Liberia Rebuilding

For a variety of reasons, Liberia is the one country in West Africa that I have tracked for over thirty years.  It has never had the resources to properly initiate a working middle class large enough and strong enough to initiate a sustaining economic build out under effective middle class government.  It may now but this story tells us now hard it is.

The national debt is an albatross used for whatever and never funded earning assets able to pay taxes.  Its existence simply prevents additional access to foreign capital.

The country needs successful private enterprise from foreign sources able to bring their own capital as happened in the early days in China.

They appear to presently have honest government in place.  Hopefully that can last.  I know friends of mine who are restarting an initiative aimed at exploring for conventional oil.  Something like that would bring plenty of large paychecks and get it going.

For Americans, it is the most congenial country in West Africa so with the changes now taking place throughout, it should soon experience a mini boom of foreign investment.  It is time to take it seriously again.

Progress, frustration as Liberia rebuilds from scratch

by Staff Writers

Monrovia (AFP) March 25, 2010

Giant potholes make way for smooth streets, freshly painted buildings have appeared among those pitted with bullet holes and lights flicker on as electricity returns to Liberia's war-torn capital.

Yet the improvements, seven years after the end of a 14-year civil war which shattered the country's infrastructure, have had little impact on the lives of ordinary Monrovia residents, who remain mired in extreme poverty and 80 percent unemployment.

Half of the roads around Monrovia have been rebuilt and the capital now has running water, but the snail's pace of reconstruction of the electricity grid has hampered economic recovery and development.

"Basic infrastructure and service delivery to the Liberian people have become extremely limited, thereby undermining the possibility for economic growth," Samuel Kofi Woods, Liberia's public works minister, told AFP.

Euphoria swept the country in 2006 after Liberians elected Africa's first female president -- and the arrival of foreign-sponsored electricity generators shortly after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office.

Under an emergency power supply project called "Small Light Today, Big Light Tomorrow", generators funded by the United States and the European Union were installed throughout the city to light up streets, business centers and private homes.

But the "Big Light" has yet to arrive.

Foday Kamara, 27, fixes shoes for a living which puts him through night school where he has just reached the fifth grade. His parents were among some 270,000 killed in one of Africa's bloodiest wars.
"There's no current. So we can't use the machine for fixing the shoes. No current, no water," he said.

"Since the end of the war we're just managing. People bring in their shoes -- sometimes we get material or sometimes we don't -- we're just living by the grace of God."
-- 'Hardship has increased" --


And, mostly, living in the dark.

Since the end of the civil conflict in 2003, electricity coverage has gone from zero -- after rebels bombed the Mount Coffee hydro-electric plant in 1990 -- to between five and ten percent, according to Augustus Goanue of the Rural Renewable Energy Agency.

He said progress was going "very slowly ... (the) national grid is totally restricted to Monrovia and it has very low capacity."

"It actually affects our ability to target poverty, economic development. It affects our delivery of basic social services, health and education, even agriculture and industrial development," Goanue added.
For the president, as well as international donors, expanding the electricity network is the next big step.

"We've said over and over again, that electricity is one of our key priorities but it's not an activity that can be done right overnight, we've got to be able to get the generation, the transmission in place, we've got to get the distribution in place," Sirleaf has said.

But heavily laden with foreign debt of some 1.6 billion dollars, Liberia urgently needs investment from the private sector to meet its energy requirements.

Mount Coffee is only expected to be back on line by 2012 as it undergoes multi-million dollar renovations funded by the United States.

In peacetime, "hardship should be alleviated but hardship has increased," said 35-year-old Joseph.

"There are no jobs," he complained while playing draughts on an old bench as Chinese-built hotel rises up nearby along the main road.

"They told us that companies were coming and everybody around here is prepared to go look for jobs one way or the other and there's nothing going on -- we're just living on promises," he said.

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