President Weah’s Pro Poor Agenda: A Remedy to Curtail Poverty, Poor Education and Huge Unemployment in Liberia?

By: Josephus Moses Gray

J. Moses Gray

Though in different magnitudes, miserable poor, huge unemployment, poor education and fragmented health delivery still exist around the world, these uninvited conditions are not epidemics in other continents and regions of the world, as compared to African continent which is listed as the world poorest region. The seriousness of the problem may vary from one state to another on the continent, but it is a concern of both the developed and underdeveloped nations that will not go away rapidly and any time soon. 

      But one may ask: what is the motivation behind this article? The answer is simple, to encourage the current government to implement the right policies at the right time in the right place, including taking advantage of the rise of globalization in a way that it will bring just benefit to the greater population. This article is also intended to adequately evaluate the effect of the high rate of youth unemployment; poor education and poverty in the country which studied shows are the major attributing factors for high crimes, low productivity and corruption in the country.

Unlike the pre-war period where youth unemployment, poverty and poor education were low, the current situations of an unemployment, miserable poverty and poor education called for national concern to sough solution. UNMIL’s (2010) reports that youth unemployment is a major threat to peace and security in Liberia, unless addressed, the threat could continue to persist or see the return of conflict.

World Bank’s 2016 reports pin-pointed that extreme poverty remains unacceptably high, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region that now has the largest number of extreme poor in the world; with 389 million accounts for half of the total number of extreme poor in the world, and more than all the other regions combined. The reports also state that one out of in 10 persons in the world lives under $1.90 a day, and half of the extreme poor lives in Africa

The youth population on the African continent is rapidly increasing with nearly one in four persons in the world lived on the continent, or about 297 million, is between the ages of 10 and 24, by 2050, the age group is projected to nearly double to about 561 million. But what are the driven forces responsible for the perpetuate youth unemployment, abject poverty and poor education challenges facing dozen of African countries including Liberia’s youthful population in this post-war era.

Although unemployment, poverty and poor education are not only unique to Liberia as these perils vary from one country to another; these have been serious problems plaguing international economy as far back as from the period of great depression when the existence of high level of unemployment, poverty and poor education are still a menace in the world especially the under-developed regions.

Similarly, it benefits the unemployed to understand their situation and to take measures to play the role in eliminating this complex problem of unemployment and poor education by holding their leaders feet to the fire to make the pro-poor policy practicable for all in the country.

Since the rebirth of the second Republic, the youth sector has been on the forefront of the struggle for democracy in the country and participated in numerous demonstrations at grassroots levels in protests against undemocratic values by past regimes. In the process many lost their lives, yet the situations of poor education and unemployment threatening the youth propulsion remained unaddressed.

Although these threats, driven by abject poor, huge unemployment and poor education, are not the direct making of the President Weah CDC- led administration, but let it be cleared that government is continuity, until these national melanomas are properly handled, the “struggle continues”, if I might barrow the famous political jargon of Gabriel  Baccus Matthews, the father of multiparty democracy in Liberia who died before his dream was achieved.

Although Liberian youth have served as “majority of electorates” during the successive General Elections of 2005 and 2011, they apparently were forgotten after honey and grease seekers of democracy were accorded victory as evidenced by the magnitude of youth in the various streets and entertainment centers across the country, cross-cutting from one city to another and from towns to villages, the undoubted situation remained parallel.

In order to avoid the repeat, the youth in the recent General Election of 2017 switched their political allegiance to the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) manifestos popularly crafted on President George Weah’s people centered pro poor philosophy, a wildly planned national project geared towards empowering the greeter population most of whom are less privileged and poverty stricken.

Conceivably, majority of these disadvantaged youths were abandoned by the former sequential governing parties including the Unity Party led-government, thus comparing majority of the youths to overwhelmingly voting the CDC into power; this alienated group which the society branded with all kinds of uninvited names and descriptions, saw the CDC not UP either the ANC nor LP and other political parties as their identity and community where they could have sought refuge and could no longer be alienated by the society especially the political bureaucrats and corrupt elites.

In true sense, the recent decisive presidential election in the country was concentrated on identity…and the name “country-giant” resonated among the youths thus retrograding them to the CDC as they were particularly touched by the President Weah’s philosophy wildly baptized and shaped “pro poor”, the people-centered project is in its four months of implementation by the architects. One possible remedy, if I may be right, is President Weah’s enthusiastic people-centered pro-poor philosophy which is the pathway towards lifting thousands from abject poverty and enhance improved poor education, good governance and to achieve prosperity for the largest Liberian society.

