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Priorities for Liberians and the Government

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Respondents’ Priorities

When asked about their personal priorities, the Liberian respondents gave a wide range of answers. About half mentioned education (56%), health (45%) and employment (45%) as their priorities. In other words, most respondents focused on social services and employment. One-tenth to one-quarter of the respondents mentioned survival needs, food and water, respectively. The results suggest that most Liberians have begun to move from prioritizing immediate physical needs to demanding a higher level of social services.

Table 5: Priorities (1)

Table 5 - Priorities (1)

In addition to social services, employment, and basic needs, many respondents further identified peace (31%) and security (21%) among their priorities. These responses were significantly more frequent in the central and northern parts of the country, with over 40% of the population identifying peace as a priority in Margibi (48%), Lofa (44%), Grand Bassa (44%), Bong (43%), and Gbarpolu (40%), compared to less than 20% in the southeastern and western counties. The counties in the southeast and west of Liberia have many similarities in respondents’ own priorities vis-à-vis the center and north of the country. When ranking the priorities named in each county, the issues of jobs, employment, money, and finance were all named far more frequently than health or peace. Although questions for wealth and occupation do not reflect this pattern, there is a striking regional difference for how these substantive issues are viewed.

Figure 6: Respondents’ Priorities

 Respondents’ Priorities

Table 6: Priorities (2)

Table 6 - Priorities (2)

Priorities for the government

In addition to their own priorities, the survey asked respondents to identify what they thought the government should prioritize. The most frequent responses reflected and reinforced their own priorities: education (69%), employment (59%), and health services (40%). Respondents further suggested the government should prioritize poverty reduction (40%).

In contrast to their own priorities, respondents more frequently mentioned the need for road maintenance and construction. This need has been voiced most strongly in Liberia’s famously remote counties: River Gee, Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, Rivercess, and Gbarpolu (61% or higher). Respondents in Sinoe and Grand Kru were particularly concerned about this priority, as over 70% of the population mentioned a need for roads/road improvement. The fact that few mentioned roads among their own priorities may simply suggest they see road construction and maintenance as the government’s responsibility and not their own. This assumption was also confirmed during detailed consultations with village and town representatives or elders in these counties, who named accessibility and road construction (by the government, an international aid agency, or a logging company) as a precondition for all other developmental priorities.[1]

Similarly, one out of ten respondents identified water as a personal priority, but a larger proportion (34%) said it should be a government priority. Again, this suggests that water provision is seen as a responsibility of the government as opposed to an individual one. Inversely, the focus on food as an individual priority (25%) is not reflected in government priorities (13%), most likely because it is seen as an individual responsibility.

Figure 7: Priorities for the Government

 Priorities for the Government

[1] Many of the villages visited by the research team that were located off the major axes were only reachable by foot and/or canoe, since many bridges and roads have disintegrated during the wars and have not yet been rebuilt. In particular, many of the bridges now found collapsed were built several decades prior to the civil wars by logging companies who were given concessions by the government and then remained responsible for maintaining roads and bridges in their areas. Although logging exploitation remains far below their pre-war levels, the same model appears to be employed again today by the government. This in turn has been echoed by village elders who name only the government as the mediator to bring international donors and logging companies to the area to perform the actual work, or at least finance a local company to do so.