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Infrastructure of peace
– by Heinrich Plote
© Männchen, GTZ
Infrastructure is in a sorry state, even in the capital
Over 200,000 people lost their lives during 15 years of civil war in the West African country of Liberia. The UN negotiated a peace agreement in 2003; and some 16,000 members of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) are keeping the peace today. When the presidential elections were held in 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank economist, beat footballer George Weah.
Nonetheless, Liberia’s economic situation remains dire. Approximately 85 % of the people do not have a job in the formal sector. With a per-capita income of less than $ 250 a year, the country is one of the world’s poorest. The electricity grid and water infrastructure have been completely destroyed. During the civil war, qualified people left the county. Many young Liberians never went to school.
On top of that, the country’s mountain of debt grew to over $ 3 billion in the years of violence. Over half of this sum has since been cancelled. Germany, for instance, erased $ 300 million. The remaining debt of $ 1.4 billion with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank, however, drastically restricts the government’s room for manoeuvre in terms of economic policy-making.
Since the president took office, Liberia’s economy has been growing fast at eight to nine percent annually. However, the base is the very low one of a totally ruined country. The challenges remain huge; and the population, which is severely traumatised by war, needs psychological assistance.
Johnson-Sirleaf wants to rebuild Liberia with foreign investments and support from international donors. Her government has been following an “Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy” since last year, with the four pillars of
– economic revitalisation,
– good governance along with the rule of law and
– infrastructure and basic services.
Infrastructure is of central importance. Traffic routes, energy and water supply and effective telecommunications make up the base for crucial services to resume in the health and education sectors. Without such services, neither the standards of living nor peace itself will stabilise. Therefore, during her visit in October 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged support for rebuilding Liberian infrastructure. Even in Monrovia, the capital city, infrastructure is in a dismal state.
Germany’s development agencies are working towards resolving such problems. In cooperation with GTZ, for instance, InWEnt will support road building by running advanced training programmes in private companies in the construction sector as well as the employers’ association. It is urgent to improve roads. The national network used to be of 10,000 km. According to the Ministry of Public Works, a fraction of only 2600 km still existed last year. Only
60 % of that network was considered suitable for heavy-goods traffic, while 20 % was said to be totally impassable.
Liberia’s most important sources of foreign exchange are the shipping register and the export of tropical timber, diamonds and rubber. Of course, natural resources must be exploited in an environmentally sustainable manner if the development is to be for the long-term. Achieving that will be impossible without smooth-running logistics on roads that link harbours and towns.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon takes a similar view. Before the UN Security Council, he stated in March: “Liberia still faces significant reconstruction and development challenges, including pervasive poverty, food insecurity, high unemployment, massive illiteracy, poor infrastructure and the inadequate delivery of basic services, including potable water, health services and education.”