All Liberian media, including Daily Observer, have been extensively reporting on the contributions of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and other bilateral and multilateral donors to the country’s restoration, maintenance and its consolidation of peace and security. In this regard, they have been conducting evaluations of those contributions while wondering about the readiness and capacity of the Liberian security apparatuses to sustain peace and security that Liberia, Liberians, and foreigners like me have been enjoying for more than ten years.
Although, the Liberian media’s exercise is necessary, laudable and useful, it may overlook an analysis of other numerous interventions of the International Community including the UN System-UNMIL and UN Specialized Agencies- and other donors in multi socioeconomic sectors. Such an analysis would emphasize their impact on the physical and human capital development, institution building, and promotion of democracy, among others. It would also elaborate on, if any, mechanisms put in place or measures taken to ensure their sustainability. The same exercise should also apply for the assistance provided by the International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs). It goes without saying that peace and security cannot be sustained without the improvement in the social and economic conditions of the people.
This article does not intend to carry out that evaluation, which should be done by the Liberian actors. Instead, it tries to recall the most important interventions of the UN System in Nimba County, where the author served as a United Nations Volunteer (UNV) in the UNMIL Civil Affairs Section from October 2006 to December 2011. It is worth noting that most of these contributions were duplicated in all of the other fourteen counties. In this essay, the UN System refers to UNMIL and the UN Specialized Agencies that include the UN International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Habitat, UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN, World Food Program (WFP), UN World Health Organization (WHO), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank.
Amongst sectors that benefited from the UN System‘s contributions were physical infrastructure, human resource capacity building, institutional building, and other socioeconomic sectors, such as education, health and agriculture, etc.
Physical infrastructure, in terms of roads and bridges, telecommunications, education and health facilities, and other government buildings like police stations, corrections facilities, immigration offices, etc., is one of the key determinants of development. It facilitates the free movement of persons, goods and services, and creates an environment conducive to improving quality service delivery and performance.
UNMIL, through its Bangladeshi Contingent, along with UNHCR and WFP, contributed for years to the rehabilitation and maintenance of several roads, including Ganta-Sanniquellie-Karnplay-Luguato; Ganta- Saclepea-Tappita; Gray-Buutuo; and Karnplay-Bahn. Under its Quick Impact Project and other programs, the UN System renovated or constructed and equipped schools and clinics across Nimba County. It also restored or built and equipped police stations, immigration offices and Magisterial and Circuit Courts. Police Stations were renovated or erected in Bhan, Ganta, Saclepea, Sanniquellie and Tappita, while Immigration offices were renovated or built in Bahn, Bololowee, Buutuo, Gbehwalay, Loguatuo and Tappita. Renovated or constructed Magisterial Courts include Bahn, Ganta, Sanniquellie, Sokopa, Tappita and Yekepa. It can also be recalled that a Circuit Court was renovated and a new Central Prison was erected in Sanniquellie.
Some observers and analysts will argue- and will be right- that some of these actions were kinds of responses to emergency situations inherent to prolonged civil conflicts, as in the case of Liberia’s fourteen-year civil war. However, there is no doubt that they alleviated or mitigated the people’s suffering and allowed the government to restore the education, health, legal and judicial systems.
The important question that is worth asking is whether this physical infrastructure, also one of the key elements of institutional building, has contributed to improvement in quality service delivery and performance of civil servants. It would also be interesting to assess if it has been sustained in terms of maintenance, for example.
Much of the institution building was conducted on the UNMIL Headquarters level in Monrovia, with the elaboration and implementation of new legislations and reforms, and is beyond the scope of this article. Meanwhile, the restoration of state authority and human capacity building benefited both central government and county officials. It is in this framework that numerous workshops and trainings were organized in computer literacy, civic education, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA); gender-based violence (GBV), conflict resolution and peace building, especially in land disputes; fiscal management, establishment and management of disaster committees, leadership, etc. Participants came from all cross sections of life, including the county administration, line ministries, youth and women groups, and disabled and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). At the end of those workshops and trainings, appropriate equipments, kits and information materials were distributed to attendees in order to help them put in a good and wise use of the acquired knowledge. For example, after the training in computer literacy in Sanniquellie, the Nimba County Administration and leadership received a 3.5 KV Generator, desktops, printers, copy machines, scanners, modems for internet access, etc. Many of the aforementioned activities were repeated for a long period of time and some of them are still being organized by government entities and NGOs.
In human resource development, the Bangladeshi Contingent also established the Bangladeshi-Liberia Friendship Center (BLFC) in Ganta and two Bangla-Nimba Capacity Building Centers in Sanniquellie and Tappita to provide training in a variety of vocational skills including IT, tailoring, electricity, plumber and masonry. These centers were handed over to locals.
Another capacity building area that requires special mention is the training in leadership for local officials aimed at improving local good governance. The UN-HABITAT, UNDP, UNMIL and Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA), under the Local Elected Leadership (LEL) Series, trained County Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents for Development, District Commissioners and City Mayors in 12 competencies. These are representation, communicating, facilitating, using power, decision-making, policy making, enabling, negotiating, financing, overseeing, institution building and leadership. All 15 Superintendents and their Assistants for Development were trained in Buchanan, Grand Bass County. The leadership for Commissioners and City Mayors from Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties took place in Voinjama City. The leadership training was also opened to Paramount and Clan chiefs, Township Commissioners, as well as to CSOs. However, due to the lack of funding, only CSOs in Nimba benefited from the training that was organized in Ganta.
