Monday, July 27

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's Independence Day speech

In case you have not yet read the July 26 speech of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which she presented during yesterday's Independence Day celebrations in Bong County, you can read the full text here. The original text is also available at the Executive Mansion site.

The reason why I have choosen to reproduce here the entire text is (1) in light of the recent turmoil about the TRC report (also see my July 9 posting, 'Controversial TRC report rocks Liberia'). In her Independence Day speech President Sirleaf for the first time commented on the TRC report. It is important to note that she did this in a prudent and responsible way; (2) In her speech she also presented the achievements of her administration (which is half-way now). Impressive as it may seem, in reality it is very modest - which though is not her fault.

The National Budget for the new Fiscal Year which was recently presented amounts to not more than US $ 1 million a day (some US $ 360 million in total, if I remember well). Furthermore, the reported amount of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) of some US $ 8 billion is important as a sign of confidence that foreign investors like Firestone and ArcelorMittal have in the country's future political stability. Yet, ArcelorMittal for instance, recently decided to freeze its investments in the West African country of Senegal and any time the same can be expected for the company's activities in Liberia (the rehabilitation of the Nimba ore mining operations), given the present global economic and financial crises and the gloomy outlook for the iron ore mining sector. Moreover, the Central Bank's national reserves are not more than US $ 50 million. In all, it is not a rosy picture for the development of the modern Liberian economy.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to get to know the full text of her speech, which reads as follows:

Special Message by
Her Excellency Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of the Republic of Liberia
On the Occasion of the
162nd Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Liberia
Gbarnga, Bong County,
27th July 2009

Mr. Vice President & Mrs. Boakai;

Mr. Speaker and Honorable Members of the House of Representatives;
Mr. President ProTempore and Members of the Senate, Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices and Members of the Judiciary;
Mr. National Orator;
President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo; Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas;
Our Special Guests;
Former NTGL Chairman Gyude Bryant;
Ministers, Officials of Government;
Chiefs, Traditional Leaders;
Former President and Mrs. Blah & Former Speaker & Government Officials;
Doyen, Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
The SRSG, United Nations Family;
Bishops, Prelates, Members of the Clergy;
Development Partners;
Superintendent, Local Government Officials;
Political Leaders, Business Leaders, NGO Leaders, Media, Marketers, Students;
The Kind People of Bong County:


When on January 16, 2006 I spoke to the nation, I recognized that the vote for me was a vote for change. More than that, it was a vote for peace, security and stability, a vote for individual and national prosperity, a vote for healing and leadership. I expressed humility in the enormity of the challenges that lay ahead – to heal our nation’s wounds, redefine and strengthen its purpose, make democracy a living and effective experiment, promote economic growth, create jobs, revitalize our health and education facilities and services, and quicken the pace of social progress and individual prosperity in our country.
Although we still have a long way to go, we have come a long way in meeting these challenges. We have energized the programs that have trained 2000 new soldiers and renovated their facilities at the Schiefflin and Gbarnga military barracks. Our growth rate has averaged over 6 percent in the past three years. Our development agenda is formulated and in the process of implementation. We are close to the end of the program that will bring us relief from the US$4.9 billion external debt which we inherited. Our Central Bank international reserves have gone from US$5 million to US$50 million. We have removed UN sanctions on our diamonds and forestry, joined the Kimberley process, passed a new forestry law and joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative that covers both of these resources. And we anxiously await the recently enacted Land Reform Commission law to begin the process of much needed reform that will address property rights and land disputes which has the potential to further divide our people.

We have undertaken the first national census in twenty years. Enrollment in our primary schools has increased over 40 percent, the majority of whom are girls. We have renovated two of the three rural teacher training institutes and graduated the first 456 students in 20 years. The University of Liberia will move next year to its US$20 million renovated Fendall campus. The Tubman Technical College renamed Tubman University will reopen its doors in September to be followed by the Technical College in Sinje. Plans for other County colleges are well advanced in planning.

We have restored lights and water missing for over fourteen years, to the Capital and a few other cities. We have started the reconstruction of primary and neighborhood roads and the streets of our Capital city. We have attracted private investment of over US$ 8 billion in our mineral, agriculture, forestry and oil exploration potential. We have constructed or renovated more than 215 schools, 30 hospitals and clinics, several county administration buildings, court houses and security facilities throughout the country. The Telewoyan Hospital in Voinjama is now renovated and in full operation while a US$10 million renovation of the Tappita Hospital is underway. The majority of our schools throughout the country will have books with a national orientation when they open in September. For the first time in two decades, six year olds will start school knowing only an environment of peace.

