Liberia Country Profile 2010-2011

 

The UN peacekeeping operation in Liberia (UNMIL) is being presented as one of the world organization’s success stories, and the country’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, is still well regarded in the international community. However, when we look behind the facade, we find a number of problems and challenges related to security, corruption and continued conflict between representatives of several of the country’s 16 different groups of people.

The standard of living and security of ordinary people has improved since the UN returned to Liberia in the autumn of 2003, but much remains to be done. Within the security sector, reforms have been pursued so quickly that they lack democratic as well as local anchoring. Youth unemployment and underemployment are of enormous magnitude, especially among former combatants. The many unresolved issues related to land and other rights conflicts have been largely ignored.

This is the situation one year before elections in the country will again be held in 2011. Economic growth of 8 percent in 2008 may seem impressive, but most of this is a result of the reconstruction of the capital Monrovia after the war. It is not generated domestically, but is driven by aid.

Rights-based conflicts

The old conflicts over land and trade rights still characterize Liberia. So far, neither Johnson Sirleaf nor the international community, including the UN, has done much to address these issues. Nor did the election result make it easy to address these issues. Although Johnson Sirleaf won a superior victory over her opponent in the second round of elections in November 2005, former professional footballer George Weah, who represented the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), did not make her own party, the Unity Party(UP), it especially good. And since she was elected to the presidential office in January 2006, Johnson Sirleaf has not been able to establish a permanent coalition around her and her politics, but has largely ruled on a case-by-case basis. Prior to the 2005 election, Johnson Sirleaf said she would only sit for one term, but that promise has now been withdrawn. Instead, she argues now that there is so much undoing that only she can get done.

In the run-up to the election, it will be exciting to see if Weah and the CDC make another attempt to challenge Johnson Sirleaf. Weah still has a high status in the Liberian population, especially in the youth. If he manages to mobilize the youthful segment of the electorate, he can become a formidable opponent of Johnson Sirleaf.

Youth and work

The youth problem is part of the rights-based conflicts between different groups of people. In the countryside, there have traditionally been older men from ruling lineages who have controlled the two most important factors of production, land and labor. But the Civil War partially turned this down, when young men with guns could suddenly challenge the authority of the elderly.

After the Liberian civil war, over 100,000 former combatants were demobilized. The disarmament and demobilization itself were implemented relatively effectively, but the same did not apply to reintegration and rehabilitation. Most of the former combatants are still unemployed or underemployed, and it should now be made possible for young people, and especially young men, to have access to their own land so that they can produce for both consumption and sale. This is possible, but will mean that the older men still sitting in control of land in the countryside must be willing to let go of the control.

Security sector reform

Security sector reform in Liberia has two main components: the establishment of a new national army and a new national police force. This was part of the Liberian Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2003. The United States, along with other international players, was asked to take responsibility for forming a new Liberian army. However, the US government transferred this responsibility to DynCorp, a private security company. Democratically, this process is very questionable. Neither the legally elected Liberian government, the country’s legislative assembly, nor the civil society have had any influence on the establishment and organization of the new national army. In accordance with the contract, DynCorp is only liable to the US authorities. In fact, the Liberian Ministry of Defense claims that they have not even seen the contract that DynCorp is working on.

Given the history of Liberia, where the military apparatus has rarely or never protected the population, but rather posed a significant security threat, this does not contribute to popular support and legitimacy for an institution to represent the state’s monopoly on the use of force. Should the situation recede in Liberia, it is not difficult to imagine that this could be a major problem.

The degree of democratic control of the establishment of the new police force has been somewhat better, but here too there are a series of challenges. First, it became necessary to lower staff requirements to reach the target of a strength of 3500 men and women. Most of the business has been concentrated on the capital, Monrovia, and in more peripheral parts of the country, people still live in a security vacuum. Little has been done to ensure that the new police officers receive a living wage, and many of them must perform small, corrupt acts to meet their living conditions. The result is that many Liberians believe that the new police force is not much better than the old one.

Again, it seems that the international community’s emphasis on efficiency and rapid solutions means that instead of building something that is qualitatively new and better, it ends up patrolling central community institutions that were totally corrupt when the war ended in 2003..

