By Sidiki Trawally in Washington DC
In a quiet waiting room, Liberia’s Finance Minister Amara Konneh is ushered by World Bank staff and seated to await the arrival of senior World Bank officials including President Jim Yong Kim, who invited the Liberian minister. In few minutes, CBS’ Correspondent Sara Logan entered the room followed by President Kim and Bank’s VP for Africa, Mr. Makthar Diop. The room lightened up as the Bank’s executives hanged head with Minister Konneh and other panelists.
Eventually, after many long minutes, Minister Konneh and his host, Dr. Kim walked to the packed Atrium where a high-level panel discussion on the future of fragile states would be held. Both men walked closely as they chatted quietly.
They sat side-by-side on the platform in front a cerebral audience comprising World Bank officials, employees, civil society organizations as well as donor partners, among others. In his opening statements, President Kim welcomed his guests and immediately signaled a shift in policy towards fragile state development. Dr. Kim is the first Bank’s president who has done development work, says Minister Konneh.
He joined World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on the panel. Others panelists were Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique; Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, National Dialogue member in Yemen and former Assistant Secretary General UNDP; and Makhtar Diop, Vice President, Africa Region. The discussion was moderated by Lara Logan, CBS News and “60Minutes” Chief Foreign Correspondent.
For President Jim Yong Kim, helping to lift fragile and conflict-affected states including Liberia out of poverty and onto the road of development is much more than just a corporate agenda—it’s a “moral commitment.” The president opened the World Bank Group’s first ever Fragility Forum “Stop Conflict, Reduce Fragility, End Poverty” Wednesday morning in Washington with a plenary panel exploring the real challenges and potential opportunities within these countries to put them on the path to development.
Says President Kim: “The World Bank Group believes that even the poorest countries wrecked by conflict have the capacity to become developed. I would like to see every Bank staff member in line waiting to work in fragile and conflict affected states.”
The forum—attended and followed online by hundreds of practitioners and experts from inside and outside the Bank—is seen as a first step toward building a community of practice for work in fragile and conflict-affected states. It featured two days of panels on a wide range of topics and a showcase in the Atrium of the Bank Group’s work in this area.
During the plenary the president said that the World Bank Group must seek regional solutions to deliver “our expertise and knowledge on the ground.” He recalled his days as an NGO doctor working in the field frustrated by the lack of cohesion and cooperation among international institutions. “Fragmentation,” he cautioned, “is unconscionable.”
Kim understands personally how a country like Liberia can rise from the ashes after be written off by the international community. He was a child in Korea at a time when development experts had dismissed the country as a “basket case.”
“Look at Korea today,” Kim said. “I swore to myself that I would never buy the argument that any country has no chance for development.” Far too often, countries considered fragile have received less donor assistance. “For me this is a fundamental question of fairness. “We have to rethink the approach,” he said.
Dr. Kim wants to look at incentives for World Bank Group staff so that they are “lining up” to work in these countries where “our expertise and knowledge is most needed, because we can bring “enormous value to the table.”
There are signs of progress, Kim said, referencing a recent World Bank Group report that highlighted 20 fragile and conflict affected states including Liberia that have met at least one or more target under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For him, this should be a wake-up call to the global community not to dismiss these countries as lost causes. These signs of progress do signal that development can and is being achieved, even amid fragility and violence.
The president and many of the panelists including Minister Konneh agreed that the key to keeping states emerging from fragility is jobs.
Liberia is a fragile and conflict affected country that is among 20 others which have met one or more targets of the Millennium Development Goals. Currently, Liberia is rebuilding its infrastructure, particularly roads which were nonexistent due to conflict. “When President (Ellen Johnson) Sirleaf took office in 2006, there was zero megawatt of power in the country, there was zero pipe borne running water, the roads had not been maintained for more than 25 years,” the eloquent Finance Minister told the plenary.
Using Liberia as a success story, Minister Konneh said despite enduring political and economic challenges, his post-conflict country is rebuilding its institutions and beginning to provide its citizens with those basic services that were destroyed during the conflict. He said Liberia is moving away from fragility to stability, but needs serious financial resources to achieve the New Deal goals.
Minister Konneh made the case for the Bank to focus more attention on the development of fragile states. He pushed the World Bank and the international community to double support to these countries, particularly in the IDA 17 replenishment. “Please consider doubling IDA allocation to fragile states,” the Liberian Treasury Chief appealed.
Much of the Bank’s work in fragile and conflict-affected states is supported by International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest, which currently has an active portfolio of 190 projects in fragile and conflict-affected states.
Minister Konneh said the Bank has a vital leadership role by bringing together partners and helping to put systems and services in place that are often lacking following conflicts. He said the institution can also work with governments to ensure accountability and good governance, adding that corruption is a silent and very dangerous war fragile countries are fighting out there.
With President Kim, other panelists and some members of the audience nodding their heads, the Liberian Treasury Chief maintained that the Bank now has the opportunity and the responsibility as the premier global development institution, to take on increasing leadership among donor partners. The explicit goals should be to ensure effective partnership practices, alignment of programs with country-led state-building and peace-building strategies; this is what the New Deal is all about.
He plead with the international community not to walk away from fragile states where a majority of the world’s poor live. “The IDA 17 replenishment should consider doubling allocation to fragile states,” he urged.
Without proper infrastructure, the cost of doing business is just too high, which discourages private investment; Konneh said and added that fragile states have suffered conflicts, as a result they have lousy institutions, and they are struggling to meet the basic needs of their people.
Following the session, Minister Konneh was swamped by audience members including donor partners who were seeking further information and what they could do to Liberia in its transformation agenda. Several business cards exchanged hands with notes that follow ups would be made in Liberia for meetings with officials of the government.