The pro-poor project, which is built on five pillars including agriculture, job creation, infrastructure development, improved education and health delivery systems and pave roads across the country should strongly considered values and support reform at all levels of the public sectors in order to alleviate poverty driven issues to attract quality education, minimize poverty and reduce unemployment across the country to an appreciative levels.

These three menaces- poverty, unemployment and poor education, if alleviated to some greeter level, which without doubt can be achieved, will conceivably lead to economic attainability and growth from one city to another and from town to other in the country, where no segment of the society would again be isolated and leveled with intolerable titles.  Currently, one of the major attributing factors for the tall increasing crimes in the country is unemployment which causes poverty while poverty persists not only because of a scarcity of resources, but lacks  inefficient economic systems, or lacks natural resources, but due to bad governance perpetuated by past leaders, political bureaucrats and foreign capitalists.

But what true prosperity is, and how it can be realized, are fundamental questions that must be answered by every country since prosperity has been growing around the world. The Legatum Institute released its 11th annual global Prosperity Index of happiest, richest, most advanced, and healthiest countries in the world, out of 149 countries surveyed, Liberia is ranked 131 in the world while the best ten countries are New Zealand ranked first followed by Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and United Kingdom.

Can President Weah’s administration replicate the Shushan village in the northern part of Guangdong Province in China which used to be isolated and impoverished. As recently as 2010, there was no electricity, no running water, no Internet, not even a single migrant lived here although the province is a magnet for migrants. But great changes have taken place as a result of a charity poverty relief project initiated in 2010 by Country Garden – one of the largest real estate enterprises in China.

It helped improve infrastructure construction and built new homes for local villagers – for free. Electricity and telecommunication connections to the village have also been made. Now local people no longer have to worry about being affected by natural disasters. Another example is Hainan in China which stands as an important historical witness of China’s reform and opening up; as Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA).

During the past three decades, the Chinese government has lifted out of poverty 600 million persons from poverty while President Xi Jinping since 2012 to present has more than 68.5 million rural people lifted out of poverty in China over the past five years, that means 37,000 people escaped poverty every single day while the national poverty rate falling from 10.2 percent to 3.1 percent. The Chinese government has succeeded to remove people from their shabby thatched or wooden houses to new apartments. China has made great leaps in reducing poverty and reaching the benchmarks laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, according to the United Nations Development Program.

How can President Weah administration followed a remarkable development path of China and the ten world leading countries including New Zealand Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and United Kingdom which populations enjoyed prosperity? What the President government needs to do is implementing the right policies at the right time in the right place, including taking advantage of the rise of globalization in a way that wouldn’t be possible today.

Importantly, let us be reminded that youth employment is extremely vital to the economic and social development of the nation. It is important that the youth be working; start businesses and gaining the skills and education required to participate in this era of post-conflict reconstruction. Liberia is at risk of returning to political instability if the trend of high unemployment, high illiteracy, and alarming poverty prevalence continues to grow.

While the issue is still manageable, the government has to be strategic and consistent in developing innovative policies and programs, in creating sustainable employment opportunities. As more children become older, the overall youth population will increase exponentially. If the issue is not addressed in the near future, it will eventually overwhelm the government’s capacity and resources to address the high unemployment rate and poor education adequately. The United Nations 2016 reports that three-quarters of all unemployed persons in Liberia are younger than 40 years and youth unemployment is estimated as high as 85 percent, the unemployed have never held a job while young people account for about 65 percent of Liberia’s population of four million, But LISGIS (2011,:p. 57) reports contradicts UN findings on unemployment in the country; stating that the unemployment rate is 3.7 percent nationwide.

Despite of the claims and counter-claims accurate rate of percent of unemployment in the country, let turn and find the equilibrium by turning our attention to the definition of unemployment, perhaps this will lead us to a conclusion to side with either the UN or LISGIS, as it relates to Liberia’s precise percentage of unemployment.

The World Book (2001) describes unemployment as the state of persons who is out of work and actively looking for job, the term does not refer to people who are not seeking work because of age, illness or mental or physical disability nor does it refer to people who are attending school or keeping houses.  Such people are classified as out of the labor force rather than unemployed.

But what is the driving force behind this article? There are several answers but the major significance that has motivated me to undertake this task is to encourage government, especially those at the helm of state power and other actors to take measures to help reduce the vast unemployment massive poverty and poor education for the time being and to establish sustainable employment schemes in the future. It could be helpful initiating policies which are necessary to tackle the problem. This without doubt helped to avert the potential political, social and economic consequences that could arise in the future as regards growing unemployment.