Anti-Corruption

Anti-corruption has also become an external responsibility. For example: The Director of the Liberian State Bank is required to have all decisions of an operational or financial nature signed by an international expert selected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These types of measures may be effective in the short term, but unless the international community plans to permanently put Liberia under financial administration, other ways of holding accountable Liberian politicians and bureaucrats must be found.

According to Digopaul, Liberia has been relatively peaceful since 2003. The question, however, is what will happen when the UN and the international community really begin to pull out. Will the Liberian state be able to fill the void that arises and create good democratic institutions? Or will the country lurch towards an uncertain future?

Country facts:

Area: 111 369 km2 (39th largest)

Population: 3.8 million

Population density: 34 per km2

Urban population: 60 percent

Largest city: Monrovia – approx. 1 million

GDP per capita: USD 219

Economic growth: 7.1 percent

HDI Position: 169

Gabon

Today, Gabon appears as the country that has everything but is unable to take advantage of its rich resources. The country has large oil revenues, which could have been used to a greater extent on infrastructure, schools and health services. They have vast forest areas and forestry that should generate income that could drive the country’s living standards upwards. The country’s beautiful nature should be a magnet for tourists if the sector was well developed.

Steadfast stability?

On August 17, 2010, Gabon celebrated that it was 50 years since they broke away from French rule. Unlike some other countries that have been French colonies, Gabon has a very close diplomatic relationship with France. The first President of Gabon, Léon M’ba, was strongly supported by France, which in turn benefited from good trade agreements. M’ba’s dictatorship became increasingly oppressive, and in 1964 he also dissolved the National Assembly. This led to a military coup where the stated goal was to introduce a democratic government. France wanted to protect its interests, and before a day after the coup, they were in Gabon and reinstated dictator M’ba. He ruled until his death in 1967, when his Vice President Omar Bongo Ondimba took power in the country.

Until 1990, Gabon was a one-party state. In the wake of civil unrest as a result of growing dissatisfaction with the country’s government, Omar Bongo Ondimba opened in 1990 to several political parties. The elections that have been after 1990 have, without exception, been criticized by the opposition for not being open and fair, while international reports have been somewhat more varied.

In Gabon, the people can vote with confidence in a relatively safe way. Still, there is room to question how democratic Gabon’s government actually is, because several national factors limit the information and options of the country’s voters. The country has no freedom of the press, the judiciary is corrupt and those in power control most of the country’s sources of income. The opposition’s repeated defeat is also due to the fact that they have been divided in the face of the country’s rulers.

Omar Bongo Ondimba came to power in Gabon in 1967. He was elected president until his death on June 8, 2009. His son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, came to power through a contested election on August 30 of that year. With his 42 years as president, Omar Bongo Ondimba was the world’s longest-serving president.

Gabon has only 1.5 million inhabitants, but the small population is made up of as many as 40 different ethnic groups, and the country has no clear ethnic majority. The president comes from a small ethnic group in the southern part of the country. There has been very little ethnic-based conflict in the country, although Omar Bongo Ondimba in some contexts prioritized his own ethnic group and region.

With son Ali Bongo Ondimba, ethnicity has emerged as a more central part of politics. The new president shows the utmost confidence in his own ethnic group, including in central positions. Ali Bongo Ondimba has worked as both Foreign Minister and Minister of Defense before becoming President. Even then, he showed the utmost confidence in people from his own regional and ethnic group. This is especially expressed in the ethnic composition of the army. The political opposition, largely led by Pierre Mamboundou and André Mba Obame, represents to a greater extent than before ethnic groups and regions. Finding a political balance in relation to ethnic and regional contradictions is central to maintaining the peaceful conditions in Gabon.

Regionally, this country is the most stable in Central Africa and it has increasingly been given a role as a resource in peacekeeping work in the region, and as a driving force for regional cooperation.

Oil and ecotourism

Although much seems to be going in the right direction for Gabon, this stable Central African country needs changes or at least progress in the change processes already underway. In cooperation with, among others, the World Bank, Gabon has put in place a number of plans to diversify its economy as well as get a better distribution of financial goods.

