Dakar, Senegal, 08/27 - The encouraging socio- economic and political
progress in Liberia after a 14-year devastating civil war makes the
country a test case in post-conflict reconstruction and human
development in Africa, a senior UN official has said.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was elected Africa`s first female President late last year enjoys tremendous international goodwill as she combines a brilliant track record in public administration with an iron determination to tackle the challenge of rebuilding Africa`s first republic ruined by the civil war that killed more than 250,000 people.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), where Johnson-Sirleaf had served at very senior position, and which is in the vanguard of international efforts in assisting Africa to address its huge development problems, Friday launched the first Human Development Report on Liberia since the inauguration of the new government last January.
"The most important of all for us is that Liberia today is a test case," declared Gilbert Houngbo, Assistant Secretary General and Director UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa (RBA). "The lights are flashing and the train (of reconstruction and sustainable development) is on its way. It is only a matter of time."
Apart from damaged or non-existent socio-economic infrastructure, Liberia with under four million war-scarred population and a meagre national budget of US$130 million, faces the problems of post-war insecurity, brain drain, foreign debt overhang, high illiteracy and unemployment rates, a demoralised public service, restive youth and thousands of ex-combatants.
Under the theme "Mobilising Capacity for Reconstruction and Development," the UNDP report analyses some of these problems that have hampered human development and advances practical solutions on how the new government in Monrovia could address pro-poor issues.
Houngbo told PANA in an interview from New York, that UNDP`s interventions in Liberia were focusing on three key areas - poverty alleviation, towards the achievement of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, economic governance and post-conflict reconstruction.
"We also support HIV/AIDS control and of course the gender agenda as a cross cutting dimension to overall development strategy," he stressed.
In monetary terms, the UNDP is spending more than US$150 million on its various interventions in Liberia for 2006-2007 programme cycle, excluding contributions from bilateral and multilateral sources, and development partners, including the World Bank, IMF, EU, and other organisations within the UN systems.
Houngbo said the UNDP was placing a great accent on capacity building in its development interventions in developing countries including in Africa, because "if we do not build the capacity at the individual, societal and institutional levels, development efforts may not be meaningful."
According to the 2006 National Human Development Report on Liberia, for capacity building to be sustainable, it must "proceed not only from an assessment of needs but also from an assessment of capabilities existing among the Liberian society, including its social capital that has contributed to human survival in conditions of profound misery and continues to offer prospects for the future."
Underscoring this inclusive approach to capacity building, the Regional Director said the UNDP had encouraged the establishment of an Open Society Institute with the aim of involving all stakeholders to fast-tract poverty reduction, which, he said, was inter-related with wealth creation "the key issue being to provide the people with access to basic needs."
The UNDP and experts from other partners are also working with the Liberian authorities on the Poverty Reduction Strategy papers (PRSP) to help revive the social services such as health, education, electricity supply, water and sanitation, the UN official said, stressing the importance of a strong public-private sector partnership in steering the ship of development, especially in post-conflict countries.
To address the challenges of youth, which Houngbo said were almost identical in many African countries, the UNDP is partnering the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on job creation programmes to empower young Liberians, including through a volunteer scheme for university graduates.
The UNDP under its Transfer of Knowledge of Expatriate Nationals (TOKEN) is also assisting Liberians abroad to either return home or engage in activities that contribute to the development of their country.
"I do not have the exact figures, but we are making a lot of progress in this area in Liberia and other African countries," Houngbo said.
Endowed with natural resources such as diamond and timber, Liberia cannot be said to be zero-poor, but ironically it was the huge revenue from the illegal exploitation of these resources that sustained or fuelled the bloody civil war, hence the UN embargo on the export of Liberian diamond and timber.
On when the country would get out of the woods, given the generous outpouring of international support, Houngbo said a lot of hope is placed on the international Round Table on the mobilisation of resources for Liberia, slated for October.
According to him, the meeting will address a range of issues that will turn things around for the better in Liberia, including debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, and the persisting diamond export sanctions.
Reminded that corruption remains the bane of successive African governments including the Interim Liberian government succeeded by Johnson-Sirleaf`s administration, the UN official said apart from the reassuring commitment by the present Liberian president to fight the vice, the UNDP`s economic governance intervention is anchored on zero-tolerance for corruption.
"We may not claim perfection, but our programmes are project-based and do not involve cash handling. Every programme is subjected to stringent monitoring and countries are supported in taking ownership and managing their resources under rigorous checks and balances," he added.
On the UNDP annual Human Development Reports, criticised by some independent economists, especially the standard criteria used in measuring human development, the Regional Director defended the documents and the experts compiling them.
He said the major challenge was that of quality of statistics and not so much the fault of the experts, adding that while the reports continue to achieve its development objectives, it must be realised that "growth does not necessarily translate to economic development."
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