What Happened to the Kokoyah Millennium Village Dream?

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On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, our team of Investigative Reporters produced two stories detailing what now seems to have been a good pilot education project in rural Liberia which seem to be on the brink of failure.

In those stories, we reported that due to the nonchalant disposition of stakeholders, a project designed to lift a whole community from the doldrums of poverty is floundering, to the great disappointment of the hapless and impoverished would be beneficiaries. 

The Millennium Village concept developed by former Harvard University don, Jeffrey Sachs, now Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, portends  methodologies to reduce by half  extreme poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as  providing universal primary education.

When Professor Sachs came to Liberia in 2007, in the lead up to the launch of the Kokoya Millennium Village Project (KMVP) in Liberia, he said “The priority areas for investment in the project will be in the areas of agriculture, health, education and infrastructure.”

On education, Sachs said, “Our commitment has to be that there are schools for the children to attend, teachers to teach and the books and supplies to learn from.” Under this component of the KMVP, four schools in Kokoya, Bong County were targeted: Wesseh Gardea, U-LAH and Quoikapor elementary and junior high schools in Botota and Quoikapor, respectively, and the Tugbahblee elementary schools.  These schools would each have a computer literacy program under an arrangement with the Sony- Erickson computer giant.

Erickson, in collaboration with   a local communication provider, would have operated a Caller Users Group (CUG) program to aid health and community workers, teachers and Kokoya statutory authority in the discharge of their duties.

According to Sachs, agriculture would have taken center stage  as investment in food  production and income earnings to lift communities in the district out of poverty.

These priority areas were to be developed in the many Millennium Villages which were to be built across the country had the pilot project proved successful. The pilot project in Kokoyah and another  somewhere in River  Gee County were to be completed and unveiled in 2015, the cut off point of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) and the introduction of the Global Development Goals.

These potentially great ideas projected in the KMVP, seem far from what is now obtaining in Kokoyah District five years after the project got started. 

A cross-section of the population, who spoke with our reporters in Kokoya, expressed their disappointment over what they invariably described as a project on the brink of failure.

Documents in our possession suggest that the Norwegian Government, key donor to the KMVP, was not happy over the manner in which the project was been implemented. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), lead implementer of the KMVP, under its Direct Implementation Modalities (DIM), agreed with the Norwegian evaluation team findings but cited reasons for apparent failure in implementing the project according to the proposal.

The UNDP unreservedly blamed partners, especially the Norwegian Government, for what it called “gaps in funding which made it difficult, if not impossible to implement any meaningful activities in the project area.” UNDP also blamed the project failure on the high turnover of government officials, which created an absence of leadership and guidance from government side.

Be that as it may, our reporters established that the KMVP has now been put in the hands of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), under what is now being termed as the National Implementation Modalities (NIM).  This followed a series of meetings among stakeholders. Under NIM, the MIA, working with a paltry US$1.4 Million, is expected to roll out a small part of the infrastructure program of the original KMVP.

This we find to be a disservice   to the people of Kokoyah District, after raising their hopes so high and even causing other NGOs not to intervene in Kokoyah. The joke is told how, when Kokoyah citizens approached other NGOs to make interventions in certain areas of rural development, they replied,  “But you have got the biggest NGO operating in your district.”

Judging from the Daily Observer’s findings, we still believed it is not too late to rollout the KMVP and ensure that the lives of our people in the deep backwoods of the Kokoyah forest are transformed for the better and their  children remain healthy and enrolled in schools with trained teachers and a state of the art computer literacy program.

We urge the Ministries of Education and Internal Affairs and the Office of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to liaise with the other stakeholders, UNDP and the Norwegian Government, in an urgent and expeditious attempt to salvage this all important pilot project.  It is too critical to the educational, economic and technological future of rural Liberia.

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