Hon. Amara Konneh, Liberia’s of and Economic Affairs
After claiming independence from the American Colonization Society in 1847, it sometimes seems that modern Liberia is battling to re-claim its independence from being an “NGO Republic”.
During the war’s 14 years, in the absence of a strong legitimate central government to report to, international were the ones calling the shots; their emergency relief services much needed by a population fleeing their burning villages and pillaged homes.
Today, eight years after peace has returned, taking full control over the reigns of the development agenda still feels like a struggle. Old habits die hard. I have sat in meetings bedazzled at the misplaced arrogance of some individuals representing big multilateral development agencies, with their outdated powerpoint presentations (WordArt Microsoft 1993? Bring on the disco ball, why don’t you) and impactless projects (a two-day training in [insert here 4 buzz words]; a few thousand dollars to hire an international consultant to write a study on [insert here 4 buzz words]; etc). Some days the government’s frustration at the lack of responsiveness on the part of some of its development partners is palpable.
On the other hand, there is a tension between the government’s desire (and right) to take ownership of the development agenda, and its actual implementing power – as capital (funds) and labor (human capacity) remain scarce.
An illustrative example: at the end of the war in 2003, the budget of the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia (UNMIL) was $600 million. The budget of the government for that year? $23 million.
But the leadership of this country has a great vision for it. President Sirleaf has repeatedly claimed that the country will be aid-free within a decade. While aid currently accounts for half of GDP, oil has been recently added to Liberia’s long list of natural resources. The promise will be difficult but not impossible to keep.