Reopening of Kouwenhoven trial in the Netherlands

2017_Kouwenhoven2Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised when learning the news that the Kouwenhoven trial had reopened – on February 6. Already on more than one occasion I wrote about the serious charges against Guus Kouwenhoven, a Dutch businessman. Guus Kouwenhoven – in Liberia known as ‘Mr Gus’ – is accused of illegal arms trading and of war crimes during the civil war in Liberia. See my March 10 & March 20 (2008) and April 20, 2010 postings on this blog.

For those readers who haven’t heard about the Kouwenhoven trial before and for those who have forgotten what it’s all about, here’s an overview of the Kouwenhoven case. I’ll first describe who he is and what he did in Liberia after his arrival in the late 1980s, notably his dealings with Charles Taylor. Then I’ll tell more about his arrest in the Netherlands in 2005 and subsequent court rulings. I conclude with the planning of his reopened trial.

Guus Kouwenhoven
According to a BBC profile, Guus Kouwenhoven started his career in Lebanon and the United States in the 1970s. His stay in the US ended abruptly when he was arrested in Los Angeles after trying to sell stolen pantings, including a Rembrandt. He was lucky though and was not sentenced to many years in prison but was deported. In the late 1980s he emerged in Liberia where he imported BMW cars and became manager of the luxurious Africa Hotel, constructed by the slain President Tolbert for the OAU conference hosted by Liberia in 1979.

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‘Mr. Gus’ engaged in the lucrative timber trade. Liberia is, as we know, one of the few countries still largely covered with pristine primary forest, full of valuable tropical hardwood. In the Netherlands, Guus Kouwenhoven was in the Quote 500 list of the richest people in the country. From 1999 to 2003 Guus Kouwenhoven was the most important foreign timber trader in Liberia. He was chairman of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), a Malasian company with obscure owners, and managing director of the Royal Timber Corporation (RTC). Guus Kouwenhoven and then president Charles Taylor had close relations, personal as well as financial (via OTC and RTC). Charles Taylor was to receive 50% of Kouwenhoven’s royalties ‘earned’ in OTC whereas 50% of the shares in RTC were owned by warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor. In exchange, Taylor granted large concession areas for logging purposes. Charles Taylor also gave the management of the port of Buchanan to OTC. It is important to underline that this made OTC responsible for the security in the port area and included the checking of all cars (and trucks!) coming in and going out.

The accusations
In 2000, the UN’s Expert Panel report on Sierra Leone – rightfully – claimed that Guus Kouwenhoven was part of Charles Taylor’s inner circle and was allegedly closely involved in arms smuggling (through the port of Buchanan). He was subsequently issued with a UN travel ban although, according to a UN report, like many others on the list, he more or less ignored the ban and simply used a Liberian diplomatic passport. Later, the UN ordered international banks to freeze his assets. That seemed to have little effect either. ‘Mr. Gus’ continued to travel in and out of Liberia, and to and from Europe.

2017_RUF-soldiersIn its final report of 2009, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) stated that OTC transferred US$ 7.9 million directly to Charles Taylor’s bank account, and US$ 13.4 million to unknown bank accounts, including US$ 1.9 million to unknown arm traffickers. Acording to the TRC report, OTC paid for and organized numerous weapons deliveries to Liberian militias and the RUF regime in Sierra leone, through the port of Buchanan. Moreover, the TRC report alleged that OTC’s armed security service committed gross violations of human rights and that these ‘security forces’ could hardly be distinguished from regular NPFL fighters, Charles Taylor’s militia. The report also accused Guus Kouwenhoven of an impressive series of economic crimes: violations of forestry regulations, illegal logging, tax evasion, bribery and corruption.

Kouwenhoven arrested and on trial
On March 18, 2005, then 62-year old ‘Mr Gus’ was arrested in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He was accused of illegal arms deliveries to Charles Taylor between 2000 and 2002, despite the UN arms embargo imposed on Liberia, and of involvement in human rights violations and war crimes committed by warring factions in Liberia and Guinea between July 2001 and May 2003.

His trial in the District Court of The Hague started on April 24, 2006. Six weeks later, on June 7, 2006 , the District Court sentenced him to eight years in prison – the Public Prosecutor had requested 20 years imprisonment – for supplying arms to Charles Taylor illegally, and breaching the UN arms embargo against Liberia. He was acquitted of the charge of participating in war crimes. Both the Defense and the Prosecution appealed. Kouwenhoven was released from prison pending a new trial (March 2007).

A year later, on March 12, 2008, the Court of Appeal in The Hague overturned the 2006 conviction and acquitted Guus Kouwenhoven of all charges. The judges severely criticized the Public Prosecutor, calling the witnesses too unreliable to give valid evidence. The Public Prosecutor disagreed and lodged an appeal against the verdict at the Dutch Supreme Court. One of the reasons for the appeal was the fact that two anonymous witnesses had not been allowed to testify. The Public Prosecutor argued that the decision to turn down the request to hear the two witnesses (referred to as ‘03’ and ‘04′ – real names are withheld by the court for security and privacy reasons) was not sufficiently motivated.

On April 20, 2010, the Supreme Court delivered its decision and quashed the Appeal Court’s decision. The Supreme Court found that the decision by the Hague Court of Appeal to not hear two anonymous witnesses was insufficiently motivated. The Supreme Court declared the decision of the Hague Appeal Court null and void, and sent the case back to the Appeal Court of s’-Hertogenbosch.

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The reopening of the trial – February 6, 2017
The foregoing is important. The 2008 acquittal by the Hague Court of Appeal has been declared null and void by the Supreme Court. This means that the 2006 conviction of Guus Kouwenhoven is still valid. It depends on the outcome of the present trial at the Appeal Court in s’-Hertogenbosch whether Kouwenhoven will spend the coming six years in jail (his sentence, eight years imprisonment, minus his pre-trial detention).

The Public Prosecutor has been working on this case since 2010. Many witnesses have again been heard during the past six years, in Liberia, in the US, even in Hong Kong. Charles Taylor, who purges a 50 year jail sentence in a maximum security jail in the UK, when requested to testify, refused (2016). Witness 03 could no longer be traced, witness 04 could not be contacted. On the first day of the reopened trial, on February 6, Kouwenhoven’s lawyer, Inez Weski, requested that more witnesses be heard, but the court found her request unreasonable and saw no reason to delay the trial any longer. All requests Weski submitted were declined by the court.

Guus Kouwenhoven, now 74-year old, was not present at the reopening of his trial, ‘for medical reasons’. It is interesting to note that the court asked his lawyer about the defendant’s health, and whether he was ‘fit for jail’. Weski did not answer, but promised to come back at this issue during her plea, scheduled for February 24.

Next Friday, on February 10, the Public Prosecutor will present his requisitory. Will it uphold the 2006 conviction and sentence? Subsequent court sessions are planned on February 24 (‘plea’), March 10 (‘reply’) and March 17 (‘rejoinder’). On the latter date, the court will announce the date it will render its verdict.

Many years have passed since the crimes were committed. Liberia and Liberians still struggle to come at grips with the country’s ugly past of rape, murder, torture, human rights violations and … impunity. Warlords still walk free in Monrovia and other cities in Liberia, national reconciliation is a far-away goal. Meanwhile the victims of the two civil wars that ravaged the country have been betrayed. The country’s present Administration has failed to address their problems. Political leaders nowadays are as greedy as those who led the country to a civil war when anarchy prevailed and justice was denied. I am proud of my country’s judicial system. It plays an exemplary role and I am sure that the world is watching the outcome of this trial, notably people in Liberia. It is extremely difficult to investigate what happened in Liberia during the civil crisis but the Dutch judges and public prosecutors did a tremendous job. The research and investigation between 2010 and 2017 have been hampered by all sort of difficulties, not least by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, in particular in Liberia, Guina and Siera Leone, during 2014 and 2015. Needless to say, I can hardly wait till the final verdict in the Kouwenhoven case.

To be continued.

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Sources
The contribution presented above has been largely based on the author’s 2015 book ‘Liberia: From The Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost’ and on the Dutch-language sources mentioned below and published by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service:

Posted in 1979, Africa Hotel, African Studies Centre Leiden, Appeal Court of 's-Hertogenbosch, Appeal Court of The Hague, arms trade, BBC, Buchanan, Charles Taylor, Civil War(s) Liberia, Corruption, District Court of The Hague, Ebola, forestry, Guinea, Gus Kouwenhoven, Guus Kouwenhoven, Guus van Kouwenhoven, Human Rights, human rights violations, impunity, Inez Weski, Justice, Lebanon, Liberia, Liberia" From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost, Liberian History, Los Angeles, Malaysia, Monrovia, Mr Gus, murder, NPFL, OAU, Oriental Timber Company, OTC, Public Prosecutor, Quote 500, rape, Rembrandt, Rotterdam, Royal Timber Corporation, RTC, RUF, Second civil war 1999-2003, Sierra Leone, Supreme Court, The Hague Justice Portal, torture, travel ban, Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC), UK, UN, UN arms embargo, United States, United States of America, USA, wa, war crimes, weapons, William R. Tolbert Jr. | Leave a comment

Impunity in Africa

images-3The decision of President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Babili Mansa, the despotic ruler of the Gambia, not to accept the outcome of the December 1 presidential elections – contrary to his earlier congratulations to his opponent, the winner, Adama Barrow – took everybody by surprise. His erratic behavior only increased over the 22 years that he has been in power, after staging a succesful military coup in 1994. Gambia has up till now known only two presidents (since independence in 1965): Sir Dawda Diawara, who was deposed in 1994, and Jammeh. Why did Jammeh first concede and then reversed? Was it his fear of being prosecuted for the heinous crimes committed since ruling over this mini-state? Gambia forms an enclave in Senegal on both sides of the Gambia river, its width determined by the reach of a cannon. A more striking example of the crazy borders colonialism left on Africa is hardly thinkable.

ga-mapBut I won’t speak here about colonialism and its aftermath. Besides, it’s over half a century that most colonies were decolonized. I want to focus here on the rule of law in a number of African countries and the impunity that some perpetrators of war crimes, human rights violations, and outright murderers still enjoy. Today, the Chair of ECOWAS, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf heads a mission to Banjul to persuade President Jammeh to give up and accept a democratically elected successor. A laudable mission, let me be unequivocally clear about that. For too long African organizations have remained silent after the worst atrocities took place in member states. But it is still good to draw attention to the home-countries of these presidents who plead for democracy and an end to lawless behaviour in other countries. In President Sirleaf’s home country, Liberia, not a single warlord has been prosecuted after the civil war ended in 2003, already 13 years ago. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf takes credit for winning democratically the presidential elections of 2006, thus becoming the first democratically elected female African president. A historic achievement. Unfortunately, the victims of the civil war that she helped starting still wait for justice. Each and everyday they are confronted in the streets of Monrovia or in their villages with the murderers of their relatives and the rapists of their daughters and wives.

Another member of today’s ECOWAS mission to Banjul is President Muhammadu Buhari, since 2015 president of Nigeria. This time he was democratically elected. Buhari also was president of Africa’s most populous country from 1983 till 1985. In 1983 he had staged a military coup that overthrew a democratically elected president. Human rights abuses were rife during Buhari’s rule over Nigeria. In 1984, he issued the ‘Protection Against False Accusations Decree’ , still considered by many as the most repressive press law ever enacted in Nigeria. In 1985 Buhari was deposed in another military coup but he never accounted for the misdeeds he and his associates committed during their tenure of power.

