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Guinea Bissau Leaders Seek New Strategies for Donor Money


Top officials from one of the world's poorest nations, Guinea Bissau, met in Senegal recently to form a strategy to alleviate persistent poverty. In the informal meeting, representatives from donor nations and aid organizations had the chance to ask how their money is being spent. Kari Barber attended the meeting on Senegal's Goree Island and has this report.

Several years after an election process put behind years of coups and conflicts, Guinea Bissau's economy still has failed to recover.

A government minister, a military colonel, top business officials, a scholar, civil society leaders and a lawmaker met for four days to create a plan for stability and economic growth. The next step was to present the plan to donor countries and organizations to ensure their financial support and guidance.

Economic Minister Issufo Sanha introduced a four-part plan for recovery. Sanha emphasizes balancing social and political stability with economic growth.

The steps include making the government more transparent and accountable; creating jobs in the private sector through micro-financing - improving access to basic social services like education and health - and considering the needs of vulnerable groups in society like the elderly and children.

Sanha says good governance is needed to create an environment where the private sector can flourish. He says dialogue with donor countries and organizations is essential.

It is in the private sector that Macaria Barai is trying to revive her country. Barai, who is the president of the chamber of commerce of Bissau, says some donors have lost confidence in the nation.

"You know when you have a vision and you tell people and they have to think about it, especially in terms of Guinea Bissau that nobody now believes that it is capable of staying away from conflict definitively," she said.

Despite a history of military upheaval since independence from Portugal, Barai says Guinea Bissau is a young country and needs another chance to prove it is capable of good governance and political stability.

"After the colonial era we had only one high school, so how do you expect this whole population to be good managers, to be good technicians, etc," she added. "So it is like they supported people who at the time didn't know the value. They were not trained. So, now we want to be trained."

Aid workers said economic reform and stability in Guinea Bissau also depends on a reformed military. It was a military mutiny in 1998 that resulted in civil war. In 2003, it was the military who overthrew then-president Kumba Yala.

Colonel Arsenio Balde, from the military tribunal, says laws are being put into place to rein in the power of the security forces in the country.

"The reform is exactly to achieve that goal to have the army under control of civilian elected personnel to avoid any future clashes and problems, crises, coups and things like that," he said.

Balde says poor living conditions and lack of food for the military are also aggravating the situation. He says these can be solved with a proper budget.

In 2006, aid from international donors in Guinea Bissau totaled more than $250 million. Experts stressed more transparency was needed in the government to handle aid money. Guinea Bissau usually ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, in surveys done by economic watchdog groups.

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