The Iron Lady of Liberia: A Future Without International Affairs Programs

April 7, 2011 By Christopher Williams

In today’s London Telegraph, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia takes on critics of international development and diplomacy programs. Headlined “Foreign Aid Is Not a Waste of Money,” she writes “I have seen, at first–hand, how aid, effectively targeted and delivered, reduces poverty.”

President Sirleaf calls on wealthy nations to confront the linked challenges of poverty, health, and security in an increasingly interdependent world. Liberia’s Iron Lady praised the debate on the costs-and benefits of foreign assistance but also noted that it is in every nation’s interest to tackle solvable global problems. She writes, “whether you measure poverty by the one and a half billion people living on less than a pound a day, the one billion who go hungry each day, or other indicators such as the eight million children who die each year from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, poverty on the scale it exists today is an affront to our common humanity.”

In addition to the humanitarian argument for the International Affairs Budget, President Sirleaf lays out the effectiveness of these programs, including in Africa.  She observes that, “between 1999 and 2004, the continent achieved one of the largest reductions in measles’ deaths ever seen.” She cites UN statistics demonstrating the enormous economic benefits of targeted investments, saying “for every £1 invested in water and sanitation, £8 is returned to the economy through increased productivity”.

At a time when many Western governments are facing enormous pressure to cut deficits, President Sirleaf urges lawmakers to scrutinize aid programs to maximize efficiency and minimize bureaucratic excesses, rather than cutting across the board.

“Aid should, of course, never be an end in itself,” President Johnson Sirleaf notes. However, she also recognizes the promise of targeted aid and the lessons of history saying, “Provided that it is delivered on the basis of being timely, temporary, and targeted, it can save lives and transform life chances in today’s developing world, just as the Marshall Plan helped rebuild European economies after the long years of war, laying the platform for stability and prosperity. African entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim recently commented that the main objective of aid is to abolish the need for aid. Let this inform our approach as our vision for Africa and other developing nations going forward.”