Tag Archives: liberia

Pathway to Accountability: “Accountapreneurs”

Participants at a recent Accountapreneurship event in Nepal.

Participants at a recent Accountapreneurship event in Nepal.

Narayan Adhikari is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Accountability Lab

Two words always come to my mind when talking about accountability: “power” and “holders.” In principle, power comes from the people (the constituency). In a representative democracy, people are the source of power and they hold it by choosing their delegates through elections.

More often than not, however, the officials who get a mandate from the people hold power against the interests of electorate. Consequently, the power dynamic changes alongside the changes in attitudes, behaviors, and interests of the power holders. The cycle then repeats itself. For example; the recent constituent assembly election in Nepal resulted from the failure of the first assembly to promulgate a constitution.

For many Nepalese, democracy is a tool used to subjugate human beings to operate within certain norms, guided by the rule of law and constitutions. It only gives a framework, not an inclusive picture to judge and regulate the behaviors and relationships between individuals as members of a larger society. Democracy without accountability does not achieve equality, but rather degrades morality, integrity, and ethics. Accountability is more than just transparency and anti-corruption. It gives strength to democracy to be a foundation in society and to inspire people to become responsible citizens.

Today, corruption continues to be the biggest challenge worldwide. Corruption distorts development, undermines trust between citizens and government, and produces structural violence. Corruption also carries huge costs. The European Union spends close to 120 million Euros every year fighting corruption. According to World Bank, corruption is one of the largest “industries” with a scale of $3 trillion every year.

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Friday Wrap-Up: Voices of Youth, Corporate Citizenship, and a Tenuous Balance in Liberia

This week on the blog:

Liberia: A Tenuous Balance

The parking lot of UN headquarters in Monrovia. (Photo: SFgate.com)

When you land at the Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, Liberia, two things immediately catch your attention: the national flag and the sizeable fleet of United Nations helicopters, planes, and armored vehicles. The stars and stripes of the Liberian flag speak to the country’s unique origins as a United States colony for emancipated slaves. The heavy footprint of the United Nations across the country, on the other hand, speaks to the country’s current predicament, an uneasy transition from a nation torn by civil war to a fledgling democracy. For me, the contrast in symbolism evoked a simultaneous sense of foreboding and hope.

Once in Monrovia proper, the country’s imbalances – political, economic, and social – become evident. Liberia’s 14-year civil war has left the country decimated on all fronts. Streets are recognized by their official names, but for the sake of expediency, they are often referred to by their civil-war era symbol: “… take me to Broad Street, please … yes, the former frontline during the war.” “Let’s take the other bridge … the one that rebels took control over towards the end of the war.”

Conversations with acquaintances are peppered with chilling war-time anecdotes, delivered in the most matter-of-fact tone: “… this once, my friend, Jane, was forced to couple with her brother at gunpoint. Ever since, they have never looked into each other’s eyes or stayed in the same room for more than a few minutes.” In another instance: “… that guy, who just walked by, can never return to his village. He was forced to kill his parents in front of his siblings. They’ve never forgiven him, nor has the rest of the village.”

These stories abound and it often seems that each is more gruesome than the next. But, so is a significant part of Liberia’s social fabric. It is made up of people saddled with the burdens of guilt, remorse, hurt, and bitterness. How does one respond to the challenge of leading such a mass to become active and responsible citizens of a nation desperate to re-acquaint itself with democracy?

During the civil war, everything was destroyed – the roads, bridges, office buildings, telecom networks, water and sewage systems, the country’s only dam for hydroelectric power generation – everything; everything but the country’s single brewery. After all, water, or a proxy thereof, is essential to human life.

The consequences are huge. For example, the only source of power generation, the dam, is not operational, and there is no electrical grid nor sustainable power supply. This implies that Liberia is unable to make good on its manufacturing potential and sustain employment is not at a desirable level. Even worse, it also implies that the only companies that thrive are those that can afford individual power generators to service their operations. Such companies tend to be the big foreign multinationals, or other companies owned and operated by wealthy foreign nationals. This is a reality that is evident in all aspects of Liberia’s economy. Foreigners are economically dominant mainly because they have access to capital that they can deploy to overcome most of the country’s structural and logistical challenges.

Another salient point is the fact that Liberia does not grant citizenship to non-blacks, irrespective of how long they have lived in the country. This is a policy that is enshrined in the country’s constitution, and was animated by the origins of the country’s founding: freed American slaves desired to establish a country of their own – ‘Africa for Africans’. A consequence of this policy is that certain segments of the Liberian population that are economically dominant – such as the Lebanese community, many of whom were either born in Liberia or have lived there for generations – are not afforded the right to own land. Therefore, all profits from their economic ventures are instantly repatriated out of the country.

As a result, the country suffers a dearth of domestic long-term investments, which inhibits its economic development. The political consequence of this is the pervasive perception within the indigenous Liberian community of foreign exploitation. Essentially, Liberia’s civil war has bequeathed the country social and economic contexts that are not conducive to a progressive political dispensation. This concern was highlighted in one interaction that I had with a former child soldier of the civil war.

