Speech by Ambassador Deborah Malac Marking the 239th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America

INTRO: [Protocol] Thank you very much for joining us tonight to celebrate the 239th birthday of the United States of America. Tonight marks my third

July 4th celebration in Liberia as Ambassador. Sadly, this will almost certainly be my last July 4th as I will be departing Liberia later this year. As such, tonight is a bittersweet occasion for me as I contemplate leaving Liberia, where you and so many Liberians have warmly welcomed me and made me feel at home.

At events such as this, I am conscious that the obligatory speechifying can sometimes drag on for too long; thus, I generally try to keep my remarks brief. Madam President, esteemed guests, I hope that you will indulge me to deliver a somewhat longer message this evening so that I may acknowledge what Liberia and the United States have achieved together over the last three years.

Through nearly 200 years, Liberia and the United States have worked hard to strengthen our relationship – in good times and bad. Madam President, during my tenure over the last three years we have faced some difficult days together. When Ebola struck in March of last year, Liberia was on a good path, with moderate economic growth over the last decade, even as the country recovered from a long civil war. I credit Liberia’s progress over the last decade to the thoughtful policies of your administration, Madam President; their implementation by Liberia’s increasingly capable government officials; and the support of the Liberian people – who regularly, and appropriately, remind the government that it must be accountable to the people.

All great leaders shine brightest during their nations’ darkest moments. Little did we know it, but at the end of 2013, a deadly threat was emerging from the forests of Guinea. Seven months later, that threat would grow to alarming proportions – becoming a crucible for Liberia and its neighbors. Madam President, the Ebola outbreak was an unexpected and unprecedented emergency that hit a region with few resources to address the threat. As Ebola surged last summer, you said yourself that many Liberians feared that the very fabric of Liberian society threatened to be torn apart. Fears were rampant, and Liberians looked for leadership and guidance. You provided that strong leadership and led the Liberian people through some of the country’s toughest days – fighting and defeating an invisible and unpredictable enemy.

Entering uncharted territory, winning that fight would prove to be a marathon task, with many unexpected obstacles and difficulties along the way. After some initial missteps – some deadly as we saw in West Point – you had the courage to re-evaluate what needed to be done,

and after consulting with experts, redoubled science-based efforts to isolate Ebola infections. By clearly communicating with Liberians at the local level and empowering them, ensuring the dead were quickly and safely buried, and the sick were removed from communities so they could receive appropriate care, you enabled Liberia to turn the corner. You didn’t hesitate to get out among the people, calming fears and bolstering the belief that the Ebola fight could be won. Thanks to you, to the hard work of your government, and, most of all, to the grass roots efforts of community organizers, contact tracers, health workers, and the Liberian people – you kicked Ebola out of Liberia!

Dealing with this extended emergency stalled the Government of Liberia’s broader efforts to improve life for Liberians. I’d like to take a moment to review what I believe are notable successes over the last three years that may have been obscured by the Ebola response. For instance, I believe Liberia has one of the liveliest, loud, and open forums in Africa for the media to do their jobs.      

That is a direct result of changes your government instituted, including signing on to the Table Mountain Declaration, embracing the Open Government Partnership, and supporting Freedom of Information. While I think we would agree it is imperfect — for instance, I know you support modernizing Liberia’s libel laws, and we recognize that more outreach is necessary to ensure effective public access to the GoL’s budget and expenditures — there has been good progress. Such transparency is an important prerequisite for a vibrant democracy and for instilling accountability of the government to its people. I also want to repeat my request for Liberian journalists to uphold their end of the bargain by reporting accurately and responsibly.

         I have seen the Government of Liberia, through the National Elections Commission, organize multiple successful elections. Most noteworthy were last December’s elections for half of the Senate. Although the elections were delayed by Ebola fears and judicial challenges, I was impressed that the NEC and judiciary were able to amicably resolve the situation and allow the elections to proceed.

It was a very positive sign of the maturation of Liberia’s political and institutional development. The NEC has also carried out by-elections in Grand Bassa and River Cess, instilling confidence among the public in the ability of Liberians to organize well-run elections that were judged by Liberian and international observers to be free and fair.

         Maintaining peace and social stability is a prerequisite for Liberia’s democratic and economic development. The United States has worked closely with the Armed Forces of Liberia and with the Liberia National Police to strengthen these institutions, and both are increasingly ready to assume full responsibility for Liberia’s security as the drawdown of UNMIL peacekeepers continues. More work remains, but Madam President, you have demonstrated strategic vision in making difficult decisions to revamp the leadership of both organizations over the last year, and it has already produced good results. For instance, the AFL and LNP played key roles in Liberia’s Ebola response, for which they should be commended.

