In the past six years Liberia has seen unprecedented levels of transparency, democracy and press freedom. The small West African nation with a population of just over four million people and a pitted history of dictatorship and corrupt regimes brought Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to the helm in 2006, after 14 years of a devastating civil war. Every facet of society, from infrastructure and human capacity to the rule of law, needed rebuilding. 'Ma Ellen,' as she is fondly called by some, had an enormous task ahead of her.
She has not always taken everyone with her. November 2011's tense and violent election, which ended with opposition candidate Winston Tubman boycotting the second round, hardly delivered a ringing endorsement. For Liberia to extricate itself firmly from the past, where the freed American slave elite who 'founded' the country skimmed riches for themselves and educated their children in the US, Sirleaf's government has to promote inclusion. There is a long way to go. Two peacebuilding projects, the National Palava Hut Programme and the Liberian Reconciliation Initiative headed by fellow Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee, are yet to take off.
But despite the political differences, Liberia's economy continues to thrive. It was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a real gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 6.9% in 2011, the highest in West Africa after Ghana's. The national budget has quadrupled, and the country reached the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative completion point in June 2010, ridding Liberia of most of its crippling $4.9bn in foreign debt. Economists expect the real GDP growth rate to climb to 9% in 2012. Vaanii Baker of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) says: "If you look at the resources that Ghana has, Liberia has everything Ghana has and even more."
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