Yes, indeed, this is the Republic of Liberia or the Republic of Monrovia. The city is bustling, expanding into the suburbs with an estimated population of 1.5 million people or half of the nation’s population of another estimated 3.7 million. Modern, 21st century, cut-throat capitalism is at play in the over-crowded, pot-holed street markets all over the city and environs, along Somalia and UN Drives, and the major markets at the mighty Red Light, ELWA and Duala/Caldwell Junctions.
Almost all of the young merchants and street peddlers (they constitute an estimated 60% of the city’s population) were born here in the shanty towns in the city area to parents who fled from the villages during this age of urbanization and conspicuous consumption to seek education and economic survival in Monrovia.
Then there are the automobiles – cars, trucks, container-trucks, gasoline tankers, NTA and mini-buses, taxicabs, the new, motor-cycle sensation, etc., etc. They dare not venture into the rural counties because there are no safe and well-kept roads and highways. As the result, there is the great volume of pedestrian/vehicular traffic congestion, a nightmare that makes driving your Toyota 4Runner not only un-attractive, but also very dangerous. Besides, it is likely that you will get to your destination sooner walking than in a motor vehicle!! This brings us to the Topic of this article as the introduction to our next story to be entitled “What is wrong with Liberians?” Watch and do not miss it!
Now, according to the Paper, “Who, How, When, Why: The Establishment of Liberia”, US President Ulysses S. Grant, in 1873, demanded payment of an over-due and payable loan of $46,807.81 from the Republic of Liberia. The Liberian President, then Joseph Jenkins Roberts, pleaded for debt forgiveness because the Republic did not have the funds with which to make the payment. Thereupon, the-then US Ambassador accredited to Liberia, His Excellency J. Milton Turner, declared that “Liberia was infected with the economic disease of ‘. . . continual consumption without production . . .” This was 26 years after Liberia became a sovereign state.
Liberian Foreign Debt
Our national, foreign debt, the Paper reported that “when . . . Tubman took over the presidency of Liberia in 1944, the national debt was $1.2 million. In 1962, it rose to $108 million. By 1971 (at the time of President Tubman’s death at a London Clinic) when (Vice) President Tolbert took over, Liberia’s national debt was $317 million, while debt financing consumed 23% of domestic revenue”. At the time “when President Tolbert was removed in 1980, Liberia’s national debt was $515.9 million, and the Doe Administration pumped it up to $1.1 billion”.
In today’s language, “continual consumption” is “conspicuous consumption” without production for export, in the case of our country.
Continuous/conspicuous consumption of Imports without Production for Export
After 165 years of national independence and sovereignty, we remain a nation of profound, unquenchable thirst for continuous/conspicuous consumption of goods and services that we do not produce nor provide. For example, visit our line ministries and agencies of government, including the Port of Monrovia, LPRC, LPMC, National Oil Company, Central Bank of Liberia, National Investment Commission, National Maritime Authority, National Security Agency, National Police, National Elections Commission, Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization, etc., etc. and you will find, lined up, hundreds of thousands of automobiles – all makes, flashy, top-of-the-line, expensive, luxury models – sold to us at exceedingly, inflated prices; but we have no national, all-weather, paved roads or highways for these vehicles to ply. Therefore, the vehicles’ useful, life-expectancies are limited to new purchases, new costs – new imports!! Moreover, the City of Monrovia, the seat of our Government, is a very small peninsula with more, exponentially-increasing, automobile and human traffic than it can hold safely and reasonably.
Then there are some 100-, 200-, 300- and 400-KVA, electric generators – gasoline or diesel – that supply electricity for 10-12-24 hours per day to these agencies. Furthermore, foreign-owned and operated hotels, restaurants, business-houses, residences, diplomatic missions and those of us (Liberians who can afford it) buy and install electric generators to provide private, electric power, with overhead, water tanks that pump water by electric power. Meanwhile, the majorities of city dwellers, nation-wide, live in darkness or by kerosene or candle light (a potential and often fire hazard) without pipe-borne, safe, drinking water. Some residents, who, in relative terms, can afford the expense, buy electric power from foreigners and enterprising, Liberian entrepreneurs who, very often, lack the capital, management experience and relevant, professional competence for efficiency and safety. Is it not, therefore, effective and efficient – the optimal use of scarce resources at the least, possible cost – to combine all of the mosaic of disjointed, inefficient, and costly service into a single, manageable, cost-effective scheme for service to the general public? Disappointingly, our Mount Coffe Hydro, extensively looted of its equipment, is sinking or has sunk into the great beyond.
