In 1997, a second civil war broke out in Liberia and caused chaos across the country. The war left more than 200,000 people dead and displaced millions. The years of conflict also destroyed vital infrastructure and left Liberia without any functioning institutions or services.
Ten years on, Liberia is beginning to get back on its feet. The country has held two democratic elections judged to be free and fair and the economy is growing around 8% a year, helped by 16 billion dollars in foreign direct investment and the waiving of Liberia’s 4.6 billion dollar debt.
With peace firmly established, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) is pulling out of the country. The organisation says that what Liberia needs now is more developmental aid, rather than emergency humanitarian assistance.
A number of international aid workers in Liberia have spoken to the news agency IRIN about the current situation in the country. One programme manager, who has worked for Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam and Save the Children, said “What I’m grateful for is that we have peace and the chance to raise a stable family now exists”. However, he expressed concern that the country was becoming too dependent on outside aid and that Liberia’s natural resources could be exploited by foreign companies through corrupt practices.
Tackling inequality and corruption
Other observers also warn that ongoing stability in Liberia can only be assured if widespread poverty, inequality and corruption are tackled. For example, a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights how Liberian police officers regularly steal from civilians, rather than protecting them. Following interviews with a large number of residents and police officers, the HRW report concludes that law enforcement units often act “like robbers”, extracting money from people such as street vendors and motorcycle or taxi drivers. The report’s authors say this activity strains “those in society scrambling near the bottom ... to feed themselves and their families”.
In 2006, Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (who recently spoke at a UN meeting on youth unemployment in Africa) declared corruption would be “public enemy number one” when she took office. Now HRW has called on her government to strengthen the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission and establish a civilian oversight body for the police.