The long haul to normality: slowly but surely, Liberia is hauling itself back to normality. A deal with an Israeli diamond company, debt cancellation and a brave attempt to come to terms with the trauma of the war all point to a brighter future for the country. Report by Neil Ford.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:LIBERIA
 
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Liberia remains one of the world's weakest economies, with a very limited budget, a weak infrastructural base and biting poverty. But the government is working hard to improve the situation and real headway has recently been made on several counts.

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First, rapid progress has been made towards generating diamond revenues that will help to rebuild the rest of the economy. Secondly, the international community has shown a willingness to help deal with the country's debt mountain; and finally, the security situation is gradually improving, helping to guarantee the progress that has been made to date.

Diamonds are Liberia's most valuable proven natural resource but the export of the gems was outlawed in order to stem the flow of blood diamonds to the international market. However, UN sanctions on the export of Liberian diamonds were lifted in April, allowing the government to lift its own ban on exports.

It has also opened gem certification offices to check that diamonds are produced and marketed in accordance with the Kimberley Process, which seeks to end the trade in blood diamonds. The new certification offices should help to re-establish a sector that fell into disrepute long before the export embargo was introduced in 2001.

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In the most recent development the Israeli Diamond Institute (IDI) signed a deal with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Tel Aviv to carry out a survey of diamond prospectivity and resources across the country. Israel is a major player in the global diamond industry, as Israeli companies process many of the raw diamonds found around the world. Under the new deal, the IDI will provide Monrovia with a team of specialists to carry out the assessment. The managing director of IDI, Eli Avidar, commented: "Liberia can be a big market. All its neighbouring countries have diamonds, so there's no reason to believe there are no diamonds there. And the new president has brought new leadership and a rule of law."

Johnson-Sirleaf said: "Mineral wealth has played a major role in the past, not in serving the needs of our people but in promoting conflict. In fact, for us and some of our neighbouring countries that are resource rich, these resources were characterised as a resource curse." She added: "Liberia has an opportunity for national renewal and national reconstruction" and said that she hopes that diamond exports will now help her government to tackle poverty and finance...

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