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Speeches

J.A. Tyler: Poverty, Family Breakdown, Corruption, Interfaith, and Intertribal Conflict in Liberia

 

Address to the World Summit on Peace

January 31, 2009, New York, USA


Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic, has been plagued with a myriad of political, economic, social, and at times, religious problems that conspired over the years to subject its citizens to numerous obstacles that did not permit sustainable growth and viable national progress.

The culmination of this national malaise is the result of abject poverty, family breakdown, massive corruption in public and private sectors, intertribal conflicts, and the near collapse of the rule of law — all of which tend to negatively affect Liberia’s participation in the African Union and the union’s role in the political, social, as well as economic fabric in Africa and the Liberian society.

On this occasion, we will attempt to briefly discuss these obstacles and the national and international efforts now underway to address them.

Poverty

The non-availability of adequate resources to sustain life and better living conditions, which is described as poverty, is so pervasive in Liberia and many parts of Africa to the extent that the National GDP, according to incomplete data derived by the Government of Liberia and International Monetary Fund estimate, stands at US190.00 per capital. In rural Liberia and other remote areas of the country, poverty is very acute. This is a result of many factors, outstanding among which are low levels of income and consumption, lack of food security and poor nutrition, scanty or non-existing health and education programs and facilities, and inadequate infrastructure for citizens. Poverty is further reinforced by inequalities in access to justice and economic opportunities.

Initially, the country lacked reliable information regarding poverty. With the advent of the present Government, three sources of information became available. The first includes the core Welfare Indicator Questionnaire which surveyed 3,600 households covering every region, demographic group, income level, and household type. The second source is the Liberia Demographic and Health Survey which collected data from a representative sample of over 7,000 households between December 2006 and April 2007. A third source was the participatory Poverty Assessment survey which dealt with the perception of poverty based on direct information provided by the Liberian people themselves to address the menace of poverty.

The current government formulated a strategy aimed at reducing it in the Liberian society. This strategy, known as the poverty Reduction Strategy or PRS, is constructed on four pillars specifically designed to tackle various dimensions of poverty:

1.    Security
2.    Economic revitalization
3.    Governance and the rule of law
4.    Infrastructure and basic services

Under the Security pillar, the Government has successfully disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated ex-combatants into the society. This pillar is further strengthened by the restructuring of the Army, the police, and other security apparatus.

To revitalize the economic pillar, the Government has put in place the Government Economic Management Assistance Program, otherwise known as GEMAP. This includes the cancellation of all Forest Concession agreements and the renegotiation of  concession agreements between the Government and multi-national corporations to ensure that the country gets her fair share of the resources exploited by those corporations. New concession agreements have been negotiated and like the renegotiated agreements, there are social contracts entered into, with revenue up to 30 percent going back to the communities from where those resources were extracted or exploited for developmental purposes. Presently, plans are on the way to decentralize the distribution of Government activities.

Under the Governance and the Rule of law pillar, there is ongoing Civil Service Reform, which aims to reduce the Government’s wage bill and ensure that only those individuals on Government payroll get Government salary checks. The decentralization of administration to local authorities is to ensure their participation in the poverty reduction strategy, and the Anti-Corruption Commission is to investigate all cases of corruption to ensure that those entrusted with public funds are accountable. Constitutional reform and the overhauling of the Judiciary are currently ongoing.

In the area of infrastructure and basic services, roads are presently being rehabilitated; educational institutions destroyed as a result of civil conflict are being renovated and new ones are being built. Health facilities are also being improved with the construction of additional health facilities. Efforts are on the way to restore pipe-borne water and electricity.

These pillars are constructed to reinforce one another, as progress in one area facilitates progress in other areas.

The expected outcome of these pillars is success in creating jobs and improvement in the delivery of services.
These pillars represent the essential building blocks for realizing the vision of rapid, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction and progress towards achieving the Millennial Development Goals (MDG).

