Feb 5th, 2013 8:15 PM UTC
By Edith Jibunoh
This week, ONE and Save the Children gathered close to 200 Liberians, including several Liberian ONE members, at a popular event in Monrovia, which included an exhibition and panel on transparency and accountability in the city’s iconic City Hall.
City Hall was packed all afternoon with the young and eager Liberians who gathered at our event, keen to join our efforts to focus attention on transparency and accountability and emphasize the recommendations, just released in a new report, for the UN High Level Panel (HLP) deliberations on the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (or as we like to call it, MDG 2.0).
The event was attended by members of the HLP, including co-chair President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister of Finance and the Economy; Ms. Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish Development Minister; Ms. Betty Maina of Kenya; Mr. John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress; Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the Post-2015 Agenda; as well as members of the HLP secretariat and other Liberian dignitaries.
Involved in our exhibition were a variety of activists, including Ma Annie, who started the Liberian “Peace Huts” to mediate local conflict issues (land, marital and community unrest); Alfred Sirleaf, who started Daily Talk, a community blackboard which translates the news into vernacular and images in order to make news accessible to the illiterate; young Koola Fofana, who talked to mingling guests from her stand, and displayed her work on the President’s Vision 2030 committee, allowing her to channel youth voices into Liberia’s formal development planning. The exhibition also included the big draw for the many youth in attendance: Sweetz and David Mello – two Liberian music entertainers who worked on a song with young kids throughout the exhibition, encouraging them to express themselves and get involved in their country’s development through music.
The exhibition was quickly followed by five lively breakout sessions, where Liberian citizens organized themselves and came up with a range of recommendations for various facets of the transparency and accountability agenda, including the consultation process of how to get better data.
The HLP members were really impressed by the effort that the Liberians put into coming up with concise yet constructive inputs for them to take into consideration and individually commended their work after spending some time going through the exhibitions on display.
President Johnson-Sirleaf reminded the youth that Liberia’s future lay in their hands, while Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala remarked on the alignment of the issues raised by the Liberians and the HLP members. Ms. Gunilla Carlsson congratulated Liberia on the progress made under the leadership of President Johnson-Sirleaf and noted that their recommendations showed the dedication of the citizens to making their country a better place.
Ms. Betty Maina emphasized the importance of holding the private sector accountable alongside the public sector,stating that they also had a responsibility in ensuring that development goals were met, and she encouraged Liberians to demand accountability from the private sector as well.
Mr. John Podesta recognized ONE and Save the Children for the remarkable work we do and spoke of the trip that ONE organized that brought him to Liberia for the first time, where he was able to see firsthand the dedication of Liberian people to their development.
The entire event, which spanned about 6 hours, left all of us involved inspired and struck by the dedication these citizens put into communicating their views on development. We are all so proud to have been a part of the process that gave them a platform to get their views across to those that needed to hear it the most.
What would make the biggest difference in your world? Vote for the issues that matter to you most here, and we’ll share them with the HLP.
Feb 4th, 2013 10:40 AM UTC
By Nealon DeVore
Earlier this week, ONE met up with 30 of our Liberian members in Monrovia at a local watering hole called Tides, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. As I reported earlier, we have been in Monrovia the past week to engage the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 MDGs (HLP) during their meetings and consultations. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet with some of our members and hear their views on the issues affecting development in Liberia.
My colleague Edith Jibunoh, from ONE’s Washington, D.C., office, and I led the meet up. I started off by giving a brief history of ONE and our work around the world to promote Africa’s development. In particular, I focused on our campaigns to engage our African members on issues around the continent and how we work to influence the policies of select African governments and institutions.
Edith then spoke about this week in Liberia and its importance in the greater scheme of development. The HLP would be using this week to listen to the voices of people through civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector on what the next set of development goals should include. ONE also used this week to launch a new report — Open for Development — that would make the case for some key recommendations to improve the post-2015 agenda. We launched this report in partnership with Save the Children with HLP members, which Liberian President Sirleaf joined!
All this talk from Edith and me created some palpable enthusiasm from our members – so they began sharing their thoughts on how governments and partners (like the United States or European governments) could support development.
