Program Checklist

September 2012

Lessons Learned in the Transition from Relief to Development in Liberia
For more information, please contact: Lynn Yoshikawa Senior Program Manager InterAction lyoshikawa@interaction.org

Against the odds of rampant poverty, recurring regional violence, and deep ethnic and economic divisions, Liberia has made tangible political and development progress since the end of its devastating civil and regional wars. Although over 60,000 Liberian refugees remain in exile today, the bulk of refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned between 2003 and 2007. The following checklist is based on lessons learned from the period of major returns and while it is not necessarily suitable to the profile of Liberian refugees returning today, some lessons may be applied to similar contexts of return and reintegration. Many factors, such as security and government policies which facilitate an effective transition, are beyond the control of NGOs and UN agencies. Below are some of the key factors which helped or could have helped to facilitate an effective transition in the return, reintegration, and recovery processes.

Key Contextual Factors
The security context was permissible for regular NGO capacity-building efforts, community and site visits, and program monitoring activities. The NGO community had relative independence during the period administered by the National Transitional Government of Liberia, which was widely seen as corrupt. The legitimacy of the elected Liberian government was not contested, allowing NGOs to engage openly with the government on policy and operations. There was and still is political will by the Liberian government to address pro-poor recovery, reconstruction, and peacebuildling efforts, as well as robust support by donors.

Key Policy Factors
Humanitarian and development funding in the post-conflict period has been generous and both funding streams overlapped to ensure that immediate needs were addressed while development strategies and programs were being planned. Prior to any organized refugee or IDP returns, UNHCR and/or the authorities should undertake a comprehensive registration exercise to tailor and target assistance, as well as monitor returns and reintegration.

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The Liberian government did not discriminate between returning refugees and IDPs (although it did exclude urban IDPs), and allowed UNHCR and NGOs to assist both groups with similar aid packages and protection. Strategies to transition from relief to recovery and development were well-coordinated under the effective leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator, who was also able to balance the civil-military relationship with UNMIL peacekeepers. The UN and government representatives were accessible and there were regular and frequent meetings with the NGO community. The government of Liberia and donors recognized that “recovery” in the Liberian context had to go beyond the restoration of pre-crisis conditions. For example, many humanitarian issues, particularly GBV were exacerbated by the war, but required a long-term, multi-sectoral commitment and intervention far beyond the recovery period.

Key Programmatic Factors
Set realistic expectations for absorption of NGO staff into nascent government systems after the end of a program, particularly in state-building contexts such as Liberia. If the transfer of staff is a goal, then joint planning with the government should begin at the outset of the program. At least 1 year of monitoring after the staff transfer is required to ensure a degree of success. Consider training and funding community-based committees to liaise directly with local government officials and play a monitoring role in the post-transition period. New projects should map previous and existing programs and actors in the area to build on lessons learned, existing community structures, and establish new linkages. Include strong involvement by the justice and security sectors in all sexual and gender-based violence programs. Consider the provision of legal assistance, particularly on issues of land and property tenure, to be included in the return and reintegration response and for conflict-affected areas. Land remains a major source of conflict in Liberia and requires the strong involvement of development actors. Partnerships with both local and international NGOs should be encouraged to facilitate common strategies and implementation modalities, which can lay the foundation for longer-term development. Reintegration assistance for extremely vulnerable people, including ex-combatants, youth, women, and GBV survivors should be intensive (at least four to six months in duration) and comprehensive, and include basic literacy and life skills trainings. Livelihood assistance should always be based on market analyses and include basic business planning and management skills. Accelerated learning programs should expect and account for the wide diversity of learning experiences and needs of its students, given the duration and brutality of the conflict.