Why the E.U. Concept of Development in Liberia is Dangerous?

By Moses Geply, Ph.D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 2, 2005


When a vested interest is enjoyed not by a
[powerful]minority, it is a human right.
-Prof. John Kenneth Galbraith
( 1908 - )

The economic history of nations, developed and now emerging economies in Asia such as South Korea and the new economic superpower, China and even Botswana in Africa, shows that such vibrant economies were never built solely by foreigners but through true patriotic and nationalist leaderships of those countries. In the Middle-East similar facts of world history have taught us that pre-war industrialized Iraq, pre-civil war (1975) Lebanon (the “Paradise of the Middle East ”) and even Tunisia and Morocco in North Africa have obtained their enviable technological levels in their respective regions not by granting citizenship to foreigners but through the efforts of trained Iraqi, Lebanese, Tunisian and Moroccan scientists and engineers. On the other side of the coin, the spectacular rise of Israel as an industrial power among the “petrol-dollar economies“ in the Middle East was and is still the result of the Jewish educational system and their love of knowledge generation and accumulation and not foreigners. This observation compels us to refute the myth advanced by Max van der Berg, the European Union‘s (EU) Election Observation Mission Chief to Liberia, that by granting citizenship to foreigners will industrialization take roots in the country. While Mr. Van den Berg is exceeding his mandate in Liberia, it is also extremely sad to see a new Liberian group, “The Race Free Society Movement for Dignity and Development“ RAFERDOM (The News, October 20, 2005; The Inquirer, October 24, 2005), gleefully endorsing the scientifically baseless Van den Berg concept of development without taking into account its long-term implications in an embattled post-war society such as Liberia.

However, what Mr. Max van den Berg failed to tell his audience and Mr. Doe S. K. Davies and his RAFERDOM at the news conference is that the economic history of his own country, the Netherlands, categorically contradicts his economic theory. In other words, the first Industrial Revolution by-passed his country (the Netherlands) not because it did not grant citizenship to foreigners but for the mere fact that the mercantilist and imperial Netherlands of the 17th century failed to obey the laws of industrial capitalism to invest in knowledge production, which was the prerequisite for the utilization of modern technology (see Mokyr, 2000). On the contrary, as Prof. Joel Mokyr, a Dutch-American at the Northwestern University(USA) substantially argues in that Dutch economic journal, the Netherlands, with Amsterdam (the birthplace of Max Van den Berg) the commercial capital of the world in the 17th century, naively took for granted the fragility of its world dominance as a mercantilist power, while its main competitors such as Britain and France heavily invested in human capital formation (i.e., their educational systems) thereby acquiring long-term competitive advantage in innovations and inventions that underscored industrial development in the 17th and 18th centuries. The short-coming of the Netherlands’ reliance on a single cash-crop export in the 17th century, the tulip, impeded the country from investing in science and technology. The end-result was, as the tulip sector lost its importance in the world market, imperial Netherlands had to equally lose its hegemony as a mercantilist-imperial power. This dependence on a single raw material export without diversifying its economy is now regarded as the “Dutch disease” by international economists and trade scholars. Similarly Liberia has had its share of the infection of that disease because of the country‘s dependence on raw materials exports from the 1950s, coupled with the neglect of the educational sector to create the required stock of knowledge for industrial development.

As a consequence, the once admired country in the region has been turned into a sleeping little giant in Africa. In this light, we have argued in this same journal (see Geply, 2005) for a merciless war on corruption and the culture of impunity and for the broadening of the mandate of the Ministry of Education (MOE); that is, given today’s scientific and technological challenges that are facing both developed and underdeveloped economies, transforming the MOE’s role to that of the “Ministry of Education, Science and Technology” will enable Liberia to meet the technological challenges in the 21st century and not simply by granting citizenship to foreigners of “non-Negro descent“. To even benefit from any form of technology transfer from abroad, Liberia will need the necessary indigenous skilled manpower that will receive and effectively domesticate foreign technologies for their successful diffusion into the national economy.

This historical fact should lead the winner of the forthcoming presidential election to emphatically reject and resist Max Van den Berg’s recipe for civil war in Liberia and its speedy endorsement by the RAFERDOM and its “Director-General/CEO“, Doe S.K. Davies. Thus, given that the RAFERDOM claims to be against a “privileged few who are amassing wealth at the detriment of the suffering Liberian people“ (The News, October 20, 2005), they ought to encourage the incoming Liberian Government to entrust the destiny of this country with its own people through the promotion of indigenous Liberian entrepreneurship. In other words, instead of RAFREDOM lobbying to amend the country’s citizenship clause to increase the suffering of the “Liberian masses“(see The Inquirer, October 24, 2005), they should call for a strategy that will put in place an institutional framework (e.g., like in South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia) to support the numerous Liberian businessmen and women, who are starved of financial resources and are struggling on the fringes of the Liberian economy.

