Commentary: Diplomacy Beyond Aid: Identifying Frontiers of Hope for a Challenged Nation-State Liberia

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By: John S.M. Yormie, Jr. Coordinator Gabriel L. Dennis Foreign Service Institute, Republic of Liberia. Author: Liberia in the Colorful World of Diplomacy

Introduction/ Background:

Located on the west coast of Africa, Liberia is a widely embraced nation-state. It has a  legacy as the oldest democracy in Africa and one of the oldest in the world with stunning accounts in the master art of Diplomacy.  Liberia gained its independence on July 26, 1847.  (available at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/liberian-independence-proclaimed retrieved May 10, 2020) . Shared by Liberians, for the most part, is that enviable legacy.

However, a back peddler that has emerged to be indicators of lagging in necessities of social welfare which have increasingly blurred this fine image. Similarly, these indicators have resulted in imagined arrays of peril discontent under the canopy of glaring lapses in the 21st  century.

Hence, considering that there are many faces to look at in describing society and with no attempt to only view the recent nosedived aspects of Liberia’s rich heritage of diplomacy; this paper attempts to discuss various kinds of Aid, contexts of Aid dependency and advance required forms of diplomacy to move beyond Aid from a broader context of the African continent to specific cases of Liberia. It is also driven by the provision of alternative policy options and prescriptions as well as plausible measures to promote the spur of growth and development in pursuit of peace and economic prosperity which are key to the Country’s national policy broader framework( the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development/ PAPD). While doing so, the paper also screen lines some characteristics for which Liberia can be mirrored as a challenged nation-state.

Analysis

From the earliest days when the felt need for mechanisms to convey messages was the crux of diplomacy (available at https://www.diplomacy.edu/resources/general/history-and-evolution-diplomacy, retrieved on May 10, 2020), to the rise of international organizations and increased waves of multilateralism today; it can be agreed that diplomacy comprises phases and features. In further ascend,  changing dynamics will always emerge amidst competing priorities. So who gets what will depend on the models, instruments, and approaches in providing for the vital interests of the citizenry for every given sovereign state.

Among many working definitions Britannia .com defines Diplomacy as the established method of influencing the decisions and behaviors of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiations, and other measures short of war or violence. Besides,  aid can be viewed essentially as money or resources that one country voluntarily transfers to another, it takes the form of a gift, a grant, or a loan; which is Bilateral aid( Investopedia, 2020). Other forms of aid include multilateral aid, project aid, tied aid, etc. However, according to Dambisa  Moyo, aid could be further categorized broadly as humanitarian or emergency aid,charity-based aid, and systemic aid ( Moyo, 2010).

The Author agrees that aid originates from the emerging and already developed  Countries(ibid). This means most of the receiving countries are in the sub-Saharan states and largely the global south or simply developing countries ( ibid).

Hence, looking at a famous classical quote that there is no free launch (William, S.),   there is more to look into when discussing aid relations among countries. Whether it is merely based on benevolence or tied to certain interests and foreign policy goals as engendered in soft power acquisition, deep dives into aid are crucial viewpoints to consider. These accounts even bring reasonable viewpoints and conclusions that aid itself is so broad and problematic too.

Nevertheless, with no attempt to ignore the significance of investigating and analyzing these strands of benefits between and among aid donors and recipients, the following questions have become more relevant here. Why and when aid becomes necessary? Has aid been utilized properly in Liberia? Why and how Liberia can move beyond aid?

For instance, Dambisa Moyo in her book titled “Dead Aid: Why Aid Makes Things Worse and how There is Another Way for Africa” presents profound arguments essentially describing the ineffectiveness of aid in Africa.  She asserts that development policy in Africa today can be attributed to a great myth that billions of dollars sent by wealthy countries to developing  African countries have helped to reduce poverty and increase growth.

Moyo associates these failures to over-reliance on aid that traps these nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty leaving them with nothing but the need for more aid( Moyo, D. 2010). These attributes are essentially associated with Liberia premised on the allusion that the Country’s long history as a recipient of billions in aid does not essentially match the desired impacts( Yormie, J.;2019).