He and I had a lengthy conversation. It felt like it must feel to be the trainer of a circus lion or tiger: It’s all okay, but you wonder whether certain impulses remain latent. Even when he smiled, his eyes never lit up.

When I asked him whether he killed people, he looked at me with pitiful curiosity and then answered: “It was war.”

When I asked whether he committed atrocities such as rape and mutilations: “We are not going to discuss that.”

We were next to a football field, not far off from my hotel. The game of the day involved opposing teams from different Monrovia neighborhoods. The participants were all amputees – victims of war crime atrocities. The sight of them hopping after the ball on crutches, many without a limb or two, others without ears, lips, or noses, evoked sobering sensations.

The spectators were mostly participants of the civil war as well. The entire scene was intriguing in its ironies: former opposing militiamen, many in the presence of their victims, either supporting or opposing them as they played a game of football. I was not quite sure what to make of it all. But my conversation with the former militiaman was insightful on some of the challenges that Liberia faces in the immediate future. There are over 100,000 former child soldiers of the civil war in the entire country. An overwhelming majority of them live in Monrovia, the country’s main urban center.

Emmanuel, the former fighter that I spoke with, makes $4/day working as a busboy at a hotel – and he’s one of the lucky ones. Many of these former child soldiers are now grown men. Most are either unemployed or underemployed, and almost all of them are aggrieved by what they perceive as the economic dominance of foreigners in Liberia’s economy. Emmanuel seems to have a particular resentment for the Lebanese community in Liberia, which is very prominent in the country’s economy. He ran me through a gamut of economically discriminatory practices that he believes the indigenous Liberian community has endured over the decades.

“The government is trying hard. We can tell. But we can also tell that some are doing much better than others. When this country was laid bare to the ground – when the civil war was at its highest points – we took care of this country. We fed the local populations. We policed the streets and tried to maintain a certain amount of order. We did not always succeed, but we tried. No one else was here for us. All these folks, the Lebanese and the others, had fled. Now, they are doing very well; much better than the rest of us. This peace can only last when we all benefit from this economy. We hope that everyone is aware of that.”

To me, his words were a warning. Such a warning is worth heeding: the crime rate is slowly rising. If the economic situation does not improve for this mass of the population, then things may take an undesirable turn. The business community is nowhere close to a consensus on the matter of youth unemployment and the informal sector. Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in Liberia – the ‘nannies’ or ‘baby-sitters’ as some of the locals dismissively call it – is pulling out most of its forces, which have been crucial in providing a decent nationwide security context. The Liberian army and police, only recently re-constituted, are nowhere close to the requisite capacity to maintain civil order.

A first look at Liberia’s comprehensive situation evokes much concern.

Democracy and Development: Challenges Remain for Liberia

Liberians wait to vote in Nimba County (Photo: IRI)

Dan Fisk is Vice President for Policy and Strategic Planning at the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The 2011 presidential and legislative elections in Liberia will mark another milestone in that country’s post-conflict evolution.  The progress that has been made since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election in 2005 is noteworthy.  Her tenure has given the country needed stability while her compelling story, including being the first democratically-elected woman president in Africa, and active outreach have kept international attention on Liberia.

While the 2011 elections are a necessary step in Liberia’s continuing reconstruction and reconciliation, many challenges will remain regardless of the electoral outcome.  The scars of the conflict remain present in Liberians’ daily lives and attitudes, including a deep distrust of government.  As one international official told an IRI assessment team, every day brings more calm to the country but it remains a society suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

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Iron Ladies of Liberia

Last night I watched a fascinating documentary about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected president in Africa. “Iron Ladies of Liberia” follows President Sirleaf’s first year in office as she tries to steer her country through the challenges of post-war reconstruction and heavy national debt. The film strikes a good balance between inspiration and realism as she contends with corruption, land disputes, and political challenges. The film left me wanting to know more about Liberia’s other “iron ladies”–in particular the women who kept commerce and the economy going while the men were fighting. Liberian women took many risks to shoulder the economy and feed families during that time, and will be a key part of Liberia’s economic future. That’s a story waiting to be told. Watch the preview of “Iron Ladies of Liberia” here.

Liberia Local Governance Toolkit

Today, CIPE launched the new Liberia Local Governance Toolkit, in cooperation with Global Integrity and Liberian partner the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL). This is the first assessment ever performed of mechanisms to counter corruption at Liberia’s local level, with data covering all 15 counties in the country. Holding events in Washington, DC, and Monrovia, Liberia, CIPE and its partners released the key findings of the assessment. The toolkit reveals the following areas as key to building strong local governance in Liberia:

• Strong civil society organizations involved in county-level governance
• Greater public access to information
• Whistle-blowing measures
• Strong property rights regime

Why is CIPE interested in information on local governance in Liberia? First, fighting corruption is key to strengthening democracy through improving transparency and accountability in governance. Second, predictability and the rule of law are essential to increasing both foreign and domestic investment in an economy. Third, this data will drive demand for reform from the grassroots level, arming civil society with actionable data to strengthen governance at both the local and national levels.

For the full toolkit, visit www.liberialocalgovernance.org.