In 2014, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso was forced to flee following a popular uprising against his 27-year rule of the country. He thus escaped a popular verdict and a trial. He is generally believed to have masterminded the assassination of his friend, President Thomas Sankara, in 1987. Two years later, the Burkinabe journalist Norbert Zongo and three comrades were assassinated. Norbert Zongo had been investigating the mysterious death of the driver of François Compaoré, Blaise’s brother. Blaise Compaoré fled to Ivory Coast in October 2014. The president of this country, Alassane Ouattara, partly of Burkinabe descent, granted him asylum and the Ivorian nationality, thus making extradition to the new democratically elected government of Burkina Faso, who want to put the former dictator on trial, virtually impossible.

I could go on, with other examples of impunity – both in the region and in other parts of Africa – but I think I have made my point clear. The establishment of the rule of law and the end to impunty still have a a long way to go in Africa. Before ending here, however, I want to mention three important trials that may indicate that a new era has already started in Africa.

In May 2016, the former ruler of Chad, Hissein Habré (1982-1990) was found guilty of human rights abuses - including rape, sexual slavery and ordering the killing of 40,000 people – and sentenced to life in prison by a Special Tribunal in Senegal, an African-Union backed court. Habré thus became the first former African Head of State who was convicted for human rights abuses in the court of another nation (Senegal).

In another trial that captured the international attention, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted for war crimes and aiding and abetting rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone (2013). He was sentenced to 50 years in jail by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and is now spending the last years of his life – hopefully – in a maximum security prison in the UK.

A few weeks ago the trial of the leader of the 2012 military coup in Mali that deposed a democratically elected government started in Sikasso, a southern city in Mali. Former coup leader general Amadou Sanogo and 17 co-defendents are accused of murdering 21 ‘Red Berets’ , suspected of staging a counter-coup. The ‘Red Berets’ trial is an encouraging step forward towards more justice in Mali. However, still a lot more needs to be done. The 2012 coup by Sanogo and his comrades (‘Green Berets’) triggered many more atrocities committed by Tuareg secessionists, other warring factions including the Malian Army, jihadists, terrorists, smugglers and other ordinary criminals. Foreign troops, notably the French, operate with a ‘license to kill’ in the country and kill suspected terrorists without any procedure or trial.

Now, back to the Gambia and president Jammeh. I sincerely hope that democracy and justice will win in the Gambia and that Jammeh will have to give up power, that he will accept a peaceful transition to a democratically elected successor, and that he will soon face an independent court in Africa to account for the 22 years he ruled with an iron fist over this tiny country of about 2 million people. May his trial be symbolic for the end to impunity in Africa and scare all who have escaped justice so far.

Posted in Adama Barrow, African Politics, Alassane Ouattara, Amadou Sanogo, Banjul, Blaise Compaore, Burkina Faso, Chad, Charles Taylor, Civil War(s) Liberia, Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA 2003, Coups in Africa, ECOWAS, elections, Elections in Africa, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, François Compaoré, Gambia river, Green Berets, Hissein Habré, Human Rights, Impunity in Africa, Ivory Coast, Jammeh, Justice, Liberia, Mali, Monrovia, Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria, Norbert Zongo, press freedom, Red Berets, Red Berets trial, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Special Court, Sikasso, Sir Dawda Diawara, The Gambia, Thomas Sankara, Tuareg, Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Babili Mansa | Leave a comment

‘Choosing The Hero – My improbable journey and the rise of Africa’s first woman president’ by K. Riva Levinson

choosing-the-hero_finalThere’s no doubt about it. Karen Riva Levinson’s ‘Choosing The Hero’ is an interesting book. In fact, it’s more than that. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in Liberia’s contemporary history. It will also be very useful for students in international politics. Since I started reading about Liberia, in the seventies of last century, preparing a teaching job at the University of Liberia, I have read many books on this West African country. Levinson’s book definitely is a valuable additional work to an already considerable stack of literature on Africa’s oldest republic.
Freed slaves and freeborn blacks and coloured people from the United States of America created Liberia in 1847. They and their descendants called themselves ‘Americo-Liberians’. The collision and subsequent conflicts between Americo-Liberians and the indigenous population of the region still haunt Liberia today despite the historic election victory of a woman who has both, tribal roots and an Americo-Liberian background: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Levinson’s book is not a book exclusively devoted to Liberia or to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It is not for those who just start reading about Liberia and Liberian politics. It is especially useful for those who are familiar with Liberia’s past and present problems and who are interested in the backstage wheeling and dealing of actors in international politics, not only in the United States – also in Liberia.

Riva Levinson is an American strategist on international policy issues who worked for various American lobbying firms such as BMS&K (Black, Manafort (!), Stone & Kelly), companies that apparently are willing to do any work for the highest bidder. The author picked an appropriate title for her book. On the one hand it is a personal narrative, the evolution of her professional career that started with at times mercenary-ish work in politically unstable countries across the globe, often ruled by merciless dictators and/or emerging from a civil war: Iraq, Nicaragua, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, Angola, Nigeria, and – of course – Liberia, to name but a few. On the other hand she gives us a valuable insight into the political career of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and who made history as Africa’s first democratically elected woman president.

440px-k_street_nw_at_19th_streetTo avoid any misunderstanding, the author never engaged in illegal activities (other than bribing officials at airports and in emergency situations – to get as quick as possible out of a country in crisis). Europeans and notably we, the Dutch, we are ruled by different laws in this respect. What is legal in the United States (lobbying activities) – as long as you abide by the rules of the game and the prescribed procedures – at times is very questionable or outright forbidden in some European countries such as the Netherlands. Be that as it may, it makes Levinson’s book maybe even more interesting.

I will not dwell on the author’s work and adventures in aforementioned countries – except for Liberia – but one thing is sure: it provides for worthwhile, fascinating, and sometimes breathtaking reading – notably the chapter on her travelling in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The book is very well written and reads easily. Liberians will say: “Riva Levinson, she’s a strong woman!” and I fully agree. The book starts with her brief, unsuccessful stay in Siad Barre’s Somalia (late 1960s), one of the countries where US diplomacy and foreign policy failed, like in present-day Iraq whose population still bears the brunt of another US failure.

In 1996, the author went for her company BMS&K to oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, a tiny republic in central Africa, ruled by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who in 1979 had seized power in a military coup and had the deposed president – his uncle – executed after a kangaroo court. Since then, Obiang Nguema rules Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist. He is Africa’s longest ‘serving’ president, closely followed by Angola’s Dos Santos. Levinson’s mission to Equatorial Guinea brought her into contact with UNDP’s Africa Director, then Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Was it the latter’s honesty and hardly hidden disapproval of the rigged presidential elections in Equatorial Guinea that opened her eyes for more meaningful and less controversial work? Only the author can tell, but she gives an indication when sharing her reflections during President Sirleaf’s inauguration in 2006 which she attended as a special guest: “On occasion (…) I have been assigned duties where the morality of a situation is far from certain, the ambition of certain players less than noble. (…) Mine has been a career of adventure and drudgery, of public speeches and backroom politicking, a world of redeemers and killers, true believers and corrupt cynics, hope and despair and in instances such as (this) inauguration, of celebration and euphoria.” (p.152). Increasingly she asks herself while on mission the question: “Why am I here?”

Her frankness is commendable; the book provides us with a good insight in the evolution of the author’s mind and emotions. When choosing for Sirleaf in the summer of 1996 (“I want to work for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ”, p.51), she realizes that she is at a personal crossroads (”It’s time to stop and examine what I am doing and why”, p.51). She starts a process that ultimately leads to her resigning from her job, at BKSH & Associates, another lobbying firm, in December 2006. “I need to maintain a certain integrity in my assignments.” she writes about her decision to quit (p. 160). She then creates her own company, KRL International. From now on she is her own boss and decides which contract to take. With her important network of key actors and other important people (on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and in Langley/McLean, Virginia, too many to mention here) and her knowledge of ‘how Washington works’ I am sure we will hear more about her in the near future – in her profession as a successful lobbyist, or in an active (public) political role, or as an academic/writer.

While reading her book she reminded me of Herman Cohen. The former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs is well known for his secret diplomatic deals with African leaders in trouble, in countries including Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia. Read his book ‘Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent’ (New York, 2000). After leaving diplomatic service, Cohen was paid for lobbying activities and consultancy services by (among others) Presidents Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, José Dos Santos of Angola, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Laurent Kabila of Congo Kinshasa and …. Liberia’s Charles Taylor. I sincerely hope, however, that Riva Levinson will be more selective than Herman Cohen in choosing her (future) clients.

The first time Riva Levinson sets foot on Liberia’s soil is in 2005, in July 2005 to be more precisely. Everyone familiar with Liberia knows that in July the rainy season is in full swing and that humidity is close to 100 per cent. The second civil war (1999-2003) was just over. Gyude Bryant had taken care of the interim-management of the country (2003-2006) after Taylor’s forced exile. Later that year, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would defeat George Weah, her main opponent in the 2005 presidential elections. Many in Liberia and abroad were enthusiastic about Ellen’s victory, including Riva and me. Liberia had to re-start from scratch. We were all aware that it wouldn’t be an easy task and that it would take many years to rebuild everything that had been destroyed during fourteen years of civil war.

ellen-meets-obama-againRiva Levinson does not hide her admiration and affinity for ‘Ellen’. At times it seems as if ‘Ellen’ has replaced her grandmother (‘Oma’) with whom she had a close relationship until her death. Riva is prepared to fight for Ellen, her faith in her is unconditional. Her work for president Sirleaf is very successful and she is an effective lobbyist for Africa’s oldest republic, looking after its interests and arranging meetings for Liberia’s president with key-actors in the US. However, the book does not pretend to be an exhaustive biography of ‘the Iron Lady’, the nickname for Liberia’s first female president. Those interested in more should read Sirleaf’s autobiography, entitled ‘This Child Will be Great “ (2009). Besides, it is my opinion that much of Liberia’s contemporary history is still in the writing. I am convinced that there are many Liberians who have been – and still are – closely involved in their country’s recent history who would be perfectly placed to write this story and should do so. Riva Levinson provides us with some names – Abdoulye Dukulé, Amara Konneh, Antoinette Sayeh, Winston Tubman, Conmany Wesseh – but I also think of eminent scholars and prominent politicians such as Elwood Dunn, Henry Fahnbulleh, James Fromoyan, Amos Sawyer, Byron Tarr, Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Kofi Woods, who – regrettably – are absent from the book.

Finally, I am a critical admirer of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Under her able guidance Liberians have worked on the reconstruction of their country, a difficult task. I strongly believe in the future of a better Liberia and the perseverance and endurance of the Liberian people – despite the rampant corruption, the nepotism, and the lack of national reconciliation that have become characteristics of President Sirleaf’s Administration. Illustrative is the following:

Prominent seated at President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s inauguration in January 2006 were, I quote “Speaker of the House, Edwin Snowe, accused of stealing millions of dollars from a Liberian oil company, Senator Adolphus Dolo, known during the war as “General Peanut Butter” after his favorite food and accused of eating his victim’s body parts; Senator Prince Johnson, the former rebel leader who hacked off President Samuel Doe’s ears before killing him in 1990; and finally, to the surprise of many outsiders, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, the former First Lady to ex-president Charles Taylor. “ Unquote. (p. 151). Politics and politicians are not always easy to understand. Was there a strategy behind the choices that President Sirleaf made, some of which were severely criticized such as the impunity of former warlords? Who knows?