Indicative of the above, many features of the human development index still illuminate that Liberia remains a challenged nation-state. For example, the Country’s 2018 Human Development Index value was at 0.465 with a rank of 176 out of 189 described as low human development category (available at http://hdr.undp.org/sites/all/themes/hdr_theme/country-notes/LBR.pdf). Data in a  major report indicate low scores on employment and work indicators while 68% of Liberians live below the poverty line ( EU Action Document, 2019). According to the World Bank ease of doing business Liberia has slipped from rank 174 in 2018  to 175 in 2019 on the scale of 190 countries(World Bank 2019 available at  https://tradingeconomics.com/liberia/ease-of-doing-business retrieved May 26, 2020). Liberia was also mentioned among the Worst Countries for access to primary school in September of 2016. ( available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/01/liberia-worst-country-in-the-world-for-access-to-primary-school/, retrieved May 26, 2020).

On the other hand, in his 2005  book titled ” End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time”, Jeffry D. Sachs provides arguments in favor of the need and significance of aid. He essentially argues that injections of aids are needed to break the poverty trap because there is nowhere else money is going to come from when there is insufficient income tax or save ( Sachs, J.D.; 2005). He asserts that amidst challenges of health and malnutrition, many people spend more energies on combating diseases and staying alive and only found to be trapped in areas of agriculture, health, education transportation, power, and communications infrastructures. ( ibid) These descriptions also illuminate the Liberian case as well.

He mentioned pieces of evidence of aid working in cases of the green revolution agriculture project, eradication of smallpox, including the global alliance for vaccines and immunization as well as campaign against malaria and eradication of polio. He also mentioned the Export Processing Zone in East Africa and the mobile communication revolution in Bangladesh, etc as stories of aid success(ibid).

Albeit  Moyo and Sacks may appear as two worlds apart, understandably both have discussed viewpoints and perspectives with which the author converges and diverges respectively.

For instance, the billions of dollars in aid have arguably not manifested the tangible impacts in many developing countries including Liberia. The vicious circle mentioned by Moyo is evidence of failures and evidence to refashion the utilization of minimum aid and shifting to better systems void of rampant corruption and ideals of aid dependency that only weakens and declines the state. (Moyo, D. 2010).

Shreds of evidence of aid impacts in areas of health argued by Sachs are considered valid by the author although either dismissed or ignored by Moyo.

In another context, governments needing aid to break the poverty trap are considerable and the need for assistance to combat diseases are quite essential for developing countries but mentioning insufficient tax as a key reason will encourage low prowess to collect tax arguably. Something the  Liberian government has mounting challenges with.

Hence, it can be argued that aid implications can be viewed from diverse lenses. Meaning there are merits and demerits of aid depending on nature, and period. So, what kinds of aid are necessary?  Aid forever?

Prospects and Way forward

Among several factors and precursors of growth and development, Technical Vocational Education and Training(TEVET), Tourism, Sports Development, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Entrepreneurship, etc. can be viewed as crucial for short and long terms solutions for Liberia. However, a few will be discussed in-depth to further elevate their relevance.

 

TEVET

Technical and vocational education and training’ (TEVET) is understood as comprising education, training, and skills development relating to a wide range of occupational fields, production, services, and livelihoods. TEVET also includes a wide range of skills development opportunities attuned to national and local contexts. (UNESCO (GC) 2015, UN available at https://unevoc.unesco.org/home/TVETipedia+Glossary/filt=all/id=474 retrieved May 26, 2020).

TVET, as part of lifelong learning, can take place at secondary,post-secondary, and tertiary levels and includes work-based learning and continuing training and professional development which may lead to qualifications ( ibid).

Liberia sits just at the midpoint of curse and blessing considering its high population of youths who could be assets or liabilities depending on the actions and inactions of the government to develop programs and projects needed to address their demands for skills development and the world of work.

From a World Bank report “Liberia Skills Development Constraints for Youth in the Informal Sector”, many youths consider lack of skills and experience as impediments to employment while the need for vocational trades is emphasized considering the heavy concentration of labor outside the formal employment sector (World Bank Report, 2016 ).

The same report indicates that inadequate skills and vulnerable employment are key constrictions on rapid, inclusive, and sustainable growth(ibid).

Thus, TEVET Programs and projects can be prioritized as significant components of frontiers to boost economic activities and subsequent employment that support better livelihoods. They could simulate both short and long terms solutions.

