With rigorous economic research and practical policy solutions, we focus on the issues and institutions that are critical to global development. Explore our core themes and topics to learn more about our work.
In timely and incisive analysis, our experts parse the latest development news and devise practical solutions to new and emerging challenges. Our events convene the top thinkers and doers in global development.
Supporting Liberia's Reconstruction and Development
This work has now concluded.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's inauguration as the President of Liberia in January 2006 marked a watershed in the country's tumultuous history. Twenty-five years of corruption, misrule, and civil war under Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, and successive interim governments had left Liberia in ruins. President Sirleaf, the first African woman to be elected head of state, has energetically set the country on a new course, putting accountability, transparency, good governance, and economic opportunities for all Liberians at the center of her agenda. CGD advised President Sirleaf as she prepared to take office on issues ranging from debt relief to donor relations.
Former CGD Senior Fellow Steve Radelet and others from the Center advised President Sirleaf and senior members of her administration in December 2005, the month before she took office. Their work included aid coordination, aid quality, debt relief, poverty reduction and growth strategies, capacity building, and civil service reform, among other issues.
CGD support to the Liberian government also included helping to arrange the Scott Family Liberia Fellowships. From its launch in 2007 to its end in 2010, the Scott Family Liberia Fellows Program provided an opportunity for five or six young professionals to work for one year as special assistants to top officials in Liberia. The program was funded by a generous $1 million contribution from the family of CGD chairman and co-founder Edward W. Scott, Jr.
This level of engagement in a developing country is unusual for CGD because the Center's primary focus is on improving the policies and practices of the rich world towards development. In addition to being of use to Liberia, the relationship provided CGD with a unique opportunity to observe the complex interactions between donors and a developing country in the early stages of recovery from conflict.
Edward W. Scott Jr., the founding chairman of the Board of the Center for Global Development, recently visited Liberia together with members of his family and a group that included CGD board member Belinda Stronach. It was Scott’s first visit but far from his first involvement with Liberia. In 2006, after listening to Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf outline the challenges she was facing in rebuilding the country following 14 years of civil war, Ed offered to provide her with some special assistance aiming to finance a need she would identify that most conventional donors would not support. After consulting with CGD senior fellow Steve Radelet -- who has been assisting President Sirleaf as an economic advisor since her election in late 2005 -- on options to be considered for this special assistance, he decided to sponsor a select group of highly trained young professionals to serve in Liberia for one year as special assistants to members of Liberia's Cabinet. The program is called the Scott Family Liberia Fellows program. Its first group included three Liberian expatriates and three young professionals of other nationalities. This first group of fellows began working in Monrovia in June 2007. The program is now in its second year and has grown to 16 Fellows with four additional sponsors (the Open Society Institute, the McCall MacBain Foundation, Humanity United, and the Nike Foundation).
In advance of Liberia’s Independence Day on July 26, CGD director of communications and Lawrence MacDonald spoke with Ed Scott about his first visit to Liberia.
Q: What impressed you most?
A: The extraordinarily high quality of the senior governing team, from the president and the cabinet ministers to their subordinates. They are very savvy and totally dedicated to rebuilding the country. President Sirleaf has been able to attract back to Liberia members of the Liberian diaspora who have been very successful in other fields—investment banks, major corporations, research, and other fields.
Q: What is it like to be on the streets of Monrovia?
A: So much was destroyed by the war that even with strong and effective leadership, recovery is extremely slow. People say it’s improved a lot but compared to other cities in Africa, the contrast is dramatic. While it has been five years since the actual fighting stopped, Monrovia still has not been put back to any kind of level that one would call “normalcy.” There is hardly any electricity from the public grid, and virtually no public water. The public buildings are a wreck, hotels are a wreck, and there is garbage everywhere. Everything that can be broken is broken. The resources being put at the disposal of the government are so limited -- Liberia’s entire national budget is just $200 million -- so they have little choice but to crawl out of this mess in baby steps inch by inch.
Q: How would you describe the attitudes of the people that you met?
A: There is clearly a desire for peaceful forward motion. Almost everybody I met spoke about their hopes for peace and development. You have the impression that this is a country that has all the ingredients necessary for a major successful rebound, maybe even to a better status than before the war. The population is relatively small. The quality of the governing group is very high. They have an abundance of natural resources -- iron ore, timber, diamonds, rubber -- plus the ship registration business that they have had for more than half a century. There is absolutely reason why the country shouldn’t thrive again.
Q: In your view, what’s the biggest single challenge that the country faces?
