All Eyes on the Prize

By: Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 27, 2004

The February 4-5, Donor Conference to be convened in New York continues to invite silence from civil society organizations. The reasons are not at all discernible to me but there have been a number of emerging issues, which need to be examined and responded to especially during this time in our history when we really do have an opportunity to recreate the Liberian State. What are the issues?

The press reported recently that the Donor Conference in New York seeks to raise a paltry $400-500 million. This amount of money is simply too small to have any significant impact on Liberia reconstruction and rehabilitation needs. I think our Government should at least seek $1 billion a year for the next five years. During the Consultation Meeting organized by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, the proposal for the “Liberia Reconstruction Conference” which was distributed did not include cost. It was my hope that once the “High Level Consultation” was concluded a figure about the cost for jumpstarting our economic recovery would be established. To my knowledge this has yet to happen. The final outcome of the MPEA consultative process has not been released to the public. I have not received nor seen a copy, something I believe I am entitled to since I attended a session of the “Stakeholders Consultation” and was impressed upon by its organizers that some inputs from the consultations would be reflected in the final document to be presented to the donors in New York.

I don’t think the Liberian Government is assertive enough in trying to explain the real needs of our country to the international community. The urgency of our needs is anchored in the very fragile security conditions in the country and the region. Already, UNMIL has had to postpone the taking away of guns from the belligerent groups. I have a well founded suspicion that one of the reasons may be due to funding constraints. These issues need public hearing but our Government is not doing a good job in this regard. It’s international relations and behaviour do not inspire confidence either.

Instead our public spaces have been invaded and constrained by the vanity of those who wield power in this country. First came the news that representatives of the former Government of Liberia (GOL) were calling on the Chairman of the LNTG (Liberia National Transitional Government) to maintain a security official and one of the several wives of the exile Liberian leader as a paid employee at the Maritime Bureau. Then we heard of the dismissal of the Chairman of LURD (Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy) by disgruntled generals. Sekou Conneh, leader of LURD called the BBC from “Dakar” in Senegal to announce that he was still the legitimate leader of LURD. He arrived in the country recently and publicly accused the Chairman of the Transitional government of violating the accord. The straw houses are collapsing around us and pretenders to the throne are looking for covers.

Just as this was happening the Chairman of the LNTG Charles Gyude Bryant and Speaker of the House George Dweh were trading accusations publicly. Speaker Dweh accused Chairman Bryant of attempting to undermine LURD by causing confusion in its leadership. The Chairman said that the Speaker’s accusations were essentially a bunch of nonsense and hogwash. In the mean time the wrangle in LURD leadership is taking another disturbing dimension. On June 21, Jonathan Paylehleh, during the BBC Focus on Africa Program, interviewed the estranged wife of LURD leader, Aisha Conneh. Mrs Conneh said that she was the real leader of LURD and pointed out that she has better intelligence on LURD’s armoury – the amount of weapons, the content and whereabouts - then does her husband. This statement and the continue upheaval in LURD leadership structure are bad and unnecessary publicity for the country especially at this time when we need to convinced all and sundry of our desire to built a lasting peace in the country.

It is a darn shame that our national leaders are not demonstrating sufficiently serious effort to convince our international friends of the urgency to adequately respond to the desperate need of our people to establish a durable and just peace. Even those who profess to represent the interests of civil society groups in the Transitional Assembly are not particularly playing their required role in order to build an enduring peace and expand our democratic spaces. For example, the most public outbursts we have heard from some civil society leaders is the fuss over the nature of the representation of the Liberian Government to the donor conference. Essentially our civil society leaders in the Transitional Assembly are especially interested in obtaining plane tickets to travel to New York and obtain the associated benefits. We have not heard any respond by the Assembly to the plan the Government is presenting to the Donor Conference. They are not asking the hard questions about cost and where the money will come from. The Transitional Assembly is the appropriate forum where these issues need to be thoroughly discussed, debated and realistic policies are formulated, affirmed or reinforced.

The current political climate is a distraction to the public. Confidence in the ability of this Government to act responsibly on the urgent issues of our times is wanting. We, all Liberians, need to keep our eyes on the real prize: just and lasting peace as well as an urgent economic recovery. What needs to happen include the following. Our national leaders, especially those heading major branches of government such as the Executive and Legislative, must seek dispute resolution mechanisms provided for in our Constitution and or other conflict resolution tools that are available to resolve differences. No public sparring guys and gals! I heard a Liberian on the radio a few days ago who said that Liberia needs to be ruled by just laws and not mean and vain men.

In addition, our representatives to the donor conference should make a robust and convincing case for the actual amount we need to secure our economy recovery plan and boldly state the cost. Our representatives should also point out that minimally fifty cents on the dollar must be spent in Liberia and on Liberian services, goods and expertise. No half measures would do. Our region is too unstable to not get this thing right. Our civil society organizations and its leadership must begin to set the tone for these efforts by organizing campaigns around the cancellation of Liberia’s $3 billion debt and to seek adequate funding for our peace process. There is nothing at all unreasonable to recommend to the Donor Conference that Liberia should get at least one percent of the amount of money earmarked for Iraqi’s reconstruction, which is about 87 billion dollars. Liberians are human beings too, deserving of international support and solidarity.

Ezekiel Pajibo is a political commentator and social critic