|From left: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Republic of Liberia and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz at the Liberia Partners’ Forum in Washington, DC.|
By Blue Chevigny
NEW YORK, USA, 14 February 2007 – “This meeting is crucial to the future of the people of Liberia,” stated President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the Liberia Partners’ Forum held this week in Washington, DC.
“They have lived through the nightmare of senseless wars, violence, abuse and tragedy,” she added. “They have seen their communities destroyed and their families uprooted. After 15 years of civil war and auto-destruction, when we took office there was no electricity, no water. Schools and clinics had crumbled and roads were impassable. Many youth had spent more time in war than in school.”
Ms. Sirleaf was talking to a room of ambassadors and other delegates from countries around the world – all potential donors to her country’s efforts to rebuild and reinvent itself from the ground up after 14 years of civil war.
|The UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Liberia, Jordan Ryan, at the Liberia Partners’ Forum.|
Resources needed for development
Having taken office a year ago as the first elected woman president of an African country, Ms. Sirleaf had come to Washington for a two-day meeting at the World Bank. At the opening session, she sat flanked by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.
Mr. Wolfowitz spoke about the inspiring scene he had witnessed on a recent visit to Liberia, where children and young people are returning to their education after years of missing it. “Those who remember Liberia’s violent past may find it hard to imagine it’s become a place of hope, but it has,” he said.
Ms. Rice announced that the US Government would be cancelling Liberia’s $391 million debt to the United States. But beyond debt relief, financing the broad improvements that Liberia needs will be a major challenge.
The World Bank’s Country Manager for Liberia, Luigi Giovine, said he needs to temper his enthusiasm with realism about Liberia’s reconstruction. “The fact is that as of now, the resources are missing for development,” he noted.
Education and training
The United Nations has joined many non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders in Liberia to work with existing resources while the rest are being secured.
At the forum, the African Regional Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Regina Amadi-Njoku, spoke about job creation and skills-building. She said the ILO is focused on getting youth to return to education and training from a life of child soldiering and child labouring.
“Once you have the right leadership and you set a good example, wherever they have been, children will come back,” said Ms. Amadi-Njoku. “And you see this in Liberia.”
Vision and leadership
Also attending the forum as part of the UN delegation was the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Liberia, Jordan Ryan. Like many other speakers, he attributed much of the international enthusiasm about Liberia to Ms. Sirleaf’s vision and leadership.
“She often talks about Liberia being ‘back’, and it’s true,” Mr. Ryan told UNICEF Radio. “The refugees are back, the internally displaced persons have gone back home. So it’s a moment of great hope in Liberia.”
Mr. Ryan went on to describe the many ways to fulfil that hope: through health care, employment and education – especially girls’ education. (Underscoring the critical role of education in development, UNICEF is chairing a session on the topic at the Washington forum and will host a 16 February follow-up meeting in New York on the future of education in Liberia.)
“We must create opportunities for young people,” concluded Mr. Ryan. “Close to 60 per cent of the country are children and young people. They never had much hope. Now they do.”
14 February 2007:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on the Liberia Partners’ Forum in Washington, DC, which addressed the future of Liberia’s development.
12 February 2007:
The UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Liberia, Jordan Ryan, on the future of Liberia and UN teamwork.
14 February 2007:
Regina Amadi-Njoku and Sina Chuma-Mkandawire of the International Labour Organization on the need for meaningful work for youth in Liberia.
14 February 2007:
World Bank Country Manager for Liberia Luigi Giovine on the prospects for Liberian youth and how to meet the coming challenges.
Liberating Liberia’s war generation [with video]