Arab Today, arab today liberians doing business in a country where nothing works
Last Updated : GMT 21:53:08
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Liberians doing business in a country where nothing works

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Liberians doing business in a country where nothing works

Monrovia - AFP

Plagued by power shortages, an erratic water supply and spiralling inflation, many entrepreneurs in Liberia's capital are finding their efforts to prosper in their newfound peace impossible. The poor but mineral-rich west African state is seeing rapid economic growth led by huge foreign investment in mining but Monrovia's shops, restaurants and bars are struggling to cash in on the boom. "It's a difficult situation to keep a business afloat here. At times you make money and other times... you just have to keep the business going," said Kona Lovely McBorrouah, 38, who has been running the Ngomah Technology cybercafe for five years. Liberia's annual per capita gross domestic product of about $700 is the seventh-lowest of 229 countries ranked by the CIA World Factbook, one place ahead of the Central African Republic. The economy is expected to expand six percent this year after an estimated 8.7 percent growth in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund. But a decade after ruinous back-to-back civil wars that killed 250,000 people over 14 years, the country still doesn’t have functioning sewers, drinking water or a land-line phone system. Garbage collection is non-existent and electricity is scarce, with the state-run Liberia Electricity Corporation supplying just 19,000 paying customers. McBorrouah, who, like most of Liberia's four million people, is not connected to the national grid, runs a generator from 8 am to 10 pm and has to make long trips to a communal water tank. "It's not an easy thing to run a business six days a week on a generator. It's very challenging especially at this time of the year where there is huge inflation. The price of diesel fuel has increased on the market." - Hydro plant bombed - Rebels bombed the Mount Coffee hydro-electric plant 30 kilometres (19 miles) northeast of Monrovia in 1990 and, by the end of the conflict in 2003, the national electricity provider had shut down. Euphoria swept the country in 2006 after Liberians elected Africa's first female president -- and the arrival of foreign-sponsored electricity generators shortly after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office. By 2010, the Liberian Electricity Corporation (LEC) was up and running again, but using huge generators that run on expensive diesel fuel. But progress has been frustratingly slow and today just 9.2 percent of Monrovia's households are connected and about three percent nationwide are connected to the grid, according to the LEC. Mount Coffee is expected to reopen in 2016 and the government has vowed that it will expand coverage to 70 percent of the population in Monrovia -- but not until 2030. Electricity tariffs are among the highest in the world and a lack of money for new connections is part of the reason it has been so difficult for people to access the grid. Adding to the problems of small business owners, the exchange rate has tanked from 60 Liberian dollars (LRD) for a US dollar barely a year ago to upwards of 86, causing alarm over spiralling costs. Rajesh Lalwani, 30, came from Gujurat in India in 2002 looking for work, and has been the manager of Raj Enterprise for ten years, selling electronic goods imported from China and the Middle East. He is generally happy with the business environment in Monrovia and speaks highly of the hospitality of the locals but also points to the unreliable electricity supply and the weakening of the LRD. "The inflation right now is very high. The exchange rate hit 90 LRD to the US dollar the day before yesterday," he said. - Skills gap - As with smaller businesses, larger corporations -- especially those in the service industry -- identify electricity and the fluctuating currency as big problems. Novafone Liberia launched its first services in September last year, employing 150 people and targeting a 40 percent market share by 2018. "Definitely we are facing the same problems that other companies -- medium, small or large -- are facing," said the company's Lebanese CEO Bechir Khoury. In addition, he pointed to a skills gap, arguing that locals didn't always have the expertise the business required. "Add on top of this the non-availability of very specialised companies with technical skills to respond to your technical needs, or just work with you in order to achieve your targets in a timely manner." he said. Small and medium-sized businessmen concurred that Liberia was a market where a lot of money could be made, if only the infrastructure could be fixed. "The stability of the country is good, which is one of the main factors for a big investor to come and install and make a big investment in Liberia," Khoury told AFP.

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