What are some of the obstacles responsible for huge unemployment in post war Liberia? Some of the hindrances include poor governance structures, poor educational system, lack of well-defined political and economic motivations; alienation, corruption, nepotism and tribalism while on the other-hand the issues of high competition, tough requirement of experience and lack of experience, among other demands by employers.

This suggests that joblessness is compounded by both social, economic, political and demographic factors while fears to job interviews are another factor that denied people the opportunity for employment. In some secluded cases, some employers’ demands for bribes while others trade employment for sex or special treatment, these menaces persist at job places and schools, with most victims being females although males in some cases are not left off the hook when confronted with employers with gay’s appetite. Other factors include population growth, lack of experience, inappropriate ways of searching for a job, and lack of career guidance in schools.

World Bank in 2014 reported that one of the most critical issues, which many university graduates in Liberia are confronted with, nowadays is the increasing scale of unemployment among them. It is often due to the fact that more and more universities have been founded over recent years, their standard is not high enough and as a result employers are very cautious about employing its graduates. From primary level to university status, the issue of poor education is a serious concern especially for those at the university level. While there are hundreds of good and bright students, also there are thousands of unprepared ones whose focused is to obtain grades instead to earn such passing grades rather leave same at the mercy of perhaps by corrupt practices.

Some instructors fall into the hands of these poorly performed students by compromising their grades in exchange for monetary values or other treatments, while instructors whose demand that all students or members of their classes meet the course requirement are wildly levied by these poorly performed students as “bad instructors” while the ones that trade grades are usually called ‘good teachers’. While some school administrators especially the private or individually operated high school and collages and university discouraged their instructors from submitting failing grades which actually showed the students’ true performance.

But in the case where the particular instructor insists on the grades, in the absence of that or without consultation, the school administration illegally go ahead to change the failing grades to a passing one to help keep their institutions populated resulting to good income generation, the huge amount that enters the school’s account and not quality education since the under-performed students frequently switched school from one to another whenever they failed while some parents are also responsible as fertilizers to such academic menace—they usually induced school administrators and instructors with all sorts of gifts and money to compromise grades .

These unprepared students are released into the society at the detriment of employers. The pro-poor people-centered project should strongly institute stern action if the education sector should be improved. However, the best idea to solve the problem of unemployment among university graduates is simply for the authorities of these universities to adjust the curricula, having in mind the needs and requirements of employers and omit needless courses, so that students can focus on the most important and most practical courses, while qualified professors well paid should be comparatively recruited.

Several researches have shown that students who are not yet employed have to go on studying in order to acquire necessary qualification needed by most of the employers. The report revealed that employers prefer recruiting the adults than youths due to working experiences and trust factors. It found that adults have more working experience than youths but also are more likely trustworthy than youths. Most employment, the studies show are based on experience instead of qualification. While most employers preferred to recruit less competent and qualified job seekers to the qualified and experienced due to fear factors.

Most often we heard people complaint of lack of jobs but what we do not hear is the countless times they miserably performed poorly during interviews for employment, or how unprepared they are when going for interviews. While on the other-hand, sometime those who are hired to conduct jobs’ interviews have no knowledge for the position, as a result, they asked unnecessary questions that have no connection to the specific post. Another factor that counts for usual failures for jobs’ interviews is that most times employers usually select individuals for the positions before the vacancies are made published and interviews are held, since most vacancies called for the posts to be advertised in several papers. Such a corrupt practice is evident in the UN system and NGOs circle especially the private sector.

LISGIS (2011) reports that youths that are vulnerably employed while those employed in the informal sector faced the most economic challenges. The World Bank in its 2017 report discloses that roughly 1.5 billion people in the world are youth aged 12–24, of which an overwhelming 1.3 billion live in developing countries, while in Africa, young people aged 15–24 make up about 20 percent of the continent population and, young people under 25 constitute over 60 percent. Africa is the youngest region in the world.

The studies further show that more than 20% of the continent’s population or almost 300 million people are “youth” between 15-24 years old. The average 72% of Africa’s youthful population lives with less than One Dollars per day. Nowadays Liberian Youth are perpetually faced with enormous challenges and are continually faced with job uncertainty and bleak opportunities with no systematized process and space of dependability and reliability to enhance personal growth. Often they are marginalized, disregarded, and by extension, even demonized.

Unemployment in Liberia has an indisputable structural character which implies the overall inability of an economy to provide employment for the potential labor force, even at the peak of its economic cycle; this form of unemployment is hardest to be addressed. Although the Liberian economy has grown slowly over the 12 years of the Unity Party led-government, and despite of the Harvard trained economist at the helm of the economic sector, it did not result in reducing the huge unemployment and the creation of enormous employment.

