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Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: we won't need aid in 10 years

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf assumed office in Liberia, the government's budget was a mere $80 million -- as she put it, about the budget of a high school. Today, the budget is $350 million -- better, but still not great. So her pronouncement today speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations was particularly ambitious:  "Liberia should not need aid in 10 years," she told the audience. "we've got the resources ... We're going to go from dependency to self-sufficiency." 

The plan to get there? Private capital and investments, both of which have already begun to come in. And so far in that category, it's China -- not the United States, which has been a big foreign aid donor to Monrovia -- that is taking the lead. They dominate the construction sector, Sirleaf explained, and their other economic agenda is clear: "access to raw materials to keep the Chinese economy going."

"China's fast," she explained. "They know what they want and they do it quickly." Building schools, building roads, signing contracts, and offering loans -- all of it can be done in weeks or months, not years as some donors and Western investors might take. In short, "China's flexible."

That's got to be something of a wake-up call for U.S. foreign aid -- and even private investors. Thanks to its historical ties to the United States, Liberia is usually thought to be in "America's" sphere in influence on the continent -- after all, Monrovia has been a major recipient of foreign aid. But China's presence, and its increasingly attractive and flexible model, is pretty hard to out do.

That's not to say that Sirleaf doesn't want more U.S. (and other) investment. In fact, she made an appeal to exactly that. But  rest assured it won't come as quickly as it would from Beijing.

GLENNA GORDON/AFP/Getty Images

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Today at noon: FP on the radio

At 12 p.m. EST today, FP is beginning an exciting new collaboration with Midday with Dan Rodricks, a daily public affairs show on Baltimore's NPR station, WYPR. 

Today, the entire two-hour show will feature FP editors and contributors speaking with Dan and taking calls from listeners. From 12 p.m. 1 p.m., Aaron David Miller will discuss his article, "The False Religion of Middle East Peace" with Managing Editor Blake Hounshell. From 1 to 1:20, Editor in Chief Susan Glasser will talk about "The Billionaire Dissident," her profile of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. From 1:20 to 1:40, Net Effect blogger Evgeny Morozov will talk about his article, "Think Again: The Internet." From 1:40 to 2, your truly will be on talking about some of our recent lists.

Baltimore residents can list in at 88.1 FM. Everyone else can stream it live here.  You can call in with questions toll-free at 866-661-9309. 

It should be a good time. Hope you can join us.