By Charles Wheelan | U.S. News Opinion Contributor |
I have just returned to the U.S. after nearly two weeks in Liberia, the small country in West Africa founded in the 19th century by free blacks from the United States. Spending time in Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, forces one to think about why poor countries are poor and how they might become less so. (My students were charged with writing a 60-page memo on that topic.)
But being in one of the world’s most disadvantaged places also shines a light back on the United States, one of the most privileged nations on the planet. As I take stock of what Liberia needs, I am reminded over and over again of the advantages that our own country is putting at risk.
Liberia is a country with almost nothing – a GDP per capita of $900 a year, much of that from international aid – struggling mightily to move its citizens out of dire poverty. The United States, a country that has almost everything, is doing its best to squander a degree of privilege unparalleled in history.
In the 1980s and 90s, Liberia was the stereotype of an African banana republic: massive corruption; two violent coups; 14 years of civil war; competing warlords, often with bizarre names (General Butt Naked) and even more bizarre outfits (wedding dresses and wigs); and so on.
The country went two decades without an electricity grid. There was a ceremony in 2006 when a token amount of public power was restored. Even today, less than 10 percent of the nation’s roads are paved.
Source: U.S. News Online