Good afternoon, everyone!
It is an honor to be here today to celebrate what will be America’s 247th Independence Day. On behalf of President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, I extend my warmest greetings to you from the people of the United States of America.
I would like to especially welcome our many distinguished guests here this evening: His Excellency President George Manneh Weah, the Honorable Speaker of the House, his Honor the Chief Justice, the Honorable President Pro Tempore of the Senate, other government Ministers, colleagues in the diplomatic community, sponsors, partners, friends, and colleagues.
Today, we commemorate the founding of the United States of America with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 – and we celebrate the enduring partnership between the United States and Liberia. Our nations share a remarkable history dating back to 1822 when the first group of African Americans settled in Liberia, paving the way for a new nation. This was so early in our own history as a nation that some of those who signed our Declaration of Independence – including former presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – were still alive. Throughout the years, our two nations have built a unique friendship, with the United States remaining a steadfast partner, working alongside Liberia to promote peace, stability, and economic growth.
In his 1886 State of the Union address, U.S. President Grover Cleveland said about Liberia, “It cannot be forgotten that this distant community is an offshoot of our own system, owing its origin to the associated benevolence of American citizens. The moral right and duty of the United States to assist in all proper ways is obvious.” As two of the world’s oldest republics, we have also over the centuries, forged a set of shared values and economic, familial, and cultural ties. The values of freedom, integrity, and democracy that unite our nations are particularly relevant as Liberia prepares for its upcoming presidential elections. Upholding these values is something both our countries feel compelled to do – it is in our natures.
I have only two weeks remaining in my presidential appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, where I have proudly represented the United States of America. I frequently remark that though the U.S. Embassy is located in Monrovia (or “near Monrovia” as they say in Liberia haha)—Monrovia alone is not Liberia. This rings true for me personally, having now visited all of Liberia’s 15 counties.
Bearing this in mind, I have the following reflections on the state of our two nations, the pride I hold in our bilateral relations, and the potential future of Liberia:
First, I’d like to recognize President Weah’s administration for Liberia’s principled, and unwaivering stand against the unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine, and Liberia’s position in defense of the Muslim minority in one of the world’s most populous nations. As exemplary global citizens, I urge you to continue to support the freedom of the oppressed against this sort of unbridled aggression.
I also admire this administration’s efforts to work with the legislature to further strengthen the freedom of the press – only societies with courage and maturity allow opposition figures to voice their dissent, especially during an election year. I am well aware that all too many countries do not protect press freedom, a freedom that has allowed me, as a guest of Liberia, to so fully share my concerns about the country.
Every country can be improved. Every government can be enhanced. But today, as friends and partners, I’d like to highlight recent Liberian victories that are worth celebrating.
Liberia is a pioneer in female leadership. Not only was it the first country in Africa to elect a female president, it also elected a female vice-president over five years ago and has now sworn in Liberia’s third female chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Until early this year, fifty percent the Armed Forces of Liberia’s generals were female.
In the energy sector, the LEC has proven that with campaigns and public pressure, attitudes on power theft CAN be changed! The LEC also concluded CLSG negotiations, physically joining the West Africa Power Grid. In addition, LEC is coordinating with donors and the World Bank on the next stages of hydropower expansion, adding carbon-free power generation through additional turbines, enlarged reservoirs and eventually a massive new dam project. There were those who predicted disaster when foreign advisors took their hands off the steering wheel of LEC, but note that all of these advances have been achieved under strictly Liberian management.
True government reform takes patience and determination. Long term change requires behind-the-scenes effort that often goes unseen and underappreciated. One example is the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to introduce systemic reforms for processing legal attestations and passports, including requiring bank receipts rather than cash for payments. We salute Liberia’s improved ranking in the annual Trafficking in Person’s Report over the past two years, which didn’t happen by coincidence – it is a concrete reflection of the coordinated effort between the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch, and three Ministries in the Executive Branch.
In another sector, Liberia offered to share with the world its experience as a leader in Community Health Worker methodology, and 41 countries took them up on it. A flagship malaria study showed why this approach is receiving so much attention, as rates of infection for children five years old and under plummeted from 49 percent to 18 percent in only six years! This is phenomenal! This is a reason for hope!
In fact, in my time here, if there is one reoccurring theme that unites every visitor to this country it is the sense of Liberia’s POTENTIAL! There are so MANY reasons for hope!
I have seen a glimpse of the new Liberia!
In the faces of our 33 Youth Election Fellows, a U.S. Embassy program that deliberately selected young leaders from all different political parties and persuasions, and various parts of Mama Liberia. They met for three hours a week for ten weeks, while remaining loyal to their party affiliations – through 10 weeks as a group, listening to guest speakers, watching films, and debating sociopolitical issues, they came out with a unity of purpose and an overriding love for Liberia that would make any country strong.
Our hope for all our U.S. government exchange programs is that the unique experiences and different perspectives offered by exposure to the United States will enrich emerging leaders and impact Liberian society. These people refuse to accept that progress is “inevitable,” rather, they see that improvements are made when leaders in that society have the determination, honesty, and integrity to put the needs of the country before their personal interests.
The hundreds of alumni of U.S. programs that I have met, many of whom are in the audience today, convince me that this country will have valuable patriots contributing to Liberia for years to come!
I see the promise of a new Liberia.
In the potential of a truly independently operated passenger, cargo, and commodity transport rail from Yekepa to Buchanan, bringing farmers cheaper consumer goods, and taking their produce from the country to the coast year-round, providing passengers affordable transport in every season between the coast and the interior, and exponentially increasing financial contributions for the central coffers from iron ore transport and export duties.
I see promise in the exciting return of 13 Peace Corps Volunteers who arrived in Liberia on June 6, after a three-year absence due to COVID! As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I look forward to learning how their time here is providing profound mutual benefit for the country and their personal development.
I see the future of an empowered Liberia.
In the potential of genuine decentralization, fully enabled under law, putting resources and responsibilities in the hands of those closest to the service customer base, so that each county and city can be its own test case with custom-made solutions.
I see the growth of a wealthier Liberia.
In the potential of a national financial Single Switch that pulls the cloak of obscurity from financial transactions and adds to investor confidence in the Liberian banking sector.
A more prosperous Liberia, is, of course, one of the main goals at the U.S. Embassy and the reason we provide substantial support to Liberia across various sectors, including health, education, business, and political leadership.
Going forward, Liberia can have a bright future if it so chooses. It will require substantial follow-through on these important issues I have mentioned as well as others, including peaceful, free, and fair elections just 15 weeks from now. With continued commitment and collaboration, I am confident that Liberia has the power to emerge stronger and more prosperous than ever before.
As my time as the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia comes to an end, I want to express my deep gratitude for the warm welcome and friendship I have received during my tenure. Serving as Chief of Mission has been the honor of a lifetime, and I will cherish the memories and experiences from this remarkable country forever, even as I begin my journey into retirement.
On behalf of the United States of America, I wish you all a happy Independence Day. May God bless the United States of America and the Republic of Liberia—two of the oldest republics on this beautiful earth.
Thank you very much.