When 60 countries from around the world pledged their commitment to the new Millennium Declaration in 2000, Liberia wasn’t included in the handshakes and photographs. The small west African state was at war, in the grips of a bitter and bloody civil conflict that had killed hundreds of thousands of its own people and decimated its fragile economy.
Eight years on, the scars remain. Liberia is still one of the least developed countries in the world. Informal unemployment hovers around the 85% mark, access to health services, clean water and sanitation remains limited, and 76% of the population lives on less than $1 a day.
In 2006, a new government headed by former World Bank and UN director Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, pledged to rebuild Liberia’s economy, heal the deep rifts caused by political corruption and tackle the chronic poverty faced by many of its people.
Speaking to the Guardian by telephone from Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf acknowledges that a history of persistent bad governance and an almost total lack of institutional capacity have chronically undermined Liberia’s chances of hitting any of the targets.
“When the world agreed to the millennium development goals, we were seeing our country regressing developmentally,” says Johnson Sirleaf. “Since then we’ve been trying to catch up.”
This is an extract of an interview with Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, which was first published in The Guardian in August 2008. Click here to read it in full.