For me, it was an incredible learning experience. Our members shared their particular sectoral concerns — clean water, HIV/AIDS treatment, environmental sustainability and education were mentioned, with clean water reiterated many times. More importantly though, our members shared how development should be made more accountable. They want the goals applied to everyone, rich and poor. We must speak in peoples’ vernacular languages (while Liberia’s official language is English, I can attest that the vernacular creole or “simple English” can be difficult to understand!) because illiteracy is so high in a country like Liberia.
We have to use radio and other more traditional forms of media to reach people, which I’m proud to say we are already doing here at ONE in our “You Choose” campaign in South Africa, Malawi and Zambia. There were even comments on the need to focus on better results and outcomes, which hits at the heart of our latest thinking here at ONE. You’d think these members were on ONE’s policy team!
Our ONE members in Liberia are incredibly astute. That was driven home to me when a member stood up and pointed out that amongst the 30 of us, they were the educated and relatively affluent in Liberia. The real voices ONE and the world need to hear are those not present and who carry the burden of these problems—and he pointed across the water to a beach where children were playing football in front of what appeared to be an endless see of tin-roofed shacks. My fellow ONE member couldn’t have said it better.
Oct 7th, 2011 11:03 AM UTC
By Suzane Muhereza
The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced earlier today that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 is to be divided in three equal parts between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women. Leymah Gbowee mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war. In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the “Arab spring”, Tawakkul Karman has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.
Johnson-Sirleaf’s son James spoke to Reuters on the phone from Monrovia saying “We are very excited. This is very big news and we have to celebrate.”
It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.
Aug 10th, 2011 11:17 AM UTC
By Dr Sipho Moyo
Liberia was Africa’s first republic, colonized in 1822 and declared independent in 1847. It is also home to Africa’s first female president: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I met with her last week at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia during a ONE listening and learning trip. And while this was not our first encounter, I was particularly thrilled to be meeting her with ONE’s new Chief Executive Officer, Michael Elliott, who was visiting Liberia for the first time.
Meeting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
At ONE, we strongly believe that for poor rural populations throughout Africa, smart investments in agriculture are key to reducing poverty, building viable livelihoods and accessing affordable food. Meeting with President Sirleaf Johnson was a great opportunity to find out how committed Liberia’s President is to agriculture development.
No surprise, but definitely noteworthy: as an African woman, “Mama Ellen,” as many Liberians call her, does not just speak about agriculture — she is a farmer herself who grows rice, chilies and vegetables, and when she talks about the need for farmers in Liberia to move from traditional farming methods, which erode the environment, you get the sense that the Iron Lady, knows exactly what she is talking about. A recent report by Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture echoed her concern. The report states that future efforts in Liberia need to focus on productivity enhancing measures with a pro-poor focus that increases incomes. According to the Minister for Agriculture Dr Florence Chenoweth whom I also had the privilege of meeting during this trip, Liberia’s challenge is two fold; one is that Liberian’s lack access to assets like land, knowledge and inputs and two, opportunities and an enabling environment.
Agriculture was not all that was on the President’s mind on this day. Another one of her top priorities is education particularly tertiary educational and vocational skills training. According to UNICEF, education in Liberia was severely affected by the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars, between 1989 and 2003. Therefore, while the country has seen a large increase in foreign direct investment in sectors such as mining, forestry, and now petroleum, the potential for Liberians to get good jobs is limited by a mismatch in the required skills. Corporations that have a presence in Liberia will need to step up and invest seriously in vocational training for their workers, in an effort to fill the skills gap.