It is worth pointing out that like the leadership training, other trainings or workshops involved more than one county. So, the workshop on SEA gathered participants from Grand Gedeh and Nimba Counties and was organized in Zwedru. The training in fiscal management took place in Gbarnga and was attended by Assistant Superintendents for Development, finance and procurement officers and UNMIL Civil Affairs Experts/UNVs from Bong, Lofa, and Nimba Counties.
Have all aforementioned activities in institutional building, human resource capacity building and leadership enhanced quality service delivery, performance and good local governance? In my view, this is a pertinent, legitimate and open question that requires further research.
As I noted above, peace and security cannot be sustained without the improvement in the social and economic conditions of the people. Having this simple truth in mind, the UN System intervened in those sectors. So, specific projects and programs were financed in education, youth, health, water and sanitation and agriculture, to mention just a few. The following are just a sample.
In education and in the framework the UNMIL DDRR phase, The UN System contributed to the formal and vocational education by providing tuition fees and allowances. The UNICEF, in collaboration with the Government of the Netherlands, constructed and equipped Ganta Public School, under the Learning along Borders for Living across Boundaries (LAB4LAB) Project. A high quality and tech school, Ganta Public School, located in the Peace Community, aims at strengthening education and other services in border communities in order to help foster peace and security, accelerate the development process and prevent a recurrence of war.
In the youth sector, the UN System supported three main projects- Liberia Youth Empowerment Program (LYEP), Youth Empowerment Services (YES) and National Youth Volunteer Service (NYVS).
In the health, water and sanitation field, the UN System carried out medical outreach programs (clinics, immunization, etc), and renovated and constructed water pipelines, hand pumps and wells. In the agricultural sector, most activities were financed in the areas of food production, economic empowerment of women, income generating opportunities, poultry production and the rubber industry. The Bangladeshi Contingent developed and transferred to local farmers organizations three agricultural projects- Bain Clan Development Council, Ideal Domah Town Project and Kpain Agricultural Project. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) supported a Project called
“Improved Food Security, Nutrition, and Income Generating Opportunities.” This project provided agricultural inputs in terms of tools and seeds to produce rice and vegetables. It benefited also Ivorian refugees and host communities along the border. It also donated two rice mills to women’s groups in Gbehlay-Geh and Sanniquellie-Mah Districts and financed three poultry production facilities for women groups in Sanniquellie (New Barracks), Karnplay (behind the Women Center) and Yekepa (Camp 4). In addition to its school feeding program to increase enrollment and retention, and in collaboration with UNDP, WFP reinforced the DOKODAM Farmers Cooperative’s rice production capacity in Gbedin through the Purchase for Progress (P4P) Project. The forestry sector also benefited from the UN System’s programs through its assistance in forest management and alternative forest farming (beekeeping and snail farming training). Finally, UNMIL contributed to the rehabilitation of the rubber industry, while UNDP financed the construction of a modern market in Flumpa.
Before I conclude, I would kindly like to draw the attention of the Nimba County Administration on the Nimba County Local Economic Development (LED) Strategic Plan 2012-2016, which was designed to complement the County Development Agenda (CDA) and Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). The Nimba County LED Strategic Plan, along with those of Grand Gedeh and Lofa Counties, was developed with the guidance of the then Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs- now Ministry of Finance and Development Planning- and the support of the Joint UN-Habitat and the UNDP Support Team and the European Union. The three Counties LED Strategic Plans were a result of a participatory and highly competitive process that involved six counties- Bomi, Grand Bassa, and Grand Gedeh, on the one hand; and Bong, Lofa and Nimba, on the other hand. That process carried out a local economic assessment, formulated strategies, and identified priorities, programs and projects that will create employment and income generation opportunities for each of the six county’s citizens.
For Nimba County, it was expected that the implementation of identified projects would create more that 60,000 permanent jobs, especially for the youth. To achieve this goal, the local economic development strategic planning process identified five priority areas of interventions. These are: Agriculture and Farming Modernization; Technical Skills Development; Entrepreneurship and Business Development; Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation; and Capacity Building in LED.
The five priority areas were translated into respective fine main programs that comprise fourteen projects. The total cost was estimated at US$25million. I think that the Nimba County Administration should revisit this LED Strategic Plan in order to evaluate and eventually update it in line with the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance under implementation.
As a teacher of Economics at Nimba County Community College (NCCC), I will conclude by noting that according to the macroeconomic theory, economic growth and development are determined by increases in labor productivity, increases in capital per hour worked and progress in technology. These three determinants are known as economic, conditions of growth and development. Even though they are necessary, most economists agree that they are not sufficient. They argue that other noneconomic conditions referred to as pro-growth conditions are essential to ensure economic growth and development of nations. They are: an educational system consistent with local realities and international standards; a modern health system, but accessible to all; a strong and independent legal system to enforce trade and investment contracts; a wise and transparent management system of natural resources; protection of patents and copyrights to promote creativity; and a low level of corruption.
By intervening in almost all of the areas as developed above, the International Community has equipped Liberia with the necessary tools to embark on the long journey of development. As the future can only be built in consideration of the past, Liberian actors, especially the media and CSOs, should reflect on those contributions to have an idea of what they have achieved and challenges that they have encountered in order to draw lessons for the future.
About the author:
Amb. Aloys Uwimana served as a UNMIL Civil Affairs Expert in Bong and Nimba Counties from 2005 to 2006 and from 2006 to 2011 respectively. He is currently teaching French, Economics and Public Administration at NCCC. Prior to his assignment to Liberia, Amb. Uwimana taught at various universities in the USA and served as Ambassador of his native country of Rwanda to Washington, DC and Tokyo. He can be reached at 231777778034/231888644125 or at [email protected]