This failed policies can squally be attributed to the  adoption of which economists described as “neo-liberal globalism”, instead protectionism which means Liberia first, makes Liberia economically great again by empowering the private sectors, and not the adoption of the free-trade policies unprotected the nation’s market to the importation of expired and economical products. But others may argued that employment has fallen under the past regime due to the relative increase in demand for skilled and competent labor force, which imply a decrease in the demand for unqualified and inexperienced labor force.

But contrast to the fact that unqualified people struggle to find employment in the country, the unemployment rate amongst educated class (competent, experienced and skilled) is also on the increase in the country. One factor responsible is poor education which is a significant contributing factor to unemployment which makes it difficult and even impossible to find employment.

A study by UNDP in 2010 indicates that the youth apparent unemployment is the biggest problem facing the nation. Unfortunately the assertion is yet to be changed despite of the authorizations of sixty-six concession agreements and other dozens of other agreements which many believed were instituted by the former regime to empower the poverty stricken population through the creation of jobs across the country.  Nowadays, young people are beginning to feel a sense of alienation from the larger society and a sense of betrayal by their direct representatives in public sector because they realize that their lives have not changed for the better under the past administration, and hoped that the current administration would live up to its promises to create jobs and empowered the youthful population to make them self-sufficient.

But let us not forget that the high youth unemployment rate cannot be ascribed to a single context, although the war deteriorated many societal issues, a moderately high rate of youth unemployment existed prior to the 1990 civil war in the country. For instance, the International Labor Organization (2016) reports that more than half of the Liberian workforce has never attended primary school, and only 20 percent of the workforce has completed secondary education.

It is estimated that 58 percent of Liberia’s population are illiterate disqualifying thousands of youth from obtaining well-paid jobs that are available in the private and public sectors.  A survey completed by UNESCO states that only eight percent of Liberia’s population graduates with a bachelor degree yearly, although the figure might be lowered by government officials’ estimate. Thousands of skilled workers were killed during Liberia’s civil wars while others fled the country and created permanent homes abroad.

The loss of engineers, electricians, doctors, pharmacists, agriculturalists, geologists and professors have resulted in losing a population that was instrumental in providing training to vocational institutions and skill building programs. Most businesses prefer to employ skilled workers from Liberia, but there is a severe shortage. About 80 percent of the workers in Liberia fill unskilled jobs, according to the UN 2014 reports. This also reflects the scourge of great and devastating blow to acute brain drain or sound and fertile brain famine.

The issue of unemployment is not unique to Liberia but also affect Liberia’s neighbors including Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Ghana. According to World Bank report, the state of youth unemployment in Sierra Leone is a growing concern, as youth unemployment level in this country is amongst the highest in the West African sub-region, standing at 45.8% of the total unemployment figure. While in Ghana the underemployment rate is 33% and 69% of the working population in vulnerable employment. A new study by CDD revealed that 14% of Ghana’s energetic unemployed schools leavers have decided to travel abroad for greener pastures should their situations remain the same. For Ivory Coast’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.32 % in Dec 2016, from the previously reported number of 9.34 % in Dec 2015.

Meanwhile, World Bank 2016 report named Botswana as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, putting its unemployment rate to about 18 per cent while country with less unemployment rate in Africa is Mauritius-the island in the Indian Ocean has a population of 1.3 million people. In 2015, unemployment rate stood at 7.8 per cent. The government diversified its economy to reduce over-reliance on its main source of income, tourism. Another country is Zambia whose unemployment rate stands at 14.1 per cent. Its government created technical and vocational training schools for both formal and informal employment, followed by Tunisia which is one of the leading economies in North Africa. The country has adopted a Green Jobs Platform.

According to the World Bank, one of Africa’s leading oil exporters, Egypt’s unemployment rate stands at 12.77 per cent. The North African country rolled out projects in December 2012 to create 750,000 jobs through micro-projects and youth employment, while Algeria’s unemployment rate was 11.2 per cent in 2015. In 2013, the government adopted a policy, ‘Marshall Plan’ that forced companies to hire workers within their locations. Written by Josephus M. Gray/Professor of International Relations/University of Liberia Graduate School

About the Author: Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray is an Assistant Professor at the University of Liberia Graduate Studies Program. He is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, journalist, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials including a doctorate in International relations from Paris, France. He has authored two books, published Two Graduate Theses and a 600-page Doctoral Dissertation on the theme: “Geopolitics of African Oil and Energy: China and America New Strategic Interests in Africa”. He has written extensively and published over 50 articles on variety of contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email: graymoses@yahoo.com/ 0776824437

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About Cholo Brooks 13535 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.