One of the biggest challenges is to distribute the benefits of the country and reduce the number of people living in poverty. Although the country has a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita that is far higher than most African countries, their ranking on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) is largely no higher than the average in sub-Saharan Africa. But improvement has happened, and in 2009 the country went from number 124 to 103 on the HDI index. Basic education has become available to almost everyone. Enrollment in elementary school has increased from 88 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 2009. However, raising the quality of education still remains a major challenge.

The position of women has been strengthened through the recruitment of more girls to primary school, women have greater access to property and health services, and institutions are in place to secure women’s rights.

Gabon’s economy is largely dependent on oil and has little to fall back on when oil and commodity prices fall. For 2009, it is estimated that Gabon had a 1 percent economic decline. This was a result of lower oil prices and lower demand for raw materials emptying due to the global financial crisis. The forecasts for 2010 are increased oil prices, and increased economic growth globally, and therefore a somewhat better economic growth for Gabon.

This economy is unsustainable, and there is limited political will to take concrete measures to ensure that the country has a more diverse economic platform. Gabon’s board is not streamlined and changes are slow. Expanding cooperation with the World Bank to improve the country’s economy can bring results, but the World Bank’s previous interference with the African country’s economy has often proved to be worse, especially for the poorest. It remains to be seen how the new reforms will affect the lives of the people of Gabon.

One of the plans for a more diverse economy in Gabon is to focus on tourism. The national tourism strategy, written in collaboration with The Wildlife Conservation Society, aims to have around 100,000 visitors annually.

Ecotourism is an attractive industry for a country like Gabon. Gabon has a very low population density, while most of the country is covered by rainforest. They also have mangrove forests and savannas, which provide an environmental variation that is perfect for rich wildlife. The country has a population of about 20,000 lowland gorillas and 60,000 forest elephants, as well as a rich bird life and beautiful beaches along the coast. Developing the tourism sector in the country will provide opportunities for new sources of income while providing an opportunity to help preserve the diverse nature of Gabon.

Gabon is rich in timber, but timber exports have provided limited revenue. Political efforts are now underway to change this industry so that timber will no longer be exported to the same extent as before, but that industry will be built and timber refined in Gabon before further export. Large parts of timber exports were therefore stopped at the beginning of 2010. This has led to demonstrations among the workers, as the industry that would take over raw material exports is not yet in place and workers are left without labor and wages.

There is hope for improvement in the living conditions of the people of Gabon, but efforts to develop infrastructure and more varied sources of income must be intensified in the future.

Country facts:

Area: 267 667 km2 (29th largest)

Population: 1.5 million

Population density per km2: 5.4

Urban population: 85 percent

Largest city: Libreville – 576,000

Per capita GDP: $ 9888

Economic growth: 1.8 percent

HDI location: 103

Source: DigoPaul

Swaziland

Women’s right to register property is perhaps a small but important victory in Africa’s last absolute kingdom, which until 2005 defined women as inferior. But it does not solve a growing economic and political crisis, living its own life in the shadow of the crisis in neighboring Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, the democracy movement is strongly moving, and deserves stronger international attention and solidarity.

Swaziland is considered a lower middle-income country, but has an extremely uneven distribution of resources. Economic growth has been around 2 percent in recent years, which is lower than neighboring countries. The country’s economy is closely linked to South Africa. It also means that although the country is on the periphery of the global economy, Swaziland also felt the impact of the global financial crisis.

The HIV / AIDS epidemic is a serious impediment to Swaziland’s economy, in addition to the human suffering associated with the disease. Swaziland is one of the hardest hit countries in Africa. In addition, the country is experiencing a sustained food crisis, partly due to prolonged drought and failed crops. The food situation improved somewhat in 2009, but the World Food Program estimated that 260,000 people needed food help.

A little outside the city of Manzini is the industrial area of ​​Matsapha, where there are a number of textile factories established after 2000. The construction of the textile industry has provided some new jobs, but wages are low, working conditions difficult and the right to organize in the workplace limited. The authorities have also failed to build housing for workers, who thus settle in informal settlements near the workplace. In addition, the textile industry has proved to be non-competitive and has experienced a sharp decline since 2005. Both jobs and large revenues have been lost.

