Johnson-Sirleaf & Clinton via @FP_Magazine Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf & Hillary Clinton via @FP_Magazine

Madam President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf the current President of Liberia did a remarkable thing yesterday.  She told the world that in ten years Liberia would be self-sufficient and able to stand on its own feet with only further investment and no aid.

In ten years, Liberia will have been out of its civil war for about fifteen or sixteen depending on how one classifies the end.  And if Liberia were to achieve it, they would have accomplished something remarkable.

To provide some context Rwanda is now about sixteen years after their conflict.  They have had a President that in many ways can be analogized to Johnson-Sirleaf.  Kagame is pro-business, pro-US, and takes a rational approach to China.  And Rwanda is by all metrics doing very well.

But they are not, yet, self-sufficient.  Liberia has distinct advantages that Rwanda does not.  More resources and sea-access are the main advantages.  So it may not be completely accurate to compare the two.

I especially appreciate her stance on China.  Many people in the development world wring their hands about China’s involvement in Africa.  This always comes across to me as protectionism of our fiefdoms.  There is no way that China can teach Africa anything, all they will do is steal their resources.

Let us not forget that Western companies have been stealing Africa’s resources for years.  I know plenty of Africans who are happy about the way that China interacts with their country.  They feel that the Chinese treat them more equally and less antagonistically than most donor agencies and iNGOs (especially governance iNGOs).

Ellen really seems to pinpoint the African meme towards China with this quote:

“China’s fast,” she explained. “They know what they want and they do it quickly.” Building schools, building roads, signing contracts, and offering loans — all of it can be done in weeks or months, not years as some donors and Western investors might take. In short, “China’s flexible.”

And this speed is critical.  Opportunities for reform or development often open and close before Western donors can get an RFP published, much less funded, contracted, distributed, and the agency beginning to reform or development agenda.  China is much quicker, and while Westerners may question their motives, at least their motives are clear to everyone: them and their partners.

In summary, this clarity makes it easier for them to operate.  I doubt it is frequent that Chinese in Africa are accused of being spies.  Meanwhile, I have been accused of being a spy nearly every day for two years – something that has deeply affected the receptivity to my work and a story for another day.

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