- Mon, 08/20/2012 - 00:29
- 1 Comment
At its basic level, politics in Liberia has always been about the political elite using government resources for private generosity to acquire supporters, perpetuate cronyism, and stifle public debates about corruption and poor public policies. The goal is to build a following large enough to insulate themselves not only from their critics but also from the wrath of their own ineffective public policies. This political culture fundamentally skews the organization of power in Liberia by de-institutionalizing the State, and de-incentivizing the government to rebuild and legitimize public institutions.
In fact, the absence of strong and effective public institutions creates a space for the political elites to gather more supporters through the scheme of private generosity. It is so rampant in Liberia that the citizens generally see public service as handouts from the President. Many incumbents use this misunderstanding by the public to take undue personal credit for what is essentially government’s obligation to these communities.
In this dysfunctional political system, poor stewards of public funds are hailed as generous leaders. The Sirleaf administration understands this political culture and uses it to its advantage. This explains why the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf, goes around Monrovia building soccer fields for the youth or building market places for market women as personal generosity.
In addition to public funding, the Sirleaf administration has been able to draw on the good will of the international community to keep its band of supporters happy. The international community through international development aid and direct investment has pumped more that 5 billion dollars into Liberia over the past six years. The dual source of funding means there is more to go around to the administration’s loyalists.
Until the Liberian political culture is changed so that public servants and their cronies are directly impacted by the poor and ineffective public policies, the Liberian government will remain corrupt, irresponsive to the public, and dysfunctional. The individuals who benefit from this dysfunction have no interest in building strong public institutions, and are likely to undermine any efforts to do so. The public has to be mindful of generous public officials who misappropriate public funds for personal generosity.
This dysfunctional political culture makes politics the most attractive means of livelihood. And supporters who benefit from these corrupt politicians owe loyalty to them as opposed to the country. In a twisted way, some win when the country fails and that political culture must change if Liberia is to develop.