Message On the Occasion of Liberia’s 168th Independence Anniversary
By Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh
Ambassador of Liberia to Nigeria
(Delivered at the Independence Day Program of the Liberian Community in Abuja, at the Embassy of Liberia, July 26, 2015)
|Amb. Al-Hassan Conteh|
On behalf of Her Excellency the President of the Republic of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the People of Liberia, I would like to welcome all of you, our distinguished guests, and members of the Liberian Community in Nigeria, to the Embassy of Liberia this evening on this auspicious occasion marking the 168th Independence Day of the Republic of Liberia. In commemoration of this event, the President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, issued a Proclamation declaring the national observation of the festive occasion.
The cities of Greenville, Sinoe County, and Barclayville, Grand Kru County, are co-hosting the official Independence Day programs under the theme: “Celebrating Our Community as a Strong Foundation for Accelerated Development.” The day will be officially celebrated in Liberia tomorrow, July, 27, because it falls on Sunday, July 26. On this auspicious occasion, it is customary to provide a brief history of Liberia, the challenges Liberia has faced over the years, and how the nation has overcome those constraints.
I would also like to pay homage to Liberia-Nigeria relations, and speak briefly about what the Embassy is doing to promote our relations with the fraternal and great nation of Nigeria.
Historical accounts trace the origins of the territory of what is now Liberia to 520 BC, and later in the early fifteenth Century, when Portuguese expeditions traversed what was then known as the Malagueta Coast because flora blossomed with malagueta pepper, which together with ivory, were the main products of trade. Overtime, the land became inhabited by diverse ethnic groups, who arrived in distinct migration waves between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries from Africa’s north, north-east and east in search for liberty and a new living abode. Liberia’s modern political and legislative history started with the largest emigration of black people from the United States America in the early nineteenth century, as a result of the abolition of slavery and the founding of the American Colonization Society in 1816.
This movement led to the founding of Liberia in 1822 after a negotiated land agreement with Dey and Mamba chiefs for 130 miles long, and 40 miles wide coastal land. Subsequently, the settlers formed a government under a Commonwealth system and the governorship of Joseph Jenkins Robert, who later became the first President of the Republic Liberia. They decided to hold a convention to assess the situation of the Commonwealth of Liberia, which was then threatened by internal strife and the unwillingness by European powers to pay harbor tariffs to the ACS, which they considered a private enterprise rather than a sovereign government. These were the circumstances leading to the Declaration of Independence of Liberia from the American Colonization Society on July 26, 1847.
Liberia struggled for survival between 1847 and end of the Second World War in 1945. During this period, the nation was marginalized by the European powers that held the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885 to partition Africa, under great resistance from the young Liberian Republic. The Liberian state also surmounted several ethnic wars, and threats from international financiers to transform Liberia into a Trusteeship because of strangulating national debts.
For a brief period between the 1950’s and the late sixties, Liberia was a rising international economic star, with the highest GDP per capita growth rate in the world, owing to expanded production of rubber and iron ore and the registration of oil tankers under the Liberian flag. That prosperity was due to the country’s strong commitment to liberal trade and foreign investment. The result was infrastructure modernization and incipient human development in the country.
Subsequent challenges faced by the country include the coup d’état of 1980, two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, and the Ebola crisis of 2014. The coup d’état and civil wars caused tens of millions of dollars destruction of property and infrastructure, over 200,000 deaths, and over a million refugees and Internally Displaced People.
The Ebola crisis saw the demise of close to 5,000 Liberian citizens in 2014. Despite these adversities, Liberia has been resilient under a dedicated leadership, vibrant community response, and support from the international community. Liberians have been able to overcome these challenges by putting their differences aside and working together for the sake of peace in the nation.
Several interim governments were formed to manage the nation’s affairs. They held democratic elections in 1997 and voted for peace. The subsequent election in 2005 elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female President in Africa.
The election of President Johnson ushered in an era of transformative national renewal for recovery and prosperity. Her strong leadership has solidified relations with regional partners and the international community, attracting investment of over US$16 billion in Liberia’s mining, agriculture and forestry sectors, and offshore oil exploration to provide jobs for Liberians. This led to more than US$4 billion in debt relief, and the lifting of UN trade sanctions that has now given Liberia access to the international market.
The Ebola scourge reversed the gains in the economy from a GDP of about US$1.2 billion growing at 9.5%, to below 1%. Real GDP per capita before Ebola was US$656.4. Dwindling Ebola cases was followed by the WHO’s declaration of Liberia as Ebola free on May 9, 2015.
I wish to assure the Government and people of Nigeria and the international community not to panic about the few, isolated cases of Ebola resurgence in Liberia in June, 2015. The Government of Liberia now has the experience to control the spread of Ebola. Its effective Incidence Management System (IMS) has brought the situation under control. The four remaining cases recovered and have been released. Liberia now has no confirmed case of Ebola. Liberia is now embarking on a post-Ebola development strategy with national priorities of rebuilding the health system, infrastructure, economic development and reconciliation to reverse the negative trend in falling economic growth, to renew Liberia’s momentum of sustainable development that would enable the country to attain middle income status by 2030 (Vision 2030).
This strategy is called the Agenda for Transformation (AfT). Under this plan, the government will continue to build the private sector, by creating an environment for Liberians to receive loans to improve their businesses while those without skills are given opportunities to acquire vocational education to better their lives. The government will build on its pre-Ebola gains by improving the business climate, making it easier and transparent to do business in Liberia thus attracting more investments in the country.
