Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Aid is not an alternative to self-sufficiency

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asked two “million dollar” questions today in her op-ed for the London Times: “Why should Western countries continue to support developing nations at a time of downturn, when these funds might be spent at home?” and “What benefit is there when the flow of aid never seems to end?”

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The first female African head of state answers them with these thoughtful remarks:

To many people in Africa, the value of aid is obvious: at its most basic, such as through the supply of food or water, lives are saved. More sophisticated use of aid, such as improving literacy and developing legal systems that underpin the rule of law, can foster economic opportunities. This creates not only a better life for those who receive it, but business opportunities for companies from donor nations.

The debate over aid needs to mature, so that instead of hysteria about whether emerging nations deserve development funds, we have a serious discussion about how best to create new, stable trading partners that can create opportunities and jobs in emerging and donor countries.

She uses her own country as an example of how Africa is putting these ideas into practice. To help reduce aid to a minimum over time, Sirleaf is proposing a new law that sets quotas for local jobs in mining industries, ensuring that the majority. whether manual or management, are held by Liberians.

One thing is clear: aid is a crucial part of helping developing countries become self-sufficient. She ends her piece with this message:

If development aid were to halt, then the danger is that many countries such as Liberia would begin to slip backwards. There is a moral obligation to make sure that this does not happen, but there is an economic interest, too.

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