I admire Riva Levinson for writing an honest, compelling book, and congratulate her with this important contribution to an already long list of books and articles that provide us with more insight into Liberia and one of its main political actors, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected woman president, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and numerous more awards, distinctions and honorary academic degrees. What President Sirleaf’s legacy will be, only future can tell. Her successor, who is to be elected next year, faces a difficult task. I am pretty sure that K. Riva Levinson will be following events in Liberia closely.

Posted in 1847, 2005 presidential elections, 2017 presidential elections, Abdoulye Dukule, Adolphus Dolo, Africa's longest serving president, Amara Konneh, Americo-Liberians, Amos Sawyer, Angola, Antoinette Sayeh, BKSH & Associates, Blaise Compaore, BMS&K, Byron Tarr, Capitol Hill, Charles Gyude Bryant, Charles Taylor, Choosing the Hero, Civil War(s) Liberia, Congo Kinshasa, Conmany Wesseh, Corruption, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dos Santos, DRC, Edwin Snowe, elections, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Elwood Dunn, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gaddafi, General Peanut Butter, George Weah, Henry Fahnbulleh, Herman Cohen, Iraq, Iron Lady, James Fromoyan, Jewel Howard Taylor, José dos Santos, Justice, K.Riva Levinson, KRL International LLC, Langley Virginia, Laurent Kabila, Liberia, Libya, lobbying fiirms, lobbying firm, Manafort, Monrovia, Mozambique, National reconciliation, nepotism, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Nobel Peace Prize, oil, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Prince Y. Johnson, Reconciliation, Riva Levinson, Rwanda, Samuel Kanyon Doe, Second civil war 1999-2003, Siad Barre, Somalia, Sudan, Teodoro Nguema, This Child Will Be Great, Tipoteh, UNDP, United States, United States of America, University of Liberia, USA, Washington DC, Winston Tubman | Leave a comment

Some thoughts on Liberia’s 169th independence anniversary

Liberia: “Happy July 26!”
Some Liberians – both abroad and at home – say there is little to celebrate. Others, both inside and outside the country, say Liberia has made true progress under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006 – present). Who’s right?

LiberiaNationalSealAndMottoLiberian flag  On July 26, 1847 Liberia declared itself an independent and sovereign State, after 25 years of colonial rule by an American private organization – the American Colonization Society – backed by the US Government.
In August of the same year, the leaders of Africa’s new republic unfolded their country’s national flag for the first time, an event still celebrated as Flag Day (August 24). The following month, Governor J.J. Roberts was elected president – on September 27, 1847 – and he was sworn in in as Liberia’s first president in January, 1848. The journey of Africa’s first republic started.

Since then much has happened, too much to tell the whole story here. On the positive side, to start with, is the proud conclusion that Liberia has remained independent throughout the years, despite the ‘scramble for Africa’ (1885 – 1920), the 1930 ‘Forced Labour Scandal’ and two devastating civil wars (1989-1997; 1999-2003).
ements__1874__www_liberiapastandpresent_org_Eager colonial European powers seized parts of the territory claimed by the Monrovia Government. The English took the Galinhas territory in the west, now part of Sierra Leone, and the French seized the territory east of Harper, Maryland, now part of Ivory Coast.

The ‘Forced Labour Scandal‘ and the damning League of Nations Report (named after its chair, ‘Christy Report’) led to the resignation of president King (1920-1930) and almost made an end to Liberia’s existence as an independent nation. More recently, the two civil wars that ravaged the country brought Liberia to the brink of disappearance. Many observers qualified Africa’s oldest republic as a failed state, but Liberia rose again to its feet, and made a new start under Africa’s first democratically elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Between 1847 and 2016, Liberia registered three assassinated presidents: E.J. Roye, William R. Tolbert and Samuel K. Doe. Moreover, four president resigned from office: Anthony Gardiner, William Coleman, Charles King, and Charles Taylor. Two of Liberia’s president’s made world history.

The first president who made world history was Charles Taylor. In 2012 he was sentenced to 50 years in prison – minus time already spent in custody (since 2006) – by the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL). It was the first time since the trials of prominent Nazis in Nuremberg at the end of the Second World War that a head of state had been convicted. The conviction by the SCSL also made Charles Taylor the first African head of state to be found guilty of serious crimes by an international tribunal.

The second Liberian president who made world history is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Not only is she Africa’s first democratically elected female president, she also made history as a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

liberia-from-the-love-of-liberty-small-1I could go on-and-on, switching to Liberia’s economy, but I have little to add after publishing a book on Liberia’s contemporary history, covering political, economic and social affairs (2015). The book’s title may speak for itself, ‘Liberia: From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost’ (published by the African Studies Centre).

‘The Love of Liberty’, from Liberia’s national motto ‘The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here’ (see above), stands for the hopeful start by black Americans – freed slaves and free-born black and colored people – who left the WASP-dominated United States in the 19th century where segregation and discrimination were part of daily life.

They, black colonists, ‘pioneers’, and their descendants – who called themselves ‘Americo-Liberians’ – ruled Liberia until 1980. Samuel Doe – Liberia’s first indigenous president – ended 133 years of rule by the Americo-Liberian minority of less than 50,000 people. That’s the ‘Paradise Lost’ part of my book’s title.

Samuel Doe’s coup started a new chapter in the country’s history. With hindsight it was a period of dictatorship, human rights violations and far-reaching economic decline – and the prologue to 14 years of civil war. What once had started hopefully as the first African republic to be modelled on Western lines became a tragedy. The ideal of freedom of the American colonists – mulattoes, free-born blacks and former slaves – had been blown apart. The paradise on Earth that they dreamed of as they crossed the Atlantic proved an illusion. In 2016, some half a million Liberians even live outside their country because they have no confidence or future in their African homeland.

The Administration of president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006-present) brought peace and more political stability, partly thanks to a UN peacekeeping force, UNMIL. But the country remains underdeveloped as ever. A prominent Liberian, one of the country’s veteran politicians and an internationally renowned economist, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, declared in 2015 that, in terms of income per day, ‘the Liberian people are the second poorest in Africa’.

Next year Liberians will elect a new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s successor. Who will govern Liberia and its 4.2 million people? Whoever may win the 2017 presidential elections, he or she faces many challenges.

The difficulties that Liberia has to overcome to take control of its own development and destiny are both numerous and daunting. National unification – making one nation out of 16 different tribes – , national reconciliation – healing the wounds of the civil wars – and economic development – based on Liberia’s enormous natural wealth – are among the top priorities. ‘Don’t rock the boat’ seems to be more important than ever.

Happy Independence Day Liberia!!!!

Posted in 2016, 2017 presidential elections, African Studies Centre Leiden, American Colonization Society, Americo-Liberians, Anthony Gardiner, April 12 1980, Charles Taylor, Christy Report, Civil War(s) Liberia, Economic development, EJ Roye, Elections in Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Flag Day, Forced Labour Scandal, Galinhas, Harper, Human Rights, Independence Day, Ivory Coast, JJ Roberts, Liberia, Liberia Colony, Liberia" From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost, Liberian Diaspora, Liberian Economy, Liberian History, Maryland in Africa, Monrovia, National flag, National Motto, National reconciliation, National Seal, National Symbols, National unification, natural resources, Nobel Peace Prize, Nuremberg, peace, President Charles King, President Charles King resignation, racism, Reconciliation, Samuel Kanyon Doe, Scramble for Africa, Second World War, Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Special Court, Slavery Scandal, Tipoteh, UNMIL, WASP, William Coleman, William R. Tolbert Jr. | Leave a comment

‘Liberia: From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost’ – Now available in Monrovia!

The next 18 months will be crucial for Liberia. What do we know about Liberia?  

UNMIL withdrawalUNMIL, the UN-peacekeeping force will virtually pull out by June 30, only two more months to go … Liberians inside and outside the country don’t trust the Liberian Police Force and the Liberian Armed Forces because of their lack of discipline and high level of corruption. They fear that Liberia may again descend into chaos. They have bad memories of the anarchy that reigned during fourteen years of civil war.

President Sirleaf will soon finish her second term, after ruling the country for 12 years. In January 2018 her successor will be sworn in. Who will occupy the Executive Mansion in 2018? Already more than 20 presidential hopefuls have declared themselves the best choice to rule over the destiny of Africa’s oldest republic. Between now and October 2017, when presidential elections will be held, there will be verbal fighting between presidential candidates and their followers. It will be increasingly difficult to distinguish facts from fiction, to separate blunt and subtle lies from the truth.

A recently published book on Liberia’s contemporary history – ‘Liberia” From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost’ – may be helpful to better understand where Liberia stands now, on the eve of the crucial 2017 presidential elections.

liberia-from-the-love-of-liberty-small-1How is Liberia’s economy doing? During the Administration of President Sirleaf dozens of foreign investors came into the country, attracted by its rich natural resources and the favorable conditions offered by the Liberian government. But will their investments in agriculture (rubber, oil palm), mining (iron ore, gold, diamonds), and the logging sector be sustainable? World market prices for Liberia’s commodities are on a downward trend. Disputes over land and ‘land grab’ accusations are scaring foreign investors, some of whom have already left. The main challenge, however, is to create enough jobs for the urban and rural unemployed, an estimated 80 per cent of the national work force.

Another ticking time bomb is the unresolved question of national reconciliation. The two civil wars (1989-1997; 1999-2003) have left an estimated 200,000 people dead and many more wounded, physically and mentally. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) was shelved by President Sirleaf for reasons only known to herself. Its recommendations were never discussed in parliament. Former warlords and militia members walk and drive around freely in Monrovia and elsewhere in the country, e.g. George Boley, Alhaji Kromah, Prince Johnson. Some have even been elected to parliament, including Prince Johnson, who had Liberia’s President Samuel Doe tortured to death and the assassination filmed (1990).

Furthermore, ‘Education is a mess’, President Sirleaf frankly said in 2013. The Ebola epidemic not only killed nearly 5,000 people but also ruined the public health sector. The country’s infrastructure is poor and daily electricity is only for the rich and powerful. Corruption is all pervasive. Abuse of power and nepotism common. The rule of law is weak. A properly functioning system of ‘checks and balances’ is absent. The future looks grim.

Dr. Fred P.M. van der Kraaij

Dr. Fred P.M. van der Kraaij

‘Liberia: From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost’ is written from a personal point of view. The Dutch author knows the country, he lectured at the University of Liberia where his students included future ministers, one even later emerged as a feared warlord. In this book the author looks back on Liberia, 40 years after setting foot on Liberian soil. How could a country that was considered to be one of the most stable in Africa descend into such chaos and anarchy? What went wrong? And how is it to move forward? The author tries to answer these questions, based on his own observations. He focuses particular attention on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her role in Liberia’s new start after the forced resignation of warlord-president Charles Taylor.

The book contains 9 maps including three maps showing Foreign Investments in agriculture & forestry, mining, oil & gaz, 15 Boxes, over 70 illustrations and has an Index. Particularly handy is a list of Key information on 50 selected persons, from Daniel Anderson to Allen Yancy.

