Monrovia - Liberia — Participants at a just-ended stakeholders' forum held in Monrovia, Liberia, have lauded the multi-million dollar donor support to the ECOWAS for Peace and Development Project (PADEP) for promoting the culture of peace, integration and providing vital humanitarian assistance to populations displaced by conflicts in the region.
They also called for ownership and sustainability of the achievements of the 15 million-US-dollar project which is funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The forum, part of a five-day project assessment mission to Liberia by an ECOWAS delegation was attended among others, by Liberian Government officials; representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the PADEP implementing partner; the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), as well as representatives of host communities and former Sierra Leonean refugees now integrated into the Liberian society. Mr. Dieudonne Nikiema, Manager of the ECOWAS Peace Fund (EPF), which coordinates the implementation of the PADEP project, told the gathering that as the project which started in 2006 winds down in June this year, there was the need to take stock and institute an effective exit strategy to ensure the sustainability of the project gains.
The exercise, he said, would also enable the partners to document the achievements and the lessons learnt from the implementation of the project so as to engender ownership, visibility and to chart the way forward in the four beneficiary post-conflict countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.
The UNHCR Acting Country Representative, Mr. Robert Tibagwa, commended ECOWAS and AfDB for initiating and funding the project, and the Liberian Government and host communities for their magnanimity in supporting thousands of Sierra Leoneans displaced by the civil war in their country, and who have now chosen to become Liberian citizens in line with ECOWAS' integration and borderless community agenda. He pledged the UN agency's continued support to refugees and displaced persons in the region, noting that in spite of implementation challenges, PADEP has achieved so much in bringing succour to distressed ECOWAS citizens. Mr. Tibagwa also assured that identified defects in the project would be rectified.
In her remarks at the forum which was followed by a press conference where journalists gained more insight into the PADEP status of implementation, Counsellor Wheatonia Dixon-Barnes, Executive Director of the LRRRC, paid tribute to ECOWAS and partners for choosing Liberia as a pilot country for the project. She also called on the Sierra Leoneans to see themselves as Liberian citizens; to be law abiding and live peacefully with other members of the host communities. Liberia is also playing host to another set of refugees from Cote d'Ivoire who benefited from a recent ECOWAS donation of some 300 tons of rice.
The PADEP project is in three dimensions including direct support to ECOWAS Member States through the provision of humanitarian assistance to displaced persons, and the ECOWAS Volunteers Programme, under which young West Africans with expertise in various disciplines are deployed to post-conflict countries to help promote socio-economic development and integration, especially of local communities. Its third pillar focuses on the promotion of the Culture of Peace, through the development of a Reference Manual on the Peace Culture, Citizenship and Human Rights, to be popularized using various platforms including its incorporation into primary and second school curricula across the region.
Also present at the Monrovia stakeholders' forum and the press conference on Friday 26th April 2013, were Councillors Boakai Kanneh, who represented the Liberian Foreign Ministry, Abraham Mitchell of the Ministry of Justice, and Wilfred Gray-Johnson, Executive Director in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Also in attendance were Dr. Jay Jay Roosevelt, a former Land and Mines Minister and one-time ECOWAS Deputy Special Representative, Commissioner Abla Gadegbeka, of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, and Mr.
Otis Weseh, Head of ECOWAS National Unit in Liberia, a Director in the National Planning and Economic Affairs Ministry. The joint assessment mission involved separate meetings between ECOWAS officials and their UNHCR and LRRC counterparts. These were followed by field visits to the Tienii and Sinje Estates in the Grand Cape Mount County and Sass Town in Bomi County.
The three Estates, west of the Liberian capital are housing some 2,000 former Sierra Leonean refugees being supported with housing, micro economic, education, health, sanitation and other social services under the PADEP project. During meetings at the project sites and the stakeholders' forum, the leaders of the three estates and representatives of the host communities thanked ECOWAS and partners for supporting the former refugees through the PADEP project. They also called for sustained support, especially through empowerment of women and youths, skills training, micro financing schemes, and improved access to health services and education.
The ECOWAS delegation on the project assessment mission included Mr. Daniel Onuoha, Head, External Fund Management Unit at the ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Paul Ejime of the Communication Directorate, Mrs. Gloria Ugwunze of the Peace Fund Division, Ms. Josephine Ndao, Coordinator of ECOWAS Volunteers in Liberia, and Mr. Wilfred Ewaleifoh, head of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) crew, gathering materials for the production of documentaries for enhanced visibility of the PADEP project. Similar missions are scheduled for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.