Some in Congress want to cut US development aid. They should consider Liberia and its remarkable progress since a brutal civil war. This week's election shows the country is a work in progress, but American aid has helped improve Liberian health, literacy, law, and the army.
As Liberians trickled to the polls in a presidential run-off election yesterday, this war-ravaged nation’s remarkable transformation is best summed up by the contrast between its two most recent presidents:
Former President Charles Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity while his successor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, will accept a Nobel Peace Prize this year.
President Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, emerged from yesterday’s election having secured a second term. Hopefully, she will be able to count on continued American assistance – unless Congress cuts development aid, as some members threaten.
True, Liberia’s latest marker of democratic progress also highlights the country’s continued fragility. Politicking, baseless allegations of electoral fraud, and one tragic death in pre-election turmoil sparked a needless voter boycott and carried headlines.
But without US support, Liberia – founded by freed American slaves – would never have gotten as far as it has.
Even more relevant is that Liberia offers an example of how well-designed US development aid can build strong partnerships and enhance America’s long-term security. This, at minimal cost and without putting US troops in danger.
Contrary to the mantra that development dollars are misspent, Liberia’s promising example demonstrates the impact of aid done well.
Less than a decade ago, Liberia was in the throes of a quarter century of societal collapse. It was seen as a hopeless failed state that presented policy challenges similar to those the US now faces in Somalia, Yemen, and parts of Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.