Since last week the book is for sale in Monrovia, Liberia.
The book can be bought (US$ 12.50) at:

ERA supermarket, Sinkor, Tubman Boulevard, between 16th and 17th Street
Stop & Shop supermarket, Sinkor, Tubman Boulevard, near 17th Street
Exclusive supermarket, Downtown, Center Street (between Carey / Benson Street)
UN Drive supermarket, Sinkor, Tubman Blvd / 20th Street / Warner Avenue
and
Royal Hotel, Sinkor, 15th Street / Tubman Blvd

The book was published by the African Studies Center (ASC), Leiden, the Netherlands.
It is the ASC’s explicit policy to make its publications available for a large audience, therefor the book is also available online (free, open access), click here 

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Posted in 2017 presidential elections, African Studies Centre Leiden, Alhaji Kromah, Charles Taylor, Civil War(s) Liberia, Corruption, diamonds, Ebola, education, elections, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, ERA supermarket, Exclusive supermarket, Executive Mansion, FDI, forestry, George Boley, gold, health, infrastructure, iron ore, Justice, Liberia, Liberia" From the Love of Liberty to Paradise Lost, Liberian Economy, Liberian History, Monrovia, natural resources, oil, oil palm plantation, peace, Prince Y. Johnson, Reconciliation, Royal Hotel, Samuel Kanyon Doe, Stop & Shop supermarket, Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC), UN Drive supermarket, University of Liberia, UNMIL, Vice President Allen Yancy, William V.S. Tubman | Leave a comment

The mystery of the Kru or Grebo rings – an important discovery

KruRingAKruRingUnknownRecently, the American expert and collector of nitien – Kru or Grebo rings – Mark Clayton contacted me after having read my 2014 postings on these ritual objects. His comments warranted an update and correction of my postings dated April 7 and April 25. More specifically, the information provided concerned his discovery of a nitien on the ground of a medicine man’s hut as shown on a photo published online by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Harvard University. A cropped version of the original photo had been published in ‘Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland‘, the report of the Peabody Museum Expedition to Liberia in 1929-1930 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, 1947). 
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Mark Clayton spent many hours online scrutinizing the Peabody’s photo archive for evidence of a ring, and fortunately their online version of the original image – which was uncropped at the bottom – shows a much larger area of foreground than appears in the (cropped) version published in ‘Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland‘. Thus Mark was able to discern a blurry knobbed-ring laying on the ground (see photo).  Another nitien expert, Scott Shepperd, had previously seen only the cropped version, that’s why he did not notice the ring on the ground, because not enough of it was visible to distinguish what it was (source:  email correspondence between Mark Clayton and Scott Shepperd).

I don’t want readers to be misinformed or ill informed on the subject of these mysterious rings and therefore decided to correct my original postings by adding this and other new information. Another good reason for correcting my earlier postings is my wish to give Mark Clayton the credit he deserves for his important discovery.

To conclude, I want to compliment the two nitien experts Mark Clayton and Scott Shepperd for their contribution to our knowledge of these objects. No one knows exactly the origin and history of these rings. More research will be needed to disclose the lost history of these ritual objects – which only have been found in Liberia.

Posted in George Schwab, Grebo, Grebo rings, Harvard University, Kru, Kru money, Kru rings, Liberia, Liberian Hinterland, Liberian History, Mark Clayton, nitien, Peabody Museum, Scott Shepperd | Leave a comment

‘Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief’ by Anita K. Dennis

51dI5b8xZJL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Anita Katherine Dennis has written an amazing book. It’s a real pageturner. It’s an autobiography, a biography, a love story, a religious testimony, and it’s about Liberia. It’s the uncredible story of a young, white, American sophomore student who grew up on a Ohio farm and who fell in love with her anthropology professor, a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, 16 years her senior, and still married when they first met in 1964. Their relationship and later marriage faced multiple challenges: differences in age, race, culture, marital status and a forbidden professor/student liaison. For Anita this resulted in parental disapproval, even to the extent of being almost disowned by her father. Luckily this did not happen. After many years of no contacts her parents reconciled with her because of the grandchildren. The marriage between Anita and Ben Dennis – more about his anglophone name later – lasted for more than 40 years. He passed away in December 2009 after a protracted illness, prompting his widow to write down the story of her life. I am glad she did.

‘Beyond Myself’ is a must-read. The book is more than the story of Anita Dennis’ life. It is also a story about Liberia. The author has a degree in sociology with a minor in anthropology and always had the ambition to be a journalist. This does not surprise. The book is well written and reads easily. The author shows that she has always had a sharp eye for cultural and political differences, both during her stay with the Mende and Gbande peoples in Lofa County and when it comes to social relations in Liberia, notably the domination of the Americo-Liberian elite over the tribal majority of the country. She visited Liberia in the 1970s and spent one year as a lay missionary, together with her husband, in the early 1980s. ‘Liberia was an illusion of democracy’, she noticed in 1972 (p. 54).

Her husband Benjamin (‘Ben’) Dennis had a tribal background – his tribal names were Ngombu Tejjeh Gongoli Guyanh – but he was very familiar with the repressive Americo-Liberian elite, she found out. He was from the Dennis family, who had ‘adopted’ Ben’s father as a teenager in Monrovia. The same ‘ward’ system explains the tribal roots and Americo-Liberian background of Liberia’s president since 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Ben’s uncle C.C. Dennis was a prominent Americo-Liberian who published the Liberian Age, the mouthpiece of – then – the country’s only political party, the True Whig Party (TWP). Son C.C. was the flamboyant Minister of Foreign Affairs under President William Tolbert. After the April 1980 military coup he was publicly executed at a Monrovia beach, together with a dozen other ‘big shots’ – TWP leaders and cabinet ministers.

Professor Ben Dennis – with two doctorate degrees – was an excellent academic. He also showed interest in Liberian politics after the demise of President Tubman in 1971. Even to the extent of raising the attention of President Tolbert (1971-1980) who expressed interest in having him as his Vice President (p.146). It is also interesting to note the conversation between him and a young Liberian, a Kru man, visiting him at Ohio University when the latter said: ‘We have to change the government. (…) If we don’t change the government, nothing will change in Liberia.” The Kru leader was Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, still a household name in Liberia (p.145/146). I was not surprised to read that Dr. Ben Dennis even had aspirations to one day become president of Liberia (p.192).

Above all Dr. Dennis was a man of God. The faith he and Anita shared was central to their relationship. Anita’s journey with Ben was a journey with God, who protected, guided, and sustained her during her controversial relationship and later her interracial, cross-cultural marriage. When Anita and Ben met, racism was rife in the United States – interracial marriages were against the law in 17 US States in the 1960s (!) – and racism still is a big problem in the USA as demonstrated by recent deadly incidents involving Afro-Americans. It is clear from the author’s narrative that her husband was an exceptional man and a strong personality but he always remained modest. He was at ease in his father’s Mende village but also with the powerful Americo-Liberian families ruling his country, the Dennis, Cooper, Brooks, Henries, DeShield and Tolbert families. Son of a Liberian diplomat, he grew up in Germany, and spent his vacations in Liberia. When in the United States he was not quite accepted by Afro-Americans – being a foreigner, an African – but he also was not accepted by racist, white Americans.

500px-Liberia_-_Lofa.svgThe author, Anita Katherine Dennis, shares the aforementioned qualifications: modest, a strong personality, and a sharp mind. Though her life was full of extremes, she kept her balance, even though at times it was very difficult as she frankly admits in her book. In particular I like very much chapters 19 through 24 devoted to her life as a mother and chief’s wife in Lofa County in 1983/1984. She was fully accepted by her husband’s tribe and was given a tribal name, Baindu. Her daily experiences in Vahun, Ben’s father’s village, were very recognizable to me having lived in Liberia. The humid tropical climate, the downpours during the rainy season, the mould on leather shoes, belts and bags, the mosquitos and the inevitable malaria, the sores on legs and feet, the Guinea worm infections, the sunburn, no running water, the troubles with kerosene refrigerators, the insects, the termites, the driver ants, the ever present coackroaches in cupboards and in the bathroom, and so on. On the other hand, she enjoys the warm relations with the people, their culture, ‘an anthropologist’s dream’ as she describes it (p.166), despite the at times annoying lack of privacy.

Anita Dennis has written a book that merits to be read widely. Her style is a frank one, not only on the painful subject of her parents’ rejection of her liaison with Ben. Her parents were absent when they married and her father returned the picture of their first grandson Anita had sent. More amusing is the anecdote of her husband’s initial reluctance to make love in the morning (“If I do so, I’ll be going against my Mende training.”). The author is also very frank about her husband’s deteriorating health and final days. He passed away on December 17, 2009. Anita’s journey with Ben had come to an end.

I am afraid that this review still leaves much to be said about this outstanding book. However, I do hope that this shortcoming of mine will act as an extra incentive to read it. The author ends her book with the sentence: ‘If I had to do it again, I’d still sign up for Anthropology 101’.

I look forward to her next book.

Other books by Anita K. Dennis and/or Ben G. Dennis:

‘Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia’ (Algora Publishing, 2008)
‘The Gbandes. A people of the Liberian Hinterlands’ (Chicago, 1972)

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Posted in 1980 execution South Beach Monrovia, Afro-Americans, Americo-Liberians, Anita Dennis, Baindu, Ben Dennis, Beyond Myself, Brooks family, C.C. Dennis MFA, C.C.Dennis Sr, Cooper family, Dennis family, DeShield family, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gbande, Henries family, Liberia, Liberian Age, Liberian Hinterland, Liberian History, Lofa County, Mende, Monrovia, Ohio State, Ohio University, racism, Tipoteh, Tolbert family, True Whig Party TWP, Vahun, William R. Tolbert Jr., William V.S. Tubman | Leave a comment

Liberia’s national symbols (cont’d)

On May 31, I raised the question ‘Liberia’s national symbols – what happened to the national debate?’. Now, a month later, I must confess that I am inclined to answer this question with the tentative conclusion: ‘Liberians are not interested’.

NationalSealLiberiaIf true, the immediate next question would be ‘Why are Liberians not interested in a debate on the intentions and meanings of the national symbols?’ Is it because a debate on the country’s national symbols is considered to be not relevant? Or is it because people expect that a decision to change symbols like national seal, motto, flag, geographical names would be too costly whereas the country faces other priorities? Or is it because of the fear that any discussion might trigger tension in a country whose population is far from united and still has not overcome the scars of two civil wars?

History, on the other hand, shows a different picture. It was during the Administration of President William Tolbert (1971-1980) that for the first time in the country’s history decisions were taken to make changes in the area of national symbols. Many generations of Liberians had learned in school about Matilda Newport, and December 1 – ‘Matilda Newport Day’ – was almost sacred. The political activists of the tumultuous 1970s not only wanted political changes and an end to the one-party regime, they also wanted a debate on national symbols. In December 1974, the well-known Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh wondered ‘why we say we are interested in unity when we continue to celebrate Matilda Newport Day, a national holiday which glorifies the defeat of one group of citizens by another group of our citizens.’ StampMatildaNewportAnd even though still in 1975, in celebration of International Women’s Year, the government issued a stamp honoring Matilda Newport, President Tolbert decided to abolish the celebration of December 1 as ‘Matilda Newport Day’. (Source: Svend Holsoe, ‘Matilda Newport: The Power of a Liberian-Invented Tradition’, in: Liberian Studies Journal, Vol. XXXII, Number 2, 2007, pp. 28-42).

Several Independence Day orators have seized the occasion of ‘July 26’ to express their feelings about the usefulness and appropriateness of the country’s national symbols. Many of these symbols go back to the early days of the Colony of Liberia (1821-1847) and the creation of the independent republic of Liberia by the ‘pioneers’ – as they liked calling themselves – or ‘Americans’ according to the local people.

