Sunday, July 27, 2008

Curious Approach to Development in Liberia

BET founder Robert L. Johnson's plan to build a luxury hotel in Liberia strikes me as a particularly strange approach to post-conflict development. On one hand, his assessment that providing would be investors with a posh place to sleep will probably help convince them to spend their money in Liberia is probably not far off the mark. Yet on the other hand, this project probably won't do much for Liberians in the area of the hotel.

Arguments against the project would probably include the following:
  • Yes, it will create short-term construction jobs, but long-term will likely only offer a relatively small number of low-paying service jobs, which won't do much to foster economic growth.
  • Think of how many schools that could be built and wells that could be dug with $8 million.
  • Isn't it just downright offensive to build a place that luxurious that is surrounded by so much poverty?
Then again, maybe he's onto something here. No, this project may not in itself do much to boost the Liberian economy, and because it will employ mostly service workers, won't do a whole lot to boost educational and thus economic achievement in the surrounding area. Then again, jobs are still hard to come by in Liberia, and people will probably take what they can get. Furthermore, as an exceptionally wealthy corporate executive himself, Johnson probably knows how to entertain his peers. He may be quite correct in his belief that without a nice place to stay, would-be investors would never come for a visit, and thus probably would spend their money and build their projects in other countries. Is this, then, a backdoor approach to development, or is it just the precursor to the development of another Western enclave in a non-Western country -- self-contained and disinterested in its surroundings? Time will tell, but one can only hope it works.


Jaime Lotter said...

I have a serious problem with this hotel, on various levels. Robert Johnson obviously doesn't have any care in the world about how this will affect the community. While his aim is to bring in big investors in order to incite development, the unintended consequences will have even longer term effects. Much longer than the time it takes for investors to come in and then leave again.

And what are the environmental impacts of this hotel? What resources will they be using at the same time as they are employing new Liberian workers? What signal are you sending to Liberians when you employ them to serve rich westerners?