Kokoya Millennium Village Project Failing, Citizens Disenchanted

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The much heralded Kokoya Millennium Village Project (KMVP), started in 2008 in Kokoya District , Bong County, to catapult the over 24,000 residents of that District from the abyss of poverty, is dismally failing and might likely be a dream deferred.

The project itself smacks of complete failure with remedial actions now being put into place as a sort of exit strategy ahead of 2015, the target year for the Millennium Development Goals  (MDGS) to be changed to the Global Development Goals (GDGS).

In 2007 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) forwarded a proposal to the Norwegian government requesting funding for the KMVP. The budget for the implementation of the project amounted to about US$5.2 million though the original proposal put it at US$10.8 million.

The Norwegian government decided to support the project following the personal intervention of Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the originator of the Millennium Village concept, who came to Liberia in 2007 and lectured government authorities and policy makers on the efficacy of the Millennium Village project in the eradication of poverty and the concept’s potential for empowering communities.

Jeffrey Sachs, formerly of Harvard University, now a professor of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, United States of America, once served as Special Advisor to former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on the MDGs. Professor Sachs is credited with developing the plan and blueprint of Millennium Villages around the world in different agro-ecology zones that reflect the range of farming, water and disease challenges facing various continents.

The Millennium Villages, it is reported, have so far reached nearly 400,000 people in 79 villages clustered  in 12 groups across 10 African countries, including Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Malawi,  with one village each whereas, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya and Liberia are supposed to have two each.

But with the disenchantment of Kokoya citizens over the KMVP and River Gee County not even sure of ever getting a Millennium Village as originally proposed, one can fathom that the KMVP surely smacks of failure.

UNDP, the focal point of the project in Liberia, relying heavily on Prof. Sachs’ theory of the Millennium Village and what it can do for a whole population, chose Kokoya Statutory District in consultation with the Liberian government as the first site for the pilot of the Millennium Village projects in Liberia.

When the Kokoya Millennium Village Project was put in vogue in 2008, with the ambitious plan of transforming the lives of the over 24,000 residents of Kokoya Statutory District in Bong county, scores of citizens of Liberia thought Kokoya would have been the envy of other city dwellers.

But five years down the line, since the launch of that project there are indications that almost all of the promises encapsulated in the four priority areas enshrined in the project blue print, were practically not achieved nor visible in the proposed project catchment areas, thus causing scores of citizens to be disenchanted with the whole Millennium Village project in Kokoya Statutory District.

The Daily Observer team that toured project locations across Kokoya District uncovered that in some areas where projects were undertaken they were done haphazardly, much to the chagrin of citizens of the affected communities.

Invariably however, proponents of the Millennium Village concept have adduced that the Kokoya Millennium Village project aims to integrate the interventions needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS).

The UNDP website states that “this unique initiative demonstrates how a typical district of approximately 24,000 people can make significant progress in achieving the MDGs.” The website also asserts that the project aims at transforming subsistence livelihoods into small-scale commercial entrepreneurships and provides an example of how villages can achieve the MDGS by the 2015 target date.

As we fast approach the unveiling of the MDG projects across the globe, Momolu Tolbert, UNDP MDG former Support Advisor and first Project Manager of the KMVP, admits that the project did not achieve the set of measurable goals and targets in the four priority areas of agriculture, health education and infrastructure.

“I advised the UNDP Country Director then, Dominic Sam, and other partners that the project be outsourced to preferably the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) owing to the administrative bottlenecks and difficulties in getting things done at the UNDP but my advice was not considered. This could be some of the reasons why the project did not succeed,” Tolbert said.

But Stephen Kolee, who served as Project Manager between 2008 and 2012, said the UNDP succeeded in implementing the project according to the approved project proposal. He lined up the reconstruction of Gbartah Elementary School, promotion of food security and income generation, by first distributing NERICA (New Rice for Africa) rice to local farmers, opening of a demonstration farm in Tarpeh Town, building of a clinic in Yolo Town and Rock Crusher Community, as well as the procurement of an ambulance, as goals achieved.

But echoing the citizens’  frustrations at what they see as a mirage in what is reported on the UNDP website, Morris Laykpdoe, Acting City Mayor of Botota, said when the project started in 2005, they were informed that it was intended to improve and impact the lives of the citizens of Kokoya in a more positive way.

As a start up, he said the UNDP, the main driver of the project, renovated a public building erected by Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr. in 1979, and turned it into their headquarters.

The Acting Mayor lamented that since the renovation and the seeming commencement of the project, nothing substantial, in terms of the actualization of the four pillars enshrined in the project blue print, has been seen in Kokoya District. 

Moreover, he lamented that the lives of the locals in communities where the projects are located have not improved, nor  have the people felt the impact of the entire project; even though the promo on the UNDP website states that following a needs assessment at the early stages, the project would provide a potential for practical solutions integrating best practices in agriculture, nutrition, health, energy, water and the environment to improve livelihood and the dignity of people.

The four priority areas as enumerated in the story ‘Millennium Villages’, published in the UNMIL Focus Magazine, December-February 2007 edition, are: Agriculture, Health, Education and Infrastructure.

These four priority areas were extracted from the original project proposal for the effectuation of the KMVP.

In the area of agriculture, regarded  as the mainstay of the project, Acting Botota Mayor Laykpdoe expressed utmost disappointment in the manner in which the UNDP implementation team handled that pillar, stressing that nothing was done at all, except for  the supply of NERICA rice  to few farmers in 2009. He indicated that all the fertilizers and other farm implements brought for the project in 2008 remain in the KMVP warehouse up to date.

