Country Session 6: Sierra Leone and Liberia

Chaired by Eric Werker (Harvard Business School) and Rachel Glennerster (MIT), Session 6 was opened by Katherine Casey (Stanford GSB) who explored how information about candidates and their political platforms translates into voting behaviours. In partnership with Search for Common Ground, they screened videos parliamentary candidate debates in 112 villages. The study’s key finding was an approximate 5 percentage point increase (over control) in votes for the candidate who performed better during the debate. Additionally, by varying what kinds of debate material voters’ saw, she found that the combination of personality and policy is more persuasive than personality or platform material alone. Ambrose James of SGC found that these debates mobilised political discussions at the village level, and that this popular response prompted candidates to increase campaign efforts in these villages.

Mounir Siaplay (IGC Liberia) examined the relationship between household wealth and public versus private school enrolment in Liberia. His results showed that child enrolment in government school in top quintile was less by 74% when compared to the lowest quintile. This suggested towards general apathy to government schools when one can afford private schools.

Eric Werker (Harvard Business School) then compared Liberia to a cross country sample of other double digit growth economies and their triggering factors. His findings show that double digit growers have higher real interest rates, lower consumption to income, higher FDI, higher resource rents to GDP, lower education spending, and worse business environments, infrastructure, and governance. Liberia is trying for double digit growth, but starting from a lower and more agrarian base than on average.

Jaime de Melo (FERDI) and Armela Mancellari (IGC) study the impact of Liberia’s adoption of ECOWAS’ common external tariff on households’ welfare and government revenues. One of the most important lessons is that the trade strategy for Liberia should be a two-pronged one: WTO membership is just as important as ECOWAS membership. Furthermore, maintaining the current waivers on staple commodities like rice and cement could be crucial to avoiding decreasing welfare, especially for rural and poor households.