One of the Independence Day orators questioning the validity of the existing national symbols was Dr. Abeodu Bowen Jones, some 40 years ago, during the Administration of President Tolbert.  Dr. Jones pointed out the divisive ideas that characterize the national symbols, even the anthem. A commision was created to review and remove the objectionable parts, and the commission even submitted a report. However, nothing was done do implement its recommendations. In 2008, another Independence Day orator, Dr. Sakui W. G. Malakpa, renewed the debate with his oration entitled ‘Coping with the inevitability of change: our challenges, chances and choices.’ Although I do not intend to present here an exhaustive overview of Independence Day orators and politicians who have raised the subject of National Symbols in public, I do want to mention here Dr. Elwood Dunn’s  oration of July 26, 2012, ‘Renewing our National Promise’.  In my previous posts dated  August 31, 2012 and  May 31, 2015. I have already elaborated on Dr. Dunn’s thoughts and statements, so interested readers are kindly referred to these pages. However, I make an exception for the following statement, I quote:

‘Balancing the imbalance’

Dr. Dunn: ‘I told the government that I have been writing and making speeches against ElwoodDunn2our national decorations and symbols on the basis that they do not reflect our oneness as Liberians.’ He further said: ‘My rejection comes from the perspective that, over our existence as a nation, there have been imbalances. There have been social imbalance, cultural imbalance, economic imbalance and many more. I want us to promote the balance of the imbalance, so that whatever region of the country you come from you can see yourself reflected in our symbols and decorations.’ (italics added by the author, FVDK)

Also in 2014 a symposium was held that received much attention, ‘Reviewing Liberia’s National Symbols to Renew National Identity’ (Paynesville, Liberia).

We may thus conclude that whereas nowadays in 2015 the debate on the national symbols may seem dead, we can expect it to be revived in the near or distant future.  Earlier and current internet discussions also indicate that the topic still raises many reactions, both favorable and disapproving.

LiberianFlag3In the meantime the nation’s seal, motto and flag remain unchanged. Also, public holidays such as Pioneer’s Day (January 7), J.J. Roberts Day (March 15), Decoration Day (the third Wednesday of March) and Flag Day (August 14) will continue to be celebrated. Names of streets, towns, and counties will stay as they are: named after white colonial agents (Ashmun, Randall, Mechlin streets in Monrovia – the capital named after US President Monroe) and after the first, white Governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia (Thomas Buchanan) or referring to the place of origin in the US of the first colonists: New Georgia, Virginia, both colonial towns in the vicinity of Monrovia, nowadays part of greater Monrovia, and Maryland County. The latter reflects the former colony ‘Maryland in Africa’ and the small African state of the same name (1854-1857) before it joined the Republic of Liberia, created ten years earlier through the merger of the ‘Colony of Liberia’, ‘Bassa Cove’ and ‘Mississippi in Africa’. See the 1839 map below showing colonial names.

3 Liberia Kolonie met Am kolonisatiemaatschappijen, 1839, Mitchell, Foto FvdK

Posted in Abeodu Bowen Jones, Americo-Liberians, Ashmun, Bassa Cove, Buchanan, Decoration Day, Elwood Dunn, Flag Day, Independence Day, Independence Day Orator, James Monroe, JJ Roberts Day, Liberia, Liberia Colony, Liberian History, Liberian Studies Journal, Maryland in Africa, Matilda Newport, Matilda Newport Day, Mechlin, Mississippi in Africa, Monrovia, National Anthem, National flag, National Motto, National Seal, National Symbols, New Georgia, Pioneer's Day, Randall, Sakui W.G. Malakpa, Svend Holsoe, Tipoteh, Virginia, William R. Tolbert Jr. | Leave a comment

Liberia’s national symbols – What happened to the national debate?

Dr. Elwood Dunn was the 2012 National Independence Day Orator and challenged the government and people of Liberia to rethink and debate the appropriateness of the national symbols, notably the nation’s seal, motto and flag.
As we all know, the national motto, the seal and the flag refer to a divided people: those who created the Republic and their descendants versus the majority of the population, belonging to one of the sixteen tribes that already lived in the region known to the outside world as ‘Pepper Coast’ – before the arrival of the first immigrants in 1821.

LiberiaNationalSealAndMottoEarly 2012 another well-known Liberian scholar and politician, Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh, in his function as National Vision 2030 Steering Committee Chairman, kicked off a national debate on Liberia’s new development agenda for the next 18 years.  Among the issues raised by participants were suggestions to change the national motto ‘The Love Of Liberty Brought Us Here’ to ‘The Love Of Liberty Unites Us’ and to replace the national seal.

A few years earlier – in 2009 – the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its final report had identified the political, social and economic exclusion of the majority of the Liberian population by the Americo-Liberian creators of the republic and their descendants as one of the root causes of the civil conflict (1989 – 2003).

What happened since to the national debate on the national symbols?

2 President Joseph Jenkins Roberts, 1854 Foto FvdK

March 15 of this year was the 206th birth anniversary of Liberia’s first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts. Long ago, by an Act of the Legislature, March 15 of every year was declared a National Holiday, and 2015 became no exception. Thus, on March 12 President Sirleaf issued a Proclamation declaring March 15 as a National Holiday ‘as a mark of respect and reverence to his memory and for his untiring efforts in organizing the first Government of the Republic’.

I wrote before on this theme. See my August 31, 2012 posting ‘Vision 2013 and the National Symbols’.

I will soon come back and write more on this important but neglected topic. Meanwhile I have the pleasure to invite readers to express their thoughts and to share any suggestions they may have.

You may mail any comments to: fpm ad liberiapastandpresent dot org and/or send a tweet to @liberiapp

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Posted in Americo-Liberians, Civil War(s) Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Elwood Dunn, Governance Commission, Independence Day Orator, JJ Roberts, Liberian History, National flag, National Motto, National Seal, National Symbols, Pepper Coast, Tipoteh, Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC), Vision 2030 | Leave a comment

Annual Message on the State of the Republic – Jan. 26, 2015

Cabinet Ministers at the Capitol Building when President Sirleaf delivered her Annual MessageANNUAL MESSAGE ON THE STATE OF THE REPUBLIC To the Fourth Session of the 53rd National Legislature of the Republic of Liberia, Consolidating For Continuity
By: Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf President of the Republic of Liberia
(As Delivered)

Mr. Vice President and President of the Senate;
Mr. Speaker;
Honorable Members of the Legislature;
Your Honor the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and Members of the Judiciary;
The Dean and Members of the Cabinet and other Government Officials;
Mr. Doyen, Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Her Excellency, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Liberia;
The Officers and Staff of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL);
The Chief of Staff, Men and Women of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL);
Former Chairman of the Interim Government of National Unity, Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer;
Chairman of the Ruling Unity Party;
Former Officials of Government;
Traditional Leaders, Chief and Elders;
Political and Business Leaders;
Bishops, Pastors, Imams and Religious Leaders;
Officers and Members of the National Bar Association;
Labor and Trade Unions;
Civil Society Organizations;
Members of the Press;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
Special Guests;
Fellow Liberians:

Introduction

We assemble here today in compliance with Article 58 of the Constitution which mandates the President on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, to present the Administration’s Legislative Program and report to the Legislature on the State of the Republic covering the economic condition including expenditure and income.

Our agenda during the course of this year was defined virtually by the Ebola virus which threatened our very existence. Our hospital and clinics, as well as our schools closed down; people ran away from their families and homes. Our economy was on the verge of collapse as our citizens and nation were stigmatized. I can say today that despite all of this, our nation has remained strong; our people resilient; our commitment renewed and our faith restored.

Thus I ask that we stand in a moment of silence to honor the memory of the thousands of our people who lost their lives to the Ebola and other related diseases that ravaged our nation, as well as those in the sister nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Nigeria. We deeply feel the pain of the families who lost their love ones. [Silence] Thank you.

Mr. Vice President, I wish to express heartfelt gratitude for your partnership, and commitment to the service of our country and people. Mr. Speaker and Honorable Members of the National Legislature, I thank you, and I thank the former President Pro Tempore of the Senate including the for the able manner in which you managed the affairs of this August Body and for the spirit of cooperation and collaboration which we enjoyed from you during the year. We welcome you back from your Annual Recess and we congratulate the newly elected members as we hope and pray for a year of constructive dialogue in the interest of our nation and people.

Legislative Agenda

Prior to submitting this Administration’s Legislative Agenda, I would like to record our appreciation for the cooperation received from this honorable body that led to the passage of several pieces of legislation relevant to the consolidation of the processes of our Nation’s Agenda for Transformation and the National Vision 2030 which began several years ago to chart a course for Liberia’s growth and sustained development. An examination of the various pieces of legislation reveal that they address challenges of governance, the economy, the rule of law, and our obligations as a responsible member of the international community.

Honorable Legislators, I would like to highlight those instruments which will significantly impact governance, economic transformation, the rule of law, and our international obligations. A sound, firm and attainable economic policy, aimed at Liberia’s economic transformation, demands structural reform of our form of governance.

In this light, in addition to the passage of the Budget Act of 2014/2015, I am pleased for your ratification of the financing agreements between the Government of the Republic of Liberia and Export-Import Bank of India, the Kuwait Fund, the African Development Bank, the African Development Fund, and the International Development Association of the World Bank.

Economic transformation of our nation is not limited only to the public sector, but includes the private sector as well. In a bid to strengthen and expand the capacity of our private sector to contribute to Liberia’s economic transformation, we submitted to your honorable body an amendment to the Mineral Development Agreement among the Government of Liberia, Sesa Goa Limited and Bloom Fountain Limited, and a bill to ratify a Concession Agreement between Government and the Liberia Cocoa Corporation, a wholly Liberian-owned enterprise. These instruments manifest Government’s commitment to generate economic and employment opportunities within key corridors of our country. I commend the impressive work of the gold mining concessionaire, Aureus Mining, in Grand Cape Mount County and I urge all of you to visit the concession site for a personal appreciation of the beneficial results of these arrangements that you have approved.

Working with our sister Republic of Guinea, I will submit legislation to effectuate an infrastructure development agreement between the Government and West African Exploration (WAE) for the transshipment of iron ore from Guinea through Liberia. For several decades the Governments of Liberia and of Guinea have considered and explored modes of cooperation to facilitate the evacuation of iron ore from parts of Guinea near the Liberian border using infrastructure in Liberia. This is a milestone in regional integration opening the way for stronger cooperation between our two countries and broadening the opportunities for large scale investment.

Thank you for enacting the Insurance Act of 2013, and the Payment Systems Act. I will submit additional Bills to support the improvement of the regulatory environment and for financial services in Liberia. This will include: A Bill to Establish a Securities Market in Liberia; A Bill Creating Special Economic Zones; A Bill to Establish an Energy Law to govern the Energy Sector; A Bill to repeal appropriate sections of the Executive Law dissolving the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation and establishing the Liberia Agriculture Commodity Regulatory Authority. We have already placed before you the Small Business Act to spur the growth of Liberian entrepreneurship and develop the Liberian middle class.

In keeping with our commitment to protect and preserve the environment, I will also submit a bill to establish the Gola National Park and the National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Areas Management Law.

I also ask you to consider passage of Bills to establish the Rubber Development Fund and the Axle Load Act. These bills will impact the level of commercial activity and further empower our people.

I thank you for the several bills passed in support of justice and the rule of law. We note the passage of An Act on the Criminal Conveyance of Land; an Act to Amend the Executive Law, to strengthen the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency; a new Controlled Drug and Substance Act of 2014; ratification of the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights; and ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty.

