Providence, Rhode Island, April 27, 2010 - The Government of Liberia, through its Embassy near Washington, DC, is holding townhall meetings with Diaspora Liberians in six major US cities with large population of Liberians to dialogue on the rebuilding of their country. The gathering is part of the Government’s strategy to engage Liberians both at home and abroad on the Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).
Participants are expected to focus on four specific areas: Governance and Capacity Development; Private Sector Development and Women’s Empowerment; Diaspora Engagement with Hometown Associations, and Brain Gain and Information Technology. The discussions with Liberians living outside the country are geared toward exchanging ideas on development progress and possibilities. The Diaspora community remains a critical partner in the rebuilding of Liberia.
The planned gathering in the US is a continuation of the PRS Road Show the government organized to engage with various Liberians both at home and abroad. The US town hall meetings are organized jointly with Liberian community organizations to reach out to Liberians living outside the country. The events started in Liberia three months ago with visits to seven of Liberia’s fifteen counties (Margibi, Bong, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Cess, and Grand Bassa) and will include forums in six major US cities with huge Liberian population, Accra Ghana, and select cities in Europe.
The US gatherings is expected to bring together some 20,000 members of the Liberian Diaspora, representatives from the Government of Liberia headed by the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Amara Konneh, and Liberian community organizations to discuss ways to mobilize both human and financial resources in order to further Liberia’s recovery and development.
During the events, the ministers, comprising Kofi Woods of Public Works; Augustine Ngafuan of Finance; Dr. William Allen of the Civil Service Agency; and Amara Konneh of Planning and Economic Affairs, are expected to engage the participants and emphasize the need to devote sustained and additional resources to improving governance. This includes facilitating the Diaspora’s participation in policy making and investment by encouraging the government to take advantage of the Diaspora’s intellectual and financial resources as well as members’ patriotic motivation.
Selected Pics of PRS Townhall forums in Liberia
The ministers, who intend to do more listening, also expect participants to make suggestions on how to improve on the gains the country has made since the end of conflict and to raise the need to improve channels for remittances. “Remittances should be linked to financial products and services such as pensions and micro insurance, so we hope to get the view of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora on how we can include such strategy in our next development agenda,” Minister Konneh said recently in a strategy session. Capacity building for women on business development, a key poverty reduction activity, is an area in which the Liberian Diaspora can play a role. The Liberian delegation will press for knowledge and expertise within the Diaspora community on this subject.
As part of the discussions, the government hopes to harness its PRS strategies to improve health services based on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through a vigorous dialogue, including strengthening health systems, and Diaspora engagement through human resources for health, including training of doctors and nurses.
On education, the group hopes that Diaspora engagement can be catalytic in the transfer of knowledge. Participants encouraged the government to facilitate the process. They also hope to encourage the contribution of Liberian Diaspora professional networks and organizations to brain gain in Liberia.
Taking PRS to Liberians Living Outside the Country: The context and relevance
As Liberia continues the forward march from post conflict recovery to growth and development, the need to for mass participation of every Liberian in policy formulation and implementation cannot be overemphasized.
For the last two years (April 2008 – March 2010), the Liberian government had been busy with the implementation of the Lift Liberia Development Agenda but as we near the completion of this agenda and begin the next round of development planning, the LRDC decided that it would be necessary to meet various Liberian groups, at home and abroad, to take stock of progress made and lessons learned over the last year two. The goal is to ensure that the voices of the ordinary Liberian people from all walks of life are incorporated in the next development plan.
Between December 2009 and March 2010, Minister Amara Konneh, National Coordinator of the LRDC, held town hall meetings on various university campuses (Stellar Maris and AMEU) in Monrovia to engage students on the implementation of the PRS. The Monrovia meetings also involved ‘hatai’ shops in various communities including Fiamah and 11th street hatai shops.
Recognizing that Liberians living outside Monrovia have valuable contributions to make to national development, the LRDC moved the town hall meetings to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh; Gbarnga, Bong; and Kakata, Margibi. Each of the town hall meetings were carried live on community radios so that citizens who could not be physically present would still have the opportunity to call in and have their concerns or questions addressed. The citizens were extremely delighted that the LRDC could reach out to them to address their concerns: this was the first time that ordinary citizens have been given the opportunity to engage with their national leaders on development issues.
To further deepen the reservoir of insightful ideas that Liberians have been contributing to the development discussions, the LRDC decided that involving Liberians living outside the country would be a valuable addition. For the government of Liberia, Diaspora Liberians are partners: they have more to contribute than just remittances even though their remittances represent a significant contribution to national development. It was decided that engaging with these Liberians to determine how they would like to contribute to national development after seeing the level progress made on PRS implementation would be a significant milestone in Liberia’s reconstruction. At this point, the country cannot afford the exclusion of any segment of its population needless to say Liberians living outside the country.
No post conflict country has been able to accelerate development without strong partnership with its Diaspora base. A binding constraint on Liberia’s development today is the massive capacity gap which can be easily addressed by leveraging the brain gain in the Diaspora community. Including Diaspora Liberians in brainstorming activities around poverty reduction and post-PRS development planning is a strategic move and the LRDC remains committed.