Thumbs Up on UNMIL? Yep.
During a visit to Liberia in early May I was met with a terribly pleasant surprise. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) thinks of itself as an economic engine! When talking to the Chief of Procurement for UNMIL about the prospects for a Marketplace project in Liberia I was told what a good idea it was. I was told by another senior member of the support side of UNMIL, a smashing chap with an English accent, that (and I paraphrase), “UNMIL is here to do alot of things, but help build the economy is one, and we are trying to do our best by using local business in our procurement”. Hear hear!
Then to my complete surprise I was invited to a meeting/seminar the next day between the NY based UN Procurement Division, UNMIL Procurement and the Liberian Chamber of Commerce. This seminar drew a small but decent showing at the Liberian of Chamber of Commerce’s offices. UN staff opened up the meeting saying that the UN is open to doing business with local business and wants to help get Liberian firms in on the action by registering them on the UN Global Marketplace. Well I nearly fell off my chair.
Other UN peace operations I have seen and know about do little of this. In fact in April 2008 one Chief of Mission Services once told me that buying locally can be done a little, but its a waste of time trying to do much of it. My pessimism reached a high point that day.
Certainly, UNMIL can do more than it is currently doing. But time and resources are short. Having said that, it is clear that UNMIL now has the political will do to business differently…. and help drive some bucks into the local economy and generate jobs. Liberia is a place with chronic and severe unemployment. UNMIL has a bigger budget than the national government does, by a country mile, and every dollar spent locally can really make a difference. Hats off to UNMIL!
[God it was difficult praising a UN peace operation so effusively in this blog post, but it had to be done]