By UNDP Resident Representative Stephen Rodriques
MONROVIA-The love of Liberia brought me here.
The love of the Liberian people brought me here.
The love of Africa brought me here.
But now, it is almost time to bid farewell to this country that I have called home for the past few years.
I came to Liberia just over two years ago. The truth is, I wasn’t sent here; I chose to come. I came partly, because of my own roots – the people of the Caribbean (I am Jamaican) came as slaves from West Africa. Some of those people came back to West Africa later either as freed slaves or maroons. And they kept coming throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican national hero, was a pan-Africanist who wanted Africans in the diaspora to ‘return’ to the homeland, and he created the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 to help realize that vision. Not many people remember this, but Garvey saw Liberia as the best place for the African nation that he envisioned. Garvey also created the Black Star Line shipping company to help the Back-To-Africa movement.
The first Jamaican I met in Liberia, a lady with the charming name of Winsome Joy, showed me a share certificate that her grandfather bought in the Black Star Line company. Her father also came from Jamaica to Liberia and never left!
Of course, I knew also that the First Lady, H.E. Clar Marie Weah, is Jamaican.
From the moment I landed, I felt at home in Liberia. It is hard to describe that feeling you get when everywhere you turn the people you see look like your aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters. It was just like the Jamaican singer, Beres Hammond, said in one of his songs,
“Everyone … is like family, yeah
I see no strangers around…”
And everyone here has been like family to me.
But I also came because I wanted to contribute to the development of Mama Liberia. I wanted to roll up my sleeves and work alongside the people of this country and see if we could, together, make some progress.
I am happy that I came. Over the past years, I have worked very closely with the government and with so many partners; and I felt a special trust and a willingness to embrace me and my ideas that were unlike anything I could imagine!
I was fortunate to develop a close relationship with H.E. President George Weah – a man with a very large, kind heart. I will always remember some of our conversations and the stories he told me about the country he saw 20-plus years ago and the country he is trying to build. I was also able to work closely with his advisors, with many Ministers, Deputy Ministers, and other government officials. I also enjoyed an excellent relationship with both the former and the current Chief Justice (and I am so proud to see a woman in this position!).
Then there are the development partners, UN sister agencies, and members of the NGO community that I have been in the trenches with, collectively pushing forward. And, of course, my own wonderful team in UNDP! I have been blessed by the friendships, the partnerships, and the support of so many people! I wish, before I go, to see each one of you, to say thanks, and to give you one last embrace, for now.
During my stay, I had the opportunity to visit much of the country, from East to West, North to South, and sit with people in their communities, discussing their needs and how we, the UN, could better partner with them to realize their hopes for a better Liberia.
I am proud of what we have been able to do working together with our partners and communities. Some of our collective achievements include the progress on decentralization and the passage of the new Revenue Sharing Law that will allow more revenues collected in the regions to remain there and be used for local development. There is our new Accelerated Community Development Programme which was launched by the President to improve the welfare of people living in poverty.
With the Ministry of Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA), we started a new livelihood and job creation programme that is nurturing hundreds of Liberian entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized companies.
With the EPA and Ministry of Mines and Energy, we initiated two multi-million-dollar coastal protection programmes to protect residents in West Point and Sinoe from coastal erosion.
We supported the National Elections Commission to conduct the 2020 senatorial elections and prepare for this year’s Presidential and General elections. We’ve been working with the Ministry of Internal Affairs on sustaining the peace through reconciliation using the Palava Hut hearings and memorialization of those who were killed during the civil war.
In the justice and rule of law sector, we helped train police, magistrates, and correctional officers, and we handed over new courts and facilities to the police and judiciary. We also supported many new laws, including the development of a new Prisons Act aimed at giving semi-autonomous status to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation; the amendment of the Criminal Procedure Law to introduce measures that will reduce case backlog and prisons overcrowding; the Legal Aid Act to improve legal aid to indigent Liberians; the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) Act of 2022, providing for institutional independence by granting the LACC direct prosecutorial powers; and the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) policy, among other things.
With the Supreme Court, we also launched an electronic case management system to expedite judicial case management. We supported the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services and UNFPA in managing payments to over 16,000 census enumerators as well as countless vendors throughout the census period to help make Liberia’s 2022 Census possible. And there is more.
But there is also some unfinished business as I leave – including the 30% gender quota for women’s political candidates. I would love to see Liberia, Africa’s first Republic and first country with a woman President, take a bold step and go to the very front of countries that are implementing gender equality and women’s empowerment. There is also more to be done to strengthen capacity in government, enhance accountability, and deepen focus on the key drivers of growth and development.
I would have loved to stay and continue this work. But I have faith in the people of Liberia to pursue what is right for them and their country. So, I will watch and cheer from afar as this country continues to grow and develop.
I will forever remain deeply grateful for how warmly both the government and the Liberian people welcomed me. I have loved the Palm Butter, Dumboy, Cassava Leaf, Potato Greens, Pepper Soup (Liberian Pepper Soup is spicier than our Jamaican one!), and Dry Rice meals that so many friends prepared for me! I told a friend of mine once, even if you don’t fall in love with Liberia immediately, stay for a while and you will. Now, it breaks my heart to leave!
I will carry a special memory of sitting with H.E. the President at the Jamaica Resort, both of us listening to and chanting reggae music, feeling right at home, before discussing business. Thank you, your Excellency, for the warm friendship. You and your people have been kind and warm to me. I will never forget it. I wish you, your government, and all Liberians the very best for the future. Wherever I am, I will always love and remember Liberia, and I will always be a friend you can call on.