Building Civil Service Capacity: Post-Conflict Liberia, 2006-2011


Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office in January 2006 knowing she had much to do to rebuild her country. Liberia was one of the poorest nations in the world. A 14-year civil war had destroyed most of the country’s physical infrastructure. The health-care system had collapsed. Few people had jobs. Sirleaf had ambitious plans to develop Liberia’s economy, but she knew she would have to rebuild the government itself in order to move forward. Many skilled Liberians had fled during the war, and those who remained did not have access to regular schooling. Lack of training and experience at all levels of government, from ministers to office helpers, threatened the president’s ability to translate plans into action. But paralysis threatened to trigger popular discontent and might even reignite conflict. Sirleaf needed to recruit highly skilled people for top leadership positions and build capacity in the middle and lower ranks. Fast action was crucial—and every option available risked increasing levels of inequality and suspicion if not managed carefully. The president persuaded three distinguished Liberians to help her attract and develop talent. Minister of Finance Antoinette Sayeh was the first to arrive, followed by C. William Allen, who became director general of the Civil Service Agency, and Harold Monger, who led the Liberia Institute of Public Administration. During the next five years, that team recruited more than 200 highly skilled professionals, trained over a thousand civil servants, and made government a more attractive place to work. Although substantial gaps remained in 2011, the Liberian government was on its way to escaping a problem that often rekindled violence in other post-conflict countries.

Jonathan Friedman drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Monrovia, Liberia, during December 2010 and July 2011 and on interviews conducted by Summer Lopez in Monrovia during August 2008. Case published August 2012.
Associated Interviews:  Shadi Baki
Reform sequencing
presidential appointees
Donor Relations
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Civil service recruitment
Sequencing reform
Core Challenge
Capacity (capability traps)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Jonathan (Yoni) Friedman