Visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom Discusses Key Issues with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Members of her Cabinet

Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom speaks to women entrepreneurs at a meeting of Liberia Investing in Business Expansion (IBEX), a USAID-sponsored non-governmental organization

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom met with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her key advisors June 20 during a two-day official visit to Liberia.

The advisors present at the meeting included Minister of Foreign Affairs Augustine Ngafuan, Minister of State and Chief of Staff Dr. Edward McClain, Minister of Finance Amara Konneh, Legal Advisor Counselor Seward Cooper, and President’s Delivery Unit Head Gyude Moore.

President Sirleaf welcomed the Deputy Secretary to Liberia and launched into a discussion of key challenges, citing youth unemployment and pervasive corruption as particular concerns for her administration.  She explained that the Government of Liberia (GOL) was working to tackle the former by emphasizing vocational and technical skills training programs.  Regarding corruption, she stressed the importance of enhancing institutions to prevent corrupt behaviors, but admitted that more needs to be done to strengthen punitive measures.

President Sirleaf and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom also discussed Liberia’s participation in the Washington Fellowship Program for young African leaders, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).   Fifteen young leaders left earlier Liberia two weeks ago and are taking part in President Obama’s Washington Fellowship Program, which aims to empower 500 of Africa’s most promising young leaders through academic coursework at U.S. colleges and universities, leadership training, networking, and professional opportunities.

After the meeting, Foreign Minister Ngafuan said:  “We are honored to have visiting with us Ms. Heather Higginbottom.  She is the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.  Before arriving in Liberia, she had made a brief tour to our sister countries of Senegal and Kenya.  This is the last leg of her visit.  She’s just had very productive discussions with Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and discussed issues that relate to our bilateral relationship.   She’s been here to assess U.S. Embassy operations in Liberia and U.S. Government’s assistance to Liberia.   President Sirleaf and Ms. Higginbottom also discussed the upcoming U.S.-African Leaders Summit.   So, without much ado, I’m elated to now ask Ms. Higginbottom to make some remarks.”

For her part, Deputy Secretary Higginbottom said:  “Thank you so much, Mr. Foreign Minister.  I want to thank the people of Liberia for warmly welcoming me to your country.  I also want to thank President Sirleaf for a very productive meeting. We had the opportunity to meet last month in Washington, and we had a chance to continue our conversation here today.”

Deputy Secretary Higginbottom speaks to Liberian youth leaders at a reception in her honor as Charge’d’Affaires Paskman looks on.

She continued:  “As the Foreign Minister mentioned, we talked about the upcoming Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, which will underscore President Obama’s strong commitment to Africa, as well as the recent travel of Liberia’s 15 Young African Leader Initiative Fellows to the United States as part of President Obama’s youth initiative.  We also discussed the importance of developing Liberia’s energy sector for continued economic growth of the country.”

The Deputy Secretary of State commended President Sirleaf for her leadership of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Common African Position Commission.

She said:  “The relationship between the United States and Liberia is deep with a long history, and I am glad I had this opportunity to visit and see Liberia in person. The ties between our governments and our people are strong and we will continue to strengthen this partnership in the years ahead.  I want to again thank everyone for extending such a warm welcome to me and for taking time to give me insight into some of the key issues facing Liberia as we move forward on their development agenda.”

Prior to her meeting with the President and her advisors, Ms. Higginbottom met with the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, Karin Landgren, and representatives of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

She also held discussions with members of the non-governmental organization, Liberia Investing in Business Expansion (IBEX), about ways to promote women entrepreneurs and small business training programs.  IBEX is a U.S.-sponsored project intended to remove barriers to growing small businesses.

She was also the guest of honor at a reception with Liberian youth leaders, including members of the U.S. Ambassador’s Council of Youth Advisors and applicants for the YALI Washington Fellowship Program.