We have made significant progress in settling arrears to former security forces, civil servants, foreign missions, former Legislators, regional and international organizations. We have qualified for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and obtained Threshold status under the Millennium challenge Corporation. We have strengthened the General Auditing Commission and established the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). We have mobilized non-official flows from foundations, non-official organizations and individuals to the tune of US$15 million to support our capacity building, education and market development program. We have increased revenues from US$80 million to more than US$347 million, pensions from LD$50 to LD$1000, civil servants salaries from US$15 to US$80 with a floor of US$100 for security, teachers and health care workers.

The JFK Hospital is undertaking a program of major physical renovation and capacity building and is on an irreversible path to recovery. We have started judicial action for recovery of illegally sold government physical assets in five of our diplomatic missions. We have restored our nation’s good relationship and reputation throughout the world. In recognition of this, VIPs from 17 countries visited us and I was privileged to make 14 official visits and be honored by 4 nations and 24 institutions of higher learning. Moreover, we have restored in all citizens, particularly the young, hope in the future.

Fellow citizens, a nation rises to its potential when its people are prepared to seize the opportunity, to capture the moment, to accentuate the positive. A nation rises to its potential when its people are proud of their achievements, are prepared to extol their values, are ready to rise above self interest in demonstration of nationalism and patriotism. Such was the character of Martin Luther King when, despite the discrimination and inhumanities to which his people were subjected, saw not the nightmare of things that were but the dream of things that could be. Such was the character of Nelson Mandela when he said “the impossible remains the impossible until it is done”. Such was the character of Barack Obama who when no one believed that an African American could become President of the United States said, “Yes, we can!”

Fellow Citizens, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent three years interviewing tens of thousands of Liberians in country and amongst the Diaspora. We commend them and each and every person who participated in this process. Where the report lives up to its mission and mandate, the Liberian people have my steadfast commitment to work with all branches of government, the Independent Human Rights Commission, the religious community, civil society and the media to actualize its recommendations. This is as much as I can say to you as I am named in the report for sanction and I have been advised that it would be legally imprudent for me to give a more extensive comment on the report. Also, my comments could be misinterpreted as an attempt to influence what ever action the National Legislature might take on the report, and I do not intend to do so. I believe in the wisdom of the Liberian people and am convinced that they will make a proper judgment on the TRC’s Final Report.

Fellow citizens, as many of you know, I have dedicated my life to navigating a future for Liberia free from war and fear and grounded in individual freedom and opportunity. Sometimes, the circumstances were opaque, the distinctions between evil and good were not so clear—this is the nature of conflict and war. Like thousands of other Liberians at home and abroad who did, I have always admitted my early support for Charles Taylor to challenge the brutality of a dictatorship. It was equally clear that when the true nature of Mr. Taylor’s intentions became known, there was no more impassioned critic or strong opponent to him in a democratic process. I have talked about this openly over the past twelve years and expressed remorse to the Liberian people for my misjudgment. In turn, the Liberian people rendered their judgment. In 2005, I was elected President of the Republic of Liberia. My mandate was to return hope to the country and to make the children smile again.

During the past three years, my Administration has remained true to the faith that the Liberian people bestowed to me in that election. We have made gains toward restoring our security and our prosperity – and more importantly restoring our belief in ourselves, our potential, and our love of God and country. I know that there is much work to be done to bring the benefits of this work to all Liberians and my Administration will not rest until the gains of peace are felt by all. I strongly believe that Liberians, through their vote, have an inherent right to determine the direction of the nation, just as I believe that they each, in their own way, has the wisdom to know truth and the desire to seek reconciliation.

I will always stand as a servant of the Liberian people and will always respect their wisdom.


To be frank, I have no idea what 'Kwaa Ker Won Tono' means. 'Our struggle continues'?? Or, 'Hail Liberia hail'?? Or 'Let Justice prevail'??

I would greatly appreciate readers' help.


