Liberia: a virginity that was De-flowered

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A Miner’s Canary Into the 21stCentury

(Essays on Economic Governance)

By Ivor Agyeman-Duah




Chapter One

Liberia: A Virginity that was De-flowered

Chapter Two

South Africa: Between Sainthood and Philosophy of Kinship

Chapter Three: Facing Mount Kenya

Chapter Four

Rwanda: The Beautiful Mountains of Kigali

Chapter Five

Ivory Coast and Ghana: A Re-visitation of the West African Wager

Chapter Six

Mauritius and Seychelles: Small is Beautiful



By the first decade of the twenty-first century in January 2011, I had travelled extensively around the world. I had been to all continents, and in some I visited a number of countries. In Africa I had visited 20 countries of all geographic sizes--as big as Nigeria, as medium as Ivory Coast, and as small as the Seychelles Islands. If Africa was in a way going to claim part of the century as the so-called last frontier of development, the first decade was important then; important in the sense of seeing and feeling.

But it was also not an innocent decade—first there was the food crisis partly engineered by the rate of population growth in Asia; close to a decade drought in Australia, a world supplier of wheat, and the increasing price of oil and the production of bio-fuel using food crops. Since food is essential everywhere, shortage affected sectors of many economies.

Secondly, there was the financial crisis, its genesis being the inability of people to pay back loans contracted in the sub-prime mortgage sector (loans to even unemployed borrowers without any collateral or security) in the United States. Investment banks and mortgage brokers had devised complex and artificial mechanisms to keep the housing boom on course. Banks would fall,Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers in the lead, between 2008 and 2009 and the shift to Europe starting with the Northern Rock (and the aftermath of almost weekly demonstrations in Italy, Spain, Britain, Ireland and Greece against austerity measures in the last quarter of 2010) would not be long in coming as well as the consequences of Asian investment in especially London restaurants and other European capitals. These were economies that were integrated and the consequences changed the debate and policy implementation of the global financial architecture.

Of the many important books published within the period two were remarkable and reflective of the contentious debate of the moment, whether Africa was relevant or otherwise in the unfolding global events. The first, Fareed Zakari’s The Post American World (2008) had argued about the ‘empire-ness’ of American dominance in especially post-Cold War world. Though he does not subscribe to America’s economic, military and cultural decline as some critics make of the emergence of China, India and some of the G20 members, he explains that, it is other countries that are emerging in the light of global economic growth against the tight of technology and other processes. Africa and its role is a footnote in his analysis. The second and probably more favorable analysis, to at least African affairs constituents, is Gordon Brown’s financial history of the decade published in 2010 as Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization. He is the first leader or ex-leader of a major economy to have devoted a chapter in a memoir to Africa in recent times of what he had done and what could still be done as the continent cannot be ignored for good or evil in the resolution of global crisis.

Africa, with limited integration in the global economy, could not escape the fall-out in terms of short-fall in billions of dollars of transnational remittance from nationals abroad, Aid, bilateral assistance as well as the multilaterals ( the World Bank and IMF) shifted attention to the European crisis. The continent still grew averagely between 4.5-5%. Some beyond this to 7 %. The figure was impressive and many pointed out quiet rightly that the growth was in specific sectors like the divestiture of dysfunctional state telecommunications, mining and increasing discoveries of hydro-carbons. These were and are still the sectors that connect to global interest because of their common economic integration value.

To someone travelling around that period, the consequences of the changing times again registered in the decline of the aviation industry through low traffic of flight reductions across Europe, Asia and Africa. Thus, there is no way Africa’s first decade of this century can stand in isolation of macro and micro analysis into the future because what affected it was not solely what was decided there or what happened there.

I had done these travels as a writer and later as a diplomat who served in his country’s two important missions- Washington, DC and London where many of the multilateral policies that affected Africa in diverse ways were formulated. But I had also done work in international development and at least considered myself to have a fair idea of how societies and cultures move towards development of many types.

