President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, on a one-day working visit to Abidjan, has told the International Development Association (IDA), a member of the World Bank Group, that regional integration, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, has been long delayed due to the lack of effective international support, which has slowed down infrastructural development. The IDA provides concessional loans to developing countries through the World Bank.
While applauding the IDA for recent progress on its supported programs, including the West Africa Gas Pipeline and the West Africa Power Pool, President Sirleaf cited Liberia as an example where commitments have been made but not much else has happened. "Although we have significant commitments that will help reconstruct roads, build new bridges, and bring electricity to some of our communities, it has taken almost four years from commitment to commencement, and I still can't travel on a decent road from Monrovia to Abidjan, Freetown or Conakry," she declared.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian leader, who is also Chair of the four-nation Mano River Union, spoke Tuesday in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, at the opening of the 16th Mid- Term Review of the IDA – its first in Africa – upon the invitation of her Ivorian counterpart, His Excellency Alassane Ouattara.
She indicated that despite these challenges, individual countries in the region must do their part by formulating regional promotion interventions and pooling resources, and thereby share the high cost of infrastructure and overcome some of the hurdles to regional integration.
On human development, President Sirleaf told the over 200 participants that West and Central Africa were still challenged in responding to environmental degradation and the food production cycle, despite having a high percentage of the world's biodiversity. She called for concerted efforts in addressing the problem.
The Liberian President told the gathering that women were still vulnerable, especially in pushing for their rights and in food production – a condition she said can be addressed through IDA intervention. "Although I represent the highest potential of women's empowerment, the majority of our women in the informal sector, while feeding the nation through farming and marketing, remain largely illiterate, caught in the poverty trap," the President said.
On youth development, President Sirleaf said that young people across the continent and young graduates are still unable to find jobs, exposing their vulnerabilities to crime and violence which she hoped the Mid-Term Review would consider as part of the unfulfilled commitment to regional integration. Peace and stability was a sine qua non for sustained growth and development, which still eludes many African countries, the Liberian leader said.
"IDA has, however, provided technical assistance and advice to enhance our national capacities," President Sirleaf noted, adding, "As a result, we are better positioned to take control of our destiny and to own our development agenda as we formulate the policies and strategies that will require that growth results in development through better use and value added to our national resources."
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, Chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), agreed with the Liberian leader, terming security as vital to any regional integration effort. "As a demonstration of my opinion on this, we are pleased to inform you that Côte d'Ivoire has been restored to full normalcy, and this was made possible with help from Liberia and Ghana who have been very cooperative along our respective borders in restoring law and order," he disclosed, to huge applause.
Also addressing the 16th Mid-Term Review Meeting was Benin's President, Boni Yayi, Chair of the African Union, who thanked the IDA for transforming itself from an institution of knowledge to one of solutions, and noted that the Association is now more involved and concerned about poor countries and about providing solutions to their problems.
The IDA is the World Bank's Fund for the poorest countries. As one of the world's largest sources of aid, IDA provides support for health and education, infrastructure and agriculture, and economic and institutional development to the 81 least developed countries – 38 of them in Africa. These countries are home to 2.5 billion people, 1.8 billion of whom survive on US$2 a day or less.