Thursday, July 9

Controversial TRC report rocks Liberia

One week after the publication of its impressive final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) is at the center of a political storm which only seems to intensify. Its findings and recommendations have surprised many – both inside and outside Liberia.
Reactions included 'Mockery to Justice', 'TRC Retracts Controversial report', 'An Incomplete Report', 'Liberian Opinion divided on Truth and Reconciliation findings', 'Liberians React to Truth Commission Report', 'War Crimes Group Wants Ellen To Resign', 'Civil War Panel Seeks to Ban President from Politics', among many other news reports.

Notably the suggested public sanction affecting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, including her name in a list of over 50 ‘political leaders and financiers of different warring factions’ who should be barred from holding public offices for a period of thirty (30) years, shocked many people. They also could not understand why some well-known perpetrators were left out for prosecution or recommended to be pardoned – such as Joshua Milton Blayir (‘General Butt-Naked’) who admitted to ritual killings and cannibalism, and being responsible for 20,000 victims. Same for Thomas Boye Bioaju Boye, former Chief of Staff of MODEL, one of the warring factions, and 34 other perpetrators of various crimes during the civil war (see pp 268/269 of the report).

In February of this year President Sirleaf had testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, admitting giving Charles Taylor a financial support of USD 10,000 when he was preparing to oust sitting President Samuel Doe, in the late 1980s, but she denied any military role. Her testimony was not revealing anything which had not been publicly known before. During her presidential campaign she had said the same. Before the TRC she apologized for ‘her foolishness’ and said she withdrew her support when realizing Taylor’s ruthlessness, greed and ambitions. Numerous news agencies and newspapers published her testimony and apologies, e.g. the BBC, AllAfrica, Radio Netherlands, the Washington Post. However, the TRC justified inclusion of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s name in the list of persons recommended for public sanctions ‘because she had not shown remorse’ for her acts.

The foregoing leads me – for the moment - to two observations. First, the TRC Commission has done an impressive work and has produced a very interesting report, outlining the root causes of the civil war, naming and shaming many of those responsible for the atrocities committed during the 14-year civil war. Its historical analysis clearly shows how divided the Liberian society is, not only the A.L.- Congo /tribal divide but also the competition between the approximately 16 different tribes in the country. In accordance with this reality, one gets the impression that the outcomes of some of the deliberations of the commission result from negotiations. Reportedly, one of the committee members, Pearl Brown Bull ('Historical review'), refused to sign off on the final report.
The report’s recommendations will surely feed the debate in and outside Liberia for the coming months, if not years. Besides, it may be a (minor) legal technicality but does the TRC mandate include the recommendation for public sanctions? At first sight I have not found any reference to it in Chapter 3 ('Mandate', notably p.28).

Secondly, Liberia may be again heading for political trouble and instability. Warlords like Prince Johnson – known for his capture, torture and killing of President Samuel Doe and now an elected Senator (!) – have been threatening to resist arrest. Others will try to manipulate more discreet. It is very unlikely that former warlords like e.g. the Mandingo warlord Alhadji Kromah (leader of ULIMO-K), now a Professor at the University of Liberia, will accept that they have to face justice. Protracted discussions will take place in the National Legislature, the only institution in the country which has the right to decide whether or not the TRC recommendations will be enacted into law. Some former warlords occupy seats like e.g. Nimba County Senators Prince Johnson and Adolphus Dolo, formerly known as ‘General Peanut Butter’, loyal to Charles Taylor, but also Blamo Nelson (Senator for Grand Kru Country and former Director of Cabinet under Charles Taylor) and Jewel Taylor-Howard (Senator for Bong County and former wife of Charles Taylor) to name but a few. It is interesting to note that in parliament the opposition has a majority and may force President Sirleaf to resign, leaving the floor to Vice President Joseph Boakai who hails from Foya District, Lofa County.

Liberia’s future again looks dim. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and so-called IDPs (‘Internally Displaced Persons’) have returned to their country or village in recent years: productive workers, housewives, mothers, students, children, old people wanting to spend their last years in ‘This land of liberty’. Foreign investors (ArcelorMittal, Firestone, and the Malaysian logging firm Sime Darby) and local businessmen are increasingly showing interest in the economic potential of Africa’s oldest republic, a country well endowed with natural resources. Last year Liberia had a record economic growth figure of over 10 per cent. Still, a lot needs to be done, and a growing number of the 15,000 or more Liberians in the USA – most of them well educated men and women - is considering to return home. One of them once told me: ‘We need foreign investors to develop the country and the UN to keep the peace.’

I am afraid that he is going to be right for the next couple of years.