To ensure that the investments trigger down to the ordinary Liberians, the labor laws of Liberia now give preference to Liberians in all sectors. Liberians now have access to free primary education and basic social services. The Government of Liberia has constructed several vocational institutions and Community Colleges to provide skills and access to higher education around the country. The country’s main hydro plant, at Mount Coffee, which is a major source of electricity, is being rehabilitated.
And the government has begun the construction of housing units on 50 acres of land in Brewerville, outside Monrovia. When completed, this US$6 million housing project will provide affordable housing to ordinary Liberians. Several roads have been reconstructed connecting Monrovia with more parts of the country and giving farmers and traders access to improved transportation and markets.
The government has broken ground for the main transportation artery connecting its capital city of Monrovia to the commercial city of Gbarnga, Bong County, in central Liberia, with the city of Ganta, Nimba County, in the northcentral region, endowed with agricultural resources and iron ore respectively. The government’s new economic policies, based on international standards, support and transparency, have helped in identifying additional sources of development funds.
There has been a steady increase in the country’s budget from US$80 million in 2005 to US$623 million in 2015. These new policies have been praised by international organizations including the World Bank, which recently listed Liberia among thirteen countries that have shown improved policy environment for growth and poverty reduction.
There are no political prisoners in Liberia and citizens can freely speak their minds and move about without harassment. The fight against corruption, an age old problem in Liberia is also yielding results. Corrupt government officials are being named and shamed while some have been prosecuted. The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission has worked hard to combat this societal menace. The declaration of assets has been introduced. The President has called on all members of her cabinet to declare their assets, and has vowed to dismiss those who fail to do so.
Liberia has deepened its bilateral relation with Nigeria at an opportune time when Nigeria is rated the largest African economy, following a rebasing exercise of the size and structure of its economy in 2014. Nigeria’s total GDP increased from $262 billion in 2011 to $510 billion in 2014. The manufacturing sector, including flour mills, factories of cement and other essential consumer and industrial products contribute about one-third to the GDP. Liberia’s Vision 2030 and Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020 have similar aspirations in transforming the lives of the citizens of both states. Liberia aspires to be a Middle Income Country by the Year 2030. For its part, Nigeria envisages ten years earlier to be one of the top twenty industrial nations of the World.
In this context, Liberia and Nigeria concluded a Joint Commission on July 14-15 2015 by signing the following Agreements: Bilateral Trade Cooperation Agreement, Agreement on Cultural Cooperation, MOU on Cooperation in Geology, Mining, Mineral Processing and Metallurgy, Agreement on Educational Cooperation, and an Agreement for the Training of Liberia Foreign Service Officers. This development materialized twenty seven years after the Government of the Republic of Liberia signed an Agreement on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation with the Federal Military Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on January 21, 1987, in Lagos Nigeria.
The Joint Commission will work to implement these Agreements and to increase the volume of trade between the two countries, which is currently at a nadir of about $5 million. Let me at this point pay homage to Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for its significant contribution to Liberia, through the West Africa Health Organization and the African Union, of cash donations and volunteers respectively to combat Ebola in Liberia. Liberians will forever be grateful for Nigeria’s contribution to the ECOMOG in the Nineties that renewed peace and democracy in Liberia.
The Liberian Embassy in Abuja continues actively to represent Liberia in Nigeria and at the ECOWAS Commission attending all major events and contributing to bilateral relations and the growth of the regional body and its Member States. The current Vice President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Toga McIntosh and one of the Judges at the Community Court of Justice, His Honor Micah Wright, are Liberian citizens.
The Embassy has initiated a registration process for Liberian citizens in Nigeria, Benin and Equatorial Guinea, in a bid to issue them consular identification cards that will help address the immigration problems confronting some Liberians. It has improved its consular services by setting up a Consulate in Lagos. Visa forms are now accessible online; thus expediting the process of acquiring visas to Liberia. The Embassy’s activities are now more visible at its Website (www.liberiaembassyabuja.org ).
Among other programs, the Embassy collaborates with Nigeria's Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa and the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja to implement a training program for Liberian petroleum engineers and material scientists.
Before I close, let me express my thanks and recognize the efforts of the Liberian Community in Abuja for holding this event here at the Embassy. On its behalf I wish to thank all their sponsors, including Chief Cliff Nzeruem, the CEO of Hotel Ibis Royale in Lagos, Judge Micah Wright of the Community Court of Justice and Vice President Toga McIntosh of the ECOWAS Commission for their respective cash contributions towards the holding of this event.
I would also like to thank all the hardworking staff of the Liberian Mission for working tirelessly and sacrificially to uphold our Mission here in Abuja.
Let me also recognize the presence here today of the Head of Delegation of the Liberian Under-Twenty Female National Soccer Team, Mr. Henry Flomo, the Coaches and distinguished Former Lone Star players Christopher Wreh and Oliver Makor, and our indefatigable young women. Though you lost to the Falconets of Nigeria yesterday, I share Coach Wreh’s vision of building this team of the future, and call on our government to provide them more support through a vibrant Soccer Academy and league in Liberia. As a phrase in the second stanza of Liberia’s National Anthem proclaims “In Union Strong, Success is Sure, We Shall Over all Prevail”, I call on all Liberians in Nigeria to unite and work for the good of each other our native land.
I also encourage all Liberians in Nigeria to be law abiding and engage in endeavors that will empower them and improve their lives. On behalf of Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and all Liberians in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I wish to express my best wishes for the good health and well-being of H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the fraternal people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria Long live the Republic of Liberia. I thank you.