Four years after the civil war ended in Liberia, and with the first female president in the continent, Liberia has received much positive attention for its development efforts. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently received the Medal of Honor from the U.S. White House and the UN has tagged Liberia as one of its “successful” peacekeeping missions (UNMIL). This past week was my first time in Monrovia, and I was pleasantly surprised at the magnitude of construction that was taking place throughout the capital and the number of foreign investors flowing through the hotels. But a closer look illuminates the fact that most of the visible construction is going towards complexes that demand rent far above what the average Liberian can afford.
Unemployment and illiteracy rates are at eighty percent. We have read that the older generations are more educated than the young, school-aged, generation. We heard during our time there that many Liberians are frustrated as they are not yet experiencing any benefit from the country’s growth. Despite this, taxi drivers we spoke with all expressed sincere satisfaction in the work of their president and acknowledged the importance of being patient with the reconstruction of their country: “destroying is very easy, but rebuilding a country, it takes time…” Billboards abound educating the population about rape, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, reconciliation efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and fighting corruption. Education up to the age of 6 years old is now free and the President is known to be working hard to eradicate corruption in the government.
Cautious optimism is what I left Liberia feeling. President Johnson Sirleaf seems to be investing in the right things – long-term development – and Liberia is heading in a positive direction. But the immediate needs of the average Liberian is not being met – employment, electricity, education… there is a sense that the peace is still very fragile.