Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first elected female head of state and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Her presidential tenure will pave way to Liberia’s peaceful, democratic handover of a head of state to a successor since 1944. A full excerpt of her remarks as she addressed United States members of congress, diplomats and other distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I took office on 26 January 2006, Liberia was a failed state. Our citizens suffered under the total collapse of services and physical infrastructure. The streetlights and the water pipes in Monrovia were stripped bare, robbed for their raw materials, and our roads were impassable.
From the ashes of war, we rebuilt.
We brought Liberia back into the community of nations, reactivated relationships with the Bretton Woods’ institutions, and renegotiated relief from a $ 4.7 billion debt burden. We returned fiscal discipline to government, rationalized our bureaucracy, and put in place new laws and regulations that helped open the economy to foreign direct investment.
We returned our children to school, started to re-build our healthcare infrastructure, focusing on maternal and child health and welfare. We established mechanisms to coordinate the generous assistance from NGOs and private donors. We reformed our civil service, improving a system that was overburdened and under resourced, and invested in the next generation of leaders. We innovated in education, capacity building, public-private partnerships, and regional integration.
Then, in 2014, Liberia was struck by a terrifying virus, an unseen enemy more fearsome than war. Over four thousand Liberians lost their lives. Thousands of children were orphaned. Livelihoods were destroyed. Our healthcare infrastructure collapsed. Concurrently, global commodity prices declined sharply. These twin shocks knocked us off our feet. Our growth rate, which had reached 8.7% in 2013, plummeted to zero.
But Liberians are a strong and resilient people.
And today, our recovery is on course. The economic growth rate is now at 3% and climbing. Some 1.5 million children are in school, and new programs have been put in place to accelerate quality education. The lights are coming back on. Electricity has reached several communities in the capital city, and is being expanded to rural areas. A record 872 kilometers of roads have been paved, improving farmers’ access to markets. Our healthcare system is being rebuilt, focusing on training community healthcare workers. Young people, powered by new technology, are embracing a culture of entrepreneurship.
We left our mark. We have maintained the peace. We have built a foundation for democracy, economic development, and the rule of law. We have given a voice and hope to the market women, the girl child, and to civil society. The next president will inherit an empowered people. Africa now knows what a women president can do.
Liberia’s transformation was achieved in partnership with the United States, under the leadership of four remarkable US Ambassadors, Don Booth, Linda Thomas Greenfield, Deborah Malac and Christine Elder. And also, under the stewardship of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). I would like to recognize the presence of Acting Administrator Cheryl Anderson and, Administrator Mark Green, who will join us later.
The US supported the rebuilding of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the training of police, of immigration and coast guard. You provided technical assistance to strengthen our rule of law, and the integrity institutions to fight corruption. You supported education and capacity building, and invested in healthcare delivery and sustainable agriculture practices. You helped us to rebuild our infrastructure. And you returned the US Peace Corps to Liberia.
On October 5th, 2015, Liberia achieved its most proud moment in the bilateral relationship, as we signed a compact with the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
Barely a decade away from conflict, we transitioned to a partner in development. It is through the MCC, in collaboration with other development partners, that the Mt. Coffee Hydro-Electric Power Plant came alive, a facility that was dormant for over a decade.
It was the US Congress, with your “power of the purse,” which singled Liberia out to be one of the largest recipients per capita of foreign assistance on the African continent.
I salute your presidents who provided exceptional leadership and showed bravery when Liberia needed it most.
It was President George W. Bush who in August 2003, told the world, “Enough is enough” and demanded that war lord Charles Taylor leave Liberia, so peace could be reclaimed. He sent in the United States Marines to support an African peacekeeping force to stop the killing. He enabled the peace and created the space for democracy. It was in this opening which permitted my candidacy and, ultimately, my presidency.
This was achieved in no small part through the leadership in the Congress of Chairman Ed Royce and his senior staff, Tom Sheehy.
It was President Barack Obama, who, at the height of our health emergency in September 2014 took the bold decision, in the face of fierce domestic opposition, to deploy the men and women of the United States military to build a logistical bridge which helped Liberia to fight and contain the disease.