Family Breakdown

The first casualty of poverty in the Liberian society is the breakdown in family relationships. It is a sad fact that confronted with poverty, a family cannot hold together. Other social vices develop that speed the break-up or breakdown of the family. For example, if the bread winner has no access to income to sustain the family, he most often adopts dishonest means to generate income to sustain him and his family.

Corruption

Corruption, the dishonest method of acquiring wealth is, in most cases, a direct result of poverty and sometimes due to the insatiable greed of individuals. To stem the endemic tide of corruption in Liberia, the current Government has set up an agency, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, to deal especially and expeditiously with cases of corruption in the public sector. Other agencies, such as the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC), are set up to streamline public expenditures and ensure that Government does not disburse huge amounts to bogus and nonexistent companies and individuals masquerading as vendors.

Interfaith Council

The myriad political, economic, and social problems of Liberia require diverse methods to find solutions. Almost all of these problems can be traced to poverty.

The civil war of 1990-2004 exposed the chronic nature of Liberia’s woes. At the height of the civil war, religious leaders of the Christian and Islamic faiths saw reason to pull resources and spiritual insights to mediate between the various warring factions. Their activities became the precursor of all peace conferences which finally ended the war. When the war was raging, both the Christian and Islamic leaders respectively pooled resources to provide relief designed to reduce the poverty of citizens. While remaining neutral in the various conflicts, the interfaith mediation council, as it is sometimes called, has had a positive influence on political and military leaders by advocating peace and reconciliation which can facilitate conducive environment for economic activities by citizens in an attempt to negate poverty and better health and educational opportunities and facilities.

Intertribal Conflict

Disputes between the various tribes of Liberia were common in the past and were sometimes caused by land border claims and disenfranchisement.

In this age, disputes are the result of enmity cultivated by war and after the war. Certain tribes are now agitating to reclaim land that was sold to citizens of other tribes who peacefully settled in the during peace time. This is one of the serious and potential sources of national upheavals if not properly checked.

The present government has set up commissions to investigate these disputes which are suspected to sometimes be the result of ignorance.

The Rule of Law

Every civilized nation on earth, Liberia being no exception, preserves its coherent national character by the rule of law. In Liberia, recent history is replete with records of government officials and private individuals flaunting the rule of law, giving rise to the culture of impunity, which is not healthy for national unity.

To address this, the Liberian Government in partnership with its foreign partners, notably the U.S. Government, Western nations, and the African Union, have put into place mechanisms that curtail internal and external aggressions and instituted a vigorous judicial reform program intended to streamline judicial processes and make justice affordable to every citizen. Some of the main objectives are to minimize bribery for justice, generate an excellent criminal justice system, and reduce over-crowding in the nation’s prisons.

The African Union

The African Union, which is a successor to the Organization of African Unity, represents a forum for the meeting of minds of African leaders where ideas are exchanged for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of African nations.

Liberia’s position within this continental grouping is very significant. Historically, Liberia, a founding member of the O.A.U., which is now the African Union, worked within its context to promote, support, and advocate for the liberation of African nations that were then struggling under the yoke of western imperial colonial domination.

This placed Liberia at the central stage of the African continent until the unfortunate events of the military coup and the brutal 14-year civil war. These events demoralized Liberia, destroyed its institutions, and sent many Liberians into exile. Remembering the significant work of Liberia in promoting African unity, African leaders worked with other international partners, especially the U.S., European Union, and the Economic Community of West African States, played a decisive role in ending the civil war in Liberia, bringing and sustaining peace. The incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took appropriate steps to restore Liberia’s lost international image as a democratic, peaceful nation.

The role of the African Union in Liberia is aimed at nurturing and sustaining democratic institutions and practices that will bring economic prosperity to the nation and its inhabitants. Now that the pendulum of the A.U. is swinging towards political union of one government for the African continent, Liberia is expected to play a pivotal role in whatever decision that may be reached in this direction.

It can safely be said that the African Union’s role in Liberia is laudable and supportive of peace and reconciliation among Liberians in order to strengthen this West African nation in assuming its rightful place among the community of nations.