For more than a decade, this part of Western Africa was engulfed with one chaotic event after another. The country descended into a dungeon that no man would ever dare dream of entering. It was all in the name of freedom for the majority of the citizens who lived in absolute poverty, but whether their actions were in the true interest of the ordinary people whom they claimed to have come and free remains a mystery. The realities are very different from the gospel of liberation they preached and the level of backwardness the people encountered. Up to the present day poverty remains pervasive in Liberian society.
The 2008 census calculated that 68% of the citizens of Liberia are living on less than U.S $ 1.00 a day; a highly dehumanizing condition. Reports distributed by the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) say that living conditions have leap-frogged in the last four years. The Statistics House announced that the official unemployment rate of Liberia has declined from 85 % to 3.7 %. The Statistics House wants the international partners to believe that things are getting better in Liberia, when by any stretch of the imagination a huge majority of the people are living in poverty. College graduates are walking the streets and cannot find jobs, not to mention high school graduates. Proof of the desperation is demonstrated by the “Vacation Job” scheme started by the President Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The scheme was intended to offer ten thousand vacation jobs, but over twenty five thousand applied. As a result of the excess, the management of the scheme was in crisis and the end result was the cancellation of the entire process by the President.
Those defending the reports argue that 78.4% of the population have “vulnerable employment status”, which accounts for the huge decline in the unemployment rate. Their definition of vulnerable employment is “people who are self-employed on unsustainable jobs such as car loading, motor cycling and wheelbarrow riding among others”. How is it possible that a man who loads a car for ten Liberian dollars (less than 50 American cents) considers himself employed? Interestingly, here is how the International Labor Organization (ILO) Lawrence Jeff Johnson defines vulnerable employment; “We define workers in vulnerable employment as the sum of own-account workers and contributing family workers. They are less likely to have formal work arrangements, and are therefore more likely to lack decent working conditions, adequate social security and ‘voice’ through effective representation by trade unions and similar organizations. Vulnerable employment is often characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and difficult conditions of work that undermine workers’ fundamental rights”.
With the definitions above contextualizing the Liberian scenario, one does not need a rocket scientist to realize the utopian state of the report. Looking through Mr. Johnson’s argument, it is noted that vulnerable employment is intrinsically connected to poverty. A decline in the unemployment rate in Liberia suggests that we are better off than most of our neighboring African countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast as well as some of our international partners. Now, according to the CIA, Ghana’s unemployment rate stands at 11.2 %, Nigeria stands at 21%, Botswana stands at 7.5 %. But these countries have better infrastructural development and comparatively better economies. Botswana is seen in Liberia as a success story of economic development, and Liberia has been adopting many Botswanan strategies like the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, a national development policy of consultative participation which involves rural citizens. This report, however, is informing us that we are economically better than Botswana, what a mirage!
Liberia is still struggling with infrastructural development. Farm to market roads remain a struggle for local farmers. By all calculations in keeping with the living conditions of the people, this report is not only intended to misinform the office of the President but also to mislead the opinion of foreign partners who are making contributions towards the growth and development of Liberia. This report should be rejected as it stands and seek validation before being distributed to major local and international stakeholders. Misleading public documents that work to mask rather than unveil the situation on the ground mislead public policy prescriptions and cause damage.
This article was was written by Joe Wilson. It originally appeared on International Political Forum, the home of politically engaged young people around the world.