More broadly, Liberia’s police, soldiers, and coast guard demonstrated their ability to further professionalize, be accountable to civilian authority, and to treat the Liberian people with respect and dignity. We also have worked closely with Liberia’s Drug Enforcement Agency, and I want to commend the professionalization that we have seen in most of Liberia’s security agencies.

Long term success in Liberia requires dependable infrastructure, much of which never existed or was destroyed during Liberia’s civil wars. The Government of Liberia’s Agenda for Transformation plan correctly emphasizes the importance of good roads, ports, airports, electricity, and water — and we saw how important these things were to the fight against Ebola. We are working closely with Liberia, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and other donors to expedite implementation of the plan.

Long-term success will require the continued development of Liberia’s governance institutions, with transparent accountability, to ensure that the many needed infrastructure, energy, education, and public health projects stay on track, are sustainably funded, and regularly maintained.  

Last year, President Obama hosted the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Unfortunately, Madam President, the Ebola crisis prevented you from attending, but the event marked a milestone in U.S. outreach to the leaders and people of Africa. Before Ebola, we also convened the second meeting of the U.S.-Liberia Partnership Dialogue, an initiative that you and former Secretary of State Clinton launched in January 2013, and we hope to build on this progress. Broadening our people-to-people contacts, we sent fifteen young Liberians to participate in President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) summer fellowship program in 2014. It is now called the Mandela Washington Fellowship in honor of the late South African President and statesman, Nelson Mandela. The program is designed to build closer relations between our countries and more capable young leaders.

We just sent our second set of Mandela Washington Fellows to the United States last month; I am confident that the program will help strengthen ties between our peoples while building much needed capacity in Liberia.

In late 2012, Liberia was selected as eligible to develop a compact through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. After intensive work, we are nearing completion, we hope later this year, of a compact through which we hope to contribute significant resources to rebuilding the Mt. Coffee hydropower plant. We also have high hopes that our continued assistance through USAID also will build sustainable and resilient education and health systems that better serve Liberians now and for generations to come.

Madam President, in the education sector, I know that you are as pleased as I am that our U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers have begun to return to Liberia and will focus on teaching in high schools throughout Liberia and providing health education in their communities.

We missed them during Ebola, and their return should help boost the recovery of Liberia’s education system.

Even as we continue to remain vigilant against the threat of Ebola, other serious health challenges remain. The Ministry of Health ramped up immunizations to help protect Liberian children from measles and other diseases, but malaria and other illnesses still affect too many people. USAID has been working for years to improve Liberia’s healthcare system, and will continue to improve its capacity and resilience. The Ebola epidemic highlighted the need to accelerate these efforts, and to draw on additional resources, including from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and Department of State. As we focus on strengthening the long-term capacity of the Liberia’s health sector, we will coordinate these U.S. resources, ensure they complement the efforts of other international donors, and that they fit appropriately into the Government of Liberia’s long-term recovery plan.

Just as I have seen progress during my three years in Liberia, it is my fervent hope that even more positive developments are imminent. The United States stands ready to help Liberians help themselves. To those who are impatient about the pace of change, I offer these reminders– change is hard work, but many hands make light work. What do I mean? Development, consolidation of democratic governance, and reconciliation are all processes that take time, but by working together, valuing differences and committing to the greater good progress comes more quickly.

Just one example — tonight we are celebrating the 239th birthday of the United States, a bold experiment in nation-building that remains a dynamic work in progress. Today we still strive to live up to the ideal enshrined in our Declaration of Independence that all men (and women) are created equal, and to achieve the “more perfect union” aspired to in our Constitution. As in Liberia, the United States has had many ups and downs in its history;

we have often failed to live up to our ideals, but we have never given up in our quest to overcome those shortcomings nor abandoned our collective commitment to look optimistically to the future. Noisily, publicly, and sometimes tragically, we have learned and are learning still to embrace our differences and to build on the strength of our diversity. I hope that Liberians, too, will accelerate their own efforts to pull together in pursuit of their dreams, to provide better lives for their families and future generations. Liberians must be confident in their own future and not expect that it will be “delivered” to them by a government or a partner.  The capacity is there; we saw it during the past year of Ebola. I urge you to find that collective spirit again to build a better Liberia.

 

         Thank you again for joining us this evening.

 

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