Africa > West Africa > Liberia > Stabilization to Transformation - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberia: Stabilization to Transformation - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


A decade next the worst fighting of its long conflict, which killed an estimated 200,000 of a pre-war people of 2.8 million and forcibly displaced a majority - as a lot of as 1.8 million people - Liberia has addressed much of the worst devastation. But enormous challenges remain.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says that her prime six-year term finished stabilization and her second is devoted to transformation, with tackling poverty as goal one. Although evolution has been slower in several key sectors than projected, she still hopes Liberia can achieve a middle-gain economy by 2030 - a message she brought to high-level discussions in Washington, DC, formerly this month and shared in her new AllAfrica interview.


Restoration of power has been a top priority since you took office, but electricity output is still a fraction of what it was formerly the civil war.

Has this been a harder task than you anticipated?

Yes it has been. We've spent a lot of time trying to mobilize the resources for that. We presently have made some evolution , but it has proven to be additional difficult. For example, to reconstruct our hydro electricity dam will take well over U.S. $200 million - something our own budget could not afford and certainly no one partner would be able to commit that level of resources to one activity.

But presently, we have brought together partners from Europe and the World Bank and hope we are well on course toward getting the hydro facility working again by end of year 2015. We are as well part of the West Africa power pool that attempts to have interconnectivity part amount the Mano River nations - Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. That will as well bring electricity from the Ivory Coast to us. We have some interim arrangements until 2015. With our own resources, we are installing a 10-megawatt [plant]. Japan is as well supporting us with 10-megawatts and so is the World Bank. It's been a long time but relief is in sight.

What role does sustainable energy play?

Hydro is going to be the major sustainable. We are shifting from thermal generation that today produces only 22 megawatts at a cost of 54 cents per kilowatt-hour - one of the highest perhaps in the world - to heavy fuel oil. That will bring the cost down. We've been trying with biomass, and we still have solar lights that we are trying to introduce in the rural areas.

As you pointed out, it's proven to be additional difficult given amount the a lot of other things that we had to do and had to address to get the economy going again.

Speaking of the economy, what do you regard as the majority significant advance in terms of living standards?

Development in per capita gain and reduction in poverty - and that has come as a result of us putting our productive systems back to work and making sure that our agriculture activities, our mining activities, our forestry operations have created some jobs. Not enough.

We still have challenges there. But the economy has been growing at an average of 6.5% over the completed couple of years, and we expect that it's going to grow even additional at the same time as the major foreign direct investment we mobilized, at the same time as those operations begin to start within a year or two. We expect the impact is going to be significant.

And is this showing up in measurable metrics such as mother and child mortality and other health indicators?

Under the MDG [Millennium Development Goals], we have made a lot of evolution in child mortality - that has come down considerably. Maternal mortality still remains a challenge. We have had a slight reduction - but not enough.

Goal number one - poverty - we've seen a major development. We have seen a major increase in school enrolment: today we have 1.5 million kids in school. And it is fairly averaged presently between girls and boys, so much of the increase has come from putting a lot of emphasis on getting girls into school. Quality education remains a challenge, not only in Liberia today but throughout Africa and in the developing world, and that is where we are going to be putting the emphasis moving forward.

Do you continue to believe Liberia can become a middle gain country by 2030?

I am optimistic about that. Liberia's people is relatively small - about four million - and we are blessed with natural resources: minerals, agriculture, forestry, fisheries. Amount of those things that can be transformed into increase and transformed into jobs and transformed into increased per capita gain. Our large challenge is to realize the benefits from that endowment is infrastructure. If we can get roads and power and the ports functioning at a level of efficiency, we will be able to deliver.

Of course, our own efforts at allocation - efficiency will be significant. That means if we take those resources and put them into productive endeavour, again we will generate the gain.

That is our challenge, but I believe we are up to that task. We remain cautiously optimistic about becoming a middle gain country by the year 2030.

To what extent does regional cooperation, particularly with your Mano River neighbors, play into your plans for increase?

A very significant role. As a matter of fact we are amount today concentrating on regional integration to enable us to get the economies of scale, to be able to identify comparative chance, and, additional importantly, to add price to our raw materials. And to do that it means we have to have a larger marketplace to attract the large investment that is required. Interconnectivity in transportation systems, in power systems, in telecommunications systems is high on the schedule of amount west African nations, particularly the Mano River nations, which I currently chair.

Africa is taking the same approach to ensure that we increase the level of intra-African trade, that our protocols on the free movement of goods and people will become a authentic reality, where we will be able to trade with each other, to expand our markets, to add price to our products and become competitive in the world trading environment . Everyone agrees that good governance is a large part of moving forward economically, and everywhere you look democracy is pretty messy.

What are the biggest obstacles to entrenching accountable government?

We have a lot of freedom in Liberia. We are proud of our democracy, as embryonic as it is. The biggest challenge is people's considerate of their rights, the exercise of those rights and the limits of those rights. That will take a while, but I think we are moving in the right direction.

Our civil society is presently very vibrant . They play a watchdog role - our media - even though we have had some troubles there. Our democracy, our political systems are beginning to mature. Most significant of amount, we are presently entering our tenth consecutive year of peace. There's a lot to be said for that.

