Guest Post by Leo Hindery, C. Payne Lucas, Jerry Climer: Liberia – The Perfect Foreign Assistance Test Case


clintonsirleaf1.jpgThe authors were members of the HELP Commission which in December 2007 made recommendations to Congress for the reform of U.S. Foreign Assistance. Leo Hindery, Jr. is chairman of the Smart Globalization Initiative at New America Foundation and a media industry executive; C. Payne Lucas is the co-founder of Africare, and Jerry Climer is president of the Public Governance Institute.
As Secretary of State Clinton wound down her tour of Eastern African nations with a visit to Liberia, she saw firsthand an important case study for her newly announced “Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review” (QDDR), which will in the future periodically examine all of the recipients of U.S. foreign assistance and make detailed assessments of their all-of-country long-term humanitarian and development needs.
When Liberia, a Tennessee-sized country of 3.2 million people, emerged in 2005 from 14 years of devastating internal warfare, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf assumed leadership of a country with no electricity, few intact buildings and almost no roads, no prior schooling for an entire generation, no trained police force, and less than $100 million a year in government revenues.
Now just four years later, as the beneficiary of significant foreign assistance since 2005, Liberia is one of the African countries friendliest toward the United States and the developed world and certainly the one most willing to proclaim those friendships. Numerous donors are now committed to helping Liberia, including the U.S. which is currently Liberia’s single largest government donor.
But even though there is economic progress visible almost everywhere in the country, Liberia is still one of the poorest African nations with an average life expectancy of just 44 years. And Secretary Clinton saw, also firsthand, that there is still not enough money in the long-term foreign assistance pipeline to complete the country’s restoration. Nor is there a sufficiently large foreign commitment to equally important non-monetary assistance, especially for leadership training and good governance initiatives.
Until there are significantly more capital assets in place and expanded partnerships with foreign donors, NGOs and overseas companies and agencies, Liberia will not have large-scale sustained development. And this is precisely the purpose and value of the QDDR, for as the prominent development economist Paul Collier discovered, it is often better not to provide any assistance to developing countries with recent violent pasts, than to provide an insufficient amount.
The QDDR was put in place both to fill the knowledge gap of how much assistance is enough and to help refute those naysayers, in Congress and elsewhere, who continue to deny the imperative of foreign assistance. But down the road, QDDR’s most important result may be helping Liberia and other stressed countries rid themselves, once and for all, of the overhanging “conflict traps” that Collier also identified.
A conflict trap is the dangerous reality that just “the experience of having been through a civil war roughly doubles the risk of another conflict” and that continued “low income and slow growth make a country [especially] prone” to such recurrence.
The solution to Liberia’s particular conflict trap will be found mostly in creating productive jobs and in gaining stability and safety through large-scale police training and civil institution building. These are no small tasks, but each represents areas in which foreign donors are especially adept.
As Senate-appointed members of the 2005-2007 U.S. Commission to “Help Enhance the Livelihood of People” (the HELP Commission) and from other experiences, we have had many opportunities to assess conditions on the ground in Africa and we know that addressing needs of the scale still confronting Liberia is a monumental challenge.
Consider just electricity.
Right now, the only power in the entire country comes from a few personally-owned generators and a tiny 10-megawatt public utility in the capital city of Monrovia that together produce only about 20% of the country’s needs. The only potential large-scale source of electricity, which is a dam on the St. Paul River, could, with the help of the donor community, be repaired in a few years time. And yet when finished there would still be none of the transmission lines, billing systems or payment mechanisms needed for even the most modest national grid and distribution system.
This challenge is just one example of what the QDDR process is all about, and why the HELP Commission in its final report recommended implementation of just such an initiative.
Development and diplomacy are critical steps toward a safer world, and when Liberia’s QDDR is complete, it will be obvious to everyone that this country – which is so important in Africa and so entwined with our nation’s early history and own civil war – must never be allowed to slip back into lawlessness. Importantly, the specific amounts, manner and time frames of the foreign aid that’s needed into the future will be just as apparent.
— Leo Hindery, C. Payne Lucas, and Jerry Climer


15 comments on “Guest Post by Leo Hindery, C. Payne Lucas, Jerry Climer: Liberia – The Perfect Foreign Assistance Test Case

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    Forgive me the late comment. Liberia was founded with the purpose of being an American colony. Its aims were always supposed to be influenced with close ties to American development. Similar to the the Monroe doctrine, but like all such colonial models, it imploded under the weight of corruption.
    It sheds the scales of one regime and has a new one develop the same depth of corruption. The endorsement of Sec. Clinton is a boon for development. Gradual changes, with an accompanied fiscal superstructure, could accelerate some great comparative gains in the short and long term.
    Do we make these sister states into examples, or allow them to arrive the same ends while improving the region around them as a whole?
    Much of Amb. Wilson’s former work tasked such items. It really seems that staying ahead of the curve vs. terrorism is to address the fundamental concerns of potential failed states. That, or elevate emerging members of the surrounding community.