Additionally, Liberians (whether indigenous or of “Negro-descent“) must stop the behavior of “rentier capitalists“ in which Liberian property owners lease and rent their land and buildings to foreign merchants, who then take firm control of the “commanding heights of the economy“, while such Liberians unpatriotically live in their penthouses on monthly handouts (rent) from their wealthy tenants. In the face of this paradox, the past admirable entrepreneurial spirits of Edwin J. Roye, the Weeks family, the late internationally renowned Liberian business icon Stephen Allen Tolbert, the Gbalah family (Karweaken, now River Gee County) and the Bob Willie Tubman, Anderson and Nicol families (Harper, Maryland County) must be rekindled by the new government by encouraging indigenous entrepreneurship in the country. This does not mean that Liberians are racist and anti-non-Negro descent; but that to add to the present civil strife and instability the country faces, a land-conflict dimension will be gross dishonesty to the souls of thousands of Liberians who died in the past civil wars and a surrender to eurocentrism. Perhaps, given the controversial mining contract of the Dutch-based Mittal Steel company in the country, Max Van den Berg wants Liberia to return to the colonial days when, as Mrs. Corinna Hilton Van Ee reveals, “The Dutch store (locally called OAC), became the Bank of Government and people of Liberia for many years“ (Van Ee, 1998: 8).

In this short paper, therefore, we intend to argue that the EU Election Observation Mission Chief’s concept of economic development in Liberia is both a blatant disrespect for the Laws of Liberia and a lack of knowledge of the economic history of that country. On this note, without going too far, Max van den Berg should consult his compatriot and economic historian, F.M.P. van der Kraaij’s (1981: Chs. 3-7) doctoral thesis in economic history on Liberia, before making such a dangerous and outrageous recommendation to the winner of the presidential election on the 8th of November. That is, Mr. Van den Berg is here in Liberia not as an EU economic advisor but as an election observer and peace builder. Additionally, Liberians are not ready for the Boerization of their Motherland, given the present extreme degree of inequalities in wealth in the country that will surely give competitive advantage to wealthy foreigners from Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East who, in collaboration with their local cash-hungry intermediaries, will buy up the most fertile land and create new ghettos in West Africa. In the end, indigenous owners of the land, as history has testified in former white-settler colonies in Australia, Kenya, Namibia, Republic of South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be driven off their land only to be allowed back as pitiful wage laborers as we have seen in the case of Harvey Firestone and the indigenous people in Margibi and Maryland Counties in the 1920s and 1930s.

This strategy for the promotion of a new apartheid in West Africa and the Boerization of the Liberian economy in the face of the mass exodus of South Africa’s (Boer) farmers to evade Black rule in their country, coupled with the “demand” by some foreigners of “non-Negro descent” in Liberia for citizenship is extremely dishonest, insensitive and troubling at this mournful hour in the history of a war-ravaged country. Perhaps, because the E.U. Mission in Monrovia has discovered in 2005 that “Liberia is too rich to receive aid” and therefore the clarion call by its envoy for wealthy non-Africans to be given the unfettered rights to exploit the natural resources of the country and remit their huge profits, as usual, back to their home countries to buttress their economic growth. In a nutshell, while Liberians are glad that RAFREDOM is gradually revealing its non-governmental organization (NGO) pretensions as a front organization for a vested interest, this type of action by Mr. Van den Berg who behaves like “a Dutch uncle”, simply shows how he has failed in realizing the sustainable and long-term peace-building objective of the EU Mission in Liberia by preparing the ground for violence and civil war.

In this context, the barriers to industrialization in Liberia, which is a vexed issue, cannot be understood simply by a pedestrian reading of the United Nations’ “Universal Declarations of Human Rights” (UDHR), which was basically designed to solve the question of “stateless” peoples around the world. In essence, what RAFREDOM and its advocates should understand is that the UDHR was deliberately designed after the terror and barbarism of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime in which German Jews, Afro-Germans, German Gypsies and others were denied their German nationalities simply because of their race and religious beliefs; and as we all know, the racial supremacist Nazis then used this “Aryian race“ pretext to persecute mercilessly German Jews and other bona fide German ethnic minorities heralding the second holocaust in the history of humankind, which left over six million Jews and other ethnic minorities killed in gas chambers. It was against the backdrop of these Nazi cruelties and barbarism in the 1930s, while ‘‘civilized“ Europe and the League of Nations played a blind eye to these “crimes against humanity“ that the UN wrote such a document. Hence, after the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, the UDHR was written in 1948 with Article 15, Sections 1 and 2 basically as a stern warning to member states of the newly found United Nations, which replaced the League of Nations because of its incompetence.

