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Ngafuan’s ‘economic diplomacy’

By Ralph Geeplay    

 

Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan comes to the job with a core strategic objective of promoting Liberia’s policy initiatives. President Sirleaf and Minister Ngafuan referred to that policy initiative as “economic diplomacy.” It means building bridges with investors and foreign governments to win investments, which the duo believes can also advance peace and stability in Liberia.

As foreign minister, Ngafuan is in the position to articulate those objectives. But more than that, he comes to the job having overseen Liberia’s debt wavers during the president’s first term. But why is Liberia advancing a policy goal that aims to foster closer ties with other countries based fundamentally on economics and finance?

The reason says foreign policy observers are simple: Liberia having been devastated by war needs to reconstruct its damaged infrastructure and find employment opportunities for its young population. It also helps that  Liberia’s economy has been growing at an annual rate of 6 percent since Sirleaf came to power. The current policy is an attempt to attract major investments and promote Liberia economic outlook in an era when global recession and austerity in Europe and the United States has had a tremendous impact on a nation such as Liberia. By vigorously seeking investments, the country aims to create a buffer to solidify the fiscal foundation for long term sustainability.

The good news is that Africa is the new hot spot for economic growth and investment at a time when growth is slowing in emerging markets such as India and China.  Even though, Sub-Sahara Africa is also affected by the financial crisis that began in 2008, Africa has bounced back, say analysts. With the region’s estimated growth rates of six percent predicted for 2013, there is hope that Africa is on a roll.

What is interesting about Africa’s growth is that it is being led mostly by African governments and local entrepreneurs. As a result, South African, Kenyan, and other indigenous firms are investing heavily in other parts of the continent.

Liberia, like other African countries could reap dividends if the intra trade initiative goes into effect, but already, the country has brought investment to its mining, agro forestry and agriculture sectors. In the process, the country is attracting about 16 billion worth of trade during Sirleaf’s first term. Those achievements came when Ngafuan succeeded the experienced Antoinette Sayeh as finance minister.

With economic diplomacy the watch word in a new era in Liberia’s move to make friends in the international community, China has been high on the radar. Monrovia still regard the United States as a traditional partner, and is willing to sell most of its oil assets and wells to American firms to attract investment, and also is allowing the Americans to set up AFRICOM bases there. As a result,  Liberia, like most African countries is turning more and more to China for investments and infrastructure development.

China’s 2.6 billion mining concession agreement signed in 2009 was not lost on Augustine Ngafuan, when recently at the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) fifth ministerial gathering last month, Beijing pledged 20 billion dollars in loans to the continent.

Ngafuan told his audience that  “Liberia looks to a win-win partnership with countries and investors from all parts of the world, the People’s Republic of China being one of our key partners.” Ngafuan further said relations with the Asian giant were “buttressed by China-Liberia excellent relations, the People’s Republic of China has helped Liberia, especially in the past six years, to tackle some of the teething challenges of the nation’s reconstruction.” However, he was quick to echo the concerns of many on the continent, especially South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma that China and Africa needed to trade fairly, adding,  “China and Africa must continue to work for balanced development and a global world order that is more equitable, fair and sustainable,”

Foreign Minister Ngafuan repeated his concerns when he met Nigeria’s newly appointed ambassador to Monrovia, Obi-Nnadozie, who also happens to be Nigeria’s first female envoy to Liberia. Ngafuan called for Nigerian investment while also paying tribute to Nigeria’s current businesses and entrepreneurs in the country.

If there is a fundamental thrust in Liberia’s foreign policy goals today, it is the economic diplomacy heralded by Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan. The Liberian foreign minister must be commended for pushing that policy agenda, which benefits the Liberian people as they seek a sustainable future.

Ralph Geeplay can be reached at akklamm@gmail.com

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