For a face-to-face confrontation with our unquenchable thirst of continuous, conspicuous consumption of imports, just take a tour of the streets of central Monrovia, Red Light market in Painesville, Vai Town, Duala, Logan Town, Somalia Drive, VOA Junction in Brewerville, the major, Import/Export Trading Houses in metropolitan Monrovia, and in our County Capitals, nationwide, to note that we buy everything imported, from building materials, furniture, household appliances, etc. and clothes – women’s body-hugging, stressed jeans, panties, bras, hairpieces, etc. to men’s jeans, t-shirts, underpants, shirts, western suits, shoes, etc.
You will also note that young peddlers – men, boys, women and girls – dart aggressively between and among heavy, automobile and human traffic, selling chewing gum, biscuits, car seats bras, plastic slippers and perfumes, commodities that we do not make.
Price Inflation & the high Cost of Living
This condition – the demand for more and more imports – explains the phenomenal rise of general price level or inflation, including the cost of imports, denominated in foreign currencies – US dollars, British pounds, EU euros, German marks, French francs, etc. To satisfy this unquenchable thirst for imported goods and services, we must, and do, demand more and more of these foreign currencies. Now, in economic reality, the more and more a commodity is demanded by consumers, the more and more the price of that commodity rises. The foreign exchange rate being the price paid in one’s local currency for the given, foreign currency, therefore, we have to, and must, dish out more and more Liberian dollars for one unit of foreign currency, US dollars in our case, for example.
“Thus”, we observed elsewhere (Now that We printed new Liberian Banknotes, June 2001) that “we have seen and experienced that from a three-Liberian-dollar to one-US-dollar, exchange rate in 1989, the exchange rate now (in 2001) stands at 64:1, in favor of the US dollar and rising” and has, in fact, risen to the present (2011) 72+:1, in favor of the US dollar. “In other words”, we noted further, that “the Liberian consumer now (2001) pays a great deal more than twenty times for the same quantity and quality of goods and services bought in 1989; this prevailing condition (2001) raised the cost of living while, simultaneously, holding income constant at the depreciating or depreciated, Liberian dollar value; thereby, depreciating, also, or drastically reducing consumer buying power; a triple, economic tragedy!!!”.
Liberian Food Security
With respect to food, we buy imported rice (according to press reports, the Ministry of Commerce announced that Liberia, a nation of less than 4 million people imports, annually, $50 million of rice), our staple, cooking oil, orange/pineapple/tomato/grapefruit juices and the list goes on and on, although we have more land – with lush greenery, rain, water and daily sunlight for energy – than people.
We can grow, produce/process for export such tropical food products as rice, corn, cassava, potatoes, plantain, banana, eddoes, palm oil, corn oil, processed palm butter, bitter balls, egg plant, pawpaw, cabbage cucumber, onions, peanuts/peanut butter, leaf lettuce, processed cassava leaves, potato leaves, collard greens, palava sauce, fish and fish farming, raise goats, cows, cocoa, coffee, poultry/poultry products, etc., etc.
Developing, Encouraging Liberian Business & Entrepreneurs
If 1.7 million, Liberian customers (according to Lone Star Communications), more than half of the nation’s population of less than 4 million, can manipulate and navigate, successfully, the cell phone device, which functions much like the computer, it is reasonable to believe and conclude that the interested, motivated and determined, average Liberian businessperson has the natural, intellectual competence and capability to organize and operate a business successfully. All that he/she would need is understanding with support and economic/management advice, based on our local, peculiar, socio-cultural conditions, in terms of capital formation, loan packaging and collateralization.
Our Traditional, Liberian Attire
Reference to our Liberian, traditional attire, it can be said that it was after the 1980 Event and, particularly, during our Peace Process travels to many African, capital cities, that Liberian leaders and trends-setters became conscious of the dignity of our African or Liberian, traditional attire – the elegant, colorful, flowing gowns with various, African, artistic designs for men, as opposed to western, Brooks Brothers or Botany 500 suits; and the classic, also elegant, Lappa Suits of similar color and designs, for women as opposed to western, skin-tight, body-hugging dresses with see-through, push-up bras. Now, there is a young, Liberian businessman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, who markets Liberian, traditional clothing and what he promotes as “made in Liberia”.
Finally and more importantly, the Liberian President, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has added a touch of class, dignity and symbol of approval to the classic, Liberian Lappa Suit that she had worn and continues to wear proudly at national/international gatherings.
Do forget to read the coming article, what is wrong with Liberians”?