6 February 2004

Liberia: Nations Rally to Support Liberia

United Nations — The international community responded overwhelmingly to Liberia's call for help February 6, overflowing the U.N. room where a donors' conference was being held and pledging 80 percent of its goal of $488 million for reconstruction after only two pledges were made.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, a co-sponsor of the International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia, arrived from Washington with a pledge of $200 million for humanitarian and reconstruction needs and another $245 million for U.N. peacekeeping operations in the country. The money was in addition to more than $90 million the United States has already contributed to Liberian aid.

"President Bush is totally dedicated to this task, and our efforts in Liberia are fully supported by the American Congress as well as the American people. I assure you of full American support," Powell told C. Gyude Bryant, chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia.

Bryant called the event "a great day for us."

"It marks a new beginning for us and we assure you that the help you have given today, and those who have rallied here today in our support, will be used to sustain peace [and] to start a new Liberia where we can live at peace with ourselves and our neighbors and make our West Africa region a better place for everybody," Bryant said.

The United States, the United Nations, and the World Bank co-hosted a two-day International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia February 5 and 6. The first day was devoted to discussing the assessment of the country's needs drawn up over the past two months by a team of representatives from the U.N., the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Liberian transitional government. The second day was a ministerial-level pledging conference attended by 106 nations.

In his speech to the conference, Powell said that "the citizens of Liberia now have the opportunity to put 15 years of war, chaos, and misery behind them and to build a future of hope. This promising moment is not likely to come again. And the people of Liberia need our collective help to seize this moment.

"Our help will mean a new chance at life for the men, women, and children of Liberia who have seen so much death and destruction," the secretary said.

"I hope that our own and other contributions will help prompt a broadened, substantial international response in the form of funds, technical assistance, and active diplomatic engagement," he said. "Having helped Liberia to this hopeful point of peace we as a world community now must be prepared to commit ourselves to the long, hard process of Liberia's recovery and reconstruction."

"Ultimately, of course, it is up to the Liberians themselves to seize or to squander this moment," Powell said.

Thanking the conference's sponsors, The European Union and Japan, Bryant added his appreciation for the hospitality of the people of the City of New York.

"We have a valuable lesson to learn from New York City," the chairman said. "From the most devastating attack on the free world, this great American city has begun to rebuild from 'Ground Zero.' Liberia is today at ground zero. And like this great city, we are resolved and determined to rebuild Liberia.

"I assure you that Liberia will rise again. I know this because there is now a concerted solidarity running across the broadest spectrum of Liberians that political violence will no longer return to Liberia. It is time to heal the wounds, reconcile our people and commence, in honest, the process of national renewal," Bryant said.

Officials of the World Bank, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and other agencies said that Liberia needs $487.7 million, divided between $243 million for 2004 and $244.7 million for 2005. (An additional $179.1 million is needed for emergency humanitarian aid.) The money is to be used for programs ranging from demobilizing combatants and helping them return home, get schooling and find jobs to rebuilding roads, restoring electricity, reopening health centers, stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and organizing elections in 2005.

The United States' pledge of $200 million was followed by a pledge of another $200 million by the European Community.

Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), called the funding-raising effort "an extraordinary commitment."

"With the pledges already this morning and by the end of this afternoon the final number is going to look very dramatic," Malloch Brown said at a press conference at midday. "We defied the skeptics who have said there is aid fatigue, there is exhaustion with African crises, [or] monies have been siphoned off for Iraq or Afghanistan.

"We've shown that where there is a strong, effective initiative by a new government to get its house in order, to put in place a strong plan for its reconstruction, and where that is supported by the international donors and support by a multilateral effort ... it still works," he said.

"In that conference room today we were all Liberians and anxious to see this succeed and recognized that this is just the beginning. Even with the resources it will be tough," the UNDP administrator said. "Huge challenges lie ahead, and this is not the end of the process.

"This is not the moment to declare victory but an enormously important step is crossed today with a successful donors' conference. Chairman Bryant can return home feeling that he has the international community and international support behind him," he said.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said that Liberia now has the "critical factors" needed for successful reconstruction and peace: money, international peacekeepers to help with security, and strong Liberian leadership.

Strong Liberian leadership is needed "because if this is not owned by the Liberians it is going to be a failure. It cannot be imposed by the outside," Natsios said. "It is very clear to us in the community that deals with reconstruction that we have that leadership now. We have ministers [and] a competent and strong leader in Chairman Bryant at the national helm."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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