Monrovia - Liberia — Stakeholders have called for uninterrupted funding for and sustainability of ECOWAS peace support initiatives, especially the resettlement and rehabilitation of thousands of conflict displaced persons in the region.
Over the past seven years, the Support to ECOWAS Peace and Development Project (PADEP), which is funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) has been promoting the culture of peace, regional integration and providing vital humanitarian assistance to populations displaced by conflicts in Member States. However, the 15-million-US-dollar project implemented in four pilot post-conflict countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea Bissau ends in June this year.
Speaking at the just-ended stakeholders' forum organized by ECOWAS in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the participants including representatives of UN agencies, Government officials, NGOs, civil society organizations, as well as host communities and beneficiaries of the PADEP project in the country made a strong appeal for the sustainability of the project gains and continued support for the displaced.
Mr. Jean Bosco Rushatsi, Country Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is the implementing partner of the PADEP humanitarian support activities in the four countries, commended ECOWAS and the African Development and ECOWAS for the impactful project.
However, with the project winding down in June, he stressed the need for development partners to ensure the sustainability of the gains, transfer of ownership to the beneficiaries and continued support to enable them continue their normal lives outside their home country.
Also, while expressing gratitude to ECOWAS and PADEP partners, including the Government of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Marion Sawyer, a former Liberian refugee in the Bo urban settlement, who spoke on behalf of her compatriots who have chosen to be integrated into the Sierra Leone society, said they needed more support in the area of women and youth empowerment, access to education for their children, skills training and other livelihood support. Echoing the same sentiment, another ex-Liberian refugee Mr. Charles Kemboya, explained that some of the shelters at the resettlement sites needed rehabilitation, while the land should be properly demarcated to avoid possible encroachment and friction between host communities and the former refugees.
Speaking on behalf of Mr. Dieudonne Nikiema, Manager of the ECOWAS Peace Fund (EPF), which coordinates the PADEP Project for the ECOWAS Commission, Mrs. Gloria Ugwunze, outlined the project objectives, achievements, challenges and the goals of the six-day ECOWAS evaluation mission.
PADEP's key objectives, she said, include: "to contribute to promoting peace in ECOWAS Member States," as well as "to strengthen the institutional capacities of ECOWAS and civil society organizations in countries experiencing conflict, with a view to achieving coordination and implementation of conflict management and preventive actions in an environment characterized by good governance." As the project comes to a close, the priorities now are to address and strengthen its ownership and visibility through an effective exit strategy, so as to ensure sustainability of the project gains and also to document the achievements and the lessons learnt, Mrs.
Ugwunze added. Mr. Sandy Jambawai, who represented the African Development Bank at the forum, reaffirmed the Bank's continued support to ECOWAS in promoting peace and regional integration, including by mitigating the humanitarian consequences of conflicts. He commended the forum as timely saying it coincides with the preparation of the Bank's Country Strategy Paper, which is focusing on Local Economic Development (LED) programme.
Mr. John, Sumailah, Development Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, who chaired the meeting, said the lessons learnt from the PADEP project should prepare the minds of development partners on future support to conflict displaced populations in the region. "We have to bring our collective wisdom to bear on how to assist our distressed brothers and sisters and their children, beyond the end of the PADEP project," he added.
The forum and a press conference on 3rd May, 2013, were part of the six-day project assessment mission to Sierra Leone by the ECOWAS delegation. The events were attended among others, by Sierra Leone Government officials; representatives of UNHCR, the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA); host communities and former Liberian refugees now integrated into the Sierra Leone society, as well as Mr. Yusuf Benga Somma, Head of ECOWAS Unit in Sierra Leone, from the Finance and Economic Development Ministry, which oversees ECOWAS affairs in the country.
Before the forum, the ECOWAS team, which included Mr. Paul Ejime of the ECOWAS Commission's Communication Directorate, Mr. Gibril Camara of the Financial Controller's Office, Mr. Zakaria Kieta, Country Coordinator of the ECOWAS Volunteers Programme, 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, had separate meetings with UNHCR, African Development Bank and NaCSA officials.
The delegation, which paid courtesy visits to the Government ministries represented at the forum, also undertook field visits to resettlement sites in Kenema District - Hangha, Gbenderu, Jembe, Gerihun, Bandajuma and Banduma, East of Freetown - as well as Bo urban and Kissi Town near Water Loo, West of Freetown where the PADEP project is supporting former Liberian refugees with housing, micro economic, education, health, sanitation and other social services.
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. Similar ECOWAS evaluation mission has been to Liberia and is underway in Guinea and Guinea Bissau.