Before January 2011 I worked with former President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana during (?) his eight year presidency, serving as his special assistant on international development co-operation . His presidency was very eventful. Domestically, he had done some good things with the economy- interventions in social, health and education sectors which had changed for the good the indicators – (GDP per capita, growth rate which had temporarily hit 7.2 percent by 2008; lowered interest rates at the banks and because of reforms in the sector brought competition from re-located banks from Nigeria, South Africa, Libya and elsewhere with which a modern economy is measured with). In fact his government had been right that the size of the economy was bigger than had been estimated and that the GDP was at least three times more than the $15 billion estimate. A re-basing done by the Ghana Statistical Services and the multilateral institutions in 2010 would confirm this and put the economic size at 40 billion thus an attainment of a lower middle economy status. But many Ghanaians would still tell you that they see little or no change in their lives whatever the figures say.

But he had, like all leaders, his low moments in governance, driven by questionable policies which became fodder for sometimes petty opposition politics. If the balance sheet is drawn, adding aspects of his his international relations profile, he will be credited for maintaining - good neighborliness (Ghana is bordered by Burkina Faso to the north, Ivory Coast to the west, Togo and Benin to the east, and Nigeria further east. All but Nigeria were former French colonies. They had from the 1970s experienced leadership challenges which got worst with the civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast by the 2000s) and peace-building . Whilst president of Ghana, he co-currently became the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, the chair of the African Union with the latter been particularly sensitive . His performance in these unions- mediation in the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia and his setting up of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities chaired by Kofi Annan that finally resolved the impasse in Kenya’s post election violence in 2007 had been appreciated. Not since the days of Nkrumah in the height of his Pan-Africanist stance had another Ghanaian leader had such accolades.

But the beauty of his exit from power as constitutionally mandated was to the international community less to do with his achievements since Ghana like many of the African countries that were doing well was still poor. It had everything to do with not interfering with the final results of the 2008 elections in which his former foreign affairs minister, Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo lost. Addo in the first round of balloting was leading with over 120,000 votes but that was not conclusive enough to give him victory. Surprisingly, when the next ballot occurred three weeks after, he was in vote deficit necessitating a third, a process unseen in the electoral politics of Africa before. The elections which could easily had led to another civil war in the eyes of the international community were also partly due to his tacit.

This recognition was reflected in his post-presidency international portfolios and engagements- from within Ghana and outside to assignments of the United Nations. Whilst he was president, I had been part of some of these travels. I had done a book of him, Between Faith and History: A Biography of J.A. Kufuor and had also been invited by The First Magazine ( to do a biographical essay on him) which with the Chatham House, published a commemorative edition to mark the award of Chatham Prize given to him by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007. He is someone I am therefore very familiar with- personally and in other capacities.

There was also the Interpeace- a peace-building organization based in Geneva which previously had strong attachment with the United Nations in fact, a baby of the UN operating in 17 countries around the world. For years, the former President of Finland and the 2007 Noble Prize laureate, Martti Ahtisaari was its governing chair. Scott Weber the Director-General of Interpeace persuade Kufuor to take over the chairmanship from Martti after he had done nine years. In between these major assignments was the one-off invitation from across the world- from inaugurating the annual lecture series at The Legatum Centre for Entrepreneurial and Development at MIT, Boston, to Ground Health Issues at Cornel University to Brazil .

As I travelled on many of these, I kept a diary to keep memoirs for a future historical construction. I decided that I will limit these to Africa. This book is therefore raw materials of personal encounters with players- African leaders, statesmen, politicians, economists and those who shape events and their implication on the people of Africa. It’s partly observation in meetings, contributor to policy discussion and as a reporter sometimes.

Six countries are covered - Liberia, South Africa, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mauritius, Seychelles and Kenya. These are different countries with different histories and cultures but reflecting the geographical map of the continent. Their economies are those of small islanders like Seychelles to those of medium size like Ivory Coast and of course the only emerging economy in Africa- South Africa.

Liberia in West Africa is a small English speaking country of 4million people. Though it was never colonized it has had a long association with the United States- slavery and return under US sponsorship of former slave descendants- Americo- Liberians to the motherland. The returnees, in one of the greatest ironies of political unfairness ‘colonized’ the natives and created a ruling class and division that would later bring about a prolonged civil war in Africa.

South Africa has a unique history of British and Dutch domination. Independent in 1910? it underwent apartheid or racial habitation until after liberation struggle by the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and to a lesser extent, the Black Consciousness Movement led by Steve Biko which helped to kill the system and the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994.

