Probably not, but it could be dying from neglect.
During the countless meetings I’ve had these past two weeks, I’ve tried to figure out whether UN projects, and the NGOs they support, procure supplies and goods from Liberian businesses. Often the answer’s yes, but with a twist: most suppliers are Monrovia-based, and often of foreign origin.
From a UN perspective, this makes sense: they need reliable suppliers who provide quality goods and bulk discounts. Small and medium size Liberian firms have been pommeled for fourteen years, and just can’t deliver the goods, literally. Especially those outside the capital.
Besides, the free marketeer in me says, they ought to learn to compete with the big boys, because the UN won’t be here forever. We can’t have a coddled set of firms that die the moment the mission departs.
But local business, especially in the county capitals, could probably use a boost after so many years of punishment. They’re already getting one in the form of big investments in roads and power, and that’s good. But could the UN mission and NGOs–tens of thousands strong–not develop a strategy to do more?
A few small steps that would not be so hard:
- Ask NGOs and UN field offices to develop a plan for procuring more locally-produced or supplied goods.
- Help small and medium size firms bid on larger contracts, by allocating a percentage of big contracts to small firms, or to associations of small firms.
- Allocate a percentage of UN and NGO contracts to locally-owned firms, especially outside the capital.
Best of all, each of these steps is slowly self-expiring, given the gradual UN draw down. So coddling comes to a gradual close, as the firms are helped to stand on their feet.
CGD’s Vijaya Ramachandran might disagree. In this article on African business, she sees roads and power as key. I agree, but would like to see us go a couple of small steps further.