30 June 2011

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Growing the Private Sector in Liberia

Speaking to the Center for Global Development, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spends her twenty minutes discussing the importance of growth in Liberia. In the talk she explains that the end of poverty cannot be reached if a nation is not growing. For that reason, she outlines why the private sector is vital to the continued growth of Liberia.

In the end, she sums up what success will look like by saying. "Goal number one...If we continue on the path with the investment we have, and we open up the economy, and our capacity proves our infrastructure is expanding; in 10 years, Liberia will not require foreign assistance. We have to do it and I'm convinced it can be done."

The fact that Sirleaf aims to end foreign aid in Liberia in a decade will get the most notice, but two other things stood out to me. First, she jokes that she will not have to worry since she will not be around to see through the goals that have been set by Liberia. This indicates that Sirleaf, at this point, not only has no intention of spurning the constitution's two term limit, but sees herself out of office. Considering the way that many African leaders have held onto power, that is telling and promising statement.

Second, is her focus on foreign investment and private sector growth. The two drivers that have become a favorite for some leaders have been the government and foreign assistance. Sirleaf does not discuss either and lays out a plan to eliminate the latter.  By changing the discussion, Sirleaf is making an appeal to an entirely different set of actors to participate in Liberia's economy.  A leadership that is open and inviting to investors should be attractive to those looking for opportunity to invest in growth opportunities in Africa.

If Liberia can achieve all of the goals set forth by Sirleaf, then aid has been a success in the country. It provided the necessary support to allow growth to the point that it is entirely self-sufficient. J. wrote on Tueesday "aid cannot and will not fix anything" and I think that he is right.  However, aid can be a part of supporting development. It is why I write time and again on the issue of aid effectiveness and donor communications. Aid projects that do not work or are harmful to the development of nations should be fixed or eliminated.  The pressure is now on NGOs in Liberia to do everything they can to put themselves out of work in the country in 10 years.