President George Manneh Weah’s development initiatives, which are predominantly first-time projects, are so sporadic that, at times, they tend to give some absent-minded people a sense of normality about them. In other words, because these valuable projects are too frequent and less publicized, there are many onlookers, both near and far, who don’t seem to appreciate the impact. But a closer look and direct interaction with the beneficiaries brings out the real picture, the endless smiles, the tears of job, and the power of change that lurk beneath the projects when completed. The testimonies are elating and stunning, as is the case with Ma Teahdi and family’s. A development economist captures a human interest story from one of Monrovia’s slums. A political economist looks at development from this angle.
Sitting on the balcony of her two-bedrooms and two bathroom apartment, Ma Teahdi gazed into the sunlight with streams of tears rolling down her cheek. She was not bereaved, except that her mind was wondering way back into time since she left Jadaepo District, Sinoe County some 38 years ago. She recalled living in a zinc shack at the swamp end of Clara Town with her two sisters in a two bedroom apartments. We were three in one room with the space separated by ceiling tiles. At night, we could hear the conversation from the other room where my uncle and his wife slept.
We never had any inside bathroom, as a matter of fact, I did not know what was an inside bathroom. My sisters and I had to wait until midnight before easing ourselves. There were times we used to be so pressed but we had to keep it with all the pains until in the night before letting it out.
But today, Ma Teahdi, like thousand other Liberians won’t have to wait till midnight to defecate. She can attend to nature whenever they fell the need to simply because they now have inside bathroom in their individual concrete homes whether in Grand Kru, or Gardnersville or Clara Town.
The fundamental of the pro-poor agenda or pro-poor growth is to create some level of equality not so much in income but in improved standard of living, especially for ordinary poverty stricken Liberians. Moving people out of poverty to economic growth and prosperity demand an affordable level of equilibrium in the living standards of the poor.
The little things that really matter in the international development and economic growth discourses may not be of any significance to elements of the middle class. Their upbringing may not be compared to people who may not have had experiences living in a zinc shack in slums with no access to a restroom and other affordable social services. Absolutely, this is the socio-economic disconnect that development practitioners seek to address in poor countries. And it is this sort of societal stratification that breeds conflict and civil disobedience in developing countries.
Since his ascendancy in January 2018, President Weah has kept his focus on addressing not only the needs of the big and notables in society, but has stretched his development net to all sectors including the down-trodden and destitute of society. Sometimes it is not the macro which focuses on increasing GDP or GDP per capita but rather looking at development through the eyes of the Ma Teahdis of Liberia whose only desire is to have a place to sell their market, a peaceful abode to rest their heads after all the hustle and bustle of life.
The reason this people-centered development matters is that it addresses poor people in the informal sector of society- people who have to make the hard choices with limited profits from selling banana and bitter kola to paying their children school feels. To them, a three to nine thousand United States dollars support from the Agriculture Ministry for agri-business value addition provides more opportunities to grow them out of poverty.
For the Ma Teahdis of this world, living in a concrete house and selling under a state of the art market building is more than anything else they could ask for. For us, this may not be of any importance because we look to growth from increase in income, but for the ordinary people, these are just the ordinary things that really matter- macroeconomic development with a human face- from mat to mattress, from sidewalk selling to shops and from the shops to stores: Liberia keep rising, because in development, it is the little things that actually matter.