PRO-POOR AGENDA: NEW TASKS OF RURAL ECONOMIC REFORM IN LIBERIA

Just as it is necessary to revise ideas about Liberians so also is it necessary to reappraise the duties which the government performs. The panorama of Liberia is moving fast. The aspirations of the Liberian people have changed. Economically, the reformers among the CDC Leadership want more enlightenment, better health, good education, higher levels of living and uncompromised justice for the poor families.


The meaning of all this is that ordinary Liberians are becoming more and more concerned about their material welfare. Regrettably, a majority of politicians in our country enter public service for the primary goal of getting rich at the detriment and expense of the poor. This poses significant challenges for rural economic reform in Liberia. What the CDC Government does therefore must reflect, and be in keeping with this new trend otherwise time, effort and money will be sunk in schemes which poor families won’t look at.

Among the fundamental and, or basic things which government can do to that end are the following: The training and promotion of subsistence farmers and entrepreneurial activities among the less privileged sections of the community; launching community development projects for women and youth empowerment; Raising living standards so that majority of rural families can enjoy a better intellectual and cultural life; reduction of inequalities in incomes, wealth and economic power between the “have and have-not”. Enforcement of better conditions of work in the public and private sectors and the principle of equal pay for equal work for both Liberians and non-Liberians, men as well as women; maintenance of stable prices throughout the entire country; promotion of a sense of purpose and participation among grass root communities; and among other most important economic objectives of rural economic reform.
The need to train subsistence farmers and businessmen arises from the realization that the key to higher standards of living in the initial stages of economic development is greater productivity in the agricultural sector and that lasting and sustainable economic development requires that Liberian farmers should be brought into the orbit of an exchange economy not only as laborers, but also as entrepreneurs. Past governments emphases have been on the training of field Assistants to take up jobs in the agricultural sectors. As for businessmen, there have not been any national facilities and equipped institution(s) at all for their training in entrepreneurship. What is most required now, if national incomes are to increase, it is the training of farmers and entrepreneurs as both employees and employers.

The objective should be to train men, youth and women who will go in the rural areas and establish themselves as independent modern farmers and retails businessmen, participate in commerce and trade, and establish small-scale industries. In this task, religious organizations can play a vital role in the training process. Most of them have educational institutions which could be expanded or reorganized to include such training facilities. And it is most probably that government would subsidize such schemes.
The idea of community development grew from the somber observation that contemporary scientific and technological advances which had done much to improve the material welfare of urban population, had scarcely affected the lives of rural population. Community development is a challenging, exciting new concept in Liberia. This concept should capture the imagination of the youths, nurses, teachers, social workers, agriculturists, architects carpenters, engineers, and whatever their professional field or career. Community development as a concept is a process designed to create conditions of economic and social program for the whole community with its active participation and the fullest possible reliance upon the community’s initiative. However, those organizations and institutions who feel strongly on community development and take keen interest in this kind of work must expect to work in co-operation with the government. This co-operation must be welcomed as it might prove to be one of the most effective means of building mutual confidence between the stakeholders and the less privileged sections of the community.
Rising living standards in effect means raising the incomes of those people who are already in employment and bringing employment to the under-employed and under paid. These in turn mean building a modern economic infrastructure, modernizing agriculture, industrializing the economy and developing mineral resources with value addition. Economic infrastructure entails the underlying amount of physical and financial capital embodied in roads, railways, waterways, airways and other forms of transportation and communication plus water supplies, financial institutions, electricity and public services such as health and education. We are all quite aware that the level of infrastructural development in a country is a crucial factor determining the peace, reconciliation and diversity of economic development.

Reduction of inequalities in incomes, wealth and economic power between the have and have ¬¬¬- not requires various measures. Inequalities in incomes can be reduced by effective fiscal measures, especially accountability of government spending, fighting unemployment and inflation and access to credit for subsistence farm families (without reducing the incentive to work and save) to level off the income scale and economic development efforts designed to increase the income of those persons who are at the lower end of the scale. Disparities in wealth and economic power can be reduced by the co-operative form of ownership.
Enforcement of equitable conditions of work involves passing humane factory laws that will prevent bad labor practices; strengthening the trade union movements by appropriate legislation (without prejudicing economic development objectives); requiring employers to provide better living conditions for their employees; legislating against industrial color-bar; and enforcing the principle of equal pay for equal work for all regardless of socio-economic class.
Maintenance of stable prices demands that government should take the necessary measures to prevent and to check current inflationary pressure so that the rise in the real incomes of the low-income families is not swallowed up in rising prices.
Furthermore, promotion of a sense of purpose and participation among the poor families requires: Popular nationalistic leadership dedicated to economic and social modernization; a mass nationalist community development programs in each of the fifteen counties; and initiation of youth-based community development projects in which the rural-poor families can participate. To this end, an efficient network of dialectal media of mass communication through which to pass pro-poor information, messages, and news to the grass root families is absolutely essential.
In addition to the above economic objectives, the pro-poor agenda must also address itself to some basic social challenges. There are two types of social challenges; those which relate to rural populations and those which follow in the wake of industrialization and urbanization. The latter type includes prostitution and concubine, the instability of most marriages, juvenile delinquency, and appalling living conditions. The former type refers mainly to the negative effect of introducing an exchange economy in subsistence economy and challenges brought about by the migration of rural poor families to industrial areas. Here again, those who feel strongly on rural development and take keen interest in pro-poor rural economic reform must co-operate with government. Indeed, the new tasks of rural economic reform are such that collaboration of all stakeholders is inevitable. Remember, no challenge can be solved unless its causes are known. So, one of the first tasks of those who would tackle the above socio –economic challenges is to analyze the challenges carefully in order to determine their causes in more precise terms.

Once the causes and effects are known, the task of removing and dealing with them in the reform process is not only relatively easy but also quite engaging. Co-operation with the government, as pointed out earlier, is absolutely essential, as a matter of fact, there are causes such as the un-necessary imbalance and disparity between low-income and high-income families, which can be gradually removed only by government policy actions. In the face of Liberia’s continue poverty and decades of wasted potential for progress, it should be one of the duties of civil society organizations, the media and the general public to call upon the government to take necessary and practical action and remain committed for the attainment of the pro-poor agenda, economically. Hopefully, such commitment will take greater root in our current politics than concern for the success of our leaders’ wallets.

TOM NIMELY CHIE is Associate Professor at the Cuttington University & Professional Studies, Monrovia-Liberia. He can be reached at
Email: tomnimelychieul@gmail.com
Mobile Contact: +231-886-569-200

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