the people
selling off public utilities? when has that ever been successful? not in ontario, britain, california or montana. hugely profitable for investors and contractors, of course, but a ripoff for consumers.
Even tourism is now being touted. Hesta Pearson ... says the country’s lack of infrastructure is a selling point. 'We can sell Liberia as a place that is unspoilt, serene...' Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television who is said to be America’s first black billionaire, is building an up-market seaside resort just north of Monrovia, due to open next year.
so, minimum wage jobs making beds for rich tourists... and where will the land for all these new and exciting developments come from? some liberian equivalent of eminent domain? it sounds like they're working on establishing what is essentially a land expropriation ministry.


i'm sorry, but as great as peace and stability are, it looks to me like Liberia is about to turn into another world bank "success story" wherein the resources are liquidated, the public service obliterated and indigenous industries destroyed by the influx of cheap goods permitted by the elimination of trade barriers. there are a lot of fantastic promises being made but so far it looks like the only action has been in the form of a national privatization binge.

as soon as the UN clears out and liberians realize that government corruption has been replaced by corporate exploitation, things are going to go back into the toilet.

or maybe i'm just a pessimist.
posted by klanawa at 12:42 AM on August 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

you're not klanawa, i must confess to a sense of unease while reading but unlike you, was unable to identify why.
posted by infini at 2:16 AM on August 24, 2008

My memory isn't so good on specifics, but it seems like African democrats always look like heroes in the first term. Fingers crossed that things turn out different this time.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:42 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Note: I recently worked with the Liberian government, and am posting this on my husband's account.

President Johnson Sirleaf has made amazing strides in some areas, principally corruption and debt relief and aid. However, her weaknesses are the speed of the recovery (slow), the security situation, and food security.

Rebuilding public services has been slow. Provision of electricity is limited to a very small radius in central Monrovia and is not provided at all hours. The rebels actually tore out the electrical and telephone wiring leaving none of the old infrastructure in the country. There is no running water or sanitation system. Roads are a mess. I hadn't heard of privatizing hydropower, but likely the scheme is based on getting private investment to actually build the needed facilities. Liberians like the Chinese because they have rebuilt roads and the soccer stadium fast.

There has been a rash of armed robberies recently, eliciting increased vigilantism. See here for a description.

Finally, the rice price is her biggest problem. Agriculture has still not revived, so most rice is imported. I think the weak revival of agriculture has to do with land rights issues, which are almost impossible to deal with because they touch on traditional culture. Furthermore, even with increased farming, the roads are so bad that it's difficult for produce to reach markets.

On DynCorp, the Armed Forces of Liberia and the police forces had to be entirely re-constituted because the previous troops and officers had actively taken part in the civil war and the concomitant looting and mayhem. DynCorp and PAE of Lockheed are mostly training and supplying the 3,000 new Liberian troops and police officers.
posted by shen1138 at 8:56 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

my spidey sense is tingling, is the creator of universal porterism who knows what Qtips are really used for out there reading the blue somewhere? how's your stent, dude, write me.
posted by infini at 9:04 AM on August 24, 2008

so, user-of-shen1138, do any of these developments worry you? for example, does the possible scenario whereby the american mercenary force protects the interests of foreign corporations (when and if people realize they're being fleeced) seem plausible to you? asking in earnest, not as a snark.
posted by klanawa at 9:16 AM on August 24, 2008

A two year old article in the New Yorker is less fawning and unfortunately not online. Worth reading if you can find it.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:06 AM on August 24, 2008

All this and not a single Grim Fandango reference? BONE WAGON!
posted by JHarris at 6:30 PM on August 24, 2008

I'm actually surprised and cheered that she's lived this long...mold-breakers so rarely survive anywhere, and I can still remember the footage from the post-election hubbub with people in the streets yelling, "We don't want her!"
posted by kittyprecious at 8:54 AM on August 25, 2008

if rice is one of their core commodities, won't dropping the import tariff put rice farmers out of work?

Yes, let's let people starve, so that local farmers can keep their jobs, even though they obviously are not capable of producing enough rice. Good thinking there

(but realistically, if rice prices are so high, local farmers would be making much more money then they otherwise would be. The purpose of lifting the tariffs was to keep the price the same, not lower prices overall)
posted by delmoi at 10:31 AM on August 25, 2008

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