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Donors Conference Opens in Liberia

In Liberia, a two-day donors conference got underway Wednesday, aimed at finding ways to rebuild the country after its long civil war. The meeting includes representatives from USAID, the EU, World Bank, IMF and the African Development Bank. The donors meeting follows the release of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s budget calling for increased spending for education, health and social services.

Among those following developments is Dr. John Stremlau, associate executive director for peace programs at the Carter Center. The Carter Center helped in Liberia’s election process. It’s now working to help rebuild areas outside of the capital, Monrovia. From the southern US city of Atlanta, Georgia, Stremlau spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about aid to Liberia.

“It’s not so much the money that matters, it’s getting engaged with Liberia and sustaining that engagement. Liberia needs everything and the donors and the Liberians have to work out a formula,” he says.

Asked whether the image of former president Charles Taylor, who’s awaiting a war crimes trial, could affect international assistance, Stremlau says, “It’s more than the image actually. There are a lot of Taylorites in the legislature. You know, we tend to forget that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s last best hope to paraphrase (former US president) Abraham Lincoln, that the Taylorites are in the legislature and are complicating her governance, especially since she only has a mandate from 33 percent of the Liberia people. So, Taylor’s shadow is off in detention and I don’t think the man is the problem. It’s the supporters who are trying to complicate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s job of rebuilding Liberia that’s the problem.”

To deal with that issue, Stremlau says a firm message must be sent. “What you do, I think, is make it plain to the Liberians that… this terrible, terrible period of bad governance and upheaval and war and destruction…has ruined just about everything in Liberia.”

He says that the current government appears prepared to seriously engage the international community to form a serious partnership while maintaining the country’s independence. He calls on the United States to stand up and support Liberia, considering their historic relationship.