We urge the passage of the Firearms and Ammunition Control Act; the Amendment to the Public Health Law to add a new Chapter on Mental Health; and the Amendment to the Civil Procedure Law on Special Proceedings Concerning Mentally Disabled and Legally Incompetent Persons to be titled the “Mental Health Procedural Act’; and the Amendment to Title 33 of the Executive Law on Reproductive Rights. We will submit a Bill Outlining Procedures for the Exercise of the Constitutional Authority for Expropriation, and a Bill Creating Criminal Court “F” as a specialized court for economic crimes of corruption.

Again, we ask for passage of the amendment to the Act that created the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission to authorize direct prosecutorial powers for the Commission without the delay caused by the current law which requires the Commission to first refer matters to the Ministry of Justice.

Under your leadership, Mr. Vice President and President of the Senate, a significant number of international agreements and treaties were ratified, all of which demonstrate Liberia’s commitment as a responsible member of the comity of nations. I am especially pleased with the ratification of the Protocol Establishing the Community Court of Justice for ECOWAS, which now makes Liberia a full-fledged member of the ECOWAS Court, and which served as a precursor to Liberia filling a vacancy at the highest ranks of the Court. During this session we intend to submit additional international treaties, conventions, protocols, and agreements for ratification with international organizations.

I will submit a number of legislations that will improve governance – A Bill to Establish the Liberian National Tourism Authority and A New Local Government Act; an Act to amend to the Charter of the University of Liberia; A Bill to Amend the 1989 Act Creating the National Commission on Higher Education; a Bill to Grant Autonomy to the Liberian Board for Nursing and Midwifery, and the Amendment to Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission Act to expand provisions for refugees and make provisions for asylum seekers and stateless persons. Both bills are already before this Honorable Body.

Honorable Legislators, we will once again ask your consideration of the Act to permit dual citizenship which enables our citizens who are compelled to seek refuge in other countries to become more active participants in the process of nation building.

After lengthy debates and reviews by stakeholders, we are ready to submit, and will urge you to speedily pass into law, the decriminalization of mediarelated offenses in keeping with the Table Mountain Declaration to which we have acceded because it is the right thing to do. This repeal law will advance our democratic aspirations and foster unhindered public debates. We are hopeful that it will improve rather than retard the growing media landscape of the country, and again testify to our continued commitment to an opened society ably supported by a responsible and independent press.

Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members of the Legislature: I issued fourteen Executive Orders extending or renewing previous Executive Orders that dealt with, amongst other things, waiver of taxes and tariffs on anti-malaria commodities and products, exemption of government entities from customs duties on certain products, delimitation of Liberia’s Maritime Zones. The Executive Orders also extended the tenure of the Land Commission continued the moratorium on public land sales, and the establishment of a taskforce against the encroachment on beachfronts, waterways and wetlands.

Economic and Financial Performance

Honorable Speaker and Distinguished Members of the National Legislature, since 2006, Liberia’s growth rate increased, reaching a level of 8.9 percent in 2012 with the potential for double digit thereafter. In 2013, growth rate fell to 8.3 percent on account of the global economic downturn and its effect on global prices of primary commodities.

In 2014, the Ebola virus struck negatively impacting not only our health and social systems, but our economy. Sharp declines in domestic food production, mining activities, cross border trade, transport services and hospitality led to a dramatic decline in our growth rate: from a projected 5.9 percent to an initial -0.4 percent. Although later revised to 1 percent, the future of economic growth is still severely challenged. If we are to achieve development goals outlined in the Agenda for Transformation, and reach the long term average growth rate of 8 percent, radical changes will be required in the structure of our economy for increased investments in the productive sector of the economy and in our governance structure and processes.

The decline in economic activities resulted in reduction in domestic revenue collection and a sharp increase in Government expenditure. Original revenue was revised downwards by US$86 million (from US$559 million to US$473 million) while expenditure demand increased by US$152 million. We introduced tight fiscal measures with expenditure cuts in discretionary activities thereby reducing the fiscal gap by US$33 million.

We also introduced mitigating measures to lessen the impact of the downturn. These included foreign exchange rate stabilization; payment of salaries and wages of civil servants on time; ensuring commercial banks liquidity by settling payments to road contractors and other service providers; and ensuring availability of essential commodities such as rice and petroleum.

In spite of the numerous challenges revenues of US$517.2 million was collected representing 4 percent increase in Tax Revenue and 14 percent increase in Non-Tax Revenue. This included US$12.8 million from Stateowned Enterprises.

The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) commenced work on July 1, 2014. Our hope is that with better governance, leadership and an incentive structure our tax Administration will significantly improve revenue performance. This will require cooperation and support from government officials and political authorities accepting that just as we pursue ordinary people and businesses to pay their taxes, the same treatment will be extended to officials of Government in all three branches of government who should commit to bearing their fair share of the tax burden. This is the only sustainable way to finance our national development and improve service delivery to our people.

Expenditure for the period totaled US$530.7 million, an increase of 10.6 percent over the previous year. Recurrent expenditure totaled US$363.5 million of which wages and salaries claimed US$206.8 million or 39 percent and goods and services US$156.7 million or 30 percent. These two items continue to crowd out the fiscal space required for capital expenditure to expand the economy.

Capital expenditure in the Public Sector Investment Plan (PSIP) include US$230 million for the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric plant and US$66 million for three HFO plants and an additional US$200 million was directed to the West Africa Power Pool project between Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (CLSG) as well as settlement to various contractors for road works.

Loans contracted from external sources totaled approximately US$138.26 million and approximately US$19.95 million from domestic sources.

External debt service was US$8.56 million with domestic debt service totaling approximately US$41.17 million, including settlement of the Central Bank of Liberia’s US$11.8 million overdraft facilities and US$29.37 million for other domestic debts.

Honorable Speaker and Distinguished Members of the National Legislature, mindful of the past, we are careful to exercise caution in contracting debt. Working with our key development partners, a Medium Term Debt Strategy (MTDS) was adopted as an essential tool in accounting for and analyzing the costs and risks associated with borrowing and ensuring a balance with funding needs. In this manner, debt sustainability is assured.

The total debt stock increased from US$628.45 million to US$759.46 million, of which US$290 Million is owed to the Central Bank of Liberia. This represents 22 percent of GDP.

Honorable Legislature, it is considered ironic by our partners who have granted us significant debt relief that we are unable to convince our own public institutions and private sector entities who have made significant profits over many years to act similarly by relieving us of the debt incurred many years ago under other administrations.

Our development partners have been good friends not only in the fight against Ebola, but in our overall development progress over the past ten years.

Prior to the Ebola outbreak, between January and June 2014, our partners committed a total of US$197.6 million in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to support our Agenda for Transformation. About two-thirds of that amount was invested in the Economic Transformation Pillar to support important infrastructure.

Disbursements were significantly reduced during the second half of the year, due to the outbreak. Although project activities continued sporadically, attention was shifted from our national response to the epidemic. To date, a total of US$244.2 million has been spent on the Ebola response, by Government and our international partners – 49.4 percent is being expended by US Government entities, 24.4 percent by United Nations (UN) entities, 13.3 percent by NGOs, and 12.9 percent Government.

Honorable Speaker and Distinguished Members of the National Legislature. We thank you for the level of cooperation and support during the height of the Ebola outbreak. Without much hesitation, you moved swiftly to grant us special spending authority of US$20 million and the flexibility to raise those resources to intensify our fight against the outbreak. We came together like never before to protect, defend and advance the collective interest of our country and people. Nothing has made us more proud than the urgency and unity which was applied to save our country.

Under the authorized spending of US$20 million, Government contributed US$9 million to establish Ebola Trust Fund, and US$6 million for the restoration of basic health services for a total of US$15 million.

Honorable Speaker, Distinguished Members of the National Legislature, Fellow Liberians, NGOs operating in Liberia continue to be very strong partners in our development work. The speed and effectiveness of response during the Ebola outbreak made tremendous contribution to our national effort.

Last year, I announced several policy measures on the operations of NGOs that are intended, under a compliance and regulatory environment, to strengthen them for proper transparency and accountability of the resources they receive and the results they produce. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is to ensure implementation of those measures by finalizing the NGO Policy Guidelines and re-registration process to be announced by the end of the first half of this year. This will transition the registration from a manual computer based system to an online registration process.

This process will enable NGOs to properly account for their operations at the local level where they work, allowing local government to have real time information on what NGO is doing and where. This is consistent with our new drive to de-concentrate and decentralize the delivery of services and to foster greater accountability to local government and citizens structures by the NGOs operating at the local level.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, I which to inform you that as we fought on the health front ensuring that the Ebola outbreak was under control, we also had to take appropriate measures on the economic front to ensure that we did not have an collapsed economy.

Under my very clear and emphatic instructions, the Economic Management Team (EMT) coordinated by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning ensured that:
1. Foreign exchange rate remained stable;
2. Civil servants continue to receive their salaries and wages on time;
3. Our commercial banks remained liquid during the crisis;
4. We applaud our Economic Management Team for working together to maintain macroeconomic stability.

The Government, through CBL expanded financial intermediation by promoting throughout the country expansion in commercial banks, foreign exchange bureaux and Savings and Loans Associations. The introduction of a Collateral Registry and promotion of the recently passed Insurance Act are also important milestones. Consistent with policies, the CBL took decisions to improve access to finance for those in rural areas and in the informal sector of the economy. Going beyond this, the CBL took decisions to mitigate the financial burden of school closure in the private schools by committing to settle the debts owed the commercial banks. While we welcome measures that have a positive impact on the lives of our people, we urge caution and more cooperation by the CBL, in the announcement of measures which have implications on our collective targets for sustained national financial viability.

Ebola

Mr. Vice President and President of the Senate, Honorable Members of the Legislature: Liberia’s first case of Ebola was recorded on March 30, 2014 in Foya, Lofa County. Due to the level of cross border movements, the virus spread quickly in the County and then to Margibi with a cross over by a woman marketer. In June, the virus escalated as cases spread throughout Lofa and other counties as well. On June 17, cases were officially reported in Montserrado, including the crowded communities in Monrovia where a third of the country’s population reside. The disease rapidly became an epidemic spreading to all counties in different intensity, the most severe in Monrovia.

Immediate national response and that of the international community as well, was weak given that this was an unknown enemy. Thus Liberia became the poster child of disaster as many lay dying on the streets without access to treatment or to a dignified burial.

We ignored the local and international criticism and went to work establishing the leadership and incidence management structures, increasing social mobilization by engaging and empowering community volunteers, including faith based leaders and constituencies. We aggressively reached out to traditional partners and the international community at large with the message that this was not a Liberia or West African problem, but a potential world problem and menace.

By the end of November, response had shown significant results. Nevertheless, 3,608 of our citizens died, including 178 health care professionals. Our health care system virtually collapsed, airlines, investors, contractors, and citizens as well fled the country. Liberian citizens and residents faced stigmatization and were denied entry into countries worldwide. We faced a chilling projection that 1.3 million or some 20,000 a month would die in the three neighboring affected countries.

We stood tall in rejecting the projection and called for strong collective national action that would lead to zero new cases by Christmas, a target date changed by health officials to end year. In his report dated January 12, 2015 to the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary General of the United Nations reported: “On 31 December, for the first time in months, no new cases were recorded in Liberia.” Honorable Legislators, Ebola was not eradicated on December 31, 2014, but our Incidence Management Team headed by Assistant Minister Tolbert Nyenswah who is here demonstrated the capacity and the commitment to achieve the established target.

