“After the civil war, which claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, a comprehensive peace agreement was signed in August 2003 in Accra, Ghana. Since then, Liberia has sustained a period of uninterrupted stability; transforming from one of the most volatile to one of the most peaceful nations in West Africa.
Over the years, this country, where I am proud to serve as UN Resident Coordinator, has made significant strides in its socio-economic development journey. Liberians have demonstrated tremendous resilience, battling the devastating impacts of Ebola and COVID-19, contending with growing inflation, mobilizing grassroots leadership, and making slow but sure dents in tackling infant mortality.
Yet to reap the full economic and social benefits of this hard-fought peace a lot more needs to be done.
National poverty levels remain high. Gender and income inequalities are still pronounced, and it is estimated that 57 per cent of school-aged children remain outside the classroom.
On top of this, rising costs of commodities following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have added to Liberia’s economic challenges.
Now more than ever, a long-term vision and coordinated plan to forge lasting, sustainable development is needed and the UN Country Team is working to support the government together with our partners.
In the digital age, data is an indispensable tool for decision-making and is the baseline for effective development planning. At the end of 2022, our UN country team supported the Government to conduct the first national census in 14 years.
This included vital data on the most disadvantaged communities and the factors such as a lack of access to quality healthcare and education, which are leaving them behind.
As the co-chair of the National Steering Committee on National Population and Housing Census, the UN facilitated the entire census exercise from beginning to the end.
Along with the ECOWAS Ambassador, in my capacity as the RC, we helped bring together political parties and national statistic institutions to build consensus on the importance of the census for national development planning.
Led by UNFPA, our Country Team provided the needed technical expertise in this endeavour. Our Data Management Officer, in particular, played a vital role in facilitating national efforts in the collection, analysis, and utilization of the census data.
The robust data systems which we helped establish are already enabling policymakers and development partners make informed choices, monitor progress, and adapt interventions in real-time.
This is also forming the basis of Liberia’s new national development plan and an upcoming study on the ‘drivers of inclusive and sustainable development’ led by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and supported by other UN agencies as well as our development partners. The study will provide a common blueprint for Liberia to cross the finish line towards 2030 agenda.
From tackling poverty, addressing youth unemployment, and strengthening rural agriculture, effective development policy can’t be outsourced – it must come from the bottom up. This is why our interventions are designed and implemented in a way to encourage local ownership and empower communities as agents of their own change.
As the census indicates, youth make up 79 per cent of the population. Two of our initiatives - the “Youth Rising” project and “Youth at Risk” programme - are helping tackle youth unemployment and vulnerability, and empowering the next generation with skills, vocational training and practical jobs in sectors such as agriculture, construction, timber and mining.
Such training is helping stimulate local rural economies, improve social cohesion, and counter the huge migration of young people to the city, where work is often difficult to find.
Realizing this demographic dividend is crucial for Liberia’s development journey, which is why our UN team is committed to supporting the Government broaden its investments in youth empowerment, expand opportunities for decent work, and revisit national education plans from last year’s Transforming Education Summit.
Gender inequity and violence against women continues to be widespread in many parts of the country. In 2020, it was estimated that 49 per cent of women aged 15-49 years who had been in relationships experience intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.
In fact, this type of data collected by UN-Women has helped paint a vivid picture of just how serious the problem is and helped bring this to the attention of policy makers at the national level.
In February 2022, through the support of a dedicated UN programme, ground-breaking progress was made with the signing of a three-year moratorium suspending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), between the Government of Liberia and traditional practitioners.
Key to this success was the acceptance and buy in from traditional leaders, achieved in part through our targeted advocacy efforts to these leaders and the wider community.
Beyond legislative progress, the UN's partnership with the European Union and the Liberian government through the Spotlight Initiative has also resulted in the establishment of dedicated learning centers, which offered traditional FGM practitioners and young women an opportunity to learn new livelihood skills, contributing to the broader goal of eradicating FGM in Liberia.
The people and communities I have met in my first five months as Resident Coordinator reflect Liberia’s immense potential for the future and the significant strides it has made towards sustainable development.
What comes next for Liberia will depend on continued efforts to build the economy through domestic resources and harness the power and voices of young people. As the UN, we remain steadfast in our support and investment in the country’s inclusive development journey in the coming years.