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Ngafuan and Liberia’s economy diplomacy



By: Ralph Geeplay

Liberia’s Foreign Minister (FM) Augustine Kpehe Ngafuah comes to the foreign minister  position with a core strategic objective for promoting Liberia policy initiatives by advancing what he and Sirleaf on many occasions have termed the “the economy diplomacy,” of the Unity Party-led administration. The West African state which is still reeling from almost two decades of civil strife wants to build bridges with investors and foreign governments by winning investment to the country as it advances peace, and thereby, over all create stability.

A trusted aide to Africa’s first female president, Ngafuah is in a pole position as FM to advance and articulate those objectives. But more than that, he comes to the position having overseen Liberia debt waivers from the multilateral and bilateral communities, as finance minister during Sirleaf’s first term.

But why is Liberia advancing a policy goal that aims to foster closer ties with other countries based fundamentally on economics and finance? The reason says foreign policy observers are simple: Liberia having been devastated by war needs to reconstruct damaged infrastructure and find employment opportunities for its young population. It also helps that the Liberia’s economy has been growing at an annual rate of 6percent since Sirleaf came to power. The current policy is therefore meant as a vital attempt to attract major investments and promote Liberia economic outlook in an era when global recession and austerity in Europe and the United States. The regime has had a tremendous impact and domino effect, on far away nations such as Liberia. By vigorously seeking investments the country aims to create a buffer and solidify the foundation of it fiscal activity for long-term sustainability.

The good news is that Africa is the new hot spot for economic growth and investment at a time when growth is slowing in emerging markets such as India and China.  Even though, Sub-Saharan Africa is also affected by the financial crisis that began in 2008, Africa has bounced back, say analysts, with the region’s estimated growth rates of six percent predicted for 2013, there is hope that Africa is on the roll. What is interesting about Africa’s growth is that it is being led mostly by African governments and its own entrepreneurs. For example, South African, Kenyan, and other indigenous continental firms are investing heavily in other parts of Africa, and so is Nigeria and its billionaire tycoon cement magnet Aliko Dangote. The recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa that calls for Intra – Africa Trade was also a right step in the right direction, according to reports.

Liberia, like other African countries could reap dividends if the intra-trade initiative goes into effect, but already, the country has brought investments to its mining, agro forestry and agriculture sectors. In the process, attracting about 16 billion worth of trade during Sirleaf’s first term. Those achievements came also when Ngafuah was finance minister, better placed; say some to lead the current policy. Succeeding the experienced Antoinette Sayeh, he took off with speed and was instrumental in overseeing Liberia debts wiped off the books, almost 4billion. A tremendous success when you consider the record time with which Liberia achieved the feat. With economy diplomacy the watch word in a new era in Liberia’s move to make friends in the international community, China has been high on the radar.

While Monrovia still regard the United States as a traditional partner and has been willing to sell most of its oil assets and wells to American firms as it attracts investment, even going forward with invitation to letting the Americans set up AFRICOM bases there, Liberia like most African countries is turning more and more to China for investments and improvement in infrastructural development.

China’s 2.6 billion mining concession agreement signed in 2009 was not lost on Augustine Ngafuah, when recently at the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) fifth ministerial gathering last month, at which time Beijing pledged 20billion dollars in loans to the continent, he said “Liberia looks to a win-win partnership with countries and investors from all parts of the world, the People’s Republic of China being one of our key partners.”

FM Ngafuah further said relations with the Asian giant were “buttressed by China-Liberia excellent relations, the People’s Republic of China has helped Liberia, especially in the past six years, to tackle some of the teething challenges of the nation’s reconstruction.” But he was quick to add, echoing the concerns of many on the continent, especially South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma remarks that China’s and Africa needed to trade fairly when he said “China and Africa must continue to work for balanced development and a global world order that is more equitable, fair and sustainable,”

The same message was also true recently when he met Nigeria’s newly appointed ambassador to Monrovia Obi-Nnadozie, who also happens to be Nigeria’s first female envoy to Liberia. He called for Nigerian investment while also paying tribute to Nigeria’s current businesses and entrepreneurs in the country, especially its banks that have taken opportunity of Liberia’s investment climate by moving to the country. “Particularly,” he recognized “the sacrifices made by Nigeria and Nigerians for the peace and stability of this nation.” saying, also, “Every inch of this nation has evidence of Nigeria’s sacrifice.” An apparent reference, to Nigerian soldiers who fought and die in Liberia during the civil war analysts say.

If there is a fundamental thrust in Liberia’s foreign policy goals today, to promote an economy diplomacy heralded by Augustine Kpehe Ngafuah as FM on the last leg of the Sirleaf’s administration, it is meant to, in the long run lessen Monrovia’s dependence on aid in the coming years by attracting investments to the country’s security, electricity, transport, small businesses, infrastructure, education and health sectors. This then says a pundit, should contribute to stability as the country graduate from war to peace. The Liberian foreign minister must be commended for pushing an agenda, which at its core aims to benefit the Liberian people as they seek a sustainable future.


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