Today, we take pride that 13 of our 15 counties have not report any confirmed cases for over 21 days. Lofa, the epicenter of the virus, has had no new cases for over 70 days and the Ebola Treatment Unit in Foya is closed. The 103 beds in 6 Community Care Centers and 13 of the 19 constructed Ebola treatment centers which are currently operational have only 47 patients. We have an average of only 1 – 2 new cases a day in the only two affected counties, Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount County. We have also significantly transitioned from cremation to the more traditional burial practice by opening a new cemetery in Margibi County. Our diligent doctors, supported by partners have brought joy to us by the 1,401 who were cured of the virus, although many have left behind the 3,000 orphans who now require Government love and care.

Distinguished Legislators, our success is due to the many people working hard to contain the virus – the health professionals, the community volunteers, the civil society organizations, the religious institutions, our Armed Forces, officials of Government, national and local, the Legislators, the Judiciary all of whom were participants in the Task Force that was initially established. We owe a lot to our foreign partners, who sent human and material support, who constructed and managed treatment centers, who provided financial resources, who advocated and encouraged us the – United Nations Family through UNMEER, key traditional partners, and many others who joined them; the full listing of which will be given in the Executive Report.

We want to pay tribute to our African brothers and sisters, to the countries that stood by us and came to our rescue when everything seemed to be lost. We want to also express our gratitude to the international community for standing up with us in global solidarity as we faced this deadly disease.

I wish to express particular gratitude to President Goodluck Jonathan, the people and Government of the Republic of Nigeria, who, came to our help, financially and professionally, notwithstanding the fact that they lost loved ones because one of our citizens travelled there with the disease and infected many of their people. Nigeria again proved its leadership on the continent and continued solidarity with the people of Liberia, whenever we faced life threatening difficulties.

At the height of the Ebola outbreak, Liberia made a passionate global appeal for the much needed international humanitarian assistance. The world rallied and responded massively. The United States took the lead followed closely by the People’s Republic of China, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Nigeria, Cuba among others and joined by international development partners such as the European Union, World Bank, African Development Bank, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International, smaller organizations and individuals. Liberia passionately recognizes the numerous human, technical and material assistance of the global community.

We know that we are not out of the woods and must continue relentlessly to continue with the practices and protocols that have brought us this success. We know that we must continue to work with and support our sisterly countries and that we must make an urgent successful transition from treatment to prevention by improving our health care system. But for now let’s take pride and rejoice in our collective success, in the recognition of one of our own, Dr. Jerry Brown who, because of exceptional services, was named Time Magazine Person of the Year. [Dr. Brown is on mission in Geneva.]

Health

The Country’s health care system, with support from partners, had an established decentralized infrastructure system that made notable progress in polio vaccination in reducing the high level of child and maternal mortality and addressing diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, HIV AIDS and Tuberculosis. The Ebola disease exposed the vulnerability of our national health care system which lacked the capacity, the systems and the technical facilities and supplies to respond to infection, particularly an outbreak of this nature and magnitude.

The number of health workers, many inadequately trained, consumed a large share of the budget, resulting in a reliance on partners under the so called “Incentive System.” Medical facilities and equipment, already inadequate, became virtually nonfunctional due to lack of maintenance. The lack of infrastructure – roads, power, water and sanitation – particularly in rural communities compounded the problem.

Liberia has 404 public health facilities, supplemented by 252 private facilities. We still lag significantly behind with 0.4 compared with the African average of 2.6 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants. The record shows that Liberia is one of the leading 10 countries in Africa with over 19 percent of its national budget allocated to health. However, the exposed condition of our health delivery system speaks to the need for sound structure and systems which go beyond professional medical capacity.

A ten year plan developed by the Ministry of Health with support from the Clinton Global Initiative is intended to address the inadequacies in the health system through massive training of health workers and professionals at all levels and an upgrading of the health system and facilities. The Plan, which was formulated before the Ebola crisis is under revision to provide the roadmap for transiting from the treatment of Ebola to a robust health care system that will have facilities for infection control thus preventing a recurrence of the virus and for ensuring better health care delivery to our people.

Education

Education remains a number one priority in the development of Liberia and the most difficult to show positive results in the short term. Statistics for the year 2013 show that there was 5,181 schools (3074 public and 2107 private), with enrollment 1,500,000 students (800,000 boys and 700,000 girls) throughout the country. We have thus succeeded in the achievement of quantity goals by increased enrollment, but quality of education has declined even further, evidenced by the failure in the entrance exam to the University of Liberia and in the WAEC exams which have been set at a substandard level for Liberia. The problem of education goes deeper and beyond the lack of qualified teachers, the lack of facilities and supplies, and the lack of incentive.

The vastness of the challenge and the implication to our overall development effort, compel all of us to come together to formulate bold strategic action to fix it. This is a must for the future of the country and for the education of girls who do not go beyond middle school and are at risk of exploitation.

To solve this problem we hereby announce a program to be implemented in the next fiscal year that will offer financial support to all girls willing to remain in school until the completion of high school.

We call upon all educators, educational institution leaders, eligible concern citizens and partners to join us in a review and update of the Comprehensive Education Reform Program which is underway by the Ministry of Education.

The Ebola Outbreak prevented the opening of schools in September, making virtually idle young people and school teachers. Effort was made to introduce radio instruction and many parents tried to organize selected private sessions while a large number of the more advantage sent their children to schools abroad.

The cost of opening schools, as proposed by public, private schools and higher education’s institutions is simply prohibitive. Making the schools conducive for learning by undertaking the massive renovation required and ensuring that Ebola prevention measures, including provision of clean water and sanitation need to be in place.

The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is working with the Ministry of Education to determine the way forward in phasing the finances required in order that schools are open on the target date, or not too much later. Widespread consultation is also underway with selected authorities, education leaders, parent teacher associations and community based organizations to inform them on the protocol for the Ebola prevention and to obtain consensus on the need for the early opening of schools to return our students to the business of learning.

Natural Resources

Liberia has a historical primary enclave economy, highly dominated by iron ore, rubber and timber; which subjects it to vagaries in global conditions and prices. Over time, the structure has been changing, with the expansion of agriculture into more traditional tree crops such as coffee, cocoa and oil palm. Essentially, production of crops come from individual and small entity holders with limited capacity to produce on the scale that leads to industrialization. Recent effort by the Government sought to change this by promoting large scale oil palm, using the investment and the experience of Malaysia and Indonesia which have become emerging economic giants.

Agriculture lands (suitable for crops and livestock) are about 27 percent of total land area, but only 4.6 percent of the land mass is currently under annual cultivation. Land and the conflicts associated thereto have to be tackled in order to promote large scale agriculture in tree and food crops including the goal of self-sufficiency in rice.

Honorable Members of the National Legislature, we have responded to the problem with a new Land Policy. The Land Rights Bill, submitted to you, represents a landmark piece of legislation. It establishes the legal basis for recognition of customary land rights. For the first time in the nation’s history rural communities will be able to have their land rights legally recognized, and their lands identified, delineated, mapped, deeded, recorded, and properly managed and governed. Implementation and enforcement will be helped by the Criminal Conveyance of Land Bill which curtails fraudulent land sales and enhances access to land tenure security. These instruments are critical to our social political and economic development and are consistent with our development programs.

Forestry has been a major contributor to the economy in terms of revenue and job creation. Liberia which has 43 percent of the biodiversity of the West African region has come under intense pressure to conserve our forest, thereby contributing to the reduction in carbon dioxide and its negative effect on rapid climate change. Our adoption of new policies that sought to balance conservation, commercialization and community rights have proved less than fully satisfactory. We have gone one step further by concluding a landmark Letter of Intent with the Kingdom of Norway which will provide funding as a contribution to revenue and building of capacity in the Forest Development Authority. The measures under this arrangement will ensure that 30 percent of the country’s remaining forested land and better management and accountability under the continuing program of commercialization.

Iron ore mining, the historical largest export earner, is experiencing severe stress due to decline in global prices. Suspension of activities on account of the Ebola Disease exacerbated the situation leading to a postponement of Phase II of the Arcelor Mittal operation that would have increased production from 5 to 15 million tons per annum. The loss of royalty revenue and jobs from this sector will require your full cooperation in measures that will be proposed to you under our Economic Recovery Plan.

Gold and diamond mining are largely underdeveloped and limited to informal artisanal and small scale operations that are filled with illegal aliens. A project, “Formalization of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners” which seeks to establish a well-structured sector that will be well managed for sustainability and income generation has funding from the German GIZ and is scheduled for implementation early this year.

The 2000 Petroleum law established the National Oil Company (NOCAL) with 30 oil blocks off the Liberian coast. Reform of the Sector started in 2011 with the development and subsequent endorsement of a petroleum policy. Nationwide consultations resulted in a New Petroleum Law 2013. The next step is to formulate draft Acts on Local Content and Petroleum Revenue Management.

The reform measures are intended to ensure full transparency and accountability in the petroleum sector. Your full cooperation in this regard is expected.

Liberianization

Honorable Legislators: We continue to push hard for diversifying our economy beyond two primary commodities. In 2014, we launched the National Trade Policy and our Export Strategy, which provides a roadmap for export diversification particularly in agriculture by broadening our export basket through new investments in fisheries, cocoa, rubber, oil palm, and cassava. Opportunities in tourism are bountiful and deserve further exploration. We will ensure that furniture in schools use our local wood and support the investment proposal to make wood products from dead rubber wood.

I thank you again for passing the Small Business Empowerment Act (SBEA), which calls for 25 percent of all government purchases to be set aside for Liberian owned businesses. The law also provides that 5 percent of the 25 percent, must be set-aside for women-owned businesses. To effectuate this, changes are required in our PPCC law and in our attitudes as we should be prepared to promote and to buy Liberian products made in Liberia, and distributed by Liberians. We take this preferment of our people seriously and call upon everyone, public and private entities to comply fully with this new law of 25 percent or be prepared to face sanctions or legal action.

In further empowerment of our people, I ask everyone to join in promoting the “Wear Your Pride campaign” that would require all government employees to wear, at least once a week preferably Friday, clothing made in Liberia from Liberian products. It is critical to build the demand for local rice through practical strategies that empower the local economy and give us ownership of our economy. Under the “Eat Your Pride Campaign” we will require that only locally grown rice is purchased by government entities that provide rice to their staff.

The local content bill now being drafted will ensure a minimum Liberian participation through joint venture ship or sub-contracting in several areas of national development activity.

Infrastructure

Honorable Legislators, the record is clear that the Government, out of its own resources, domestic or contracted, has constructed throughout the country over 10,000 km of primary, secondary and feeder roads, 650 of which has been paved. The records show that this is more than that done by all previous Governments combined. Our effort to open growth corridors by the pavement of primary roads is a continuing undertaking. Pavement of the Harper to Fishtown road will begin next month; the contractors are now mobilizing, while pavement from Red-light to the Ganta-Guinea border has resumed.

We have resolved that the 26th celebration this year shall be in Greenville and Barclayville. And we will travel there by road.

Development and operational activities at the three major seaports – Monrovia, Buchanan, and Sinoe, made impressive progress in terms of ships serviced and revenue generated when Ebola struck. We will conclude action for the development of the Buchanan Port under the proposal from the French Company Bollare and the Sinoe Port under proposal from the Dutch Company APM, which manages the Freeport Port of Monrovia.

