Good afternoon, everyone! Happy Independence Day! Today we celebrate what next Monday will be the 246th anniversary of that audacious experiment, the United States of America, commemorating the vote in 1776 by the Continental Congress to declare the independence of these United States. Interestingly, the United States was not a republic until 13 years later in 1789, when our constitution was ratified.
It’s a pleasure to welcome you today. On behalf of President Biden, and Secretary of State Blinken, whom I saw last week, on their behalf, I extend to you greetings from the people of the United States.
I would especially like to welcome 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.
I would like to thank Ms. Glady Gorwor for her stunning rendition of our National Anthem, a song that will be repeated around the world at events like this one. But only in Liberia can we highlight that the words were written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, two years before he was a founding member of the society that inspired Americans to come to these shores, signifying yet another tangible tie between our two nations.
People often describe Liberia and the United States as partners or family. In families, siblings help each other, they defend each other, they criticize each other, and like today, they celebrate together. I am proud this afternoon to stand with a fellow republic, a democracy that like us, is required to listen to the people in a never-ending effort to become a more perfect union. Both countries lived through terrible civil wars, and I believe, came out the other end as more equal societies. Because of those years of chaos, Liberians understand the importance of peace and the value of human rights more than most people. I suspect THAT awareness is what inspired Liberia’s vote at the United Nations calling out the unprovoked and barbaric war instigated by Russia against the Ukraine, and fuels Liberia’s courageous statements in defense of oppressed people currently imprisoned in concentration camps. It is an honor for us to stand with Liberia on a day like today when we highlight the ideals from which our countries were created.
This marks my second celebration of our Independence Day in Liberia, but due to COVID-19, the very first with all of you. Liberia has thankfully been spared much of the tragedy that the U.S. experienced, but we still need to continue our vigilance, encourage our families and friends to get vaccinated, and listen to the advice of our health experts.
That we are able to be here together today in person is due to the tireless and courageous work of Liberian health workers, nurses, doctors, and government officials, working hand-in-hand with U.S. and international partners, to educate, vaccinate, and assist vulnerable populations. They are heroes and I would like to recognize their contributions with a round of applause from all of us.
One more item I want to note on COVID: The United States assistance to Liberia through this pandemic reflects the importance of a relationship stretching back 200 years. To date, we have provided more than 1.5 million doses of vaccines, along with research, program support, and expert advisors. But it’s not just COVID. Health assistance is our largest investment in Liberia, and it manifests in critical support for medicines, and the building of capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats. These critical investments build upon a partnership that defeated Ebola, and teamwork that is well prepared for future public health emergencies.
Learning about and seeing first-hand the impact of U.S. assistance and partnership in Liberia has been my biggest reward since my arrival in January 2021. From USAID to Peace Corps, from the U.S. military to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, this is a relationship that goes beyond our two governments, or our institutions, but rather encompasses a deep friendship between our societies reflected in our strong people-to-people ties.
Over the last 18 months, I’m proud to have had the opportunity to visit the majority of Liberia’s 15 counties, despite the pandemic and West Africa’s famous rainy season. As I often say, but it bears repeating today, Monrovia is not Liberia, and you cannot know Liberia just sitting in the capital.
Throughout that travel, experiencing the great diversity of Liberia, I also saw the common values that knit this country together. These are values very familiar to me – they are democratic values in common with the United States. And how appropriate, in a historic year that commemorates 200 years since the arrival on these shores of black Americans searching for freedom, and 175 years in July since Liberia’s own declaration of independence, that together we reaffirm our commitment to democracy. Democracy is neither easy nor is it a given. We have to remind ourselves that democracy is more than just a well-written constitution or norms and traditions, but as I mentioned before, it requires care and constant renewal, and leaders who understand that their actions and words matter in maintaining a democratic society.
While historians point to George Washington’s decision to step down after two terms in office as setting the world-wide example of democratic transition and the transfer of power more than two centuries ago, I believe the less observed example of John Adams, our second president, to be just as impressive an example: Adams, as the former Vice-President under Washington, served as Washington’s successor, but only for one term in office before being defeated at the polls by Thomas Jefferson in the heavily contested election of 1800. And with that defeat, Adams stepped down and peacefully transferred power to a political rival that, to say the least, he didn’t like very much. That is the example that stands out in history – not just stepping away from power, but giving it up, peacefully, to a rival political party. That is the example Liberia set for the world in 2018, and it is the kind of example that speaks volumes in West Africa, where Liberia has rightfully taken a leadership role as an essential example of democracy.
Democracy and democratic norms also mean taking international responsibility, and Liberia should be highly commended for its recent work across all three branches of government to combat human trafficking, as well as for the country’s principled stand on international human rights at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. As a country that went from hosting one of the largest UN Peacekeeping missions in history, to currently contributing to UN Peacekeeping missions in the region, Liberia understands well that stepping onto the international stage requires international responsibility. And I have been pleased to see Liberia rightfully participate in President Biden’s Summit For Democracy. President Weah made a series of excellent commitments at that summit to persue specific reforms during the Summit’s “Year of Action” in 2022 that will strengthen democratic institutions in Liberia.
I’ve spoken a bit about America’s founding fathers, which is appropriate on this day, but I also wanted to take a moment to acknowledge several of Liberia’s forefathers. Some of you may recall a question that I asked earlier this year: What would J.J. Roberts say about Liberia today? I think some remember that article more fondly than others. But one criticism that I received, and one that I heartily agree with, is that J.J. Roberts was not just a great Liberian, but he was also a great American. And this is my point: there are so many examples of great Liberians who were also Americans, and great Americans, who were also Liberians. From many of Liberia’s historical presidents, to current day businessmen and women wanting to return to invest in the ancestor’s land, the ties that bind us go beyond friendship – they are often family.
And that is exactly how I feel in Liberia and how I’ve been welcomed here by Liberians – like family.
In the last year and a half, you’ve heard me make speeches and speak openly with the press about the challenges facing Liberia and how the United States, as a friend and partner, stands with Liberia to help face these challenges. As two of the oldest, continuous Republics on Earth, I am confident that both Liberia and the United States will thrive. We have faced difficulties before, and this informs us that we will be able to do so in the future. Indeed, I want to note the promise and the potential of a self-reliant Liberia.
246 years ago, few nations or people on earth expected much from the former 13 colonies of England. Many residents of the colonies themselves did not want to see a declaration of independence. Yet, the idea that a government receives its authority from the governed, and that the power of the state comes from the power of the people – this is what took root, including in Liberia 175 years ago.
So, on this momentous occasion, I would like to borrow a quote from Liberia’s third president, Daniel Warner – a great Liberian AND a great American – and say:
“All hail, Liberia, hail!
This glorious land of liberty”
To your health, Mister President, and to the citizens of both our countries. To our glorious lands of liberty!