Liberia – a model for US development aid
Some in Congress want to cut US development aid. They should consider Liberia and its remarkable progress since a brutal civil war. This week's election shows the country is a work in progress, but American aid has helped improve Liberian health, literacy, law, and the army.
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War destroyed 95 percent of Liberia’s health-care facilities. Now, US-funded health centers and support for immunizations and malaria-control have halved mortality for children under five. The rule of law – that was as full of arbitrary holes as the bullet-riddled buildings in the capital – is being rebuilt through US assistance to the judicial sector.Skip to next paragraph
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The recent electoral turmoil shows that real challenges remain to consolidate these gains, strengthen the democratic process, re-establish the bonds of trust between Liberians and their government, and provide opportunities for the unemployed.
But creating lasting change – in Liberia, the developing world, or even in the US – doesn’t happen overnight. It requires steadfast action to build on progress.
Like any achievement of magnitude, many factors converged to make gains in Liberia possible, none more notable than the citizens who have chosen a path of peace. But the US has been the closest partner to the Liberian people. The American people should feel proud of their contribution to Liberia’s rebirth.
Yet US development assistance is under fire from some in Congress – and the "super committee" may be tempted to cut such aid as it looks for $1.2 trillion in savings.
ANOTHER VIEW: Foreign aid isn't foreign. It's American
No one disputes that the US faces serious fiscal challenges that must be addressed head on. But foreign aid makes up less than 1 percent of the US budget. It’s a vital component of the American foreign policy toolkit along with defense, diplomacy, and trade. That we need to do more with less should make Congress eager to leverage the long-term successes of development engagement.
Around the world US development assistance combats anarchy, poverty, disease, criminal networks, money laundering, drug-trafficking, weapon-smuggling, and other threats while building a more secure world, governed by the rule of law. This creates an atmosphere of optimism where citizens feel a stake in a stable future; the draw of extremist ideology withers in the face of opportunity. These are long-term foreign policy gains.
Moreover stability and the rule of law combine to create a more welcome environment for US companies to invest, which creates jobs at home. Liberia, like many developing nations, is rich in natural resources – minerals, timber, rubber, fisheries, and likely oil – that provide opportunities for US businesses. Foreigners have invested $16 billion in the country since the end of the war.
Strength in American foreign policy comes from acting smartly and leading with our values. International development assistance, especially in the context of fragile states, allows the US to do both.
Gutting this small basket of funding is not responsible fiscal stewardship, but penny-wise and dollar-foolish politics. Congress should consider the remarkable turnaround in Liberia as it looks for savings – and leave development aid alone.
Benjamin J. Spatz is a Truman National Security Fellow, and participates in the makeusstrong.com campaign to preserve US development aid. He served as special adviser to the government of Liberia from 2007-09 and worked with the United Nations Mission in Liberia in 2005.