A: The large number of young people, basically ages 15 to 30, who have never been to school because of the war and in many cases are illiterate and cannot do simple arithmetic. These people need jobs and income but are not trainable to do anything because they cannot read or write. Liberia has a teen and adult literacy program, but it’s not adequately funded. It’s just crazy that the official donors have not invested more money into this and other educational and “make-work” programs that could reduce the risk that Liberia will sink back into conflict.
Q: I would have thought that donor money is pouring into Liberia. Isn’t that the case?
A: Some is, but a large amount is tied up in World Bank, IMF and foundation mumbo-jumbo. For example, Liberia was just a few points short of qualifying for an MCA (U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp.) grant. Why didn’t the US administration just say “screw it!” and give them the grant!!? With the right support, Liberia can be a model of how the rich world can help to pull a well-deserving, well-governed country out of post-conflict chaos. Several years after the end of the civil war, some European countries still refused to support debt relief for Liberia because of bureaucratic hurdles. This is now changing, but the process has been slow.
Q: Give us an example of the sort of program you think the donors should support right now.
A: Take the simple task of cleaning up Monrovia. There ought to be a "make-work" program to clean up every single piece of trash in the city. This could have a five to ten year time horizon creating jobs that would give people hope. The psychological boost of having the city trash-free would be tremendous. In the meantime those employed in this “make-work” program could be given baseline literacy education and some skills training. Few would disagree with this kind of approach, but donors won’t fund it because it does not fit their model of funding only projects that they see as central to long-term sustainable growth. My response is that if the 85 percent of the society that is unemployed and mostly unemployable decide to take up arms again and resort to violence because they are despondent and without hope, then you won’t have to worry about “long-term sustainable growth.” It’s completely irrational.
The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), the latest phase of debt reduction for poor countries from the World Bank, the IMF, and the African Development Bank, will come close to full debt reduction for at least 19 and perhaps as many as 40 countries. Debt relief proponents see it as a momentous leap in the battle against global poverty. CGD research fellow Todd Moss argues that actual gains in poverty reduction will be modest and slow.
A Report of the Commission for Weak States and US National Security
Terrorists training at bases in Afghanistan and Somalia. Transnational crime networks putting down roots in Myanmar/Burma and Central Asia. Poverty, disease, and humanitarian emergencies overwhelming governments in Haiti and Central Africa. A common thread runs through these disparate crises that form the fundamental foreign policy and security challenges of our time. These crises originate in, spread to, and disproportionately affect developing countries where governments lack the capacity, and sometimes the will, to respond.
These weak and failed states matter to American security, American values, and the prospects for global economic growth upon which the American economy depends.
In this new CGD working paper, CGD senior fellow Steve Radelet explores the challenges Liberia faces in revitalizing economic growth after 25 years of gross economic mismanagement and 14 years of brutal civil war. He examines the new government's progress, including the major steps it has taken in its first 18 months and the unique way that it has organized government-donor relations. Based upon patterns of post-conflict recovery in several other African countries, he suggests that Liberia's recovery is likely to proceed in three phases: an immediate phase driven by aid and rebounding urban services; renewal of traditional natural resource-based activities; and, finally, processed products and other goods and services that can compete on global markets. Radelet writes from a unique perspective: he is serving as an advisor to Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Does aid to Africa undermine the emergence of a robust African middle class? If so, what can be done about it? In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall argues that high and unpredictable aid flows could be making life harder for Africa's small and medium-sized businesses by, for example, inflating wages and making governments less reliant on domestic revenue—and hence less accountable to taxpayers. She urges that donors systematically monitor such impacts in aid-dependent countries and suggests ways that aid could help to bolster Africa's crucial but fragile middle-income groups. Learn more
Bill Easterly calls Moss's new introduction to Africa "compulsively readable and accessible" and "a masterpiece of clear thinking." Each chapter is organized around three fundamental questions: Where are we now? How did we get to this point? What are the current debates?
This new collection of essays sets an agenda for increased American effectiveness in dealing with failed states to promote economic development and international security. It includes an overview of the poorly understood challenge of weak and failed states and case studies by regional policy experts, then offers recommendations for reform of U.S. foreign and development policy to better meet the challenges posed by weak states.
In this new working paper, CGD Research Fellow Stewart Patrick urges analysts and policymakers to look more deeply at the links between failed states and global threats such terrorism, weapons proliferation, organized crime, and global pandemics. He then provides the tools: a framework for determining which types of states are associated with which dangers.