H.E. Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President
23 September 2008
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ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF, President of Liberia, offered the deep appreciation of the Liberian people to the United Nations for the support it had given towards the establishment of peace after 14 years of war. She also reaffirmed Liberia’s commitment to contributing to the re-definition of international peace and security.
Liberia, in its 161 years as the first independent republic in Africa, survived racism, colonialism, underdevelopment, and a war that killed nearly 8 per cent of its people, displaced another 40 per cent, and destroyed a fragile economy and infrastructure. The United Nations and its ground forces of 11,000 men and women and the Security Council’s renewal of the mandate of United Nations Mission ensured Liberia’s continued recovery. Still, the need for the promotion of economic growth and sustainable development was essential to continue progress in Liberia as in all of Africa, she said.
Its history of being guided by principles and the best interest of its citizens often led Liberia to not follow the “party line” of close allies. Recalling the situation in Zimbabwe and the process to fair elections and just political participation, she commemorated the Zimbabwe leaders for participating in the Global Agreement, and South African President Thabo Mbeki for facilitating the peace deal.
However, even with Africa’s unprecedented economic growth and relative peace in formerly turbulent regions, she noted the continued struggle in Somalia, the Sudan and the Darfur Region. Access to small arms and light weapons exacerbated conflicts, and illuminated the need for stronger controls for a durable peace in conflict zones. She reminded the Assembly that the concerted efforts of the United Nations and the strong support of the African Union and subregional bodies were necessary to expand peace initiatives, as well as other advancements in Africa.
For Africa to accomplish sustained development, the focus on the promotion of trade rather than aid was essential. New avenues of development received support from the United States’ Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, the Forum for China Africa Cooperation, the European Union, and the Tokyo International Conference for African Development, among others. However, participation in world affairs beyond Africa’s borders was also an essential element to growth and recovery, and she noted her talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
In 2006, as the first woman president of her country, she had pledged to the Assembly to transform Liberia from a State of total devastation into a country on an irreversible path to peace and development. Two years later, she announced with pride the great progress that had ensued in the interim time. Civil society, the national Government and international partners had created a framework anchored on four pillars –- consolidating peace and security, revitalizing the economy, strengthening governance and the rule of law, and building/rebuilding infrastructure and basic services.
Although the full fruition of this framework had not yet been actualized, she noted the great strides already made, including the new presence of health clinics and schools, roads and buildings, the increase of agricultural production, and a greatly diminished external debt, among others. To challenge the barriers to women leadership, special programmes for girls had been established, supporting the belief that “when you educate the girl child you educate the whole nation”. Further, the transformation of the feared armed forces of Liberia into a security service there to protect the people had been a major component in re-establishing the Liberian citizens’ confidence in the national Government.
Those major successes could not have been possible without the efforts of the Liberian people and the international community led by the United Nations. She requested that the United Nations Mission continue to receive support to continue the great progress already accomplished.
With a call for increased action to combat HIV/AIDS, and reiterating the need for short-term international assistance to support long-term trade and development, President Johnson-Sirleaf acknowledged the rarity of global women leadership. She announced that with her colleague, Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland, the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security would convene in March 2009 in Monrovia.