Liberia is a country in West Africa and is one of the poorest countries in the world. Although Liberia is the oldest republic in Africa and has a long running relationship with the U.S., the alarming poverty rate in Liberia cripples growth and exacerbates other issues.

The World Bank’s most recent information on the poverty rate in Liberia, collected in 2007, indicates that around 63 percent of the country lives on less than $1.90 per day (the daily income rate considered the threshold for extreme poverty). Also, as of 2009 the World Bank reported that a colossal 89.6 percent of the population lives on less than $3.10 a day.

These statistics show that a significant majority of Liberia suffers from the absolute worst poverty possible, and nearly everyone in the country struggles from slightly less severe yet punishing conditions of scarcity and desperation.

Unsurprisingly, the alarming poverty rate in Liberia stymies the country’s overall development. The country lacks the infrastructure to reliably provide water and electricity, and sorely lacks the resources or opportunities for widespread education or employment. Overall, these deficiencies stifle the creation of new institutions as well as human and economic development, contributing to other problems such as corruption and instability.

Like many other poverty-stricken countries in Africa, Liberia also contends with frequent political instability and violence. Following a military coup d’etat in 1980, the government of Liberia has been plagued by corruption, irresponsibility and political persecution. Two civil wars in Liberia claimed the lives of 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003.

The country’s political instability may seem surprising considering that Liberia was founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves and has a democratic system of government modeled after the U.S. Unfortunately, the relationship between poverty and corruption creates a seemingly endless cycle that prevents the Liberian government from functioning effectively when the deprived people need it most.

Fortunately, Liberia’s current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, seems determined to rid the government of corruption and truly help the country. With a long history of opposing unethical behavior and experience working for the World Bank and U.N. President Sirleaf is particularly well qualified to pull Liberia out of hopelessness.

President Sirleaf possesses the strong negotiation skills and political and financial knowledge to tackle the alarming poverty rate in Liberia as well as the corruption it feeds. If President Sirleaf succeeds in revamping Liberia’s economy and rooting out government-level corruption, Liberia may one day live up to the principles of liberty and opportunity that its founders originally sought.

Isidro Rafael Santa Maria
Photo: Flickr