Along with working as an adjunct instructor teaching courses in project management, economics, finance, money and banking, and data analysis using MS Excel, Lawrence Kun Kennedy, a former Vice President and Operations Manager for the domestic and international fixed income desk at JP Morgan Chase Bank has spent the past five years researching international development (ID) projects in sub-Saharan Africa – mainly Liberia. Today, he is working on his dissertation and a book titled Reconceptualizing International Development Project Management Methodology in Africa – a Focus on Liberia.
With a new administration poised to take the leadership role and continue the rebuilding efforts in Liberia, Lawrence talks with Globe Afrique Media about what he has learned over the past several years and how the new administration could end the vicious cycle of failed projects in Liberia and finally develop the country to benefit all Liberians.
GLOBE AFRIQUE: Could you tell the readers why there’s an urgent need to change the way international development projects are carried out in Liberia?
Lawrence Kun Kennedy: President Trump proposes a huge cut to the U.S. State Department and USAID’s budget – a cut of nearly 30 percent. Ministers in Great Britain are also looking at a 7% cut to foreign aid. The British government wants the money redirected to fight terrorism, which, of course, is quite understandable.
Imagine, when foreign aid was bountiful, the Liberian government couldn’t offer more money to help build its medical center to withstand Ebola, the educational system was described as a “mess”, the World Food Program reported that 3.7 million Liberians are still living on less than US$1.25 a day, and roughly 720,000 Liberians are food insecure – that means, they are at risk of going hungry – how will Liberia, a country that depends on foreign aid, manage to survive severe cuts in foreign aid? The answer, my friend, is found in my research on international development project management methodology and the need to rethink the way we are doing things in Liberia.
After receiving billions of dollars in foreign aid through ID projects, Liberia, according to the 2015 United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), is ranked 177 out of 188 countries and territories. The country is still ranked in the low human development category.
The failures in international development projects have led some, including prominent economist Deaton, Moyo, and Easterly to argue that foreign aid is harming Africa. As a matter of fact, some folks in the U.S. government now see the poor performance of ID projects in Liberia to be normal, and the frustration of stakeholders and beneficiaries seems to have become the rule and not the exception.
Now, President Sirleaf may argue that Liberia had a long road to travel to get where it is today after the 14-years civil war but remember, Liberia received an enormous amount of international development assistance from around the world, including billions in debt forgiveness. Liberia’s foreign aid is far more than most countries in sub-Saharan Africa that went through civil wars and ethnic fighting. And those countries, including Rwanda, have done quite well for themselves.
GA: Including your criticisms to change international project management methodology in Africa, you mentioned back in 2016 and even offered a proposal to a presidential candidate that Liberia should create a new ministry to manage NGOs and technology projects. Could you tell us more about this ministry and why you feel it’s important?
LK: Today, international development agencies including USAID, UKAID, and many others are using an outdated ID model that lends itself to corruption and leads to failed projects in Liberia and Africa.
Back in 2004, Britain’s envoy to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay complained about widespread corruption in Kenya. Sir Clay said corrupt ministers were eating like gluttons and vomiting on the shoes of foreign donors. A year later, after Kenya squabbled with the British government for an apology, Sir Edward Clay apologized. He said he was only sorry for the moderation of his language, for underestimating the scale of the looting and for failing to speak out earlier.
Today, foreign NGOs and disaster capitalists are fleecing and hustling Liberia. The new government needs to stop this looting by developing a Ministry of Technology and Project Management that will ensure every single project carried out in Liberia follows a model that works – no longer will they rely on the Logical Framework, PRINCEII, PMBOK, PM4DEV or other outdated models that do not match our culture. We want all NGOs and every project carried out in Liberia to work through one ministry and under one framework.
GA: Could you tell us how this ministry will operate? And, don’t you think this will be an added burden on the country’s budget?
LK: To reduce the weight of a new ministry on the government’s budget, the incoming president must combine two current dysfunctional ministries and the Liberian Agency for Community Empowerment into one new ministry (MITPM) – this will reduce the budget by decreasing government payroll and redundancies. You will also need an act to establish the Ministry of Information Technology and Project Management. But, more importantly, you need the locals to become part of every project carried out in Liberia. You cannot reduce poverty without education, and you cannot improve education unless you train the people (local residents). So, every local person in a community, town, or village will learn and become part of every project.
The new ministry will have a mandate to improve government efficiencies using technology and lean principles. The ministry will increase and enhance electronic access to government services using mobile devices and desktop computers. The ministry will develop a core group of specialists who will be responsible for training and developing government employees, civil society organizations and community teams in some aspect of project management, data analysis and lean principles – something I’m currently teaching at the college level in the United States.
Liberia, like so many underdeveloped countries, has little experience and aptitude to carry out basic functions like monitoring how resources are spent, enforcing regulations, and delivering core services in healthcare and education. Improving government efficiencies using technology will move Liberia from a paper-based government towards a lean and effective government – this will reduce corruption and save the government millions of dollars each year.
GA: Do you think the new president will take your advice?
LK: Well, I certainly hope so. My advice is based on years of studying this issue and, at the same time, teaching these principles to college students and private organizations.
GA: Mr. Kennedy, thank you very much.
LK: Thank you.