In doing so, Liberian diplomats/ foreign service officers must be able to assess opportunities in partnerships with friendly nations not only on the traditional state to state diplomacy but also institutional collaborations. For example, India is building on  TEVET models from Germany and the UK to address its large youthful population. This avails tremendous relationships as India shares with Liberia the problems in addressing a high youthful population with skills challenges( https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/indias-skilling-challenge-lessons-from-uk-germanys-vocational-training-models/).

Bringing Delhi closer to Monrovia will require many engagements including establishing a full mission near  New Delhi with Consulates in major cities like Mumbai and Bangalore respectively.

Tourism

Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.)defines tourism as travel for pleasure or business; also the theory and practice of touring, the business of attracting, accommodating, and entertaining tourists and business of operating tours.

According to the World Tourism organization  ” Tourism encompasses the activities of persons traveling and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business, and other purposes.”(WTO, 1 993) .

Tourism and hospitality, which are inextricably linked to each other, are among the major revenue-earning enterprises in the world. The niche between economic growth/income generation has revealed to be favorable. The upmarket trend in tourism and the subsequent increase in economic activities have further unpacked its economic significance( available at https://tourismnotes.com/travel-tourism/ retrieved on May 26, 2020).

Reports from the World Tourism Organization indicate USD 1.7 Trillion international receipts from tourism. ( International Tourism Highlights. UNWTO, 2019). The USA alone averaged 214 billion followed by Spain at 74 billion and next ranked to be  France at  67 billion ( ibid).

With visible challenges in roads, electricity, and limitations in available parks and hotel facilities, tourism development faces an uphill task in Liberia. Nonetheless, the long stretches of beaches, beautiful sea tides, forest reserves, waterfalls, and mountain views including the kpatawee Waterfalls and Mount Nimba, there are high prospects for Eco-tourism upon which other forms of tourism can be vitalized.

Ecotourism is catering for holidaymakers in the natural environment without damaging it or disturbing habitats. It is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism. It means responsible travel to natural areas, conserving the environment, and improving the well-being of the local people. ( available at  www.ecotourism.org. Retrieved  May 26, 2020).

Monrovia can ring the bell on the door of  Washington D.C. considering lessons learned to boost their tourism. In the context of Africa, Rwanda’s success story of reaching a fabulous amount of 19.2 Million USD  in 2018 alone from just the sales of  Mountain Gorilla Permits(available at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-08/20/c_138324134.htm retrieved May 26, 2020)  points to the significance of that country that Liberia can learn from and establish ties which encourage sharing of knowledge.

Agriculture

Although there are polar views on the stimuli of agriculture in the process of economic development, yet there exist scores of literature substantiating the significance and causality of economic development as the result of agricultural development. For example, a traditional argument put forth by Johnston and Mellor expresses the contribution of agriculture in food, raw materials, and financial surplus as a firm basis for the process of industrialization(Johnston, B. & W.John;1961).

Despite the existence of differing arguments regarding specific mechanisms through which structural changes in the economy might be triggered, agricultural productivity concepts point that advances in agriculture can promote shifts in labor to higher productivity sectors that offer higher real incomes. This has been backed by empirical works in recent years establishing conceptual arguments and underlining long term growth and poverty reduction from agriculture, especially for the most extreme forms of poverty. ( Gollin et al, 2007), (Christiaensen Luc, Demery Lionel, Kuhl Jasper).

Not ignoring the wide range of agriculture activities, food production as well as safety packaging and export will boost Liberia’s food sufficiency and export value.

Liberia may have ravaged productive assets for agriculture productivity but are blessed with favorable climate and arable land which forms part of its rich biodiversity (WFP, 2012).

An estimated two-thirds of the Country’s cereal consumption(around 53,000 tons) is covered by imports). Domestic prices of imported rice, the country’s main staple, have continued to rise since the beginning of 2011( Ibid).

To develop the Country’s agriculture sector, case studies must be established to acquire lessons and technical assistance through diplomatic engagements. For instance, Israel  model of agriculture advancement and water management can be traced to five key factors /insights:

First is effective government, particularly Israel’s approach in the 1950s and 1960s. It consistently showed visionary leadership in a long-term commitment to agriculture and water. In its early years, 30 percent of its national budget was devoted to agriculture and water, with another 30 percent being devoted to education( https://institute.global/advisory/how-israel-transformed-its-agriculture-sector-five-insights-africa).

