US Corporate Council On Africa Holds Roundtable on Investment and Business Opportunities in Liberia

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 24, 2006


Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
The Liberian transition is stirring interest in Washington. Two weeks ago, Congress held a marathon 4-hour congressional hearing on the prospect for peace and democracy in Liberia. A bi-partisan congressional delegation led by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi visits Monrovia this week, meeting with the new Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government. Major business and civic organizations are following suit, turning their attention to the recovery and development process evolving in the war-torn West African nation. This week, corporate leaders and NGO representatives came together at two Washington events to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Liberia.

On Tuesday, February 14, 2006, the Corporate Council on Africa, the umbrella organization of over 160 American companies operating in Africa, which includes economic giants such as Boeing, Coca Cola, Pan African Capital Group, IBM, Starbucks Coffee, Chevron/Texaco, Daimler Chrysler, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, and Vanco, as well as small businesses, held a roundtable on investment and business opportunities in Liberia.

In his opening statement read in the presence of a full room, the President of the Corporate Council on Africa, Mr. Steve Hayes, who said he was proud to have known Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf long before she became President, told his audience that “Liberia offers at this time a unique opportunity for investment. If US businesses don’t now examine directly the potential of Liberia, they will once again lose out to international competitors. There can be no doubt that under President Ellen Sirleaf the rule of law will be applied. The needs in Liberia are great and they are diverse. Investment in Liberia offers businesses an opportunity for profit in the knowledge that their investment is also helping the Liberian people.”

Speaking further, Mr. Hayes said: “Right now, I think that President Sirleaf offers one of the best hopes for positive change in Africa. It is important that the international community works to make Liberia one of Africa’s success stories. She is among the few leaders on the continent truly open for change and full accountability of government. She deserves the full support of the international community, both the public and private sectors. Her job is not going to be easy. In fact, it is almost impossible. If we, the international community, provide investment and hope, we can create the possible and make it a reality. Change will take time, but we need to build for change immediately through investment in the economy and people of Liberia.”

Liberian Ambassador to the US, Mr. Charles A. Minor, also underlined the great opportunities that exist in a country rich in natural resources, with tremendous human capital and that has unique cultural and historical ties to the United States of America. Speaking of the significance of the election of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Ambassador said: ”Ellen’s election and induction offer another dimension to Liberia. She is an African woman, with the education, qualification and experience comparable to or higher than those of the most qualified leaders the world over. Her becoming our President offers profound inspiration to millions of people worldwide, particularly women. It signifies true democracy and provides a significant role model to the gender that has inappropriately been considered a minority. One of her greatest challenges will be to proportion her time and efforts to lead and administer Liberia while also endeavoring to empower other women around the continent and elsewhere to rise to the challenge of leadership with both compassion and resolute vitality.”

The Ambassador then spoke of business opportunities that American corporations can consider and help to jumpstart the Liberian economy and social recovery. He also made specific reference to the judiciary, an issue that has kept many investors from moving into developing countries. He said that the new government is committed to the rule of law, to a fair and level playing field. The Judiciary will be independent and many of Liberia’s laws, particularly contract laws, are similar to laws of U.S. states. Liberia’s business and accounting practices are modeled on those of the United States as is the Constitution of the Republic and President Sirleaf intends for all of them to be applied fairly to all concerned.

During the discussion that followed, representatives from the various companies, government, and civil society organizations asked questions about security, sanctions, and the disarmament process. Mr. Steve D. Cashin, President of Pan African Capital Group and Riva Levinson, a managing director at BKSH a major Washington lobbying firm, both very familiar with Liberia and President Sirleaf, joined Ambassador Minor in fielding questions. Mr. Cashin, who is on the verge of opening an office in Monrovia, said that the commitment of the new Liberian leader to the growth of the private sector and her sense of fair play convinced him that Liberia was ready to move from the ashes of war to a new and brighter future.

In closing remarks, CCA President Hayes said that Liberia was at a turning point and that the private sector can help in ensuring that the new peace and democratic process move forward. He said that the Corporate Council on Africa will start consultations with a view to organizing a major American trade mission to Liberia so that investors can “see things as they are” on the ground.

On Thursday, February 23, 2006, the Liberia Watch Group, an advocacy group comprising several non-profit organizations that include the Academy for Educational Development, Africare, the Africa Society, the Corporate Council on Africa, the Institute for Policy Studies, Constituency For Africa,, and others held its first meeting on Liberia since the November 2005 election that brought President Sirleaf to power. The meeting was chaired by Mr. Leonard Robinson, president of the Africa Society and former US Assistant State of State for African affairs under the administration of George H.W. Bush in the 1990s. Among those in attendance were Melvin Foote, president of CFA, Howard Jetter, Vice President of the Corporate Council on Africa, Akwe Amosu of the Open Society Institute, representatives of the NAACP, Africare, and many others

The group was instrumental in obtaining more than $200 million in aid for Liberia during the transitional administration of Gyude Bryant and has been a constant advocate for the strengthening of bilateral ties between Liberia and the US. In his opening remarks at the meeting, Mr. Robinson said that “the election of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, someone I have known for many decades, opens a rare window of opportunity for Liberia and there is no doubt, that under her leadership, Liberia is headed toward peace and democracy. It is our duty to help sustain that peace and ensure that the country never again rolls back into instability.

“As an advocacy group, Liberia Watch intends to mobilize civic and grassroots organizations, the US Congress, and every possible constituency in the US to ensure that the Sirleaf administration receives the help it needs to put the devastated nation at work.”

The meeting was attended by representatives of many non-governmental organizations and was held at the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, whose chairwoman, Dr. Dorothy Height, played a prominent role in creating Liberia Watch, three years ago when Liberia was engulfed in a civil war.

Ambassador Charles Minor made a presentation on the current situation in Liberia and highlighted the priorities of the Sirleaf administration, emphasizing job creation, the restoration of basic health and education facilities, repatriation and resettlement of refugees and the rehabilitation of war affected-youth.

Liberia Watch member organizations agreed to keep pressing Congress and the Bush Administration to provide the needed help to the Sirleaf Administration..