THE MAGAZINE

Liberia's Success Story

By John Barham

Liberians went wild when Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected as the war-weary country’s president in 2005. Her victory marked the formal end of a cruel 14-year civil war that had killed about 200,000 people and had turned Liberia into yet another African failed state.

Although Liberia is still desperately poor, it is no longer a basket case. The credit for this is due to Johnson-Sirleaf, a former banker and World Bank official, who has rebuilt the state from the ground up and installed women in positions of power, because she believed they would be less corruptible or prone to violence than men. She appointed women to run the ministries of commerce, finance, and justice. Five of Liberia’s 15 county superintendents are women.

The result of their work can be seen in cold, hard numbers in the World Bank’s annual survey of world governance. It analyzes data from 35 sources to measure factors such as accountability, participation, political stability, government effectiveness, and control of corruption.

Accountability in Liberia has risen three-fold since 2004. Political stability is still shaky, but it’s still 50 percent higher than the year before Johnson-Sirleaf took office. Government effectiveness is poor, but it has risen by a factor of 10. Control of corruption has improved from negligible levels in 2004 to where Liberia now ranks fifth out of 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with one being least corrupt.

The same pattern of steady improvement applies across much of Africa. However, for every success story, there is often a disaster, such as the collapse of Zimbabwe. Once relatively prosperous, Zimbabwe now ranks among the worst-governed countries in the world, together with Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, and Burma.

In practical terms, the progress means that Africa is a little less dangerous, a little safer to do business in, and a little more prosperous than it was.

Fund for Peace, a Washington D.C.-based NGO, also analyzes and measures political risk. It has developed a proprietary software that analyzes statistics and news reports from around the world to devise an index of failed states. It ranked Somalia—a haven for warlords, crime gangs, and terrorists—as the most dysfunctional state this year. It was followed by Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Chad. Iraq placed fifth. Seven of the top 10 failed states are in Africa. Liberia ranked 34th in this year’s index. In 2005, it came ninth.

“We think corruption is the most critical measure of state failure. Corruption becomes possible because of state failure. Corruption is a cycle that brings countries down. Corruption means the state loses legitimacy,” says Krista Hendry, a senior associate at the Fund for Peace.

Multinational corporations and international development agencies are working to strengthen anticorruption and governance in the developing world, she says. Foreign investment goes to countries with stronger governments, where rule of law protects investor rights. Respect for the environment, human rights, and anticorruption controls are part of this pattern of good governance, says Hendry.

Comments

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