You mentioned the issue of press freedom, and the recent controversy that arose between your chief of security and the press union . How, in your experience , should the Liberian government handle an often hostile press?

Let me say: I stand unchangeably on my record, Liberia's record of a free press. That's why we have the Freedom of Data act that a lot of other nations don't. That's why we signed the Table Mountain Declaration. It is evidence by the proliferation of newspapers and radio stations, by talk shows that are very aggressive, very open, very frank. In Liberia, media freedom is unassailable and untouched.

So you are optimistic that you can work with the Liberian press moving forward?

I have no doubt about that.

Land ownership is an extra key issue at the same time as it comes to citizens' rights. Where does Liberia stand on that issue?

We have a very aggressive land reform program ongoing. Our land rights policy has been concluded by the Lands Commission. It is presently being vetted through consultation around the country. For the prime time, Liberian communities will have a right to land. Not only will they be able to exercise those rights in fee simple ownership [absolute ownership] , with a deed, but that will as well mean that any use of that land would require their full participation and their full agreement. This is a prime for Liberia - from a land tenure system in which there were no such rights. Land was only owned by the public; land could be taken by urban groups, with just some agreement with the tribe or chief. We are very proud of this land reform which will be going into result very in a little while.

What obstacles have you encountered in fighting corruption, an extra one of your top priorities since day one?

One obstacle we have faced is the slowness in reform of the judicial system. We have looked at corruption in two streams - prevention and punishment. On the prevention side, we've increased compensation to reduce vulnerabilities. We've introduced laws and we've established institutions.

We've built capacity. That, to me, is the majority sustainable way to address corruption.

You must have punishment as well, so they know that if they violate the public trust, they will pay the penalty. We have been slow on that one, but judicial reform is presently coming. I just signed into law a new jury system that will make sure juries can no longer be compromised. We've been training magistrates to handle small petty corruption cases, and so we've come a long way in that. The large issue presently will be attitudinal change - for people to appreciate why corruption takes away from our collective effort to develop the country and to make Liberia competitive with others.

That is where we are presently. I feel we have come a long way. On the [most recent] Corruption Perception Index , Liberia has climbed and is much higher than a lot of other African nations. As well the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index shows how much we have succeeded in doing this. We are not where we want to be. We must continue to strengthen our capacity. We must make sure that we tackle the punishment side so that people may be prosecuted if the evidence is there that they violated the trust. But I am confident that we've done a lot and that, in the next few years, Liberia will continue to show great development in addressing corruption.

What is your pitch to both private sector and government players?

Our period of stabilization is over - that was the six years of the prime term. It's presently our period of transformation. Amount we've done to mobilize the investment , to build institutions, to build capacity, to attract the partnership, presently let's put them to work. The challenge of infrastructure is holding us back. So my message to everyone is: let us put our collective effort toward moving forward, so that the transformation makes Liberia a post conflict success story.

Related Articles
  • Africa's Relationship With China Is Ancient History

    2017/07/02 In 2002 South Africa's Parliament unveiled a digital reproduction of a map - of China, the Middle East and Africa - that some speculated could be the initial map of the African continent. The Da Ming Hun Yi Tu - the Comprehensive Map of the Great Ming Empire - was drawn up around 1389 during the Ming Dynasty, according to historian Hyunhee Park.
  • Africa: Making Things Happen at the Bank - 'Not a Talk Shop' - Akin Adesina

    2017/07/02 Dr. Akinwumi Adesina is focusing on five areas to achieve the African and world goals for a prosperous continent since becoming president of the African Development Bank - Africa's major public financial institution in September 2015. He was a keynote speaker at this month's Corporate Council on Africa's U.S.- Africa Business Summit in Washington D.C. and moderated a lively panel with five African government ministers. He as well received the Gene White Lifetime Succcess Award from the World Child Nutrition Foundation. This week, he was named the 2017 recipient of the World Food Prize, a prestigious honor that includes a $250,000 award. In an interview in Washington, DC, Adesina discussed the Development Bank's ambitious schedule and his vision for attracting the increase capital Africa needs. Posting questions for AllAfrica was Noluthando Crockett-Ntonga.
  • Climate change laws around the world

    2017/05/14 There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of global climate change laws since 1997, according to the most comprehensive database of relevant policy and legislation. The database, produced by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Sabin Center on Climate Change Law, includes more than 1,200 relevant policies across 164 countries, which account for 95% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Education Quality: Measuring Learning Outcomes in Francophone Africa’s Primary Schools

    2016/05/28 Over the last 15 years, West African governments and the international community have been successful at expanding access to primary schooling and from presently on, a ground-breaking regional learning assessment has revealed that the quality of education has remained elusive. The majority of children surveyed were not acquiring the basic literacy and math skills that are crucial for building human capital in the region.
  • Ebola destroyed and devastated our land

    2015/03/07 A couple of dozen students sat quietly inside the C.D.B. King Elementary School’s dim and dusty auditorium on their initial morning back. Despite the stuffy heat, a lot of of the children wore long sleeves and trousers that covered as much skin as possible. A second grader wore pink knit mittens that muffled the sound of his clapping at the same time as the teachers introduced themselves. As everyone rose to sing Liberia’s national anthem, he saluted with his left hand, still sheathed in the mitten.