In the Chapter, Facing Mount Kenya for instance, I discuss one country with two economies- the Nairobi economy- modern and one of the few to have capital markets in post-colonial Africa long before its plural emergence in parts of the continent. I examine whether this functionary economy gives the type of growth that is broad based and not class induced; the other –more deprived and rural is inhibited in its growth by cultural attitudes. This is partly so because of the type of public policy encouraged by the country’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta.

Rwanda in Central Africa and the Great Lakes region was colonized by the French and the Belgians. It became independent in 1962 as an insignificant country in the affairs of the world but, a genocide in April 1994 against the small but the powerful Tutsi ethnic group which eliminated in months nearly 1million people brought it to world fame. It has since done interesting things for itself and gained the respect of the world. And then the Ivory Coast, the world cocoa producing ware-house and west Africa’s second strongest economy built by its France –loving, like all Francophone anti-colonial leaders of the 1960s, Felix Houphouet-Boigny who ruled for 32 years. The story of post-colonial state building in West Africa has always and fairly so, presented a scenario of Ivory Coast under Houphouet- Boigny and Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah- two countries with similar economic profiles- leading cocoa producers, coffee and other minerals and commodities as well as sharing historical and cultural practices. The artificial boarders divided its Nzeam ethnic group in two countries; the Asantes of interior modern Ghana whose ancestry go as far as Yamoussoukro, the home city of Houphouet-Boigny. I have compared the two countries which chose two post-independence development models and the consequences thereof.

In the last chapter, I looked at Mauritius and Seychelles, two small island countries which before the independence of Seychelles in 1976 was one country. With a population of 1.2 million (as at 2007) people as compared to the 90,000 of Seychelles, it is obviously the better of two economies in terms of global outlook. How it depended on nothing but services and its textiles industry is stimulating.

In the main I looked at contemporary leadership and how that kind of leadership has been or unable to create socio-economic development. Even that is broad for a work like this so it gets narrowed down to: growth in the dominant sectors of the individual economies and how they propel other drivers. There may be a bit of political economy here and there, revisionist history along the line, a portrait of a country and leader or other personalities to illustrate points and arguments or even to show off the human capacities of societies and people but the theme running through are: political leadership/ ruling class and socio-economic progress or otherwise.

A big emphasis however needs to be made. The comments and views expressed here, apart from direct quotations, are mine. They do not represent those of other people or travelling party.

Ivor Agyeman-Duah


January 9 2012.


  1. Zakari, Fareed, The Post-American World ( London: Norton, 2008).

  2. Brown, Gordon, Beyond the Crash-Overcoming The First Crisis of Globalization (London: Simon &Schuster, 2010). For his arguments on Africa see Chapter 10.


The flight was going to be long but I had planned for it. It will take a total of 16 hours to get to London from Seoul via Dubai . Three days after, we make another 6 hour journey from London to Accra. In between I planned completing, This Child will be Great,1 the memoirs of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the first woman president of any African nation- Liberia. It was not the fact of it that attracted me to her and the book. That she is a tough politician and a freedom fighter registered on me in the late 1990s. She had granted an interview to a distinguished Ghanaian journalist, Cameroun Duodu who was Africa editor of London based South magazine.2 Duodu like Johnson was in self-imposed exile in London. She had also left Liberia and was the assistant administrator and director of the UNDP regional Bureau for Africa. She had refused to lobby African ambassadors in Washington, DC and New York to support her application for this position. At the end it was not the powers of the lobbyists, she had argued that would determine whether she would be able to perform well. She wanted the job on merit. She got it. But the South magazine had introduced her as a former finance minister of Liberia, the first woman again in Africa to hold such public office position, President of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment, Vice President of Citi Bank’s Africa regional office Bureau in Nairobi among other accomplishments rare, in the profile of successful women then and now.