  2. JohnH says:

    If President Sirleaf has her wish granted and receives an Africom military base, maybe the Americans can even torture detainees in Liberia! Meanwhile convicted Liberian torturer Taylor would continue to rot in jail. Wouldn’t that be really sick irony!


  3. samuelburke says:

    from paul craig roberts over at counterpunch…
    Even as the US government was torturing people, the US government was prosecuting the son of Charles Taylor, the former ruler of Liberia, for torturing political opponents of his father’s government. The US government did not employ the Yoo torture memo to justify Liberia’s use of torture against those who wished to overthrow the Liberian government or commit terror against it. The US government’s position is that Liberia’s government had no right to use torture to defend itself. Only an “indispensable nation” such as the US has the right to torture people who are imagined to threaten it.
    I use the word “imagined” because approximately 99 percent of the detainees tortured by America were totally innocent people picked up at random or sold to the Americans by warlords as “terrorists.” (The US government offered rewards for terrorists, like the bounty offered for outlaws in the “wild west.” The result was that warlords in Afghanistan and Pakistan grabbed whoever was not one of them and sold their captives to Americans as “terrorists.”)
    According to Carrie Johnson, a Washington Post staff writer, on October 30, 2008, a federal jury in Miami convicted Charles Taylor’s son, Chuckie, of torture. Chuckie will be sentenced by the indispensable Americans in January for torture, conspiracy and firearms violations. He may spend the rest of his life in an American prison.
    While Chuckie’s trial was underway, the Bush regime was torturing people.
    The Washington Post writes that Chuckie’s conviction is “the first test of an American law that gives prosecutors the power to bring charges for acts of torture committed in foreign lands.” In other words, US law against torture applies to the entire world, to every other country except the United States. The hubris is unimaginable–no country can torture except the US.
    Anyone else who tortures gets life, or in the case of Saddam Hussein gets hanged by the neck until dead.
    Isn’t it great to be an American! Our laws don’t apply to us, only to every other nation. This is what it means to be the moral light of the world, the unipower, the salt of the earth.


  4. JohnH says:

    But doesn’t it just tear at your heart strings to read the delusions of bleeding heart liberals like Leo Hindery, C. Payne Lucas, and Jerry Climer? And this passes for informed commentary? What BS!!!
    You can get a better idea of US aims and ambitions, along with their dire consequences for Africans right here:


  5. Paul Norheim says:

    And if you look at the map, the distance between
    the US East Coast and Liberia is not much longer
    than to, say, Alaska. A short and very convenient
    route, both for wars and commerce…


  6. JohnH says:

    Military bases in Liberia? Could be. The US is shopping for a location for an Africom base to provide security for a region that is expected to account for 50% of US oil imports by 2015. This makes it West Africa more directly important to the US than the Middle East, which is important mostly because the US wants to of “protection services” to countries supplying energy to Europe, East Asia and South Asia.
    Funny how often (not always) oil can be found lurking behind the scenes in US foreign policy.


  7. Paul Norheim says:

    Or to insert itself between China and West-African
    There is plenty of oil in the region, and China/USA
    are rivals. This rivalry may in the future become
    intense – for example during an Arab oil embargo,
    or war in the Middle East. Perhaps US military
    bases in a friendly Liberia could become useful?


  8. JohnH says:

    Hard to explain US interest in Liberia–unless iron ore is regarded as a strategic resource. If so, the US definitely wants to insert itself between China and Liberian iron.


  9. ... says:

    interesting stuff samuel… wonder when bush gets put on trial for war crimes? i guess having close connections with the cia is indeed helpful after all, especially if they think they can use you for some work they need done…another ‘success’ story from the bowls of the usa…


  10. says:

    In 1989, the Americo-Liberians rose up to take their country back. Charles Taylor, born of an American father and a Liberian mother, had spent ten years in the United States, graduated from Waltham College, in Massachusetts, and worked as an auto mechanic. Active in the anti-Tolbert student opposition, he returned to Liberia when Doe took power, and went to work for the government: after being accused of embezzling $900,000, he fled back to the U.S., was captured and held for extradition. But he managed to escape from jail – reportedly by sawing through the bars – and made his way back to Africa, where he and 150 well-armed and trained men launched attacks on Doe’s forces
    PARIS — Charles Taylor’s career from rebel leader to Liberian president, diamond dealer and despotic warlord, still holds many mysteries. But this week in a court in The Hague, where he is on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he seemed eager to lift the veil on one of them.
    George Osodi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
    Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia.
    Taylor Calls War Crimes Charges ‘Lies’ (July 15, 2009)
    Times Topics: Charles G. Taylor | Liberia
    Part of the lore surrounding Mr. Taylor is that he broke out of jail in Plymouth, Mass., while awaiting extradition on charges of embezzling $900,000 in Liberia. He told his judges that he did not escape on his own; rather, he said, he was helped by the Central Intelligence Agency.
    The plan, he said, was for him to join a Liberian military leader, Thomas Quiwonkpa, who was plotting a coup against President Samuel Doe. Mr. Taylor said he was “100 percent positive” that the C.I.A. was providing weapons for the plot.