In the 1990s, a slight case occurred when the once American world-chess champion Bobby Fischer decided to play a match with the Russian Boris Spassky in 1992 in Yugoslavia against the advice of the United States Government that that country was under United Nations‘ embargo and therefore it was illegal for an American citizen to play there. But Fischer, being the eccentric character he was and still is, decided to defy his Government and played in Yugoslavia. The consequence was, obviously, that the US Government revoked his US passport automatically depriving him of the right to travel as a U.S. citizen. Moreover, Fischer as a refugee, tried to acquire Japanese nationality but was refused and was subsequently arrested by the Japanese Government for traveling on false documents. Thus, Fischer was more or less a “stateless“ individual from 1992 to 2004, when he was granted citizenship by Iceland. However, Human Rights groups believed that Bobby Fischer should have still enjoyed his US nationality, pending his arrest and prosecution under American laws. And RAFREDOM should look across the borders to realize that the present civil war in the Ivory Coast is a classic case in point that the UDHR Article 15 was meant to resolve in the 21st century; that is, the thrust of the conflict is about the denial of citizenship to Burkinabe Ivorians and other African-Ivorians who have labored like slaves to build the successful post-independence economy of the Ivory Coast. And right in Mauritania, racist, repressive and exclusive Arab-Mauritanians (of non-Negro descent) are claiming that African-Mauritanians, because of their Black-skin color, are Senegalese and therefore have deported their own nationals to Senegal, while the African Union, E.U. and the United Nations are silent.

With these facts, it is quite worrying for a so-called Liberian “human rights group“, RAFREDOM, based on an inverted reading of the UDHR, to contend that: "It is regrettable and a mockery to our nation that since our government signed and subsequently ratified the United Nations Status of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, Liberia still maintains these discriminatory laws on its books"(The News, October 20, 2005). Additionally, what the RAFREDOM should note is that to accept Max Van der Berg’s assertion and declare that it is only with the granting of citizenship to foreigners from Europe, Asia and the Middle East will Liberia industrialize, is to support the century-old racist perception that “Negroes“ or Black people are incapable of developing their countries ( for the origin of this crude European raciology canonized by the writings of George Hegel and Immanuel Kant on the inferiority of Negroes, Jews and other non-Europeans, see Gilroy, 2000: Ch.2:58-68). In the 21st century, therefore, it is not a surprise such a Eurocentric notion is still being trumpeted by an E.U. Member of Parliament (i.e., Max Van der Berg) and others insensitively in post-colonial Africa. In a word, RAFERDOM should have understood the historical background and strategic motive for which the Founders of the Republic of Liberia inserted that important clause into the constitution – a clause that, like a dyke, has saved the country from drowning in the race riots and “land or revolution” (BBC News, July 29, 2005) conflicts that are now raging in Southern Africa.

In conclusion, at this sad juncture, one is left with no alternative but to recommend to Mr. Van den Berg for further reading and Liberians who are supporters of the views of RAFREDOM and their “non-Negro descent” agenda, Amy Chua‘s brilliant and timely book World on Fire (2004, especially Ch.4:95-122) on the power of merchant capital in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. The blunt and honest warning of this Yale professor of Law on the threat posed by wealthy and influential foreign merchant capitalists in poor developing countries she calls “market-dominant ethnic groups” cannot and must not be ignored in Liberia by even the winner of the forthcoming run-off presidential election scheduled on November 8, 2005. These market-dominant ethnic groups, according to Prof. Chau who happens to also be a Chinese-American scholar, are merchant Chinese in Southeast Asia, whites in Latin America, Arabs in West Africa and Indians in East Africa who tightly control the local economies and manipulate local politics to their advantage, while the indigenous population meander for survival in a sea of poverty. The relevance of this analysis for durable peace and post-war reconstruction in Liberia is quite timely, because it contradicts the positions of both the EU election observation boss and his local supporters in Liberia, the RAFREDOM, who are designing a policy that could plunge the country into another bloody civil war- this time for LAND. In short, Liberians of all ethnic background must wake up and unite in the face of this new threat to the sovereignty and unity of the country, because the LONE STAR, like the great phoenix, shall rise again from the ashes of the wars to take up its rightful place among the community of nations.

BBC News (2005) Land or Revolution? Online:URL:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/africa/4703029.stm (accessed July 30, 2005).
Chua, Amy (2004) World on Fire: How the Exporting of Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, New York: Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, Inc.
Geply, Moses (2005) Education and the Current Crises in Liberia. Online:URL:http://www.theperspective.org/articles/0922200502.html
Gilroy, Paul (2000) Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.
The Inquirer (2005) RAFREDOM wants Citizenship Clause Amended. Online: URL: http://allafrica.com/stories/200510240795.html (accessed October 24,2005).
Mokyr, Joel (2000) The Industrial Revolution and the Netherlands: Why Did it not Happen?, De Economist, Vol. 148, No.4, pp.503-520.
The News (2005) Human Rights Group Supports EU On Citizenship to Non-Negro . Online: URL:http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/200510200103.html (accessed 20.10.2005).

Van Ee, Corinna Hilton (1998) Awake Liberia Awake: 151st Independence Day Oration, The INQUIRER, 1998, pp. 8-9.
Van der Kraaij, F.M.P (1981) The Open Door Policy of Liberia: An Economic History of Modern Liberia, Bremen: Ubersee Museum.

About the Author: Moses Geply, Ph.D., is a former instructor of economics at the University of Liberia. His research interests are economics of technical change, technology transfer, science and technology policy, and human resource development. He can be reached at: mosesgeply@yahoo.com