The Analyst (Monrovia)

27 March 2006

Liberia: High Profile Visit, Big Reward

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf returned home over the weekend optimistic about Washington's commitment to Liberia's infrastructural development as well as wary of the strings attached.

Responding to a welcoming statement and briefing at the Parlor of the Executive Mansion last Saturday, President Sirleaf said she and her delegation were "well received" in Congress and other small sessions including her meeting with a section of the Congress, the United Nations Security Council, and the World Bank in New York.

During a meeting with members of the Congressional subcommittee on Africa shortly following her address of Congress, according to the president, 15 legislators supported efforts being exerted by the Liberian government to rebuild the country following several years of devastation.

"We met with business people and received investment guarantees," she said, adding that she and President Bush have reviewed U.S. support to Liberia over the last several years.

She said while the U.S. commitments marked a significant beginning for the restoration of Liberia's dignity, the actual fulcrum of efforts in that direction rested with Liberians.

"We have to take control of our destiny and work together to promote international goodwill," she told the gatherings of government officials, traditional leaders, and members of the diplomatic corps that graced the welcome ceremony.

She said there were pressing national issues inherited from the past that were proving to be extra-baggage to her administration's development agenda.

"I wish we did not inherit these issues, but we have to deal with them. But we have to confront them for the greater good of Liberia and in order to restore the dignity of Liberia. There are hard decisions to be made but I wish they would go away," she said.

She then disclosed that the U.S. govern has agreed to extend the 'temporary stay status' of Liberians currently residing in the U.S. without proper resident documents.

It may be recalled that President Sirleaf flew to the U.S. last week to confer with officials of the Bush Administration on issue regarding the reconstruction of Liberia following 14 years of death and destruction.

The President's first stop upon touching down in Washington D.C. is Capitol Hill where she addressed the joint Session of the 108th Congress.

"Honorable ladies and gentlemen of this Congress, I want to thank you all. The Liberian people sent me here to thank you - for that vision. Our triumph over evil is also your triumph," she told the congressional session that seemed to be sitting on edge about Taylor and what Madam Sirleaf was doing about it.

During the congressional Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery meeting that followed the President's address, it took the charm of the President's statement and a lengthy explanation by Congressman Kolbe from Arizona to convince Congress Ed Royce from California that President Sirleaf was not defying Washington's directives about Taylor.

"We asked this question specifically, will there be an extradition request? I asked it three times, and got the same answer three times, that it has been done...So the request to the President of Nigeria has been made. She went on to tell us that President Olusengun is now consulting with African leaders from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African countries, ECOWAS, to make sure that the extradition will not in any way destabilize the very fragile peace that now exists there. Once that is done, we would expect to see this accomplished. The request for extradition has been done, and we will continue to remain engaged and watch this very, very closely, as this process of the supplemental unfolds," Kolbe said.

Kolbe comments which did not actually exonerate the Liberian government from responsibility came in the heat of a congressional committee debate over a further grant of $50 million in emergency aid to Liberia.

Royce wanted to know whether the U.S. government should, in his words 'continue our generosity' in emergency spending in Liberia while the Liberia President "continues to defy the wishes of many Liberians by not acting to bring Charles Taylor to justice." Twenty-four hour later the President, convinced that the comments of support from Congress were sincere, flew to New York to address the Security Council of the United Nations.

In her address to the august body, she hailed the enormous efforts exerted by the global body to restore peace to Liberia, to hold elections, and to ensure that the peace and sanity gained during two years of transitional are consolidated.

According to President Sirleaf, the growth of Liberia would be on course were the UN to resolve to handle the security situation of the country for the next three to four years at regulated strength to ensure the stability of the country pending the restructuring and reequipping of the security forces including the Armed Forces of Liberia.

She then recounted efforts being made by her administration to work out modalities for national growth and development following years of destruction.

She told the Security Council that Liberia was faced with several challenges and that in order to resolve these problems, her administration has designed a 150-day prelude phased plan of action that defines immediate priorities.

"Liberia's strategy for peace building was constructed on four-core pillars, focusing on security, the rule of law and governance, economic revitalization and basic services and infrastructure," she said.

She said she has established the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee, which she would lead personally and revealed that major partners, including the United Nations, would be fully involved in that body's workings.

Regarding efforts to reconsider UN sanctions on Liberia, President Sirleaf told the most powerful gathering on earth that her government has put in place mechanisms that would enhance transparency in governance, consistent with the requirements for the lifting of timber and diamond sanctions.

As a first measure, she noted, she has rendered null and void forestry concessions as recommended by the Forest Concessions Review Committee.

She then expressed the hope that the current efforts underway to implement requirements for the Kimberly Process would lead to an early lifting of the ban on diamond export.

At the meeting with the World Bank few hours later, the Liberian leader highlighted the need for the international financial institution to revisit financial assistance to the country besides working out modalities that will lead to the forgiveness or rescheduling of Liberia's debt.

By the time the meeting was over, the President secured the World Bank's recommitment to Liberia and a token $25 million in infrastructural development.

That was hectic, but the President did not forget her commitment to meet with Liberians living in the U.S.

"We applaud your commitment to lasting peace, security and democracy for our people; to God Governance and the respect for the rule of law in Liberia; and, to ensuring that all Liberians enjoy equal protection and opportunity in the new Liberia.

ULAA will be a true partner with you in all of your endeavors. We will go where you send us and do what you require of us in the interest of our people and country," said Arthur K. Watson, National President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) during welcoming statement in Providence, Rhode Island.

Back in Washington D.C., which was the last stop of the President's official visit, she met with President Bush at the Oval Office of the White House.

"It has been such an honor to welcome you, Madam President, to the Oval Office, I find that one of the interesting parts of my job is to be able to talk to pioneers, and Madam President, you're a pioneer.

You're the first woman elected President to any country on the continent of Africa. And that requires courage, and vision, and the desire to improve the lives of your people. And I congratulate you on that," President Bush told President Sirleaf.

He then proceeded to recount how his talk with President Sirleaf relate to how his administration will help Liberia move towards democracy, improve security, education, and about establishing direct links on how to deal with keeping the peace and making sure that health care initiatives are robust and effective.

"We want you to know that Liberia is going to do all it can to justify the confidence that you have given to us. Liberia, we think has the potential to become the U.S. success story in Africa. We'll be working within our own borders; we'll be working with our neighboring states to bring peace, stability and development to our subregion; we'll be working with our African leaders to ensure that the example we set on this transition will be one that can fuse many of our...many of our other countries and other people in Africa," the Liberian leader told President Bush in response.

Meanwhile analysts say while the pledges were made without clear cut comments about what Liberia should or shouldn't do to obtain delivery, it was clear from the tone of the speeches that the pledges would not come on silver platters.

According to them, the pledges and commitments were intended more to encourage the Sirleaf administration to work harder than to be delivered silver platter.

What this means, they say, is for the administration to immediately begin work towards that day when manna will fall from Washington.

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