  11. samuelburke says:

    this was written in 2003…
    the plans are dusted off and we pick up where we left off.
    this is by justin raimondo…
    Liberia was founded, not by freed slaves, but by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an uneasy coalition of slave-holding Southerners and moderate abolitionists who believed that blacks roaming free in the U.S. could only mean trouble. So they determined that the best course would be to ship them back to Africa: exactly the position taken today by white supremacists.
    My evaluation of the Liberian crisis and its inherent intractability is based on the only other prominent example in modern times of the unique problem posed by a settler colony: Israel. Aside from the obvious differences, the similarities are striking: the founding of Liberia was motivated, in part, by the concept of a return to the land of one’s ancestors, a reclaiming of what had been lost, and was, like Zionism, inspired by a religious messianism. The original colonists, inspired by the Great Awakening of the 1800s, were inspired to spread the word of God among the heathens, and the clergy was utilized for recruiting purposes. American blacks, like the Jews of the Diaspora, were scattered far and wide, and everywhere oppressed: Liberia, the “land of liberty,” would be a haven for a dispossessed people. This was the basis of the ACS’s support among Northern liberals, although the radical abolitionists – notably William Lloyd Garrison – were appalled. Rightly, as it turned out…
    Liberia was a mistake from the get-go. Any attempt to hold it together as a unitary nation is foredoomed to certain failure. In the crisis of the Liberian state, nature is merely attempting to correct a man-made error, and cannot be stayed from its inevitable course. No matter how many troops we send, and how much money is pumped into this misadventure, no reasonable amount of aid, time, and attention can solve the Liberian problem – which is the existence of Liberia itself. Dean prates about promoting “stability” in the region, but the entire continent south of the Mediterranean fringe is one great big disaster area. How long before we are prompted to take on the rest?


  12. samuelburke says:

    Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and former finance minister, has been publicly sanctioned for her past financial support of one of the country’s rebel groups.
    Liberia’s truth and reconciliation commission has also recommended barring Sirleaf and 50 other high-profile figures from public office for three decades for that support.
    Sirleaf, 70, acknowledged before the commission in February that she gave up to $10,000 to a rebel group headed by Charles Taylor, viewed by many as the chief architect of Liberia’s conflict. Taylor is now on trial for war crimes committed in neighboring Sierra Leone.
    Sirleaf, who was elected in 2005, has apologized and said the money she sent while an expatriate was meant for humanitarian services and that she was never a member of Taylor’s group.
    Liberia’s wars killed an estimated 250,000 and displaced millions. Liberia’s postwar government set up the truth commission, modeled on the one in post-apartheid South Africa, inviting both victims and perpetrators to retell their version of events.


  13. samuelburke says:

    A question of conscience. Who is now recruiting child soldiers and ex-combatants in Liberia and West Africa to fight in Iraq?
    I am the Senior Advisor to a small NGO, everyday gandhis, based in Santa Barbara, documenting and supporting grass roots peacebuilding efforts in West Africa, particularly Liberia. The organization was established by Cynthia Travis who co-directs it with her Liberian partner William Saa, an internationally known trauma expert.
    This is not secret knowledge in Liberia though it is not fully known in the US or may be obscured in its activities and implications. An article in the American Conservative March 8th. 2009 speaks of it: Blackwater (Xe) Scours War Torn Africa For New Hires –
    President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is doing what she can to stop the recruitment which is public, scandalous, and promulgated on the radio. Blackwater has been banned from Liberia – as announced in January 2009. We understand that it went underground and shifted to Sierra Leone but recruitment continues. Wherever it takes place, it is criminal activity that is dangerous to world peace.


  14. ... says:

    … the beneficiary of significant foreign assistance since 2005, Liberia is one of the African countries friendliest toward the United States and the developed world and certainly the one most willing to proclaim those friendships. Numerous donors are now committed to helping Liberia, including the U.S. which is currently Liberia’s single largest government donor….
    i am hopeful these aren’t “military” donations, or money donations with imf, world bank strings attached… if it is this, i would like this to be written up differently with the proper wording and me skeptical.


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