Liberia Country Overview

 

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 Introduction to Communication and Development in Liberia

Development Context

Liberia is a country undergoing a massive transition. After 14 years of civil war, the country is attempting to rebuild structurally and socially. Liberia’s civil war devastated not only the country’s population and infrastructure, but also most major businesses. Because of continued instability and international sanctions the country saw a halt to all major sectors of economic production. Liberia’s economy was and remains dependent on timber, rubber and iron ore exports, along with revenues from its maritime registry program.

Another persistent problem for Liberia is refugees and internally displaced persons. During the civil war, hundreds of thousands of Liberians fled to neighboring countries, including Guinea, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. Liberians not seeking shelter in these areas were often on the move within Liberia as they attempted to escape violence. Even though many refugees have been resettled, the socio-economic impact of the war was catastrophic and is still very much felt today.

The civil war ostensibly created a lost generation. Thousands of children were unable to receive an education, as all major government services for the most part ceased to exist, creating an inadequate labor force for rapid economic development. The poor condition of the country’s infrastructure, especially roads, telecommunication and electricity, has also held back economic growth. Despite all these constraints, Liberia has seen some macroeconomic improvement over the past five years or so. Since 2005, Liberia has had annual increases in gross domestic project of at least 4.5 percent. In 2008, before the recent global recession began to fully impact Liberia, GDP grew by 7.1 percent.

Unfortunately, Liberia has also fell victim to high rates of inflation, experiencing an increase in average consumer prices of 17.5 percent in 2008. What growth that Liberia has enjoyed is primarily derived from the resumption of forestry operations, increased diamond and gold exports, higher production of rice and strong growth in the services and construction sectors. [1]

Liberia’s growth strategy is articulated in Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (LPRS), covering the period of April 2008 to June 2011. The LPRS is built on four pillars: i) consolidating peace and security; ii) revitalizing the economy; iii) strengthening governance and the rule of law; and iv) rehabilitating infrastructure and delivering basic services. All four pillars are critical for establishing the foundations for sustained growth and development, and actions taken in connection with one pillar reinforce actions taken in connection with others.  

The total cost of implementing the LPRS is estimated by the Liberian government at $1.6 billion. The objectives and priorities of the LPRS are connected to Liberia’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As the African Development Bank points out, even the LPRS itself recognizes that the country may be unable to achieve most of the MDGs. [2] In fact, the MDG Monitor lists that none of Liberia’s MDGs are likely to be achieved and the country’s 2015 goal of eradicating poverty has been already listed as “unlikely” to be achieved. [3]

Compounding the difficulties that Liberia already faces coming out of war, the country has accumulated a large debt burden of $3.4 billion owed to multilateral development banks, bilateral creditors, and commercial creditors. Most of the commercial creditors of Liberia agree in April 2009 to accept three cents on the dollar for $1.2 billion of its outstanding debt. [4] Under the International Monetary Fund’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, Liberia has made an effort to improve its public financial management and is hoping by June 2010 to be recommended for debt relief. [5]

Communication Context

The Liberian Civil war not only left the country’s population and infrastructure in disarray, it also left the country’s media environment in tatters. Amid low rates of adult literacy and high poverty rates, television and newspaper use is limited, leaving radio as the predominant meads of communicating with the public. During the Civil war, the transmitters of small local stations were often stolen or their buildings were razed. Even the offices of the Liberian Broadcasting System, located just outside Monrovia, exchanged hands between militants several times during hostilities. With the end of the war much of Liberia’s broadcast sector had to restart operations from scratch.

Liberia is currently absent a public service broadcaster. The state-run LBS, while strengthening technically in recent years, continues to be more a voice of the ruling political party than a public service provider. In the absence of a public broadcaster, international and multilateral donors have supported the creation of dozens of community radio stations. Key development actors funding and implementing these projects include Mercy Corps, USAID, the Open Society Institute, the Search for Common Ground and the Radio Nederlands Training Center, to name a few. These community stations have become an integral part of the media landscape in Liberia’s rural areas where TV reception is difficult and newspaper distribution is very limited. For more on the importance of community radio see here.

Chart 1

 

 

As is the norm for most developing countries, urban residents have a greater level of access to and use rates of media and information and communication technologies (ICTs) ( see Chart 2). In both urban and rural areas there seems to be a substantial amount of communal sharing of media outside the home. For both sets of respondents the percentage of weekly television viewers is well above the percentage that has access to a television at home. For more information on access and use pattern differences between regions of Liberia see here.

Chart 2

 

 

Chart 3

 

 

Interestingly, there were few differences between men and women in overall media use. The largest gap in use was among regular newspaper readers. While 32 percent of men reported reading a newspaper in the past week, just about 28 percent of women reported doing so. Something that was also intriguing was that in urban areas the difference in newspaper and online use between men and women expanded compared to rural areas. For more information on media and ICT use among women see here.

Our survey findings examining the differences between age groups are also quite curious. Young adults are often seen as more technologically savvy and usually act as first adopters. However, young adults in the survey (15 to 24) were substantially less likely to have home access to a mobile phone compared to their older compatriots aged 25 to 44.

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[1] “Liberia: Overview”. African Economic Outlook. African Development Bank. Updated 7 April 2010. Accessed April 2010. http://www.africaneconomicoutlook.org/en/countries/west-africa/liberia/#/overview.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “MDG Profile: Liberia”. MDG Monitor. Published 2007. Accessed April 2010. http://www.mdgmonitor.org/factsheets_00.cfm?c=LIB&cd=430

[4] “Liberia Slashes USD$1.2 Billion Commercial Debt”. The Executive Mansion. The Republic of Liberia. Monrovia, Liberia. 16 April 2009. Accessed April 2010. http://www.emansion.gov.lr/press.php?news_id=1143.

[5] “Liberia on track for HIPC debt relief this year-IMF”. Reuters. 16 February 2010. Accessed April 2010. http://af.reuters.com/article/liberiaNews/idAFLDE61F1FP20100216. and “Press Release: President Sirleaf Upbeat - Foreign Investment Back On Course”. Republic of Liberia. 20 April 2010. Accessed allafrica.com. http://allafrica.com/stories/201004210275.html.