Second, is the organization of farmers. From the beginning, Israel’s farmers were either organized into well-managed cooperatives (Kibbutzim and Moshavim) or were private farmers represented by an influential farmers’ association( ibid).

The third is an unequivocal market-oriented approach. The market serves as a guiding star for planning, prioritization, and coordination for both the government and farmers(ibid).

Fourth, Israel has a farmer-centric, multidisciplinary, and innovative approach to solve farmer and private sector problems. Key to this approach is the golden triangle: the close relationship between researchers, agricultural extension workers, and farmers(ibid).

Finally, the way international support was channeled at Israel’s early stages of development meant that the government could spend these resources – from the diaspora, the United States and the United Kingdom, among others – according to its development plan (ibid).

While the above may not be a one size fit all considering that each developing country needs to chart its path to success, it can, however, be accepted that  Israel’s agriculture and water transformation can truly guide an inspirational and technical path for agriculture advancement in Liberia which is already endowed with abundant water sources and vast arable lands.

Major Assumptions

Having over 500 million in USA aid alone during the Doe’s regime, and billions throughout President Sirleaf  12 year regime, still having visible challenges in almost every sector of the Country situates it in a class of challenged nation-state. It further confirms and validates Moyo’s arguments on the vicious circle(Moyo, D.;2010) to a larger extend.

Thus, local resource mobilization will create a sense of ownership and management as compared to routine aid that creates a vicious circle as described by Moyo( ibid ).

There will be an aggregate disproportionate youthful population where unskilled and unemployed Liberians will overwhelm the potential of a youthful population if urgent interventions that prepare youths for the world of work in both private and public sectors are not initiated and made pragmatic by the government.

Conclusion/ Recommendations

This paper has mapped diverging and converging views of aid. Two renowned arguments on the necessity and ineffectiveness of aid were discussed reliant on arguments from Moyo on one hand and Sacks on the other respectively.

To bring the argument home, it was established that aid is not altogether ineffective neither is it altogether supportive. Thus, diplomacy moving beyond aid must advance strategies and relationships which do not only attract aid, something which Moyo described as over dependency of aid. Hence, the author argues that aid in areas of humanitarian assistance such as the fight against malaria, the vaccine for deadly diseases like polio,  measures to combat HIV/AIDS, and now Coronavirus can form part of health strategies.

Stilling grappling with infant mortality, maternal mortality, access to primary education, electoral processes, aid can still be galvanized since there are global frameworks to support these activities as Liberia is a member of the comity of nations.

In the same vein payments of cost for infrastructural programs which are intended to boost economic development like the Millennium Challenge Cooperation Hydro Electricity project in Liberia ( available at https://www.mcc.gov/where-we-work/program/liberia-compact retrieved on May 26, 2020) among few can be areas for aid support while major programs and projects of the government must be planed on the basis on robust revenue generation. This is something which the author contends that Liberia has great potential for both in extractive industries and service sectors.

That is to mean the core budget initiatives must rely on the mental construct of independent resource mobilization complemented by minimum aid in technical areas and not the other way around in exploring Liberia frontiers for growth.

References

Action Document (2019) for European Union  Support to Demand Driven Technical and Vocational  Education and Training (TEVET) for Young People in  Liberia.

Bruce Johnston, John W. Mellor(1961) The Role of Agriculture in Economic Development.

Gollin, D.,  Parente S. and  Rogerson, R.( 2007) The Food Problem and the Evolution of International Income levels.

Luc. C, Lionel, D.,  and Jasper., K (2011) The (Evolving) Role of Agriculture in Poverty Reduction- an Empirical Perspective.

Moyo, D.(2010) Dead Aid: Why Aid Makes Things Worse and how There is Another Way for Africa.

Sachs, J.D. (2005) End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time, Penguin Press.

William, S. On Language; Words Left Out in the Cold” New York Times.

World Bank, (2016) Liberia Skills Development Constraints for Youth in the Informal Sector

  1. 137-151).

Yormie, J. (2019) Liberia in the Colorful World of Diplomacy Forte Publishing International.