Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Liberia's foreign policy under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

H.E. Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Introduction: Moses Josephus Gray, a young Liberian diplomat and longtime media practitioner and journalist currently posted to the Liberian Embassy in Pairs France is of the view that under the Johnson Sirleaf administration, the foreign policy initiatives of Liberia has seen a major boost as Africa's first independent country pick up the pieces from war to peace. He says " Our nation was view by the outside world as a failed state. But with the extraordinary display of diplomatic modus operandi and sound leadership, Liberia has since regained its status among the comity of nations..." Mr Gray wants Johnson Sirleaf reelected to another six years term.

The last six years of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Administration has been particularly exciting for a country which experienced 14 years of deadly war, occasioned by the destruction of more than a billion dollar worth of property and the break down of families and homes. This sad period in Liberian life also witnessed uncertainty in the Mano River Basin comprising Liberian neighbors: Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea and the African continent in general. The lingering repercussions of the change in leaderships across the continent in recent times and the global financial crisis that affected the world at large led to accelerating shifts in the foreign policy goals of Liberia. The country though has stood firm and have weathered these jolts under the Unity Party led government.

These compounding existing challenges in Liberia’s foreign relations also created new opportunities that has enhanced the country's foreign policy and its international reputation. These dynamics are transforming the prospects for ordinary Liberians across the country and the world to excel, as the national government seek ways to bolster the country emerging international profile.

In Liberia, these shifts in perceptions are accompanied by a heightened appreciation of the need for Liberian self-reliance in an uncertain world, and by a palpable spirit of optimism despite some high profile setbacks because of global dynamics. Few years back, what was termed “the hopeless country or failed state” today under this current administration has now unquestionably become a country of hope with opportunities. There are high expectations which has manifested itself in the form of strong economic growth rate, for the record one of the best performance amongst emerging African markets as far as investment and governance is concern. Liberia's current economic indicator has been growing at an average 6 percent growth rate a year since Sirleaf came to power. This certainly will translate into the creation of jobs that young Liberians desperately need, and an ample income distribution for the greater population. Gains has been made in the security sector with stringent reforms put in place and an irreversible human-development capacity carved on a long term basis in the form of the poverty reduction strategy for continue sustainability.

These gains are however also possible as a result of the aggressive foreign policy push of the Johnson Sirleaf’s government. That they actually seem attainable today shows how far the country and its citizenry have come. Given these obstacles and prospects, it is all the more remarkable that credit must be given to Sirleaf for the solid progress the Liberian government has made towards sustainable growth and development, especially Liberia's liaisons with bilateral and multilateral partners.

These policy initiatives offers a clear proof that with the right combination of sound leadership backed by a unique foreign policy agenda, focused development plans, and international support, enormous advances are possible in any difficult circumstances. To remain on this course, Liberians must on October 11 this year overwhelmingly reelect President Sirleaf.
In her first inaugural address on January 15, 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set forth her foreign policy goals, saying that Liberia would no longer be used for insurgency and that the country would strengthen its ties with neighboring countries. She also added that her government would work immensely hard to change Liberia’s status from a failed state to one of respectability. President Johnson Sirleaf said on that fateful day “My government, therefore, aim at cultivating the cordial and unique friendly relationships with those Governments, regional and continent bodies and members of the international community and, shall endeavor to identify ourselves most intimately with them in making practical the free speech, freedom from fear and would champion equal rights and create jobs and bring smiles on the faces of the disadvantage ones.”

That commitment gave rise to the nation’s foreign policy objectives during her first term, which has seen massive dividends including the waiver of Liberia’s debts by dozens of countries including international organizations and institutions. Her performance has been splendid during her first term. Johnson Sirleaf commends a lot of respect globally. Please name any African head of state who's revere both globally and on the African continent than the Liberian chief executive. If there's one, she is up there with them, in an era when African leaders still command little respect because of ineptitude, and abuse of power.

Her commitment and focus has certainly reawaken the country's diplomatic missions around the world, while domestically salaries increment and the timely payment of them to civil servants has garnered attention and appreciation in the country. Her's has been a unique political attitude as chief executive of the state in post war Liberia reconstruction.

The UP led-government foreign policy moves have been formulated solely for the national interests. The primary and obvious objectives are first and foremost: the maintenance of national security and the preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, the promotion of peace and harmony based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and unity in the international community

For the former Foreign Minister of Liberia, Olubanke King-Akerele in tendam with Libeia's policy goals  named the promotion of peace and harmony based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and preservation of territorial integrity and independence as a major agenda of Sirleaf's foreign policy. A far cry from yesterday when Charles Taylor used Liberian territory to rage mayhem in the region

These core issues more so, are also linked to general and national domestic policy of the nation. For their pursuit is dependent not only on Liberia’s international relations with her neighbors and countries which Liberia maintained cordial diplomatic ties, but also Liberia's internal political stability and security as well, wherein there is today law and order, freedom of speech and press and opportunity for all without discrimination is now available for all to see.

In the field of international relations, each country is freed to advance its national interests. Of great significance though is the fact that the current Liberian government is pursuing her own interests through an economic and development diplomacy agenda, aimed at securing that much-needed strategic partnerships in support of Liberia's post-war reconstruction and development pursuits, thus setting forth its foreign policy and domestic agenda constructively. The importance of Liberia and her African brethren therefore, is to inspire and expand the ideals of a freer society for all its peoples. This is an imperative for African governments in a new epoch of constructive engagement, as the continent seeks to accelerate and improve the well beings of its peoples in all sectors.

As Liberians go to the polls on October 11, it would be unwise and naive for the voting population to change the executive leadership of this country. Our nation faces grave challenges and needs a truly tolerant and dedicated leader who can move the country forward.
Liberia’s Foreign Policy consequently therefore today must firmly be rooted in its political ideology for liberalism and democracy. Generally speaking, the guiding principles of Liberia’s foreign policy has been the maintenance of national security and the preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, the promotion of peace and harmony based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and unity of purpose in the international community.

The fundamental thrust of Liberia’s foreign policy objectives before the mid 1960s was predominantly the maintenance of national independence, due to threats posed constantly by colonial powers, especially the French and British to the Lone Star state. Liberia thus as the first independent African country, provided a fulcrum of support for newly independent African countries as they sought to rid themselves of colonial rule.

In retrospect, as a result of the 14 years of violence and armed conflict in Liberia that spilled into other countries in the West Africa region between 1990 and 2003, the nation's foreign policy was focused entirely on securing national and regional peace and promoting reconciliation. With the end of the war, the Foreign Policy objective is now being refocused on socio-economic developments and the consolidation of peace and security in the sub-region.

The over riding cause of Liberia’s foreign policy objectives as we speak, have seen tremendous transformation since president William V.S. Tubman was elected to the presidency in 1944. Under President Sirleaf, the nation's policy goals are graduating from and abysmal state often tailored to the cold war, its trappings and that bygone era to a more progressive one, wherein, the national interest now dictates that policy advisers put forward a clear national agenda the country must chart to bring prosperity to all its peoples.

The Version of this piece was edited by Ralph Geeplay
This article was originally published by Frontpage Africa. I work with
Moses during the late 1990s and early 2000s for the Monrovia Inquirer

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