Fight for Democratic Reforms The

Swaziland Constitution of 2005 has not established a sufficient framework for real democratization. The tension between the traditional Thinkundla system, which means, among other things, that parliamentary elections take place partly through the election of leaders of local chiefdoms and partly by the appointment of the king, on the one hand, and the demand for multi-party democracy on the other, characterize the political situation. Elections were held in 2008, an election that was heavily criticized by the Pan-African Parliament Observation and the Commonwealth Expert Team, among others. SADC, on the other hand, declared the election free and fair, despite the fact that the process violated several of SADC’s own guidelines.

Swaziland has a strong civil society, and many organizations joined in 2008 in the umbrella of the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF, see ABBREVIATIONFINDER). But the conditions for the democracy movement have become more difficult. There are reports of ongoing human rights violations, persecution and arrest of oppositionists, and failure to implement the international labor conventions formally adhered to by the country.

In November 2008, Mario Masuku, leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), was arrested, accused of terrorism. This happened shortly after the authorities declared PUDEMO a terrorist organization, based on a new anti-terror law passed after the bombing of a bridge that year. Critics believe the authorities are using the new terrorist law to persecute and arrest oppositionists. Political parties are still not allowed, and in 2009 the authorities threatened to kick government employees who were members of political parties and movements. Masuku was released in September 2009, but in connection with the release new attacks on activists were reported. There have also been several reports of arrests and attacks in the spring of 2010.

The Mail and Guardian newspaper has described Swaziland as a diplomatic Achilles heel for South African President Jacob Zuma. Zuma is said to have a close friendship with King Mswati, and they share the view of the importance of African tradition and culture. At the same time, Zuma is under pressure from the trade union movement Cosatu and the Communist Party SACP, which are critical of the regime and work closely with opposition groups in the country. The trade union movement Cosatu has particularly marked itself as a supporter of the trade union movement in Swaziland.

Mbabane-Manzini Corridor

In Swaziland, about 25 percent currently live in urban areas, and urbanization is increasing. Mbabane is the largest city, closely followed by Manzini, which is the commercial center. The corridor between these two city centers has been central to development plans in recent years, supported by the World Bank, among other things. This means new opportunities for economic development, but also increased marginalization and more or less forced displacement of the poor. In 2006, a number of informal settlements around Manzini were removed by bulldozers. Another informal settlement was threatened immediately to make room for the expansion of the king’s palace in the area.

Traditional ownership structures make planned urban development difficult, partly because traditional leaders distribute land in the outskirts of cities. In the countryside, land distribution is used by chieftains to strengthen their own position by giving more people the opportunity to run self-storage farms. In the urban boundary zone, the areas instead become the basis for informal settlements for those who have or are seeking employment in the cities. Most of these settlements lack basic services such as water and electricity and sewage.

Gender equality: Small steps, major obstacles

In the constitution that was passed in 2005, women’s rights were formally recognized, but it is still a long canvas to bleach. Women make up 67 percent of the very poorest, those living under a dollar a day. They are also hit hardest by the HIV / AIDS epidemic, both by being infected themselves and because the burden of care when other household members fall ill falls on their shoulders.

Swaziland is the source and transit country for trafficking of women and children. Trafficking is linked both to the sex industry and to forced labor as a housekeeper or in agriculture (where young boys are also affected). According to the US Embassy, ​​the authorities have done very little with the phenomenon, but are now preparing new legislation – apparently in response to the country being on the US blacklist for countries with a high degree of trafficking.

But small positive changes are happening. In the spring of 2010, a sentencing ruling stated that women have the right to register property in their own name. However, the court applies only to women who are married in a civil ceremony, and not to those who are married by traditional marriage. This underlines a major challenge for the reform process, where five years after the new constitution, existing legislation with roots in traditional structures as well as in the colonial era has still not been changed. Women activists therefore demand a new marriage law.

Swaziland is a country in deep crisis, with no response from neighboring governments or international donors. However, the struggle for democratic reform has received a little more attention lately. Perhaps there are small steps towards stronger international pressure on Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

Country facts:

Area: 17 364 km2 (48th largest)

Population: 1.2 million

Population density: 67 per km2

Urban population: 25 percent

Largest city: Mbabane – approx. 78 000

GDP per capita: USD 2369

Economic growth: 2.6 percent

HDI Position: 142