Thursday, February 05, 2004

Liberia: on disarmament and funding the reconstruction

Liberia's disarmement program is set to begin later this month after being postponed last month. UN staff are now going around the country, visiting rebel soldiers, trying to explain the disarmament program and how the money will be doled out. Recall that the process had started back in December and had to be suspended after rebel soldiers rioted over some confusion about the distribution of money.

According to this article in Nigeria's This Day, a group of MODEL rebels told UN disarmament workers that they want security assurances before they agree to hand in their weapons.
... the fighters pointed out that they were under constant threats from the civilian population. The fighters alleged that the civilians have accused them of looting their personal effects during and after the cessation of hostilities. In view of this, the combatants said civilians have planned to revenge on them when they hand in their weapons to UNMIL.
Funding the disarmament effort and other reconstruction projects is the subject of the two-day donors' conference that opened today in New York.
The World Bank and the United Nations estimate Liberia needs $488 million to meet its most urgent needs over the next two years. Indications were strong Thursday that the conference would reach that goal.

The United States will pledge $200 million in new money, and the European Union and its 15 members are expected to match that, U.N. diplomats said. Many other countries from Africa, Asia and Europe are also expected to contribute.
Interestingly, the matter of Liberia's foreign debt doesn't seem to be getting that much (western?) press. A few days ago, Liberian presidential hopeful Charles Brumskine gave an interview to allAfrica.com and had the following to say on the debt issue.
With a foreign debt portfolio of about $2.8 billion outstanding and in arrears, Liberia's economic future is challenging. Therefore, in addition to all the pledges of grants and aid that Liberia may receive at the Conference, I hope the transitional government makes a serious effort to secure commitments from donor nations for debt forgiveness.

The Liberian economy has performed at less than fifty percent of its pre-war capacity for more than a decade and currently has limited income-generating capacity. But after fourteen years of war and mismanagement, the country has a heavy burden for social spending and economic re-engineering to undertake.

Even if unrealistic growth rates and economic performance are assumed, Liberia has, at most, a limited capacity to repay current debt. Along with debt forgiveness, I hope donors realize that any assistance that includes more loans would simply add to the current debt burden and stifle growth.
MODEL = Movement for Democracy in Liberia
UNMIL = United Nations Mission in Liberia