Former President Makes Passionate Plea To Int’l Partners for Liberia

Former President Sirleaf along with Senator Chris Coon and IFES leadership at the Awards Ceremony in Washington DC

Washington D.C – Liberia’s international supporters and partners must remain focused on the country for it to continue its emergence as a post-conflict success story, says former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]

Madam Sirleaf also asked foreign partners of Liberia to actively engage the new government of President George Weah.

“Liberia today remains a fragile state. Institutions are still young and are being tested, and resources remain scarce. Nations in a state of fragility, particularly post-conflict nations, need special attention and support,” she said.

She was speaking in Washington DC, the United States on September 24 after receiving the 2018 Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, IFES. Since 2004, IFES has been working with Liberia’s electoral body and civil society actors to strengthen the country’s election process.

Her remarks come ahead of President Weah’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he is expected to outline his country’s development challenges and pitch the needs of one of the world’s poorest nations.

Weah predecessor’s call to the international community has properly watered the ground ahead of Wednesday, September 26 when he takes the UNGA’s podium to address world leaders.

The former Liberian leader enjoys favorable ties with several western countries and is seen as an influential figure amongst pro-democracy international organizations across the world. In 2011, she was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

With her plea to some of Liberia’s major international partners at an event in the US capital, observers say, this could hand the Weah-led administration some favor in order to sustain the gains of her administration.

Back home, she’s under constant attacks from several stalwarts of the ruling party. They are claiming that she should take some onus for the ‘missing billions’ saga, a situation that has prompted a massive outcry from the public leading to recent protest.

Meanwhile, at the program in Washington Madam Sirleaf thanked IFES for the recognition and said she was “honored” to receive the award “on behalf of the women and men of Liberia, who through their vote in October and December of last year, chose a new leader in our country’s progression toward democratic values”.

She also hailed USAID Administrator Mark Green, a former US Congressman now Board of Director of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, for helping Liberia become a threshold country to qualify for the Compact, adding that sealing the compact was “one of the proudest accomplishments of my administration”.

Earlier, the former Liberian president outlined the impact of IFES on Liberia’s democracy since 2003 when the second phase of the civil war ended, adding that the foundation has made Liberia’s “electoral process more transparent”.

She recalled peacefully turning over power to her successor on January 22 stressing that it was the first in the country over the last 75 years.

Said Sirleaf: “Liberia’s successful political transition is reflective of Africa’s quest for democracy. It is a continuum of the continent’s struggle for liberation and freedom. This is particularly important in Africa, where we tend to focus on elections and celebrate them as “the milestone.

“But, as it is often said, ‘elections do not a democracy make’. We must look behind the process and examine the barriers that shut down competition before the campaigns ever start. As I said in Kigali  [Rwanda] this past April at the annual meeting of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, we must identify the barriers to entry into political society and break them down, one by one”.

She then reemphasized the prospects of the African continent with its youthful population and the significance of consolidating the democratic space, adding; “We must ensure that African leaders respect the right of their people to determine their future”.

“I stand with the organizations in this room in devoting myself in my reaming years to strengthening democratic institutions across Africa,” she added.

‘We must look anew, not just at respecting constitutional term limits, but at adjusting Constitutions to address campaign finance, to encourage the participation of women and the engagement of youth, and to strengthen the civil service”.

Sirleaf has been actively involved with the observation of several electoral processes since ending her two six-year terms as president of Africa’s oldest independent republic. In July this year, she formed part of an observer mission to Zimbabwe in its first election since long-serving president Robert Mugabe was ousted.

She stressed that the world “must demand better than” what it is seeing in African, especially as countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Cameroon prepare for respective presidential elections.

“It is not acceptable to weaponize rule of law to prevent opponents from competing in political contests.  We, as an international community of stakeholders, must raise our voices not just on Election Day, but well before the playing field is distorted,” she warned.

She also called on leaders clinging to power to give way to “new generation of political leaders”, while admitting that institutional and systemic corruption “vigorously fights back, often with an overpowering display of strength”.

She, however, expressed optimism that the continent is continuing “unstoppable march toward participatory democracy, stability and sustained economic development” despite the many challenges.