RIA will be modernized. We have concluded arrangements for the construction of the runway and we have invited proposals for a public private partnership that would transfer the development and management of Roberts International Airport to a foreign investor which has similar operations in an ECOWAS Country. This will address the lack of the high capital cost required to develop the airport, particularly in light of the sharply declined financial viability following the loss of traffic due to the Ebola crisis.

We are proud that we brought electricity to the country through the public grid for the first time in two decades, but admit to being far behind in expanding access to a greater number of the population. The cost of electricity at 54 cents per kilowatt hour is probably the highest in the world, since we currently rely on 22.6 MW of high speed diesel generators. The capital cost of power, US$230 million for the Mount Coffee hydro and aggregate US$66 million for the three Heavy Fuel Oil units is high. Once installed these will cause a progressive decline from a current cost of 54 cents, to roughly 15 to 20 cents. This will also remove a major constraint in our plans for value added to some of our primary products and to overall diversification of the economy. This will also lead to significant expansion in the number of customers, both in the Monrovia Consolidation Program as well as the 18 communities in the Southeast. Just today we received approval for an additional 10MW HFO that will also add expansion to our electricity program.

Lack of energy is the major constraint to our development and have based our program for support from the US Millennium Challenge Corporation on the removal of this constraint. Our continued eligibility for Compact has been officially advised. After three years of meeting the rigorous indicators in Economic Freedom, Investing in People and Ruling Justly, we expect to conclude the first phase of the Compact and the financial support which comes from that before the end of this year.

Honorable Legislators, today we have been able to provide to 67 percent of our population with clean water. We have also increased the supply of water from 4 to 6 million gallons a day. However, it is still unacceptable, that a large percentage of our population does not have access to clean pipe borne water. This needs to be addressed and we intend to allocate resources under the County Development Funds to correct this.

Operations for reconstruction of water systems in six county capitals that have been stalled due to the Ebola crisis will soon resume. That will considerably improve access to this life saving resource.

Access to sanitation as defined by international standards is particularly unsatisfactory with 17 percent of the population having adequate facilities. We have to and must change the situation.

Progress, in improving the WASH Sector is impeded by the destruction of underground pipes and illegal property construction over pipes and drainages.

Governance

Honorable Legislators, I am mindful that with the significant progress that will continue to be made in our infrastructure development, we must pay equal attention to what is called the “software projects” – Governance, Peace and Reconciliation, Human Resource Development.

Under governance, we will focus on completion of the Constitution Reform process which would require your legislative endorsement by June 15, thereby enabling us to hold a national referendum by mid-2016. Similar action will be required to conclude our well-conceived and advanced reform in Public Sector and Public Service Reform and in Decentralization.

The restart of the Palava Hut is a must for reconciliation, with support given to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, which has prime responsibility to guide this important and long delayed process of peace building. The institutional arrangement for the establishment of the Palava Hut is to be concluded within the next three months with my full personal participation in all aspects, as required. We must also accelerate implementation of the Roadmap for National Healing, Peace-building and Reconciliation which has been validated by civil society and is supported by the UN Peace Building Fund through the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In two weeks, we will celebrate another Armed Forces Day when our gallant men and women in arms will demonstrate their professionalism and will reconfirm proudly the readiness of the engineering battalion to support our construction with public works for national development; just as they did in collaboration with the U.S. Armed Forces during the Ebola crises.

Other security services will also be there to remind us of the shortcomings in our preparations for the UNMIL transition that is targeted for mid-2016. This means we must accelerate our effort and provide significantly more support to meet the training and logistical targets for all security units, particularly the Liberia National Police and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Legislators, some 68 percent of the Liberian population of 4 million are youth between the ages of 15 and 25. Many of our youth have not had the opportunity for formal education beyond the primary level and lack skills for sustained formal employment. They thus represent a large portion of the vulnerable unemployed who are forced to drift from one temporary job to another.

Our Liberian Youth Employment Program (LYEP) launched in March 2013 provided one year employment for over 3000 youths. They worked to improve water and sanitation in 26 cities in the fifteen counties. The program was temporarily suspended due to lack of funding but negotiations with the World Bank are well advanced to provide funding for 25,000 youths to support the remaining component of the program which includes work in ICT, road maintenance, agriculture, health and education.

Similarly, the Beach and Waterways Program initiated by the Maritime Authority which provides employment to 2000 youth will continue with the added benefit of clean beaches for our use.

These efforts can be considered only temporary as we must invest in skills training. We will support technical and vocational education in the facilities and capacity of the Booker Washington Institute. The Concessions will be asked to support the establishment of technical training facilities within their operations. The opening of the Monrovia Vocational and Technical Facility with partnership funding will prepare more of our youths for gainful employment.

Under the project Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young women, some 3,500 young women and 1,000 adolescent girls have been trained. Most of them have been employed and over 2,300 have opened their own small businesses. All of this is not enough as we have yet to solve the serious problems of rape, prostitution and the low level of retention in schools. We are forging partnerships with religious institutions to expand their boarding facilities. The government’s pilot Boarding Facility at Gbartala which accommodates 125 girls is under renovation for opening in March. Three more pilot boarding schools will be established in three regions in the next fiscal year.

Trafficking of girls is a crime against humanity. Trafficking in human beings is also a crime against humanity. We will revisit existing policies and work with the Judiciary to impose harsh punishment for convicts, including those who abuse the privilege of living in our country.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members of the National Legislature: We have something to celebrate as a nation after successfully conducting the Special Senatorial Elections. We once again register appreciation to the National Elections Commission, all political parties, independent candidates, voters, and the pool of local and international observers whose participation added value to the process.

Honorable Legislators, the media is a very critical ally along the path to good governance. The government’s partnership with the media has been open, frank, and sometimes rocky, but mutually independent. Never before has our country seen an aggressive, thriving and outspokenly critical media landscape amid the abuse in the name of freedom. This government intends to lead a legacy of tolerance and remains fully committed to such process along our journey to democratic maturity. We urge the media which today comprise an unprecedented 35 newspapers and 80 radio stations, to play its part to improve professionalism and responsibility as we will hold them responsible for adherence to our policies and laws. We applaud, in this public manner, the level of cooperation in the media reportage of the Ebola crisis which kept citizens fully informed on the prevailing situation.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Legislators, the fight against corruption was established as a major goal since the inception of this Administration. We recognized the root causes of this menace – lack of systems, lack of institutions, lack of policies and strategies, poor compensation survival due to deep rooted poverty which characterized all three branches of Government and the nation as a whole.

We made good progress in addressing these deficiencies by establishing integrity institutions – General Auditing Commission, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Public Procurement and Concessions Commissions, Internal Audit Agency, and Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. We made even greater progress in developing the systems and improving the level of compensation for all public servants at all levels.

Our performance indicators improved aggressively. Transparency International recognized this. As a competitor in the U.S. program, Millennium Challenge Corporation, we passed consistently for the past three years the index on corruption, which is a single determinant of continuation in the program.

Honorable Legislators, we must continue this fight against corruption through prosecution of persons accused of these malpractices. Our development programs – Roads, Power, Water, Housing, better pay for civil servants – are at risk if we do not do this. Corruption is a vampire of development and the obstruction of progress. I ask that we all commit to fighting this devil that destroys our principles and our pride; that makes us slaves to vested interests. I ask this of you, as respected lawmakers, and I ask for speedier trials from our judiciary.

The report given earlier on efforts to reform our health and education systems are in line with the need for promoting another soft target — improving our human resource. As suggested in my remarks regarding education, more bold and decisive policies and measures are required –such as the establishment of National Centers of Excellence, the promotion of specialized secondary schools. We are developing these concepts into programs of implementation that will be submitted to you for information and for action where required.

The effects of Ebola provide compelling reasons to conclude a national monument project which memorializes all who died from violent conflicts as well as the victims of Ebola. Although there may be other sites equally appropriate, Providence Island, with an uncompleted construction is considered for this purpose. We will also support the Inter-Religious Council which is willing to take the lead in a memorial service to honor those who fell victims to Ebola.

High Level Visitors

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro-Tempore, Honorable Members of the National Legislature: Our country paid host to several high-profiled dignitaries, including:

H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary –General of the United Nations
Brother Presidents: Ghana, Benin, Niger, Mali
Mr. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Chairperson, African Union
Dr. Nkosanzana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union
Dr. Kadre Ouedraogo, President of ECOWAS Commission
Hon. Tony Blair, Former Prime Minister, United Kingdom
H.E. Borge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway
Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General, WHO
Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, USAID
Dr. Thomas Frieden, Head for Centers for Disease Control
US Senator Chris Coons, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa
Mr. Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary General, UNMEER
Ms. Samantha Powell, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations
Ms. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; among others which will be carried in the Executive Summary.

Necrology

We note with sadness several officials of Government and prominent citizens passed on to the Great Beyond. These include:
H.E. Charles Gyude Bryant – Former Chairman, Transitional Government of the Republic of Liberia
Mr. Bismarck Kuyon, Former Transitional Chair
Most Reverend Boniface Nyem Dalieh – Bishop Emeritus, Catholic Diocese Archbishop
Dr. Williams Nah Dixon, Former President, Liberia Council of Churches
Honorable John F. Whitfield, Former Senator of Grand Bassa County
Hon. Willis D. Knuckles – Former Minister, Ministry of Public Works &State/Pres. Affairs
Honorable Scott Toweh, Former Minister of Agriculture Ambassador
Thomas N. Brima Sr. – Liberia’s Ambassador Extraordinary to Sierra Leone
His Honor Cllr. J.D. Baryogar Junius – Former Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Liberia
Hon. Alhaji Ansumana F. Kromah – Former Commissioner, National Elections Commission
Honorable Dr. S. Jabaru Carlon – Commissioner, Governance Commission
Mrs. Marie Leigh Parker – Former Vice President, NOCAL
Mother Kou Suah Korkpor – Former Renowned Traditional Midwife, Nimba County and many others who will be listed in the Executive Summary

Conclusion

Honorable members of the Legislature, a nation bound together in 2006 vowed to walk away from the destruction and the hurt of the past; vowed to be committed and determined to ensure a future of peace and prosperity for all Liberians. There was not very much then to share or to divert, as we were building from ground zero. In five years we stood together, lifting our nation form the burdens of debt and decay. We worked together to increase revenues, to restore basic services, to remove the heavy debt burden, to mobilize foreign investment, to rebuild the infrastructure, to restore hope.

The world marveled at our tenacity, resilience and determination and reached out massively to help us. Partners committed resources far beyond our domestic effort and our absorptive capacity.

The pain inflicted on our national pride by the Ebola crisis provides an opportunity to search our souls, to ask ourselves if we have been truthful and honest to the commitments made in 2006 when we embarked on this journey together, to ask ourselves if we have served our country and our people well. If never in the past this is the time for us to unite as one government to deliver the promises to our people. There is absolutely no room for blame shifting.

The support in security protection and finance which we enjoy from our partners today, will not last as attention moves away from us to other international priorities. The building of Liberia will rest solely and surely on our shoulders, the shoulders of all Liberians. We will carry this load only if we are prepared to make Liberia our home rather than our intermittent earning place, only if we give back to our country’s development, the resources taken away from it.

I firmly believe that God will give us the strength and the courage to walk boldly into the next few years with a renewed spirit of peace, reconciliation, and commitment to country. We are defeating Ebola and the same spirit of unity and patriotism will enable us together to blow the winds that keep Liberia Rising. May God bless Liberia and save the State.

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