But it was in reading this book on the long flight that the inner understanding of her dawned on me. If you marry at 17 against parental advice; had two baby boys within two years of marriage and before mid-twenties two more, it is likely that teen-age development- education, career prospects and dignity have passed you by. You think and behave in your teenage status like an adult because you have triple jumped the process. Worst if you are also the victim of husband severe abuse – verbally and physically such that you are forced to have another love relationship to draw back your sanity even as the abusive husband has not formalized the dissolution of marriage. But gloomy as these were, she still made it, passing through business school at the University of Wisconsin and studying public administration at Harvard University. She has argued in this book that such incidents, including been born into an upper class home and later slipping back to where the majority of Liberians belong, working class, because of the death of her prosperous father, the self-taught lawyer who had entertained the ambition of been the Speaker of the legislature, shape lives of people and indeed they do. The father, she tells us, led a fast life and loved women greatly contrasted with a prayerful mother, whose ancestry were partly German and hence her own light complexion. But it was in defying the rebel leader and later illiterate military president, Samuel Doe whose government she had highly discredited internationally and worst of all meeting and having discussions in the bush in the company of highly drugged rebel soldiers, Doe’s challenger and currently International Criminal Court victim, Charles Taylor somewhere closer to the border between Ivory Coast and Liberia that spells her perhaps ordained audacity. She could have been killed.

I was happy going to Liberia to meet her. When we got to the Roberts International Airport (named for the first president of the country) on September 8 2010, it was my second time of visiting this west African country of 4 million people. The journey to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Mamba Point Hotel, a decent three-star hotel for a post-war country was smooth; the motorcade ensured that we were there faster than usual- passing by the best areas within the city- law courts, the embassy buildings and in front of the famous Executive Mansion; a monstrous edifice with low architectural designs which made it name as the official government / president’s office. It was here the late first military leader of the country, Samuel Doe, was attacked and killed by the rebels of Johnson. The destructive effects of war registered on all these facilities, including roads though frequent visitors agree that much had been recovered in rehabilitation terms in the last five years. Sirleaf had refused to use the Executive Mansion because it had been damaged during the war. When after some repairs she attempted to hold meetings with international guests and other African Union presidents, an electric trip almost burnt it . The international guests had to be taken away. She had since been using two floors of the Foreign Affairs building as offices till a better time when she would renovate the Mansion at close to 20 million dollars.

We were welcome to her floor by a lady secretary who ushered us into a waiting room as she took over the pleasantries from protocol/ security looking gentlemen. Kufuor of course is welcome prominently and told that, “the foreign minister will be with you shortly.” Two other nice looking women appeared beaming with smiles. I hear Kufuor murmured jokingly to one of our team members, Bernardo Arevalo de Leon, a Director at the Interpeace Office in Geneva and a former minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala , “All well for gender balance.” Soon the foreign minister, a middle aged beautiful lady with a low grey hair cut in a Senegalese looking long dress appears. In dignity she goes strong to Kufuor who had gotten up for her embrace with all of us standing. “ Welcome President Kufuor, good to see you again.” And then she turns to the rest of the team shaking hands. She excuses herself and within two minutes is back after a pep talk with Sirleaf whose office was just a door or two away as it normally is when you see ready security detail. Olubanke King-Akerele, the foreign minister asked that the rest of the team be taken to the board room as she sat and had a word with Kufuor. We did – three of us- Bernardo, James S. Shilue, country manager of Interpeace in Liberia and me sitting at the right side of the board table . Few minutes later, we knew that Sirleaf had joined the two of them through laughter and greetings - with the security standing some five or so meters only out of eye shot. King-Akerele and three other senior public officers later joined us at the table sitting at the opposite side.

“ Good morning all of you” Sirleaf announced as she entered with Kufuor. Elegantly dressed, looking younger than the photos tells us of this 73 year old lady. Far shorter than I ever assumed she was; wearing a trade-mark African and specifically Liberian traditional head wrap matched with a broach in similar colors and well-tailored cloth. She sat, as did Kufuor with the rest following.

“ Well, good afternoon again, Madam President “ Kufuor began. He went on to explain how he got into the work of Interpeace and the fact that it operates in 17 countries around the world including Palestine, Guatemala, Somalia, Kenya and in Eastern Europe. It started with the name of War Worn Societies of the United Nations in 1994 for which Sirleaf acknowledged in familiarity as she was in the system at the time.

The ceremony itself was meant to be simply, for Kufuor to formally present to her a year’s work of Interpeace in Liberia, Peace in Liberia- Challenges to Consolidation of peace in the Eyes of the Communities.3 It was studies which had been made possible with funds from the UN peace building and supported by the United Nation Project Offices.