Touching on the role the health component of the project objective, Laykpdoe said the Millennium Village team extended the clinic in Botota, built one clinic in Rock Crusher and another in Yolo Town,  but failed to provide the kinds of medical equipment needed for the running of such facilities.

The Officer-in-Charge of the Botata Clinic, Parker Paye, corroborated Laykpdoe’s account by asserting that, the only ambulance in the whole district has been grounded for almost a year, and only a four-room house was constructed and is being described as a quarter, no medical equipment in the newly extended clinic building. The clinic does not have enough staff, among other problems.

In the area of education, according to the project blue print, there would have been scrupulous renovation and refurbishment of U-LAH, Tugbahblee, Quoikapor and Kokoya public schools, complete with solar energy panels, modern state of the art internet facilities, plus enhanced telephone services, modern libraries and laboratories and teachers capacity built by 2015, the cut-off point of the Millennium   Development Goals.

In critiquing the failure of the education pillar of the project, Laykpdoe divulged that as at now, all schools in the four towns enumerated above, virtually lack libraries and laboratories, and there are no internet facilities and cell phones  for teachers, as promised in the project document.

Despite the fact that the building of roads, bridges, construction of administrative and other public buildings across the project catchment areas were outlined under the infrastructure component of the project, the Lord Mayor, reflecting the views of Kokoya citizens, some of whose views were sampled by the Daily Observer’s investigative team, said nothing was done in those areas. 

The Daily Observer investigative team had the rare opportunity of viewing all of the proposed project sites and the photographs that eventually emerged seem to corroborate the assertions of the Botota City Mayor.

Though the KMVP developers said the project hopes to achieve increased food security and enhanced nutrition and incomes for community members, universal primary education, improved access to health facilities and services, increased community access to water and sanitation facilities and improved access to ICT and mobile phone coverage in Kokoyah, the reality on the ground suggests otherwise.

In fact, the village savings and loan scheme established to help women in local communities in Kokoya District become self-reliant has not yielded the desired projection, according to Etta Nyean, Chairlady of the U-LAH Kodoe, a phrase from the Mano dialect, which means, ‘We are one.’

She said they were 25 women in total, each given L$12,000 in 2013 as a start up under the scheme. This amount, she claimed, was meager and they asked that the KMVP team look at modalities aimed at augmenting the amount if they are truly to be empowered.

One hundred pieces of cell phones and 50 tablets intended to be distributed to health workers and teachers and Kokoya administrative authorities since 2008 remain in the warehouse, according to a source from UNDP. The erection of two towers in Gbarkon and Rock Crushers is now benefiting only the service provider, Lonestar Cell MTN. How the negotiation was done to have Ericson directly negotiate with Lonestar without an input from UNDP, as we have been made to believe, remains unknown.

Over all, Kokoya, remains without lights, no paved road, poor economic activities, school without libraries and laboratories, no internet connectivity, failed agriculture projects and a citizenry who had so much hope in the KMVP but have now begun to think otherwise.

In its evaluation report following what appears to be the abysmal performance of the KMVP team, the Norwegian government observed that “the project was hurriedly launched and started without an inception plan and a solid results framework plan; the project did not put into place an effective results framework and monitoring evaluation system; a weak measurement system; weak management capacity; weak national and local ownership and poor understanding of the project’s nature,” among others.

When the Daily Observer contacted Kamil Kamaluddeen, UNDP Country Director, for comment on the issue he referred us to Augusta McGill Pshorr, Communication Specialist, who sent us a copy each of the project proposal,  UNDP’s response to the KMVP evaluation made by the Norwegian Government and the KMVP  final report  for our perusal. Our request for an interview was not granted.

In a letter dated November 2, 2012 addressed to Fred R. Rasmusen, Counselor at the Royal Norwegian Embassy near Accra, UNDP-Liberia did not deny failure in the implementation of the KMVP as reported by the Norwegian government evaluation team, but defended its record by shifting the blame on the Norwegian Government for gaps in funding which “made it difficult, if not impossible to implement any meaningful activities in the project area”.  UNDP Liberia also blamed the project failure on “the high turnover of government officials which created an absence of leadership and guidance from the government side.”

Realizing that the Direct Implementation Modalities (DIM) put in vogue by the UNDP was not yielding the desired results in terms of the actualization of the project objectives; they (UNDP) in 2013 cleverly lured the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to help implement an exit strategy that will now put the MIA in charge of rolling out the KMVP.

Since that arrangement, MIA veered off the original KMVP plan under new National Implementation Modalities (NIM). By this model, Botota and Rock Crusher community in Kokoya District are supposed to be transformed into modern villages with most of the trappings of a Millennium Village, according to a source at the MIA. The emphasis will now be placed on infrastructure and the other areas will not be undertaken as reflected in the original project blue print.

Under the NIM, the UNDP is managing a US$1.4 million fund being utilized by MIA. So far, MIA, working in collaboration with contractors, has built a “multi-purpose building, teachers’ quarter, medical staff quarters, an information center and a market hall.”

The Daily Observer will look at these and other projects that should have been undertaken by the original UNDP-KMVP as per the priority areas outlined in the Jeffrey Sachs Millennium Village plan in our subsequent editions.


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