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Liberia - President Sirleaf visits US, urges contyiued support for Liberia

Published date:
Sunday, 03 July 2011

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrived in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 23rd, and spent a full day on Capitol Hill in back-to-back meetings with U.S. congressional leaders, seeking to convince them to continue financial support for Liberia, thus enabling the country to become a U.S. post-conflict success story.

The President’s message, in meeting after meeting, was that Liberia has made progress, but that there is still work to do, and this was not the time for the U.S. to reduce financial support to countries, like Liberia, on the verge of taking off. The foundation was in place, the security sector was going well, the country’s fiscal house was in order, the debt problem had been solved, and investment infrastructure was in place, the President assured congressional leaders and State Department officials. If all sectors performed as expected, the President said, in ten years Liberia would no longer require foreign aid, she declared.

Not shying away from the challenges the country still faces, the President cited youth unemployment, the fight against corruption, the need for judicial reform, and the fragile situation along Liberia’s border with Côte d’Ivoire, as a result of the presence of over 140,000 refugees and of ex-combatants bringing weapons into Liberia.

The President was warmly welcomed, as Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen applauded her efforts in Liberia and pledged to work to ensure that support for Liberia was not negatively impacted.

President Sirleaf rounds of meetings commenced at 9 a.m. On day one of her visit, the President met the following influential lawmakers: Sen. Chris Coons, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee African Affairs; Sen. Lindsay Graham, Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations; Congressman Donald Payne, Ranking Member of House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, and Members of the Congressional Black Caucus; Congressman Ed Royce, House Foreign Affairs Committee; Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations; the House Democracy Partnership, hosted by Congressman David Dreier, Chairman, House Democracy Partnership, and Congressman David Price, Ranking Member, House Democracy Partnership; Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations; and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic Leadership.

At the State Department, President Sirleaf talks with Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton covered a range of topics, including Liberia’s upcoming elections, and events elsewhere in Africa. The meeting included Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Johnnie Carson and other State Department officials.

The Liberian President ended the day with a speaking engagement at the Center for Global Development. Speaking on “Emerging Africa and the Private Sector: A Liberian Perspective,” the President described for an audience of over 150 persons the Liberia she inherited in 2006 and where the country stood today – the progress, successes and challenges – and what her government has done to attract USD 16 billion in direct foreign investment and a private sector. She spoke about the importance of foreign aid in Liberia’s recovery, saying it had made a difference in the Liberian experience. “All indicators say that we are going in the right direction,” President Sirleaf stated, adding that Liberia was moving to a level where it should be a middle-income country by 2030, given its small population and natural resources wealth.

The President told the audience that Liberia was stable, but there were risks in the sub-region due to the refugee situation along the border with Côte d’Ivoire, and the presence of too many unemployed youth who could be recruited to destabilize the country.

President Sirleaf thanked the friends of Liberia, some of them present, for the support rendered to Liberia. All of you came together to enable us to get where we are, she said.

In the interactive session, the President responded to questions about increasing Liberia’s tax base; China’s role in Liberia and Africa; lessons learned from other nations concerning the oil curse; how to manage the tension between attracting global capital and Liberianization; youth unemployment and the possibility of an “African Spring,” and the questions and concerns raised by investors.

The Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Amara Konneh, responding to a question cited the advantages, to Liberia entrepreneurs, of participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) facility. The occasion was introduced by Todd Moss, CGD Vice President for Programs and Senior Fellow, who also moderated a question-and-answer period.

Upon her arrival at Dulles International Airport early Thursday morning, President Sirleaf was met by Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States, H.E. William V.S. Bull; Deputy Chief of Mission Edwin Sele; First Secretary and Counsel Christopher Nippy; and Mrs. Nancy Steward Nwabunnia, whose 12-year-old daughter Elfrieda, presented the President with a bouquet of flowers.

The delegation traveling with the President includes: Planning Minister Amara Konneh; Legal Advisor Cllr. Seward Cooper; Special Assistant to the President, Elva Richardson; guest, Mrs. Jennie Bernard; and other Executive Mansion personnel.

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