Over 10,000 Liberians in the 15 counties have expressed their opinions on various national issues and this had been compiled to help the government’s policy formulation. Listening attentively, Sirleaf looked impressed. Shilue took over from Kufuor to explain the methodologies and other processes used to arrive at the consensus. He was happy they got a lot of support from her Ministry of Internal Affairs and other arms of government. And here Sirleaf face brighten, for she had not known much about the project but if sectors had collaborated efficiently, then she thought that was a good measure of decentralization.

The report was not something that should be new to government but it had professionally been packaged to make it a policy consideration. The key issues are: land and property disputes, local governance, rule of law and security, discrimination in citizenship/differences in identity, ethnicity and religion/cultural practice and the last unemployment and access to resources.

Of the five the most troubling had been the issue of land. The exercise was extensive- covered the 15 counties and 59 districts. 273 urban and rural communities were visited. The sample view could be representative especially on the land issue. People run and leave their lands and other valuable property when there is war. Recovering or re-possessing them after could be a hell. And many of the cases reported in the report are about boundaries of agricultural land: boundaries between individual properties in a community; boundaries between communal lands; boundaries between private-statutory-and communal-traditional-titling; boundaries between communities and administrative districts and even between counties.

Sirleaf listened attentively to these as she had discussed some in Chapter 19 of her memoirs, Some Challenges Ahead. She has particularly discussed the issue of double sale of land and even set up a lands commission of a sort to resolve some cases.

Yet at the end of Shilue’s presentation, she remarked, “this is a very good summary of the report. It means I will not have to read all of it. I am happy that the government participated in this.” Then turning to Kufuor she said, “ Mr. President, I can assure you that we will take this report to the Cabinet as a working document.”

That was refreshing for it is not at all times that reports get to the attention of governments let alone considered as a policy . The clout of a former African leader talking to a sitting one was instrumental. More so when like Kufuor the leader helped with electrification of the capital as part of re-construction efforts. But it will be a while to know whether some of the recommendations were followed through.

One thing I wanted to accomplish before we left. I presented her with a copy of Between Faith and History 4 which she was delighted to receive and gave to one of her assistants as a reading material on her September visit to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. I also wanted her autograph a copy of her memoirs which I held in my hands and which might have surprised her. I bought it in South Africa. “ That is nice.” She said. But there was a dilemma here, Kufuor also wanted a copy of the book. One of her assistants dashed to her office but could not readily find one but Sirleaf signed my copy told me, “It is good you are working with my brother President Kufuor but I am signing this one for him even though you bought it. You have to find one for yourself.” I agreed. And she was complimentary, “ To President Kufuor for your contribution to the development of Ghana and Africa.”

As we left I fell into a short discussion with King-Akerele, who like the Minister of Commerce , Agriculture, Finance, Youth and Sports, Gender and Development and other high ranking women appointees had been plunked from the international multilateral system . She had been with the UNDP for 25 years working in parts of Africa including Zambia and the Seychelles.

But Liberia’s reconstruction has been the challenges of their lives. Unlike the systems they left behind they were to re-build the ones that confronted them. They travelled a lot. They depended on their international contacts a lot. Without that how do they re-solve the numerous deficits-half the population exist on less than 50 cents a day; over three-quarters lived on less than a dollar; an illiteracy rate of almost 70 percent and of unemployment, 80 percent in the formal sector. More seriously a larger percentage of those with jobs being young men whose only skills are as combatants. To complete the malaise, the debt portfolio was $4.7 billion to the World Bank, the IMF and other donors. They would later go Highly Indebted Poor Country Country (HIPC) to take advantage of non payments on interests on loans from the Bank.

Impressive as the credentials of the presidency is, a nation needs more than the best of its elite, the talented tenth, as W.E.B. Du Bois would describe them and demand of the African-American leadership in the civil rights era in the United States of the 1960s. Sirleaf has determined that only the best human materials in Liberia would be used in the re-building process. She had deliberately enacted laws to this effect and to promote the growth of women professionals and protect the vulnerable against domestic abuse, rape, discrimination and lack of access to capital.

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