The mother of four is up for re-election later this year, and one of the key challenges surrounding her election is allegations of corruption in some sectors of government a fact which she openly alluded to during our discussion as unjustly undermining the governments efforts to rebuild the nation. A report by the Voice of America (VOA) points out that the head of Liberia’s anti-corruption commission is asking for direct prosecutorial powers to go after government officials misusing public funds. Still, it is clear as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf points out in her campaigning for re-election, that her government’s fight against corruption has helped to restore investor confidence in a country still recovering from 14 years of conflict. On the other hand, says VOA, political challengers question the president’s commitment, saying her government has too much influence over what should be independent investigations. From speaking to other government officials and some of the youth we were left with the distinct impression that the judiciary in Liberia is extremely independent and not likely to be much influenced by either the executive or the legislature. Those around President Johnson Sirleaf will tell you categorically that her work is her campaign. And based on the incredible transformation from the Liberia I saw five years ago when I attended her inauguration – little more than a depressing ruin – to what I saw this week – a much more organized, energized, optimistic and promising country with some well chosen cabinet members I’d say Mama Ellen should keep doing what she does best. Leading Liberians to their promised land!.
Jul 15th, 2010 5:34 PM UTC
By Edith Jibunoh
A couple weeks ago we announced the great news that Liberia had reached Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) completion point. For countries with a lot of international debt, the HIPC process offers a means to debt cancellation from multilateral organizations by undertaking major and difficult reforms to improve country economic and financial systems.
Liberia started the HIPC process two years ago with US$4.9 billion in debt, and potential annual repayments that overshadowed their entire annual budgets! Throughout the period of Liberia’s civil war and the resulting crisis, loans were not serviced and interest and penalties accumulated. By reaching completion point, Liberia has passed the 12 triggers stipulated by the World Bank and the IMF and today, Liberia has had $4.6 billion of their multilateral debt has been cancelled.
This action is a recognition of the tremendous efforts taken to transform Liberia, under the leadership of President Johnson-Sirleaf, and is an endorsement of the progress made in public financial management, debt management, governance, social service provision and the implementation of a poverty reduction strategy.
This decision now opens up more fiscal space for Liberia, allowing them the opportunity to embark on more development programs that will help expand the economy whilst continuing to tackle poverty. It also paves the way for additional debt relief. Liberia still has a way to go before we can declare victory. The Paris club, which holds Liberia’s bilateral debt, includes wealthy countries that meet under the Chairmanship of the French Ministry of Finance. Their next meeting is in September and the HIPC completion news certainly positions Liberia to make the best case possible.
Sep 18th, 2009 3:49 PM UTC
By Helen Palmer
This week I went along to the London launch of a new book called “Long story bit by bit: Liberia Retold”. Tim Hetherington is a British photographer who now works for Vanity Fair magazine based in New York. In 2003 he travelled behind rebel lines in Liberia as the country’s civil war was coming to a head. He’s been returning ever since, documenting the process of how a shattered country tries to put itself back together again.
I spent time in Liberia in 2003 and 2004 with Oxfam, so the book has a special resonance for me. The overriding memories I have of the country are of the extreme stoicism of a people forced to endure the unimaginable. Most women I spoke to had been raped; most people had lost family members and homes, often repeatedly. I’ll never forget visiting an impromptu refuge in the capital Monrovia where displaced families were camping on the floor of a vast temple. It was squalid and flea ridden, and yet in the middle of the room we found and filmed a man ironing creases into a crisp white shirt. Tim’s photographs capture this spirit of survival and dignity, as well as the brutality of the war. The book includes the personal testimonies of a range of individuals – from infamous female rebel fighter “Snake Girl”, to anti corruption fighter Frances Johnson-Morris, or environmental activist Silas Siakor. It also naturally focuses on the story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female elected Head of State. So while its images are often shocking, it also makes for inspiring reading.
Apr 16th, 2009 10:30 AM UTC
By Virginia Simmons
Liberia bought back $1.2 billion in debt today at a 97% discount, “the steepest ever negotiated on developing country commercial debt.”
From the World Bank:
“The deal was concluded with the payment of $38 million to retire 25 outstanding commercial claims. The World Bank contributed half of this money through the International Development Association (IDA) Debt Reduction Facility, and Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States contributed the other half.
“The successful resolution of this inherited debt, which had ballooned through interest and penalty charges during a period when my country was wracked by civil war, is an important step on our road to recovery,” said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “This puts us on a firmer footing to attract investment and accelerate economic growth.”
Expect more from ONE soon on this amazing update.
