By: Percy Harris
Few months back, I was tuned into CNBC—the ubiquitous business channel noted for its critical analysis of events impacting economies around the world— and the billionaire financier Warren Buffet was on talking about the strength of the U.S. economy, and the likely precipice ahead (i.e. the fiscal cliff) if Washington did not take immediate action(s). Interestingly, the conversation veered towards education and the future of America. In that segment, something very peculiar was noticed. As Mr. Buffet spoke about the future of his country, it became glaringly clear that he was not talking as one of America’s richest business tycoons; but rather as a grandfather and an elderly statesman.
He expressed his disappointment in the political “food fight” that too often characterized Washington D.C., sometimes creating what seems like a logjam of dysfunctionality. As per the future of the United States, Mr. Buffet was very upbeat about its prospect. When asked about what he thought of the current crop of young Americans, his reply was very empathic:”I think the future looks great, coz we still have some of the best institutions in the world…and by far still the best place to invest”. In essence Mr. Buffet’s bet on the future was predicated upon the fact that, America will continue to remain a global force owing to its world class education (in some respect) which serves as a pillow on which its great economy sits. This brings our attention to an event that took place in the tiny West African country of Liberia a month ago.
Sadly, in the case of Liberia, Mr. Buffet’s predictions cannot be made with such temerity. Couple of weeks ago, an array of Liberians conglomerated in the central town of Gbarnga, to adopt what the Sirleaf-led administration dubbed vision 2030– a document filled with “what if” hypotheticals that are supposed to propel Liberia into becoming a middle income country by the aforementioned year. Like Mr. Buffet, the principal architects of the said vision were all senior citizens–no pun intended– who probably might not be around to see said “vision” (if it is ever implemented verbatim). This mirage is like one’s granny promising to get them the most futuristic gadget and neither of them knows what it is going to look like.
There is a Liberian adage that says, “If Christmas is going to be good, one can tell from the eve.” Translated to mean, if the Ellen-led administration is serious about the future, the present problems confronting the country will be of paramount concern. The future of any nation can only be strong and possible based on the (socioeconomic) indicators of the present—which at this point the country remains a laggard. The administration has once again opted to waste meager resources on another futile venture. Remember the PRS? The people of Liberia are yet to reap the benefits of that initiative; but yet that alone did not stop the administration from building castles in the air. No country relies solely on an outside entity like the African Future Institute (AFI) to craft a “microwaved” version of a vision for its citizenry. Secondly, the national vision for the future of a country shouldn’t have been done in a hasty and incomprehensive time span, which even the architects’ themselves admit to.
Isn’t it puzzling that the President and her administration just thought it wise and necessary to craft a vision for the future in her second term? Does this presuppose that the president and her party took the helm of leadership without a vision for the country in the first place? Is the president now shifting the assessment of her second term on the success of this vision in 2030 when most likely she will not be around?
The doubt and cynicism many Liberians feel towards this mirage stems from the fact that, the Sirleaf-led administration has been very crafty in misleading the Liberian people with fanciful and exotic nomenclatures that never seem to materialized into actual policies that will alleviate their sufferings. National visions are not crafted in a vacuum; they are based on tangibles which in turn lead to future projections. For example, what are the probabilities of Liberia becoming a middle income country by the year 2030?
We invest less in education–vocational and formal–which is the sine qua non for advancement in today’s globalized world. How probable is this vision of a middle income country; when the conditions necessary to foster real economic growth (i.e. national security) remains illusive? The national vision speaks of a “knowledge based economy” but there has been no serious attempts to focus on education under the Sirleaf government. Matter of fact, the country spent less than five percent of GDP on education. Humorously, the scenarios profess a shift from “the current resource-based development model to a model that is knowledge-based, open to strategic intervention, and supportive of social capital development.” What is the reality of advancing to a knowledge-based economy when we have a fundamentally bankrupt educational system?
Socioeconomic growth usually comes about in a stable and secure environment where businesses and citizens alike are confident to engage in economic activities. Unfortunately, the government of Liberia is ignoring this necessary pre-condition of national security that could hamper all of the grandiose promises in the vision 2030 document. In a few months time, the United Nations Mission in Liberia is expected to be drawing down it presence in the country; it is puzzling how oblivious and mundane the Sirleaf-led administration seems to be about the possible impacts of said withdrawal on the nation’s security sector.
While we try to prod ourselves from these dystopic predispositions, the share indolence of Sirleaf-led administration leaves us angst as to the sincerity of the razzamatazz that took place in Gbarnga. In the absence of a well trained army and paramilitary apparatus—which are all pressing problems currently–the administration continues to purport winsome economic projections, when the very essence of these projections is predicated upon the robust nature of the security sector (i.e. a stable environment). Because there can be no economy recovery is the midst of chaos. Investors are not going to invest in a country that is volatile and seemingly unsafe.
As UNMIL gets ready to reduce its presence in the country, a certain reality is starting to set in. Liberia remains a volatile polity with a fragile peace. Against this back drop, couple with the duplicity of the current administration in terms of youth empowerment, education and corruption, the probability of a relapse looms imminently if corrective measures are not taken. Vision 2030 can only be plausible base on the progress we make today; however miniscule that progress may be, it behooves us and our government to continue striving to alleviate the suffering of the masses through the maintenance of a stable security environment, a robust market economy, a vibrant educational system and a descent healthcare for our people.
President Kennedy once said “…progress is whether we provide enough to those who have too little…” If we ought to use this threshold as a fair measure of progress, one can see that the disparities within our society are uncalled for given the opulence of the nation; hence progress (and by extension vision 2030 and its core objective of a middle income country) remains an ambiguous illusion.
Percy Harris: firstname.lastname@example.org