President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf yesterday delivered an emotionally charged farewell address to colleagues and members of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) who convened to commemorate its 72nd conference, urging the international body not to forget Liberia that it has tremendously helped to shape.
From a pariah state, Liberia has gradually regained the confidence of nations and even risen to assume leadership roles in regional bodies, specifically ECOWAS and the Mano River Union, the president reminded her colleagues. "We remain grateful to you," she acknowledged.
President Sirleaf's second term and 12-year tenure at the helm of the Liberian presidency comes to an end early next year when she will be historically transferring power to another democratically elected president--something that has not happened in the country since 1944. Her presence at the 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly this week was her last as President and emotions reverberated within the rotunda of the UN Headquarters as the President delivered her final address.
She has, without doubt, been a very influential figure on the international stage, especially at the United Nations where she frequently mesmerized her audience with her articulation and knowledge of global events as well as proffering solutions and taking strong positions on global issues.
The President's address acknowledged that Liberia has gone through what could be termed as a miracle transformation: from a failed state buried in over a decade of civil crisis that has now been positioned on a path of democratic governance and sustainable development, adding, that is a dream that would have been perpetually elusive had it not been for the timely intervention and support of the United Nations and its member states.
She applauded the President and his predecessors and the international community who sacrificed for Liberians to see the first generation of school-age children growing up in an environment of peace, free of the violence of civil conflict. "Liberia's transformation was powered by a world community that made a shared commitment to deliver peace to a country and a sub-region beset by civil conflict and cross border destabilization," she said, noting that the UN and its partner nations were of one mind, and from that global unity, a new Liberian democratic state was born. "Liberia is a post conflict success story. It is your post conflict success story," she declared.
The 72nd Regular Session of the UNGA, President Sirleaf said, is being convened at a time of historic transition in Liberia, "and during a period of acute challenges to our global order." She told the President of the UNGA that she was to serve not just Liberia, but the world.
"As I bid farewell to you today, and to my fellow Heads of State, I want you to remember Liberia which is making a valiant effort to apply the tenets of democracy. Consider the lives saved, the wealth created, the stability assured, because this global body convened and led at a time of great uncertainty in our sub-region and around the world," she told the President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcak, who succeeds Peter Thompson of Fiji.
"I ask you and the member states to continue to lead, to spread the values of democracy, human rights, and good governance while strengthening solidarity for economic transformation and social resilience. It is often in times of transition that great leaders emerge and institutions are strengthened," she said.
One historic moment, not just for the President but Liberia, is her role in the formulation and adaptation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). "I was personally privileged to play a role in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Agenda as co-chair of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's High-Level Panel on SDGs and in framing the Common Africa Position (CAP) as chair of the ALI's High-Level Committee," she reflected.
Liberia is just 22 days away from historic legislative and presidential elections, and President Sirleaf told the gathering that this paves the way for the next generation of Liberians to lead the country into the future.
The election will signal the irreversible course that Liberia has embarked upon to consolidate its young, post-conflict democracy, she said. "Indeed, democracy is on the march in Liberia, and, I believe, on an irreversible path forward on the African continent. Mr. President, I assumed office after 25 years of development reversal which was further compounded by a 15-year civil war. We have made great progress and laid the foundation for the next democratic government. Liberia has adjusted; we are resilient, embracing diversification. Our focus today is towards strengthening the agriculture sector for value addition and infrastructure development with emphasis on roads and energy for industrialization. Previously dysfunctional public institutions now have the capacity to respond to the needs of our citizens through decentralized county service centers with ownership by strong local governments. And from the tragedy of the health crisis, we are strengthening our healthcare systems, prioritizing prevention and delivering capacity at the community level," she added.
The president noted that the impact of her 12-year administration is tremendously being felt in the country--noting that Liberian life expectancy has progressed from a low 47 years to a hopeful 62 years with reduction in maternal death from 1400 to 1100, an annual rate of reduction of 3.4 percent. "Poverty rate has decreased from 63.8 percent in 2007 to 50.9 percent in 2016. Infrastructure has been repaired and restored, and we continue to rehabilitate damaged roads and construct new ones," she stated.
Liberia has indeed come a long way, but we could not have accomplished all of this without the world body, its political leadership, the generosity of its economic development support, humanitarian contributions, and, most importantly, the stabilization and security provided to our country through the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).