Dominic Sam is Liberia’s United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Country Director. A UN official of many years’ standing, Dominic Sam has worked in Cameroon, the United States and Liberia. His views are based on his conflict and post-conflict experience in West Africa, where he is a firm supporter of “women’s situation rooms.”
Liberia is considered an example of development and growth in Africa, aiming to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). This is a radical change from 10 years ago. How did UNDP, an international organization, work in a country affected by a tragic civil war and turn it into a success story?
Let me just start by saying that money is the world’s biggest coward! Investment will not travel to war zones, where it doesn’t feel secure… If there is a renewed interest in investing in Liberia today, it is because Liberia has been able to pull the country together. This has happened thanks to very strong leadership from the president on some of the key issues that are critical to securing peace, which has created an environment suitable for business and also achieved some stability. In a nutshell, Liberia now has what it takes to attract business. The country has followed a very steady course in building an environment that secures peace, accelerates forms of justice, and creates an investment climate that is attractive. It is also important to think about what kind of job opportunities to create for people. It is one of the bigger ideas on the table. The idea of pushing the economy and developing the private sector is not just about the economy but also about employment.
More specifically, how does UNDP-Liberia cooperate with local and national authorities?
At UNDP, we work very closely with the government to help them formulate the development agenda, starting from the internal poverty reduction strategy. Starting in 2008, UNDP laid a lot of emphasis on economic growth via infrastructure development though the joint Country Programme Action plan set up with the government of Liberia. As a result, Liberia has been able to develop key development infrastructures. It is beginning to open up its hinterland. As we speak, they are also working on putting in place an energy infrastructure. Indeed, without a credible and efficient energy infrastructure, it is very difficult to attract the private sector. This is why the government has embarked on a process to create an efficient energy sector in the coming years. They are also very much aware of the need to push on telecoms infrastructure. They are also doing quite well in that direction.
In this issue, the Global Journal features 5 women who are significant change makers. You are an advocate for increasing the inclusion of women in peace processes. How have they been included in Liberia and to what extent?
Women have been central in brokering the peace, not just in Liberia but in West Africa as a whole. If we have peace in Liberia and the region it is because of the active participation and the role that women played in dialoguing for the various political leaders on opposite ends of consensus. You have heard about those who prayed; you have heard how Liberia’s president Ellen Sirleaf Johnson and Liberia activist Leymah Gbowee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: this proves their central role. Let me give you a good example, a case in point: the “women’s situation room” (structure staffed by women to mediate, and to report incidents to the authorities for action) is a platform born in Liberia that UNDP supported as a country office. This worked so well that the African Union has adopted it as a modality to ensure that electoral processes are fair and as a key mechanism to resolve conflict. They are representative of what Liberian women are: trying to make sure they are creating peace at the national level and in their homes. Giving them the space, the platform, and continuing to support them are the right things to do, because that is the only way peace can be sustained. It is part of building national resilience to be able to deal with external stress or internal shock. Only when the society is resilient – when it can handle differences – can it broker peace. I think women are critical in this. Their activism as part of the civil society is also important.
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Text and Photography by Julie Mandoyan
(Photo on Frontpage © UNDP)