Daisy Post 4 – Liberia’s Progress and Low Hanging Fruit

As mentioned in the previous post, the term “cheetah,” in regards to Africa’s leaders, refers to those who are future-driven and progressive in their actions.  Africa’s cheetah generation is generally known for being positive, optimistic, and determined to make great changes and developments to the entire continent.

One of the most prominent cheetahs in my focus country, Liberia, is the group called United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  The organization was created in 2003 to help combat the issues of human rights and civilian safety that were especially devastating to the country during the civil wars in Liberia (1989-2003).  The two civil wars killed around 250,000 Liberian civilians and completely destroyed the country’s law and order and justice system.  The purpose of UNMIL is to establish groups of peacekeepers (military, police, and regular civilian volunteers) that set out to protect the law and the people, in order to uphold human rights and generally bring peace – something which Liberia’s government was not previously able to do.

The mandate of UNMIL is made up of four primary tasks:

  • Protect the civilians from violence (in co-ordinance with the Liberian authorities)
  • Support the reform of the justice system
  • Carry out the promotion and protection of human rights of Liberians, especially towards women and children
  • Protect the people and equipment of the United Nations

Once these UNMIL peacekeepers had been working for several years and created what looked to be a better community, the leaders of the group slowly transferred more power over to the Government of Liberia by decreasing the number of these peace-keeping individuals in the organization.  The transition of power from UNMIL volunteers to the Government of Liberia is supposed to have been complete by June 30, 2016, but no update has been posted yet on the transition.

Additionally, according to Freedom House‘s democracy and freedom rating scale, Liberia is doing alright compared to majority of Africa, but not great compared to neighboring countries.  Liberia scored 61 on a 0-100 scale, meaning the country is classified as “partly free”, similarly to surrounding countries (see figure below).  On a 1-7 scale, Liberia scored 3 in political rights, 3.5 in freedom, and 4 on civil liberties.  Although they do not score very high in political rights and freedom, the 4 in civil liberties is notable.  I am interested to know if this increase in civil liberties is a direct result of the work of UNMIL.

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-5-26-29-pm
Liberia is the area shaded in dark grey.

Additionally, according to the Polity IV Project conducted by systemicpeace.org, Liberia is ranked as a 6-9 (democracy) on the scale from -10 (autocracy) to +10 (full democracy).  The two sources seem to agree that Liberia is partially free and is considered a democratic society, but that there is still room for improvement in the country.

As mentioned in the book Poor Economics, there are some “low hanging fruit” health opportunities in Africa that are not being addressed.  Health is a major issue among poor communities, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  The authors of the book, in conjunction with some of Jeffery Sachs’ concepts, present some seemingly simple fixes to some health issues in these areas.

Firstly, Banerjee and Duflo discuss the incredible importance of bed nets to provide protection against malaria.  They mention that, according to Jeffery Sachs, “People would be sick less often and be able to work harder, and the resulting income gains would easily cover the costs of these interventions and more” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  Additionally, the Poor Economics authors say that one study conducted several years ago in the southern US and some parts of Latin America concluded that a child who was raised malaria-free would earn up to 50% more per year in their adult life (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  An investment in a bed net that is effective for about five years costs just under $15 (PPP).  The return on this investment over a child’s entire work life can be enough to buy a lifetime of bed nets and still have money left over!

In addition to the bed net distribution, another great health investment is the general access to clean water and sanitation.  Banerjee and Duflo write, “A study concluded that the introduction of piped water, better sanitation, and chlorination of water sources was responsible for something like three-fourths of the decline in infant mortality between 1900 and 1946 and nearly half of the overall reduction in mortality over the same period” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  Diarrhea is a huge issue that is prevalent and potentially fatal among children, and this investment in proper water piping and sanitation practices (ie. toilet usage, bathing rooms, etc.) could reduce this condition by 95% (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  It is assumed by most poor families that the cost of such a household system is exponentially high, but in reality, the cost is only about $4 per household – a number that is quite easy to manage for most.  However, even if some impoverished families argue that this price is too much to pay for their basic health, cheaper methods of sanitation are available, such as the use of chlorine to sanitize water sources.

The usage of chlorine for sanitation, bed nets, and even simple vaccines, medicines, and breast-feeding are all considered “low hanging fruit” opportunities simply aren’t taken advantage of by communities as much as they should.  Even with reductions in prices for some of these already cheap solutions, poor people have other priorities and intentions when spending their money.  The authors conclude, “the ladders to get out of the [health] poverty trap exist but are not always in the right place, and people do not seem to know how to step onto them or even want to do so” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).

References

Banerjee, A. & Duflo, E. (2011).  Poor Economics.

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