IFES Q&A with Former Senior Program Manager Laurie Cooper

Publication Date: 
18 Dec 2014

A former Senior Program Manager at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), 1989-2003, Laurie Cooper specializes in conflict resolution and rule of law. She has worked in more than fifteen countries in Africa, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. Most recently, she was Chief of Party for the Liberia Land Conflict Resolution Project. She is currently traveling in southern Africa.

As a Senior Program Manager at IFES:

a. What is the most memorable program or initiative you helped advance?

Well, there is memorable, and then there is effective. Memorable would have been the short-term observation of a voting process in Equatorial Guinea; it wasn't clear how this process would contribute to longer-term democratic development. As far as effective, I would cite the collaboration of IFES consultant Theo Noel and the then-Chairman of the Kenya Electoral Commission, Samuel Kivuitu, ahead of the 2002 elections, which were ultimately peaceful and successful.

b. Which IFES experience do you value the most?

There is no one single experience that I can cite, but the act of identifying subject matter experts and connecting them successfully with their counterparts, and capturing the long-term knowledge that they share, is my greatest gratification.

c. Do you feel that your work at IFES helped you grow professionally?

Certainly. As a member of the staff who started out as an intern, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall (not sure if I should say that, since that was 25 years ago!) I was fortunate to work with and learn the fundamentals from professionals who helped me to manage the great work that IFES is known for today.

With your extensive international experience, what career opportunities do you see yourself pursuing?

I will continue making contributions to the promotion of peaceful dispute resolution, particularly in postwar contexts.

Ebola’s destructive path in West Africa has not only displaced communities and people but has exacerbated the strain facing already weak institutions and governance. After almost eight years in Liberia, what do you consider the key structural and governance issues that have been underscored by the current Ebola crisis in Liberia?

I would say that the lack of accountability among Liberia's nascent postwar governance institutions were and continue to be highlighted. At the same time, it shows us once again that short-term development support will yield only short-term benefits. So we were beginning to see some key investigations and prosecutions, even as we also saw key Cabinet appointments that deserve more scrutiny – and then, as Liberians say, the whole thing “chakla” (became mixed up and fell apart). This is the worst Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen; even a strong nation would be challenged to mobilize the knowledge and strategic planning necessary to manage it. The steps that have been taken to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as prisoners, are commendable. It is certainly a blessing, four months after leaving the country, to read news articles about the stabilization of numbers of new cases, and the establishment of effective treatment centers. However, the toll that the crisis is taking on the health sector, on children's education, on the movement of money through the Liberian economy via direct foreign investment, and the politicization of all of these issues, is not something that can be ameliorated in a three-to-five-year project framework.

What positive trends towards sustainable democracy do you view as most prevalent?

This is a difficult question to answer in the current context, particularly regarding the countries where the largest amount of funding has been provided to develop institutions, some of which are not disinterested parties to conflicts that we hoped had been resolved a decade or longer ago. However, I think that the increase in transparency in political and financial transactions, combined with officials who remain committed to the promotion of the rule of law, at great personal risk, is the trend that will guarantee longer-term sustainable democracy.