Apr 9th, 2009 12:27 PM UTC
By Kathy McKiernan
Today the Washington Post is running a great op-ed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia. In the piece, the President talks about how the financial crisis threatens Africa’s turnaround and she also weighs in on how development assistance – along with stronger African leadership and better governance — has contributed to important progress in Africa over the past ten years.
President Sirleaf’s commentary is directly relevant to the current debate about the value of aid. She makes clear that aid has been an important component in Africa’s recent progress and cutting aid would have negative effects on poverty and stability on the continent. Thus she provides a very different view from that offered in the new book Dead Aid:
While international attention has been understandably focused on events in Darfur, Somalia and Zimbabwe, countries across the continent including Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique and Liberia have been quietly turning around. Economic growth rates regularly exceed 5 percent in many nations. Since 2000, 34 million more African children are in school. More than 2 million Africans are on lifesaving HIV/AIDS medicines. Malaria deaths have been halved in Rwanda and Ethiopia, and the disease has been virtually eradicated in Zanzibar. Poverty rates are falling fast, from 58 to 51 percent across the continent in just six years, according to the World Bank.
The key to this progress is stronger African leadership and more accountable governance. Today, more than 20 African countries are democracies, up from just three in the 1980s; they have competitive elections and improved human rights, and their news media are much freer. These efforts have been supported by increasingly effective development assistance from the United States and other partners.
The citizens and leaders of donor nations should recognize how important their assistance has been to the new leadership in Africa and how appreciative most Africans are for this partnership. Critics say that African economies are shrinking, that poverty is rising and that failing aid is the culprit. But this argument is at least a decade out of date. Africa’s turnaround is real, the evidence indisputable. Africans themselves have been the key to this reversal, but more effective aid has played an important role. Reducing aid would slow private-sector growth, stall poverty reduction, and undermine peace and stability in countries that are struggling to become part of the global economy.
Oct 18th, 2008 9:34 AM UTC
By Virginia Simmons
Development expert Steve Radelet wrote an important piece on the state of debt relief in Liberia on Nicholas Kristof’s NYT blog earlier this month.
“Liberia is beginning to rebound from its devastating civil war and the monstrous incompetence of [the country's former Presidents] Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor that nearly destroyed the country.
Liberia is at peace, the economy is growing, democracy is taking root, kids are going back to school and families are being united…Liberia’s “control of corruption” index, as measured by the World Bank, registered the second-largest improvement of any country in the world this year.”
And then he talks about their debt situation:
“Most [of the debt] was borrowed by Samuel Doe in the early 1980s, and has not been paid since 1984. With penalty interest, Liberians today are stuck with the bill: $4.5 billion, equivalent to a massive 3,000 percent of exports, the highest ratio in the world.
The major creditors all have pledged to forgive Liberia’s debts, but the process is stuck at the IMF, where the Board has been debating for a full year how to share the costs of the write-off. A solution seems at hand, but it isn’t done yet, and meanwhile Liberia must wait (if you feel so moved, write this week to the Managing Director of the IMF and ask for fast action to resolve Liberia’s debt crisis).”
You can read the full piece here.
(Note that Liberia’s turn around happened after they elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected head of state in Africa. Radelet closes by saying: “I hate to be a sexist, but maybe we ought to put more women in charge in tough places around the world.”)
Nov 20th, 2007 10:50 AM UTC
By Josh Lozman
Thank you again for all the work you all have done to help move Liberia’s debt cancellation forward. There have been some questions about the future use of this debt cancellation money. I want to provide with you some facts and figures.
First, in order to qualify for the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) debt cancellation process that Liberia has now entered, a country must establish a track record of macroeconomic stability and must have a national poverty-reduction plan. That Liberia met these two requirements so quickly after such a prolonged period of conflict (their 14-year civil war) is a testament to their early success and the leadership of President Johnson Sirleaf.
Second, debt cancellation has proven to be an effective means of delivering poverty reduction. Some success stories:
Below is a chart that graphically depicts the impressive increases in poverty-reducing expenditures in countries that have past “completion point” in the HIPC process.
-Josh Lozman, ONE Vote ’08 Policy Director
The International ONE Blog is a daily log of the anti-poverty movement. The site is operated by ONE staff, with guest contributions from ONE volunteers, members and allies.
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